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The DEEP

Amazing Sins

How can this be?

Galatians 4:8–11 (ESV)

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 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? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

This has an emphatic feel in the Greek. Paul is worried about these guys. This is confirmed by the concluding sentence, “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

The Greek word translated as “you turn back” (ἐπιστρέφετε, epistrephete) is in the present tense and active voice. Also, the Greek word translated as “how can” (πῶς, pos) is used emphatically.

Thus, together they convey more of a sense of, “How is it possible that you are returning …?” Paul is amazed that they would even consider turning back to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.

But the evidence is undeniable. You observe days and months and seasons and years! Yeah, but what’s wrong with that?

This could be a reference to the ceremonial timetable mentioned in Leviticus 23. Or Paul might be referring to pagan worship practices based on celestial cycles. That was anything but rare back then. Either way, Paul is right to call this, “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.”

He should be worried.


Notice that this passage doesn’t mention circumcision. Paul seems to have moved on.

Not really. Circumcision and these rituals are both forms of relapsing back into slavery.

While the Galatians weren’t throwing virgins into volcanoes to try to make it rain, these observances were still useless attempts to be enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. That’s just nuts.

Okay, but now comes the hard part—recognizing how we’re just as bad.

Just as lapsing into circumcision has much in common with lapsing into rituals, our lapsing into useless things has much in common with their lapses. Like moths to a flame, our sinful nature pulls us away from service to Christ and towards slavery to silliness.

But our slaveries are in a broader spectrum. Sometimes we act like salvation is to be found in politics. Or we’re owned by our TV sets. And don’t get me started on the meaninglessness of sports.

The list is endless. Our society is an ocean of spam and clickbait, and our sinfulness makes us easy targets.

What meaningless things pull you away from the truly important?


These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

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The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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