our tendency to forget who we really are. There’s a gravitational pull back to our former identity as slaves and orphans, and away from our true identity as children of God, and our freedom from legalistic religion. At the core of our passage this morning is the sufficiency of Jesus. So our big idea this morning is, Trust that Jesus is Enough. And the 2 exhortations to that end in this passage are: 

  1. Don’t Return to Slavery (4:8-11)
  2. Entrust Yourself to Faithful People (4:12-20)


ESV Study Bible
Thomas Schreiner, Galatians
Timothy Keller, Galatians for You

Sermon Transcript

Good morning. My name is Paul and I’m one of the pastors of Citylight. In a moment, I’d like to invite you to join me in prayer. But first, in the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 5, we read, 


I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.


Let’s pray. 


Lord Jesus, this image of you as the vine and us as the branches screams of our needed dependence on you. You are the true source of our life and strength and hope. It’s when we abide in you that we are able to rest secure in a world around us that is gripped in fear and anxiety. Forgive us for our constant temptation to live independently of you by pursuing our own ends in our own strength. Remind us that apart from you, we can do nothing. 


This morning, draw us into deep dependence on you. As we sing together of your majesty and goodness, direct our hearts to glorify you above all other things. As we submit ourselves to the truth of your Word, may your Spirit bear much fruit in transforming us to new levels of Christlikeness – that we might grow in our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. May the fruit of the Spirit radically affect the way we relate to one another and make us fruitful witnesses to the transforming power of the gospel before a watching world. 


Draw us to yourself, Lord, because you’ve promised that when we draw near to you, you will draw near to us. Meet us here this morning, transform us, and help us see that all we need can be found by abiding in you. 


In the all-sufficient name of Jesus we pray, amen.

Opening Prayer

Good morning, again! It’s an honor to be able to share from God’s Word with you this morning. [I’d also like to take a second to say hi to our friends at Citylight Delco this morning, as they’ll be watching this recording during their gathering because Pastor Andy and Mindy had a baby this past week. I’m grateful for our whole Citylight family, with our congregation in Delco and the other churches in our network, that we get to partner in gospel ministry together.] Before we go any further, let’s pray. 


Father, thank you for your Word that not only trains us in righteousness, but is alive and at work in us because of your Spirit. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts this morning, that your Word might comfort us, challenge us, encourage us, and further conform us to the image of Christ. And use me, Lord, as your vessel, to communicate your Word truly. Do your work this morning, Lord. In the name of Jesus, our Savior, amen.


As I’ve been thinking about last week’s sermon, and studying this passage for today, I keep thinking about my daughters, Evangeline and Joelle. If you were here last week, and you know my family, the connection is obvious. The main focus of our passage from last week was our new identity as adopted children of God – that in Christ we are welcomed into the family of God as sons and heirs, with all of the privileges and security that comes along with it. And many of you know, Shanell and I adopted our girls back in 2020. 


It’s been an absolute joy to watch them grow and develop over the past 2 and a half years. While we have a relationship with their birth mother, they only know us as mom and dad, and we only know them as our daughters. With that, our hope for them – only behind our hope that they would also be adopted into the family of God – is that they would know who they are. They are Fullers! Just like any parent, we want them to know the security that is theirs as our children and trust us as their mom and dad who love them. 


Yet there’s a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that a day will come when they start to question or doubt who they are as our children; where they struggle to come to terms with their birth mother’s decision to place them for adoption. As I think about that, my heart breaks. While that would be difficult for Shanell and I, as those who know what is true, it will be even more difficult for us to see them struggle with who they are, and the potential poor choices that could lead to. 


This is exactly where the Apostle Paul goes next in his letter to the Galatian Christians. After showing them who they were in verse 3 – “enslaved to the elementary principles of this world” – and who they are now in verses 4-7 – adopted sons and heirs of God through the death of Jesus – the Apostle Paul leans into our tendency to forget who we really are. There’s a gravitational pull back to our former identity as slaves and orphans, and away from our true identity as children of God, and our freedom from legalistic religion. At the core of our passage this morning is the sufficiency of Jesus. So our big idea this morning is, Trust that Jesus is Enough. And the 2 exhortations to that end in this passage are: 

  1. Don’t Return to Slavery (4:8-11)
  2. Entrust Yourself to Faithful People (4:12-20)


Picking up in verse 8, where we left off last week, Paul’s first exhortation to the Galatians is… 

Point 1: Don’t Return to Slavery (4:8-11)

If you were here last week, you might recall that prior to their adoption as sons of God, Paul characterized the Galatians in verse 3 as “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (4:3). Likewise, in verse 8, we read, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” They were enslaved to their pagan religions, but by receiving the message of the gospel, the Galatians were freed from bondage to their pagan religious beliefs and practices, and adopted into the family of God through Jesus. They were given a new identity as sons and heirs of God! 


