What to Say to Those Moving Away from the Truth
The passionate plea of a perplexed preacher–Galatians 4:8-11, part 1
The Training Center has been part of my life since the 1980’s. Initially it morphed from a seminary class, into a one-year process to establish men in the Scripture and theology with a pastoral heart to love people, called DR of the book. It was later developed into a three-year program while I was in Arizona, to equip men for ministry in and through the local church. The TC has been tweaked, adjusted and improved here at FBC for 15 years, now being overseen by our own John Pleasnick, with the participation of all our full-time pastors and occasionally our elders–starting every other fall and running for three full years. If you have the desire and the endurance, it is life altering–it’s an equipping any man for service to Christ in and through the church in the way Christ designed each man individually process.
Most of the TC grads have gone off to do great things for Christ’s glory in the church here at FBC and literally around the world. A small few of the training men who were unstable to begin with, remained unstable. But back in Arizona, the biggest heartbreak of all was two men who at first appeared to be men who would both pastor large churches and have incredible impact for Christ. But when the opportunity came for them to turn woke, they did. And now they’ve joined hands with the pope and the Catholic church. Literally thousands of sound believers have left those two churches heartbroken. Many (even some elders) lovingly pleaded, attempting to correct this errant direction–but each one was rebuffed, dismissed and rejected. Thousands of God’s sheep left those places to find doctrinally sound churches, filled every race, but one body in Christ.
Since that time, about two years ago, I have been struggling with what to say to those two men–one in particular. One of them was kinda’ a Timothy to me. I have started emails, only to erase them. I began texts, only to delete them. I started dialing phone numbers, only to put my phone down. I just have not known what to say, until I studied Galatians 4:8 to 20. Open your Bibles to Galatians 4 and look at verse 20.
Like me, Paul was “perplexed” (verse 20) by the Galatians drifting into error–the kind of error that has eternal consequences. But inspired by the Holy Spirit and moved to write to these churches in Galatia, God through Paul has taught me what to say to anyone who is moving away from the Scripture. What do you say to anyone who’s moved away from sound doctrine–from the truth of the Word of God? To those who’ve confused the Gospel? Those who make social issues a prerequisite to salvation? Those who have misunderstood God’s unity and do not prioritize our identity with Christ first over and above all social categories and social issues?
Paul already made that clear in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The Gospel is so powerful, it undoes social, racial, economic differences. We follow the New Testament instruction for men and women, but we are also now one in Christ. Rich or poor–all one in Christ. White, brown, black, yellow–all one in Christ. Blue, white–all one in Christ. Slave or free–all one in Christ. Californian or New Yorker–all one in Christ. Republican or . . . well, let’s not get radical. The Gospel transforms us, not only into a new person, but the Gospel also transforms us into a new family. Paul now teaches us in chapter 4 what to say to those who have lost the clarity of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.
Paul not only has shown you biographically how to live for the truth in chapters 1 and 2. Paul teaches us what to do and say theologically to those who compromise the truth in chapters 3 and 4. And Paul specially teaches us how to respond to those moving away from truth in verses 8 to 20. You need this passage just as much as I do–you have family, friends, relatives, and some of them have bought into error. Sometimes the error is dangerous, like the error of women elders and women preachers. Or that preaching is meant to jack you up for Jesus, instead of make you like Christ–even if it’s painful.
But some error today is eternally condemning–Gospel destroying error–that homosexuals and other perversions can continue in their sin and still claim to be Christ-followers. Or that the Church should be central in undoing the horrific injustices of the past. Or Christians must support transgenderism. Error is all around us. So how do you talk to someone who starts believing the truths that undermine the Gospel, that malign the Word of God, or warp God’s specific design for the Church?
On the heels of no longer being an infant under the Law, but now a co-heir as a Christian, you have been adopted into God’s family and you are now free from the slavery of trying to please God by living under the Law. In verses 8 to 20, Paul now expresses his stunned confusion over how they could want to go back under the Law, follow error, and live in heresy. Read this entire passage and you will find eleven points that spring from the text, clearly showing you what to say and what to do to those who are embracing error. Four points are found in verses 8 to 11 this week–Paul’s rebuke. Then seven key actions in verses 12 to 20 next week–Paul’s rebuilding.
