Faith as a resource to guide us through difficult decisions, a light to illuminate the moral choices we must make, and a helping hand to look up to the Lord who loves us and cares what happens to us is sadly neglected in most religious teaching. Galatians gently removes our dependence on the law and establishes faith as our primary communication link with God. It shows itself to be a functional effective voice, speaking our heart's message to God and his to us. Never had I appreciated the faith of Jesus Christ as I have since writing this series.
The pervasive spirit of legalism infects the saints more often than perhaps any other error Satan has used to disrupt the household of faith throughout the centuries. Although many New Testament writings forcefully deal with this subject, Galatians goes into greater depth than any. It illustrates the practical and the doctrinal or theological issues which legalism will breed.
We often notice a legalistic spirit in others and bemoan the horrors it engenders. However, our vision dims at the thought of such a spirit within ourselves. Although this series examines a book written in the First Century to a group of early churches, I sincerely hope we can all use it as an opportunity for self-examination. Have we permitted areas of our lives to become more controlled by legalism than by the person of Jesus Christ?
Is Jesus our Lord, or Moses? That is the issue of Galatians and of this work. On the mount of transfiguration Peter wanted to build three altars, one to Moses or the law, one to Elijah or the prophets, and one to Christ. His intentions were quite good, but his scheme was flawed. The voice which answered Peter from heaven reminded him, and us, that for laws or prophecies Jesus Christ is all-sufficient. "This is my beloved Son. Hear him." Do you want to know what is right or wrong in a particular matter? Hear him, for he speaks with more personal insight to your need than Moses possibly could. Do you want to know more about biblical prophecy? Hear him, for he speaks from the perspective of eternity. His knowledge is not bound or limited by time.
Please remember as you read that my purpose in this work is not to condemn Moses or the law which God revealed on Mt. Sinai. As Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, "The law is holy, and just, and good." This work faults neither Moses nor the law, when considered in the perspective and time for which God instituted it. This writing is not antinomian, against the law. It is for Christ! The spirit of antinomianism rejects the law in order to justify self-indulgence and sin. Such a spirit is no friend of Jesus Christ. It is his enemy! If you name the name of Christ with sincere reverence, he requires that you depart from iniquity, not excuse it.
Do the teachings of Christ ever conflict with the law of Moses? Never! In all points they honor the moral perfection which God inspired Moses to include in the law. More to the heart of the issue is this. The teachings of Christ support the same moral truth, but they do so with more depth, more insight, and more personal application than the law. As the Word of God, Jesus Christ represents both the morality of the law and the personality and compassion of God, something the law could not do.
How do I know what Jesus teaches? What is the will of God for my life? You may easily discover the answer to both questions by conducting a prayerful, sincere study of scripture. The final revelation of God's will is incorporated in those writings. All matters are to be examined by that Book, and all conduct, opinions, and theological beliefs are to be tested by its content.
The corrupting tendency of legalism is to supplement the Bible with other authority, other writings or traditions. The Pharisees continually added their binding interpretations to the Old Testament until those writings made up several tons of books, even using modern printing methods. Ever so gradually, they considered those writings to be just as binding as the Old Testament itself. Despite all these volumes, Jesus underscored the fallacy of legalism by suggesting, "Go and learn what it means, I will have mercy and not sacrifice." In all the legalistic burdens they had imposed, they missed the most important reality of God's law. In their hands it became the sword to kill the sacrifice (And the sacrifice was a human life sincerely burdened down, but seeking the way of God.), but in God's hand it was balm to heal the wounds of heavy legalistic burdens. Whether we idolize writings from the past, especially those golden ages which produced outstanding Christians, or church practices which are often only 150 or 200 years old, any idol is a false idol which God despises. Any authority which commands our loyalty other than the one which reveals Jesus Christ is a false authority, normally taking the form of a legalistic burden for the Christian to carry upon a back already heavy with the burdens of life. What the family of God needs is not another burden, but more insight into the relief and joy of sincere discipleship. Jesus Christ does nor represent another burden on the Christian's tired shoulders; he lifts those burdens and relieves the Christian. Regardless of its many forms and manifestations, legalism transforms Christ into a burden, coldly demanding conformity and obedience to the rules and regulations it invents as substitutes or replacements for the truth of Jesus Christ.
May this study help us understand the legalist within ourselves more fully, and may it then help us appreciate the liberty with which Christ has set us free. Christian liberty never felt so good or looked so beautiful as when we experience deliverance from the legalist within. Far from creating a license to sin, it reveals Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives more beautifully than we ever saw through the shadowed images of the law. In such heavenly light the love of godliness grows and produces the fruit of the Spirit. This, my friends, is the rich soil of the land which flows with milk and honey.
Joseph R. Holder
17262 Cold Spring Circle
Riverside, California 92503
Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Ga 1:3-5.
The contemporary religious world makes much of the New Testament Philippian letter. Everyone claims to live in the Philippian spirit, demonstrating the unselfish, caring mind of Christ. No one admits to boasting in the flesh; that would dishonor the Philippian tradition. Nor will people boast of living out the Galatian spirit. But when you weigh actions instead of words, most of us, including those who spend so much time talking of the Philippian experience, live most of our lives in the Galatian neighborhood. At the core, we carry a deep-rooted tendency to be legalists, to justify self and hide behind a body of laws to confirm our claim. Be it Moses' law or a legalized version of the gospel, legalism is an enemy to the life of discipleship as set forth in scripture.
The clarion cry of biblical discipleship is not a revised Mosaic legalism; it is the personal warm "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him." Biblical Christianity can only be one thing, a deep commitment to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Does discipleship have form and structure to it? Yes! Does it require that we refrain from certain things which are wrong? Yes! Does it compel us to certain positive activities which are right? Yes! However, at the core, it is not these rules and forms which constitute authentic Christianity. It is the living vitality of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without the resurrected Christ, no amount of rules will produce authentic Christian living. In fact they will destroy it. Interestingly, those who have experienced a sense of personal relationship and affiliation with Jesus are the most moral people you meet.
Throughout Galatians, we will repeatedly observe the incomparable superiority of the Spirit over the flesh, of faith over legalism, of mature sons over servants and minor children, of the promises over the law, and of Christian liberty over legalistic bondage. As in Romans, we will often learn from Abraham's example of faith. A thorough investigation of this book and its teachings will do much to liberate us to serve our living Savior more freely and more joyfully.
A person's ideas about eternal things will impose a profound image on his conduct in time, especially toward his fellow-man. The more a person understands the sovereignty of God and his need of a Savior, the less critical and judgmental he will be toward others. And the more a person believes that his own works contribute to his eternal salvation, the more he will tend to be arrogant and condescending toward any who do not agree with him. This is the manifestation of the Galatian spirit. As the spirit of carnality and pride invade every facet of our society more deeply, we will experience ever-increasing difficulties with it in the church. While the church is not of the world, it is in the world, and its members will pick up much of the contemporary world's philosophical dust and dirt, often wearing that dirt to church and giving it a place of influence in their actions.
Galatians may just be the most practical, to-the-point book in the New Testament, for, regardless of the time or the culture in which we live, we must cope with a legalistic coldness within ourselves and others every day. The trademark of the legalist is criticism of others and self-justification. Paul's emphasis of the authority for his apostleship in the first verse suggests that the legalists who were responsible for unrest in Galatia may have thrown a discrediting slur at Paul. "You know, he is a late arrival. When Christ was on earth, where was Paul? Why he wasn't even with us on the day of Pentecost. What do you think those persecuted Christians like Stephen would think, if they knew he was pretending to be an apostle?" This would explain Paul's opening words, "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead."
In the truth taught by Paul, Christ was the last sacrifice, for he satisfied every requirement God had for sin. Without him and that completed work, where could we go? Some say that our theology really doesn't matter, so long as we sincerely do what we believe to be right. I want to be the last person to diminish the significance of sincerity, for there is far too little of it in the world. May I offer a different view on the practical implications of our theology. A person's basic theology will impose a rigid caste on how he reacts to and treats others.
Did God ever give a law, which we could keep and gain eternal life? This letter addresses that question. How does the preaching we hear at church relate with our experience? Is there a conflict between the law and grace? What is the purpose of faith in the Christian experience? What is Christian liberty? What does the Bible teach about the manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Where does the law of sowing and reaping apply? All of these questions, and more, will be answered in this book. May God bless its message to our need.
Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father. Ga 1:4.