But Paul does something radical next. In verse 9, Paul warns them not to turn back once again to being enslaved by the “elementary principles of the world” (4:9). Do you see what he’s doing here? Let me show you… 


If you’ve been around on this journey through Galatians, you’ve seen that the primary threat the Apostle Paul is addressing is the false teaching that these new Christians also need to abide by the requirements of the Law from Moses – things like circumcision, festivals, and other aspects of the law that have been fulfilled in Christ. In short, Paul has been showing them over and over, “all you need is Jesus, not Jesus plus the law (or Jesus plus anything else).” 


So what’s Paul doing here in verses 9-11? We read, 

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.


Here’s what he’s doing: Paul is saying that submitting now to the Jewish law – as the false teachers are urging them to do – would enslave them in the same way as when they were in their pagan religions prior to hearing about Jesus in the first place. Whatever rituals, festivals, and legalistic practices they left when they first trusted in Jesus, these rituals, festivals, and legalistic practices they’re now turning to by adding the Jewish law to the gospel are no different! He’s not pulling any punches because getting the gospel right is the most important thing. 


Here’s what Paul is saying: Anything other than following Jesus alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, is slavery. Perhaps a simpler way of saying it, to paraphrase Lee Stroebel: All other religions are spelled D-O because they’re based on what we do to earn God’s favor; Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Jesus is enough! Jesus plus anything is slavery. 


Yet we all experience this tendency or gravitational drift toward returning to slavery – this feeling that we need to do something to keep God happy with us and earn our place. To some degree, every other relationship we know works that way – right or wrong, our lives are made up of “give and take” relationships. And we’ve been conditioned not only by that way of life, but the sinful independence we all crave, to think of that as normal and apply it also to God. To credit Pastor Mike at Citylight Center City, there’s a temptation in our hearts to say to God: “Tell me what to do and I’ll never have to trust you again.” Our hearts need dependence on God, and yet we crave independence. 


A couple weeks ago, Pastor Matt shared a diagram from a book called The Gospel-Centered Life that helps us envision our life in Christ. 


[The Cross Chart] 


You can see the straight line until we experience conversion. When we trust the good news of the gospel – that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection saves us, gives us a new identity, and secures eternal life with God for us – we start our new life in Christ. As we continue to grow in our faith in Jesus and believe the truth of the gospel, the beauty and sufficiency of the cross grows. We simultaneously grow in our understanding of God’s perfect holiness and our own sinfulness, and we are drawn to worship the person and work of Jesus – who he is and what he’s done – and embrace our new identity as beloved children of God. This is how our life in Christ is meant to be, and exactly what the Apostle Paul is calling the Galatians to walk in.


But our continued tendency is to shrink the cross… This is from the same resource as the previous diagram, and helps us understand exactly what the Apostle Paul is warning us about. 


[Shrinking the Cross]


There’s something in us that makes us feel we need something more than Jesus to earn God’s approval – that somehow the things that we do will earn us greater favor before God. This leads us to minimize the gospel, or shrink the cross. To quote The Gospel-Centered Life, “This happens when I either (a) minimize God’s perfect holiness, thinking of him as something less than his Word declares him to be, or (b) elevate my own righteousness, thinking of myself as someone better than I actually am. The cross becomes smaller and Christ’s importance in my life is diminished” (13). We exert ourselves and put in all of our effort not out of gratitude to our loving Father and what Christ has done for us, but because we feel we need to earn God’s favor and if we’re not getting it all right we won’t have God’s approval. This is a problem whether you’re not trying to be right with God or not; there’s always someone or something you’re trying to be right with (maybe that’s even yourself). 


Whatever the case, doing this results in either pride or despair. We’re simply reverting once again to legalism. 