So now for this week, read aloud what God says in Galatians 4:8 to 11. “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”
Last week, through the Spirit, the Galatians had learned to call God, “ABBA, Father”–yet they’re in imminent danger of moving from intimate sonship, right back into slavery. They were about to squander their spiritual inheritance as the sons and daughters of God. How do you talk to people like that? They’re about to walk away from the Gospel. To keep them from slipping back into slavery in their walk with God, Paul reminds his readers and you here today how you became a child of God in the first place. Paul begins by . . .
#1 Reminding them how they are LOST without Christ Verse 8
The false teachers were not encouraging the Gentile Christians to ignore God’s Law as they had in their pagan days. Rather, the Judaizers were urging the baby believers to adopt all the Old Testament Mosaic Law in order to be justified and pleasing to God. So in response, Paul teaches them that earning one’s own salvation through scrupulous, external morality and dedicated religion is just as much an enslavement, as being a pagan who pursues idols and participates in immoral practices.
In the end, the religious person is just as lost and enslaved as the irreligious person–why? Both are trying to be their own savior and lord, but in different ways. Read verse 8, “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.” Before Christ, you were not in a relationship with God, no matter how dedicated you were to Law-keeping or pagan idol worship or secular living. The Greek word for “know” here is knowledge of facts–not only did you not know God personally, you didn’t even have a right understanding of who He is. You had your facts wrong.
You were a slave to a pagan God, a false religion, or to your own thinking, your own ideas, your own kind of faith–even if you called it Christianity. Paul says in verse 8, before coming to saving faith in Christ, no unsaved person knows God. Before trusting in Christ with your life by faith, everyone’s religion is one of works. You were slaves to various manmade gods that were actually no gods at all. And all non-Christians are slaves to the human effort of trying to be saved, but also to slavery to the idols in the heart–places or people or priorities over God, even objects, ideas or symbols which keep people from a relationship to Christ.
Have you traveled? Have you seen how those without Christ worship? When they stand in front of a Buddha and offer prayers and food . . . when they stand in front of the Wailing Wall, sincerely rocking back and forth begging God . . . when they pray six times a day on a carpet pointing toward Mecca . . . when they crawl up steps with bloodied knees to kiss an icon to earn Mary’s favor? Doesn’t your heart break over their spiritual darkness? Don’t you want to shake them and point them to real hope in Christ? Don’t you want to ask, “Why are you doing all this? Don’t you know that big funny image is only a piece of stone carved by men? There is no god here. Buddha can’t help you. He is long dead–physically and spiritually, and will remain dead eternally. In fact, if you continue to trust in Buddha, Mohammed, Mary, or the Law itself you too will die and forever remain dead.”
There are many false gods people put their trust in, but not one of them can save. And while these people are miserable because of their ignorance of the one true God, they are also condemned since they are in rebellion to God. God makes this clear in Romans 1, “That which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.… For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
And don’t ever forget what it was like when you were a non-Christian. And never forget that the nicest, kindest non-Christian is still a massive sinful mess. Ephesians 4:17 to 19, “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.”
God says, “Students, don’t live like your non-Christian friends.” God says, “Don’t walk that way any longer. Don’t make what they do what you love, imitate, or treasure.” Why? Ephesians 4 gives four reasons.
First) They’re futile of mind, meaning intellectually unproductive–concerning spiritual and moral issues, they are distorted, empty and confused.
Second) They’re alienated from the life of God, separated from Him, ignorant of God’s truth, blind, hard and unwilling.
Third) Non-Christians have become callous–that’s morally insensitive and increasingly apathetic toward truth, God’s morality and a genuine spiritual life.
Fourth) All unbelievers are sensual and impure–meaning lewd and unclean. Behaviorally, they increasingly lose moral restraint and intensify in greed for things.
