study 39 last thoughts on Galatians
I want to thank every one who followed along in our study of Galatians. It was a lot of fun and I hope that we all learned a few things along the way. I thought before we started on our study of James that we should do a brief overview, as a way of summing up, of some of the highlights of Galatians.
We found out that Paul was concerned that his Apostleship should not be challenged because his authority came from God and if you challenged his authority then you challenged his message of grace. He went out of his way to show that he didn’t receive his teachings from the other Apostles yet the message he preached was no different than theirs.
It seemed the main problem that the churches of Galatia were facing was the introduction of a false gospel by one or more teachers who had started teaching a combination of grace plus circumcision.
Their argument probably went something like this; Paul is preaching an incomplete gospel of his own liking. In order to be a good Christian the Galatians needed to conform to the teachings of the laws of Moses. If they didn’t then they were not part of Abraham’s seed. The false teachers didn’t deny that a man was saved by grace; they just believed that there was more than grace. In other words you were saved by grace but you could be lost without circumcision. This view of salvation is still around in different forms to this day.
Paul’s argument against circumcision and the laws of Moses as a means of salvation was based upon the fact that Abraham had received the covenant before the giving of the law at Sinai, and that covenant God made with Abraham was based on grace. Abraham’s acceptance of God’s promises was accounted to him as righteousness.
Paul says that anyone who wants to keep the law as a way of earning merit with God and thus seeing the law as a means to salvation is bewitched, severed from God, makes God of no account, is under a tutor, is cursed and have fallen away from Grace. There is no place for a works based religion in the Book of Galatians.
Paul, however, does not do away with the law. He acknowledges the law is good not only because it points out sin, but also because it is the ideal and character of God. Though a Christian will not attempt to keep the law as a means of salvation, a Christian keeps the law through faith that leads to works of love. Love is manifested through the fruit of the Spirit that exemplifies the changed heart of a born again Christian. Instead of selfish inward looking acts of the flesh a Christian living by the fruit of the Spirit finds himself/herself living a life of love. That love is directed towards God and humanity. We must be clear Paul is not saying the law is bad anywhere in Galatians, he is simply saying that law keeping will not save you.
This argument against the false teachers who present a combination of grace and works makes up the bulk of the short book of Galatians. Paul argues against including the law as a method of salvation from his own experience, the experience of Abraham and then illustrates the point with the story of Hagar and Sarah.
He shows that Hagar and her child Ishmael represented works and could not inherit, while Sarah and her child, Isaac was the child of promise. Ishmael was born because of Abraham and Sarah thinking God was not going to fulfill his promise to them that they would have a son so they used Hagar as a surrogate. God, however, in His time gave them a child as He promised. These two boys Ishmael and Isaac thus represented all humanity. Ishmael represented works to get God’s work done and Isaac represented God’s fulfilled promise.
Paul builds on the theme throughout the book comparing the law to slavery and bondage. If we remember Hagar represented slavery and now the law is equated with slavery because no matter how hard someone tries to keep the law he fails and is enslaved by it. True freedom comes through grace that frees us from the curse of trying to keep the law for salvation.
The bottom line for Paul is that we are saved by grace alone and to add anything to grace is to belittle and undo the importance of the cross. The false teachers, wanting to add circumcision (obedience to the laws of Moses) to grace totally undoes the power of the cross to save. A person who comes to Christ through grace should never make the cross secondary to obedience. Paul tells the Galatians that since they started out well (saved by grace) why do they want to go to a works based religion that can only destroy their grace?
A person saved by grace, according to Paul, finds their life reflecting the love of Christ to others. Attitudes and actions change for the Christian. The things that the Galatians were once interested in now disappear, because they are now focused, and basking in the love of Christ. In place of trying to earn God’s love they accept it freely and allow it to pour through them to others. In short Christianity is about accepting the grace of God by faith and allowing that faith to work itself out through love.
Legalism and self-centered religion have no place in true Christianity, because they are counterfeits that lead us away from the cross and put the spotlight upon our own work and merit. To follow Christ we are to die to self and self’s spawn “works based theology,” and keep our eyes fully focused upon Jesus atoning substitutionary sacrifice at Calvary.
Paul loved the Galatians too much to allow them to fall into legalism without fighting for them against the false teachers who didn’t love the people, but only wanted to say they brought the Galatians back into the law orientated religion they proclaimed. Paul would stand up for the Galatians and fight for them with every breath he had because he loved the church and would not see it destroyed with legalism. There is a lesson there for all of us who believe in the love of God and accept His grace by faith.
Thanks for reading Galatians with me and I hope to start the study in James in a few more days so keep checking and we will start on anothe
Study 38 Liberty and the Cross
Galatians 6: 11-18
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.
Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.
I can’t believe we have come to the end of this amazing book, but Paul does not let us go without bringing once more to the cross.
Verse 11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. Elsewhere Paul has taken up the pen to write his final greetings (1 Cor. 16:21; Col.4: 18; 2 Thes. 3:17f). Though some people feel that the fact that Paul wrote with such large letters is because of his eyesight problems, but it was actually fairly common in the Roman world to conclude letters with large letters for emphasis. Cato, for example, wrote a history of Rome for his son, with his own hand (instead of dictating it to a secretary) and with large letters. Plutarch said that it made the work easier for the boy to read, but that doesn’t seem to be the motivation for Paul in his using large letters. F.F.Bruce for instance believes it was to show his readers that he himself was not ashamed of the gospel and would not deny what he taught.
Paul probably used a scribe to write what he dictated throughout Galatians, but now he wants to sum up his position and make it clear that this is important so he picks up the pen and writes these last words as one last personal call to the Galatians to listen, with all their hearts, to what he had written them.
Verse 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Paul’s concern for the Galatians is that Jesus lives through the Spirit in their hearts, but these false teachers are only concerned with the outward mark. Remember Paul wrote in 4:19, that his wish was that, “Christ be formed in you,” while these Judaizer’s concern was simply a legalistic sign in the “flesh.” But, what is really going on here and what are these false teachers really on about. It seems that they are concerned about being persecuted by the zealots who would link uncircumcised Christians with non-believing gentiles. These zealot militants believed that the cross of Christ was of no importance because it excluded the idea that you were saved by the laws of Moses.
These Jewish zealots were waging a war against the Romans and all gentiles were seen as enemies of pure Judaism. Therefore, the church in Jerusalem was seen by these people as a Jewish heresy and threatened the very existence of the church. This is important and interesting, because the Christians were being pressured throughout the era to worship the Emperor as all subjects of Rome were commanded to worship. They would eventually be persecuted and killed for their refusal to compromise with the state and burn incense to the Emperors. Now the church was also facing pressure to compromise by accepting circumcision as proof to the zealots that they hadn’t abandoned the laws of Moses for the cross. So, those that would surrender their freedom in Christ for the outward show of circumcision, to avoid persecution, as well as being pressured by the government to worship the Emperor, were battering the church. What I find interesting is that the church stood firm against the Roman authorities, but wanted compromise with the Jewish zealots.
In their hope of avoiding conflict with the influential and powerful Jewish power structure in Jerusalem the fledgling church were willing to compromise the freedom of their gentile brothers and sisters by making them adhere to circumcision. This willingness to surrender the gospel truth of the cross in order to get along with what religious authorities want has plagued the church throughout its history. The sad result is that the people who hang their faith on the cross are often persecuted by legalistic minded leaders and pastors for not compromising with the wishes of the church.
The sad truth of the matter is these legalistic missionaries to the gentile churches that Paul had started were on the same page theologically as a number of ultraconservative leaders back in Jerusalem. Remember, their attack on Paul at the Jerusalem Council where they argued unsuccessfully for their policies regarding gentile converts. “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses you cannot be saved” Acts 15:1 There is even a more sinister and selfish reason for their desire to make the gentile believers conform to their teachings as outlined in verse 13.
Verse 13 For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh.
These legalistic Christians were concerned that the church was being watered down by so many gentile converts who were not conforming to all the laws of Moses. If these people kept joining in great numbers they would see their Jewish Christian understanding of Christianity swept aside in a tide of people who adhered to the teachings of Paul. As a result, these false teachers, (missionaries of circumcision) saw it as their duty to go to Paul’s churches and straighten the people out and win them back to their way of thinking regarding the cross and works. What they really wanted was as Timothy George writes in his commentary on Galatians, “they wanted to boast and brag about how many Gentile Christians they had converted into Jewish proselytes.” Galatians, p. 433 Cole in his commentary on Galatians makes it even clearer what these men were up to, “Paul’s point was that the Jews wanted ecclesiastical statistics’; so many circumcisions in a given year was certainly something to boast about.” Galatians 181 George continues, “When they returned to Jerusalem, they wanted to be able to stand up at the missionaries’ meeting and declare that they had traveled far and wide and had a good many scalps to show for their efforts.” Galatians, 433
This is a warning to Christian leaders to make sure our motives are pure. How many times have I sat through meetings where the emphases are on how many baptisms have you had this quarter? Remember Saul telling David he had to bring back 100 foreskins of Philistines before he would give his daughter Michal to him in marriage. When David laid 200 foreskins on the table before Saul he was presenting these as tokens of his own success. The legalistic false teachers were doing the same thing figuratively, for the church back in Jerusalem and we Christians do it today. When we see baptisms as a numbers game instead of a new life for a born again Christian we are no different that those legalists who wanted to brag in their success.
Verse 14 But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
In contrast to the false teachers who wanted to boast in how many Gentile Christians they brought back into the slavery of legalism Paul argues the only thing he will ever glory in is the Cross. Don’t you love Paul and his straightforward teachings? He has nothing to boast or brag about. If he was at a Church conference and was asked to give an account of the number of converts he saw in his ministry that quarter Paul would simply shake his head at such lack of understanding of the meaning of the Gospel. When a person comes to Christ it is because they have been led out of darkness and death into the light of salvation. These people are not statistics to be bantered around or scalps to be hung from pastors belts. The only boasting Paul was capable of was boasting of the Lord. (1Cor.1:31; 2 Cor.10:17) While the Greek and Roman culture took pride in military feats, oratorical abilities, intellect, political power, monetary success, and social success, Paul boasted only in the contemptible and valueless cross of Christ. The Cotton Patch version of the Bible gives us an insight into how despicable the cross was, “God forbid that I should ever take pride in anything, except the lynching of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word crux (cross) was so crude that no person in polite company would ever use the term. George points out, “In order to get around this difficulty, the Romans devised a euphemistic circumlocution, ‘hang him on the unlucky tree.’” (see Bruce, Galatians,271 quoting Cicero, Pro Rabirio, 13)
George points out how we dishonor the cross today, “yes, of course Jesus died on the cross, and that is a great example of God’s love. But if you want to be saved and really belong to the true Israel, then you must do something more than merely rely on that past event. Yes, Jesus was the Messiah, and he did a lot for us. But now it is up to you to complete what he began.” Galatians, P. 437 This post is getting long so instead of writing out 2 Cor. 5: 19, 21 I would just say read those verses to see what Paul really thought about the cross.
Verse 14 is important because it speaks not only of Jesus crucifixion outside of Jerusalem, but through the cross Paul has been crucified to the world and the world to him. For Christians the cross separates us from the desires of the world and the world’s power to hold us under its thumb. We walk in the newness of life and though the things of this world trip us up from time to time we are headed in a different direction from the things the world glories in. We as Paul glory in the Cross.
Verse 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
This verse parallels 5:6 where Paul says only “faith expressing itself through love,” counts not circumcision or uncircumcision. J.B.Phillips translation of the verse uses the expression, “the power of new birth,” for “new creation.” New creation, however, has a deeper meaning because it includes all that we become when we come to Christ. When we become a new creation it is not only our acceptance of grace, but also the direction of our whole life. It includes our walk with Christ, our growth, our new way of thinking, the leaving behind of the things that harm us and lead us away from God. A new creation implies a new nature with new affections, habits all guided and led by the Holy Spirit. A new creation is simply a person who has cast his lot with Jesus and allows the Holy Spirit to guide and direct in all that he/she is and is willing to follow (discipleship) wherever Jesus leads. This is faith working through love (Gal. 6:5) that leads to a life filled with the Spirit that sends us back into our communities filled with joy to encourage the discouraged and present Jesus as the answer to their longings. Justification by faith is not just an expression but a living reality that changes everything about us so that we stand in the newness of life.
Verse 16 Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.
No I love you all in this benediction only a reminder to the Galatians to walk by his rule. The word rule is interesting and comes from the Greek Kanon which literally means ‘measuring rod,’ and later developed the technical meaning of “rule of faith,’ or ‘canon,’ Most scholars believe Paul is referring back to all that he has written in Galatians and can be summed up in the idea of ‘justification by faith,’ as the rule that he demands the Galatians walk by.
Paul opened the book of Galatians with a conditional curse,( 1:6-9) and now ends with a conditional blessing. To receive the blessing and avoid the curse depends upon the Galatians receiving of the Gospel presented in the book. One of the great mysteries of Pauline scholarship is what is exactly meant by the phrase, “upon the Israel of God.” Most scholars see the term as an eschatological term referring to all the saved of all time who make up the true people of Israel.
Verse 17 Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
These are the actual scars of persecution that Paul carried on his body. (see Acts 14:19-20 for an example) In Paul’s time slaves were branded to show who they belonged to. Now Paul is saying I am also branded by my scars, so that I also am a slave but a slave to Jesus. Paul is no fair-weather Christian who compromises his faith to avoid persecution. He stands tall in his faith in Christ and the scars of his beatings attest to his love of God. Also the false teachers had their own brand mark called circumcision and by it they planned to avoid persecution while through Paul’s scars he received persecution. Paul tells them stop troubling me because my ministry has been validated by Christ on the Damascus road and in my suffering.
V. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen
Paul began the Epistle with a salutation of grace and so he ends his Epistle. This is the begging and end for all Christians in their walk with Christ;grace.
Next post I’ll go over a few things and then we are onto James.
Study 37 God Cannot be Mocked
Galatians 6: 7-10
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, for the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
I am constantly amazed at the depth of the Book of Galatians. Just when you think you have plumbed the depth of the text more dynamic and wonderful verses emerge to challenge and enlighten us. These four verses, at least for me, are some of the most inspiring texts in the entire book, and that is saying something considering the richness of the book.
God had promised Noah, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:2 So it has been since the beginning of time. That rule of nature applies just as well to the human condition as to agriculture. “Those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” Job 4:8 David is a good example of a person who sowed iniquity and reaped a whirlwind of trouble and misery. I like having David in the Bible because he is a constant reminder to me that no matter how much I sow wrongly in my actions and words, he, in my opinion, did worse. Yet, when he came before God with a repentant heart he was not only forgiven, but also restored. One of the things that I think about is the measure of sin. I know that some sins are worse than others. Torturing people to death is much worse than in a fit of anger one day saying something nasty to your father or mother. Yet, on the scale of holiness, on which God rules, both torture and also the dishonor of father and mother must be so distant from the character of God that they are equally apprehensible to Him. I guess what I’m trying to say is sin is like falling down a bottomless pit and it doesn’t matter if you are a mile down or two miles down you are still too far down to get out of on your own.
The contrast between a person who sows according to his own selfish nature will reap destruction while the person who sows according to the leading of the Spirit will receive eternal life. Remember back in Chapter 5 we came upon this theme. The flesh (our sinful nature) we receive from Adam, and the Spirit we receive from God. These two natures constantly battle against each other, our evil natures coaxing us towards sin and the Spirit who dwells within us directing us in manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Paul, as we’ve noticed by now likes contrasts. He gives us two cities, two women, two natures, two sons, two covenants and the contrast between law and grace in his little book. Now he adds the two contrasts of how we sow and reap. We can sow either good seeds or evil seeds, we are either spiritual people or carnal people, and the seed is either sown in the flesh or in the Spirit. Paul also contrasts the harvest. We either reap destruction or eternal life depending on the nature of the seed we sow. Actions have consequences and no matter how much we try to pretend that they don’t; the truth doesn’t change. When we become a Christian our attitudes and actions change because the Spirit motivates and leads in our life. It is true the evil and sinful nature springs up to hamper the work of the Spirit but the reality is we have embarked on a new journey with Christ and Satan can only nip at our heels as we walk with Jesus. Because we are easily detracted we will jump off the path and go chasing the creature that nips at us, but we know in our heart that is not the direction or where we should be in life so under the promptings of the Spirit we return to the path and continue the journey. But, those side trips chasing after the sinful nature way leave scars and damage to us. For someone who gives into the temptation to take money from his/her employer the consequences, for example, could be horrific. It could mean the loss of trust, reputation, respect within the community as well as the embarrassment and shame of facing family and friends, not to mention the penalty of the law. No, our actions have consequences and even if we should avoid the penalty here on earth God will bring us to justice on judgment day. It is true the old saying that tells us, “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character reap a destiny.”
Paul is reminding the false teachers that they will reap what they sow amongst the Galatians. They have brought false teachings regarding a works based religion into the church and have caused people to give up on their trust in Christ alone to save them. They have caused a number of people within the Galatian churches to waver in their loyalty to Paul and the gospel, and as a result these believers have embarked on a life that will only lead to their destruction if they don’t repent and return to the grace of God. There are consequences regarding these false teachings for not only will the teachers lose their salvation, but also they will lead others into destruction. It is of the greatest importance that we live by grace and the Spirit.
On the other hand, if we sow according to the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit we walk in the newness of life. Yes, we struggle and fall as I’ve already mentioned, but we allow God to pick us up and continue our journey. When we see how much our sin hurts God, as well as ourselves and others we repent of the action, seek forgiveness, trust in the grace of God and move along. Our actions, no matter how sorry we are, have consequences and for the person who steals from their employer may well not only have to pay restitution but also go to jail.
The word-translated destruction in my Bible may also have the context of corruption. This suggests a gradual rot that works over a long period of time. We may think one little sin is no importance, but over time that sin grows in importance until it becomes a habit and rules over the life. Unfortunately, for many people a life of rebellion and sin against the grace of God not only destroys a person spiritually, but in many cases also destroys the person physically. Once again, a person who repents of sin and returns to Christ is forgiven and their sins forgotten, but the marks of those sins may linger in the physical body until Jesus returns.
John Stott writes, “Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness. Holiness is a harvest; whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow.” Only One Way, p.170 Those are sobering words for those of us who think we can drift through the Christian life living and acting as we choose and that God will make it all right in the end regardless of my lifestyle. Grace we saw in Galatians 5:6 leads to works of love. A Christian who lives a selfish and self-centered life is in the same condition as a person who doesn’t know God. A heart, however, that has been touched by the grace of God finds itself gravitating towards the spiritual and delights in the fruit of the Spirit. Like I already said, that doesn’t mean that we don’t trip up and fall, but that is not the trend of the life, we are followers of Jesus and walk in newness of life, trusting in His grace by faith to save us. We are defined not by our past and our sinful nature but by the grace of God that saves us from this present evil age.
Paul tells the Galatians “do not be deceived,” because it is one of Satan’s greatest lies that we do not sow what we reap. He makes it seem to us that the wicked prosper and the cheaters and greedy do win out in the end, but that is just an evil deception because, “God is not mocked.” (See Romans 2:6-8) Goliath mocked God (1 Sam.17) but he ended up with a stone between the eyes. King Herod sat in his entire glory ruling over the people declaring he was a god (Acts 12:21-23) and refusing to give God the glory. He ended up eaten by worms. “The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:39-42
Sowing “to please the Holy Spirit,” seems to be another way of describing the idea of walking with the Spirit (Gal.5: 16), being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18) and keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). Sowing the Spirit is to walk by the guidance and love of God that manifests itself in love. Philip Ryken writes, “It means cultivating good spiritual fruit by using the means of grace: Bible study, prayer, worship, and sacraments.” I found this statement interesting in that the 2nd Chapter of Acts tells us that after the 3000 were baptized they followed the Apostles teachings, prayed together, fellowshipped with one another, and broke bread together. What is being said in Galatians and Acts is that when someone comes to Christ they live a life of discipleship. When we give our lives to Christ we become followers and through our study, prayer life, devotions and worship we draw closer to God and the fruit of the Spirit becomes real in our life.
“A man reaps what he sows,” can have a second meaning as well as referring to the war between the nature and the Spirit. So many of us as Christians sow very little in our life. We take the safe way and never walk along the hard parts of our journey if we can at all find a detour around them. We sow very little in our spiritual life and so we can expect few rewards. When we sit safely in our home night after night watching hockey we have no opportunity to see the miracles and power of God work in our life. It is only when we sow that we see the wonders and miracles of God working in the lives of others and our own life for that matter. If we sow little our crop will be small, but if we sow with the power of the Spirit we will embark on an adventure of a lifetime and the harvest will be a joy to behold. Let me say, your sowing may not result in great numbers of people coming to Christ, but one heart touched by the gospel and one person who gives their life to Christ is worth all the sowing. My mother was no great evangelist but she saw my brother, sister and myself all become Christians. That as far as I’m concerned is a great harvest because I know I would never have made that decision without her prayers. When Ruth and I came back to God after being away 16 years I was overwhelmed by the number of people who were praying for us throughout those years. Their prayers touched my heart when I found out about their prayers and they continue to touch me today as I walk with Christ.
Walking the Christian journey is not an easy task because of the temptations, weaknesses and struggles that assail us constantly. It is for that reason Paul reminds the Galatians, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Gal. 6:9 Paul cries out to these battered and confused brothers and sisters, don’t give up, stay the course and you will find shelter in the storm. It is difficult when the wicked seem to prosper, but “God is not mocked.” We pray for years and seem to see no results and it becomes easy to give up. We plead with a family member to change their ways and they continue on the same self- destructive journey and it becomes easy to say, “Why bother any longer?” (See Isa. 40: 29-31)
Until Jesus returns we continue sowing always understanding that the harvest will come. Philip Ryken reminds us of William Carey who in 1793 began his great work in India on behalf of the gospel. He preached and taught every day for 7 years and didn’t see one person give their life to Christ. In the year 1800 he baptized his first convert that opened the door to an amazing harvest amongst the people of India.
Remember it takes years, sometimes, for the harvest to take place in the life of a person. The Apostle James writes, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7-8
In verse 10 Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” As we patiently minister in love to a lost world, sewing the good news of God’s grace we are to do good whenever and however we have the opportunity. Christian’s are to reflect the grace and love of Jesus through their lives that others can be drawn to Christ. We are not only to support and care for our neighbors but also those within the Church. Someone recently asked me why I am so enthusiastic about small group ministry; the answer is simple. In small groups we best grow spiritually and minister to each other’s needs. When we care about each other we begin to care about others. And when we see the importance of other people we help them and minister to them. This is the witness of the church. For many of us we were raised to believe that the church was about teaching a set of doctrines, but doctrines only point us to Jesus. When we see Jesus through the cross we are driven to love and love of God and love of our neighbors becomes the fulfillment of all that doctrine. When we minister to the community we become the hands, feet, eyes and ears of Jesus. If the community is to see Jesus then they must see Him through our joy. Anything else is but a shell of what we are called to be and what the church is to be in the world. Jesus called us to discipleship, not doctrinal purity, but spiritual Holy Spirit ministry. It is a shame that we argue over things that end up separating us from each other when Jesus calls us to love each other and look after each other. Paul warned against backbiting and tearing each other apart in Chapter 5. He now calls on us to love with an open heart and let the world see Jesus in our life of discipleship. The Holy Spirit calls us to a world in which the fruit of the Spirit reigns and motivates and changes all that we are and makes us into all that Jesus would have us be. I need to say I am not against doctrine, but doctrine must be centred in Christ and not be taught for their own sake. I could recite a whole Bible full of teachings but if they didn’t draw me into a personal relationship with Christ that drew me back into the community with the love of Christ in my heart then what is the point? To say I believe this and this is one thing, to experience Christ in the life through the Holy Spirit is quite a different all together. On the day of Pentecost the disciples were praying because they needed guidance, but when the Spirit came they were transformed in to power houses of gospel ministry. Teachings are only dry bones until the mighty wind blows upon them and gives them life in the heart of a Christian.
Study 36 Exhortations and warnings
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in him alone and in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own load. Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.
In the previous passages in Chapter 5:16-25 Paul has reminded the Galatians that they have crucified the old ways and now walk by the Spirit. The work of the Spirit within the Christian leads him/her to reject the evils of their past and walk in the power of the Spirit that produces fruit within the life. The first fruit is love and everything else hangs upon the Christian walking in love.
The section we are looking at now tells the Galatians what it means to love in practical terms as it relates to their fellow Christian believers. The church was split over the issue of circumcision and Christians had started backbiting and accusing each other. (5:15) But, the mark of a true Christians and a true church is the manifestation of their love for each other. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” (5:6) He also admonishes them to remember what their freedom from the restraints of the law method of salvation really means in practical terms. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; but through love be servants of one another.” True freedom in Christ is to be a servant of Christ for the glory of God. In fact the entire Christian walk is summed up in the simple statement, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “ (5:14)
A born again Christian is not bogged down with trying to earn his salvation through works of the law but allows the spirit of the law to penetrate his heart through love for his fellow man. When Christ dwells within the heart the old ways become unimportant because they are replaced with the joy of the Christian life and the assurance of redemption. There is to be no room for quarrels, backbiting, selfishness, jealousy, anger, and strife, within the Christian heart, nor within the church. A Christian walks on a spiritual plain and is focused on the wonders of God. When we surrender to our flesh, sinful natures, we abandon our calling to love our fellow man in the name of Christ.
In verses 1-6 Paul takes the talk out of the abstract and gives the practical side of what it means to love. The role of the Holy Spirit is to open the eyes of a Christian to the value of other people in the eyes of God. After all God did not die for you alone. Each person is precious in His sight and as Disciples of Christ we also are to treat people with the respect and love that God showers upon us.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself; lest you too be tempted.” (V.1)
Nothing causes more pain within the church than when sin is exposed. Sides quickly form and while some make excuses others have the knives out. But, Paul is not quick on the disfellowship button, instead he calls upon the spiritual leaders to lead and work towards the individual’s restoration to God and the fellowship. Notice it is any trespass that is to be forgiven. This is where the rubber meets the road because in our contemporary church there are sins that we consider beyond forgiveness and excommunication is the only solution that we can come to. Yet, Paul under the influence of the Holy Spirit says that every, “trespass,” should be dealt with in a spirit of gentleness with the goal of winning the person back to God.
Why is this so important for Christians to remember and put into practice? It is because each of us spiritually is no better than the brother or sister who has been caught in their sins. We also are sinners and worthy of expulsion from the Kingdom of God, but the grace of God forgives the repentant heart and accepts the individual into His arms without condemnation or rebuke. If God can do that for us who sent His Son to die on Calvary’s cross then why can’t we also love our fallen fellow believers? Paul assures the Galatians that none of them are far away from being called out for sins.
This is also a sort of olive branch from Paul. Their treatment of Him and His message were shameful and dishonest. He could call these rebellious and disloyal members out on the carpet for their duplicity towards him, but he doesn’t. Instead he calls for reconciliation and forgiveness just as God reconciles us and forgives us for our rebellion.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (V.2)
If faith leads to working through love then this becomes the ultimate reality of the power of love to transform the character of a Christian. Selfishness keeps us looking out for ourselves, but love allows us to not only care about others and step in to help with their struggles. Each us has burdens and God does not plan for us to carry them alone. This verse is one of the most important insights in Galatians for our spiritual journey because of the misconception so many Christians have towards their problems. Matthew 11:28 reads, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” See also Psalm 55:22 Numerous Christians believe that it is a weakness to trust anyone with their problems because it is Christ who shoulders their cares and heartaches. Remember Jesus carries our sin and our guilt alone. No person can help ease that load from a Christians shoulders other than Jesus. And though Jesus hears our pain and comes to our aid in time of need it is often through human sources that he accomplishes those promises of help. For an example of this in Paul’s own life see 2 Corinthians 7: 5,6 where Paul is comforted by the arrival of his coworker Titus. Paul’s prayer’s for God to help him through the rough and discouraging time he was going through was answered by the arrival of his friend. We often look for the miraculous when God wills to work through the practical.
Notice also that we fulfill the law of love when we carry each other’s burdens by offering a helping hand. (Galatians 5:14; John 13:34; 15:12)
For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own load. V.3-5
John Stott points out, “It is very impressive that to ‘love our neighbor,’ ‘bear one another’s burdens.’ and ‘fulfill the law,” are three equivalent expressions.” Just as we would carry a heavy object for an older person so we will help carry the heavy burden of pain and suffering for a discouraged brother or sister. There is no room for self-righteousness, or egotism in the work of helping a fellow believer out with their problems. To Paul it would seem the only reason someone wouldn’t want to help was because they thought they were too good to be wrapped up in other people’s problems. But Paul warns if you think that way you are fooling yourself and someday you will run into trouble and realize you are not immune from problems. (See 5:26)
We are not called to compare ourselves to others or think less of someone because of their situation in life or more of someone else because of their success. We are all one in Christ. There is no contradiction between verse 2 and 5 because in verse 2 the word for burden in Greek is baros while in verse 5 it is phortion. The term baros refers to a heavy pack that must have help in carrying it because of the excessive weight. The term phortion we would best understand in terms of a backpack that one man could carry quite easily. The reason the term phortion is used in verse 5 is because each of us has to carry the responsibility for our own relationship with God and no one can carry that for us. Our relationship with God is personal and we must shoulder the responsibility for where we stand on judgment day. Baros are the sorrows, pain, and hurts that come to us on life’s journey and that weigh us down with guilt, or fear and these heavy weights need a helping hand to lift them down from the backs of our fellow travellers.
In the Christian life there is to be no provoking of each other nor backbiting of each other but instead we are to carry each other’s burdens. It’s no accident that Paul begins chapter six by calling the Galatians brethren and ends the chapter still calling them brethren. When we think of what Paul suffered and the pain that was inflicted upon him by these uncaring and legalistic false teachers it is amazing that he still gently reminds the Galatians that they are to restore these wayward wolves in sheep’s clothing to the community of God. Paul was a remarkable man of God who practiced what he preached.
Cain once asked the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9 Paul answers, “yes we are.” I would like to finish with another quote from John Stott that has had a great impact on me over the years. “Yet, if we walked by the Spirit we would love one another more, and if we loved one another more we would bear one another’s burdens, and if we bore one another’s burdens we would not shrink from seeking to restore a brother who has fallen into sin. Further, if we obeyed this apostolic instruction as we should, much unkind gossip would be avoided, more serious backsliding prevented, the good of the church advanced, and the name of Christ glorified.” Only One Way, p.162
Study 35 Fruit of the Spirit
Galatians 5: 22-26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live according to the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.
Paul presents nine graces that infuse a Christian character. In 1 Corinthians 13:13 he tells us the “greatest of these is love.” In Galatians 5:6 he reminds us that, “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” The result of faith is love that is poured out to our fellow man. Romans 5:5 we are told, “and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” The great blessing of being “in Christ,” is the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads us to love because we are loved and redeemed by the God of the Universe. The New Testament is a testimony to grace, love and the Holy Spirit that freely work within the mind and heart to transform us and renew us into sons and daughters of the kingdom. Our love is the natural expression of a rejuvenated heart that has encountered the love of God through the cross, and that love flows outward to God and to our fellow man.
The term for love in Galatians 5:22 is agape which has the meaning of being selfless and sacrificial that allows us to serve one another without ulterior motives. Love is what we return to God because He first loved us.
Joy is the natural result of love. It has the idea of contentment more than just mere happiness. Once again we can connect this text to Romans 5. In verse 11 Paul writes, “not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.” Our joy is in the knowledge that we are reconciled with God by grace.
We notice that love and joy lead to peace that gives us a sense of wholeness and tranquility. Once again we can connect to Romans 5. In verse I Paul writes, “therefore since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because we have peace with God we can make peace with others. Matthew 5 reminds us, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” V.9
Notice the pattern in Galatians love leads to joy and joy to peace and they are all possible because of the grace of God. Because of the transformation of how we think and act under the influence of the Holy Spirit we are able to develop patience. This has the idea of being able to face hardship and the ability to endure through adversity and heartache. For the Christian church that was constantly facing persecution and slander patience was tested to the utmost, but to the Christian that stands fast (5:1) in Christ they will not be disappointed.
Kindness is much more than random acts that one performs whenever the mood strikes him. It is a consistent pattern of action that defines the life of a true follower of Christ. This is a virtue of action that exposes itself through service to those who are in need. Churches would do well to practice kindness if they honestly long to see humanity accept Christ. Closely associated with kindness is goodness, which has a connotation of being willing to be generous. Kindness and goodness are thought of as almost identical in our culture but had a subtle nuance in Greek culture that Paul follows in these verses.
Faithfulness could well be substituted for by the word trustworthy. Faithfull people can be trusted and respected for their honesty and loyalty. Ryken in his commentary on Galatians writes, “With faithfulness goes ‘gentleness,” an inward grace that is sometimes called ‘meekness,’ and is often described as ‘power under control.’ The gentle person has a sweet temper of spirit towards God, others and the daily frustrations of life. He or she is not prone to anger, but humble, sweet, and mild.” P.233
Last on this short list is self-control, which means moderation or temperance in how we deal with situations and people. This is what prevents liberty from becoming license in the Christian life. For most of our society they are driven by passions that expresses themselves in a host of unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors.
I think that what Paul is getting at in this list of virtues is not so much a list of character changes that have to be manifested in the Christian life, but instead he is outlining a lifestyle that is the result of focus on the love and grace of God.
It is interesting that the word ‘fruit’ is singular in verse 22. It is because these virtues belong together and are interconnected. The spiritual life is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. In other words there is only one fruit that the Christian life manifests and it encompasses all seven virtues. We don’t grow this fruit on our own it is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is as Ryken points out, “the natural produce of His gracious inward influence, the spontaneous and inevitable result of His uniting us to Jesus Christ. It will take time to grow, but gow it must, for God will make it grow. What we are to do in the meantime is cultivate this spiritual fruit.”
Paul makes it clear that this is a statement of virtues and not a list to check off in some legalistic manner. He writes in verse 23, “against such there is no law.” Think about this for just a moment and ask yourself why Paul would say such a thing? It is because these virtues are the fulfillment of the law. This is a very important point for us to understand. Paul has written throughout the book of Galatians that the law cannot save us, and anyone who tries to keep the laws of Moses in order to earn merit will be opposed to the gospel. What amazes us, however, is that when we come to Christ we find ourselves performing works of love (v.6) that manifest themselves through the fruit of the Spirit. We will treat people with a selfless love and respect when we have given our hearts to Christ. And the irony is that the very law that couldn’t save us when we attempted to keep it is now written in our heart through love. The law of God isn’t thrown away because we can’t keep it, but through Christ’s love we love God with all our hearts and our fellow man as ourselves and thus fulfill the commandments.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” V. 24 To belong to Christ is to be open to the indwelling of the Spirit that works to change our selfishness into selflessness. To crucify the flesh is not an easy task because we resist. To nail our sins to the cross and walk away from those passions and desires doesn’t happen overnight, but through the pleading and working of the Spirit we continually draw closer to God. Discipleship is not spoken about very often anymore but it is what we are talking about here. A disciple puts God first in everything she does including resisting the constant struggle of our sinful natures to lead us away from God. An interesting connection exists between Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” and Galatians 5:24, “and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh.” Notice the difference, in chapter 2 we are crucified but in chapter 5 we do the crucifying. A saved Christian will not live a frivolous indifferent life towards God, but will trust in the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them through the world of snares and traps that await anyone who takes their eyes off Christ.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Verse 25 As we surrender our passions and desires to the Holy Spirit we are at the same time filled with the Spirit and the result is we walk and live by the Spirit. Galatians 5:5 reminds us, “If we live by the Spirit, let us walk by the Spirit.” As Christians our journey is to be in step with the wishes and leadings of the Holy Spirit. The result of following the leading of the Holy Spirit means that we will not be provoking one another nor envying each other in our journey. (v.26)
I’ll close this section with a wonderful passage from J.I.Packer. “The spirit works through means-through the objective means of grace, namely, biblical truth, prayer, fellowship, worship, and the Lord’s Supper, and with them through the subjective means of grace whereby we open ourselves to change, namely, thinking, listening, questioning oneself, examining oneself, admonishing oneself, sharing what is in one’s heart with others, and weighing any response they make. The spirit shows his power in us, not by constantly interrupting our use of these means with visions, impressions, or prophecies but rather by making these regular means effective to change us for the better and for the wiser as we go along.” Keep in Step with the Spirit, p.109
The Holy Spirit transforms our attitudes and desires from selfishness to compassion, but the sinful nature struggles against such grace and love. To keep moving ahead we keep our eyes on Christ and trust in the Spirit to guide us onward.
Galatians 5: 19-21 Liberty
Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Paul has already told the Galatians that the flesh and the Spirit are mortal enemies, and that the passions of our sinful nature war against our regenerated nature. (Gal. 5:17) It’s interesting if you look at Acts 2 and the story of Pentecost that the experience involved all the senses of the disciples. They felt the mighty wind, they heard the sound from heaven, the tongues of fire appeared to them, and they spoke in tongues. Christianity is experiential and involves every fiber of our being. For many Christians they feel that Christianity is just philosophical or theological. But, the truth is, that Christianity engages us as total people and is supernatural in experience as well as being cerebral.
At Pentecost they were filled with the Holy Spirit and that means they had no room for anything else within them. The disciples didn’t receive the Spirit to have their characters transformed they received the Spirit because their characters were transformed through prayer, remembering the teachings of Christ, fellowship, and waiting on Christ until they were surprised by joy on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit drove them out into the streets with the good news that Jesus saves all those who trust in Him. They cried out to the crowds, “And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21 If you and I sit around all day wondering if we are doing something wrong or if somehow we are breaking the rules then we are in the same condition than before our salvation. We have made Christianity all about ourselves, and our only interest is in making sure that we are saved. To be filled with the Spirit takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them on Christ our redeemer and through the Spirit we go through love into our community with the joyous news, “I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2: 10,11
Paul knows the conflict that rages within a Christian and how easy it is to fall from the path and go down side roads that lead to destruction. The Spirit keeps us focused on the great commission and the love of God and our sinful natures plead with us to abandon the gospel for evil. The evil that permeates our world and invades our lives is easy to identify, because the Spirit convicts us and reminds us how these things drag us down instead of lift us up.
