I am the father of two children—one daughter and one son. They’re grown now, but I still have lots of photos to remind me of when they were toddlers. Along with the photos I also have lots of memories, mental snapshots that I can call up from time to time. One set of memories that I cherish is when my children were learning to walk. It was a delight to watch them pull upright by holding on to my two forefingers. They would stand and wobble in place for a few moments; then I would slowly lead them to take the first step, balance themselves, take another step, and so on. It wasn’t long before they began to let go of my fingers and take steps on their own toward their mother’s outstretched arms. Sometimes they would take one or two steps, lose their balance, and plop down on their bottoms or stumble backwards (where I was ready to catch them). With practice and persistence, however, both children soon mastered the art of walking upright.
Just as I delighted in watching my children grow and develop as little humans, the apostle Paul delighted in watching believers grow in faith and develop into mature Christians. Conversely, he became extremely concerned when Christians who should have been mature in their faith showed signs of stumbling, of taking two steps forward and then falling one step back. In Galatians 4:8-20, Paul identified at least three troubling signs that the Galatian Christians were backsliding in their faith.
They knew God and His grace, but they were turning back to the law. In 4:9-10, Paul reminded the Galatians that they had come to know the one, true God. Paul had proclaimed the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to the Galatians, and they had believed. Later on, however, some false teachers came to the area and proclaimed a different message—one that required Christians to also obey the ritual works of Judaism. Sadly, some of the Galatian believers fell for this false message of works-righteousness.
They once viewed Paul as a beloved messenger of Christ, but they were falling for the false teachers’ lies about Paul. In 4:11-15, Paul recalled how the Galatians had opened their hearts to him and the gospel he preached even though they knew he battled a physical condition at the time. They weren’t ashamed of him or put off by his disability, whatever the disability was. Yet now they seemed ready to believe the false teachers’ accusations that Paul had not told them the truth.
The Galatians enjoyed being courted and coaxed by the false teachers, but the result would not be good. In 4:17-20, Paul warned the Galatians that choosing the false teachers and their corrupt message over Paul and the gospel would not turn out well for them. He felt as though they had backslidden to a perilous point.
Our Heavenly Father delights in teaching Christ’s followers to walk and talk with Him daily. He gives us His Spirit and equips us to grow into mature believers. Too often, we remain like spiritual toddlers taking those first steps—two steps forward and one step back. May we grasp firmly the Lord’s hands as we walk in faith and grow into the mature Christians that He wants us to be.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.