Remember, that was you before you came to Christ. God reminds you in 2 Corinthians 4:3 and 4 of your sad state as a non-Christian. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” As a non-Christian, you can’t see, you can’t think, you can’t escape, you can’t be humble, and you are totally enslaved with no hope of rescuing yourself. Paul asks in verse 8, why would you want to go back and live that way?
Remember what you were–saved by grace, so you don’t start elevating religion by teaching Christians they must obey social rules and make racial preferences to correct the past, in order to be saved. Yes, repent of all prejudice. But salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Remind them how they are lost without Christ.
#2 Pointing them to the RELATIONSHIP they have with God through Christ Verse 9a
This morning, do you know God? Not facts about God–no, Christians experientially, relationally know God personally–do you? A Christian is someone who knows God. Read verse 9, “But now that you have come to know God, rather to be known by God.” The word “know” here is different than verse 8–this is relationship knowing, intimate knowing. There is nothing sweeter, more important, and more healthy for you here this morning than to personally know Christ in salvation, and now by faith in relationship.
Philippians 3:7 to 8, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” I ask again, do you know God?
There was a time when the Galatians did not know God at all. Most of them were Gentiles, and were unacquainted with the God of the Bible. They worshiped pagan gods and goddesses, and they could take their pick. Some of them were into astrology and followed the signs of the zodiac—they’ve been around a long time. Others worshiped the deities of Greece–at Lystra, there was a temple to Zeus. Many in Galatia belonged to the Roman imperial cult worshiping the emperor. These deities were mere idols. And because demonic influences are always at work behind false religion, bowing down to these false gods brings real spiritual bondage.
There was a time when the Galatians were in chains themselves, and since they did not know God, they didn’t know any better. Then the Galatians came to know God through the preaching of the Gospel of God’s free grace–they became Christians, for a Christian simply is someone who knows God. Not someone who knows about God, as if Christianity were some sort of philosophy–but someone who has a genuine, person-to-person relationship with God.
In the Bible, the knowledge of God is always personal. It involves an intimate encounter with God the Father, through the Spirit of His Son. Christianity is not a matter of what we know–it’s a matter of Who we know. And Paul says clearly in verse 9, Christianity is actually a matter of Who knows us. You can get to know God only because He already knows you, personally–and has revealed Himself to you. So Paul makes this clarification—”But now that you have come to know God, rather to be known by God.” To know God is to be a child of God–but this depends on an even more fundamental truth that you are known by God.
The freedom of God’s grace is that the Lord knew you long before you ever came to know Him. The initiative for membership in God’s family comes entirely from God Himself. Imagine a tiny baby girl living in an orphanage. A man comes for a visit. As he sees the baby lying in her crib, he loves her so much, he adopts her into his family. She grows up to call the man, “Father”, because he is the only father she has ever known. But she knows him as her father only because he first knew her as his daughter.
First John 4:19, “We love, because He first loved us.” This is the love that God has for all His sons and daughters in Christ–each of you. Anyone who receives such grace, such undeserved favor, could never go back to the orphanage. But this is exactly what the Galatians were trying to do. That’s why next you must warn those drifting from truth.
#3 Warning them of TURNING BACK to their enslaved lost days Verses 9b to 10
Paul gets a little feisty in his rebuke in verses 9 and 10–let me read it with its full English meaning. “How is it that you [currently and continually] turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you [currently and continually] desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You [yourselves are choosing to] observe days and months and seasons and years.”
“Turn back” is to return to a previous way of life. When Paul says “weak”, it means you were sick, got well, but now want to be sick again. “Worthless” means you were destitute, then rich, now want to be impoverished again. The Galatians were converting back to practical paganism. It was like déja vu–they were going back to the first principles of paganism, back to their religious ABCs.
Verse 9, ”elemental things” means although they had graduated from school to faith in Jesus Christ, they were re-enrolling into spiritual kindergarten. Look at verse 9, “turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” Paul is saying, “Do you actually want to return to religious failure, religious fakery, religious feel, and religious festivals?”