The first on the list is sexual immorality, which is often referred to as fornication. This term in the New Testament referred to sexual conduct between two people who were not married. Impurity goes hand in hand with fornication, as they were both common behaviors in the pagan communities in which Paul worked. The third behavior on the list is licentiousness, which is better known as “sensuality”. This has the meaning of having a lack of respect for what is right and good. It not only refers to inappropriate sexual behavior but also to the flaunting of that behavior in public.
Paul next lists idolatry or the worship of other Gods. This is important, not that the rest aren’t, for the Galatians to get right. Idolatry is the desire to find identity and security in anything else besides the saving grace of God. I have thought long and hard about this word in regards to the rest of Galatians because of Paul’s attack on legalism throughout the book. He understands that legalism is a denial of grace alone, faith alone in relationship to our salvation. As soon as we feel that we can add anything to earn merit or make our character more acceptable to God we are adding works to grace and that is idolatry. Please, don’t get me wrong Paul is not calling for the Galatians to live in their sins because if we had nothing else this list shows there is wrong behavior that the Christian is to avoid. I believe, that Paul is not saying there is any merit in rejecting this list from the Christian life, instead rejecting these behaviors are just something that takes place within the Christian as he walks in the Spirit. Remember, this list is not complete; murder, theft, hatred, war mongering and thousands of other sinful behaviors are not on the list. This list is just an outline of how a Christian has a change of thought and desires when surrendered to Christ. In other words these kinds of behaviors are not what we spend our time thinking about and chasing after when we are filled with Spirit. These drop away because they no longer interest us or have a hold over us, or pull us with the power that they once did. Yes, the conflict because of addiction and other factors is still real for many of us, but they are not the guiding motive of our lives any longer. When as Christians we fall back into temptation we know that is not where we wish to be, it is not God’s plan for us, we confess and let the Holy Spirit lift us back out of the ditch (part of the point of the Good Samaritan) and continue to let God guide us to our destiny.
Ideally, none of us would ever slip or fall, but the reality of our natures is such that we do, but we must never be discouraged instead we need to trust in the God of forgiveness and love. He never abandons us or holds our sins against us. We are saved by grace and the more we reflect upon that wonder the closer we long to be with God and the less we want to live this life of destruction and sin.
Remember, what I said at the beginning of this study; that all our senses are involved in accepting God. That is because through our senses Satan attacks us and tries to lead us away from the glory of God. And, that leads to the next thing on the list, sorcery. Witchcraft is the worship of what is evil. Obviously these include black magic, and Satan worship. Paul told the Galatians, “Who has bewitched you,” or cast an evil spell over you. Does Paul really mean that to fall under legalism is the same as being under the spell of Satan? I think he does. Remember, how many times he tells them they are under a curse, a tutor, separated from God, and make God of no importance if they follow legalism. Satan would love nothing more than to have man believe that the cross didn’t do it all for our salvation. How he would love to lead man into believing that his own evolutionary skills and talents have a part to play in redemption. How many times have I heard Christian ministers preach righteousness alone then add, “but” there is more. No there isn’t, you are saved by grace and of course you grow in grace but they are two different things completely and cannot be taken together to garner salvation. We are either saved by grace alone or we are not. People preaching righteousness by faith and then adding sanctification to the mix can’t have it both ways.
Another interesting aspect to this term witchcraft is that the Greek word is “pharmakeia,” from which we get our English word pharmacy. This is a reminder that in the days of the New Testament witches and often prepared and administered poisons. So, we ask ourselves what are the parallels in our own day? The poisons of illegal drugs and all the misery that stems from these activities would certainly be included in the term.
For many of us reading this blog the things we have just listed may seem distant and have no application to us. After all not many of us are not practicing witchcraft or flaunting ourselves in public. But the next items on the list begin to hit home with a sledgehammer. The Galatians were probably not only tearing their church apart over the teachings of the false teachers, but were tearing their friendships and relationships apart as well. A church divided will soon fall into petty squabbling and hatred. The Galatians seem to be no exception to the rule.
Paul tells them they must avoid, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger and selfishness. The Greek word for enmity (echthra) is closely related to the Greek “echthros” which means enemy. To have a spirit of enmity is a form of hatred that makes an enemy out of someone because of a difference of attitudes or views. In the term strife we could say, just as well, that these people have a “quarrelsome spirit.” In the little church Ruth and I attend I can honestly say I haven’t met anyone with the spirit of strife and what a blessing that is for a church that dreams of reaching their community for Christ.
Jealousy is a self-centered desire to have your own way every time and anytime someone else seems to succeed your sense of self worth is hurt. The legalists were jealous of the others freedom and those free in Christ were probably jealous of the attention and support the followers of the false teachers were receiving. The sad thing is that within some churches and church structures very talented and competent people are overlooked for service because of the petty jealousy of others.
Anger always spills forth from jealousy and selfishness is the key of all problems within the Christian life as well as the church. Selfishness leads to anger and jealousy and then follows strife and hatred. A Christian filled with the Spirit has no time or place for these attitudes within her life, but they do pop up and trip us up way to often. Once again the closer to God we walk the less these attitudes will control our thinking. Remember Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are to be focused on the will of God and that only takes place when our heart and mind is transformed from the garbage of this world to the wonders of the beauty and grace of God’s world.
Paul goes on to list, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, and carousing as attitudes and actions that are opposed to the the Holy Spirit. Envy is how we treat each others success. Socrates wrote, “The envious are pained by their friends successes.” Envy and jealousy go hand in hand for those of us who forget that we are here on this earth to proclaim the “good news” of God’s love to our neighbors and friends. Makes you wonder how concerned we really are about the lost. The term “carousing,” in some Bible’s calls it “orgies.” These are not, however, what we think of as typical orgies but include all kinds of wild out of control parties and the feasts and festivals of the pagan temples. Paul adds to the list in verse 26, “let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” Ryken in his Commentary on Galatians writes regarding this passage a very interesting comment. “This verse is about spiritual pride, the work of the flesh that destroys fellowship. If the proud think they are superior, they provoke others by putting them down. Those who feel inferior, on the other hand, envy others and resent their success. Either way, they destroy relationships.”
Paul in these verses is not trying to be inclusive or something a legalist could clamp onto and feel safe with. These are a simple example of a sinful lifestyle that is at war with God. The acts and motives of a sinful nature are obvious because we have all fallen prey to many of these traps. The Puritan William Perkins wrote that the list was a mirror to the corruption of our own hearts.
Paul ends this section by reminding the Galatians of something he had told them before. “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” V. 21 Those people who have these desires and wishes as their primary goal in life are not going into the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who do battle with these attitudes and actions through reliance on the grace of Christ, even if they fall numerous times, are going into the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember, the disciples asking how many times do we forgive someone who sins against us and Jesus answers “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matthew 18: 22 This is one of those verses every Christian should remember because it is saying something about God and the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact Jesus goes into a discourse on the Kingdom of Heaven right after He spoke these words. If we should forgive seven times seventy (which is just a perfect number representing infinity) then how much more does God forgive us when we fall and sin? I love that wonderful text in Hebrews 10:7 “I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more.” That’s why later in the chapter we are told we can draw close with “full assurance of faith” and “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.” Christ forgives and forgets. Paul is not beating up weak Christians or struggling Christians or mature Christians who stumble and fall. He is talking about the attitude of the heart that separates the selfish, self-centered heart from the surrendered and thankful heart.
We are all sinners and if left to our own devices we would live a life that reflected these interests and desires. But because of the grace of God through the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit our attitudes are focused on God and these evil and sinful ways of living and thinking are just temptations and stumbling blocks now. Our desire is no longer to live that way but to live for Christ. These traps remain but they don’t reign in our life. We are Christ’s bought and redeemed at Calvary’s cross. We are free from the bondage to a law based do and do not type of life. We are free to live for Christ and focus our attentions on Him and not spend our time in self- righteous struggles to make sure our slate is clean enough for God to approve of me. We are free to walk with Christ in the newness of life, born again, filled with the Spirit and the joy of redemption. We are free from the attitudes that held us in slavery to self-indulgent sins and attitudes. Yes, as I’ve already said numerous times, none of us are perfect, except in Christ’s perfection, so we stumble and fall but we are never defeated. We are never broken and abandoned by the Creator God. We are only gently lifted back onto our feet by the grace that flowed from Calvary’s cross. We can sing from the rooftops, “I am redeemed, I am redeemed.” Amen.
Study 33 Liberty in Practice
Galatians 5: 16-21
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain; fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. I warn you as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is an interesting term in the New Testament and has two applications. The kingdom of God, of course, is future and takes place after the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. We then enter into the Kingdom of God in a literal sense, but the term is also used in the Gospels as a present reality for those who have accepted Jesus. It can be said that those who have come to Christ through grace have entered already into the Kingdom of God through the cross event. We are, therefore, not part of this present evil age in which Satan rules over the world through evil. We are in the world but not of the world as the Bible says. Since we are not of the world or this present evil age we need to realize that our wishing to go to Heaven isn’t what the gospel is all about. For many Christians they struggle through life dreaming of a better day when they can be with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the truth is they are already in it because they have accepted Christ. In other words the Kingdom of God is both present and future. There is also another aspect to the Kingdom of God and that is that it represents God’s Lordship over us. We are members of the Kingdom of God but God is the King of the Kingdom. We are His people purchased with a great price and should walk as people who are children of the Kingdom. That is why Paul reminds the Galatians that the evils that he lists reflect the uncommitted life and not one worthy of a follower of Jesus.
Verse 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.
In the previous paragraphs Paul has reminded the Galatians that freedom does not mean they can return to legalism (5:1) nor does it give them license (5:13). The Galatians had received the Holy Spirit when they believed (3:2) and the Spirit worked mighty works amongst them (3:5) and how they were encouraged to keep on walking in the Spirit.
“But I say,” or some derivative of it, is an interesting attention getter that Paul uses when he needs people to listen up. Philips Bible simply paraphrases it as, “here is my advice,” which resonates a little more clearly for modern readers. What is important, however, is what he is calling our attention to.
“Walk by the spirit,” is a call for the Galatians to keep walking as they originally walked before the coming of the false teachers. The word walk comes from the Greek ‘peripateo’ and has an interesting idea surrounding it. Aristotle’s students were called the Peripatetic school because they walked along behind their teacher listening to his words and thus learning as they walked. The idea is similar here for Paul, that the Christian life is learned as we walk daily with the Holy Spirit and listen to his directions for our lives. It is interesting that in this section (verses 16-25) the Holy Spirit is mentioned 7 times and Paul considers Him to be the game changer in the Christian life. Notice the 4 distinct verbs Paul uses to describe the Spirit filled life in these verses. Here in verse 16 he says, “walk by the Spirit,” and in verse 18 he writes, “if you are led by the Spirit,” while in 25a, “live by the Spirit,” and he closes in verse 25b with the interesting phrase, “keep in step with the Spirit.” The phrase keep in step,” unfortunately is usually translated “walk,” and doesn’t have the ring that is intended in the verse.
What I find interesting about the idea of walking in the Spirit is the idea that if you walk and keep on walking you will get to your destination. It might be a slow walk with lots of pitfalls and detours but you will arrive. And Paul is reminding the Galatians that the Kingdom of God is their destination. (V.21)
Paul not only reminds the Galatians that they are to walk by the Spirit but they are also not to gratify the desires of the flesh. The RSV of the Bible (the one I use) is a poor translation of what Paul is driving at. He is not demanding that they do not “gratify the flesh,” in a negative way, but he is saying that if you walk by the Spirit you won’t, “gratify the flesh.”
The term flesh represents the sinful nature or as one commentator has said, that it is a summary of all the methods and ideas of self-satisfaction that is outside of our reliance in Christ. Another way of putting it would be, Sarx (flesh) is all my corruption and depravity, which manifest themselves in sin. Paul is emphatic we are not to spend our time in indulging our passions because we are free in Christ. Our liberty in Christ sets us free from sin not to sin.
Verse 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.
Man in his unsaved state does whatever he wants without thinking of the consequences, and since we are human, as Christians, we have these same struggles.
For most of us, as soon as we see this verse we are reminded of Romans 7:14-25. There is some debate whether Paul in these verses is talking about the unconverted man or the converted man, but by far the majority of commentators and Bible scholars see these verses as the struggle of a Christian. I need to mention, they are not the struggles of a defeated Christian or somehow our evil natures will overcome the work of the Spirit. It is a forgone conclusion that the Spirit triumphs in the life of a Christian, but the walk is a struggle because we have a sinful nature and live in a fallen world.
Philo, mentions in his writings that circumcision was considered by the Jews to be the answer to enslavement to pleasure and passion. Paul, however, denies this belief that through law you can overcome your nature. He believed that he was being the greatest follower of the law when he was persecuting Christians, but when the Holy Spirit came into his life he realized that was only following the evil of his nature or the flesh.
Our natures (flesh) cannot be overcome by trying to be better or by trying to keep every law or through checklist Christianity. We are weak and fail that is why we need a Savor, a substitute to do for me what I am incapable of doing for myself. F.F. Bruce points out, “The way of the Spirit is the way of freedom; the way of the Spirit is the way of love. The law of love (v.14) has the same construction as the statues of the decalogue and of the Torah in general, but it is a different kind of law No external force or sanction can compel the loving of a neighbor as oneself; such love must be generated from within- by the Spirit.” Epistle to the Galatians, 243
Let me see if I can sum up my thoughts on all this. When a person is outside God they have no need for Christ or spiritual realities. Then one day, for whatever, reason they run up against a need or a sense of loss, or a feeling of wonder and they encounter God. They realized that they are lost in this evil world without the love and grace of God and they cannot earn grace it is a gift. They cry out, “God save me a sinner,” and they enter into the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit dwells within the saved sinner and such a sense of awe and wonder overcome the person that they are compelled to share their faith in the workplace, street, or wherever anyone will listen. They become servants because they are the followers of Christ the great servant of mankind. Now, what about sin and the law? It has no hold over them because they are focused on Christ. They are learning in their walk with the Holy Spirit the joy of service and love to their fellowman. They have no time for the indulgences of the flesh. They are born again, people of the Kingdom of Heaven not slaves to this present evil age. But, this does not make them perfect or not susceptible to temptation and sin. The Spirit has our heart set on heaven, and the flesh has our heart set on our own desires and wants. There is constant warfare and that warfare will continue until Jesus returns. But, it also doesn’t mean that every time we are assaulted with desires of the flesh that we need surrender and give in to temptation and sin. Through the power of the indwelling Spirit we can cry out for help in our time of need and God hears us, and the Spirit strengthens us. So, what happens when we do fall as we so often do in both action and deeds? We repent, let the Holy Spirit lift us up off the floor and continue on our journey. Our sins are not held against us and we are not defeated by them. As we grow we will learn the pitfalls and it will be harder for Satan to trip us up in certain areas of our lives, but he will just shift to another aspect of our life. This is the tension of Romans 7 where Paul struggles with this reality. By the way, it is only when we think that we overcome and have arrived that we become susceptible to those same sins again.
Think these words over by John Stott, “Some teachers maintain that the Chrisitan has no inner conflict, no civil war within himself, because they say his flesh has been eradicated and his old nature is dead. This passage contradicts such a view. Christian people, in Luther’s graphic expression, are not, ‘stocks and stones,’ that is, people who are never moved with anything, never feel any lust or desires of the flesh. Certainly, as we learn to walk in the Spirit, the flesh becomes increasingly subdued. But the flesh and the Spirit remain, and the conflict between them is fierce and unremitting.” Only One Way, 146
The law condemns us the grace of God frees us, but the law is also fulfilled in us when we love. The conflict between the Spirit and the flesh is not over minutia and checklist Christianity, instead, it is over love. The Spirit drives us outward in love to serve humanity and the flesh drives us into selfish concern over our salvation to the detriment of a lost society.
Charles Spurgeon put the relationship of the law and liberty in Christ this way, ‘What is God’s law now? It is not above a Christian-it is under a Christian. Some men hold God’s law like a rod, in terror, over Christians, and say, ‘if you sin you will be punished with it.’ It is not so. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern: ‘we are not under the law, but under grace.’ Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the Spirit which actuates us. The law is good and excellent, if it keeps its place.” The New Park Street Pulpit, 2:124 Yes, we struggle as Christians but we are not defeated by them, because the Spirit guides and leads us onward towards Christ. When we fix our eyes upon the struggle we fail and when we fix our eyes upon Jesus all is well with our soul.
Notice one last thing before we leave the verse. The flesh and Spirit both contest for our loyalty. The Spirit pleads for our spirituality while the flesh pleads for us to abandon Christ and return to our carnal nature. Paul says the conflict is to, “prevent you from doing what you would.” The decision to serve Christ or self is ours alone to make, but without the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit we would never opt for redemption. The law would condemn us and Satan would hold us in bondage.
Verse 18 But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.
Timothy George commenting on this verse writes, “It is not that the moral law has been abrogated or that the 10 Commandments have been antiquated. Rather believers are now energized to fulfill the true intention of the law precisely because they have been set free from the law by the possession of the Spirit. Paul expresses this same thought later in Romans 8:3-4” Galatians 388 Paul is not proposing some watered down view of legalism to the Galatians. He is standing where he has throughout the book totally on the side of grace.
Verses 19-21 are fairly straightforward and by no means complete. Murder, theft, and a host of other crimes and sins are not included. It would seem this is just a list used as an example to remind the Galatians of what happens to a person who is not under grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. These lists of sins were quite common in Paul’s day and used to instruct people in right conduct. There seems to be little doubt that without Christ we would walk in the ways of this world and not the ways of the Kingdom of God. We would be people of the flesh and not the Spirit and we would be people of Satan and not of the King of Kings.
I will close this section by saying that way too many Christians have been discouraged and given up their faith because they thought they couldn’t be perfect. And the truth of the matter is they can’t be perfect. The reality of the Christian life is the struggle to keep surrendered to Christ and the desire to indulge the flesh. We progress as Christians through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and as Spurgeon said the law is that guide. But, when we fall off the path, we need to simply allow Jesus to pick us up (like He did the Samaritan) and carry us to safety. All is forgiven and forgotten and we continue in the assurance of salvation and the love of Jesus. Our role of Christians is not to become a navel gazer but to tell others about the path. Next study the fruit of the Spirit.
Study 32 Freedom Defined
Galatians 5: 13-15
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom, as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.
Paul doesn’t want his readers to think freedom is license. For many Christians the idea that we are free from the bondage of a works method of seeking salvation leads to all kinds of confusion and entrapments. The old evil of once saved, always saved pops up and lulls Christians into thinking that no matter what they do, say, or act has any bearing on their relationship with God. But, freedom from the demands of the law, are no excuse for selfishness: it must be exercised in love
For Paul theology must be practical and he returns over and over to the two themes of freedom and love throughout his writings. Freedom, for Paul, is the joy of the heart set free that expresses itself in love. I like what Leon Morris in his fine commentary on Galatians says about love. “It was the love of God that brought us salvation, and it is essential that believers reflect that divine love by manifesting love in their own actions. Christian liberty does not mean that the believer is free to do anything. The believer is always under the constraint of love.” Morris, Galatians, pg. 163
For me, this understanding of the relationship between freedom and love was liberating. The Bible made sense for the first time in my life, and everything began to gel. It is difficult living out the Christian life in a works based culture. There were very little emphases upon Christian love, but a great deal of discussion over the keeping of the commandments. Though few people would go so far as to say that they had to keep the commandments to be saved, they made it known if you don’t keep the commandments you would be lost. They saw salvation as faith in Jesus and the result of that faith working out in the life. For me this reasoning seemed logical because, of course if you were saved you had to stop sinning. I didn’t understand at the time that I am through and through a sinner and I could strive till the cows come home to stop sinning, but I would always be condemned because my sinful nature condemns me. I saw sin as actions and not a state of being.
It was only when I began to study the Bible in earnest that I began, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to unravel the joy of grace that sang out from every page of Scripture. I had missed the truth of grace alone, by faith alone, because I had the blinders of the law on. I filtered everything through obedience to the law. I hope that each of you after taking the journey with me through the book of Galatians understands that law keeping isn’t added to the free gift of grace in order to obtain salvation. Paul’s argument is that the law cannot deliver redemption because of our weakness and not because there is a flaw in the law. He makes it clear throughout his writings that the law is pure, good and holy; it is us who fail to keep the law perfectly (Gal.3: 10) and are under a curse.
The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary’s cross freed us from the bondage of continual striving to keep the law perfectly and brought us freedom. (Gal.5: 1) But, we are not to use that freedom to live without restraints. Instead, when we come to the realization that we are redeemed by the grace of God alone and without any contribution from us we are filled with joy that overflows in love for all around us. On the day of Pentecost the disciples had to rush out into the streets and preach Christ to the people because their love for God was so compelling. What is so ironic about this is that Christians find themselves in harmony with the commandments when they love because their focus isn’t on themselves but on others. It is difficult to love your neighbor as yourself and then steal from him. Our lives change as we grow in our love for God and all He has and is doing for us. We find that the things that we use to love doing drop away because our lives are now filled with a new direction and love. I think, that what Paul is saying in Galatians is grace leads to works of love (5: 6) and that salvation is not grace plus works or grace plus love.
One last thing before we go on to look at the verses. It is a sad commentary on Christianity that when people see us they all too often see a people who do not reflect freedom in love. They see us as selfish and more concerned about our own salvation than theirs. They see us constrained by harsh boundaries that we have thrown up around ourselves to make sure we are not contaminated by sin and the world around us. Christianity has been cast as a bunch of crazies playing with snakes, or legalists who have closed and locked the door to anyone or anything that upsets their view of themselves. When we focus on outward things like the length of dresses, makeup, how much jewelry is enough, the length of women’s hair and a thousand other petty prejudices it is no wonder that non-Christians look at us and shake their heard in utter amazement. We got it right in that little song we sing, “they shall know we are Christians by our love,” but love is often overshadowed by our selfishness in wanting to make Christianity all about, “me” instead of Christ and the world around us.
Verse 13 For you were called to freedom, brethren: only do not use your freedom, as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of each other.
For introduces the explanation that God called the Galatians to freedom. I have been thinking about this idea of “called to freedom,” for a while now. We think of our relationship with God as our decision as if we choose God, but the reality is that God called us and we responded. It’s not like we were walking down the road one day and stumbled into God, but all through our lives He has been calling us to Him. He is the Good Shepherd that goes out into the thickets to find us and bring us home. He is the Good Samarian that picks us up by the side of the road and brings us to safety. He is the Prodigals father who comes running to Him with arms outstretched to lead him home to his rightful place in the family. God is at work in us ever calling us to surrender our selfishness and stubbornness and come home to His love and grace.
Think about this for a moment, if becoming a Christian was simply a personal choice then the Galatians had the right to pick a works based faith if they so decided. But, since it was God working in them that brought them to grace they could only respond to that calling by obedience to that calling. They didn’t have the right to change their opinion over what God had called them to-freedom. This is an important insight because we all too often think that we can mess around with our relationship with God with impunity, but that is not the case. We are called to freedom by God and we cannot add anything to modify that calling to freedom without making our calling void. Galatians 5:2
It’s also important to remember that God didn’t call the Galatians out of their enslavement to paganism just to have them enslaved to legalism. Paul isn’t saying that we have some freedom when we come to Christ; he is saying we are completely free to live the Christian life of love because we are free from the entanglement of bondage and slavery.
Paul understands that freedom is not license and is not the starting point for the flesh. Ronald Fung in his commentary on Galatians, The Epistle to the Galatians,” writes concerning the flesh, “ denotes not merely the bodily passions and lusts, nor even strictly speaking a “lower nature” contrasted with a “higher nature” in a person, but rather the human individual in his or her sin and depravity.” It is easy for us to stray off the path when we realize we are free in Christ and follow our flesh. For Paul, freedom doesn’t entertain the flesh but leads to service. “Through love be servants of one another,” is Paul’s dream for the Galatians.
It is not enough that Christians serve each other, but it is to be done in love. It is interesting that love used the article in this verse; it is “the love,” that Paul speaks of. The unique Christian love that stems from the heart of a Christian who has been set free from the penalty of death and given freedom through Christ. We are free, indeed, but it is a freedom that leads to service. Remember, just before Jesus ate His final meal with the disciples he put on the apron of a servant and washed the feet of the disciples. He was demonstrating not only His love for the disciples, but the love that they should have, as servants to each other.
Verse 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul understands that the Galatians are infatuated with the law and so he presents his conclusion regarding love in light of the law. Paul goes into the heart of the Mosaic law to remind them of what it really says. “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus, 19:18 see Romans 13: 8-10 The spirit of the law is not about rules and regulations that you try to keep to earn merit with God instead it is the call to love. And, it is because we don’t love that we need a Savior to redeem us from our selfishness and pride.
On the day of Pentecost when the people heard the gospel they cried out, “What must we do?” And, Peter answered them, “Repent , and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38 see Gal.5:5 When we accept Christ the Spirit dwells within us and gives us a new love and that love is manifested in our love for our fellow man.
As Leon Morris puts it, “The duty of the servant of God is to be a loving individual and thus to treat each person with love. The precept accepts the truth that everyone has a certain concern for himself or herself, and enlarges that concern to embrace those other people with whom we have to do. Paul is saying that if we live in love then other precepts are not needed. Our whole duty to other people will be met if we act in love towards them. We are minded of Jesus words that all the law and the prophets hang on the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor (Mt. 22-37-40). The rejection of law-keeping as the way of salvation does not alter the fact that the law gives us a useful guide to the way we should live.”
Verse 15 But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.
Paul now contrasts the Galatians life without love to a call to love in the previous verses. If they go down the road of selfishness and self-assertiveness then they will be destroyed by not only their own actions, but also people just like them. A life that is void of love for others is a selfish shell of a life that will leave to being “consumed by one another”. To be selfish is to remove ourselves from the joy of living and the peace of God.
Before we became Christians we were selfish, but when we became Christians we were renewed in our minds (Rom.12:2) and found ourselves living a life of love towards others. If we reject love for selfish concern about our own salvation to the exclusion of others we are no different than before our conversion. When I spend my life wrapped up in a search for my own righteousness I make the cross of no account. And without the cross I am lost. It is no small deal to walk down the road of legalism that stems from a selfish desire to earn my way into God’s love. That love was given freely at the Cross and we can add nothing to that wondrous event. Our simple response to the free gift of salvation is the joy of calling others to come and experience the freedom of God’s grace. Love is what motivates us to care for the welfare and salvation of our fellow man. Let’s be clear, however, salvation is by grace alone and love is the result of that grace; love is never added to grace for salvation.
We are drawing near to the end of our study in this amazing book of Galatians, but there is still some exciting verses ahead of us so please continue to read along with us as we study Liberty in Practice next time.
Study Thirty-One Faith working through love
Galatians 5: 5-12
For through the spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves.
In verse 5 and 6 Paul changes the pronoun you to we and includes himself in what he has to say. He had been describing the perils of falling from grace, but now he relates the benefits of those who rely on grace. Paul tells the Galatians that, “by faith we wait,” and what we are waiting for is, “the hope of righteousness.” The expectation of what justification brings through faith is our assurance of spending eternity with God. For this future salvation we only wait for it by faith, and we never work for it, because it is a gift.
In Christ what matters is faith, (verse 6) and circumcision nor uncircumcision matters regarding our standing with God. Again, he is refuting the idea that there is something you can do or hang onto that will help earn your salvation. It’s probably a good time in the study to remind oneself that legalism is never so crass as to claim work alone saves you. Good works for false teachers are always additions to grace. They see salvation as two oars in a boat needing equally to be pulled to get you to where you are going. This concept is what Paul is fighting against through the entire book of Galatians. If we wish to use a rowboat illustration then the truth is simply that Jesus pulls both oars with nail scared hands while we sit quietly trusting in His strength to take us to the other side. This concept is just so difficult for some Christians to stretch their heads around because it seems so unfair. There must be something a Christian can do to make it easier on Jesus as He pulls that boat across the water. Their intentions are good, but just wrong placed, because the reality is those oars are so massive we couldn’t budge them. God does it all because He loves us and wants us for His companions in Heaven for eternity. As we wait (v.5) for that great fulfillment of our hope so He works to make it all so. All it takes to be accepted by God is to be, “in Christ,” by faith, nothing more and nothing less.
Now we need to be cautious that we get the idea that a Christian doesn’t produce good works because the changed life is what our spiritual growth is about. Notice, in verse 5 Paul says, “through the Spirit,” by faith we wait for the hope of righteousness. Our life is not only a life of faith: it is also a life in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces good works of love (v.6) in the life of a Christian.
“Faith working through love,” is an important thought from Paul that we really need to understand, if we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking works of love earn merit with God. Read this quote from John Stott very carefully to appreciate what Paul is saying, “It is not that works of love are added to faith as a second and subsidiary ground of our acceptance with God, but that the faith which saves is a faith which works, a faith which issues in love.”
Philip Ryken in his commentary on Galatians writes, “the last thing Paul says about justifying faith is that it actually works. The only kind of faith that is worth anything is the kind of faith that expresses itself through love. This does not mean that we are justified by love. The Scripture never says that we justified by faith plus love. It does not even say that faith is formed by love, so that love becomes part of faith. Faith is faith and love is love. When the Bible speaks of justification, it always says that we are justified by faith, which is another way of saying that justification comes by faith alone. The faith that alone justified is never alone, however. True faith is always a working faith, a faith that works. It is an expressive faith, a faith that expresses itself in love to God and to others.”
Luther wrote, “He who wants to be a true Christian or to belong to the Kingdom of Christ must be truly a believer but he does not truly believe if works of love do not follow his faith”
I quoted from these commentators to make the point that the works that spring from faith revolve around love and not a selfish internal perfecting of self. A person who believes that God demands perfection of character has no time for loving others because she spends all her time struggling after the elusive goal of trying to do nothing wrong, see nothing wrong, or speak nothing wrong. I am sad to say, but for this person they are as in bad a state as before they believed. Paul says we make Christ “of no advantage,” when we continue to make Christianity about ourselves. True freedom in Christ is freedom from worry and frustration from being under the yoke of striving for perfection in the law, so that we can live in the joy of the fruit of the Spirit (v.22-24). God’s grace cuts us to the heart, as the hearers on the day of Pentecost were cut to the heart when they heard the gospel, and that grace explodes outward in unabashed love for God’s creation; humanity.
In verses 1-6 the contrast has been between you and we-you the false teachers who want to add circumcision to grace and we who stand on grace alone. Now is the contrast between “he” the false teacher, “who is troubling you,” and “I” Paul is teaching the grace of God.
Verse 7 Paul asks the Galatians, “you were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” The Galatians had started well when they first heard the gospel they obeyed the truth of what Paul said. Their lives reflected grace in their love for each other and the acceptance of Gentile and Jew as brothers in Christ. But, now they have stumbled on the journey and Paul wants to know, “who” laid this terrible obstacle across the track to cause them to, “have fallen away from grace.” (v.4b)
Galatians 1:6 Paul wrote that the Galatians were called, “in the grace of Christ,” and now he contrasts that with their merit based religion that, “is not from Him who calls you.” V. 8 This false teacher has usurped the call of grace that comes from God and has tried to replace it with a false gospel that comes from Satan. Legalism is serious stuff with terrible consequences and as Christians we need to avoid it like the plague like it is. Look at the effect this merit based heresy had upon the Galatians. Paul in verse 7 says, “it hindered” them. Jumping ahead to verse 10 Paul reminds them that legalism, “is troubling you,” and has, “unsettled” them in v.12
False teaching concerning the grace of Jesus, troubles, hinders and unsettles anyone who becomes involved in its snare. I have yet to find a Christian who is vibrant, full of life for Christ and the great commission to spread the gospel throughout the world who is preoccupied with their own salvation. They seem to have shriveled under the yoke of trying to carry the burden that no one could lift. (Acts 15:10) By the way, notice Paul mentions these false teachers as hindering, troubling and unsettling the faithful and in Acts 15 when the Church at Jerusalem sent their letter back to the churches in Asia they noted that some men had been troubling and unsettling the faithful. The identical use of words is interesting and probably gives credibility to the idea that this false teacher had come from Jerusalem.
In verse 9 Paul writes, A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and it is the same proverb he used in 1 Corinthians 5:6 where he used it to the spread of sin throughout the church. I think, the point Paul is making with this proverb is that regardless if its outright sin or false teachings they spread through the church like wildfire if not brought under check. Paul loved the Corinthians too much to let them die in their sins and he loved the Galatians too much to let them die under the yoke of legalism.
The great reason Paul could carry the gospel throughout the world is because I think he was an eternal optimist. Not an optimist in his own power or ability, but in the ability of God to look after the people that He had called, (1:6) and to preserve them unto that day. Paul, trusted that the gates of hell would not destroy God’s people, and those people ensnared with legalism would return to their senses when reminded of the wonders of the gospel. “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.” Verse 10 That judgment seems very harsh when Paul writes in verse 12, “I wish those who unsettle you would mutilate themselves.” If these characters believed that circumcision was important than maybe to totally mutilate themselves would add even more merit to their cause. It is a wonderful end to this discourse on the importance of circumcision or no circumcision that was destroying the church. Remember Paul wrote in chapter 3 verse 10, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them.” In the Old Testament anyone who had his testicles or penis removed couldn’t go serve as a priest to Israel, here Paul seems to be saying these teachers are no different and shouldn’t be considered as authentic teachers and priests.
False teachers use an interesting ploy in their attempt to undermine the gospel, and that is to say others are teaching the same thing. In the case of these false teachers they seem to insinuate that Paul had been teaching circumcision so why all the fuss?
“But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the stumbling block of the cross has been removed.” Verse 11 Paul’s response to these ridiculous charges was, “if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” Flip back a few pages in your Bible to 2 Corinthians 11:23ff to see the misery Jewish persecutors had put Paul under and were still inflicting upon him. If he was no longer preaching Christ; then why was he still persecuted?
Again, I turn to John Stott to sum up the power of this verse. “Thus Paul sets himself and the false teachers in stark contrast. They were preaching circumcision; he was preaching Christ and the cross. To preach circumcision is to tell sinners that they can save themselves by their own good works; to preach Christ crucified is to tell them that they cannot and only Christ can save them through the cross. The message of circumcision is quite inoffensive, popular because flattering; the message of Christ crucified, however, is offensive to human pride, unpopular because unflattering. So to preach circumcision is to avoid persecution; to preach Christ crucified is to invite it. People hate to be told that they can only be saved at the foot of the cross, and they oppose the preacher that tells them so.” Only One Way, P.137 Paul, says in Galatians 4:9 that the Ishmael’s of this world will always persecute the Isaac’s. The Old Testament prophets suffered under the attacks of their own people and King for proclaiming grace. In the New Testament the situation was no different and in our own time gospel teaching pastors cannot expect to fare any better. The cross is a scandal or stumbling block to people who want to contribute to their own salvation. It is a scandal to the pride of mankind who believe they have the education and talent to accomplish everything in life. The cross tells them they are rebellious, sinners under the wrath of God and can do nothing to save their lives. Only Christ crucified can rectify the lost condition of man, but that is not the message society wants to hear. For those who preach Christ, persecution will follow, and for those who preach circumcision, (legalism), the world will leave them alone.
Everyone has to choose either the cross and freedom or legalism and bondage to sin and failure. The cross says all has been done by the sacrifice of Jesus and legalism says I have merit to add to the cross. The one thing that is impossible is to try and wed the two ideas together and that is what so many Christians have done. They will not choose grace alone so they add their merits to the cross event in hope that it will be enough to put them over the top with God. For us pastors we either preach (v.11) the cross or we don’t, and the people either receive(v.2) the gospel from us or they don’t. As ministers we must be bold in the proclamation of grace if we are to be of worth to our congregations. To preach the cross will stir up resentment, but to preach circumcision will leave us at ease because we are no threat to the elemental spirits that hold our brothers and sisters in bondage.
Study thirty Christian Liberty
Galatians 5: 1-4
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Now I Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision; Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Paul has just finished a theological argument for the superiority of grace over law through the example of Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the free woman and Hagar the slave woman, and as a result Sarah’s son Isaac represents freedom in Christ and Hagar’s son, Ishmael, represents slavery. Paul thus equates freedom as freedom from the slavery from the tyranny of the law and the penalty of death.
Paul now turns to the ethical or practical side of believing in the gospel. He tells the Galatians, “for freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore.” Gal. 5:1a We are free from trying to work our way into the Kingdom of God through our works, because of the freedom we receive in Christ Jesus fulfillment of the laws requirements on my behalf. Jesus kept the law perfectly and He died perfectly at Calvary thus fulfilling the requirements of the law, and paying the penalty of death that my sins and guilt could be erased. Therefore, when the Father sees me He doesn’t see the wretched man that I am, but instead He sees me through the filter of the Calvary event and thus declares me righteous based on Jesus merits. If I try to add one iota of good works to the perfect sacrifice then I undo what Christ has done for me, because I am now saying Jesus sacrifice was this one iota short of saving me at the cross.
Paul tells the Galatians, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” Galatians 5:2 He can’t be clearer. If you want law obedience, as represented by circumcision to be your method of salvation then you make the atoning sacrifice of Jesus of no worth. You cannot have it both ways. You can’t believe in grace plus works. You must make a choice either grace or works, but never the two together because they are opposed to each other and one; law nullifies the merits of the other, grace.
