"However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain." (Galatians 4:8-11)Paul understood that the Galatians had not lapsed into idolatry, into serving another god, but they had turned to serve those things that weren't, by nature, even gods. Their error was not that they served another god but that they gave their service to, and invested their hopes into, dead practices of religion without any reference to god, or a god, at all. When we serve religion, we are not serving God but rather are placing our hope and trust in a pattern of behavior that we hope will save us and endure us towards God. However, if we have the Father, what need do we have for dead religious practices?
Paul speaks of the "worthless elemental things." These are the well-ordered and regular practices of people whom find in them some since of solace, hope for betterment and redemption, and acceptance among their piers and, perhaps, even God. The key ideas are regular and orderliness. That is why Paul references the adherence to religious observances such as days, months, and season. Most religions have a set order of days, feasts, and observances that happen with regularity and in order. Sadly, the Christian church too has adopted much the same approach to religion. In some orthodox branches of Christianity their church calendar is almost completely filled with observances, holy days, days of remembrance, and feast days. As much as we might enjoy the orderliness and regularity of these observances, they do nothing to help us, save us, or draw us nearer to God Himself. They are, in the end, just dead religion. Perhaps useful for the one who is lost and still does not know God, but useless for the child of God who is growing in the knowledge and understanding of God.
Paul warns us that, when our focus and attention turn to the "worthless elemental things," then we stop growing and the grace and truth of God in our lives becomes "in vain"; we render the work and grace of Christ null and void in our lives. These things once filled our attentions but now is the time to leave them behind and press on to know God through our relationship with Him as sons and daughters.
One final note. Paul speaks of being "known by God." How could God not have know us? How could there ever have been a time when God did not know us intimately and in every minute detail? It seems to me that the difference is not so much God know us but us knowing that God knows us. The Greek word for knowing could also be translated as perceiving. When we come to Christ we not only come to know God but we also open our lives up to Him, to be known by Him, and to let our lives, good, bad, or indifferent, to be perceived by Him. When God opens up His life to us and we open up our lives to Him, what need have we further of dead religion? When you have intimate relationships what more need have you of artificial efforts to achieve what you already have? Let us strip away all that remains of the past and of the beggarly things of our former lives that accomplished for us nothing, and learn the simplicity of being sons and daughters of God.