A Commentary by John Stott
Again Paul contrasts what once we were with what we have become. But this time the contrast is painted in fresh colours, in terms of our knowledge of God. Verse 8: *Formerly,…you did not know God.* Verse 9:*but now…you have come to know God, or rather (since the initiative was God’s) to be known by God*. Our bondage was to evil spirits, owing to our ignorance of God; our sonship consists in the knowledge of God, knowing Him and being known by Him, in the intimacy of a personal communion with God which Jesus called ‘eternal life’ (Jn. 17:3).
Now comes the apostle’s appeal. His argument is this: ‘If you were a slave and are now a son, if you did not know God but have now come to know Him and to be known by Him, how can you turn back again to the old slavery? How can you allow yourself to be enslaved by the very elemental spirits from whom Jesus Christ has rescued you?’ Verse 10: *You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years!* In other words, your religion has degenerated into an external formalism. It is no longer the free and joyful communion of children with their Father; it has become a dreary routine of rules and regulations. And Paul adds sorrowfully: *I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain* (verse 11). He fears that all the time and trouble he has spent over them has been wasted. Instead of growing in the liberty with which Christ has set them free, they have slipped back into the old bondage.
Oh, the folly of these Galatians! We can certainly understand the language of the Prodigal Son, who came to his father and said ‘I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants’ or ‘slaves’. But how can anyone be so foolish as to say: ‘You have made me your son; but I would rather be a slave’? It is one thing to say ‘I do not deserve it’; it is quite another to say ‘I do not desire it; I prefer slavery to sonship’. Yet that was the folly of the Galatians, under the influence of their false teachers.