IDOLS OF THE HEART- you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” gALATIANS 4:8


Once again Paul is telling the Galatians that trusting in the law after their salvation in Christ is no different from pagans worshiping false gods. (e.g., Zeus and Hermes – Acts 14:11-15) Anything that leads us away from complete reliance on Christ for salvation and God’s grace for our needs is idolatry, even religiosity (Judaism). An idol is something or some person we put energy and effort into to get what we want and need – physical, relational and spiritual needs, anything from food and shelter to love, self-acceptance, meaning, purpose, hope, etc.


As Christians we are “known by God” (v.9) for who we are in Christ – not the old self. The reason we stay under the law is that we learn at an early age to try to win approval from others (esp. parents and peers) by performing – keeping the law. Scriptures says we all know we are sinners and unacceptable to God (we are born in sin and choose to sin). (Romans 1: 18-20; 2:14-16) What we don’t know is the gospel and how perfectly and unconditionally loved we are by God because of the work of Christ. That is why Paul says to put off the old self (flesh – trying to earn God’s love and the love of others. (Rom. 7:14-25; Eph. 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10) Even after salvation we can continue to present a false, work-righteousness self to God and others and live in denial rather than honestly admitting our sins to God (not just behaviors but the attitudes behind the behaviors) and experience His love and forgiveness just as we are. His forgiving love changes our hearts and then our behaviors change.


Vv. 9-10 – The “principles” of the law (religious rules) are “weak” (have no power for righteousness) and “miserable” or poor (have no spiritual value and eternal inheritance) and simply enslave people by trying to earn God’s acceptance and meet our idolatrous needs/wants. Our drivenness, fears and worries (bondages) are a sign we are trusting in our idols rather than God to meet our needs, as we know deep down they (idols) are not trustworthy. We know they will ultimately always let us down.


Paul says “become like me” in that Paul was formerly a legalistic Pharisee and now one who experiences freedom and joy in His relationship with God through Jesus. He wants them to return to their first love and the joy in Christ they once had. (v.15)


God can use and overrule our weaknesses and handicaps as He did with Paul’s as his illness seemed to have led him to Galatia and though it seems it was offensive to them they saw beyond it even welcoming Paul as an angel of God –even as Christ Himself because of the good news of the gospel.


Paul is appealing to them as a pastor who cares for their soul as he speaks the truth in love as a mother or father would to their beloved children warning them of the lies and sinful motives of the Judaizers and reminding them of his suffering labor of love to bring them the gospel and groans in prayer for their growth in Christlikeness.


What can we learn and imitate in Paul as we desire to influence and disciple others?

1) Paul’s goal was their Christlikeness not for them to be “zealous” for him. Yet this is what the Judaizers wanted. Our life and words should motivate others to be zealous for God as our Lord Jesus was (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17) not zealous for us.

2) Personally living out what we are teaching or calling others to do is what empowers what we say. Paul was filled with the joy of salvation by grace through faith (Phil 3:1-8) and wanted his Galatian friends to experience it again. This was not some academic doctrine but personal and experiential knowledge. This is what the Hebrew word “yada” means, i.e., not just head knowledge but personal, relational and experiential knowledge of the truth. It is always helpful to learn from a person who has “been there” (trials, suffering, sin/repentance) and learned God’s way and then models it through the way they live – not just with words.

3) Paul’s intense love for his disciples (like Christ’s love) is our model. Even as a mother labors in pain for the child to be birthed we are to labor in loving and often difficult service and intercessory prayer for others to become more and more like Jesus. The mother wants the child to come out of the womb and be its own person not attached to or dependent on her (needing to be needed). Likewise we want those we influence for Christ to discover their own gifts and unique ministries and not be dependent on us but to reach out to the sphere of influence God has for them. (Psalm 127:4) But as Paul modeled here, people need both nurturing love and God’s truth (sometimes painful truth) or they will not grow up in Christlikeness but remain spiritual infants. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”(v.16) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:14-16)

4) As with Paul’s illness, God can and does use our weaknesses and handicaps to minister to His people and demonstrate His love and power. When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”(1 Cor. 2:1-5)


                                                   GALATIANS 4:8-20                                      



Our drivenness, fears and worries are a sign we are trusting in our idols rather than God to meet our needs as we know deep down they are not trustworthy. We know they will ultimately always let us down. As a good spiritual friend may ask us when they see us living for our idol – How is that working for you?


Idols of the heart can usually be discovered by examining our true motives, strong desires, and negative emotions. Of course this requires gut-level honesty with the Lord and yourself, not what you “ought” to want..

What do you feel you need to really make you happy? Why?


What makes you feel the most self-worth? Why?


What unanswered prayer might turn you away from the Lord? Why??


What do you rely on to comfort yourself when you feel upset or stressed? Why


What do you worry about the most? Why?


Reexamine the chart below to help you discover your potential idol.



What we seek/want

Price we will pay

Greatest nightmare

Others often feel

Problem emotion


Privacy, lack of stress, freedom

Reduced productivity

Reduced intimacy

Stress, demands





Affirmation, love, relationships

Less independence



Intruded upon

Relational Cowardice


Self-discipline, certainty, standards


lack of spontaneity





Success, winning, influence

Burdened, responsibility












(Paul had been set free from these idols – Comfort, Approval, Control, and Power and had freedom and joy in Christ versus bondage to rules.)

In what ways may people want to become like you because of your relationship with the Lord? (Check the fruit of the Spirit in Gal.5:22-23 and see which ones you feel are flowing through your life.)

Where has and does the Lord work through you in spite of your weaknesses? Heed Paul’s confession in 1 Cor. 2 above.

Do you think others would say you are zealous for God (in a right way)?

Do you feel you do the necessary but difficult relating to others by speaking the truth (sometimes painful truth) in love? Why do you think you may not speak the truth even when you know the person needs to hear it? Who has helped you grow up in Christ by speaking hard truths to you?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25) It is in doing God’s Word, not in just hearing it, that we are blessed. What action will you take to apply these truths to your life?

Scripture memory verse: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 principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" (Galatians 4:9)

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