February 2019   
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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1322

Dr. Ed Pettus October 15, 2017 Galatians 4:8-20

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)




“The Transformation of the Heart”



We are back to Galatians after a break last Sunday. We have seen the beginning of Galatians where Paul reiterates the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the Galatians that Jesus gave His life for them, God raised Him from the dead and all according to God’s will. Paul may have started here because the Galatians had abandoned that gospel for another gospel that is not the true gospel.

The next sermon dealt with how that gospel should affect the believer, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). You see, it was not enough that the Galatians heard the gospel or even that they knew the message on a superficial level, but what is required is a transformation of the heart. It is necessary for the gospel to dig deep, and that by God’s grace.

Today we look at that transformation. It is the need we see daily in our world, for people to come to know the gospel, not just as one more news item, but as a transformation of the heart.




  • Enslaved to Non-gods


8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

There was a time in the lives of the Galatians when they did not know God. They were lost, without the life that is only known in Christ. All they knew was existence. They were like millions of people today who live only to exist, only to follow their non-gods of riches or status or power or any number of false promises that exist in our world. But what all people without Christ share is enslavement. In fact we are all slaves one way or the other, bound by the ways of the world or bound by the God of love who frees us from all other gods. I see so many people who are enslaved to ideologies of politics, climate change, fake news, or whatever group believes only their lives matter. So many are enslaved by a deep devotion to causes or passions they really know very little about. Someone once phrased it as “a vague belief firmly held”. At its root the problems of our world are not about atheism or any other isms, but about idolatry. People worship non-gods every day and they are so deep into it they don’t even realize they are slaves to their idols.

Here is the problem with those things that are not gods. Psalm 115 reads this way:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.

The implication is that we become like the gods we worship and trust. The problem is that the gods of the world are lifeless - no hearing, no smelling, no feeling, no walking, no sounds. They can’t even clear their throat. This is the truth today even if the gods are not statues of silver or gold, they are idols of the mind and of forces in and of the world.

But before we leave this topic, let me speak to the concerns of believers as well. The Galatians were once non-believing, but many of us have never known a day when we did not trust Christ. This does not exempt us from falling into idolatry. We know Israel worshiped idols many times after they had committed to trust in God alone. We have the same temptations today. Once again, they are not idols of gold and silver, no golden calves we would worship. But we might find ourselves with what we might call “unfortunate” theologies that are not in line with the Bible. Or we might fall into patterns of life that are less than faithful to God. The point is, we must also examine ourselves to see if we have fallen into slavery to anyone or anything other than Christ.

Let me share an example from Philippians 3:19 where Paul speaks of the enemies of the cross.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. That phrase, “their god is their belly”, haunts me. Am I and are we slaves to our bellies? Just a thought!




  • Knowing God – Even Better, Known By God


9But 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?


Paul shifts gears in verse 9, you were once enslaved to those that by nature are not gods, but...you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God. Once you knew gods that had no life and then you came to know the living God and even more than that, God knows you! The God of all things, the God who created everything, the God who sent His Son and raised Him from the dead is the God who knows you. I think Paul is pointing out that these people have come to know and be known by the God who lives and in that life they had been set from from bondage. They had come to know the God of blessing and grace and love and redemption and forgiveness.

It’s great to know God and by knowing I mean being in a relationship. We know God intimately. That is an intimacy on the same level as husband and wife and even more than that. It is the same connection as Adam knew Eve, not with God in a physical sense, but in theory, in a deeply connected spiritual level. We can only know God as far as humanly possible. We are limited in that knowledge. But on the other side of the relationship, God knows us. God knows us through and through, and God loves us still!

God knows us more than we can even imagine.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Psalm 139:1-6





And with that knowledge, God still loves beyond measure.


6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8




  • No Turning Back

9But 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?


Paul says he is perplexed in verse 20, and verses 8-9 tell us why he is perplexed. How can you go back to death after seeing all that is filled with life? How can you turn back to a life of slavery when you have been set free in Christ? It is not just about falling back into non-believing ways, but the possibility of falling back into patterns and sins once repented. Turning back to old nature or immature ways of living the Christian life. It is a concern for those who have always known and for those who once did not know God.


J.B.Phillips version reads this way, At one time when you had no knowledge of God, you were under the authority of gods who had no real existence. But now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by him, how can you revert to dead and sterile principles and consent to be under their power all over again?  (Gal. 4:8-9)


Look at how Jesus handles this very same issue in Luke 9:57-62

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


What the Galatians did was looked back to their old life and to another gospel that Paul had not taught, and they thought it looked better. It’s not unlike Israel looking back to Egypt thinking it would be better making bricks for Pharaoh rather than roaming around in the desert.

How could we ever consider another gospel or some other teaching or some ideology of the world could ever be better than God’s word? Now that we are on the journey with Jesus, there is no turning back.



  • Christ Formed in You


19my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.


We often speak of the heart as the center of our being. It is where we give account of love and passion and desire and hope. We talk about authenticity of our being when we think of the phrase “from the heart”. Paul’s concern for the Galatians is that they need Christ formed in them, what I am calling today a transformation of the heart. If we can get Christ integrated into the core of our being, into the heart, we will know God and be known by God in such a powerful way, that we will never be tempted to turn back to anything offered by the world. Primarily that means getting the Bible integrated into the heart (and mind). It means getting prayer and worship and service and study and fellowship fused into our hearts in such a way that we cannot live without it. It’s about giving ourselves over totally to the love of God. Being crucified with Christ so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. And that is what Paul so deeply desired for the Galatians.


Christ formed in us begins and repentance and ends in discipleship. Christ formed in us continues to grow in love for God and neighbor. Christ formed in us is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing us closer and closer to holiness, also known as sanctification. This is Paul’s hope and yearning for the Galatians. May it also become our hope and yearning for ourselves and for all others who believe, that our hearts might be transformed as Christ is formed in us. Amen.