A Christian is not a slave to the “elementary principles of the world.” For Paul, this mean two things. First, Christians are not slaves to the ways of this world – to the thinking and tendencies of our secular (or pagan) world. Second, Christians are not slaves to the Old Testament law – to the dietary restrictions, to the rite of circumcision, and to the rest.
The tendency of the Galatian Christians may have been to leave one form of slavery and then, after a brief interlude of freedom in the Spirit, to fall immediately into a second form of slavery. They left paganism, experienced the Spirit, and then were falling into slavery to the Torah.
Maybe the problem of sin is it leads us to be slaves – of something. Some might fall into slavery within some religion. Some might fall into slavery to superstitions. Some might simply fall into slavery of the secular world – to science, or to the “data,” or to tolerance, or to a political ideology.
We might be pulled in a lot of ways, and our thinking can become clouded. In fact, a person can become so in tune with the ways of the world that the way of the gospel can begin to seem like foolishness, like a foreign thing that one doesn’t know what to do with.
In our culture, for instance, we are consumed with all things that have to do with our “identity.” People have colors and sexual preferences and gender preferences, and those things tend to take priority over anything else. People can have allegiances to the nation or to a “movement,” and that can govern all of their thinking. How does the gospel sound to a person who is a slave to his or her “identity”? How easy is it to shake that thinking?
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.”
The apostle Paul understood what was happening. Humans will form allegiances – to something. They will fall under bondage – of something. And frankly, it could be anything.
God is calling us out of that and into freedom. The time is now.
For me, this chapter is a reminder to examine my thinking. In what ways is my thinking and attitude part and parcel with how Satan – who is intimately involved with the elementary principles of this world – would want me to think? In what ways might I fall back into that kind of thinking?
In Christ, we are free. We are children of the promise. We are saved by grace through faith. We have the Holy Spirit. This world no longer has a claim on us.