  • If we feel like we’re checking all the boxes and doing all the right things, it leads to pride. Instead of remaining dependent on the Lord, we feel entitled to God’s favor not just because of what Jesus has done, but because of what we’ve done. And we stand in judgment over others who don’t seem to be meeting up to the standards we’ve set for ourselves. 
  • But what happens when we don’t meet the standard? Here comes despair, and shame, and guilt. We beat ourselves up, and we try to hide from God and others. We seek out ways to atone for our own shortcomings and sin instead of resting in Jesus’ atonement for us. 


How are you tempted to shrink the cross and return to slavery? 

  • Perhaps it’s an ongoing sin struggle – when you’re in a period of it going well you feel a sense of pride, but when your temptation gets the best of you once again you are overcome by shame and distance yourself from God and others. 
  • Or maybe it’s some spiritual discipline or exercising your spiritual gifts: 
    • You go through a period of spending fruitful and meaningful times studying God’s Word and coming before him in prayer, or you share the gospel with someone and they trust in Jesus as their Savior… 
    • Maybe that success leads to a sense of entitlement to God’s favor and blessing – certainly God’s going to reward you with what you want because you’ve been faithful. 
    • But then you miss a couple days in the Word, or you miss an obvious opportunity to share the gospel with someone, and you feel ashamed. You ask yourself why God would love you, and in your despair, you distance yourself from God and others.
  • It’s often our pursuit of good, godly things that can lead us to shrink the cross in our lives, and in so doing, return to slavery. 


Friends, this is no way to live. Resist the temptation to once again submit yourself to slavery in anything other than Jesus alone. 


Because Jesus has done for us what we could not do on our own, we have all the favor of God that we will ever need. If you are trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, it’s Jesus’ perfect life that God sees when he looks at you. He’s adopted you as his children and blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessing. You no longer need to earn God’s favor because Jesus has done that for you. And you no longer need to despair when you fall short, because the cross of Christ has taken care of that too. You are free to continue doing what you did from day 1: repent and believe. To quote Martin Luther, “the whole of the Christian life is faith and repentance.” Don’t return to slavery by seeking God’s favor in anything other than Christ alone. Jesus is enough! Rest in him, depend on him – believe what he says about you and return to that over and over again. 


The second way, according to this passage, that you stick with Jesus, is to… 

Point 2: Entrust Yourself to Faithful People (4:12-20)

In his ongoing plea to these Galatian Christians to trust that Jesus is enough, he leans on his relationship with them and reminds them of when they first encountered one another. 

It seems that Paul didn’t set out to share the gospel with those in Galatia, but was detained among them because of some bodily ailment, and he simply took the opportunity in front of him. 

Just as a brief aside, the things that come up in your life are not an accident. This reminds us that we all have opportunities to testify to the power of the gospel, especially when it may seem that our plans were derailed. Maybe, like what we see here with the Apostle Paul, it’s a health issue. Or maybe it’s an unexpected setback at work, or the loss of a loved one. Take the opportunities God gives you! (For what it’s worth, I’m preaching this to myself as well. And remember from just a few moments ago – no shame here, just faith and repentance.) 

Back to our passage… We see that Paul was detained in Galatia because of his bodily ailment, perhaps an issue with his eyes (as we’ll see in a moment), and he took the opportunity to share the gospel with them. Look at how they received him – despite the ways it made their lives more difficult, they didn’t scorn or despise him, but received him as though they were receiving an angel, or even Christ himself! Paul goes so far to say that they would have gouged out their eyes and given them to him, if it would have helped – which may point to it being an issue with his eyes. These people extended deep compassion to Paul in his time of need, and he offered them the hope of Jesus – and they believed! They were freed from their bondage to “the elementary principles of the world” and enjoyed life in Christ as God’s adopted children. 

But these false teachers drove a wedge in what was once a beautiful relationship. What Paul focuses on are not just the message, but the motives. In responding to the Galatians’ change of heart, Paul tells them the truth in order that they might be as he is – free from the law – and that Christ would be formed in them. It’s evident in what he writes that this is rooted in a deep love for them. When Paul pleads with them to become as he is, his only benefit is their freedom and formation in Christ. Even though the Galatians have now turned their back on him, Paul’s pleading with them not for his own sake, but for theirs. He sees what they don’t see: that they’re returning to slavery.

While Paul’s motives are pure (at least as pure as any of our motives can be), the false teachers are motivated by their own self-interest. We see this in verse 17: “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.” To quote the ESV Study Bible note on this verse, “The false teachers have been flattering the Galatians, but only to receive flattery back.” If these false teachers can lead the Galatians to believe that Jesus isn’t enough, and they need to conform to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, they gain power over them. As Tim Keller has written about this verse, “The false teachers want followers who glorify them; Paul wants partners who glorify Christ.” 