Apparently, the Galatians were doing this by following the rituals of Old Testament Judaism–verse 10, “You observe days and months and seasons and years.” In other words, the Galatians were starting to follow the Jewish calendar rites as a matter of religious obligation. Like Pharisees, they were now observing the whole Jewish system of special holidays, such as the feast of the new moon and the Passover festival. “Why are you going back to works, when you were saved by grace? Why are you trying to function through Law, when you can only be saved through faith?”
Why would you try to go woke–adding social behaviors to Gospel truth, when by doing so, grace is destroyed and the body of Christ is divided as a result. Paul asks in verse 9, Why do you “desire to be enslaved all over again?” Now that you are sons and daughters of the King in God’s family, he asks the wavering Galatians, why do you want to go back into slavery? Now that you’re free adults through faith in Christ, why do you want to revert to your childhood servitude under the Law?
This must have shocked the Judaizers–but as far as Paul is concerned, this kind of religion is no better than raw paganism. If the Galatians wanted to practice these forms of outward religion, failure, fakery, feel, and festivals, they might as well read their horoscopes. In returning to the legalism of Law-keeping, they were reverting back to the very religion they rejected when they turned to Christ. Following astronomical signs, celebrating the emperor’s birthday, observing special days is external–it reduces a relationship to ritual. It makes following Christ a matter of doing one’s duty, rather than receiving God’s grace and enjoying a personal relationship.
This is the danger with religiously observing the liturgical calendar the way some churches do. It is also a clear indicator that most Americans are pagans, for our national spirituality focuses on major holidays rather than on living for Christ every day. There are still a lot of people who think all they have to do for God is to go to church at Christmas and Easter. They even have their own name—Creasters.
There is nothing wrong with taking a day to praise God for the birth of Christ, nor the resurrection of God the Son. Paul even says in Romans 14:6 ESV, “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord.” But there is an eternity of difference between the optional observance of such a day, and making it mandatory as a means of justification. The Galatians needed to be reminded that God’s grace comes free. Once we know the freedom of grace, we become the true children of God, and we can never go back to spiritual slavery. Those who do should move you to great prayer–in fact, remind them by . . .
#4 Sharing with them your FEAR over them and your LOVE for them Verse 11
“I fear for you [literally, I am brought to anxious apprehension over you], that perhaps I have labored over you [in the past, yet the result was] in vain [all, a waste].” Paul thought the Galatians were born again, but now he worries it may have been a case of false labor. Paul says, “I have labored”–the Greek word means to the point of extreme fatigue. I fear for your eternal souls, that all I did–which was driven by love for you, is now wasted because you have tried to do the impossible–modify God’s grace. The moment you add to grace, it is no longer grace. And whenever you modify or condition grace, it destroys grace. The Judaizer false teachers would say, just show some religious zeal for the Old Testament Law– eating properly, getting circumcised and attending the right religious events in order to make certain you are truly saved. No biggie!
The woke would say, “Just apologize for your cultural insensitivity, just admit you’ve had a racist heart all your life, just show you care for the poor, just intentionally end your privileged status–then you can be certain you are saved. To be saved, the Catholic teaches, just keep the sacraments. To be saved the Hindu teaches, be devoted, meditative and self-controlled. To be saved, the Buddhist teaches, try really hard. To be saved, the Mormon teaches, the more good works, the higher floor in Heaven.
To be saved, the Christian teaches, depend on the finished work of Christ, since salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. You need it–your sin is so bad, without salvation you’re headed to eternal torment. But you don’t earn it, work for it, attend church to get it, but depend by faith on the person and work of Christ Jesus. Never add to God’s free gift of salvation. Yes, the faith that saves is faith alone—and the faith that saves is never alone. Once you are transformed, you will work, serve, give, perform deeds, disciple. But not because you have to, but because you want to.