Paul is adamant that the Galatians don’t, “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” If you read my post on grace alone you will remember that I mentioned that the Jewish leaders talked about the laws of Moses as a yoke that hung around their neck. Even Peter mentions it in Acts 15 when he asks the Jewish Christian leaders why they would want to put a yoke around the neck of the gentiles when they themselves couldn’t carry it. The law method of salvation bows you down under the weight of failure while the Gospel lifts you up and removes the burden. Remember, Jesus said, “come unto me all you that are heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” The only way to escape the burden of trying to please God through works of the law is through Jesus.
God knew that we Christians gravitate towards wanting to do something to make God smile on us. Our works can be as diverse as trying to obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, volunteering at the church continually, or in penance. We must stand firm on our first love Jesus and His perfect substitutionary death to atone for our sins and buy our freedom from death.
Not only is Jesus of no value to us if we try to add works to His sacrifice, but when we go down the road of law keeping we are obliged to keep all the laws. “He is bound to keep the whole law,” Galatians 5: 3b Earlier Paul told the Galatians, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them.” Galatians 3:10 This is no wishy-washy, what I don’t do God makes up the rest, statement. Paul, just simply says if you want to keep the law then do it all. Keep all the Ten Commandments perfectly every moment of the day, every day all your life. Then keep the hundreds of laws that have built up around the law over the years, and then keep perfectly all the feast days, high days and Sabbath days. Then while you are doing all that, you must make sure you don’t do anything unethical in your work, play or religious life for the rest of your life. And don’t forget, you can’t make one tiny mistake, error or commit one sin by purpose or by accident. You must do all of this without pride, selfishness and with a perfect heart, attitude and motive in order to present yourself before God as a doer of good works. Or, you could trust Paul’s teaching, and cast yourself before Jesus and acknowledge your brokenness and your need for grace. When you cry out to God for help He is there and will never cast you out or allow anyone to snatch you from His loving arms. These were the choices the Galatians were presented by Paul, either the gospel or trust in your own merits.
Someone may ask, “Is circumcision that big a deal?” Yes it is, and not because of the physical operation, but because it symbolizes the attempt to add something to the already perfect sacrifice at Calvary. For the Galatians to bow to the yoke of circumcision they would in reality be bowing down to the belief that the act could bring them standing before God. Remember, in Acts 2 Peter and the rest of the Apostles were preaching Christ and Christ risen to the people. Luke writes, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘brethren what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Verses 37,38
There is so much in these two verses that we could write a number of posts on them, but the point I am trying to make here is that when they heard the gospel they were cut to the heart. Now check out Colossians 2:11, “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.” It seems to me, that the circumcision that cuts the heart and the circumcision made without hands are one in the same, the gospel. True gospel is not an outward form of obedience to a ritual of severing the foreskin, but is a spiritual circumcision of the heart that lets Jesus into the life to live and reign.
If we are not saved by works of the law then how are we saved? “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” Galatians 5:5 The way we become righteous, in the sight of God is through faith alone.
For the Galatians to travel down the road of righteousness by circumcision or anything else with the exception of the grace of God there are dire consequences. First, as we have already said, Christ can do them no good, “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.” (v.2) And in Chapter 2:21 he wrote, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” In Romans 3:20 he writes, “For no human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” We have talked a great deal in this series of studies about the role of the law so I won’t belabor the point, but the law brings us the knowledge of sin and our sinfulness and drive us to Jesus. If we keep focused on the law then we miss out on Christ. If we try to help ourselves to salvation then Christ will be no help at all. Jesus finishes what He started in us and there is no detour or thinking we must finish the race through the laws of Moses. As the old Puritan preacher, William Perkins wrote, “ He must be the perfect Savior or no Savior,” so we must let Jesus be the perfect redeemer or replace Him with ourselves. But, what is imperative for us to remember is that we cannot have it both ways. Redemption is either through Christ alone or through our actions but it can never be through both.
The second consequence of basing our salvation on our own merits is that we, become debtors to God’s law, because we must keep every iota of every law to perfection. So when we attempt a work’s based faith of adding our works to grace not only is Jesus of no avail to us, but we go back into bondage. Luther wrote, “The same principle by which you are obliged to receive circumcision obliges you to accept the whole Law….You must give up either Christ or the righteousness of the Law. If you keep Christ, you are righteous in the sight of god. If you keep the Law, Christ is of no avail to you; then you are obligated to keep the whole law.” We have seen already through our studies in Galatians that that is a non-starter when it comes to a works based faith. Christ died to free us from the penalty of separation and death that the law calls for all who break the law. Since we are all sinners and come short of the glory of God and none of us are righteous then Christ died to free each of us from the curse of the law. Gal. 3:10
The third result of working for our own salvation is that we are cut off from the grace of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5: 4 We are talking about very serious matters in Galatians and it is not a matter of “well you believe one thing about salvation and I believe another,” it is a matter of our salvation. A little earlier in this study we talked about circumcision of the heart is true grace and acceptance of God as our Savior without our added merit, now Paul is saying if we don’t allow that cut of the heart we have been cut off and fallen from grace. Paul has already told the Galatians that these false teachers had bewitched them, and cast them under a spell with their works based teachings. Galatians 3:1 He says these teachers, want to pervert the gospel of Christ, in Chapter 1: 7 Later He will go on to equate their desire for circumcision and its consequence as being, under a tutor or pedagogue, (3:24). However, some of his strongest criticism for the law method of salvation is his accusing them of being in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods. Galatians 4:8 (see 4:3) Paul tells the Galatians that they are under a curse when they turn to the law method and try to add it to grace. Galatians 3:10 We will see in Galatians 5: 8 that this method of adding works to grace is, not from Him who calls you.” And here in verse 4 we are told that additions to the grace alone means to be, severed from God, and to, have fallen away from grace.
Martin Luther wrote, “for just as someone on a ship is drowned regardless of the part of the ship from which he falls into the sea, so someone who falls away from grace cannot help perishing. The desire to be justified by the law, therefore, is shipwreck; it is exposure to the surest peril of eternal death. What can be more insane and wicked than to want to lose the grace and favor of God and to retain the law of Moses, whose retention makes it necessary for you to accumulate wrath and every other evil for yourself”?
The reason that I have been so adamant on this section of Galatians, is that I believe with all my heart that this is the very heart of the Christian relationship with Christ. Paul, pulls no punches to accept works, such as circumcision, into our life is to cast Jesus out and with it the hope of salvation. Justification is not something we work for, but is something that we wait for. Next study we will look at the following verses in Galatians 5 regarding faith that works, and what that really means. But, I want to be clear to add anything to grace even when we say we do it through Christ who dwells within me is to try and add merit to what is done. Yes, the Holy Spirit changes our hearts, and attitudes (Romans 12:1,2) and yes the Holy Spirit endows us with power to witness and strength to face temptations. But, we have a sinful nature and we fall time after time regardless of the best intentions and greatest desires. Our thoughts, our words, our actions, our inactions, our selfishness, and our motives all condemn the best of us. Most of us reading this study have come to Christ by faith in His completed atonement at Calvary’s cross. We believe we are saved alone and that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Is that not good enough for our redemption? Does God really say, my Son hung on a cross for you, but when you overcome your frustration with some of your husbands habits you will be ready for heaven? Would not our hearts cry out but what about the rest of my mistakes, errors, indifferences and sins? Where does it stop? When you obtain a perfect character and can say you have no more sin in you? Only a “liar” would dare claim that. Only Jesus is without sin and lived a perfect righteous life and with that righteousness He covers our sinfulness, nakedness, and rebellion. Yes, a person when they come face to face with the love of God throws their arms out to God and allows Him to hold him tight. And yes a Christian when she has that kind of relationship with God will only want to please God and walk as close as they can to God. But it is because of love that we want to be with God and please Him. Yes, we have changed for the better, but our better is nothing compared to the magnitude of the glory and goodness of the laws demands upon us. Only complete trust in Jesus substitutionary sacrifice can make it all right for me with the Father. And, yes, I want to live in harmony with God and live according to His desires for me, but there is no merit in my works and my love for Him. I am saved by His grace and His grace alone.
In summary Paul tells the Galatians that the false teachers would steal their relationship with God away by adding the works of circumcision to the completed work of Christ. Circumcision, we noted, is a symbol of needing something more than grace. The false teachers taught that one must become grafted into Israel in order to receive the promise of God. Paul, understood that by saying this the false teachers were really saying was that Jesus wasn’t enough. Salvation also depended upon the gentile believers being included into Abraham. This meant that salvation was both grace (through Jesus) and through the act of circumcision that bound them to the laws of Moses. Paul countered the false teachers logic by reminding the Galatians that those who try to add anything to the grace of God made the sacrifice of Jesus of no importance. He also told them that they would go back into bondage to keeping the entire laws of Moses and since no one could do that they would be going into a world of defeat and despair. He closed his argument out with the powerful yet frightening thought that anyone who turned from grace alone was “severed from God” and had “fallen away from Grace” Next study we will pick up the theme of “through faith we wait for the hope of righteousness.”
Let’s close with this wonderful statement from Martin Luther concerning grace and love. “He who wants to be a true Christian or to belong to the Kingdom of Christ must be truly a believer. But he does not truly believe if works of love do not follow his faith.” Notice, what the works are; they are works of love. This equates with an outward love towards your fellow man while legalism is always a trying to perfect your inward man. True works in the Bible stem from an outpouring of love for God that you want to share with the community, friends and neighbors. Remember, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out not that the disciples could sit around trying to remember and list every sin they ever committed, but in order to fill them with such joy in Christ that they rushed out into the streets to share their wonderful experience. A Christian who is sitting home all day stewing over the sins and failings of the church and everyone in the church has missed the mark of living in Christ. Their life would be changed forever, however, if they allowed God to give them an attitude of service and love.
Thanks for studying along with us and let me know what you think.
Twenty-nine 2 Women 2 Heirs
Galatians 4: 21-31
Tell me, you who desire to be under law; do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery: she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free and she is our mother. For it is written,
Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who are not in travail;
For the children of the desolate one are many more
Than the children of her that is married.
Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’
So, brethren, we are not children of the slave, bout of the free woman.
When we began our study into Galatians I wondered how I would deal with this passage. It seemed complicated and all the talk of covenants, heirs, etc., made me wonder if I would be capable of understanding the verses. After all our studies, I am sure; most of you would have no problem dealing with these verses to your satisfaction. It amazes me how the Bible books hold together when studied verse by verse. So, from what we know about the gospel and the law in the verses that preceded these verses we should be able to make our way through them without much trouble.
Why this story of Hagar and Sarah? What was it that Paul was trying to teach that he used this theme as his closing argument in regards to righteousness by faith? It seems the story of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac was used as a strong argument amongst Jewish teachers for the argument that only those who had a physical connection to the family of Abraham (Jews) had any share in the promise God had made to him. The descendants of Isaac were the Jews and the descendants of Ishmael were the gentiles. The argument of the false teachers was that since at Mount Sinai the Jews received the law and the gentiles didn’t then in order for the gentiles to become legitimate instead of illegitimate they needed to connect themselves to the Jewish community. They could only do this through circumcision, and if they refused then they couldn’t receive the promises made to Abraham and his heirs. This was a powerful argument for new believers who were having doubts about Paul’s, teachings that something as simple as righteousness by faith made them right with God. Paul has to go back to this story to show the Galatians that the false teachers have gotten it all wrong, and the story of Hagar and Sarah actually prove his case regarding justification by faith.
In verses 21-23 Paul gives us the historical background to the story. He starts this section by asking a simple question, “tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?” (v.21) See also 4:9 and 5:1. The verb akouo that is here translated as “hear” is translated in the New International Version as, “to be aware of,” and gives us an insight into the importance of what Paul is saying. Paul is challenging the Galatians to really look long and hard at what they are doing and what they are getting themselves in for. It’s interesting in this verse to notice Paul says, “you who desire,” as if the apostasy from the true gospel is not complete. Some have given into circumcision and many more are mulling it over but haven’t given up on the gospel yet. Paul, by giving the true meaning of the story of Hagar and Sarah hopes to put a stop to the Galatians sliding down the slippery slope of legalism and bring them back from the, “elemental spirits of the universe,” control to the arms of Jesus.
Paul’s use of the law in verse 21 has two different senses. The first use where he asks if they desire to be, “under the law,” means the laws of Moses and all the accompanying rules and regulations as laid out at Sinai as well as all the rules added since that event. The law he is referring to in the last part of the sentence is the Old Testament Scriptures.
Verses 22 and 23 Paul introduces this historical section with, “It is written.” The section is drawn from Genesis 16-17: 21 and from these texts he draws three historical facts that he wants the Galatians to know.
1st Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, but at this point Paul simply says Abraham had, “two sons.” Ishmael would eventually had twelve sons and they would become the ancestors to the Arab nations, while Isaac and his descendants would carry the legacy of the promise made by God to Abraham.
2nd The two mothers are introduced, but once again they are not named at this point in the discussion. One (Sarah) was a free woman and (Hagar) a slave. We can see the theme of slavery and freedom being carried out through the introduction of these two mothers.
3ed Paul, also introduces the circumstances of the two births. This is a most interesting concept. Not only are the two sons born of different mothers, but also they are born two different ways. Ishmael is born, “according to the flesh,” that is in the ordinary way, while Isaac is born, “through promise.” He is the fulfillment of the promise God made that starry night when he told him that his offspring would be as many as the stars of heaven.
Let’s take a few moments to think about this amazing passage. Remember God told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child even though they were old and Sarah was barren. This was a promise made by God and they accepted it by faith and trusted that God would carry out his word. However, Sarah eventually became tired of waiting on God to fulfill His promise and told Abraham to go in to Hagar and have a baby with her that, “It may be that I shall obtain children by her.” Here we have the contrast between righteousness by faith and a works based religion where Sarah thought she had to help God fulfill His promises.
The Figurative Meaning (4:24-27)
Verse 24 begins with the statement, “now this is an allegory.” The root meaning of allegory is to say something else. An allegory then is a conveyance where a hidden meaning is uncovered that has been imbedded in the text, and that meaning may be entirely separate from the historical narrative itself. Some commentators think that this section of Galatians is a typology and not an allegory at all. Regardless, the point is that in this section we have 5 contrasting sets of twos. We have two mothers, two sons, two covenants, two mountains, and two Jerusalem’s. The two mothers stand for two covenants, one derived from Mount Sinai and destined only to bear slaves while the other is the covenant of grace sealed with the blood of Christ and only capable of making men free from the bondage of sin and death.
Timothy George points out in his commentary on Galatians, “Paul’s meaning is clear; those who sought liberation through the Mosaic legislation were doomed to disappointment. The children of Hagar could never become the children of Sarah by observing the stipulations of that covenant, which was ratified at Sinai. And this applied to Jewish, “Christians,” (such as the Judaizers) and their Gentile followers no less than to unbelieving Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah altogether.” P. 340
Now in Verse 25 Paul declares that Hagar stood for Mount Sinai and also represented present day Jerusalem. Just as Hagar and Ishmael were both slaves so is everyone who tries to find redemption in the law method system of Sinai and in the Jewish ritualism of Jerusalem. The word corresponds is interesting that it appears nowhere else in the New Testament and has the meaning of, “stand in the line of,” or, “place in the same column.”
Let’s think back over what we have learned in this section. If we were to make a column and place what we know about Hagar in one column and what we know about Sarah in the other the false teachers would be very upset. They believed that Judaism stood for the true sons of Abraham, the literal lineage that the covenant was for them alone, that Jerusalem was the home of those descendants of Abraham. They were the children of Abraham and Isaac who had received the law at Sinai and had upheld it faithfully throughout the years. Now Paul, has made the case that the covenant made at Sinai and the present religious system centered in Jerusalem were the offspring of Hagar the slave woman. The Jews were the ones who sought to be justified by the flesh (works of the law) while the children of the free woman, Sarah, were those who accepted the promise by faith.
Verse 26 reminds the Galatians that they like Abraham wait for a heavenly Jerusalem to come down from above that ushers in the coming age. In Hebrews 11:10 the Scripture reads concerning Abraham, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundation, whose architect and builder is God.” (See also Rev. 21:2 and Philippians 3:21) Paul calls this Jerusalem from above, “our mother,” and is probably a reference to the idea that it stands for freedom just as Sarah does while the present Jerusalem was in bondage not only to legalism but also to the Romans. Paul is reminding the Galatians that their freedom, salvation and hope comes from above through Jesus and not in the temporal, enslaved world of the Jews and Jewish Christians.
Verse 27 Take a look at Isaiah 54:1 for the context of this quotation. Jerusalem is likened to a barren woman sitting alone at the gates to the city covered in ashes and sackcloth because her husband has been carried off into captivity, and she has no children to care for her. As she sits there in her agony God’s voice breaks in telling her, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.” Whatever, Paul, is trying to imply by the use of this text one thing is clear. God, who is able to change our sorrows into joy, can only reverse barrenness, and despair. This is proved out in verse 5 of Isaiah 54, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth He is called.” Paul in quoting Isaiah 54:1 is reminding the Galatians that it is only in the grace and mercy of God that they have justification, freedom and hope.
Verses 4: 28-31 The Personal Application
Paul has made a theological argument and now he applies that argument to their everyday lives. He tells the Galatians that because they believed in faith they are the children of promise. By the way, this is the only time in Galatians that Isaac is mentioned by name. Because of the promise they have been born into the family of Abraham. (v.23) They are heirs not because of human effort but because they had become like Isaac through their faith. Salvation is God’s to give freely and no work of ours (Sarah offering Hagar up to Abraham) will add merit to that grace. In fact it will mess things up worse than ever. Just as Ishmael mistreated and persecuted his younger brother Isaac so the false teachers and Jewish authorities persecuted those people who stood for the gospel alone as the hope of their salvation.
Verse 30 Paul once again quoting from Genesis 21:10 he adapts the words of Sarah towards Hagar and Ishmael, “Cast out the slave woman and her son!” Paul is applying those words towards the Galatians and the false teachers. He is saying to the Galatians to cast out the false teachers and be done with them and their legalism. F.F.Bruce commenting on Sarah’s demand writes, “Whatever moral or legal problems may have been raised by Sarah’s demand in its historical setting, I Paul’s application it becomes the statement of a basic gospel truth; legal bondage and gospel freedom cannot coexist.” “Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman,” is as true today as when it was written. So many Christians believe that there is a mixture of faith and good works in the plan of salvation. Over and over, I have been told by well meaning Christians that salvation includes both your justification and sanctification. No, I do not believe that is so. Of course, a Christian will live in harmony with the will of God, but there is no merit in that walk with God. We are saved by grace alone without the works of the law and there is absolutely nothing we can do to add to that free gift. The slave, works of the law, shall not inherit with the son (grace) of the free woman.
As Timothy George writes, “This verse stands as a summary and conclusion not only of the Hagar-Sarah analogy but also of the entire theological argument Paul had developed from 3:1-4:30. The shift in pronouns from the second person plural you of v. 28 to the first person plural we signifies Paul’s desire to identify himself with the Galatians whom he again addresses as, “my brothers.” This verse provides an answer to the central question of Galatians 3-4; Who are the true members of the family of Abraham? Somehow the Galatians had become confused, “bewitched,” about their own spiritual identity despite the fact that the Spirit had been abundantly poured out upon them when they were first converted to Christ (3:1-5). The false teachers who had led them astray were prolific Bible quoters and thus Paul announced a series of scriptural arguments in order to counter their heretical views.”
Here is the point of all that has gone on before, Christians are to cast out their slavery to law keeping as a method of salvation and accept the promise of grace. Circumcision, the teachings of the false teachers, the rules and regulations of the spiritual leaders in Jerusalem all mean nothing to Paul because He is sold out to the gospel alone. We as Christians must let go of the slavery that keeps us in bondage and become free men and women in Christ. We are heirs of Sarah, and not under a tutor as little children, but we are free in Christ to grow and spread our wings through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Next study we start chapter 5 and the effects of Christian Liberty and of course that liberty is threatened once again by legalism
Twenty-eight Paul’s love for the Galatians
Galatians 4: 17-20
Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you (from us), so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. ‘My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
We saw last study the Galatians attitude towards Paul and now in this study we will notice Paul’s attitude towards the Galatians. Paul had reminded the Galatians that at one time they would have pulled their very eyes out of their heads and given them to him if it would have helped him. But with the coming of the false teachers all that had changed and the Galatians had turned away from Paul. Paul who had been their greatest friend was now their enemy (v.16) for preaching the truth. Before we go onto verses 17-20 I would like us to look at verse 16 again since we didn’t have room last study to do the verse justice. Paul simply questions, “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
Paul was deeply hurt by the shifting loyalty of his congregation. He had gone from being their friend, mentor, pastor, and spiritual guidance to becoming their enemy based on his teaching. It would have been a strong temptation for Paul to alter his message to make it more palatable for his followers, but he refused to compromise. The word that he spoke was from his heart, it was he had based his entire Christian experience upon and he would not alter one word of the gospel to make the Galatians feel more comfortable.
John Calvin once wrote, “It is not enough that pastors, be respected, if they are not also loved. Both are necessary; otherwise their teaching will not have a sweet taste.” When a pastor loses the goodwill of the congregation it is always appropriate to try and win the affection back, but never by compromising the gospel. Timothy George in his commentary on Galatians writes, “We must remember that the pastor is not called to be popular but to be faithful. He has been commissioned by the Lord of heaven to preach the Word of God in season and out of season; he must not fail in this divine assignment whether he be applauded warmly or shunned like a leper.”
The old Scottish preacher John Brown said it best I think, “the hosannas of the crowd are dearly purchased at the expense of one pang of conscience, one from of the Savior.” Anyway, these are just a few thoughts about that verse as it relates to ministry. The question we need to ask ourselves, however, do we stand firm on our beliefs even when they are unpopular and might go against the grain of denominational bosses or colleagues? Just as it took amazing courage for Luther to stand tall for righteousness by faith it takes courage for Christians to stand tall for your convictions. Paul writes in chapter 1:10, “if I were still pleasing men I would not be a servant of Jesus Christ.”
Before Paul reiterates how much he loves the Galatians he has a few words for them about the false teachers. He says, “those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good.” Those people, of course, refer to the false teachers. All the energy Paul has to put into trying to win back the Galatians to the grace of God is because of these legalists. Everywhere Paul has gone in his ministry it seems they pop up to try and turn the people away from Christ and turn them to law keeping as a method of salvation and acceptance with God. For gospel teachers, in our own day the task is just as difficult. One of the great themes of Galatians is that wherever the gospel is preached Satan shows up to lead people away from Christ. I think it is interesting that Paul nowhere in Scripture names any of these people.
The word zealous is interesting in that in English it is translated jealous. It has the meaning, to be resentfully envious or suspicious of a rival or a rival’s influence. The problem with these false teachers was not that they were zealous for the welfare of the Galatians, but rather they were zealous for their own selfish motives and desires. They were jealous of Paul’s influence and worked to not only undermine Paul’s teachings, but they wished to destroy his influence and reputation with the Galatian churches. (v.17)
Timothy George, I think, gives us a good insight into what was probably going on with these false teachers. “Perhaps the false teachers were envious of the newfound freedom and Christian liberty the Galatian believers enjoyed. In its place they wanted to impose again a burdensome ‘yoke of slavery’ (5:2). By trying to exclude Paul from the Galatians, Paul in context of his message of grace would see the false teachers as trying to exclude the Galatians from God. For Paul if you reject him you reject his message of grace and if you reject that message then you are rejecting God Himself. The false prophets, while Paul was away, had courted, seduced and bewitched Paul’s friends into abandoning his teachings and had enlisted them into becoming devotees of their own legalistic teachings. Paul has nothing against being zealous, but that zealousness must be for good.(v.18)
In verses 17 and 18 Paul’s tone is anything but gentle. He has been sharp with the Galatians, but in verse 19 his mood changes. With tenderness he addresses the Galatians as, “dear little children.” The Greek expression teknia though best translated as dear little children can have another meaning as well. It can denote a lack of growth and maturity that leads to a kind of continual babyhood. If we dwell upon this idea for a moment and think back to what Paul said about the pedagogues we recognize that once again Paul is reminding the church that they are falling under bondage and servitude. If the Galatians are still in their infant stage then they have not found freedom from the tutors and pedagogues that control a young mans life. By submitting themselves to the bondage of the law as a method of trying to obtain peace with God they were returning to the nursery. The church was casting its spiritual maturity aside for submission to a pedagogue. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? Only someone who had been, “bewitched,” by the smooth talk of the false teachers and the influence of Satan.
Paul admonishes the Galatians to return to maturity and come home to his teachings and fellowship, because he is as a mother to them. He associates his love, suffering and dedication to them in terms of childbirth. “I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” (v.19) Paul has to birth the church all over again and the pain and agony of struggling against the forces of evil will stay with him until the bewitched Galatians return to their maturity in Christ. (See also 1 Thessalonians 2:7 where Paul likens himself to a nurse taking care of little children.) This is the only place in Paul’s writing where he associates himself as a mother caring for her children. Only here in Galatians does Paul describe his deep love in such intimate terms as a mother giving birth all over again in order to secure the well being of her children. Paul must have been cut to the heart over this apostasy from the grace of God. These inner pains and anguish he was experiencing were quite different from the “marks of Jesus,” he talks about in chapter 6. Those were the results of physical persecution and hardships in his ministry. Something, else I’ve been thinking about in regards to these false teachers and Paul is the fact that “these people” never seem to go out and try to start a church or minister. They seem to spend all their time running around behind evangelists, like Paul, finding fault with the message and trying to get the people to follow them instead. False prophets seem very content to find fault with those who are proclaiming the message, and then slip in and steal the hearts of the believers. (2:4)
An interesting aspect of this idea of the pains and anguish of childbirth is the fact that the verb (odinein) to suffer the pains of childbirth is only found in two other places in the New Testament. One is a little further along in chapter 4 and the other is Revelation 12:2 What is interesting about this is that some Bible scholars believe that this anguish is so deep in Paul that it is a reflection of the groaning of all creation as it waits for the return of Christ. (see Romans 8:18-28) For Paul’s relating suffering to the cross event see Colossians 1:23-24)
We now come to a very interesting part of verse 19. Paul has just described his love for the Galatians in terms of a mother giving birth and the suffering and agony that accomplish childbirth, and now he tells them they must also go through this birth.
He says he is, “in travail until Christ be formed in you.” The verb translated “formed,” is morphoo a medical term that is used for the growth of the fetus into an infant within the body. The Galatians need a born again experience in which Jesus is reborn into their hearts and lives.
Paul ends this section of his Epistle by saying, “I am perplexed about you.” (v.20) This verse echo’s verse 11, “I am afraid that I have labored over you in vain.” Paul, however, will not give up too much is at stake. He is not playing games and can quite when he gets tired, instead the lives of his friends are at risk, and he will fight for them with all that he has. I would like to close this section with another quote from Timothy George. “Something eternal was at stake, and Paul had to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered. May God grant to the church today ministers of the gospel possessed of the constancy of Paul, ministers of God, who will not turn and run at the first sound of opposition but who will lovingly stand their ground, weeping, pleading, praying until Christ be completely formed in the precious souls that have been given to their charge.” I think we can all say Amen.
Twenty-seven Appeal Against A Return to Bondage
Galatians 4: 8-20
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods, but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.
Brethren, I beseech you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong; you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose they want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. For a good purpose it is always good to be made much of, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Paul has tried everything with these people. He has reminded them of their coming to Christ through faith, he reminded them about his own experience and the experience that they have gone through by trusting in Christ. He reminded them about wonders and miracles in their lives. He reminded them of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives (3:1-5), and he argued with them from Biblical history and theology (3:6-14) and then from everyday life(3:15-4:7). Now in these verses he appeals to their personal relationship (4:8-20).
Everything we have read up until now in Galatians has had a combative defense of the gospel appeal to it, but here the tone takes on a feeling of sadness. It is as if Paul doesn’t know what to say any longer. He has given it his best shot, but now he is fearful that they will not respond to the Gospel. He writes, “Brethren I beseech you,” and “What has become of the satisfaction you felt”? He even writes, “I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.” Paul is pouring out his inner most fears and desires to these churches. He knows he is in a spiritual warfare with Satan and his troopers, the false teachers, but he will not give in. Paul loves these people and longs to see them in the kingdom of Heaven, so though things look bad he will not surrender the fight for their souls. I wonder what would be the results if we Christians had the same desire and fortitude in holding up our loved ones to God? Our husbands, wives, children, mothers and fathers who are not believers need Christ and sometimes we are the only ones who can encourage them. If we took the time to pray for their salvation, I wonder at what miracles God would work in their lives.
Paul has a simple three-part argument. He tells them you once were slaves, now you are sons so why do you want to go back into slavery? (8-10) It is not impossible for a Christian who knows grace to slip into legalism, but it is insanity. To allow, “the beings that by nature are no gods,” to ensnare you once you were free of a works based religion is preposterous to Paul. John Stott points out, “The way for us to avoid the Galatians folly is to heed Paul’s words. Let God’s word keep telling us who and what we are if we are Christians. We must keep reminding ourselves what we have and are in Christ. One of the great purposes of daily Bible reading, meditation and prayer is just this, to get ourselves correctly orientated, to remember who and what we are. We need to say to ourselves:’ Once I was a slave, but God has made me His Son and put the Spirit of His Son into my heart. How can I turn back to the old slavery?’ “
Notice the love Paul has for the Galatians. He calls them ”brethren” and “my little children.” He is discouraged with their rebellion against grace, but he still loves them with all his heart. In fact, it is because he loves them that he has suffered for them, and has spent his valuable time writing and pleading with them. I am astonished at how many people drift out of the Christian church and no one seems to care. I know the sixteen years that Ruth and I drifted away from Christianity and the Christian community we belonged to that we could count the number of visits we received on one hand. Many of you reading this post haven’t been inside a church in years, and I would not be surprised that your experience is little different from ours. You feel forgotten and abandoned by your fellow Christians and that makes it all the easier to stay away from Church and Christian fellowship. I’m not finding fault, I’m just wondering why we are so indifferent to the discouraged and broken amongst us. It seems true, that old saying, “Christian’s shoot their wounded.” Fortunately, for the Galatians they had Paul and he would pursue them to the ends of the earth if he had to, in order to keep them trusting in God’s grace.
Verse 12 is an interesting text. The Authorized Version translates it, “Be as I am; for I am as you are.” Because in the Greek the only verb is the first one the text could be translated, “become as I, for I as you,” or “ become like me, for I like you.” That leaves us wondering what did Paul mean to convey in this text. If we keep the text in context with the verses surrounding it the meaning becomes clear. Paul saw his beloved Galatians falling back into bondage and made his appeal to them in this section of the letter on the grounds of relationship. He appealed to them to become like him in faith and trust in God. Paul wanted them to experience the freedom that he had in Christ. He was free from the shackles of Jewish bondage to attempting to win God’s favor through actions and works. He knew the joy of living in relationship to the freedom of the Christian life, and he didn’t want the Galatians to throw their own experience of joy in Christ away for the heavy bondage of legalism that would only end in ruin. In Acts 26:28,29 Paul is testifying to King Agrippa when Agrippa interrupts him, “In a short time you think to make me a Christian?” Paul responds, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am-except for these chains.” Paul wills that all who hear him can have the freedom that he does in Christ. He didn’t want the hearers to be prisoners as he was, but as he was in the freedom of the Spirit.
Before we move on from this verse it is interesting to notice that Paul not only admonishes the Galatians to become like him in faith, but that he had become as them when he visited them. He had lived amongst the Galatians and served them. He presented Christ freely to them and wanted nothing in return but their happiness of being free from the bondage of paganism and legalism. The Galatians knew him, because he was part of the community. Too often pastors, elders, evangelists separate themselves from the people they pastor and it becomes impossible to build trusting relationships as Paul had done in Galatia. The Galatian people knew Paul was no hypocrite teaching one thing and living another because they could observe him as he went about his ministry on their behalf. When he spoke of grace they knew he lived and breathed it. His attempt to reach the Galatians through his personal relationship with them was a powerful testimony to the strength of the Gospel.(see 1 Corinthians 9:20-22)
Verse 12 is the introduction to the rest of this section of the letter. Paul builds on the theme by presenting the Galatians attitude to him and then his attitude towards them.
Galatians attitude towards Paul verses 13-16
Paul draws a contrast between how they treated him in the past and how they are treating him now. In the next section, on Paul’s attitude towards the Galatians he will present another contrast, this time between how he treated them in the past and how he is treating them now. As Christians there is much we can learn from this short section of the letter.
“You did me no wrong,” (12b) tell us that Paul had a great relationship with these people. The next verses remind the Galatians that he came to them in weakness and illness and they ministered lovingly to him. They could not have been kinder. He writes, “you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” Verses 13,14 It would seem whatever Paul’s ailment, malaria, fever, or the thorn in the flesh of 2 Corinthians 12, he was well cared for even though it cost the Galatians time and great effort to do so.
While we are on the topic, there is great speculation about Paul’s eyesight amongst Bible students. Verse 15 is interesting in this light, “if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me,” seems to insinuate that this eyesight problem was part of the problem that Paul was dealing with when he arrived in the Galatian cities and towns. (Acts 23:1-5; Gal. 6:11) Some people have also speculated that the thorn in the flesh of 2 Corinthians is actually the problem of poor eyesight or partial blindness. Through all these ailments, whatever they were, the Galatians cared for him without murmur. (v.14)
Let us think about this for a moment. How easy it would have been for the Galatians to give in to the temptation to reject Paul. After all he was ill, broken down in his overall health, and worn out from the trials and abuses he received in his ministry. (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 ) Instead of rejecting him and turning away from him they ministered unselfishly to his needs and listened to what he had to say about the gospel. The result they became believers in the grace of Christ and they practiced grace as they looked after Paul. How could they turn their back on that shared experience of grace?
Also of interest in this section of the letter is Paul’s recounting that they, “received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus..” V.15 Other places Paul rebukes the people for trying to make him out to be a God. Even at Lystra, one of the Galatian cities, the people flocked to him and tried to worship him as a god. Acts 14:8-18 He was emphatic that he was no god and rebuked the people for their assumption. The case here in the letter to the Galatians receives no such rebuke. Has success gone to Paul’s head and he now sees himself as an equal to Jesus? Absolutely not. He in a sense is an angel of God come to the people. The word angel means messenger and Paul brought the message of grace as an ambassador of Jesus Christ. He was an apostle who had the gospel commission to proclaim Christ to the lost as if Jesus himself was standing before the people teaching and preaching. So, in a spiritual sense he was an angel and he was the Apostle of Jesus and the gospel he preached to them was not of his own making, but was directly and accurately from God.(see Mt.10:40) No wonder Paul made sure in the first part of his letter that they knew he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, because he would use that authority to make his case that what they heard from him was the accurate, true word directly from God for them. So, how could any mere, so-called teacher, turn their minds from such truth to legalism?
Now something had happened. The false brethren had arrived with their emphases on circumcision and the need for the Galatian converts to become wedded into Judaism in order to be saved. And under the spell, who has bewitched you, of Satan the Galatians had turned on Paul and his message. He writes, “What has become of the satisfaction you felt?” and “have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Think about this for a moment. Once they had received Paul as an angel and an ambassador of Jesus, and now they were his enemies. What had changed? False teachers with a false message had turned the heads of the people who once cared for him with such tender love.
Let me say something here that I believe is true. People turn to works based religion because it is easier than believing. In legalism you have tangible things that you can hold on to while with grace it is a matter of faith. For many people the idea of obeying a rule is much easier than exercising the mind to understand the wonders of God. It is easier to live in a world of thou shall do or thou shall not do than have to make spiritual decisions on what God would have you do and how God would have you live. Why pray and seek God’s will through the Scriptures when all you have to do is follow a rule regarding any given circumstance. But God didn’t die that we would be robots responding to preconditioned stimulus. He died that we could have a choice to accept Him or reject Him. God died that we could exercise free will based on our relationship with Him. This is what was going on with Paul and the Galatians. Paul, on one hand, presented freedom in Christ. He opened the doors of grace that would allow them to make intelligent decisions about their relationship to God based on their free will to choose. The false teachers, on the other hand, were presenting a formula that the Galatians had to follow and obey heedless of free will. The false teachers motto was simply, “do as you are told, obey because we tell you to, and don’t question.” There was no place for freedom in their teaching. We must have free will to follow Jesus and honestly love Him. A man can make a woman stay with him through abuse, but she will never love him. You can make someone do Christian things but you can never make them love Jesus. To know Jesus is a change of heart from selfishness to selflessness. It is an attitude change that says, “be renewed in your mind,”(Rom.12:2) To be a Christian is a relationship based on mutual love and respect and that can never be legislated. Paul stood for freedom of choice, grace, love and acceptance. The false teachers stood for obedience, works, earned merit and sheer determination.
The Galatians were fickle in their relationship with Paul, the gospel and with Jesus. To me the key to this section is verse 16, “have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?’ For anyone who has ever done pastoral work you know how true this verse is. It is unbelievable how quickly someone can go from being your friend and responsive to the gospel to being an enemy because they don’t like hearing the truth about a situation. As Christians we can’t select what we like in the Bible and disregard all the rest. We can’t say this is true and this isn’t. When we come to Christ we come with open arms to be accepted by Him and to learn from Him and to walk with Him. We can’t say we will walk this far on the path with you God, but I’m getting off here to take a detour and I’ll meet up with you when I like the path. The Galatians loved Paul, but when he corrected them and encouraged them to live lives in harmony with Jesus it was easier to follow legalism on the outside but live for themselves in their hearts. In Colossians 2: 11 Paul writes, “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ.” Paul tells the Colossians that if they want to play around with circumcision then let it be a cut to the heart by Jesus. Let the word of God penetrate into the heart and change the attitudes and longings of the heart. An outward cut on the flesh means nothing, but the circumcision of the heart means everything. To follow Christ is to exercise our free will by allowing Jesus to enter into our lives and transform us by the grace of the cross. The Holy Spirit enters into our hearts and leads us and guides us on our Christian walk and our witness. We follow Jesus because it is what we want to, not because it is an obligation or out of fear. We are Christians because we can never imagine ourselves without Christ and His wondrous grace.
