11. Notes for Galatians 4:12-20




Paul begs the Galatians to "become like him" because he became like them. He's saying that he adopted Gentile customs even though he was a Jew, and he's begging the Galatians now to emulate him. In a sense he's begging them to become what they already had been: Gentiles! But he's begging them to return to being Christ-following Gentiles instead of being Judaized Gentiles. Paul's love for them is deep and profound, and he reminds them how they had nursed him to health with joy when he first met them.

The thing Paul points out as the most glaring change in the Galatians is their loss of joy. He asks them if he's now their enemy because he's telling them the truth. As the Galatians turned their backs on truth, they also lost joy. The Judaizers intimidated the Galatians into thinking that the gospel they had embraced was unsophisticated. The Judaizers were "pseudo-intellectual," and they seduced the Galatians into turning away from the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone.

The Galatians were deceived by the false promise of friendship and superior knowledge from the Judaizers. The more they turned away from the truth, the more embarrassed they were of Paul and his unsophisticated fervency and the more they tried to align themselves with the arrogant elitism of the Judaizers. It was powerful peer pressure. The irony was that as the Galatians allowed themselves to be seduced by the false hope of being accepted by the "elite," they lost their joy. They became driven to conform and to ingratiate themselves to the Judaizers. They became obsessed with belonging, and they were ready to throw out the gospel for the sake of social standing.

The seduction was effective because it looked religious. The Judaizers weren't asking the Galatians to give up religion; they were sucking them into a vortex of increasingly demanding religion. The Judaizer's brand of religion was appealing because it made the Galatians feel that they could control their holiness and their social standing at the same time. As they embraced a new set of works and ceremonies, the Galatians lost their freedom, and they lost the fruit of the Spirit-joy. Their underlying drives became fear and insecurity. They traded in the joy of the Spirit for the hope of affirmation from manipulating, powerful people. The Judaizers campaign was effective because it promised social and intellectual superiority and also because it generated fear. The Galatians began to doubt the simplicity of the gospel; they traded their joy for the fear that they might not be good enough to be saved.

Paul tries to make them see that the Judaizers were using alienation to manipulate them. In the NIV Paul says the Judaizers were alienating the Galatians from him in order to get them to be loyal to them, the Judaizers. In the NASB the sense is more that the Judaizers were alienating the Galatians from themselves in order to manipulate them into trying to bridge the gap and get the Judaizers to accept them. Either way, alienation is a powerful tool. It's what gives power to passive aggression. Paul is pointing out to the Galatians that the Judaizers want their zealousness. In fact, they're jealous of their zeal for the gospel that they share with Paul. They want that energy turned to them. They want the Galatians to choose between them and Paul.

Jesus said his word would be a sword. He said the gospel would not bring peace but would divide families and friends and that our enemies would be members of our own households. Both truth and error can alienate. Deception and falsehood want to protect themselves. Deception tries to rally support, and then it holds its followers in a snare of fear and entanglement. Those who are snared by deception fear new ideas or insights. They pull inward, defensive of their beliefs, fearful of the freedom of truth. Deceived people hold rigidly to purifying rituals and commitments in a desperate effort to conform and to be worthy of acceptance.

Truth bestows freedom. When a person discovers truth, he is "born from above" and literally has a new nature. Decisions about whether behaviors are right or wrong give way to accountability to the Love which has transformed life. People of truth embrace a freedom that scares people who are deceived. But that freedom is not anarchy; it takes responsibility for its decisions and for representing love to those in the snare of deception.

Truth draws those who are honest at heart and seeking integrity. Truth is frightening to those who don't want to face reality, who don't want to know that their particular understandings may need examining. Whether it is generated by deception or by truth, alienation is the same. The only variable is whether the alienated person is on the side of truth or deception. Paul agonized over his alienation from the Galatians. Their deception had pulled them away from him, and he suffered the loss of their trust, support, and intimacy.

The Galatians' deception alienated them from Paul's nurturing and from intimacy with the Holy Spirit. In deciding to follow the legal requirements of the Judaizers, they lost their joy, their freedom, and their oneness in Christ. Without being open to the Holy Spirit in them, they could not be one in the Spirit with each other and with Christ. There was a barrier between them and Paul, who loved them deeply, that neither they nor Paul could cross.

To choose to live in legalism separates us from love and nurturing relationships. Alienation is inevitable because legalism lives in the place in the heart where the Holy Spirit would otherwise have freedom to reign. To hold onto any legal requirement as a sign or a requirement of salvation is to place something else in the seat of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

We are called to let Truth reveal and destroy the suffocating snare of the law in our hearts.

We are called to give glory to God. We are called to let Christ be formed in us. We are called to live in the joy of the Spirit.


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