Can you relate to Paul’s experience? We’ve all had people in our lives who have changed radically and alarmingly in the past couple of years. We’ve been vilified for not being conservative or progressive enough, or distrusted by those we once had a deep relationship with because of a change in their beliefs. Perhaps it’s a family member, or someone who stood by your side at your wedding, someone you suffered alongside of or someone who was instrumental in your growth in Christ, or vice versa. If someone you love has turned away from what’s true, or had their priorities disordered, your heart breaks not only for the broken relationship, but for the way this is harming them, especially if they don’t see it. And out of as pure a heart as you can muster, you plead with them not to enslave themselves to some false ideology. We all know this pain! It resonates with us when Paul writes, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” Have you experienced that yourself? 

Now put yourselves in the shoes of the Galatians. Who are you entrusting yourself to? We all have the media sources we imbibe: podcasts, news channels, social media influencers and personalities. Or maybe it’s more personal: family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers… But it’s far more intimate than wrong ideas we’re listening to – we’re having our worldview shaped. Whatever the source, it’s important for us to consider who we’re entrusting ourselves to.

  • Are they faithfully pointing you to Jesus? Exhorting you to trust in God’s Word? Willing to tell you hard things out of a deep love for you and your soul? To use Paul’s phrase, are they “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”? 
  • Or are they pointing you toward something beyond Jesus? Calling God’s Word into question – like Satan in the garden with Adam and Eve, who asked: “Did God really say…”? Is there a reason to question the purity of their motives? Are you exposing yourself only to things that make you feel superior or affirmed? 

I’m not saying you should tune out everything except the Bible – I’m saying everything needs to be filtered by it. I think of the example of the Bereans in Acts 17 who, upon hearing the message of the gospel from Paul and Silas, “examin[ed] the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” 

I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch the news, but I am saying you should question why 24/7 cable news is such a booming industry and how it’s influencing you – is it possible that it’s not to inform you, but to enslave you. In some sense, the same can be said for podcasters, or social media influencers. If your reflex reaction when a tragedy happens is posturing about a political agenda instead of grief and lament, and crying out to God, question who you’re entrusting yourself to because they’re forming you. 

Unfortunately, this can also be said of loved ones, who have a sincere affection for us, yet are so steeped in the spirit of this age that they want to win us over to their ideals because they believe its in our best interest. 

The Apostle Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 that, “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

There are so many insidious things that we consume without thinking – it’s easy to see in others, and so hard to see in ourselves. Friends, entrust yourselves to faithful people – those who, like Paul, are “in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” People who will, out of genuine love for you, point you to what is true, say the hard things you need to hear, and remind you that Jesus is enough.

Conclusion/Gospel Connection 

I don’t want you to miss the beautiful promise in these verses – the reason Paul is so disheartened by the Galatians’ temptation to return to slavery. Look at verse 9, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” This brings us back to the heart of our identity as God’s adopted children in Christ. We were not welcomed into the family of God because of anything we have done. Every other religion and worldview is about what you have to do to gain favor and acceptance – whether that’s the favor of God or someone else, or even yourself. It’s only in Christianity that God himself put on flesh, came into our world, and sought to know us. 


Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are known by God. He doesn’t just know you in some abstract or impersonal way; it’s not just intellectual awareness; he knows you. It’s personal, like a father to his beloved child. It’s intimate, and constant, and nothing in all creation can separate you from the love God has for you in Christ. Tim Keller, commenting on this verse, writes, “The great and central basis of Christian assurance is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably His heart is set on us.” 

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray. 


Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son into the world to take on flesh, to sympathize with us, to bear the punishment for our sin, and die in our place, that we might be known by you and adopted into your family. By the truth of your Word and your Holy Spirit who is at work within us, help us to remember who we are as your children. Help us to trust that Jesus is enough and there is nothing we could do that will make you love us any more than you already do in Christ. Lead us in freedom to walk with you in a posture of gratitude for all you’ve done for us. And supply us with faithful shepherds and friends who will continue to point us back to what is true and lead us into greater faithfulness to you. May we rest secure with you as our Father, and we as your beloved children, in the name of our brother and savior Jesus, Amen.