This study has gotten a bit long so next time we will look at Paul’s attitude towards the Galatians.(verses 17-20) Thanks for reading along with us and please leave any comments at the end of this study. I know, you need to scroll all the way to the end of study one, but I would like to hear from you.
Galatians 4: 1-7
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
As I wrote these words out this morning it dawned on me that anyone who has followed us through this study in Galatians would understand this section of the Epistle to the Galatians quite easily. I never cease to be amazed at how straight forward the Bible is when we read and study it without trying to force it into a preconceived box of what we want it to say. I remember trying to make sense of Galatians and trying to fit everything together based on what I was taught Galatians was saying. It never made sense to me, but trying to be loyal to my tradition I did my best to separate the moral law from the so-called ceremonial laws. But it always seemed to me that Paul was talking about trying to keep all the laws of Moses as opposed to the Gospel. Once we let the text be honest to its self the argument of the text flows from thought to thought. The moral law is not being attacked or thrown away and it is still important in the life of a Christian, but law keeping as a method of earning merit with God has been demolished by Paul’s arguments.
In the previous verses Paul makes it clear that as long as we are under the law method of salvation we are in prison and under a pedagogue (custodian, tutor) and not free. He continues this line of thought in chapter four.
In Greek civil law a wealthy man gave his heir over to guardians. Even though the boy on a given date set by his father would inherit up until that date he was under the control of the guardians. They kept him in complete control from the time he went to bed, to what classes he took, to whom he associated with. If the father passed away before the boy was designated to inherit they controlled the father’s estates and wealth. Though the boy was the heir he had no benefits of an heir until the day appointed. For Paul the law plays the same part as the guardian keeping the child in custody until his freedom arrives in Christ.
Verse 3 so with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. The big question here is what are those elemental spirits of the universe that we were slaves to. If we look at verses four and five we notice Paul seems to be talking about the laws of Moses. He writes, “but when the time had full come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as son.” The Greek translated elemental spirits can be translated as essential components or elementary things. The law could be considered the basic principles of the world. Ryken points out, “The term was sometimes used to refer to basic teachings like the ABC’s ( or alpha, beta, gammas, as they were called back then). This is one good way to describe God’s law. To study the law is to learn the alphabet of God’s will.” Galatians pg. 158 The law was like being in grammar school for the Jews and they spent their time memorizing their duty to the law and reciting it back through their lives. However elementary school children, the future heirs, outgrew their elementary school education. They master those lessons and move on. I think, what Paul is saying here is that the law prepared the people for the coming of the gospel.
What is amazing about Paul’s use of this idea of the law being the elementary spirit or element of a Christian’s growth is the contrast with the false teachers. They had come to Galatia teaching just the opposite. They were saying the gospel was the elementary first step in the Christian experience and the law experience was the graduate school. Paul turned everything on its head with these wonderful series of thoughts. To go back to the law for the Galatians would be like your family physician that he/she had to go back to kindergarten to understand medicine.
I believe there is a further meaning to this term “elemental spirits of the universe” and if I am right it is not a good picture. This term is linked to verse 9, “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more.” Most commentators believe that Paul is talking here about the Galatians wanting to return to pagan worship, but it doesn’t seem to fit. All through the last chapter and the first part of this chapter he has been talking about the law method as a means of salvation. He writes in this verse, “how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits.” Remember chapter 1:6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting (changing sides) Him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel.” That different gospel, of course, was belief in circumcision and all it stood for and it was opposed to the gospel. He says in verse 8 if “even an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Accursed means as we have already seen means let him be put to death. So even angels if they carry a works based teachings are to be cursed. Then remember chapter 3 verse 10a, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse.” Again in Chapter 3 verse 1 Paul asks the Galatians, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” The term bewitched means to be put under a demonic spell. In Ephesians when talking about the armor of God Paul writes, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 5:11,12
There is no doubt Paul is talking in Ephesians about warfare with Satan and his angels. The same angels that want to bring a false teaching on grace to the Galatians. (1: 8) These are the same elemental spirits that bewitch or cast a spell on unwary Christians. These are the spirits that teach such heresy against the grace of God that they are accursed (1:9) and anyone who believes their heresy of believing law keeping can save you is similarly under a curse. (3:10)
In Chapter four the elemental spirits of the universe that we were slaves to when we were under the law are non other than demonic forces. If the Galatians go back to law keeping they are going to be doing the bidding of demonic forces. “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (4:9) Is Paul saying that when we thought that law keeping could lead to an addition to the gospel or as the mature place for a Christian to end up at, that really that Christian was enslaved to the demonic forces of the universe? Notice the use of the word “whose” in the verse. These legalists belong to someone not something. F.F.Bruce in The Epistle to the Galatians quotes, G.B.Caird’s, Principalities and Powers (Oxford, 1956), 51. Caird writes, “The demonic forces of legalism, then, both Jewish and Gentile can be called ‘principalities and powers’ or ‘elemental spirits of the world.’ “
You realize what I am saying here and the implications for legalism. To add works to the gospel is not a careless understanding of the Gospel, but a direct plan of demonic forces to belittle the gospel. Look at what Paul says about law keeping as a method of salvation in the letter to the Galatians. He writes, “it is a perversion of the gospel,” (1:7), he says they are “bewitched,” (3:1). He further writes, “for all who rely on works of the law are under a curse,” (3:10), then he adds, “So that the law was a custodian until Christ came,” (3:24). But Paul is not finished yet with his attack on circumcision and its entanglements, “you are severed from Christ,” (5:4), and “you have fallen away from grace.” (5:4) Then in chapter 5:8 he writes, “This persuasion is not from Him who calls you.” In other words you are “not of God,” if you think you can add your works to the gospel and find merit with God. Then of course there are the verses in chapter 4 that we have been studying today that indicate that these are demonic forces at work to lead us away from the gospel.
As I mentioned earlier a number of commentators think the verse 9 is Paul admonishing the Galatians to not go back into the world of pagan worship. Ryken notes, “Among the pagans, elementary principles could refer to spiritual beings such as the elemental spirits of earth, air, fire, and water. So perhaps when Paul spoke of being “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world,” Gal. 4:3, he was referring to demonic powers. There was a time when the Galatians themselves were in bondage to precisely such gods and goddesses.” Whether it was enslavement to the spirits of the earth, air, fire and water or to the law method what is important for us to see is that they were in bondage to Satan. These commentators do agree that elementary principles are demonic powers.
This is of the utmost importance for us. There are no gray areas for Paul. You are either under grace or you are striving to be good enough for God to accept you. This emphasis on doing and obedience instead of on what has been done in Christ and grace is not of God.
Verse 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. We move from slavery to sonship by the death and resurrection of Jesus. We have the hold of Satan over us broken when we accept the cross event into our lives.
Let’ take a quick look at the six teachings about the coming of Christ into our world found in this verse. The first is “when the fullness of time had come,” Remember the heir receives his inheritance when the time comes that the father had set. Also see Mark 1:14-15. The coming of Christ to this earth was exactly when the Father planned it and exactly for the reason the Father planned it. Next the text tells us, “God sent forth His Son,” meaning that the Son lived before Bethlehem. This is a sign that Jesus was divine, the second person of the Godhead, fully equal to the Father in every way.
It was God who came and died on the cross that we could have salvation. It was God Himself who became our substitute and fulfilled the requirements of his divine law and did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Next we need to notice the manner of Christ’s coming. He was, “born of a woman.” Here Paul reflects on the humanity of Jesus. This is the doctrine of the incarnation; God became man. Here is our blessed hope. Paul also tells us about the condition of Jesus coming, “born under the law.” He perfectly kept the law for us all. He did everything the law required and failed in not one iota of it. He lived under the law and He died under the law. At the cross He took our death penalty for our sins and failures. He took our curse (3:10,13) that we might live. Jesus purpose is outlined by Paul in these words, “to redeem those who are under the law,” (see 1:4) Jesus death paid the ransom price that freed us from the elementary principles and powers of this world that held us prisoner by the curse of our inability to keep the perfect law of God. I love what Ryken says about the cross, “Christianity is not a religion of stable and straw; it is a religion of thorns and nails, wood and blood. The incarnation cannot save us without the crucifixion. Christ did not redeem us by His life alone; He redeemed us through His death.” Galatians, p.163 That bit of wisdom should be on a fridge magnet in every house so that every time we open the door we could be reminded of the sacrifice through nails and blood.
Everything Paul has said so far about the coming of Christ has qualified Him to be our redeemer. John Stott writes, “So the divinity of Crist, the humanity of Christ and the righteousness of Christ uniquely qualified Him to be man’s redeemer. If He had not been man, He could not have redeemed men. If He had not been a righteous man, He could not have redeemed unrighteous men. And if He had not been God’s Son, He could not have redeemed men for God or made them the sons of God.” The Message of Galatians, p. 106
The last teaching concerning the coming of Christ reads, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” At the cross we are both saved and adopted. Ryken writes, “It would be enough for God to release us from slavery, to rescue us from our captivity to the law, and so to redeem us from its curse. But God did not stop there. Once Christ had gained our freedom, He gathered us into His family. He went beyond redemption to adoption, turning slaves into sons.” Galatians, pg.163.
Verse 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!” No wonder that when the Father sends the Spirit into our hearts we cry out Abba, Abba, Father. With such a wonderful plan to save us and adopt us into the Kingdom how could we do otherwise. The Galatians received the Spirit (3:2) and received assurance of salvation. The Father sent His Son to make us children of the Kingdom (4:4), and then He sent the Spirit to confirm we were His children (4:6). Something we don’t have time to get into in this study but is very interesting is the term, “Spirit of His Son.” Leave a comment or email with your thoughts on this unique term and how it relates to the Trinity. One last thing before we leave this study is that you know you are a Christian when you honestly can call God, Father. Remember Jesus calling out or crying out (Greek word Krazon, means with intense feelings) to His Father in Mark 14:36. Abba means dear dad or dearest father and is a sign of endearment and respect. It is a term of deep love for the parent who gave His all for you. It is the work of the Spirit to put this word on our lips as Ryken points out. See Romans 8:15-16 F.F.Bruce writes, “Abba is the voice of the Spirit of Jesus on the lips of His people.” Epistle to the Galatians, pg.199
I hope this study has shown us once again that we don’t work our way into the family of God we are adopted in through the Son. Luther wrote, “My obedience can prove that I am a servant, but not that I am a son. My sonship is based entirely on the redemption accomplished by the Son of God. God’s Spirit confirms this by enabling me to call God, “Father.” Servants can only say “Lord,” but sons are able to say “Abba Father!” Galatians, 26:390 Amen, a thousand times amen. What a great way to leave our study for today.
Twenty-five Custodian pt.2
Galatians 3: 26-29
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Let’s review verse 25 before we look at these last few verses of Paul’s summary of chapter three. “But now, that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. But now, reveals that what we are now is quite different than what we were. We are no longer under the law and no longer condemned by it, because we are in Christ. In spite of our law breaking we are now united to Christ through faith. We have assurance that God accepts us because of Jesus substitutionary sacrifice at Calvary.
With that in mind let’s take a look at these last four verses. The first thing we notice is that they are all about Jesus. Each verse reveals the wonders of being “in Christ.” Verse 26,”for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God,” and verse 27,”for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Verse 28, “we are all one in Christ Jesus” and lastly verse 29, “and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring.” An interesting aside in verse 26 where Paul says we, “have put on Christ.” The New English Bible translates the verse as. “put on Christ as a garment,” which might be a reference to toga virilis the garment a young boy would put on as he entered manhood. I like that thought. In summary to be a Christian is to be, “in Christ,” he is “baptized into Christ,” he’s, ”put on Christ,” and “belongs to Christ.”
Let’s think about what we have seen in these verses for just a moment. Where is the emphasis upon our good works, law keeping, our own merits or attempts to please God through perfect obedience? Instead Paul emphasizes to the Galatians that everything we are, every hope we have as Christians is assured because when we accept Christ we are, “in Christ.” Many Christians try to be like the Galatians and have it both ways. Out of one side of their mouth they say they believe that they are saved by grace then they add, “but” we must be obedient to the commandments. We like the Galatians can’t have it both ways. Grace alone either saves us, or it doesn’t.
The Galatians got in trouble when they started combining grace with their attempt at law keeping. They tried mingling what Christ had done with what they were doing. Many Christians today attempt the same thing. They acknowledge that they are saved by the merits of Christ, but they think there is more. They say things like, “it is not me who does the good works in me but it is Christ working good works in me through the Holy Spirit.” Of course, the Holy Spirit works in a converted person, but that change of life has nothing to do with grace. My Christian walk is simply the result of my relationship to Christ. I am the thief on the cross with my arm outstretched to God, He is my redeemer and I can do nothing to make that more real. To be “in Christ,” is to have an attitude change towards life, it is not about making sure that our character is perfected by our striving for perfection. The whole point of Galatians is that we cannot receive merit through law keeping. Salvation is in Christ.
Someone I am sure who is reading this post is right now accusing me of “cheap grace,” just believe and do what you want. I hope by now you know that is not what I am saying. I believe that a person who comes to Christ will see their life transformed into a joyous experience in Christ. The Holy Spirit will motivate and guide the individual into prayer, Bible study, and witness. The Christian will produce fruit in their life because their mind is set on Christ and not on the things of this world. The Christian walk is not about overcoming but about becoming. We are new creatures in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on Heaven and love for the lost. Things that we loved to do lose their hold on us, because we are filled with the joy of knowing Jesus. A friend told me the other night that he was offered a ticket to a concert and in the old days he would have jumped at the chance to see the band, but it was on his Bible study night and he couldn’t miss the study. He wasn’t bragging instead he was realizing that his priorities had changed since he became a Christian. His attitude towards life had changed and he now had new priorities. Our walk with Christ isn’t about never making a mistake, or striving to be obedient to all the commandments of God, instead it is about knowing God. My friends attitude towards Jesus, life, and his priorities all changed because of his encounter with the grace of God. By the way, even if it were possible to live a sinless life and have a perfection of character our sinful nature (the flesh) would condemn us. Paul is making the case to the Galatians that they started out in Christ and they should finish in Christ. There is no reason to detour into law keeping. Christianity is not a religion of do’s and don’t it is an experiential faith based on a relationship with the God of grace. It’s not about law keeping it’s about faith sharing.
We need to get back to the text and notice three results of being united to Christ.
First of all we are sons of God. What a powerful though! We are no longer under a pedagogue or a custodian who through the law chastises us. While reading John Stott’s commentary on Galatians for this study I came across a thought about God that had slipped my mind. “This Sonship of God is in Christ; it is not of ourselves. The doctrine of God as a universal Father was not taught by Christ nor by His apostles. God is indeed the universal Creator, having brought all things into existence, and the universal King, ruling and sustaining all that He has made. But He is Father only of our Lord Jesus Christ and of those whom He adopts into His family through Christ. If we would be the sons of God, then we must be “in Christ Jesus…..through faith.” (verse 26).” The Message of Galatians pg. 99
We often take for granted that God is our Father, but He is the Father of Jesus and we are adopted into the family through Jesus Christ. Yes, the Father is our Father, but it is because of Jesus that we hold that status. We are no longer prisoners awaiting execution, or children under the restraint of pedagogues, but instead Sons of God enjoying the benefits of being mature in Christ. The hold the law held on us through our law breaking is broken through the grace of Jesus and the result is we are accepted as the sons of God. And that visible union with God is demonstrated through baptism. “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Paul is not substituting circumcision for baptism as a ritual that saves you. He is simply saying that baptism signifies outwardly the acceptance of our faith in the merits of Christ when we believe. John Stott has it right on, “Thus in Christ, by faith inwardly (verse 26) and baptism outwardly (verse 27), we are all sons of God.
Next, in Christ we are all one. “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The New English Bible makes the text even clearer, “for you are all one person in Christ Jesus.” In Christ we are adopted into the family of God and we become “sons of God.” Also in Christ we are as one family with each other. Let’s notice in what manner we are one with our brothers and sisters when we are in Christ.
There is no distinction of race when we are in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek.” Verse 28 The divisions that the false teachers were creating by introducing the idea of circumcision and all the baggage that came with that teaching was splitting the church. These teachers were belittling the faith of the gentiles and admonishing them to become like the Jews who were obedient to the laws of Moses. But, Paul says no. We are all one in Christ because He died for us all regardless of race. Becoming a Jew was not what the gospel was about, it was about finding salvation in Christ. Both Jew and Gentile in order to be saved needed to put their trust in the substitutionary death of Christ on their behalf. This is the reason Paul confronted Peter when he wouldn’t sit with gentiles for his meals. When we realize that we are all sinners in need of a savior then we can have fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of race.
There is no distinction of rank. “there is neither slave nor free.” Verse 28 Snobbery and class distinction are not part of God’s plan for Christians who would be one in Christ. Those distinctions based on class, education, upbringing, wealth and education are not important for us when we realize that in the sight of God our righteousness is as filthy rags. When a ship is going down rich, poor, educated, non-educated are all happy to see the life boat coming towards them.
There is no distinction of sex. “there is neither male nor female.” Verse 28 I spent quite a lot of my time while working on my Masters Degree in the role of women in the New Testament. The ancient world saw women as secondary beings or in some cases as property. Even in Jewish circles woman were second class citizens at best. Jesus was revolutionary in His approach towards the place of women in society. And though some New Testament critics believe Paul was an unenlightened sexist, he wasn’t. There is no distinction between male and female because they are equally in need of Christ. Men and women are one in Christ and we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lastly, Paul tells us that in Christ we are Abraham’s seed. “And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Verse 29 In Christ we are declared sons of God and in Christ we are one with each other. Now in Christ we belong to Abraham. We are part of the great linage of faith as recorded in Hebrews 11. We are not alone but belong to the family of God down through the ages. We are the descendants of Abraham and can trace our lineage back to that great man of faith. That promise God made to Abraham the evening, as Abraham stood looking up into the starlit night, that his descendants would be as numerous as those stars was about us. God looking down through the ages saw us numbered in those heavenly lights. We are not orphans, but heirs of a promise on a joyous journey that will take us to the heavens.
In Christ we know who we are and we know where we are going and how we get to our destination. In Christ it is not the lure of the world that holds us, but the freedom of the cross that guides us. It is not the failure to keep the law that condemns us, and curses us, but the grace of God pardons us and blesses us. In Christ we find our place for eternity (we are sons and daughters of God), and in society (we are one person). We have our place within history because we are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. The great philosophical question of history, ‘who am I,’ is answered, you are sons and daughters of God, one with your fellow man and part of the redeemed past, present and future.
In Chapter three Paul has drawn a vivid contrast between those who are under law and those who are under grace. I would like to end this study by once again referring to John Stott’s brilliant commentary on these verses. “If we are under the law, our religion is a bondage. Having no knowledge of forgiveness, we are still, as it were, in custody, like prisoners in gaol or children under a tutor. It is sad to be in prison or in a nursery when we could be grown up and free. But if we are, “in Christ,” we have been set free. Our religion is characterized by promise rather than by law. We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have been to Moses to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ.” Stott, pg.102
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post as much as I have enjoyed writing it. As you can probably tell I used John Stott’s outline on these few verses because they addressed the texts in a straight forward easy to understand way. While I referred to other commentaries, online sources and theological texts I felt Stott spoke to me. As I studied these verses I felt very close to God and peaceful. I am finding that since I started the blog Bible study has become a big part of who I am. Every day I can hardly wait to open the Bible and see what God has to say to me. Well I can’t believe it that we have done twenty-five studies together and we are about to begin chapter four. We are at the half-way mark and once again thanks for studying with me.
I know you have to scroll down to the bottom of all these studies to leave your comments, but please do. I enjoy hearing from you personally but many of your comments are so good and interesting that they would open up whole new lines of though for the
Twenty-four The Custodian
Galatians 3: 23-29
Now before death came, we were confined under the law kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Every time I read these verses I get goose bumps. These seven verses are a summary of all that Paul has told us in Chapter three of Galatians. If you came to these verses unbiased for or against the law as a method of salvation what would be your decision after reading these verses?
Let’s take a quick look at Romans 7: 7-25 for a moment. If we read these verses we come to the understanding, I think, that Paul has no problem with the law. In fact in verse 12 he says “so the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” Instead the problem is with us, we break the law constantly and continually and as we have seen in Galatians that brings us under the curse of the law. The law according to these verses in Romans points out our sins. Paul writes, “Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, you shall not covet. But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead.” Romans 7:7b,8 Once again, I have to say it, Paul understands that the law is holy, just and good, but we are not. We have a sinful nature that does battle against the law. Chapter 7: 14 reads, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin.” Paul goes on to record the conflict between what he knows to be right and what in his mind he wants to do and the reality of his life as a sinner condemned by his failure to keep the perfect law of God. (verses 15-23) He then cries out in verses 24 and 25, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
There is debate amongst Christians of just who Paul is talking about in this conflict between wanting to do good and not doing it. Some theologians believe that Paul is talking about his pre-conversion while others believe that it is Paul’s post-conversion. There is a third school of thought that seems to me to be the most logical. Paul, may well have been talking about Jewish converts to Christianity who had accepted the gospel, but were still holding on to traditions and were born of the Holy Spirit, but not indwelt by the Spirit. John Stott in his commentary on Romans points out, “Hence their painful struggle, their humiliating defeat. They were relying on the law, and had not yet come to terms with its weakness. In order to emphasize this, Paul identifies with that stage of his own pilgrimage. He proclaims the importance of the law by dramatizing it in the vivid terms of personal experience. He describes what happens to anyone who tries to live according to the law instead of the gospel, according to the flesh instead of the spirit. The resulting defeat is not the law’s fault, for the law is good, although weak. The culprit is sin living in me (17,20), the power of indwelling sin which the law is powerless to control. Not until Romans 8:9ff, will the apostle bear witness to the indwelling Spirit as alone able to subdue indwelling sin. Before that, however, he will refer specifically to the law as weakened by the sinful nature, and will declare that God Himself has done what the sin-weakened law could not do. He sent His Son to die for our sins in that the law’s requirement might be fulfilled in us, provided that we live not according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:3-4).” Stott, Romans, pg.210
In the Christian church of our own day there are Christians who still fall under what we might call “Old Testament Christians.” These people love God, but their religion is law, not gospel. They live in slavery to rules, regulations and law keeping when they may have the newness of freedom through Jesus Christ. I don’t want to belabor the point, but it is important to our understanding of Galatians. The law is good and holy that is not the problem. The problem is our inability to live up to its perfect requirements and thus it condemns us. We can either trust in Jesus and His righteousness to justify us in light of our failure to live perfect acceptable lives, or we can attempt the impossible of keeping the law 100% every moment of our lives.
For those who go down this road of trying to obtain perfection they end up in the conflict that Paul describes in verses 14 through 20. Peace only comes to that person when they cry out with Paul, “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer of course is, “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Chapter 8 screams out the good news, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Verse 1 God’s grace is immeasurably greater than man’s sin.
So, lets go back to Galatians remembering that the law is good, but our sinful natures rebel against the law and that is what condemns us. The problem, once again, isn’t the law but our inability to live it out perfectly in our daily lives. Paul now gives us two illustrations that the law was only a guardian until Christ would come, and release us from the tyranny of the broken law. The first illustration comes from the prison system. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” Gal. 3:23 Ryken points out, “In this analogy, the law is a prison warden to keep us locked up in sin’s penitentiary. We are the inmates, and the law is our jail-keeper, or perhaps our prison cell. The law, with its penalties, restrains and punishes us.” Ryken, Galatians, pg..138 The law is a guardian refusing to let go until it hands us directly over to Christ.
Paul now uses a second illustration, this one taken from the nursery to make his point concerning the law. “So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian.” Verses 24,25 The word translated custodian literally means, pedagogue. A pedagogue was a slave appointed to watch over a child, usually from around the age of six till adolescence. These pedagogues were very strict and besides working as babysitters, and chaperones they were also responsible for discipline. Ancient drawings of these pedagogues usually depicted them holding rods or canes for administering punishment. The King James Bible translates the word as schoolmaster, but that idea really misses the point because the pedagogue wasn’t responsible for teaching. Their major responsibility was to from the child’s character by administering punishment for misdeeds and putting the fear of the cane into them. It’s important to remember that a pedagogue had the best interest of the child at heart, but was not the child’s parent only the one responsible for discipline.
We may say that the pedagogue was the law that raised the Jews. As Ryken says, “It was not the schoolmaster to teach them how to get better and better until God finally accepted them. On the contrary, the law for discipline. It old God’s people what to do, and then it punished them for failing to do it. There were times when the Jews chafed under this discipline. But all the while the law was preparing God’s children to enter their majority.” Pg. 140
According to these two illustrations the law kept us under restraint and discipline until the coming of Christ. We were shut up in prison and under a pedagogue until Jesus set us free. I like what John Stott says in the Message to Galatians, about the use of the law, “to shut us up in prison until Christ should set us free, or to put us under tutors until Christ should make us sons.” Pg. 98 So the function of the law is to reveal our sins by showing that our misdeeds are transgressions of God’s perfect and Holy law. And as Romans 7 points out sometimes the law increases our sinning because of our rebellion against it and thus adds to our guilt. The more we see ourselves imprisoned by sin, however, the more we understand our need for Christ. Have you ever talked to a Christian who has been around for a while and listened to him talk about sin? It is interesting how many Christians realize that the closer they walk with God the more they realize how truly sinful they really are. Remember those great passages in Romans 5: 20,21, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This text summarizes what I’ve been trying to say through this study very well. The law cannot save us it only can drive us to Christ our Savior.
Martin Luther understood the use of the Law when he wrote, “the true use of the law is this, that I know that by the Law I am being brought to an acknowledgment of sin and am being humbled, so that I may come to Christ and be justified by faith.” Luther, Galatians 26:348
John Stott also gives a wonderful insight into the law and the sinfulness of humanity in light of that law. “Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free. Not until the law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and for life. Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus. Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven.” Message of Galatians, pg. 93
“We need the law to lead us to Christ. For only when the law reveals our sin will we ever start to look for the free grace that God has for us in the gospel.” Ryken, Galatians, pg. 141 I hope that we are all on the same page by now. The law is not a method of salvation, it is not there as an ideal for us to strive and keep it so that we can earn merit points with God, instead the law condemns us because we don’t keep it. If you and I could keep the law then we wouldn’t need Jesus to redeem us from the curse of the law. We would be fulfilling Satan’s suggestion to Eve that we could become God’s through our actions. The reason for the cross event was that we could be rescued from the curse of the law and set free in Christ. Paul’s frustration with the Galatians was that they knew the gospel, they experienced the gospel, they were saved by the gospel, they knew the truth of Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, and yet they still wanted to go into the nebulous world of law keeping to find their salvation. It was beyond Paul how anyone could be so silly as to reject the gospel for trying to obey the demands of the perfect, holy law perfectly. His conclusion was that they were bewitched, under a curse, or controlled by principalities and powers. One thing he knew for sure was that the law method of salvation put them outside the bounds of grace. “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5: 4
The last four verses in this section will have to wait until the next study. Christianity is not about obtaining strength to keep God’s commandments it is about trusting in Christ who kept them on our behalf. Jesus led the perfect life and that is accredited to us by faith. our sinful nature brings us into conflict with the law and our nature condemns us for breaking the commandments. When we see our condition for what it is we run to the arms of Jesus where we find forgiveness and mercy. We are declared just and our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Because we are saved our attitude changes and we bear fruit in our life. Through the Spirit we keep our focus on Christ’s righteousness and through the power of the Spirit we share the good news with a lost world. Our spiritual growth is not because we are focusing on perfection but because we are trusting in the merits of Christ and we live free of the power of the pedagogue to rule over us. Instead of being cursed for our failures to be obedient to all the law demands we are blessed through the grace of Jesus that purchased us with the ransom price. To fall into a world of law keeping would be to become everything that Paul argued against in Galatians. To add one single work to the merit of Christ would undermine everything Jesus did on Calvary’s cross. It would be like saying, “Jesus nice try but it wasn’t enough let me add my merits to your merits and together we can win me freedom from Satan’s grip.” No, salvation is through Jesus alone, by grace alone, by faith alone and we only forget that at our own peril.
Twenty-three Function of the law
Galatians 3: 19-22
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one. Is the law against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
When I first became a Christian these verses, that dwelt with the law confused me, because some Christians told me that these laws were ceremonial laws and not the moral law. Over the years I came to understand this was not so, Paul in talking about circumcision is summing up all the laws of Moses. Once I understood this concept these texts unfolded logically as they were intended.
We have been talking about righteousness and since it was accounted to Abraham when he believed in the promises of God, it was in effect 430 years before the giving of the law to Moses. We saw in our last study the covenant or will could not be altered once it was made. Since God made the promise that righteousness would come by faith and the covenant could not be changed, therefore faith is God’s intended way for man to respond to His grace. Works of the Law of Moses were never intended to save us and never could. The promise was made to the “offspring” of Abraham (Jesus) not to the “offspring’s” (Israelites). It is by faith in Christ and His atoning work at the cross that we are saved. This was the promise made to the descendants of Abraham that the Redeemer should arise through their linage, and anyone who accepted the Redeemer by faith would be declared righteous.
So, the logical question was, if that is true, then what it the point of the law?
Verse 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary.
When we see the words “it was added,” we shouldn’t think of it as something added to grace, instead Paul means it was added for a purpose. It was added to increase our trespasses. “Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5: 20,21 When Paul says that it was added it literally means that the law came in by a side door. “the law feeds into the promise; it is the on-ramp to the gospel highway. The more we know the law, the more we see our sin, and the more we see this, the more we confess that we need a Savior.” Ryken p.132 John Calvin wrote, “the law was given in order to make transgressions obvious, and in this way to compel men to acknowledge their guilt.” The law is the law so that Christ can become our Savior.
As F.F.Bruce comments on why the law, “to confine all in the prison house of sin, from which there is no exit but the way of faith.” The law was given to increase our transgressions and thus show us our sinfulness. “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.” Romans 4: 15 In my Bible next to this verse I have written, no law-no sin. C.E.B. Cranfield, one of the great commentators upon Romans, wrote, “the law also increases sin the sense that it makes men sin more”, especially because it tempts sinful men “to try to use it as a means to the establishment of a claim upon God.” Cranfield believed that this trying to make a claim on God through our obedience to law keeping was the essence of legalism. This would seem to be supported by 1 Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” We wouldn’t know sin without the law to point it out to us. If we accept the law as the perfect character of a perfect God then man’s attempt to obey it in every little way only points out the futility of trying to become as God. Instead when we honestly look at our own failures we realize how far short of the mark we have fallen and turn to Christ. This is the role of the law.
For the false teachers who were promoting circumcision as a means of earning merit with God they were in reality heaping condemnation upon themselves. Paul says they were under a “curse,” or “bewitched.” The very effort to earn merit through works of the law condemns the individual for failing to keep all the laws, all the time, perfectly. The idea of what Paul is talking about when he refers to the law being “ordained by angels,” is a mystery. (At least to me, I couldn’t find reference to this idea in the O.T. or the N.T. or in commentaries. I’m sure scholars understand the reference but for me I just don’t know what Paul means by that idea.) Moses is considered by a number of scholars as the mediator but there are a number of scholars who have other suggestions.
Let me end my comments on this verse by once again quoting Philip Ryken simply because he sums up so well the reason for the purpose of the law. “Sometimes the law restrains sin, but this is not why God gave Moses the law with all its regulations and requirements. He did not give it to decrease transgression, but actually to increase it. The law exposes sin for what it really is, namely, a violation of God’s holy standard. That is what transgression means; the crossing of a legal boundary or the breaking of a specific law.” Martin Luther wrote, “the true function and the chief and proper use of the Law is to reveal to man his sin, blindness, misery, wickedness, ignorance, hate and contempt of God, death, hell, judgment, and the well-deserved wrath of God.” Lectures on Galatians (in Luther’s works St. Louis; Concordia, 1963) 26:309
One more thought before we move on to verse 20. There may be merit in the idea that the law required a mediator because as sinners we cannot come into the presence of God. Stephen Neill comments, “the promise came to Abraham first-hand from God; and the law comes to the people third-hand-God-the angels-Moses the mediator-the people.”
Verse 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one.
A mediator has to have two parties to mediate with. This text could also imply that the law was mediated by more than one being. (Angels and Moses) while God alone, presented Abraham the covenant of grace.” Take a look at Deut., 33:2; Ps. 68:17, Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2;2 and ask yourself what you think the text mean in light of verse 20. Please remember, I am not saying the law is evil, I am only trying to show that for redemption the law and obedience to it cannot give it. The law points to my sin in light of its holiness, and sends me rushing to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy. Remember those who want to use law keeping as a method of earning merit or as an addition to the grace of God are under a curse.
Verse 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
You would think that Paul who has been contrasting grace to works throughout the epistle would answer his question in the affirmative, instead of the emphatic “certainly not.” The reason why he could say that was because the law and grace had entirely separate purposes. Once again the law points out sin, Romans 7: 9-11, while grace saves us from sin.
The law regardless of Lev.18:5 cannot give life. If there were a law that could give righteousness then righteousness would be based on law and not faith. The law and the gospel are not opposed to each other. It is not one way of salvation or the other, instead the law points us to righteousness by faith. Some Christians throw the law out and say it is no longer a part of our relationship with God. But, Paul is saying that is not true. The law has its place, but it is not in giving merit towards salvation. I hope by now in our studies we can understand that righteousness by faith is not justification plus the power of God in us to give us the strength to keep the commandments. The whole argument of Galatians is that we can’t keep the commandments and thus need grace. The commandments point out sin not a way to obedience. Romans 7:7, “I had not known sin except through the law.”
Once again let me say, as Christians we live lives that are in harmony with our changed hearts. The attitudes we had before we knew Christ change. Our relationship with God is based on love, joy, peace, assurance, etc., not on keeping tract of how well we are doing in keeping the commandments. Christianity is not about a score board where we tick off our successes and match them with our failures. Everything we do according to Paul is a failure and when confronted with the law of God instead of running to it as our hope we should see it as the very thing that condemns us. That condemnation is what brings us to Christ. In this verse Paul makes it clear there is no justification in law keeping. We will the law in relationship with the Christian life, or as Calvin says the “third use of the law,” in chapter five.
Merrill Tenney in his book Galatians: Charter of Christian Liberty, writes, “the function of the law, was preparatory and temporary. God never intended it to be His final method of saving men; indeed, the very sacrifices stipulated by the law were an admission of its imperfection, for they would not have been necessary had man been able to keep the law perfectly by his own unaided strength. On the other hand, the law was a revelation of God’s inflexible holiness that requires man to meet His standards if man would know Him and enjoy eternal life. It was intended to act as a regulative and restraining influence upon human life between the promise of God and the fulfillment of that promise.” P.126
Verse 22 But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
While the law cannot impart life, what it can do is drive us to Christ. If we think that we can keep the law then we are misusing it and we nullify the promise. The law shows us that we are under sin. I like Bruce’s thoughts on this, “but here the figure of speech is more vivid than in verse 8; the written law is the official who locks the law-breaker up in the prison house of which sin is the jailor.” Only Christ can free us from this dilemma.
Next study we will look at a couple of illustrations that prove Paul’s argument. What do you think of this statement by Andrew Jukes, “Satan would have us to prove ourselves holy by the law, which God gave to prove us sinners?” For further thought check-out Romans 3:20; 4:15; and 7:7 (again).
Here is a quote to chew on and think about for awhile, “He is accusing them of doing just this, of making the law contradict the gospel, the promises of God. Their teaching was: keep the law and you will gain life. And they thought they were being practical! Paul denies it. Their position was purely hypothetical: if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law (verse 21). But no such aw has been given. Turning from the hypothesis to reality, the fact is that nobody has ever kept the law of God. Instead, we sinners break it every day. Therefore, the law cannot justify us.” John Stott, The Message of Galatians, p. 91
Every modern exegetical scholar that I have read agrees that the law is to point out our sin so we turn to Christ. They also point out that no one can keep the law, that is why Jesus came and became the curse for us by hanging on the cross. The idea that the Christian life is somehow all about becoming a perfect law keeper is to annul everything that Paul has written in Galatians and it is to deny the need of Christ to be our Savior. Ps. 14: 3 If we could earn merit by keeping the law then Jesus died for nothing. But because He did die then the proof is evident-we cannot live or obtain life through our efforts.
A good statement to write in the back of your Bible by John Stott is, “the Judaizers held falsely that the law annuls the promise and supersedes it; Paul teaches the true function of the law, which is to confirm the promise and make it indispensable.”
Twenty-two The Abrahamic Covenant
To give a human example, brethren: no one annuls even a man’s will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to His offspring. It does not say, “and to offsprings,” referring to many; but referring to one, “and to your offspring,” which is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
So far in chapter 3 we have seen that justification and the Holy Spirit come by faith and not by works. Paul has argued the superiority of faith from experience and then from Scripture telling the Biblical record of Abraham the man of faith (3:6-14). He now turns to jurisprudence to illustrate his point regarding the gospel.
Verse 15 To give a human example, brethren; no one annuls even a man’s will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified.
The Greek diatheke usually means covenant, but it can also mean testament or will. If we think about the meaning of a will for a moment a few things become clear. Wills are not contacts and there are not terms to be fulfilled like in a business agreement. A will is simply a legal arrangement in which one party bestows their estate to someone else. Once a will is signed and sealed and the person making the will has passed away there are no changes to it. No one can amend it, add to it, or change any aspect of it. It cannot be annulled or readjusted. The will, as we all know, is legally binding as it was written and attended to be carried out By the way Paul was probably thinking of a Greek will when he wrote this section of his letter. In a Greek will once it had been registered and placed in the records office it could never be changed for any reason.
The New International version for verse fifteen reads, “Just as no one can set aside a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.” If no one can alter the covenant or will here on earth how much truer is that reality when dealing with God’s promises. We should remember that the covenant that God set up with Abraham was more like a will than an earthly covenant between two kings for example. When God laid out the list of promises that He was going to bestow upon Abraham those promises were not conditional upon Abraham being able to give God gifts in return. Remember in the days of Abraham legal agreements were sealed in blood by a covenant ceremony. (See Gen.15: 9-10, 17-18)
So, what are we trying to say here? Simply put Paul is reminding the Galatians that the covenant or agreement that God made with Abraham that starry night many hundreds of years before was still valid and would remain in force forever. This covenant can never be annulled.
Verse 16 “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to His offspring. It does not say, “and to offsprings” referring to many; but, referring to one, “and to your offspring,” which is Christ.
This is a bit of a confusing sentence when we first look at it, but based on what we have learned so far in the chapter we should be able to figure it out. The promise that God made to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens was foremost a promise that Abraham, the old man that he was, would have a son. Isaac was therefore the first heir of the promise, then all God’s people were included in the promise, but foremost it was a promise about Jesus.
Jesus is the true offspring of the promise that Abraham accepted by faith and was therefore accounted as righteous. As Paul has argued over and over through his letters to the churches he planted, visited or had connections to, the true offspring of Abraham are not his biological children but those who have accepted Jesus by faith and are thus accounted righteous. Because the promise was about the offspring, Jesus, and we are His when we accept Him then the promise belongs to us as heirs in Jesus.
The promise of righteousness by faith through the grace of God was through Abraham and can never be ratified or annulled by anyone or anything. Paul’s defense of the gospel is clear since the gospel was preached to Abraham (see 3:8) and it is impossible to be annulled or cancelled or substituted for, then how can anyone trust on the works of the law that came later to save them? It is a question that Christians need to continue to ask themselves, Remember Paul’s astonishment when he found out that the Galatians had given up their first love, the understanding of the gospel that led them to Christ for a works based religion. (1:6)
Verse 17 This is what I mean: the law came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
Count up the number of times Paul mentions promise in the last fifteen verses of chapter three. Ryken has an interesting insight into the correlation of these few verses we have been looking at today. “Verse 15 described the permanence of the covenant, which was established once and for all when God gave it to Abraham. Verse 16 identified the party to the covenant. God’s promise to Abraham was also made to Christ, and to every one who is in Him. Next Paul clarifies the promise of the covenant, saying “This is what I mean: the law came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.” Galatians 3:17
The false prophets were trying to add the laws of Moses to the grace promised to Abraham. They were trying to make the law addendum to the promise. The problem that the false teachers had was that the covenant was irrevocable and had no conditions written into it that allowed for additions. Their argument was that, “it took works to finish what faith had started. They said that the law was necessary to make the promise complete.” Ryken p.126 He continues, “The covenant did not establish any legal requirements that he had to satisfy. It all came free, the way an inheritance always does. God’s covenant with Abraham came with no strings attached-no ifs, ands, or buts. The covenant was entirely a matter of promise, received by faith. P.127
Verse 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law; it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (See Romans 4:13-14)
We are saved because of the promise not because of our performance. You and I can never earn a promise, we can only trust in it. I’m sorry for quoting Ryken so often in the last study and this one, but I have found him so helpful on verses 10-18. He writes, “salvation in Christ does not rest on a law that we inevitably break; it rests on a promise that God cannot break. God has promised forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has promised eternal life to everyone who comes to Christ in faith. God will not—indeed He cannot—go back on His promise. His covenant is an irrevocable will and testament. It stands firm forever.”
God loves us unconditionally. God’s love doesn’t fluctuate according to the level of our successes or failures in obedience to Him. We are not loved because Jesus died for us, Jesus died for us because we are loved. Before we end this section there are a few more things I should say. For those folk who continue to struggle over the fact that I am not addressing the law in what they consider a favorable light please remember that we are talking about law as a method of salvation. We are dismissing the idea that any amount of law keeping you might perform has any merit towards salvation. Of course, a Christian life is not going to lead you to orgies and materialism, relativism and all the rest. Our trust is in Christ and His promise we can only accept it by faith. Our works, if we wish to use that term, is not geared to keeping laws, but instead to the changes of attitude that take our eyes off of self and turn our focus to caring about others.
There are denominations that send their faithful believers out door to door to find new converts. Do you honestly care about your salvation? They are fulfilling a two-year requirement or earning merit with the system they adhere to. You can share your faith out of guilt, requirement, to earn merit or because you are filled with the love and grace of God that won’t allow you to stay quiet. See what I am trying to get at. The law says we have to do something. We have to obey. The gospel says something has been done for us. Jesus has obeyed and accredited His merits and standing before the Father to your account. We need only believe in the promise. Yes our life will reflect the grace of God and yes we will search out the will of God for our life, but it won’t be because it is a requirement it will because we want a richer deeper connection to the God who redeems us freely. And for those people who are shouting at the computer screen right now, “if you love me you will keep my commandments,” remember what those commandments are. Love God with all your heart is a response to the grace of God. It is the natural response of an heir to the unmerited gift of the covenant God of Abraham that cast His promises of salvation freely to whoever should wish them. To love our neighbor as yourself is a natural outpouring of the repentant heart that has found its fulfillment in the love of God. When we acknowledge that we have been set free from the bondage of sin and heirs of the promise and our salvation is assured through the cross why would we not long to see our neighbors, friends, relatives and complete strangers find the same joy?
Let me end with this one thought. I use to think the book of Galatians was difficult because of all the things about testaments, Abraham, Hagar, the use of the Old Testament, and the struggle between law and grace. But, now that we are studying the book I have realized that it is quite straightforward. If we come to any book in the Bible with an open mind, prayer, and a determination to understand God’s will I believe God will open these books up before us and teach us.
Twenty-One Faith Without Works
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them. Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law, for He who through faith is righteous shall live; but the law does not rest on faith, for ‘He who does them shall live by them. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, “cursed be every one who hangs on a tree; – that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
To begin this section I have to quote a long passage from Philip Rylen’s absolutely amazing commentary on Galatians. “Imagine the scene: An entire nation gathers on the sides of two mountains to worship. Half the people stand on one mountainside, half on the other. They worship responsively, alternating their praise. First one group cries out to God, and then the other, with every man, woman, and child shouting in unison.
This was the scene when the people of God crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. According to the command of Moses, six tribes stood on Mount Gerizim and six on Mount Ebal to form an antiphonal choir. Rather than singing in harmony, they recited a litany of blessings and curses. The tribes on Mount Gerizim blessed the people of God, while the tribes on Mount Ebal cursed them.
What curses they were! “Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image’ (Deut. 27:15), “cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother” (Deut. 27: 27:16), “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow,” (Deut. 27:19)……….The Levites recited a dozen curses in all, and after each one, all the people said, “Amen.”
The Apostle Paul knew the curses well. He had read them in the book of Deuteronomy, of course, but he had also heard them recited on five memorable occasions. Five times Paul was punished by the Jews for preaching the gospel, and each time he received the standard punishment: “forty lashes minus one,” 2 Corinthians 11:24 The synagogue manuals of the time required someone to read out the curses of the law while the prisoner was being whipped. Thus as Paul received the final stripe on his back, he may well have heard the very words that he later quoted to the Galatians: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them.” Galatians 3:10
Here we go. God’s requirement is that humanity must keep His laws perfectly. He requires total obedience. And not only must we keep God’s law once or twice in our lifetime but we must continue to keep the law perfectly as long as we live, otherwise we are under God’s curse. Everyone must do everything written in God’s law down to the last detail. When the Israelites pronounced this curse on everyone who doesn’t abide by ALL things written in the book of the law they meant All including the moral law. Andrew Das points out, “Deuteronomy 27:26 is cited in Galatians 3:10 to provide a reason who those relying on the works of the law are under a curse: the law demanded that ALL its precepts be obeyed.”
Paul is concerned with more than mere circumcision in his writing to the Galatians. He is in a spiritual warfare with principalities and powers working through false teachers that want to lead the Galatians away from grace. Paul is interested with how sinners might have a saving relationship with God. Almost all the demands that God makes on the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 27 fall under the category of moral law. The curse is on everyone who does not keep all the laws of Moses including the moral law.
Ryken notes that when Paul writes, “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse,” (Galatians 3:10 NIV), he is defending the doctrine of justification through faith alone, insisting that God can accept no one through the law unless it is kept in all its perfection. As it is written, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” James 2:10; cf. Hebrews 2:2) Every one who doesn’t obey God 100% all the time is under Gods righteous curse.
Think about that for a while. If you think that you can add one iota to God’s grace by anything that you do towards keeping the law, go right ahead. But remember if you don’t keep that law perfectly you are cursed. I must admit, I am stunned at how many Christians want to try and keep the law as if it is something that God demands of them after they come to Him through grace. Think back on all we have studied so far and review what Paul has said about the law and grace. He is astonished that anyone who started out with grace, as did the Galatians, could so easily fall into the trap of works. He actually thinks they may be, “bewitched,” or under an evil spell.
If we think about it, legalism is actually an evil spell because it says that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough and that we must add our own puny weak efforts to Jesus’s sacrifice in order to make us acceptable before the Father. That is a doctrine of Satan. From the garden of Eden onward Satan has told humanity that you should be like God, and as a result works based religion cries out we can do it. We can be like God because if we try hard enough we can keep the commandments of God and obtain perfection of character. No, a thousand times no, when we attempt that folly we are under the same curses that were shouted down from Mount Ebal.
Maybe its time for us to remember that we are sinful through and through. I’m not just talking about sinful actions, but our very natures that condemn us. There is no part of us, neither our mind, heart, spirit, and will that isn’t totally corrupt. 1 Kings 8:46,”There is no one who does not sin.” Isa.53: 6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You and I know the truth of these statements, because they describe our condition. What is amazing about the false teachers who were promoting the laws of Moses, as a basis of salvation was they were not avoiding God’s curse, but actually incurring it.
God did not give us the law to make us good. Part of the laws purpose is actually to show us how bad we are. Remember there is no problem with the law; the problem is with us sinful humans. The law can’t bless us it can only curse us.
So, we once again come to the great question of Christianity and the book of Galatians. If the law can’t justify me, then how am I to be justified? Paul cries out, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘ The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘the one who does them shall live by them.’ Galatians 3: 11-12 Justification comes by FAITH. “By Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:39 The reformer John Calvin made the distinction between works and grace very clear, “The law justifies him who fulfills all its commands, whereas faith justifies those who are destitute of the merit of works and rely on Christ alone. To be justified by our own merit and by the grace of another is irreconcilable.”
We can’t have it both ways. We either accept that we are saved by faith or we strive to be accepted by God through law keeping. There’s no such thing as I will do as much as I can and God will do the rest. It’s grace or works. By the way verse 11 that says, the righteous shall live by faith,” is a partial quote from Hababbuk. The whole quote reads, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.” Hababbuk 2: 4 (See also Romans 1:17) Instead of trusting in ourselves we must trust in God.
Referring to this verse in Hababbuk Martin Luther wrote, “Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with Him…But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words-‘the just shall live by faith,’ ‘the just shall live by faith,’-then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.”
Verse 12 but the law does not rest on faith, for “He who does them shall live by them.” This text seems kind of like it is just hanging there in the discussion but it is actually an important argument for Paul. It once again is a partial quote, this time from Leviticus. “You shall follow all my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your Gog. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” Lev. 18:4-5 I like Ryken’s simple statement concerning this verse. “This is the principle of the law: just do it. If you do the law, you will be legally righteous, and you will live.” But our problem is verse 10 no one can keep the law, so you won’t and can’t be justified by the law.
Verse 13 Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree. This verse reminds us of the penalty mentioned n verse 10. Now lets think about this for a moment. According to verse 10 we are under a curse. In order for us to be saved the curse must be removed. This is the truth of the cross; Jesus was redeeming His people from the penalty of the curse of not being able to keep the law perfectly. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28 “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 The word redeemed was used in the slave market where it was referred to the purchase price for a slave. If a slave was purchased by a relative or close friend and then set free it was said that the slave was freed because of the payment of a ransom. The ransom was to be paid by the highest bidder and in the case of Jesus ransoming us who were enslaved to sin; He paid the highest ransom possible.
See how verse 13 relates to verse 10. We are under a curse for not keeping the law perfectly. The result is that we are lost. Verse 13 shows Jesus took the curse upon Himself through the cross so that we could be ransomed and set free from the penalty of sin. His perfection is accredited to us through His blood. The Father sees perfection in me because He sees me through the reflection of the blood of Christ who covers me with His righteousness. Amen.
Think how offensive the idea of God hanging on a tree would have been to the Jews. Look up Deut. 21:22-23; Josh 10:26; 2 Sam. 21:6; John 19:31 to get an idea of how offensive hanging on a tree or a cross really was. Now what is really amazing is the fact that Christians were not embarrassed by the fact Jesus hung on a tree condemned as a criminal by the Jews. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.” Acts 5:30 (see 1 Peter 2:24, Acts 13:29)
Now look at the rest of verse 13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” Christ’s death was a substitution for us. He died in our place. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21) The death penalty for breaking the law was executed upon Jesus who knew no sin that we might live. Look at what Martin Luther says, “The whole emphasis is on the phase “for us.” For Christ is innocent so far as His own Person is concerned; therefore He should not have been hanged from a tree. But because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged, therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ Himself should have been hanged: for He bore the person of a sinner and a thief-and not of one but of all sinners and thieves. For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon Himself, and for them He died on the cross.” Ryken puts it this way, “When Christ took our sins upon Himself He was accursed, not for His own sins, but for ours. The curse we deserved was legally transferred from us to Him.”
On the cross we see the wrath of God against the sin of humanity. But through that cross event we see the power of grace to forgive and forget.
Verse 14 That in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Now that we are no longer under the curse we may receive the promise of the gospel. (v.14) In this verse Paul summarizes what he has been saying so far in this chapter. The blessings of Abraham include our right standing with God, the inclusion of the gentiles and the receiving of the Holy Spirit with His gifts and graces.
None of this could ever come through the law, but only through Jesus. Our blessings abound when we are “in Christ,” and we find ourselves “in Christ,” through faith.
This study has been quite long so I won’t ask lots of questions, but I am sure you have lots of them. Pray about what I’ve written and let me know what the Holy Spirit tells you. We are all seekers of truth and want to walk in the ways of the Lord so your input is important. What amazes me the most out of this study is how some of us Christians can look to our works to add to the gospel in light of these 5 verses. We can not say, “I am saved by grace, but,” or “I am saved by grace, but there is more,” or “I am saved by grace but now God gives me power to keep the commandments.” We either accept the sacrifice that makes Jesus my substitute or we don’t. Next study the Abrahamic covenant verses 15 through 18
Twenty The Witness of Abraham
Chapter 3: 6-14
Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live;’ but the law does not rest on faith, for ‘He who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, ‘cursed be every one who hands on a tree’- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
I’m sure this section of Galatians will take us a couple of studies to get through as this is a key argument by Paul for the superiority of grace over works of the law of Moses. Before we get started we need to remember that Paul is reminding the Galatians that the gospel is not a static doctrine. Instead, the gospel is real and living in their lives. They have experienced the transforming power of the gospel in their lives and in the life of Paul. They have heard and seen the miracles (3:5) God has performed on their behalf and on Paul’s behalf. When they think back to who they were before Christ and who they are now they can see the power of change that the good news brought to their lives. The law on the other hand only leads to bondage and slavery to a dead method of trying to earn salvation through works. The Galatians had also received the Holy Spirit through their trust in Christ. They had not received circumcision, obeyed the Law of Moses or even tried to; in fact all they had done was hear the gospel and believed when they received the Holy Spirit. Their experience being factual Paul asked them, “having begun in the Spirit,” why would they want to end up trying to do works of the law for salvation. (3:3) To try and add works to the gospel belittles it and undermines the grace of God. Why would any one want to go there?
Verse 6 Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Paul now brings forth his trump card against the false teachers and their teaching of obedience to the Law of Moses. These false teachers believed that Moses was their ultimate authority so Paul went much further back in time right to Abraham. If you look up Genesis 15: 6 you will understand why he quoted this text. Abraham was an old man and childless, yet God had promised him a son. The text reads, “And He (God) brought him outside and said, ‘look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then He said to him, ‘so shall your descendants be.’ And he (Abraham) believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.’
Notice the sequence of events in these verses of Genesis. God made a promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as plentiful as the stars of the sky. Next the text tells us Abraham, “believed the Lord.” Though to human experience Abraham and Sarah having children was an impossibility Abraham believed the promise in spite of the improvability. Finally Abraham’s faith was reckoned as righteousness. Abraham, himself was reckoned as righteous by his faith in God’s promise. He had done nothing to deserve it. He had not been reckoned righteous because of circumcision or because of law keeping, because neither had been given to him. He predated both the laws of Moses and circumcision. He was accounted righteous simply because he believed God.
Verses 7-9 so you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.
Paul here is quoting the great covenant passage of Genesis 15. (see also Genesis 22:17, 18) So, what exactly is the blessing that all the nations were to receive that would come through Abraham? Look carefully at verse 8; “God would justify the Gentiles by faith.” That message had been “preached beforehand to Abraham.” And what were the words that had been preached to Abraham before hand according to this text? “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The blessing that was to be given to all the world was that we are justified through faith. And this great blessing of righteousness by faith would have its fulfillment in Christ.
Paul, however, in this passage arguing that Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him while he was as yet uncircumcised. (Romans 4:10-12) Instead his argument is based totally upon God reckoning Abraham just because of his faith. I absolutely love what F.F.Bruce in his commentary, The Epistle to the Galatians,” has to say about this. “The Galatians were being urged to become children of Abraham by adoption (since they were not his children by natural birth), and this, they were told, involved circumcision, just as it did for proselytes from paganism to Judaism. Paul maintains that, having believed the gospel and received God’s gift of righteousness, they are Abraham’s children already, in the only sense that matters in God’s sight. Abraham’s heritage is the heritage of faith, and those who share this heritage are thereby manifested as sons of Abraham.
The only way that gentiles could inherit Abrahams blessing since Abraham was the father of the Jewish race was through faith. (Verse 7) John Stott writes, “Perhaps the Judaizers were telling the Galatian converts that they should become the sons of Abraham by circumcision. So Paul counters by saying that the Galatians were already the sons of Abraham, not by circumcision but by faith.” The true descendants of Abraham are not those who are through physical descent, the Jews, but those who are through spiritual descent, those who share Abraham’s faith in God.
Talking of John Stott I would like to insert quite a long passage on “what the gospel is,” to help us keep things clear.
‘The gospel is Christ crucified, His finished work on the cross. And to preach the gospel is publicly to portray Christ as crucified. The gospel is not good news primarily of a baby in a manger, a young man at a carpenter’s bench, a preacher in the fields of Galilee, or even an empty tomb. The gospel concerns Christ upon His cross. Only when Christ is openly displayed upon His cross is the gospel preached. This verb prographein means to “show forth or portray publicly, proclaim or placard in public.” It was used of edicts, laws, and public notices, which were put up in some public place to be read, and also of pictures and portraits.
This means that in preaching the gospel were are to refer to an event (Christ’s death on a cross), to expound a doctrine (the perfect participle ‘crucified’ indicating the abiding effects of Christ’s finished work.”)’ and to do so publicly, boldly, vividly, so that people see it as if they witnessed it with their own eyes. This is what some writers have called the existential element in preaching. We do more than describe the cross as a first-century event. We actually portray Christ crucified before the eyes of our contemporaries, so that they are confronted by Christ crucified today and realized that they may receive from the cross the salvation of God today.”
On the grounds of the cross all the nations are blessed. Those who believe by faith are heirs of Abraham and receive the Holy Spirit (verses 2-5) It is with these two gifts that God blesses all who are in Christ. Now here is a thought worth remembering, these two gifts come together. No one is justified without the Spirit and the Spirit is never given to anyone who isn’t justified. The gospel offers blessings and we do nothing to receive them except believe. We don’t believe the law, but the gospel. Notice that the noun faith and the verb to believe appear seven times in verses 1-9 This is the gospel that God gave to Abraham long before the laws of Moses. Basically Paul is telling the Galatians if righteousness by faith was good enough for father Abraham why do you think the works of law as given by Moses should be added to that great blessing that was meant for the nations?
Paul shows us in Galatians that our experience with Christ is very important. If we are to grow and develop as Christians we need to have the experience of knowing God in our lives. In his arguments presented around Abraham he shows us that the knowledge of scripture is equally important. He makes his case in verses 1-9 upon the proper understanding of Old Testament theology concerning Abraham, the gift of righteousness by faith, and the promised blessings to all the nations. It is impossible for a Christian to grow without digging deeper into the gospel, but it is equally for someone to grow who sees the gospel as only head knowledge and it has no power (through the Spirit) within his/her life.
Paul’s argument is simple. If you started out with the gospel and God led you and blessed you then why turn to something else? Whenever we are tempted to put our eyes upon perfection, keeping the laws to please God, or any other works based decision we need to come back to these 9 short verses and rejoice in the love and grace of God.
Nineteen 10 Methods of Bible
Sorry to interrupt our study once again by answering a question, but I think this one is also important and adds to our understanding of Galatians. One of the readers wants to know what method of study I’m using for Galatians. She sees my approach as being all over the place and wondered if there was a reason I approached the book that way or if it was just a quirk of my nature. I’m afraid the answer is mostly the quirk of my nature. When I write this study I move from one thought to the other dealing with what excites me or catches my attention at the moment. I am not writing a commentary (I am not qualified for that chore), nor am I trying to give a detailed treatment of the book. Instead, I am simply trying to present an interesting Bible study that points out major themes, like justification by faith and give the readers a jump off place to continue their own research and study. I had hoped that there would have been more reaction to our studies on the comment page but because of how these pages are set up a person has to scroll to the bottom of the first page to leave a comment and that is a bit of a pain. I do appreciate, however, the questions that come into my email and would encourage each of you to continue to send those emails along.
Though I have confessed that this study is mostly predicated upon the joy that I find in the verses of Galatians there are techniques of Bible study that I do use and might be helpful to you in your own study. Theologians give us 10 basic methods of study and I will briefly share them here. For any real in depth study it goes without saying that all 10 methods should be included in helping you come to your understanding of scripture.
Before we look at the ten methods whenever we open the Bible we should ask the Holy Spirits guidance in coming to the truth of what we are reading. If we allow the Spirit to guide us and follow time-honored methods of study we will find honesty and truth in our reading. We must always study the Bible to see what God has for us and we should never come to the Bible with preconceived ideas and then make the Bible support those beliefs. This is what leads to Bible error, cults and spiritual disaster. That being said lets look at the 10 methods of study.
1. Synthetic Method (putting together) is the first way we should look at a book of the Bible. This method understands that the letter was to be read all at once so it emphasizes reading the book through two or three times to get the feel for the book. Try to pick out what you consider the key verses and themes. Get a feel for the development of those themes and how they relate to the whole. Develop in your mind the plan or outline of the book as the author intended. There are numerous techniques for making this method work well for you, but the important thing is to read and reread the book until you have a good grasp of what the author is telling you.
2. Critical Method There are two types of study involved In this method. Lower criticism is focused on whether or not the book is authentic and true to the original intentions and true to the original manuscripts. Higher criticism involves researching things like authorship, setting, where it was written from, date and destination of the writing. Much of this information can be found within the book or comparing the text with what other books in the Bible say about the events recorded in the book. We know Paul wrote Galatians, for example because his name appears within the text (chapter 5:2) Each chapter relates to Paul’s expression of concern for his flock. Galatians isn’t a book that was written by someone else and then just had Paul’s name attached. Every page drips with a warmth and love for the people that cannot be divorced from what we know about Paul. The critical method is imperative for knowing the context of the book you are studying.
3. Biographical Method This method gives us insight into the man who wrote the book and what he might have thinking and how it differs or is the same as other works by the author. The biographical section of Galatians is 1:11-2:21 Scholars approach this method by following three rules. A. They gather all the information about the author from the entire book; B they compare this information with all other sources; 3 they analyze and interpret the facts as they relate to the main theme of the book. Just for fun read the biographical section again and ask yourself what Paul was conveying through this section and how does it relate to what he wants to say about the theme of the book.
4. Historical Method This method tries to give us the historical and geographical setting of the book. This method helps us place the book in a set place and time. To me this approach is filled with insights and revelations at every turn. Once we establish the time and place of the book under consideration we can discover through archaeology, outside sources, and other books in the Bible the culture and background to what we are reading. For instance when we understand the implications for a failed wedding feast we can better understand the compassion Jesus showed the young couple at Cana. Paul’s arguments for the sequence of historical events, as recorded in Galatians, gives us a good insight into the controversies and their outcomes that were in the church.
5. Theological Method This is the area of study that gets the most attention when most people study the Bible. This method searches out the great doctrines of the book and explains their spiritual implications for the people,that the book was written to, as well as how those doctrines relate to us. See the great doctrinal statement of 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5 as an example of the basis of our faith in Christ. Notice that in Galatians there are two- dozen references to God, and if you were to sit down and place those references into different piles based on what they said about God you would have a very interesting and inspiring view of God. For example chapter 2:19 and 4:9 let us know we can have a personal relationship with God, and verses 3:26 and 4:7 tell us that a justified person can enter into that relationship. Thus through these four verses we can see that God wants a personal relationship with us and invites us in to that relationship through His grace. We could probably spend months just looking at these theological implications from our studies. By the way, the main theological section of Galatians is chapters 3 and 4.
6. Rhetorical Method This method looks at the figures of speech. Paul uses a number of important figures of speech in Galatians and a number of his important teachings are brought out through these devices. Notice, for example how a number of his metaphors are derived from slavery. For an example of simile see 4:14 There are numerous other devices used throughout the book. Again, just for fun see how many you can discover and think through what Paul is saying to us through those figures of speech.
7. Topical Method Again this method selects one topic and does a thorough in depth study on it. The topic may revolve around one passage or search the entire book out for references to the topic. One area of great interest for us in Galatians is the law and how Paul relates to it. This word appears 32 times in the book so anyone wanting to get a good understanding of Paul’s use of the word would do well to study all 32 references. As you would expect this form of study is closely tied to the theological method of study.
8. Analytical Method This method zeroes in on specific aspects of the text and works through grammatical structures to understand that portion of Scripture. By ignoring chapters and verses, but instead concentrating on the laying out of the words we can uncover interesting and important revelations regarding the text. This is a rewarding form of study, but it takes patience, work and knowledge to make it work. You can find some interesting essays on this form of study on line.
9. Comparative Method This method compares what is written in the book you are studying with other passages in other parts of Scripture to give a fuller picture. This method helps with understanding the use of Old Testament quotes in whatever book you are looking at. By understanding context in the O.T. for the quote we can better understand it in the N.T. A good example of a comparative topic in Galatians is chapter 3:5-14 and how it compares to Romans 3:31-4:16 Notice how both passages have common references to the O.T. and how those references are used.
10. Devotional Method. This is the major direction that I am trying to steer the Bible Study on Galatians. Through the above methods I am trying to understand Galatians as it relates to our lives. What does it mean for me and how do the teachings of the book make a difference in my life is the bottom line for me. The devotional method lets you stop and reflect upon the implications of the verses you have under consideration. If you have used some or most of the previous 9 methods of digging deeper into the verse when you go to make the application to your life you will be on solid ground. For me, to sit and reflect upon a passage of scripture is a true joy.
I hope this little study on study hasn’t given anyone a headache. I know I have just skimmed the surface in regards to these methods, but I hope that you have some idea of the techniques used for studying. Most of you probably are using some of these techniques all ready because they come natural for you as you study. Without knowing it they percolate in your brain and pop out when needed to give instructions on how to proceed with a verse. However you do it, I wish you the best on your personal study. Next post we will get back to the text of Galatians.
Eighteen Experience the Gospel
I have received quite a few comments and questions since we began this study. Because you have to scroll down to study one to find the comments most people have simply been emailing me. I need to say, right up front, I am not an expert in Galatians. I am a student attempting through study and prayer to understand in a greater way the message of this amazing Epistle. Your comments, thoughts and ideas have been a great help to me and often I have had to reexamine the text and hopefully have come away wiser from your comments. My prayer is that each of us can learn from each other and through this study walk a little closer to God.
One question asked me about the relationship of Bible teaching with personal experience. I ran back over our studies and noticed that I hadn’t really dealt with this theme as thoroughly as it deserves. This relationship between the teachings of Paul and the experience of the gospel in his own life is a major theme of the work.
The inner life of a Christian as it relates to his/her relationship with God is the key to a dynamic growing spiritual journey. All too often the gospel is a dry teaching that is presented as something to believe in, but we are never called upon to imagine the power of God’s grace to transform our lives. Paul, on the other hand, wraps his entire teaching about grace around his personal encounter with God and the transformation that followed that experience. He went from being a persecutor of Christians to God’s greatest evangelist. You get a sense of Paul’s drive and unending love for the gospel in Acts 20:22-24 “And now behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” We could do half a dozen studies on these few verses because they are so rich in so many areas of study. Paul is driven by the Spirit and he is open to wherever God leads because that is God’s calling for his life. He knows that there will be opposition and torment but it doesn’t stop him because the gospel burns inside him. Notice how he ends up these verses, ”I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel for the grace of God.”
The gospel is real to Paul, it isn’t some dry doctrine that he teaches and then expects people to go on their way simply believing. He expects the gospel to transform his hearers and the power of the gospel to live in their hearts and radiate from their lives. He believes that the gospel is what makes you a fully devoted follower of Christ just as it made him a disciple of Jesus.
I am fortunate to have in my library Merrill Tenney’s book on Galatians, Galatians the Charter of Christian Liberty. I found a wonderful passage in the book on this topic of Paul’s experience as it relates to God.
“The destruction of sin, the creation of a new man, the exercise of faith, and the enjoyment of consequent liberty are all presented in the natural setting of actual experience, illustrated by biographical allusions. This book (Galatians) is a series of pictures of what spiritual life should be, not just a formulary of precepts. The writer was describing what he himself was enjoying after having lived a large part of his life in legalistic bondage. The use of the first person singular in Galatians 2:20 is no mere editorial device, but is the expression of personal felling which burst the bound of literary restraint. Paul could not contain himself as he contemplated the possibility that the spontaneous spiritual life of the Galatian Christians might be stifled by the unnecessary imposition upon them of arguments and ceremonies which were irrelevant to salvation.” Tenney p.18
The Christian church has been remiss in not presenting the Gospel with power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in order to excite the life of Christians. When the gospel is listed as only one of a dozen or son teachings that a person has to adhere to in order to be baptized we have missed the point. The teachings and doctrines of the church should point to Christ not become substitutes for Christ. When Christians become more concerned with living up to the teachings of their particular denomination or sect instead of falling at the feet of Jesus something is wrong. To attend church, sit quietly through the service, give an offering, bow the head for prayer and listen intently to the sermon, means nothing if the preaching of the gospel doesn’t transform the life. How many professed Christians, “sit through” church then go home to live their lives as if nothing had happened the previous Sunday.
Galatians if we study the book carefully doesn’t allow us to walk away unchanged. Paul’s frustration with the church was that they were giving up on the gospel, which he preached for dry law centered doctrine. They were giving up their freedom to live in the joy of the Spirit and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit for formality and legalism. Be assured grace and legalism can not live in the same palace. Legalism steels your experience with God and replaces it by ritual and outward formality. Grace tosses off the chains of bondage and set our hearts dancing with praise and joy. No wonder Paul ends up Galatians by reminding them about the fruit of the Spirit.
I’ll finish this short study by quoting Tenney again, “Inner fruitfulness of the Spirit is more important than outward conformity of the flesh; and if the Holy Spirit is dominant within, the action of the outward man will be governed accordingly. “Christ liveth in me” is the subjective aspect of liberty, because the Christian life is thus not a struggle between the reluctant will of man and the domineering will of God, but becomes the constant control of the inner life by Christ. His will becomes regnant by free accord, not by compulsion. From this experience which he had undergone himself, Paul wrote to the Galatians that they might not be cheated of the freedom which was their by right……….Objectively and subjectively, then, Galatians is the charter of freedom from externalism in worship and from frustration in personal spiritual life.” P.18,19
Freedom from trying to work their way into God’s grace through their merits of obedience was Paul’s message to the Galatians. Of course, they were not free to live a life divorced of living in harmony with the teachings of Paul, but the Christian walk was to be based on the joy of God living within instead of obedience to rules and regulations that had no connection to their lives. The Galatians were proclaimed free from bondage when they believed that Jesus died for their sins. No amount of works, legalism, law keeping, or meritorious obedience could add one iota to the complete gift God gave them freely. In fact trying to add their own merit to God’s gift only belittles and degrades the cross and leads to frustration and failure. Paul shouts out to them, why would you ever go back to failure when you are given the joy of redemption for the asking?
Read over Galatians a couple of times and write down the times Paul appeals to personal experience as proof of his teaching. Those personal references could either be his own or the things that the Galatians knew and experienced under Paul’s teaching. Does Abraham’s encounter with God fall under experience or knowledge or both? Read over the fruit of the Spirit section. Is Paul talking about experience as fruit of the Spirit? Contrast the fruit with what Paul says in 5:16-21
Look at verses 13-15 to see how freedom relates to our Christian walk.
Please let me know what your thoughts are on this topic, I would be very interested in hearing from you as it is important for us to understand this relationship between the preaching of the gospel and life experience.
Study Seventeen 6 Questions
Galatians 3:1-5 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain?-if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
Last study we saw that Paul was not pulling punches when he asked the Galatians what evil demon has put you under a spell that you would turn your back on the grace of Christ for slavery to the law. It is beyond Paul’s comprehension that anyone who found grace could allow himself to be persuaded into going into bondage to a works based religion. This is especially true, since through the preaching and teaching of the apostle Paul they had received the authentic truth that God had for them. To reject the gospel as taught by Paul was in reality to reject God.
One thing I forgot to mention in our last study was that the Galatians were playing with fire because they had never been taught legalism. These Christians had been introduced to Christ through the preaching of grace alone. It wasn’t as if these converts had a long history of following the laws of Moses, like the Jews who converted, and could easily fall back into the trap of a works based faith. The Galatians like Adam and Eve in the garden were dabbling in forbidden waters and experimenting with evil. Is this why Paul could say they were bewitched? Just like in the garden Satan convinced Adam and Eve that they could be like gods and know good from evil if they followed their own inklings instead of the voice of God, was that what was happening to the Galatians? Did they think that keeping the laws of Moses would make them closer to God, know more about Christianity and allow them to commend themselves to God? Did they believe that Paul’s teachings of grace were just too simple? We don’t have the answers to those questions, but they are interesting and worth thinking about.
With that little overview of our last study lets look at the rest of the section. We can take each question one at a time.
V.2 let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
We looked at this verse last week but there are a few additional aspects of the verse we need to look at. Paul is concerned in this verse with how a person receives the Spirit, either by faith or by works. If we think about this for a moment, a very frightening scenario pops up before us. If we receive the Spirit by hearing with faith, as Paul contends throughout Galatians, then what does that say about our brothers and sisters who believe that a law orientated religion is important for salvation? Is Paul saying that they do not have the Spirit? Is this the reason there is so much strife and dissension within the church family? If some people within the church are living according to the Spirit and some are in rebellion against the Spirit by attempting to please God through their efforts, conflict is sure to arise. By the way in the Garden of Eden Satan was basically telling Adam and Eve that they could become gods if they just had enough wisdom and understanding. That theme has run down through history poisoning the hearts of men and women against trust in Christ and replacing that trust with a belief in their own intelligence. I think that same conflict is going on in the churches of Galatia. Under the influence of the false teachers these new Christians in their naivety are attempting to be more God like through obedience to the laws of Moses. This makes sense considering the next verses we are going to look at. To me, and I could be wrong, Paul is arguing almost back to the Garden of Eden to show that the Spirit was given by hearing (the voice of God then, and preaching in our day) with faith rather than through effort. It’s something for us to think about anyway. I need to mention that orthodox thought by theologians on this text is that Paul is taking for granted that ALL the Galatians do have the Spirit and that they received it by faith and not by works and Paul is reminding them of the fact in this verse. This is the fun of Bible study that we can look at verses from different perspectives and as long as we are honest with the text God can give us insights that are fun to explore.
Another thought before we leave the verse, if the gospel is to be preached into the entire world and it is the Spirit that convicts humanity of their sin and leads them to Christ, how is our world going to be prepared to receive the good news? It has to be by hearing according to the text, and people can only hear if they are presented with something to hear. Teaching and preaching the gospel in its purity, as Paul had taught it to the Galatians, seems to be the way God has ordained Christians to present the gospel to a lost world. I am not talking about great evangelistic series where the emphasis is on doctrinal teachings; I am talking about teaching Christ crucified and risen. Paul said that he knew nothing but Christ crucified, because he knew that was the message for humanity. Only Jesus can lift us out of our lost condition and redeem us for eternity. It is the grace of God manifested at Calvary that makes the difference in our lives and it is that message that Paul dedicated his life to preach and it should be the message of our pulpits, evangelism, and personal walk with Christ.
Verse 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Again Paul makes it quite clear that it is foolishness to abandon the gospel for your own works. How is it possible that once the Galatians started out with the joy and freedom of the Gospel that they could reject it for the laws of Moses and slavery? As in verse two Paul is giving a contrast once again between the law and the gospel. In verse 2 the contrast was works of the law (obeying the laws commands) and by hearing with faith. Here the contrast is between beginning with the Spirit and ending with the flesh. The contrast is that the law says, “Do this,” and the gospel says, “God has done it all.” The law demands works of achievement and the Gospel requires faith in God’s achievements. The law demands obey and the gospel says believe. The law and grace are separate and for Paul it is crazy to think that once starting out on a faith journey trusting in the love of God anyone would want to supplement that wondrous truth with works of the flesh. In other words as F.F.Bruce so righty points out in his commentary on Galatians, ”their action is a return from maturity to immaturity.”
Bruce goes on to point out, “flesh here is not simply the body, in which circumcision is carried out, but human nature in its unregenerate weakness, relying on such inadequate resources as were available before the coming of faith, having no access as yet to the power of the Spirit. In Paul’s experience as well as in his theology, legal works were a feature of life according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit.” The Spirit is not a higher stage than justification. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the sequel and confirmation of Christ’s redemptive work. See John 7:39; 16:7; 20:22 Acts 1:8; 2:38
Before we move on we should review the central question of Galatians once again.
That question is, “Are men made right with God by careful discharge of a certain series of duties or by observing certain ceremonial formulas, or are they made right with God solely by trusting in what Christ is and in what He has done?” Tenney, “Galatians” p.121 Paul throughout chapter 3 and 4 will give 7 major arguments why justification by faith and not works of the law is the basis of salvation. We are looking in these first few verses of chapter 3 at the first of Paul’s arguments, that from personal experience the Galatians should know better than to go running after the laws of Moses at the expense of their freedom.
V.4 Did you experience so many things in vain? -if it really is in vain. What is Paul talking about in this verse? It would seem that he is referring back to the total experience of getting to know God and accepting the grace of God for their lives. Paul is asking them to remember the great things they received through grace, the Holy Spirit, miracles, healings, the joy of having freedom in Christ, and whether or not they want to throw those blessings away for nothing. The word translated experience can also mean suffer. He could well be asking the Galatians have you endured such suffering for nothing. No one knows what persecution or suffering the Galatians may have undergone for their faith but that doesn’t seem to be the intent of the text anyway. What Paul is getting at is, if a person could be saved by works of the law, then what’s the point of suffering for the sake of the cross? If circumcision and all it stands for could procure redemption then justification by faith is pointless.
Verse 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith. Once again Paul reminds the Galatians that they heard and accepted by faith the gospel and the result was the coming of the Spirit and the wonder of miracles in their lives. It is the Father who supplies the Spirit and worked miracles amongst them. This is an ongoing situation and the Galatians are probably still experiencing the blessings of the Holy Spirit working in their community. Often throughout the New Testament, the first preaching, in a new area was accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s outpouring and miracles, signs and wonders taking place. Paul is probably asking the Galatians have you seen these signs and wonders amongst the false teachers? Have they accomplished the miracles that you have seen in my ministry? It is the preaching of the grace of God that brings miracles not the false legalism of the false teachers. Some commentators differ a bit in regards to this verse. Though they hold that it is to “true” miracles that Paul is referring to, he could also be talking about the miracle of transformed lives that later in Galatians we will refer to as fruit of the Spirit. Paul could be saying, look around you at the changes in your lives and try to deny the power of the gospel. Has legalism done anything like that in your lives or has it simply put you in bondage and slavery again to works.
Tenny sums up these verses very well regarding the questions Paul asks of the Galatian Christians in verses 1 through 5. He writes, “They take for granted (1) that the personal incoming of the Holy Spirit into the life of a believer is the token that gives him assurance of his acceptance with God: (2) that the continuity of this life is dependent on the further work of the Spirit, and that it cannot be developed by self-effort (the flesh); (3) that the spiritual struggles through which the Galatians have passed would warrant maintaining the progress of faith to the end; and (4) that the Holy Spirit was still performing miraculous deeds among them such as had never been produced by the law. These four criteria are regarded as normal to Christian life, and are points of appeal in Paul’s remonstrance to the church.”
F.F.Bruce commenting on verse 5 writes, “For Paul the antithesis between law and spirit was as absolute as the antithesis between works and faith. …The presence of the Spirit in power is an unmistakable sing that the new age has dawned.” It is important for us to remember that Paul is saying that the false teachers and their doctrine of circumcision, works of the laws of Moses were not accompanied with the coming of the Spirit.
On one side of the equation stand grace and the Spirit and on the other side stand the false teachers and the works of the law. Paul reminds the Galatians that through his ministry they heard the gospel, received the Spirit and experienced miracles and transformation in their lives. Through the false teachers they experienced only slavery and drudgery. The false teachers could not produce miracles and changed lives instead they only taught dry theory that was powerless. So the great question was simply why would they follow that failed system of works when they had experienced the wonders of the grace of God?
Legalism is a joy killer in the church and the experience of individual Christians. Why do you think so many people become afraid of the gospel experience and cling with such intensity to the law method of salvation?
Our next study takes us to the witness of Abraham concerning the gospel.
Sixteen You Foolish Galatians!
Chapter 3: 1,2
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
Throughout the first two chapters of Galatians Paul was making his case that his apostolic commission was from God alone and not from the influence of other men. Having settled that contention he now turns to the Galatians rejection of the gospel as he taught it to them. His approach to his friends within the Galatian churches is not one of “you believe what you want and I will believe what I want,” that is so prevalent in the modern church. Instead Paul pulls no punches and confronts them with their unbelief. “You foolish Galatians,” he calls them in verse 1 and then again in verse 3 he asks the question: “are you so foolish?” J.B. Phillips puts it, “O you dear idiots of Galatia…….surely you can’t be so idiotic….?”
By the use of the word bewitched, (cast a spell over), Paul lets us know that more is going on here than just rhetoric on his part. He knows that it is the false teachers that have introduced circumcision as a necessity in order to be saved, but by the use of the singular who drives at the personality behind the false teachers: Satan. False teaching regarding the gospel is not only foolishness, but is treason against the love of God. Yes, Paul is saying if you give up on the gospel, (see 1:6) it is because you have allowed a spell to be cast over your intellect. Much of our failure to receive and understand the gospel may well be because of the influence of demons working through the influence of teachers, preachers, and church leaders to keep us focused on a works based religion. This is not easy for me to write and I don’t mean to upset anyone, but the reality is that we are in a spiritual warfare with demonic powers. They wish to wipe out the knowledge of the grace of Christ in the world and replace it with a belief that we can contribute to our salvation.
This struggle between grace and self-congratulatory religion has worked its way throughout the history of mankind. God’s faithful remnant have always had to stand firm against the powers of darkness that would have us put part of our trust for salvation in ourselves. We, as Christians are constantly tempted to stand up and brag, “look at us God are we not something magnificent.” In Paul’s view, we only think that way because we are under the influence of evil working in the world.
When we allow people in the church to teach that the gospel consists of grace plus our own efforts then we open up the church body to influences that are demonic. This is what happened in the Galatian churches. They politely listened to these false teachers introduce their works based faith into the church and it wasn’t long until people were falling under their spell.
This is a good time to bring up what was meant by circumcision. The actual act of having the foreskin cut wasn’t the issue; it was what circumcision stood for. To be a non-Jew and accept all the teaching of Judaism meant you were a “God fearer,” like Cornelius. Circumcision was the symbolic ritual that indicated that a God fearer had abandoned the old traditions of paganism and entered into the moral, ethical religion of Judaism. This is so important for us to understand as we study the law. When Paul argued against circumcision at the great meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 15) Paul was not just trying to get the gentile converts out of a painful procedure, he was saying that a gentile Christian does not have to be a Jew first in order to be saved. Think about the implications of Paul was saying. All the teachings of the Jews, the moral laws, the codes of ethics everything that made a Jew a Jew was no longer to be part of being a Christian. For the gentiles all this was substituted for a faith in the blood of Christ to save them.
Remember, Peter’s great speech at the Jerusalem conference. ”Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke, that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15: 10 That is a text that every Christian should hold close to their chest. Peter understood that the laws of Moses were yokes that they couldn’t keep, but the grace of God gave them a new lease on life, and the same gift was available to the gentiles. In other words all that Moses received and taught was not to be imposed upon the gentiles because those laws never led to life. So, the ritual of circumcision to these false teachers who came to the churches of Galatia was simply a catch word meaning that the Galatians had to become Jews first and follow all the laws of Moses in order to be saved.
The word torah is a noun and comes from the verb to learn and means, teachings learning and enlightenment. We all know that the first five books of the Bible are collectively named the torah or the teachings. When Jewish Christians spoke of the law it was everything written in the torah that they were referring to. The Hebrew word torah(teachings, that which is revealed to be learned), is translated into Greek as nomos meaning law. What I am trying to say is that gentiles were free of the torah on their life as a means of salvation. When Paul refers to the law he is referring to all of the instructions of the first 5 books of the Bible.
The debate then, over circumcision is not a simple argument over whether someone need have the foreskin removed, but over whether or not a gentile Christian had to accept the Jewish lifestyle and teachings in order to become a saved person. When Paul argues against the keeping of law as a means of salvation. He is talking about much more than the 10 commandments, he is talking against all the teachings (torah) of the books of Moses. Paul was advocating for the gentile Christians a radical break with Judaism and its influence upon the fledgling Christian church.
At the Jerusalem meeting he was supported in this contention by none other than Peter and James. “It is my judgment (James talking) therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” Acts 15:19,20 With the exception of these four statements everything else went by the boards regarding Jewish tradition and laws.
As we work our way through Galatians we have a foundation to build upon. When Paul talks about the law it is not the 10 Commandments alone or some nebulous ceremonial laws but everything in the first 5 books of the Bible. This is why Paul thinks that the Galatians have fallen under a spell. Why would people who had before their very eyes seen Jesus crucified want to go running to a Jewish lifestyle that even Peter had to admit was more than they could handle.
Christianity is a religion about becoming sons and daughters of the King, and not about slavery. Paul is relentless in his defense of the gospel and his animosity to the laws of Moses as a way to salvation throughout Galatians. He writes in chapter 1 that to abandon the gospel for the law is, “to pervert the gospel of Christ.” We already mentioned in an earlier study that the word pervert means to reverse, so to live under the law is to reverse the wonder of grace. As we stated in our lesson today in chapter 3:1 Paul calls the idea of trusting in the law for salvation a bewitching, or falling under an evil spell of Satan. A little later we will see in Chapter 3:24 that the law is a tutor that beats its students into obedience. Again in Chapter 3:10 Paul writes, “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse.”
Paul is quite blunt about who is behind legalism in chapter four. In verses 3 & 4 he writes, “So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.” Those elemental spirits of the universe are non other than demons who hold us under the curse of the law. Notice Paul wrote, “When we were children is when the Galatians were slaves to the law and these elemental spirits. Now in verses 8,9 he tells us who those elemental spirits were, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more.”
I went to my old trusty work by John Stott to see what he had to say on the verse and found this interesting comment. “But how can a bondage to the law be called a bondage to evil spirits? Is Paul suggesting that the law was an evil design of Satan? Oh course not. He has told us that the law was given to Moses by God not Satan, and mediated through angels (3:19), good spirits, not bad. What Paul means is that the devil took this good thing the law and twisted it to his own evil purpose, in order to enslave men and women. Just as during a child’s minority his guardian (referring to the schoolmaster) may ill treat and even tyrannize him in ways which his father never intended, so the devil has exploited God’s good law, in order to tyrannize men in ways that God never intended. God intended the law to reveal sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the law as an interim step to man’s justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation. God meant the law to be a stepping-stone to liberty; Satan uses it as a cul-de-sac, deceiving his dupes into supposing that from its fearful bondage there is no escape.” Wow, what amazing insights that man had about the Bible.
In Galatians 5:4 Paul referring to the law writes, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace.” How frightening is that statement for someone who believes that salvation consists of grace plus obedience to the laws of Moses. These people are severed from Christ and have fallen from grace.
We can see from the above verses that Paul is serious in his defense of the gospel of grace and his opposition to thinking that a person can add anything to the gospel. Circumcision, that encompasses all of the teachings of the torah, was not the direction God had chosen for the gentile church, and Christians had better not dally with any thoughts that law keeping could save them.
In summary Paul states that anyone who abandons the gospel for law keeping is in deep trouble. Paul says they are bewitched or under a spell. They have perverted the gospel by introducing works of the law into the equation. He goes on to remind them that by trusting in law keeping for salvation they are under a tutor or taskmaster. To make matters worse he rebukes them by saying they are under a curse, that they have fallen from grace and have followed the teaching of demons.
Paul contrasts the foolishness of the Galatians for wanting the lifestyle of being under the law with that of seeing Jesus publicly portrayed as crucified. Paul had drawn them a portrait of Christ and the crucifixion through his preaching and teachings. Paul used the perfect tense of the verb crucified to portray that the crucifixion of Jesus was more than a historical event, but also the present personal experience of the cross for all who believed. This first question of Paul in Chapter 3 was designed to drive the Galatians back to safety at the foot of the cross. The focus of the Christian life is not on trying to obtain perfection through obedience to the laws of Moses, but on reflection upon the mercy and love of God shown through the cross. It is this faith in Christ that leads to the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit leads to a deeper trust in God.
Why Paul is so stunned by the turning away from the gospel by the Galatians is because they had such trust in God when they first believed. In v.27 Paul recalls their baptism and how they understood they were baptized into Christ. In 4:6 he reminds them that the Father’s love sent the Holy Spirit into their hearts. The reference to miracles in verse 5 reveals that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was manifested amongst them. All that the Galatians had experienced and known regarding grace had been squandered on a love affair with circumcision. In these first two verses of chapter 3 Paul gives the Galatians a verbal shaking for being so foolish to abandon what they knew was true, the gospel, for the legalistic teachings of false teachers.
Paul is giving the Galatians a clear choice between what they knew was true by hearing with faith or living according to the works of the law. There is no both-and choices in these verses it is a simply either-or. We as Christians have to make the same choices as the Galatians. We are no longer as bold as the Galatians in our trust in works but we often hold to them just the same. I hear few people say that they believe their efforts will earn merit with God, but I hear people say I can be perfect if I keep my focus on Christ, or I can keep the law if I only trust in God to give me the power to do it. Just because we call on God’s power to live the Christian life doesn’t mean that there is merit in it. Why are we so obsessed with doing the law when Christ has done it all for us? Why is so important to us to believe God wants us to work hard, with His strength, to do works of the law (Torah)?
The law for Paul meant the whole teaching of Judaism as found in the Torah. Circumcision was the outward sign that a person had accepted the Jewish lifestyle as their way of life. When Paul railed against circumcision he realized that he was condemning the teachings of Moses as a means of salvation. The Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15 agreed with Paul that Jewish law was not to be placed on gentiles who were saved the same way Christian Jews were saved, by grace.
Paul believes the Galatians have had a spell cast over them, otherwise they wouldn’t have been so dumb as to abandon faith for works. They were foolish because Paul had preached with such power and conviction that they had had a portrait of Jesus drawn through Paul’s words, drawn before their very eyes. They had witnessed miracles and healings through Jesus and yet still rejected Him. Paul asks the Galatians how they received the Holy Spirit (he takes for granted they have the Spirit) through works of the law or faith. The answer of course is through the gospel and they have seen the proof in Paul’s preaching and miracles. He has proven he is an apostle and the message he preaches is the message God has for them, yet the Galatians are still bewitched with works of the law. For Paul there is no “both-and” way to look at the relationship between the gospel and law. Instead it is a matter of either-or. The Galatians, just like us, have to make a decision either to accept the gospel through faith alone or try and weasel law keeping into the picture.
Went longer on these two verses than I thought. Will pick up next time at 3:3
Fifteen Justification pt.2
In our last study we saw that Paul in chapter two, verse sixteen made his case that no one is saved by works of the law, but instead is saved by faith in Jesus Christ. This is a key for Paul of all that he believes and teaches not only in regards to the Galatian churches but throughout all his writings. In the next verses Paul defends this position against the charges of the false brethren and further argues for the doctrine of justification by faith.
Verses 17, 18 But if in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of Sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.
Just a few words in way of a review will help us through this section. Paul’s argument against Peter was that Peter being a Jew and knowing he was saved by grace, how could he then expect a gentile to be saved by keeping Jewish traditions and not by faith alone? It would be hypocrisy on Peter’s part to claim salvation by grace and then demand works from the gentiles. Paul picks that argument up in verse 15 by reminding his readers since, “we ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,” then how is it then possible that a gentile has to be saved by works of the law when we don’t?” Paul’s argument is that as Jewish Christians they know that they are saved by grace, or they wouldn’t be Christians, and since Jewish laws and traditions do not save them, the same must be true for the gentile. Peter believed eating with gentiles as breaking the laws of Judaism and would demote him to the role of being “a gentile sinner.” On the other hand, the gentile Christians in Galatia were told if they didn’t get circumcised they would not be promoted to the status of Children of Abraham. The legalist’s point of attack on the Jewish Christians at Antioch, and on the gentile Christians of Galatia, was that they were not keeping the law, and as law- breakers couldn’t be accepted by God.
Though these two verses (17,18) are fairly difficult to sort out there seems to be a common belief that Paul is first of all presenting the argument of his detractors then answering their accusations. The attacks probably were very similar to the attacks on the gospel in our own day. The false brethren were contending that if a person was saved by grace alone and could count on salvation without works of the law then Paul was encouraging people to break the law. Today the argument sounds more like, “if you’ve saved without the works of the law then what is to stop you from living as you please? These people believe that grace alone without the accompanying works makes us less moral people because they believe we will use our freedom as license to sin. In other words if God saves us simply by faith without works of the law, what is the point of being good?
Paul rejects this supposition with a firm denial. “Certainly not!” He will not accept for one moment the notion that his teachings makes Christ the agent of our sin instead he places the blame for sin, where it should be placed, squarely on his own shoulders. “I prove myself a transgressor.” In other words he is saying if I am still a sinner after my justification that is my fault not Jesus’s fault. He has only himself to blame for his sin.
Paul understood that his critics misunderstood the teaching on justification by faith. The critics failed to notice that Paul was saying the Galatians were justified “in Christ.” Our justification takes place when we become one with Christ. Again I must quote that great Bible scholar, teacher, and preacher John Stott in regards to this verse. He writes, “Someone who is united to Christ is never the same person again. Instead, he is changed. It is not just his standing before God which is changed; it is he himself-radically, permanently changed. To talk of his going back to his old life, and even sinning as he pleases, is frankly impossible. He has become a new creation and begun a new life.” Only One Way, pg. 65
The point that so many perfectionist and legalists forget or ignore is that because a person believes he is saved by the grace of God without his own merits being taken into consideration, does not mean he believes he can willfully go on sinning. When we come to Christ it is not for the reason to escape moral responsibility in our life, it is because of love. Paul continues his defense of his teachings on justification in the next two verses through the illustration of death and resurrection.
Verses 19, 20 “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I, who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Can there be any sweeter words in scripture than, “the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me?” To think the God of the Universe loves me and died for me is worthy of all our contemplation and adoration twenty-four hours a day. Paul twice in these two verses talks of dying and then receiving life in Christ. Our dying and being raised is able to occur only because we have been crucified with Christ. It is Christ’s death and resurrection that we share.
Notice the wording of verse 19. “For I through the law died to the law.” What does he mean by this? He is saying, that the law demands death for all who break it. Since we “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” we are all sinners and worthy of death under the rule of the law. However, the laws demand of death of the sinner was satisfied in the death of Jesus on Calvary’s cross. As Christians we are not under the rule of the law as a method of proving that we are, “safe to save,” because we keep the law. No one can keep the law perfectly therefore we are condemned, but the law no longer holds out that condemnation because the demands of the law were met in Christ and not in me. The result of the laws demands of death being satisfied in Christ is that I might live to God.
Paul’s argument becomes even more specific in verse 20. The words “ I have been crucified with Christ,” again are rich in meaning for a Christian. “Being united to Christ in his sin-bearing death, my sinful past has been blotted out.” Stott p. 65 When we accept Christ as our substitute for the penalty of sin, reality sets in, and our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Our past is never held against us, we become new creatures in Christ. Everything is through Jesus, our walk as a Christian is simply the natural response to the love that was poured out to us, but there is no merit in our walking with Christ. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2: 8,9 (We definitely have to study Ephesians)
Paul continues in verse 20, “ it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Paul’s argument is how can we say that we willfully sin when we are dead to the old self and now Christ lives within us. In 2 Corinthians 5; 17 Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” Paul writes to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ.” We have shared in the death of Christ on the cross when we accept His sacrifice and enter into union with Him. Paul’s argument is thus, if I am in Christ and the old me died at that cross with Jesus, and I have put on the new man in Christ and He dwells within me, how do you say I live a sinful selfish life because I believe in the grace of God? It’s important to remember that the new life we live is not of ourselves but through Christ who lives in us. He gives us the desire to live our lives for Him. Yes, we will sin, but the point is that because we have accepted Christ into our lives and become born again we no longer want to sin. Paul’s arguments are personal, the Son of God who loved ME and gave Himself for ME, and Christ lives within ME. When we grasp the magnitude and wonder of the gospel none of us would ever want to go back to being non-Christians.
Paul closes out this section in verse 21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” This little verse is very important for us because it ties the two chief teachings of Christianity together and shows they are of no purpose if works is the way to heaven. Justification and the death of Jesus are belittled and of no real value if I can work my way into heaven through me own works of law keeping. If I could have merit by my efforts then what was the point of Jesus dying for me? Romans 3: 20, points out, “For no human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The law points out my failures and sins and sends me to Christ. By this I mean, the law allows me to see how far removed I am from the character of God and causes me to call out for help. Jesus answers and showers grace upon me. The point of being a Christian isn’t an effort to keep the law. It is the understanding that we were under the laws condemnation until we met Christ, who removed us from its penalty of death by taking my sins upon Himself and removing them from us at Calvary. The result is I live the Christian life not out of the need to be obedient to be accepted by God, but out of love and joy that leads to harmony with God’s will.
Sorry to refer to John Stott again, but his writings have been so helpful to me in understanding this section of Galatians. He points out that there are four basic truths we should learn from these verses 16-21.
a. Man’s great need is justification, or acceptance with God.
b. Justification is not by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus.
c. Not to trust in Christ because of self –trust is an insult to the grace of God and the Cross of Christ, because works declares both needless.
d. To trust in God and become united with Him is the beginning of a new life. If we are in Christ we are more than justified, we have actually died and been risen with Him.
Fourteen Justification Verse 16
Galatians 2: 15-21
We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things, which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God; who loved me and gave Himself for me I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.
Paul has defended his apostleship by showing that he received his calling and understanding of the gospel from God, and not from any man. He also makes it clear to the Galatians that when he went to Jerusalem and met with the leaders of the church that they endorsed his teachings and offered him the right hand of fellowship. He further strengthened his case by relating to them his need to strengthen out Peter over Peter’s willingness to compromise the gospel by withdrawing from eating with gentiles. Thus, Paul, in the first verses of Galatians makes it clear that he has the authority to teach the gospel, and he will not compromise his teaching for anyone or anything.
Why is this insistence on the proper understanding of the gospel such a sticking point for Paul? It is because to add anything to the purity of what Jesus did on our behalf was to belittle Jesus. You cannot say you are saved by grace and then add the word “but”. You are either saved by the grace of God or you are not. You cannot have it both ways. To compromise the gospel, as Peter was willing to do, by adding the law as a method of salvation was wrong and unacceptable, and Paul would not budge from that belief.
Paul now for the first time in the epistle introduces the word justification into the discussion. The verb justified is used three times by Paul in verse 16 and once in verse 17. The noun justification is used in verse 21. In verses 15 to 21 Paul unpacks the great doctrine of justification by faith. Everything Paul has written and will write to the Galatians in this Epistle hangs upon a right understanding of these verses.
The good news for the Galatians is that sinful men and women are accepted by God, not by any effort or work on their behalf, but by the simple act of trusting in Jesus. Martin Luther wrote, “This is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consists. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.” You would think the free invitation of grace would be accepted by a lost human race with open arms, but instead it is scoffed, ridiculed and rejected. People want to add their own merits to God’s gift, others want to earn salvation through obedience, while others pervert the gospel to a license to live reckless and indifferent lives believing grace is their escape route from punishment. It is no wonder Luther believed the gospel must be taught and beat into the heads of a rebellious world.
Justification is a legal term and is borrowed from the courts of law in the Roman world. It is the exact opposite of condemnation, which means to declare somebody as guilty. To justify someone they must be declared not guilty, innocent or righteous.
John Stott sums it up nicely, “In the Bible it (justification) refers to God’s act of unmerited favor by which He puts a sinner right with Himself, not only pardoning or acquitting him, but accepting him and treating him as righteous.” Think about what Stott is saying, and the ramifications for a minute. We are never made righteous through Jesus sacrifice we are always declared righteous. We are not found to be not guilty instead we are pardoned and the result is we are right with God. And because of that pardon we are treated as righteous or as if we never sinned.
Bildad he Shuhite asked Job a simple question that echo’s to our very day, “How then can man be righteous before God?” Job 25:4 in these 7 short verses in Galatians Paul lays out his answer to that question. Paul contrasts justification through faith with the false teachers belief that justification comes through works of the law.
V, 16 “you know that a man is not justified through the works of the law.” This is the verse that becomes a stumbling block to some many Christians. In their zeal for the law they refuse to accept that Paul is talking about all law including the Ten Commandments in this verse. Often Christians try to skate around the idea that Paul is talking of all aspects of the law by trying to divide the Decalogue from the laws of Moses. Works of the law refer to the acts done in obedience to it. The false teachers believed the only way to salvation was to believe in Jesus and keep all the laws of Moses. The only way a person can be saved was through sheer hard work. The work that a person must do to be saved is the work of obeying the law. You must do everything that the law demands and reject everything that the law forbids. Again let me quote John Stott, “the Jews and Judaizers would go on, ‘this means that you must keep the Ten Commandments. You must love and serve the living God, and have no other gods or god-substitutes. You must reverence His name and His day, and honor your parents. You must avoid adultery, murder and theft. You must never bear false witness against your neighbor or covet anything that is his.’ But still they have not finished. In addition to the moral law, there is the ceremonial law, which you must observe. You must be circumcised and join the Jewish church. You must take your religion seriously, searching the Scriptures in private and attending services in public. You must fast and pray and give alms. And if you do all these things, and do not fail in any particular, you will make the grade. God will accept you. You will be justified by, ‘the works of the law.’ “
Do you really want to be saved by works of the law? Do you really believe you can keep all the Commandments perfectly in thought and action every day, every waking moment without ever erring? Did the Galatians honestly want to throw away the grace of God for law keeping? I believe people are drawn to legalism and law keeping as a form of salvation because it is flattering to believe that if you only try harder, trust more, pull up your socks a little more you can earn your own salvation. They want to prove to God that they are worthy of salvation.
Jesus called Satan, “the father of lies,” in John 8: 44 And Satan has told no bigger lie than the one that says man can perfectly keep God’s commandments. No man has perfectly keep the law of God and no one will outside the God/Man Jesus. The Bible says our very thoughts condemn us. We are considered murderers and adulterers simply because our very thoughts condemn us. David understood the condition of man when he wrote, “For no man living is righteous before thee.” Psalm 143: 2 If we honestly look into our hearts we cannot help but see that we have broken all of God’s commandments and laws. There is nothing within us to commend us for the grace of God. What egotism makes us want to reject the plain words of Paul, “a man is not justified by works of the law,” and say “I can do all that you command God.”
Paul contrasts his statement that a man is not justified by works of the law, with the statement, but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.” Lets take a look at what is wrapped up in those few words, “but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ.”
Jesus came into the world to live and die
His obedience to the law was perfect
Through His death He suffered for our disobedience.
He is the only person to live a sinless life in obedience to the law.
On the cross He paid the penalty for our disobedience and rebellion
Our salvation is to acknowledge that Jesus took my place in death that I might live.
We repent of our egotism and selfishness and put our trust in the nail printed hands of Jesus and accept by faith that we are saved by His action of love (the cross) and we have eternal life.
Faith in Jesus is a personal commitment. The expression that we have believed “in” Jesus is actually “into” Jesus. It gives the meaning that believing in Jesus is not just an intellectual acceptance that Jesus died for me, but is a running to Jesus to be held in His arms and trust in Him for our safety. Paul uses the term “justified by faith” three times in verse 16.
Let’s notice something interesting about the progression of those three terms. The first time he writes, “yet who know that A MAN is not justified by works of the law.” This means that, not a single person is justified by works. Interestingly, He starts off the statement with an assertion about no one being justified by works when he writes, “yet who know.” Paul has made his case that he is an apostle and his teaching is from God so they should know what he is teaching concerning justification is true because it is from God Himself. These words of Paul are not to be questioned or trifled with because they are not man’s words or even Paul’s words but God’s words for the Galatians.
Notice the second use of justified by faith in verse 16. “Even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ.” The term takes on a personal quality, “even we.” This is an important addition to the first time justified by faith is used in the verse. In this verse Paul is saying that the head knowledge that you received when you learned you were justified by faith now is made personal. It is one thing to know that people are justified by faith, but it is something all together different to know “You,” are justified by faith. Christianity only becomes real when it becomes personal. For many Christians they know God saves, but they have never put their trust in Him to save them. This then becomes the fertile ground of legalism and works based religion.
Now lets look at the third application of justified in verse 16. “because by works of the law shall no one be justified.” Here we see the universe aspect of justification. Paul is quoting from Psalm 143:2 (see also Romans 3:20) The words translated “shall no one,” is even more dramatic in the Greek where it can be translated “all flesh.” No matter who you are, your status, your position, your nationality, your education, nothing matters because for all flesh (all mankind) redemption is the same; we must be justified by faith.
In summary how can anyone argue with Paul about the method of salvation?
He has relied upon the Old Testament, “by works of the law shall no one be justified, (Psalm 143:2) Before we move on I would like us to stop and think for a moment about the context of verses 15 through 21. Paul has been talking about his dealings with Peter. When in verse 16 he says, yet who know,” he is referring back to verse 15, “we ourselves, who are Jews by birth.” So the simple question in light of the first 14 verses is who is he talking about when he says “we ourselves”. It would seem he is referring to Peter. If that is so then it may well be Peter that he is referring to in verse 16 when he writes, “even we have believed.” Paul, thus, not only calls the Galatians attention to the fact that the Old Testament agreed with his assertion that we are justified by faith and not by works, but Peter agrees as well.
So, in answer to Bildad’s question, “how then can a man be righteous before God,” our answer is simple, through justification by faith. The blood of Christ covers me and God declares me righteous. What more can a man ask of a loving God? I know some are, this very minute, accusing me of teaching “cheap grace,” but my answer to that is there is nothing cheap about the cross. Grace is the most expensive gift ever offered, but it is a gift and we must accept it by faith if we wish to be at one with God. Paul’s spirited presentation of justification by faith in verse 16 is the spiritual highlight of the book of Galatians. In this one verse he opens the doors of heaven wide to anyone who would enter in and at the same time knocks the pins out from under those that would look to their salvation by the works of the law.
In part two of this study we will look at Paul’s rebuttal to the arguments against his teaching of justification by faith. Sorry to divide the study up but when I began writing I didn’t realize that verse 16 would be as rich as it turned out. Thanks for your patience, and putting up with my spelling mistakes and long windedness. I’m still working on getting comments up after each lesson.
Galatians 2:11-15 Paul confronts Peter’s hypocrisy
But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’ We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners.”
We know from our last study that God gave Peter a vision declaring the gentiles clean. Peter was given a practical application of the importance of the vision when he was sent to preach and baptize the gentile Cornelius. What I am getting at is that Peter knew better than to be intimidated by any argument about eating with gentiles, because God revealed to him that they were His children.
The argument some commentators make about James asking Peter to back off eating with the gentiles because of the problems this practice was causing the church in Jerusalem by radical Jews should not have been Peter’s upmost concern. While on the surface it might seem the logical and conciliatory thing to do, in reality it would damage the wider church. Paul understood that no matter how good Peter’s intentions, if he was allowed to separate himself from his gentile brothers in Christ the unity of the church would be split.
On a practical side lets say that your church had a large number of gay people attending. Everyone got along fine and respected each other and worked in ministry side by side. Then a directive came from a ministerial committee, which was over your church, stating that they were receiving pressure, and criticism from some big financial donors over your churches acceptance of gays. The directive was simply asking your church to not eat at the same tables as the gays during potlucks, and possibly having them all sit in a certain section of the church away from the rest of the church. If the local church could just carry out these two easy changes then the donors would be appeased and everything would be all right. Well, of course everything wouldn’t be all right for the gay members of the congregation and it wouldn’t be all right for the rest of the congregation.
Paul’s argument is that in the church there are no second- class citizens. Remember the context of 2: 11-16 Paul has defended his apostleship based on the fact that no man taught him the gospel, but instead it came directly from God. Then he showed (2:1-10) that his preaching and understanding of the gospel was endorsed by the Jerusalem apostles, and in fact was identical to theirs. Now, in his bold illustration regarding Peter’s willingness to compromise Paul is declaring that it is Peter who is abandoning the gospel because of fear. For Paul he was willing to confront his fellow apostle, dear friend and fellow minister because of, “the truth of the gospel,” could not be compromised. Remember in Jerusalem (2:5) ‘the truth of the gospel,’ was the reason he opposed the spies that slipped in to steal their freedom and bring the Galatians into bondage to the law.
Paul uses the illustration of the conflict between him and Peter, that took place in Antioch, not to air dirty linen, but to make the point that it is the gospel that is important, and the church must stand firm on the truth of that gospel regardless of who wants it compromised. For Paul everything is the gospel.
I have been acting under the assumption everyone studying along with us understands what the gospel is, but just in case we need a review I will quote a paragraph from John Stott. “The gospel is the good news that we sinners, guilty and under judgment of God, may be pardoned and accepted by His sheer grace, His free and unmerited favor, on the ground of His Son’s death and not of any works or merits of our own. More briefly the truth of the gospel is the doctrine of justification (which means acceptance before God) by grace alone through faith alone.”
Peter had accepted Paul by the right hand of fellowship at Jerusalem; he had agreed that the gospel Paul was teaching was the same gospel he was teaching (Verses 1-10). Paul was not questioning or challenging Peter’s understanding of the gospel, he was challenging Peter’s behavior in light of the gospel. Regardless of who these “circumcision party,” were (I personally think they were Jewish Christians) they convinced Peter to take a public stand against his gentile brothers. Just as Peter denied Jesus in the garden because of a servant girl now he rejected the gentiles because of fear of a few legalists. An interesting aside is the fact that these members of the circumcision party who said they came from James were lying. Acts 15:24 makes it clear that James did not send these men. They came to the churches under their own authority and claimed to be from James so they could use his authority to spread their false teachings.
In verse 12 and 13 Paul writes, “For before certain men came from James, he ate with the gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party, and with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.” The word translated, insincerity, in Greek is hypocrisy that means play-acting. Peter’s withdrawal from eating with Gentiles was not theological, but based on his fear of a “pressure group.”
Why have I spent so much time going over this incident instead of getting into the great truths that await us in Galatians concerning righteousness by faith? It is because Peter was willing to compromise the gospel under pressure from a small group of legalists that jeopardized the church. We face the same issues today within the church. People attempt time after time to compromise the gospel by making issues out of needless matters. The gospel is what saves an individual and when we start adding lifestyle issues to the gospel as tests of faith we have become like Peter. Let me be blunt, when we allow petty and trivial matters to cloud our understanding of the gospel; we have no gospel. If Paul is going to convince the Galatians of the importance of the gospel he must make them understand it is not a petty set of rules and regulations, but instead a dynamic relationship with the God of the Universe. Peter had stolen the wonder of grace and reduced it to a legalistic teaching concerning whom we eat our meals with.
It is not enough to believe the gospel we must apply it to our lives. What do I mean by that? To apply the gospel means to stand firm in our faith without compromise to those who would add or subtract from it. God does not insist that we all dress alike, sing the same type of music or wear our hair a certain way before he accepts us, so we must not do those things either. When we make these issues of salvation we have compromised the gospel. Remember, “what God has cleansed, you must not call common.” Acts 10:15
Now comes the hard part. We must not only be willing to not compromise the gospel because of pressure groups, we must also confront them. It is so easy within the church to turn a blind eye to the legalists. We would rather live and let live than start a squabble within the church over trivial issues. The problem is that these so called, ‘trivial issues,’ are not all ways insignificant. Years ago I attended church with a man who believed high-heeled shoes were a sin, and any woman who wore them couldn’t be saved. He had reduced the gospel to the height of a heel. He would harass the women every week and eventually some ladies quite attending. What the church needed was someone (the pastor) to stand up to this man and put a stop to his nonsense. Because it was left unchecked people’s feelings were hurt and some women made to feel like second class Christians. The elder in the church knew the gospel but he wanted to add high-heels to the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. Peter added not eating with gentiles to the cross. They both led to the same thing, a compromise that was wrong.
Let’s take a look at the text in closing this section.
Verse 12 tells us that Peter use to eat with the gentiles before these men of the circumcision party arrived. Peter had followed through on the vision of Acts 10. He accepted gentiles as equals and brothers and sisters in Christ. But wen confronted by men of his own race he turned against his new friends in Christ. We must never forget how strong national, racial, and local ties are on a person.
Verse 13 Peter’s actions had consequences and his example of withdrawing from the gentiles influenced all the rest of the Christian Jews to do the same, including Barnabas. You can almost hear the pain in Paul’s heart as he writes, “even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity.” Barnabas had been the first pastor at Antioch, he had ministered with Paul throughout Galatia, he had stood up for Paul when everyone else was still afraid of him, and he had stood with Paul at the Jerusalem conference. Now even Barnabas had been swept along by the tide of hypocrisy brought into the church through these false teachers.
V.14 Paul saw, “that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel,” and he confronted Peter openly. Peter had made a public statement by refusing to eat with the gentile Christians so Paul would confront him publicly. Paul’s refusal to accept the judgment of all the other Christian Jews in withdrawing from fellowship with the gentiles was based, in spite of national pride, on the ‘truth of the gospel.’
