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The Slavery Of Religious Habits

Galatians 4:8-10
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! (NIVUK)

Despite the power of the gospel message, and the joy of new life in Christ, the Galatian believers had been lured back into their old religious practices – the good things that they previously did when they tried to win God’s love (Galatians 3:1-3).  They had made an idol out of their former religious habits.  Their pious ideals had become demanding idols which could never be satisfied.  Their efforts at being good had trapped them.  They had gone back to following false teachers and were becoming enslaved again.  

Paul described the tyranny of idols, even religious idols, as being “weak and miserable forces”.  They are weak because they have no power to forgive people for their sins; they have no strength to change people’s hearts, lives or spiritual destinies.  They are miserable because their demands can never be satisfied or bring any lasting joy.  And yet so many people think that if they can do better, work harder, punish themselves, achieve greater good and … then God will be pleased with them.  How foolish.  

By contrast, God is not an impersonal force but a person who we can get to know; and more than that, a person who knows us completely (Psalm 139:1-4).  Religion, even the ‘religions’ of self-improvement or making money, do not personally care about us.  But our Heavenly Father loves us, His Son has died for us (Romans 5:8) and His Spirit transforms us (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The gospel demands that we accept salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and repudiate any thought of adding to the perfect sacrifice of Christ.  Yet, many believers are still tempted into religious habits which become idolatry, because they usurp the place of Jesus Christ.  However, we easily adopt pious habits but soon forget why we do them.  When that happens, we may be faithful to the habit’s demands but unfaithful to the Lord.  The way forward is to repent of adding anything to the gospel.  Then worship the Lord for the completeness of your salvation which He has achieved for us.

Almighty God. Thank You for Your complete salvation. Forgive me when I have despised the total sufficiency of what Jesus has done to secure my place in Your kingdom by wrongly believing that I need to contribute my good works in order to be acceptable to You. Help me to treasure Your grace so much more and learn to worship You for the finished work of Christ. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams