“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?”
“But now” contrasts the conversion of the Galatians into liberty in Christ with their former lives under the legalism of their gods.
after you have known God,
Now that the Galatians came to “know” God on a personal level, why would they revert to legalism? Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Its essence is not a system of dos and don’ts but fellowship with the living God.
or rather are known by God,
Paul corrects the emphasis of the previous phrase. Salvation is not due to Galatian efforts at gaining God’s favor but to God, who planned their salvation billions of years in eternity past, who gave His favor freely.
Galatian knowledge of God did not come from within them; it came from God Himself, from the sovereign grace of the gospel. It was not they who made the change in their lives but the gospel. We know God only because He took the initiative to fellowship with us by His grace.
how is it
How is it possible that the Galatians would revert to legalism in the light that they did not come to Christ by effort?
that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements,
The words “turn again” means to convert. This is a belief term that focuses upon that to which one turns. It is to turn one’s manner of life in a particular direction with the idea of turning one’s back on grace. The Galatians were in the process of converting back to legalism. Legalism was in their blood before they came to Christ, so there is a natural tendency to revert to it. In their case, they would return to “weak and beggarly elements.”
“Weak” means feeble, miserable. Why would the Galatians revert to a feeble faith legalism? This would place them in a state of helplessness because of the limited capacity of legalism. Legalism lacks the wealth of grace because self-effort is impotent in comparison to the effort of Christ on the cross. The law never had the ability to save anyone.
“Beggarly” means poverty. Legalism is a state of poverty in comparison to grace. It does not have enough capital to give salvation or sanctification.
Legalism is elemental compared to grace. The idea of “elements” is elemental substances. The secular Greek world used this term for the basic materials on which the cosmos is composed. It is any first thing from which other things take their rise, a first principle. The first principle of legalism is that a person must earn their rights with God. That is why legalism is a beggar to the grace of God.
to which you desire again to be in bondage?
To revert to legalism is to revert to paganism. They knew something about slavery to the gods of the pantheon; why would they go back to similar slavery in legalism by reverting to law-keeping? We cannot find God through the efforts of the self. Legalism is powerless to impart salvation or sanctification. It cannot produce the results that the gospel does.
Man’s efforts of merit are trash; God’s grace is a treasure for us.
Salvation is all of grace. God finds us; we do not find Him. He extends His grace to us; we offer Him nothing. When we turn back to earning God’s favor and approbation, we turn back the clock spiritually. There is a proclivity to revert to the past. Somehow, someway, we want salvation or the Christian life to depend on us. That is a warm and wonderful feeling not based on the Bible.
Many people need to trade in their religion and get the gospel of grace found only in the finished work of Christ on the cross. This is a bitter pill to swallow for those impressed with their self-effort.