Everything in Paul’s life and ministry was to be judged by the gospel, the gospel was not to be judged by national interests or social niceties.
Paul confronts Peter with these words, “if you, though a Jew live like a gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the gentiles to live like Jews?” Before the false brethren came Peter was living as a gentile and that included eating at their tables and eating their food. After the arrival of the men from James he withdraws from eating with the gentiles. Why? I’ve suggested a couple of reasons, but was there more going on here? Peter we have established knew that the gentiles were clean because of the vision of the clean and unclean food. Was Peter eating foods that at one time would have been considered unclean by Peter when he ate with the gentiles? Would this have been an issue for the false teachers when they arrived and found Peter eating these foods? Would Peter’s traditions and national history have taken over under pressure and as a result given in to the false teachers?
Whatever the issue, Paul recognized that what Peter was doing, by withdrawing from the gentiles, was in reality agreeing with the false teachers that a gentile had to become a Jew first in order to be accepted as an authentic Christian. Paul knew that salvation for gentile and Jew was through the cross, and that Peter by withdrawing from eating with the gentiles implied they needed to be incorporated into the Jewish nation for that salvation. The gentile Christians couldn’t but help think there was something wrong with them in order to have Peter desert their fellowship. They would also deduct that if they wanted fellowship with Peter then they needed to accept Peter’s policies and give up their freedom for Judaism. For Paul Peter was rejecting the freedom he found in Christ to go back into bondage to legalism, and he wouldn’t allow his friend Peter to fall into that trap nor have the church influenced with those teachings.
In conclusion the Christian church must rejoice that God rose up such a man as Paul who would never compromise his faith in the gospel and would stand firm for it against all attacks. If he had given in to the false teachers and Peter’s hypocrisy there would be no church today. The lesson we are to learn is that God comes first and no matter how much authority a person may have, if he/she leads us back towards slavery to the laws of Moses we are to contend with them and never submit the gospel to their legalism.
Twelve Paul’s apostolic authority demonstrated in conflict with Peter
Paul had just finished explaining to the Galatians that his gospel was authentic, and the apostles, in Jerusalem, had even extended to him the “right hand of fellowship.” He carefully had laid out for the churches the 8 occurrences that took place surrounding his relationship with the Jerusalem church leaders, and how those events ended in complete unity, on matters of doctrine with James and Peter.
We remember in verse four and five Paul wrote, “But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage—to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” There is a lot going on in this verse. First, false brethren wanted to spy out the freedom of the gentile church had in Jesus and bring them back into slavery to the laws of Moses. Second, Paul did not give into them for a second, because the “truth of the gospel,” had to never be added to or subtracted from. Paul stood his ground not out of pride or stubbornness, but out of love for his friends in the Galatian churches. He would fight the powers of hell or “angels sent from heaven,” to defend the legitimacy of the gospel given to him by the Lord Jesus.
Paul in our next section illustrates how committed he is to the Galatians since he was willing to challenge Peter himself in regards to hypocrisy and legalism. The issue of contention was over Peter’s eating with the gentile church. When certain Jewish Christians came up to Antioch from Jerusalem Peter separated himself from the gentiles in order to please these people. Before we look at the rest of chapter two there are a few things we need to know about Peter and the possible reason these Christians, who came to Antioch, wanted Peter to break eating and associating with the gentile Christians.
For some background on Peter we need to go to the beginning of Acts 10. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.”(Verses 1.2) Luke, the writer of Acts, goes on to tell how this devout man received a vision from God that he was accepted by God, and that he should send for Peter to come to him and teach him the things that he was lacking in regards to God’s grace and will. He sends some trusted servants and a devout soldier to go bring Peter to him as God demanded, then settled down to see what would happen. He knew that being a gentile the Jews considered him unclean and they would not enter his house, eat with him, or even touch him if they could avoid it, yet here was God telling him to bring a Jew into his home.
While this is going on Peter has his own vision. “Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.” (Verses 9b-16)
F.F.Bruce in his commentary on Acts points out an interesting fact concerning the relationship of Centurions to the Gospels. He writes, “It is to be noted that the first Gentile with whom Jesus had dealings during His public ministry was a Roman centurion, and that it was with reference to this man’s faith that He said, ‘many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven. (Matt., 18:11; cf. also Luke 7:2 ff.) These words now begin to find their fulfillment in another centurion.” Polybius (history vi.24) writes concerning the courage of Centurions that they should, “not prone to take the offensive or start fighting wantonly, but able when overwhelmed and hard-pressed to stand fast and die at their post.” In this one little statement of Polybius we are able to see where the disciples and teachers like Paul drew their strength and fortitude from regarding the gospel. Over and over the Bible writers remind us to stand fast for Christ and many of them literally died at their post defending the Gospel.
Christians have spent a good amount of time arguing over whether or not God was telling Peter that the Old Testament probations were lifted or not. This is not the point of this discussion. Peter was being taught a lesson about gentiles that would have repercussions throughout the rest of the history of the world. While Peter was contemplating what he had just seen in vision the Lord spoke to him, “behold three men seek thee. But arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting: for I have sent them.”(Verses 19,20) After Peter listened intently to Cornelius’s servants he, “called them in and lodged them.” (Verse 23) It would seem these men stayed the night as guests of Peter and probably ate of the food that had been provided for him. Peter’s heart must have already been softened towards association with gentiles by this gesture of hospitality. After all this was not Cornelius (the God-fearer) at his door, these were simple servants and a soldier. Peter had no idea of their spirituality; he simply accepted them as people.
The next day Peter travels to Cornelius’s house where he finds a large gathering of Cornelius’s friends and family all eager to hear what Peter has to say. “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “stand up; I too am a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered; and he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit any one of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask the why you sent for me.” (Verses 23b-29
The truth of the matter is that Peter’s roof top experience had not shown him that the gentiles were not to be considered unclean. The vision simply told him that no FOOD was to be considered common or unclean. But, Peter’s reference to the vision as being about God’ acceptance of gentiles shows that he caught the implication of the vision and it’s much wider application concerning gentiles. Gentiles were largely considered ritually unclean because of their eating habits and the foods they ate. To enter a gentile’s home and touch articles to them rendered a Jew ritually unclean. It was considered unsafe for a devout Jew to eat anything offered by a gentile because you wouldn’t know if it was contaminated by unclean food or had been offered to idols, and in the case of clean meat whether or not it contained blood. This is really important for Paul’s disagreement with Peter over eating with gentiles in Galatians because Peter understands perfectly well that God had considered the gentiles clean and acceptable through the rooftop vision. He understood that God used common and unclean food as an illustration to show that Jews and gentiles could sit at the same table because God set the separation caused by food restrictions aside. After this experience there is no excuse for the hypocrisy of Peter at Antioch.
When Peter begins to speak to the assembled gentiles he starts his talk by stating, “truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”(Verses 34,35) As Peter was preaching a further acceptance of the gentile believers was manifested through the Holy Spirit. “While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, ‘can any one forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain four days.” (Verses 44-48)
Summary of chapter 10
Cornelius has a vision that he is accepted by God and is told to send for Peter
Peter has a vision that what he believed was common and unclean was to now be considered clean.
Cornelius servants come and bring Peter back to Cornelius home.
Peter breaks taboo by associating with the gentiles and admitting that God shows no partiality in who is being saved.
Peter thus understands the larger implications of the vision he had on the rooftop.
Peter preaches the gospel (Verses 34-43) to Cornelius and his household.
The Holy Spirit ascends upon the gentiles just as it did at Pentecost upon the Christian Jews.
Peter’s friends are astonished that God has given such a gift to the gentiles.
Paul asks them can any of you now that you have experienced and seen what the Holy Spirit is doing for the gentiles prevent them from being baptized.
The gentiles are baptized and accepted into the family of believers.
Paul stays with them four more days.
We need to take something else into consideration before we look at the text in Galatians. In Galatians 2:12 is a reference to certain men that came to Antioch under James authority and their mission had something to do with their fear of the circumcision party. There is debate whether these men were Christian Jews or non-Christian Jews. Regardless it seems that there was persecution by the Jews of the Christian Jews going on in Jerusalem during the 40’s and 50’s. A lot of the persecution was based on the fact that gentiles and Christian Jews were eating together and associating with each other. The fierce Jewish nationalism that was sweeping over the land tended to lead to persecution of any Jew who had contact with gentiles. These men sent up by James probably informed Peter of what was going on in Jerusalem and the problems that were arising from the rumors amongst the circumcision party (zealots) that Peter was eating with gentiles. Regardless of what they requested of Peter, or how he felt about the matter, the fact remains that he made a conscious decision to separate himself from the gentiles. In all fairness Peter may just have wanted to spare the church in Jerusalem persecution and though that if this simple gesture could spare his brothers and sisters trouble; why not?
Paul on the other hand, understood the ramifications of compromise and it’s devastating affect on the gospel. Good intentions and the need to get along without rocking the boat would destroy the church eventually. Paul’s whole argument so far in Galatians is that you can’t add or subtract from the grace of God, because if you do you are destroying the word of God. Peter’s poor example to the new gentile Christians if gone unchecked would have destroyed Paul’s ministry.
Let’s review for just a moment. Acts 10 shows us that Peter knew that the gospel was for both gentile and Jew. He knew that God had called the gentiles to repentance and accepted them as equals to the Jews. In Acts 11 he defends himself against the circumcision party for associating with gentiles. Peter is no coward when it comes to standing up for his convictions that God revealed to him that gentiles are saved the same way Jews were saved.
In the light of Acts 10 and 11 then the question arises why did Peter stop eating with gentiles when the men came up to meet with him. The answer might be that they brought a message that the church in Jerusalem was under attack by the circumcision party (either zealous Christian Jews or non-Christian zealots) because leaders like Peter were associating with gentiles. Peter may possibly withdraw from eating with the gentiles to try and make it easier on the Jerusalem church. The other possibility is that James himself had been corrupted by the constant attacks against eating with gentiles by the circumcision party. He may have sent a directive to Peter requesting that he stop associating with the gentiles because of the pressure on the church in Jerusalem. Again, there is the smell of compromise in the air.
With this background we should have a little better understanding of Paul’s conflict with Peter in our next study together.
Eleven Continuation of study 10 Unity in the church
In our last study we looked at the first four steps for unity within the church that surrounded Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, and ended with the apostles endorsement of his preaching. (Acts 15) Remember, the false teachers were saying that there were two gospels being preached. One was Paul’s and the other gospel was what the apostles in Jerusalem taught. Since Paul was alone in his understanding of the gospel why should the Galatians believe him over the collective wisdom of the apostles in Jerusalem. Paul will not give in to this slander and contends that what he preaches and what the apostles in Jerusalem preach is the same message. We need to review the first four steps in Paul’s argument that his gospel is equal to that of the other apostles before we move on to the next four statements regarding the unity of the gospel.
First, Paul went down to Jerusalem with two close associates, Barnabas and Titus. This is important because they represent both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians; as well they are a living illustration of how well the two groups get along under Paul’s preaching. By bringing the uncircumcised Titus to the meeting, in Jerusalem, he is saying, see here is a Greek convert and, God blessed him in ministry without the rituals of Judaism. Second, Paul makes it clear that he went to meet the other apostles by the direction of God, and not by the beckoning of any man. This is important to Paul’s entire argument that he was called of God, and given the gospel directly by Him to preach to the gentiles.
Third, the major reason Paul went down to Jerusalem was to have his teachings scrutinized by the other apostles so they could give their endorsement on them. Four, Paul is not saying that he is willing to change his approach to his teaching, because he will not turn his back on what God told him to preach, he simply wants the apostles to know what he preaches. He is convinced that he is preaching the same message as the other apostles, because they are all under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The argument, in Paul’s view, is that a gentile can become a Christian without becoming a Jew first.
We might think this issue is long settled, but when we stop to think about it the problem still exists within the church. As long as there is a tendency to add anything to the gospel we are back to the same problem Paul faced. For Paul the thorn that always kept sticking him was the argument over circumcision as an initiation into Christianity. For us legalism takes many forms and holds a great many Christians captive with its seditious misrepresentation of God’s grace. It is a shame that as Christians we can’t use both hands to defend the gospel to a hostile world, but instead one hand is always busy putting out the fires of legalism that spring up in the church. Why do we argue with each other over minutia while our neighborhoods are lost to sin and rebellion against God? Church is not about us, and our comfort. We are inns where Jesus brings the broken so that they may receive healing. We are often so involved in arguing over the method of treatment that the patient dies. We need to get on the same page-right now.
Five, is a most interesting statement, “And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)-those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me” (verse 6) God shows no partiality to whom he gives the privilege of proclaiming the gospel. Paul respects the leaders in Jerusalem, but he is not awed by their status. These men were probably regarded as spiritual giants by the church. After all they had walked and talked with Jesus, and listened to all he had to say. Their understanding of the teachings of Jesus was not to be questioned yet Paul was not in the least intimidated by their status. Notice he writes, “those who were reputed to be something,” and, “I say, who were of repute added nothing to me.” He is making it clear that their status in no ways mean that his own preaching is inferior to theirs. God does not judge on external appearances or reputation because, “God shows no partiality.” What God does judge on, is if the preaching is authentic. Paul makes it clear for the Galatians that these pillars and reputed great spiritual giants “added nothing to me.” Paul was on an equal footing with the apostles because his teaching of the gospel was identical to the teaching of the Jerusalem apostles. The difference was in whom they were trying to reach with the gospel. While Peter and James were preaching to the Jews, Paul was preaching to the gentiles.
Six, unity in the church is kept by keeping the focus on Christ. Paul writes, “and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James, Peter, and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” (Verse 9a) Also verse 7, “when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel,” Paul furthers his assertion that it is the handling of the gospel that makes a leader. When the apostles heard Paul’s version of the gospel, and saw the grace of God shinning through him, they reached out their hand in fellowship. Just as God had worked miracles through Peter to teach him that the gentiles were part of the kingdom of God (Cornelius) so God worked a miracle in Paul’s life (Damascus road) that he should be the one to carry the gospel to the gentiles. (Verses 7,8)
The Jerusalem apostles were able to come to agreement because the gospel was everything to them. The accurate life -changing message of God’s grace was the focus of their attention. Peter and James didn’t want to find fault with Paul, instead they wanted to embrace him as a brother in Christ, who would work with them in spreading the gospel to a lost world. How often we run up against the exact opposite in the church. Pastors may see their churches grow and yet come under criticism because their methods don’t agree with their denominations view of how things should be done. The list could go on, but we get the point, if we kept our eyes on the gospel and those who need to hear it, we wouldn’t have time for the petty.
Seven, the apostles realized that they had different areas of ministry. Paul’s commission to the gentiles was confirmed and the gospel would be carried to the Jews through the Jerusalem church. These divisions were not absolutes, because Paul always began his ministry in a city by going to a synagogue and preaching. He had a burden for his fellow Jews, but he understood that God had called him to primarily reach out to the gentile world. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit, as we already mentioned led Peter, to Cornelius’s house.
The gospel is not the possession of one church or denomination alone. When a church thinks they are the only ones that have the commission or the right to preach the gospel they have missed the point of what Paul is saying in these verses. All churches that teach the gospel of Christ are part of God’s call to evangelize the world. We may work in different spheres and through different methods, but the goal is the same; to see people accept Christ. There is a lot more to say on this topic, but there is a lot more of Galatians to come and we will pick this theme up as we move through the book.
Eight, the unity of the church was maintained by practical service. The Jerusalem church offered the right hand of fellowship to Paul, thus endorsing his teaching, but there was something they wanted from Paul. The church in Jerusalem, and throughout the immediate area, was facing hard times because of persecution. The people needed support so they asked Paul to “remember the poor.” (verse 10) Romans 15:26 makes it clear this is the group he was talking about. He writes, “and indeed they are in debt to them, for if the gentiles had come to share in their spiritual blessing (the Jews) they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.” Romans 15: 27 Paul understands that the sharing of material blessings as well as spiritual blessings is part of what keeps unity within the church. Paul may be called to the gentiles, but he isn’t to forget his fellow believers who have come out of Judaism for Christ. The unified church looks after each other regardless of race, nationality and historical background.
From these 10 short verses we come to realize the importance of unity within the church and how to obtain it, even though different groups in the church are called to different ministries. Paul was called by God to go to the gentiles, and Peter and James were called to go to the Jews, but they were all one in Christ, with a single gospel. Their mission was to reach all humanity with the good news of God’s grace.
Something that I forgot to mention about Paul, Barnabas and Titus going up to Jerusalem was that it probably wasn’t for a conference or anything along that line. Paul’s meeting with the apostles seemed to be a private affair, and not a forum for the whole church. I apologize if I left the impression that this was a big church gathering to scrutinize Paul. See Acts 11:27-30 for an insight into the great famine and the church at Antioch sending Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem with financial help for the church. Nevertheless regardless of the reason for Paul’s trip the fact remains he went under the direction of the Holy Spirit and not because of the directive of any man.
Is it important to be open to different approaches to the gospel, as long as the purity of the gospel is maintained?
I listened to a church growth expert state, “all you want to do with your church service is to get people to come back.” He believed that your small groups, etc., is where you get into church teachings, but the service is only for preaching the gospel. He said if you can’t get them to come back how are you ever going to be able to help them grow. What do you think of those thoughts in light of Paul’s view of unity?
Ten Paul’s view of the gospel accepted by the Church
Galatians 2: 1-10
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage-to them who did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)-those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to e and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, they we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.
This is a long section and there is a lot going on in these verses. Lets review the argument of chapter one for just a moment. Paul defends himself against the charges, by the false teachers, that he received the gospel from other teachers, or he just made it up. Either way, they were undermining Paul’s authority as an apostle, and by cutting out that authority they undercut the power of his whole message. Paul makes it clear that his calling is from God and the gospel he teaches is by the will of God.
Paul also does not want the people to think that he is a loose canon doing his own thing and contradicting the teachings of the teachers in Jerusalem. These first ten verses in chapter two lays out Paul’s argument that the gospel he teaches may not be from man, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t agree with the other apostles. The difference between the Jerusalem brothers and Paul is based on their target audience not on the substance of the gospel. He doesn’t want anyone to think that he’s a lone wolf preaching a gospel that is not approved and accepted by the other apostles. Paul is not claiming that he has some private special revelation that God gave him separate from what He gave the other apostles. Paul’s teachings agree part and parcel with the brothers in Jerusalem.
Paul embarks in the first ten verses to introduce the Galatian believers to what exactly happened at the great church conference in Jerusalem that he attended. Paul outlines eight steps that took place at the conference that ended by the Jerusalem church offering the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and himself. There is a lot of amazing information and wisdom in these steps that can help the modern church stand firm for Christ against false teachers and legalism.
First, we notice that Paul went down to Jerusalem with a team. Barnabas was a well respected Jew who was known and liked by the leadership of the Jerusalem church. He was really the man who first accepted Paul and introduced him to the church, but just as importantly he worked with Paul for the conversion of the gentiles. He accompanied Paul on his missionary journey to Cyprus and southern Galatia. (Acts 13:1; 14: 28 After they arrived back in Antioch Barnabas and Paul journeyed to Jerusalem to try and settle the problem of demanding circumcision as a requirement for acceptance into the church. (Acts 15) The other member of Paul’s team was Titus a Greek gentile who worked along side Paul in the mission field. He was not circumcised, yet God was working through him for the benefit of the gentiles. Titus and Barnabas represented the power of the Gospel to break down prejudice and bring Christians together, regardless of their background, for teaching the good news.
Second, Paul went down to Jerusalem “by revelation,” (verse 2). I love this insight into Paul and the working of the Holy Spirit. Keeping in character with Paul’s argument that the gospel he preached was not given to him by any man, so his going to Jerusalem was not by a summons of the Jerusalem brothers. He went down to Jerusalem not according to his own decision or because the church demanded it of him. Instead, he went down because that is what God, through the Spirit told him to do. Paul is a man led by the Holy Spirit, and when the Spirit speaks Paul listens and responds. (Galatians 5:18)
Third, Paul went to Jerusalem to have his teaching evaluated. Don’t mistake what Paul is saying here. He has no secret fear that his preaching may be wrong. He makes it clear in Galatians 1:1 that his teachings are from God, he simply wants the apostles in Jerusalem to know what he is preaching so there can be no confusion. He is looking for their endorsement because without it he may be running in vain. Again he is not second- guessing his call to apostleship or his message, but he knows if his fellow apostles should not endorse him and his work then the spreading of the gospel to the gentiles would become even more difficult than it already was. Paul well understood that if the gospel was to breakthrough to the gentiles then the church needed to be unified in its teachings. If Jerusalem was saying one thing and him another no gentile in his right mind would respond to such a confused gospel.
Four, Paul’s willingness to subject what he was preaching to scrutiny was not the same as being open to compromise. He would not change one word of his teaching to appease false teachers or anyone else for that matter. The reason is found in the bringing of Titus to the council. For Paul the gospel breaks down all prejudice and racial barriers. Titus, who was a gentile, was not circumcised because Paul understood that he didn’t need to become a Jew before he was accepted into the family of God. Titus, was accepted by God, in the same way Barnabas and Paul were, and that was through the grace and mercy of God. When Titus accepted the gospel by faith he was one with Paul and Barnabas. They were brothers in Christ, saved by the blood of the Lamb shed at Calvary. There was no need for the literal sacrifice of lambs at the temple any longer, nor was there any need to be marked by the sign of the promise to come (circumcision) because the Messiah had appeared.
Paul reports back to the Galatians regarding Titus, “even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” Come on Galatians, don’t you get it. If Titus. was not made to be circumcised, by the apostles at Jerusalem then what right do these false teachers have in trying to reintroduce circumcision when the issue is settled against the need for it. The false teachers who were teaching in the churches of Galatia were no different from the false teachers in Jerusalem who slipped in to spy out their freedom.
We need to talk about this for a moment because it has such ramifications for the rest of Galatians and for ourselves. The false teachers are false teachers because they refuse to believe that God loves everyone equally and died for everyone on the same basis. These false teachers taught the Galatians that their salvation as Paul presented it was not good enough because they didn’t accept Jewish tradition and customs as well. Their underlying premise was if you are not a Christian Jew then you are nothing. They saw race not grace as the important issue confronting the gentile church. Because circumcision denied the equality of Jewish and Gentile believers within the church Paul refused to budge an inch. He wrote, “to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Notice who Paul is concerned about, it is for the Galatians that he travels to Jerusalem, confronts the legalists, and refuses to budge. It is for the Galatians that he submits his teachings to a review board so that they can be assured that he preaches truth. He does it all for them, who so easily desert him and his teachings.
These false teachers are interesting, Paul writes, “but because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, they they might bring us into bondage,” he had to stand his ground regarding the gospel. These false brethren were secretly brought in they slipped in to spy out the gospel’s freedom, so they could bring the church into bondage. These men had no right to be there, but someone slipped them in as spies. They were not concerned with the gospel they were only concerned in finding fault. Their objective was not to grow in Christ, see the church unified, or see the gospel preached with power to the gentiles. They only wished to see the church enslaved to Jewish laws, traditions and legalism. These were Satan’s storm-troopers come to steal grace from the fledgling church and replace their freedom and joy with a yoke of bondage and slavery. Paul knew the church was a failure if they compromised the essentials of the gospel because of some legalistic zealot. The gospel is nonnegotiable.
Paul includes this story about Titus and the false teachers in his autobiography as an example for the Galatians. Just as Paul stood firm against the false teachers who were going against the directives of God and all the Jerusalem apostles, so should the churches in Galatia. They needed to follow Paul’s example and not give in to their false teachings for one moment.
I see I am getting a bit long so next post we will look at the next four steps in Paul’s case for his apostleship.
Is it possible for a church to grow when hounded by legalism?
Are there things a church should do or could do to escape these life- suffocating attacks on the gospel?
Do you agree with Paul that false teachers are destroyers of unity within the church because of their refusal to accept everyone as equal in God’s eyes?
If you could start a church from scratch what would be the most important aspect about God that you would like to get across?
How does legalism undermine that important aspect about God?
Why do you think there are so few brave people who dare to stand up to legalism?
Thanks for reading and please pass the information about the study on to your friends and family.
Nine Man and the Gospel
Paul makes it clear in chapter 1:8 that even if an angel from heaven should preach a gospel different from what he preached, then that angel would be preaching a false gospel. Some people consider Paul’s teaching arrogant and conceited, after all who is he to claim that he alone preaches truth? Paul, however, is not claiming that he alone has the gospel. His argument, as we have looked at in some depth, is that his gospel is from God and not from other people. What he preaches is the same gospel as the other apostles such as Peter and John. His argument isn’t that he alone has the gospel or preaches a better gospel than the other apostles; it is that ALL the apostles received the gospel from God.
I hope the above statement may unravel some of the confusion a few readers may have had regarding Paul’s relationship with the Jerusalem apostles who were for the most part Jesus disciples. While I’m on the topic I decided to listen to the late Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones great sermon on Galatians 1:8 All his sermons are now available on line fee. If you have not listened to or read any of Lloyd-Jones’s work you have missed out. He was considered the greatest expository preacher of his time, and his in-depth analyzes of scripture has influenced Christian thinking to this day. He points out that for us as modern readers Paul’s claim not to have received the gospel from man takes on an especially important aspect. We are bombarded by claims against the gospel in our culture. People believe the Bible is full of error, that science is the ultimate authority, philosophy has answers, or that all religions are the same. Lloyd-Jones argues that essentially what man is doing is setting his own knowledge up as the judge of the teachings of God. If what the Bible says doesn’t fit with what man thinks then the Bible is wrong, and not their thinking. The problem is that man realizes that science, philosophy, metaphysics, new age thinking, and plain old hedonism don’t touch the heart, or answer the basic questions regarding what is wrong.
I was recently watching a ten-minute segment on youtube about a man who planted a church in Holland. He mentioned that they were surprised at how many people would wander into their service from off the street. Some of the people would only say a minute or two and once they realized what was going on would hurry out the door. Others would sit and listen. More than once after the service people would come up and ask how they could become a Christian. What didn’t surprise the pastor was how little the people knew about the gospel or how confused they were concerning it. A close friend of mine, the other day, started to tell me about a book he was reading that was about Jesus twin brother Thomas. When I explained that no such person existed he was a bit taken back, because he was under the impression that the book was well researched and based on some sort of truth.
Lloyd-Jones in his talk was willing to concede that the church has done a good job of muddling the waters when it comes to the gospel. When society realizes that the answers to their longings and hopes are not found in secular philosophies or science and turn to Christianity to see what it has to offer they are often disappointed. The church he believes, and I believe correctly, has no power any longer for our generation because we don’t preach with honesty and conviction. We are frightened to tell people that they are lost if they don’t accept Christ as their personal savior. We don’t want to be politically incorrect so we don’t say Jesus is the only way to salvation. We make excuses for people’s indifference, and we seem to be at a loss for words when people say, “well I’m a good person.” We seem to be tongue-tied when answering that assertion. The very point of Paul’s gospel is that you can’t find salvation by being good enough you only find salvation in the grace of God. We are frightened of being called bigots by claiming Christianity is a unique faith, and a person must respond to the gospel preaching by faith in order to find peace with God.
Paul says if we preach any gospel that is not based on the righteousness of Christ then, “let him be condemned.” NIV Paul understands that any gospel that man has a hand in drafting is bound to be corrupt because man will mold that gospel to fit his own understandings, likes and dislikes. No, the gospel in order to be the gospel must be from God alone. Paul will not compromise or concede that man has anything to do with the gospel because then it could be tainted and that would make it worthless. He condemns the false teachers because through their false teachings they would steal the Galatians salvation from them by teaching them to believe in their own works or knowledge.
If Christianity is to touch the hearts of a confused and lost society then we must offer something of great value. We cannot preach a confused, water-downed, politically correct gospel in order to please our culture. We must preach the word of God with authority (that is Paul’s argument in chapter 1-his authority) and preach the simplicity of the gospel.
In Chapter One we have learned
Paul received the gospel from God on the Damascus road
He didn’t receive it from any man
Paul’s call to apostleship was by Jesus Christ and the will of the Father who raised Jesus from the dead.
Paul’s call to apostleship was not by men or man.
Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins in order to save us from this evil age
Paul is astonished that anyone would turn away from this truth.
The gospel is we are saved by faith in the grace of God displayed on Calvary’s cross.
Anything else is a false gospel or no gospel.
Paul had preached the true gospel of Christ to the Galatians
The false teachers were preaching a perversion of the gospel that included more than grace.
Paul’s preaching would lead to salvation for anyone who accepted.
The false teachers were eternally condemned for their teaching.
Paul was not trying to preach easy things in order to win the approval of the Galatians.
The false teachers were preaching their own understanding and knowledge instead of God. As a result, it was really the false teachers who were trying to win approval of the people.
Paul writes, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
As a persecutor of Christians he was trying to please his religious leaders by his zeal.
The false prophets were still pleasing men.
Paul’s gospel was not made up by any man.
The false prophets by implication made up their teachings.
Paul was set aside from birth to preach the gospel.
Did God do the same for the false teachers?
Paul assured the Galatians that he wasn’t lying. He gives his biography to prove it.
Paul is “preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
What are the credentials of the false teachers?
The distinction is clear in chapter one. Paul has a message that leads to salvation and that message is not based on the teachings of the culture or what people thought about God. It was based on the revelation of God to Paul without being tainted by man’s interruptions and beliefs. Anything else than what he and the other apostles taught was worthy only of condemnation, because it stole grace from the Galatians.
The book of Malachi gives some of the reasons that Israel didn’t accomplish the plans God had for them. He especially addresses the priests in chapter 2 starting in verse 7. “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction-because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi, says the Lord Almighty. So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”
In these verses we see the controversy between the teachings of false teachers and the gospel. The priests of Israel were to teach and preserve true knowledge about God so that those who listened to them would be strengthened and stand firm in their trust in Christ. Instead the teachings of the priests led the people to stumble and fall. They broke the covenant of grace and refused to follow God’s ways, and instead (read chapter one) substituted grace with their own perverse teachings and actions. With such corrupt teachers the people lost faith in God and the teachers ended up being ridiculed, mocked and despised by the people. Nothing had changed in over four hundred years because false teachers were still “showing partiality in matters of the law,” and confusing the faithful. Paul, like Malachi would not keep quiet in light of such an attack upon the grace of God and spoke out through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Where are the leaders who refuse to teach easy and popular views of God and are willing to teach the pure gospel regardless of the cost? It takes a lot of courage to stand up against the “gospel plus” teachings that are so prevalent. But, that is what Paul calls us to in the books of Galatians, and it’s what Malachi called the children of Israel to do and its what Martin Lloyd-Jones believes will bring revival to the hearts of man. Grace alone, those are the two words that stir the soul and change the heart.
Eight Law and the Gospel
We are now getting into the heart of Paul’s defense of the gospel. He has provided evidence that his apostleship did not come from man, but instead from God. His argument is, therefore, quite logical that if he received the gospel from God then how could the Galatians reject the gospel without rejecting God? His teaching of the gospel and the gospel are inseparable.
The false teachers have come to the Galatians demanding that there is more to the gospel message than what Paul has taught. Whether or not they were inferring that Paul didn’t know or understand the gospel, or that he was willingly not teaching the full gospel we have no way of knowing. What we do know for sure is that they wanted obedience to the laws of Moses to be included in any teaching of the gospel. These false teachers believed in the divinity of Christ and in His death and resurrection. They probably believed in the return of Christ, as well as heaven. What they didn’t believe, however, is that people were saved by faith alone. For these teacher’s faith had to be accompanied by adhering to the traditions of Israel. Their thinking was that the sign of the covenant was circumcision, and if the gentile believers were to be grafted into Israel then they must also be circumcised.
For Paul circumcision was just one issue that defined the mind-set of these false teachers. These were men who held the law to a greater worth than the cross. By their wanting obedience to circumcision or any other aspect of the law, then the absolute unmerited grace of God that was manifested at the cross was belittled. Paul would argue his point that the law as a method of salvation was bogus throughout the rest of the Epistle. Paul nowhere in Galatians says the law doesn’t have a place in the life of a Christian, but it has no place as a method of salvation that is to be added to the gospel.
The debate regarding the law and the gospel has its roots deep in the Old Testament, and though the argument may take different twists and turns throughout the history of Scripture we still end up with the same conflicts. For many Christians, Jesus sacrifice, as their substitute for sin, is not enough. It’s for this reason we should take time to see what is the function of the law, and what it is not.
The law is written on our conscience. Regardless how wretched a person may be they have some idea of what is wrong and what is right. The gospel isn’t written on the heart. We understand the gospel from hearing the word of God. If we don’t resist then God gives us faith to believe. We receive the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. This is called being born again. The function of law is to convict of sin. When we come face to face with the law we understand for the first time our utter failure, and the law then drives us to Christ. As one theologian said, the gospel breaks the heart of a sinner and drives us into the arms of Christ. The law sends us to Jesus; the gospel holds us close to Jesus. The law tells me what I must do to live, but the gospel assures me that I already live when I accept Jesus. The law demands righteousness and holiness while the gospel gives them. Breaking the law is sin and the wages of sin is death, but the gospel gives eternal life. The law is addressed to secure sinners who do not think there is anything wrong with their lives or the way they live them. The gospel is addressed to aware sinners who know their failures and cry out to God for mercy. The law demands obedience, the gospel offers mercy. The law says the soul that sins will perish, but the gospel says we shall have eternal life. The law says do, and the gospel says it is done already
I know this may be considered, by some of the readers of this post, as an over simplification of the controversy, but I don’t think so. We are talking about the law as a method of salvation, and we must learn to separate works of law for the purpose of earning salvation from the Christian journey. Works of the law play no place whatsoever in earning merit with God. We are saved by faith in the completed work of Christ at Calvary and it is this understanding that I believe Paul teaches to the churches of Galatia. And it is this understanding of the Gospel that the false teachers are so interested in undermining.
I heard a pastor teach that we are saved by grace, and that our sins past, present and future are forgiven, but then he added, “but there is more,” No, there is not more when it comes to salvation. Paul cries out, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed.” Galatians 3:23 The argument in the book of Galatians is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you are saved by faith in Christ plus obedience to the law. You either believe in the grace of God alone or you believe in the law method for salvation. We were confined, under restraint, imprisoned under the law, but we are given pardon under grace.
Some Christians think Paul is only talking about ceremonial law or tradition in Galatians, and not the moral law as well. After reading through Galatians what are your thoughts on that approach to the Epistle?
We will look at Galatians 3:23 in more depth later in the series, but what do you think Paul means by, “now before faith came?”
What do you think is the difference between a secure sinner and an aware sinner? Notice both the person secure in his/her sins and the aware person are all sinners.
Finally, before someone accuses me of imposing my views of the law on Galatians let me say my view of the law is shaped by Galatians. I discovered grace and freedom in Christ in the Epistle. The view I have presented regarding law and gospel is how I understand the issue after studying Paul’s message to the Galatians. The enjoyment of Bible study is that we can all learn together and from one and other. I have much to learn regarding Galatians and my prayer is that we can all grow together in our understanding of this most important book.
I have a couple of housekeeping issues to take care of before we move on to chapter two. First I am in the process of getting the pages of this study set up like they are for the other blog postings. That would mean you don’t have to scroll through all the studies to find the comment section. Comments would be able to be made after each study. The second bit of housekeeping is that I really would like to see more of you post your comments on the studies. I appreciate your emails and your insights and questions are great, but it would be nice to be able to share them with the other readers. That is how we get discussion going. I really don’t know how many people are following the studies but I know for study six the final figure for three days is well over thirteen hundred page views. If even a third of those page reads are studying along with us that means three to five hundred people are taking advantage of the study. That represents a lot of wisdom and insight, and we would love to read your input. Thanks for your support and onto chapter two.
Seven Paul’s apostolic authority continued
Galatians 1; 18-24
There after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.
In our last study we saw that Paul was adamant that he did not receive his gospel before his conversion because he was an enemy of the church and had no interest in hearing what Christians had to say. He also made his case that it was on the Damascus road that God intervened in his life in a miraculous way, and it was this encounter with God that shaped his teachings. He further claims that he was set apart while still in his mother’s womb to carry the gospel to the gentiles. So, if God’s hand was on him from before birth, and God intervened to call him to the gospel on the Damascus road, how could he be teaching anything but what God wanted him to teach? He had no opportunity to learn the gospel from anyone else, because he had limited contact with anyone who could have taught him what he was now preaching.
He further makes the point that he didn’t go up to Jerusalem to receive the blessing of the other Apostles (because God had anointed him already), but instead went into the quiet of the wilderness where he could listen uninterrupted to the voice of God.
As our study was getting a bit long for the last post I divided it up into two sections, but if you take a quick look in your Bible you’ll notice that the flow of Paul’s argument carries naturally from verses 11 to 17 through verses 18 to 24, and together they make a unit. It is in these verses (18-24) that Paul brings home his argument that the message he teaches is from God and not the other apostles.
Paul is straight forward in presenting the history of what happened to him after his conversion. He writes, “then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.” In Acts 9:25 Luke records that Paul had to escape from Damascus by being lowered over the wall in a basket, because the religious authorities wanted to kill him. (9:23,24) Paul reminds the Galatians that he only visited Jerusalem after three years of being in Arabia, and then he only spent fifteen days with Cephas (Peter). While he was there he only met only one other apostles, James the brother of Jesus.
The Greek word that is translated visit in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible is historesia, and means to visit someone in order to get to know the person. This seems to be the intent of Paul in his short visit to Jerusalem. Peter had been one of Jesus’s closest disciples for over three years, and Paul wanted to visit him, and get to know the man who had been so close to his Lord and Savior. It is interesting that Paul mentions that the only other apostle he met was James the brother of Jesus. James obviously wasn’t one of the twelve who travelled with Jesus, but was now numbered amongst the Apostles. James had been a skeptic, but like Paul once encountering the risen Jesus had been converted to become a follower of Jesus.
