Does this verse denounce the festivals and Holy Days of God? What is the background of this passage?
Galatians 4:21 says, "Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?" In general, Paul is referring to the law of God, but he uses sarcasm here to make a point.
Some were troubling the Church by teaching the doctrine that individual works and obedience would justify a person, in effect rejecting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for their sins. Why would Christ need to die if their own works would achieve their salvation?
Paul is asking them, sarcastically, "Why do you desire to remain under the penalty of death, which is the consequence of having violated the laws of God?" Paul was driving home the point that human effort cannot remove the penalty of death. The unintended consequence of their looking to the law to justify them before God was to guarantee that they would not be forgiven, having rejected the sacrifice of Christ, the only true source of justification before God.
Some make a creative leap from the actual subject of Galatians 4 and claim that the law refers to the weekly Sabbath and God's annual Holy Days. Equating God's commands to observe His days with the language Paul used is inaccurate for several reasons.
Many people mistakenly assume that Paul addressed only one problem in Galatians 4, and that the subject of verse 21 is the same as that of verses 9-10. History indicates otherwise. The religious philosophy that later became known as gnosticism was a serious problem in the early New Testament Church of God. It was addressed in most of the letters of the New Testament in some form. It existed in many and varied forms, each of which drew upon pagan mystery religion and an attempted combination with some Christian teachings. Astrology was a principal factor in gnostic beliefs, hence the reference to observing "days and months and seasons and years" (verse 10).
The Greek for "elements" ( stoicheion ) in verse 9 can denote: 1) "basic principles" or 2) "the materials of which the world and the universe are composed...'the elements will be destroyed by burning' 2 Pe 3.10'" ( Greek-English Lexicon , Louw-Nida). When the Galatian gentiles "did not know God" (verse 8), they worshipped celestial-based pagan deities, according to "days and months and seasons and years" (verse 10). This verse is not talking about the Sabbath, upon which Paul taught the Jews and gentiles (Acts 13:42-44).
Earlier in Galatians 4, the context of "elements" ( stoicheion ) is that of "basic principles of the world" learned under childhood supervision, "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements [ stoicheion ] of the world" (verse 3). Likewise, circumcision and other temporary laws taught fundamental lessons that were required until "the fullness of the time had come" (verse 4). Again, the context does not include God's Holy Days, which the Church continued to keep.
Does the United Church of God of God believe that God requires the observance of the weekly and annual Sabbaths? Yes, we do. Our basis for our beliefs is clearly laid out in three of our publications, Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest , God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind and Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Keep?
In conclusion, let's be reminded that the flaw in the first covenant relationship God made with Israel was the people , not the law (Hebrews 8:8). They were unfaithful. Nothing about the covenant itself was corrupt or evil. The Bible is plain about this, as well as the fact that the basis for the New Covenant is the same as the first covenant God made with Israel—His laws (Hebrews 8:8-10).
Galatians can be a difficult book to understand. Some branches of Christianity are antinomian, that is, they teach that Christians are under no obligation to obey the law of God, so they have interpreted Galatians that way. This belief equates legalism (believing that keeping Moses' law earns salvation) with being law-abiding (believing that God obligates Christians to keep His law) and would have us reject both. Of course, legalism is wrong, but there is a vast difference between being law-abiding and being legalistic.
Compare the law of God with the rules of a household. God's laws are simply rules for His household. A dysfunctional family illustrates legalism. Parents in such a household make harsh demands of their children; only by responding to those demands can children earn the favor of their parents. By contrast, a healthy family has parents who lay down reasonable rules, laws or boundaries; these parents always love their children. Being law-abiding is normal and healthy.
Society expects every citizen to be law-abiding. Indeed, a citizen who rejects and refuses to submit to law is a criminal! Likewise, God's children, the citizens of His Kingdom, need to be law-abiding.