THE SLAVERY OF THE FLESH by Dave Jenkins for Servants of Grace
Galatians 4:8–11, “8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”
Forgetting the bondage from which God has liberated us is a quick way to fall back into slavery and destruction. Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness and longing to enjoy the cucumbers, melons, and leeks of Egypt illustrates this principle since disaster came upon the people for their insolence (Num. 11).
Galatians 4:8–11 tells us that even professing new covenant believers can forget their past slavery and return to the cruel master of sin. Paul reminds the Galatians of their former enslavement to “those that by nature are not gods,” standard first-century Jewish terminology for idols so that the Galatians would recall how better off they were after conversion than before they knew Jesus. Prior to Paul’s mission, the Galatians did not know the one, true creator God (Gal. 4:8–9). This move from ignorance to faith in Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel, was not their own doing; the Galatians were known by God, which stresses the divine initiative in salvation. John Calvin says they did not know God “by the acuteness or industry of their own minds, but because, when they were at the farthest possible remove from thinking of him, God visited them in his mercy.” Those whom the Lord foreknew He predestined for conformity to Jesus (Rom. 8:29), and no one is saved apart from His gracious election.