But it is shocking to Paul that anyone would move away from saving truth. Next week, Paul pleads with the Galatians–he rebuilds. But he is, verse 20, “perplexed”. There is much more to say to your friends and family who’ve abandoned the Word of God, the person of Christ and salvation by grace. What? Come back next week–but first.
A You can be ENSLAVED, even though you are religious
A basic drive of the unsaved is the need to save themselves. The non-believer will worship what they think will fulfill their lives and give them life. That can be anything–money, sex, relationships, music, entertainment, sports, Disneyland, kids, and a career can be worshiped, treated as their god, and is the basis of their religion. But whatever they worship (apart from Christ) will enslave them.
Listen up, compromising Christians–or worse, you self-deceived tares who look like wheat. If you put your greatest hope in gaining wealth, you will be controlled and enslaved. You will be completely under the power of money. If you are not doing well at gaining it, you will be devastated. And even if you do get “enough”, you will be disappointed and seek more—enslaved. Get this, friends–if you treat things that are not God as though they are, you will become slaves to them spiritually.
So how is returning to a works-based salvation considered an enslavement to false gods? There is an infinite number of ways to earn your salvation through works–even if you don’t think of it as earning your salvation at all. Whatever you choose to use, whether it is achievement or morality or religion or serving your family–you turn that thing into a savior, and thus into a god. Works-righteousness always creates idols. It is simply that the false saviors it produces–like church attendance, ministry to others, Bible-reading, family, or some safe pastime are things you would not normally think of as idols.
You must feel the full force of Paul’s emphasis on enslavement. If anything but Jesus is a requirement for being happy or worthy, that thing will become your master. Without the Gospel, you will be under the slavery of an idol. An example of this is Jesus’ story of the two brothers in Luke 15. A father had one very immoral, younger, prodigal son, and one very moral, elder son. Both of them wanted control of the father’s wealth, but did not want the father. Both were alienated from the father’s heart. At the end of the story though, the immoral son repents and clings to the father, while the moral one walks away in anger.
If anything, the idolatry and slavery of religion is more dangerous than the idolatry and slavery of irreligion, because it is less obvious. The irreligious person knows he is far away from God, but the religious person does not. This is why Paul is in “fear for” the Galatians. They were (verse 10) taking on “special days and months and seasons and years”–they were (literally) religiously observing all the ceremonies of the Old Testament. This new slavery to non-gods could be worse than the old–they would not know they were far away from the Father.
How about you–are you religious but lost? Are you a Christian in profession but not practice? Would you say you love Christ, but in reality there is something/someone you obviously love more? Would those who know you say Christ is your first love? Or would they say there is some form of idol you love more? I am tempted to love my wife more, my grandsons more, this church more, the ministry more than Christ–but I can tell you, Christ is my first love. Is He your first love? Do you truly know God personally, and are you known by God in salvation?
B The goal of a Christian is to have their CONFIDENCE in Christ
Do the words of Christ make a difference in your lifestyle? When Jesus declared, “It is finished”, are you convinced you can’t add anything to the finished work of Christ? Are you secure in the love of Christ–you can never be separated from Him? The central foundation of Christian security is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably His heart is set on us. If we begin to grasp that we are “known by God”, we won’t seek confidence through our efforts, our service, our faithfulness, our family, our church, or our friendships. We won’t worship any idol, we won’t elevate anything above Christ–we will love Him, the One who knows us.
How do you grow in this? How do you live this truth daily? How do you own His love, His work, His relationship with you over anything, anyone and everything? Increase a little more each day with this. When you get up, remember the Gospel–remember His sacrifice, death, resurrection for you. When you put your clothes on, remember to wear Christ. Recall His person and promises. As you go through your duties, live in dependence on His Spirit. Say, “I can’t–You can.” And watch what God will do and how He will change your heart, and slowly increase your confidence in Him and your intimate relationship with Him. You won’t merely say Christ is your first love, you will know it, feel it, and practice it in confident faith—knowing you are His and He is yours. Let’s pray.