Galatians 4:8, 9
However, then, when you knew not God, you did service to them which by nature are no gods.…
I. THE OLD HEATHENDOM. St. Paul needs to remind the Galatians of the evils of the condition from which they have been liberated. We are all inclined to gild the past with false glories, looking back with fond regret to its lost delights, while we forget the things that troubled it. Note three characteristics of this evil past.
1. Ignorance of God. The heathen were without the light, the joy, the guidance, and the help that come with the true knowledge of God. All men who are spiritually dead to God are thus heathen at heart. The heathenism that was congenital was some excuse for moral failure; for men cannot serve the God they do not know. Conduct which is pardonable in the ignorant, however, is inexcusable in those who know God.
2. The worship of those who are so gods. Man must worship. The monstrosities of heathenism are a pathetic witness to our religious nature, which, if it has not light for its healthy development, will exercise itself in the most distorted manner rather than be suppressed. But such religion is based on a delusion. The worshipper prays to what does not exist. So do all who erect their own notions of divinity and do homage to them instead of learning to serve the God of revelation.
3. Spiritual bondage. The Galatians seem to have been entangled in the toils of a mongrel religion, which combined the terrible superstitions of their Celtic forefathers with the immoral mysticism of their Phrygian neighbours. The result was a bondage at once of fear and of lust. But all heathen religions keep their devotees in subjection. Religious liberty is a fruit of Christianity.
II. THE NEW CHRISTIANITY. This was in all respects a deliverance, an advance, and an elevation. It involved great spiritual acquisitions.
1. The knowledge of God; always the first essential. We cannot trust, love, or serve a God of whose character and will we are ignorant. Any faith that precedes this knowledge is faith in the priest, not faith in God.
2. Being known of God. The apostle corrects himself. It was not enough to speak of knowing God. Though that was the first essential step towards the new life, it is not now the most characteristic feature of that life. We must not rest in the knowledge of God alone. Knowledge is not redemption. The further step is to receive the grace of sonship from God and the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ wherewith we breathe the aspiration to God as to our Father (ver. 6). Such an experience shows that we are acknowledged by God - "known of God."
III. THE RELAPSE. Is it possible that any should consciously and wilfully choose to fall from such privileges as those of the new Christianity to such bondage as that of the old heathendom? It was important that the Galatians should see that their perversion to Judaism was essentially such a relapse. The startling point of the apostle's argument lay just in this - that, with the insight of inspired genius, he saw the identity of the religion of Law which his converts regarded as a more progressive stage of Christianity with their old discarded heathenism. At first sight it might appear that austere Mosaism could have nothing in common with corrupt Phrygian orgies and gloomy Celtic sacrifices. Yet the bondage was essentially the same. They had three points in common.
1. Their rudimentary character. Both were mere beginnings. Christianity had left both behind. The advanced scholar should not waste time over the alphabet; the graduate need not matriculate afresh.
2. Their weakness. For the purpose of creating righteousness and regenerating character the Levitical Law with all its lofty morality was as impotent as the impure and horrible rites of the old Galatian cult.
3. Their poverty. Both were "beggarly." After holding the pearl of great price, it was strange that any should turn from such riches of Divine love to any other religion which, lacking the wondrous grace of the gospel, was by comparison as a beggar to a prince. Yet all make this mistake who forsake the grace and liberty of the gospel for the bondage of rites and holy days and priestly authority. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
WEB: However at that time, not knowing God, you were in bondage to those who by nature are not gods.