The reason Paul didn’t meet with the other apostles could be for a number of reasons. They could have been away on mission work, or Paul may have had no real interest in meeting them, or they may have been too frightened to greet Paul. Two weeks was way to short a time to learn from Peter, the Gospel that he had presented to the Galatians. Besides, according to Acts 9:28,29 Paul was occupied with preaching the gospel while he was in Jerusalem during this time. Let me repeat it again, if Paul was preaching the gospel when he was in Jerusalem visiting Peter then he wasn’t learning the gospel from Peter. Regardless the point Paul was making is that he did not receive his gospel from the brothers in Jerusalem since he only met two of them for a short time, and that was only after he had spent three years in Arabia.
The false teachers must have been insinuating that Paul stayed a long time in Jerusalem learning from the apostles, and then went out on his own authority preaching something different than what he was taught. If this was what they were saying Paul makes it clear that he stayed only fifteen days and then went, “into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” This corresponds to Acts 9:30 where Luke tells us that Paul in danger for his life is taken by fellow Christians to Caesarea where he sent off to Tarsus which is in Cilicia. His mention that he was also in Syria leaves us to imagine that he probably revisited Damascus. Paul’s point is that he is in the north and not at Jerusalem, so how could he be under the tutorage of the other apostles? Paul makes it clear in chapter 2:1 that it was a full fourteen years later before he went back to Jerusalem.
If we stop for a moment to think about all this, it becomes clear that Paul had a life changing experience on the Damascus road. But, it goes further than the change of his heart from being a hunter of Christians to pleading for their salvation. He had been a man of status, moving up through the ranks of the Jews, and having a wonderful, successful career ahead of him. Everything he could possibly want lay before him. Wealth, fame, success, respect, security and safety were all his, but then he met Jesus. From just the first chapter of Galatians we encounter a man who has lost it all, in the sight of how men judge, for his belief in the grace of God. And even that simple teaching was questioned and his reputation challenged by false teachers who worked to undermine his authority and calling. Paul comes off as an extraordinary man who surrendered everything he was and everything he would attain in life for the privilege of preaching Christ risen to an uncaring world. This is a challenge to our comfort and ease when faced with a hostile world. Paul gave everything up to follow Jesus, will we get up out of the easy chair to at least pray for our neighbors and friends?
Paul finishes this section of the Epistle by recounting, “I was not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, ‘he who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.” The churches of Judea only knew him through hearsay since he hadn’t spent time amongst the believers in that part of the country. He had according to the rumors become a preacher of “the faith,” and was a trophy of the grace of God. The people got it right, because they glorified God for Paul’s conversion and not Paul.
He can say to the Galatians with an honest heart that he didn’t receive the message he preached to them from any man or teaching of man, but directly through the influence and intervention of God himself. He tells them, “in what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” Paul is claiming he is telling the truth (what a sad spot to put an apostle that he must defend his honesty because of a group of legalists), and the gospel he preaches comes directly from God for them so how can they possibly reject it?
I don’t know if you are like me, but the more I read about Paul the more I am impressed by the man and the more I praise God for the wonder of grace that saves people like Paul and you and me. Every line of Galatians makes me want to cry out to God, “thank you, thank you.” God is so good to us isn’t he? Think about the woman with the issue of blood, the prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery and the poor man beaten and left in the ditch in the story of the good Samaritan and you will notice none of them got the chance to ask God for forgiveness. He forgave them just where he found them because He knew their hearts and His love couldn’t help but pour out to them. Please, regardless of what goes on in your life don’t give up on the God who never gives up on you. If he could touch the heart of Paul, He surely can keep our heart turned toward Him.
Six Paul’s apostolic authority
Galatians 1: 11-17 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles. I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.
In verses 6 through 10 makes it clear that the Gospel, as he preached it was the one and true word of God, and nothing else could be added to it. Remember, the controversy that the false teachers stirred up was that Paul was not a true Apostle, and therefore his message was not orthodox. Paul knows that his entire reputation rests on the truth of his claim that he is an Apostle, and therefore his message is true. It is of the upmost importance that he can defend his claim.
The logical question is where and how did Paul get his authority? Did he receive his Apostleship from the other apostles or did Barnabas teach him? Was it possible that he just made everything up? Paul makes quick work of any suggestion that his authority was based on someone else’s teachings. “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul preached the gospel, but he did not receive it from any man, and he did not make it up. This is not a tradition that was passed down from person to person, but instead the gospel he preached was direct from the revelation of God. This is key for our understanding of Paul’s insistence that the false teachers add absolutely nothing to what he has already preached. Since the gospel came to him through God, and he preached that gospel to the Galatians, then their addition of Jewish tradition and laws to the message were going contrary to God. Paul is claiming direct revelation from God in regards to the gospel.
Having made the claim that the gospel came to him direct from God, he goes on to prove that he couldn’t have obtained his message from anyone else because of the facts surrounding his life. “For you heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” Stott has an interesting insight on this passage. “The situation before his conversion, at his conversion and after his conversion were such that he clearly got his gospel not from any man, but direct from God.” So, in verses 13 and 14 Paul makes his case why he couldn’t have received the gospel from any of his contemporaries. In Paul’s pre-conversion days he doesn’t hide the fact that he was at war with the church. He was violent in his persecution of the church, and even wished to destroy it altogether. He was a fanatic who was motivated by his zeal for the traditions of Judaism. In Acts 8:3; 26:10,11 we get a glimpse into how determined he was to destroy the people of God. Paul was so opposed to Jesus and His Christian followers that he was willfully blind to the gospel. There are many people like that today, they will not open their hearts up to the gospel because of the long traditions either in their lives, or in the churches they attend. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can reach these people and open their eyes to the wonder of grace alone.
While going up to Damascus to hunt down any Christians that might dwell there, Paul had a supernatural encounter with God, and it was that encounter that changed his life. Paul changes from “I” centered rebellion to a “God” centered redemption. It was God who set him apart even before he was born. Being set apart for ministry was well known to Jewish Christians who would have read of Jeremiah’s (Jer.1:5) appointment to be a prophet before he was born. According to Paul’s reasoning since he was set apart to be an Apostle before his birth then how could he be considered getting his calling and message from anyone else but God? He was called through God’s grace, and not of his own imagination. I can’t help but keep quoting Stott on this passage. He writes, “Paul was fighting against God, against Christ, against men. He neither deserved mercy, nor asked for it. Yet mercy found him, and grace called him.” What an amazing thought. Paul fighting against God, and who is out to destroy the church, receives in turn the grace and mercy of God.
Paul goes on to say that God, “was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” Paul did not receive his call to be an Apostle prior to his conversion because he was busy persecuting the church and had his heart closed to the gospel. His conversion was not at the hands of an individual, but through the supernatural intervention of God. It was God who revealed Jesus to him, and changed Paul’s life completely around. God revealed the gospel to Paul, but it was for not for him alone. He was called to take the message of grace to the Gentile world. That was Paul’s calling from before his birth.
Paul was not charged with preaching the laws of Moses or the traditions of the Jews, but instead he was commissioned to preach the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, who died so humanity might live. This was the gospel that dwelt within Paul, and drove him to proclaim the wonder of it all regardless of persecution and rejection. The love that God showed him, he now wanted to share with the lost world of the Gentile nations.
Paul received his gospel from God and no man before conversion or at his conversion influenced the message he was called to preach. But what about after his conversion, was he influenced by the Apostles and other church leaders? Paul says no. “I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.”Paul according to Acts 9: 19,20 spent some time while in Damascus preaching the gospel. “For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ “ Luke goes on to record in verse 22, “But Saul (Paul) increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.” Paul is a new convert who knew only zeal for the traditions of Judaism and now here he w as preaching and proving that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul’s understanding of the gospel could only have come, as he claimed, on the Damascus road. It was the love and mercy of God, that could love and save a sinner like him, that drove Paul into the arms of God. God didn’t have to speak the gospel to Paul because He showed it to him in that experience.
Little is known about Paul’s time in Arabia. The area around Damascus was ruled, during that time by King Aretas of Arabia., so Paul might have only been in the outskirts of Damascus, but no one knows for sure. He more than likely went there to develop his understanding of the good news that he was called to preach, as well as unlearn many of the traditions that he believed were important for salvation. As Christians in our spiritual journey there are things that we all have to let go of, and things we need to accept if we are going to be faithful to God. Some Christians will have to let go of legalism and trusting in their own merits for salvation, while others are going to have to learn compassion and love for their neighbor. There are times we need to rest and meditate upon what it is that God has called us to do, and there are times we need to simply spend time in the Bible and prayer allowing the Holy Spirit unlock the mysteries and wonders of God. Moses took forty years to understand God and Paul took three, the amount of time doesn’t matter, but what we do with the time does.
Five Reason for Writing the Letter
Galatians 1: 6-10
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ Jesus and turning to a different gospel—-not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.
Martin Luther boldly declared, “Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me.” This simple declaration of Luther could sum up Paul’s dedication to the gospel. Paul is astonished that people who know the grace of Christ could desert it for anything else. The verb metatithemi signifies, “to change one’s allegiance” and was used to describe a soldier who deserts or politicians who change parties. It means in simple terms to be a turncoat, someone who deserts their cause and goes over to the enemy. This is how Paul sees the Galatians, they are turning from the truth of the gospel for a different gospel, a gospel of works, and Paul will resist their foolishness with all he is worth. It is worth noting that the Galatians haven’t completed their desertion instead they are only in the process of “deserting.” There is hope for them if they will listen to reason and abandon their false teachers.
Paul lives and breathes the Gospel, and it means everything to him, because it is the basis of his salvation. In Acts 20:24 Paul calls it, “the gospel of the grace of God.” Nothing we can do can add merit or earn our salvation, instead we are saved due to the grace of God. Paul will not compromise on this point. He will not back down and give an inch to the false teachers. To add anything to the Gospel is to “pervert the gospel of Christ,” and he is so adamant on the fact that he calls for a curse to fall on anyone who would dare change the gospel of God’s grace.
We need to jump a head to verse ten before we continue. It seems that these false teachers were probably teaching the Galatians that Paul was preaching an easy gospel. They were accusing Paul of being a people pleasure and giving the Galatians the message that they wanted to hear. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the Epistle that says these false teachers were rejecting the cross, they were just teaching that Paul didn’t go far enough. They had come to the Galatians to fill in the parts of the Christian teaching that Paul had not told them about because he wanted to be liked and make it easy on the people. With his straight- forward rebuke Paul sets those false criticisms to rest. He says, “Am I now speaking the favor of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men?” Paul loves the Galatians and that is why he is willing to rebuke them. He doesn’t want to see the people he loves and cares about go down the road to destruction and legalism. It is important for us to keep in mind that for Paul and all New Testament writers to add anything to the Gospel was to pervert it or make it of no value. You cannot say you believe the Gospel if you say, “you are saved by the grace of God plus anything else.” Paul was not preaching the Gospel because he was trying to please men, but instead to please God.
This line of reasoning has never been abandoned, no matter how many times the Scripture shows them wrong, by false teachers throughout the ages. Man has a nagging desire to want to add to what God has already done. The false teachers that were undermining Paul’s work were not bad people, they were just misinformed and the result was they taught legalism in place of Grace. As Paul points out throughout Galatians this is no small matter to reject the premise that you are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, because once you start adding to the Gospel you have abandoned it. To desert the Gospel is to desert, “Him who called you.” Some commentators believe the “him” is Paul, but most now believe that Him is referring to God. This is scary language for anyone who is adding to the Gospel, because Paul is saying if you reject the Gospel that I brought you as an Apostle, and add works to the grace of God you are rejecting God.
We have tolerated legalists in the church throughout the years because we have not wanted to offend them or we have simply believed they were harmless with their idiosyncrasies and hang- ups. When I think back upon it, we were being people pleasers because we didn’t want to offend those people in their intolerance. Paul can not be clearer—you cannot add to the Gospel and if you do you are deserting the Gospel. Maybe, it is time for the church to stand up to legalism and false teachers and say, “no more, because of our love of God we will no longer allow you to hurt people who come to this church and drive others away.” It would take a brave pastor, who has the courage of Paul, to challenge the insidious undermining of the Gospel because of legalism, that infects the modern church. The irony for the Galatians is that in their pious pursuit of spiritual perfection they were actually turning away from God. To turn from the Gospel of grace is to turn from the God of Grace. Later in 5:4 Paul makes this clear, “you have fallen away from grace,” when you try to become justified by the law.
The reason for all that Paul writes in Galatians is that the false teachers have thrown the church into confusion and discouragement. When Paul writes, “there are some who trouble you,” he uses the verb tarasso that is translated as trouble. The verb means to agitate or stir up and is fitting for his description of the Galatian church. Since these false teachers showed up stirring up trouble and agitating the family of God, the church has broken into factions, discouragement is rampant, and confusion reigns. These false teachers were not only troubling the church, but were perverting the Gospel. Any teaching that perverts the gospel will lead to trouble within the church and the lives of its members. Metastrepsai that is translated as perverting could also mean,” to reverse.” The idea then is that the Galatians are being stirred up and agitated because these false teachers were reversing or changing the gospel that Paul brought them. If you modify the Gospel you change the character of the Gospel, and the result is you have nothing but confusion.
In verses 8 and 9 Paul reveals his true indignation for the false teachers who are separating the Galatians from the Gospel. After this rebuke, it is impossible for anyone to say Paul is not up to the task of confronting evil, and only wants to please people with easy words. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Anathema (accursed) is used in the Greek Old Testament for the idea of the curse of God resting on anyone or anything destined for destruction. Paul’s reasoning seems to fall along the lines that since these false teachers are under the curse of God and are destined for destruction, then why would the Galatians pay attention to anything they had to say.
In our world of political correctness, some people whine that Paul is out of line for pronouncing that legalist are “accursed” for their teaching, but he is not being vindictive. He makes it clear that even if he or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel that is contrary to the one that he has already brought to the Galatians, then they also would be accursed. Paul’s authority as an Apostle is not arbitrary; it is valid only as long as he is faithful to the true Gospel. It is the purity of the Gospel that Paul is concerned about, and not the feelings of the false teachers. Paul would gladly pronounce a curse upon himself if he preached a contrary message of salvation. Paul is so passionate about the Gospel because people’s souls are at stake. To understand the Gospel is a matter of life and death for the Galatians. To reject it was to reject God, and to reject God was to walk away from their salvation. It is one thing to hold false teachings, but quite another “to teach” people to reject Christ for a works based religion.
To sum up our study we could say that the true Gospel predicates our absolute rejection that there is anything we can do to merit salvation. We can add nothing to what God has done for us through the cross. To teach that anything could be added to the completed work of Christ is to pervert the Gospel and label us false teachers, as well as bring us under the curse of God. One last thought before we close, Paul writes, “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Our understanding of salvation is found in the Bible. The Holy Spirit guided the writers in their presentation of truth, and it is to these teachings that we are to cling. Anyone who teaches anything contrary to the teachings of Scripture is at variance with the Gospel and their teachings must be rejected. No matter how much education a person has, or the credentials behind their name, or what authority within the church, if their message is not the Gospel declared through the Bible then those people are to be rejected along with their teachings. Dr. Alan Cole sums it up beautifully, “the outward person of the messenger does not validate his message; rather, the nature of the message validates the messenger.”
Four Grace and Peace
Galatians 1: 3-5 “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
These two simple words, “grace,” and “peace” convey Paul’s understanding of the Gospel in a nutshell. The source of our redemption is through the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary, and it is the grace of God that accepts that sacrifice as sufficient to have us accounted righteous. This grace, Paul will argue throughout the Epistle is free of our works and attempts to earn merit with God. The result of our redemption is that we have peace. Through God’s grace we have peace with God, our fellow man and with ourselves. Paul further instructs the Galatians that the grace and peace they receive flow from both the Father and Jesus Christ. The false teachers with their emphasis on law keeping could have built their case up around the superiority of God the Father over Jesus. Paul undermines that idea in these few verses. Grace, flows freely from both God the Father and Jesus. In verse one Paul tells us it was the Father who raised Jesus from the grace now he connects that idea to the fact that it was Jesus who gave Himself on the cross for our salvation. The Father did not push Jesus to the cross and Jesus did not offer Himself without the Father’s approval and blessing.
When Paul writes, “who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” he is introducing the Galatians to the heart of his gospel. John Stott reminds us in his commentary, “the death of Jesus Christ was primarily neither a display of love, nor an example of heroism, but a sacrifice for sin.” In fact the wisdom of most New Testament scholars is that the sacrifice of Jesus is equated with the Old Testament sin offering. (Leviticus 5:11; Numbers 8:8) This is the unique sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven and forgotten. Later in Galatians 3:13 Jesus is presented as “a curse for us.” He took in His person the curse of our judgment that we could find freedom from the curse of sin through Him.
John Stott points out that Christianity is primarily a, “rescue religion.” Jesus died for our sins so that we may be delivered or rescued from the present evil age. The verb exaireo is used to designate an action of rescue. In the book of Acts (7:34) it is the verb used of the rescue of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. It is used of the rescue of Peter from the Herod (12:11) and it is used when Paul is rescued from a mob trying to kill him.(23:27) Stott points out, “This verse (4) in Galatians is the only place where it is used metaphorically of salvation. Christ died to rescue us.”
That leads to the question what did Christ die to rescue us from? The answer is from the present evil age. Notice God did not come to deliver us out of the world. “We are in the world, but not of the world.” He didn’t die to rescue us from having problems and struggles in life. By his death Jesus died to rescue us from this present evil age of wickedness. He died that Satan could not have us, and the power of sin could not hold us in bondage to the power of evil. In a very real sense we have been redeemed out of this age and entered into the age to come. When we accept Christ we become part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Though we are not literally in Heaven we are heirs to the Kingdom, and have the assurance of the Kingdom.
The idea of rescue runs throughout the Epistle in regards to bondage to the law and to sin. Jesus died that our bondage to works based religion could be broken and freedom given to us so that we may walk as sons and daughters of the King. The abandonment of the good news of God’s rescue, and the Galatians going back into slavery to works is what is so frustrating to Paul. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel.” 1:6 We will pick up on this verse next study, but for now it is enough for us to realize that Paul says the Galatians are abandoning God if they don’t accept the grace of God.
Our rescue from this present evil age and the source of the rescue through the sacrifice of Jesus as a sin offering happen, “according to the will of our God and Father.” At the cross the will of the Father and The Son were in perfect harmony. Stott puts it so beautifully, “We must never imply either that the Son volunteered to do something against the Father’s will, or that the Father required the Son to do something against His own will. Paul writes both that the Son, “sacrificed Himself”(verse 4a) and that His self-sacrifice was “according to the will of our God and Father. (verse 4b) In summary, this verse teaches that the nature of Christ’s death is a sacrifice for sin, it’s object our rescue out of this present evil age, and its origin the gracious will of the Father and the Son.”
In these four short verses Paul has outlined God’s plans for the Galatians and all humanity. Christ died for our sins that we may be rescued out of the wickedness of this present age. God called Paul to be a witness to Jesus who died on behalf of the Galatians. The gift of grace and peace is meant for us through the sacrifice of Jesus, and Paul is the witness of the truth of the claim.
So through these three claims, the self-sacrifice of Jesus as a sin offering to free us from the evils of this age, the call of Paul as an Apostle, and the result of the sacrifice on Calvary, peace and grace are all done according to the will of both the Father and Son. Salvation was achieved in history at the cross, then through Scripture we learn of the sacrifice, and through our experience peace is lived out in the lives of Christians.
Why is it so important to Paul’s argument that both the will of Jesus and the Father were involved in the plan of salvation?
What is meant that Christ is a sin-offering?
What are some of the characteristics of the present age of evil or wickedness?
What does it mean that we are not of this age but of the age to come?
What do you think of the “rescue mission” concept of the plan of salvation?
Three Galatians 1: 1,2
Galatians 1: 1,2 Paul, an apostle—-sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead—and all the brothers with me, to the churches in Galatia:
Look through Paul’s letters and you will quickly notice that this is not the usual introduction to how he starts his letters. In Ephesians he writes, “to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus,” and in Philippians he begins the letter, “to the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi.” There is no such introduction of good will to the Galatians. They have betrayed Paul and their faith in Christ, and Paul cuts to the chase.
Paul’s authority was under attack throughout the churches of Galatia, and as a result his gospel teaching was coming into question. The false teachers had thrown out to the people the simple question, who is this man Paul that you should listen to him? He is not one of the twelve. These false teachers were trying to convince the churches that Paul was nothing but an imposter, teaching his own ideas and thoughts, without approval from the established church.
Paul, is no shrinking violet, he claims in his first three words the title and authority that his distractors are trying to undermine. His claim is nothing less than that of apostleship and being under the direct orders of God. To claim this title was a big deal, and not just anyone could claim to be an apostle. In the minds of Paul’s readers the title would have a very precise and clear meaning. In the Jewish world the title meant someone who was set apart with a special message and status, and empowered with authority from a higher authority to carry out that mission. When an apostle spoke the faithful knew they were hearing someone special with a special message from God. They knew the words of the apostle were of great importance and they needed to pay special attention to the message. To attack the message of an apostle was to attack God himself in the eyes of the church community.
John Stott, in his book Only One Way, makes the observation, “The New Testament evidence is clear that this group was small and unique. The word ‘apostle’ was not a general word, which could be applied to every Christian like the words ‘believer,’ ‘saint’ or ‘brother.’ It was a special term reserved for the Twelve and for one or two others whom the risen Christ had personal appointed. There can, therefore, be no apostolic succession, other than a loyalty to the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. The apostles had no successors. In the nature of the case no one could succeed them. They were unique.” It was to this small group of spiritually anointed teachers that Paul claimed membership. Paul’s salutation includes, “all the brothers with me,” but they are not apostles; only Paul has that distinction.
Paul asserts that his apostleship is, ‘sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father.” His call to apostleship is of divine origin and has the power of Jesus and God the Father behind it. He is throwing the gauntlet down to these false teachers, if you wish to challenge my authority then you best be prepared to challenge the wisdom and direct right of Jesus and the Father to select me and set me aside for this ministry. Paul’s claim, when we think about it, is a powerful testimony to his conversion and dedication to his calling to preach the gospel to the gentile world. He was not set-aside for his ministry by the Twelve Apostles, or a governing board in Jerusalem, but by the direct will of God. He did not receive his commission to apostleship from Barnabas his early mentor and friend in the faith. He makes it clear in these opening lines of the Epistle that he is called by God and not man, therefore what man has the audacity to challenge his commission to apostleship. There is an interesting theological aside in Paul’s contrast between not being made an apostle by men, but instead being appointed by Jesus and the Father. JESUS is, therefore proclaimed, through Paul’s reasoning, to be more than just a man, He is one with the Father, and therefore equal with God. Paul in a sly way is making it clear to the Galatians you must make a decision to follow me who is called by God or some so called teachers who are sent to you by other men.
Does Paul have a right to be called an apostle? In 1 Corinthians 9:1 Paul proclaims that he does. “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? In 1 Cor. 15:7-11 he writes, then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No I worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.”
These two verses give us an interesting insight of how Paul understood his call to become an Apostle. One of the hallmarks of apostleship was to have known Jesus personally, that is why there could be no apostolic succession so, when did Paul see the risen Lord as he asserts in I Corinthians 9? The answer, of course, is on the Damascus road. It is in this encounter that Paul became set apart by God for the special apostolic mission of carrying the gospel to the gentiles. Paul may not have known Jesus, during the Lord’s ministry here on earth, but with that encounter he entered into the special relationship with God that would cause him to become the greatest evangelist in the history of the world. Paul acknowledges in 1 Corinthians 15 that he was the last of those called to become an apostle and he also acknowledges that he is the least worthy for that calling because of his previous life as a persecutor of the church. I absolutely love what he says next, “but by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.” This is the crux of Paul’s unwavering proclamation of the gospel. If God could save him, then everyone is within the bounds of salvation by the grace of God. He is called because of his unique experience on the Damascus road, and he is called to his ministry as apostle to the gentiles because he lived and breathed the gospel every hour of every day.
Reading through the material in the New Testament about Paul’s ministry I have developed a deeper respect and admiration for the man and his ministry than ever before. The words of Paul’s epistles jump off the page filled with the promise of salvation to all who would believe. Just when you think you have found the ultimate verse concerning grace in Paul’s writing you find another one that warms the heart even more intensely. You can tell Paul loved Jesus and what Jesus had done for him, by giving him a new beginning, more than anything else in the world. Paul’s theology was forged through his great understanding of the Jewish scriptures and the practicality of preaching Jesus to a hostile world. Paul understood that what people needed more than anything was the assurance of salvation through the free gift of God, because that is what changed his life. He would not compromise or give in to those teachers who would undermine that precious truth. The sadness of Paul’s ministry, however, was the fact that his fellow Christians who should have been supporting his apostleship through their prayers and encouragement were often the biggest hindrances to his work. Refuting their constant bickering and undermining of his message must have used up great amounts of his energy that should have been used in proclaiming the gospel to the lost. When we Christians drag down our pastors by constant complaining about one thing or another we are doing the work of the false teachers. And when pastors force legalism and keeping the law as a method of salvation upon the congregation we are not doing ministry of the apostle Paul.
It is important for us to understand that Paul was not mounting such a vigorous defense of his apostleship because of ego or need to be esteemed by the Galatians. It was not his vanity that was at stake, but the very nature of the Gospel. If these false teachers could undermine his authority then they would lay waste to his teaching of freedom in Christ. Paul would not surrender that ground at any cost. To Paul the knowledge that we are saved by grace and not by works of the law was the line in the sand that could not be crossed. Paul defended his authority as an apostle in order to defend his message. By claiming his apostleship directly from God the Father and Jesus, and not from men Paul was putting himself firmly on the side of God. His teachings were the direct revelations of God, and mere men, regardless of how much they were esteemed, were wrong to question and attack the gospel.
Two Background to Galatians
In the last post I tried to show how difficult it was for the people of Galatia to trust and believe Paul’s teaching. In order to accept Paul’s claims concerning Jesus these people had to turn their backs on their history, families, traditions and culture. It was not easy to trust your life into the hands of a crucified carpenter from Galilee, even if He was claiming to be God.
Around the 4th Century B.C. large numbers of Gaul’s left their homeland and immigrated southward and eastward looking for a new place to put down roots. Eventually they ended up in an area that today constitutes modern Greece. However, after the battle of Delphi in 279 B.C. being defeated by the Greeks, they moved on to Asia Minor. Settling, in the northern region, of what is today called Turkey, they became useful allies of the Roman army. Over the years their territory expanded southward, and by 25 B.C. the whole region of Galatia was incorporated into a full Roman province. Though the northern region of the province was still fairly wild and inaccessible during the time of Paul’s missionary journeys the south was a different story. Good roads, trade and successful cities like Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derby brought a fair amount of prosperity and fame to the region.
This southern region of the province of Galatia was the area Paul visited on his first missionary journey and revisited on his second trip. Over the years scholars have bickered back and forth whether or not Paul was referring to all of Galatia or just the southern region in his Epistle. Today, most Biblical scholars believe Paul was referring to the southern region. The strongest argument for their belief is that there is no evidence that Paul ever established any churches in the northern section of the province. Acts 16:6 and 18:23 give support that Paul visited the area or passed through it, but nowhere in Scripture is their mention of any church in that part of the province. It would be strange, indeed, for Paul to write a letter of such importance to a hypothetical church in the north of the province and exclude the very real churches, he established in the south. In Acts 13-14 and 16 we can read the account of Paul’s endeavors to plant churches in the southern region of Galatia.
Galatians 4: 13 reads, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.” This gives us further evidence why the Epistle was written to the churches in the south. Paul probably developed a fever in the lowlands of Pamphylia and travelled up to the more congenial climate for convalescence around Pisidian Antioch. It would not make sense for him while suffering illness to make the difficult journey into the northern region of the province, when everything was congenial for his recovery in the southern area.
So, why should we be interested in whether or not the letter was written to all of Galatia or just to the southern region of the province? The answer is that if the letter was written shortly after Paul’s second missionary journey, then the Epistle is the earliest surviving letter we have from Paul. The letter was probably written from Corinth, where Paul stayed for a while during the second missionary venture, and could be dated as early as 48 or 49 A.D. This would mean that the time period from the death of Christ to the writing of Galatians is too short for myth or tradition to have influenced such a work. We can be sure, that Pau’s letter under the guidance of the Holy Spirt has the ring of truth, and the message though directed to the churches of Galatia is timeless.
Now would be a good time to read through the book of Galatians and make a note of anything that catches your attention. In our next study we are going to look at the reason Paul wrote the book as well as some of the controversy and tension between gentile and Jewish converts to Christ. All of this information is important if we hope to understand the issues that confronted Paul in the churches he planted throughout southern Galatian.
One Welcome to Galatians
The historian Barbara Tuchman believes that we cannot get an accurate view of history if we, “flash-forward” in our studies. In other words we cannot impose what we know about the outcome of an event on the event itself. If we could transport ourselves back to one of the cities in South Galatia, how would the proclamation of Jesus as Savior of the world played out?
Paul would not have been known as the greatest evangelist the world has ever known. They wouldn’t have had two thousand years of Christian history, based to a good part on the writings of Paul as a reference. There was no New Testament to consult to be sure his teachings were in harmony with orthodox belief. There were no established Christian ministries or celebrity pastors to run to for advice and direction about the message. Instead the people were confronted by a less than historic figure in the person of Paul. The people of the cities knew him as a divisive man who had been stoned, jailed, and beaten because of the strange teachings he proclaimed in their cities. For the Jews, Paul seemed to be trampling on their entire history concerning the Messiah with his contention that Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, was the fulfillment of all the promises. For the majority of the inhabitants, Jesus who ended His life hanging on a Roman cross seemed a poor substitute for the heroic adventures and easy–going life style of the gods they worshipped.
Let’s see what Paul had to work with. He didn’t know Jesus personally as the disciples had known Him, but He had a very real encounter with Him on the Damascus road that changed his life. Through that one supernatural event Paul went from being one of the greatest enemies of Christianity to becoming its greatest defender. He would now make it his life’s calling to proclaim the crucified and risen Jesus as the Savior of both Jew and Gentile.
For the priests, scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees who were not only the spiritual leaders, but also the political power of the nation what Paul preached was heresy. Nothing they understood about the coming Messiah of Scripture fit the life and events of Jesus life. The Messiah would return as a warring King through the line of David and would sweep their enemies before them. Their nation would be restored through the rule of the Messiah to its former glory and prosperity as a witness to the world that they were the true people of God. The Messiah would usher in a reign of peace and prosperity for the entire world with all the nations rejoicing in the wonder and glory of the Messiah who reigned in the Temple at Jerusalem. In light of these expectations proclaiming Jesus as the fulfillment of a thousand years of longings and hopes for the nation was not an easy task.
It was well known that the birth of Jesus was considered dodgy at the best. Mary became pregnant before her marriage to Joseph and in order to cover it up, this teenage mother-to-be concocted a story about being impregnated by the Holy Spirit. And to make matters worse it seemed her poor deluded husband went along with the scheme. If a girl in your community told you a similar story for her pregnancy would you be ready to worship the newborn baby as Divine? The people in Mary’s day were no more willing to accept such a wild explanation than people today would. Many people over the years had contact with Jesus as He grew up, played with their children, and worked in His fathers carpenter shop. He may have been a fine upstanding young man, despite hisstart in life, but He was no Messiah.
The message Jesus proclaimed throughout His life was different from the teachings of the religious leaders. Jesus had almost nothing to say about turning over the social order of the day or freeing the people from Roman rule. Instead He spoke about the Kingdom of God that dwelt within each person who believed and trusted God for his or her redemption. While the wealthy and smug religious leaders looked down on the poor and disadvantaged as people who were under the displeasure of God, Jesus saw them as children of God.
Jesus constant ministry of teaching, healing and proclaiming the need for a personal relationship with God angered the religious establishment who saw their authority and power undermined. Who was this son of a carpenter who commanded no great army or surrounded Himself with thousands of devout followers to proclaim, that He was non other than God Himself? He spoke a funny working class dialect, Aramaic, had no socially acceptable followers, was penniless and wandered the countryside teaching the yokels that they were loved. Yet, for all the reasons the religious leaders had for laughing Him off they recognized something about Him that was different from the scores of so-called Messiahs that travelled throughout the country stirring up trouble. He spoke with authority and called them out for their hypocrisy and arrogance. When He stood in their midst and spoke they felt small and insignificant and being unable to refute His words, they did the one thing that was within their power to do. They turned Him over to the Romans for crucifixion.
During Jesus short three- year ministry the Romans crucified over 30,000 people living in Palestine. In one day they crucified over 800 Pharisees. Herod complained if the Romans didn’t stop slaughtering the people he would have no one to rule over. The reason for this constant reign of terror on the part of Rome was because the Jews were constantly trying to throw off the rule of Rome. They saw themselves as God’s special people and they should be under the rule of the Messiah, not pagan Rome. Men proclaiming to be the Messiah, were everywhere preaching against the Romans, and promising the restoration of the nation to anyone who would follow them. For most people, teaming up with these false Messiahs life turned out badly. One so-called Messiah who history records as, “the Egyptian,” drew thousands of followers out into the wilderness. The Romans fell upon them and killed over four thousand of his followers.
In the midst of these false Messiahs there was a revival of national pride for the Jews. They looked back into their history for inspiration and to escape the Greek influences that were being introduced into their society through the Roman occupation. The people began to name their children after characters from the Exodus and the subjection of the Promised Land. Uprisings and rebellion were constantly in the air and the uneasy truce between Rome and the Jews could be broken at any moment by the smallest of problems. As a result both the political/religious leaders and Rome had a lot to gain by keeping the people under subjection. Peace within the empire, at all costs, was the paradoxical mindset of the Romans and any person who stood in the way would be removed.
Looking back into history we understand why so much time in the Gospels is devoted to the last week of Jesus life along with His death and resurrection. But following Barbara Tuchman’s view of things the death of Jesus must have meant almost nothing to the Romans and the people of Jerusalem. To crucify a suspected subversive was almost an every day occurrence for the Romans and for the populace of Palestine who were celebrating the Passover, most of them probably didn’t even know Jesus death took place.
Jesus was an obscure character from an obscure troublesome part of the Roman Empire. He ministered for a brief period of time and never wrote anything about His ministry. He didn’t change the political system or cause upheaval in the social structure. He didn’t change the thinking of the Roman or spiritual leaders of the day. He didn’t leave behind thousands of adoring fans, in fact the few disciples that He had mostly abandoned Him at His crucifixion. But none of those facts deterred Paul from preaching Jesus message, because he had encountered Jesus personally.
When Paul entered the cities of Galatia there was nothing in the personal story of Jesus that would draw the multitudes to Him. The exact opposite was true, everything about the birth, life and death of Jesus screamed, “stay away,” to self-righteous Jews and Pagans alike. But, there was something about Paul, and the fire that burned within him, for the message of Christ, that attracted people to listen. And when they listened, just as the Pharisees listened to Christ, the message rang true. What Paul was asking them to do was not easy. He was telling them that their traditions and cherished beliefs were wrong, and without the hope of salvation that only came through Jesus, they would perish. But, for every person who believed in Jesus, as his or her personal savior salvation was given to them freely. According to Paul’s message people no longer had to appease the gods to earn favor. God came to earth in the person of Christ, and died as their substitute that they could freely have forgiveness from their sins and the guilt of their sins. They were free in Christ.
For the Jews who heard the message, it must have been confusing. On one hand to believe they were free from the over six hundred rules alone that surrounded the law was wonderful news. But, how could this be possible? Were the teachers wrong? Were the traditions of the elders and the assurances of the High Priest of no matter? Were the festivals and celebrations of their nation for nothing? Were all the hopes and dreams concerning the role of the Messiah a mistake? Could this uneducated man from Galilee who the Romans hung on a cross really be God, and could this itinerate preacher really have the power to reveal the will of God to them?
For Jews to believe in Christ meant turning against all they believed in, and the rejection of their very culture. The big question that must have been in the back of their mind was, what if they were wrong?
Yet, in spite of everything people from the cities of Galatia accepted Paul’s teachings concerning Christ and the church was established based on the free grace of God. Prejudices were set aside and the people clasped ahold of the love of God that was poured out for them through Calvary. When Paul finally moved on to new mission fields he left behind good friends and devoted Christians. How quickly, over a period of a few months, everything was to change.
Think It Through
If you lived in the time of Christ do you think you could have turned your back on your traditions and beliefs to follow a man called Jesus who you probably never even heard preach? Do you think a beat-up, ill and tired out preacher like Paul could have convinced you to become a Christian? Remember, it is not just a matter of dropping one belief and picking up another, you would face persecution and possible death for that decision.
To step into the world of the Galatians is to step into our own world. The Galatians trusted Paul and accepted his teachings, but their traditions and culture were always there probing away at their resolution. When new teachers showed up teaching the traditions, how much easier was it to go back to their safe old ways than continue on this dangerous path with Jesus? After all who was Paul in comparison to teachers who claimed to know men like Peter and John? Legalism always offers an easy way out. After all how much easier is it to rely on doing a few good deeds to earn merit with God, rather than loving your neighbor as yourself? As Christians, just like the Galatians, we are tempted to add works to the grace of God just in case. Fortunately for us, Paul would have none of this, and made it abundantly clear what he thought about legalism and the people who taught it in his letter to the Galatians. When we read this amazing book we are pounded with the teaching of Grace alone. There is no room for works of the law as a method of salvation. We are free in Christ, and we must live as free men and women, and never go back into slavery to a works based religion. That was the message to the legalistic prone Galatians, and it is God’s message for us today. We are saved by the grace of God, period.