Receiving the Word

Though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” (v. 14)  

- Galatians 4:12–14

If we misread Paul as we study his emotional plea in Galatians 4, we might come to think that Paul’s warnings about apostasy and reenslavement to sin and death (vv. 8–11; see also 1:6) mean that the truly converted person can lose his salvation and turn away from Christ for good. The apostle is certainly clear elsewhere that God preserves to the end everyone He calls (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6). But Paul could not read the Galatians’ hearts, and he warned them indiscriminately, not knowing who would cross the line but confident that the Spirit would use his words to keep the elect in the faith. Moreover, when Paul wrote Galatians, his audience had not yet fully abandoned Christ in favor of their own righteousness. His fear that his labor for them had been in vain was tentative (Gal. 4:11), for at the time they had not yet shown his work to be useless.

Galatians 4:12 records Paul’s heartfelt plea for his readers to stay the course, begging them to become like him just as he became like them, probably a call for his audience to return to the legalism-free gospel he lived out among them. Paul, a Jew, became like the Galatian Gentiles by not erecting hurdles for them to jump in order to become members of the community of Christ (2:11–14). They were to imitate him and live in Christian freedom instead of accepting the lie that only those who become Jewish have a place in the Messiah’s kingdom. If the Galatians rejected the “higher” spiritual life based on the Law, satisfying themselves with being Gentiles declared righteous by faith alone in God’s grace, they would have proved their trust in the gospel and no longer risk apostasy.

John Calvin says that pastors must “consider, not what those who have wandered away may justly deserve, but what may be the likeliest method of bringing them back to the right path.” This is precisely what Paul has done in Galatians 4. Having presented the fool-proof biblical case for his gospel, the apostle has implored his audience to trust him that the Judaizers’ teaching is deadly to their souls, a trust grounded in their relationship with him. Thus, he has reminded them of their prior confidence in him as based on their knowledge of his character and fidelity to Scripture, not his outward, physical condition (vv. 13–14).

Coram Deo

In our celebrity-oriented culture, it is easy to seek out pastors for their good looks, speaking styles, success in building large congregations, or other such factors. Scripture, however, commends for the pastorate those men who are faithful to the Word of God and exemplary in character and morals (1 Tim. 3:1–7). What are the characteristics you prize most in your pastor? Take time this week to thank your pastor for faithfully preaching and doing the Word.

Passages for Further Study

Ezra 7:1–10
Titus 1:5–9

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