There are several verses throughout the Bible which function as a wide-angle telescopic lens. They encompass the whole of the gracious work of God in one sweeping panoramic view. When we realize the profundity of truth they contain, we feel almost breathless at the magnitude embodied in such a few words. This verse represents just one of those magnificent views of the gospel message. It is fitting that Paul included it in a message to a group of churches who had lost their view of this very truth, replacing it with an artificial dependence on their own performance under the law.
Every truth of the gospel locates the Lord Jesus Christ at the hub of the doctrine, like the hub of a wheel which holds all the spokes and carries the whole mechanism smoothly on its way. If we substitute anything else for that hub, the whole system looses its balance, beauty and function, like a wheel whose hub is not in the center of the wheel. When I was a youngster, my father told me how in his youth he made toy wagons from trees. I kept begging until he finally made a replica for me. We bought unfinished, rough-cut lumber for the frame and cut down a hickory tree for the axles and wheels. The wheels were two-inch slices off the tree trunk. Although we took pains to drill the hole in the center of the wheel, the wheel itself was not exactly round, so when I pulled the wagon, it reeled from side to side on those uneven wheels. I spent one whole summer enjoying that marvelous toy. However, if I had wanted to make it a functional wagon, I would definitely have needed to round out the wheels. So many sincere people surrender to a religious system which attempts to put something other than Jesus Christ at the hub of their doctrine. They try to make it work and look good, but when they depend on it to carry the load of life, it reels back and forth, causing as much distress as the problems they try to put on it. Such was the case with the Galatian churches. They had substituted their obedience to the law for the Lord Jesus Christ. This problem is at the heart of the entire message Paul wrote to them. He covered timely, practical issues, and he covered eternal issues, through it all, showing the utter deficiency of their substitute theology.
Periodically, we would do well to evaluate what is at the center of our religious thinking. Is our thinking really focused on Jesus, or have we settled for something a little off-center which can't really carry the load when the going gets rough? Have we loaded our burdens onto a cart which fails to smooth out the rough spots? Remember the cart which returned the ark of the covenant from the Philistines to Israel. What happened when the cart reeled and the young man reached out to steady the ark? May we not allow ourselves to put our religious energy in a cart which calls for our own hand to steady the purpose of God.
Who gave himself for our sins. This is not a conditional statement, but a factual conclusion! The work of Jesus Christ was not performed on a contingency or supplemental basis. He didn't simply die to make salvation available or within reach of the sinner. Our sins loomed between us and God, holding us at a guilty, condemned distance from him. Jesus didn't die on the cross merely to show good intentions that he would assist us in removing that guilty mass of sins. He gave himself for our sins. Without Christ all the vile sins of our lives fill the massive distance between us and God. We are justly condemned. With him all the sins, every one of them, were removed, and now the only thing between us and God is Jesus Christ himself! That, my friends, is the true significance of the whole book of Galatians.
That he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father. All of this marvelous achievement is in perfect harmony with the will of God. That he might is not a wishful statement. It is a logical, certain conclusion, because Jesus gave himself for our sins. As certainly as he gave himself, he will deliver those for whom he died. Notice the will which makes the difference in this verse. Most theology builds on the decisions and desires of the sinner's will. This Bible lesson builds the whole of salvation on the will of God the Father! Our will is often frustrated and our purposes defeated, but God's will is certain and will achieve its purpose without the least compromise.
Why would anyone who had known the wondrous truth of God's will and the accomplishments of our Lord Jesus Christ ever want to leave that beautiful comforting reality for a system which tenuously builds an uncertain future on man's obedience to the law? That incredible mystery is the basis for Paul's frequent remarks of astonishment throughout the book. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed." "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?"
Before dealing with the problems in Galatia, Paul renewed the foundational truth of the gospel message for these ambivalent Galatians. He established once again the simple reality which forms the basis for a message of good news and glad tidings, a happy gospel from a happy God. Can you imagine the challenge for a legalist to set forth the basic premise of his whole dependence on the law in one simple sentence such as this? Human nature loves a complicated machine with lots of whistles, bells and mysterious parts. Never mind whether it is a dependable machine or not. It must be complex, impressive. If we helped design it and if it depends on us to keep it running, we think it is a wonderful machine. The Galatian gospel, unreliable as it is, lives on, but the wonders of the grace of God will prevail!
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel. Ga 1:6.
There is a quality of unbelief in this verse. In comparing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ with the legalistic gospel to which the Galatians had moved, Paul must have scratched his head and thought, "I can't believe this!" In discussing the beauty of the gospel with those who did not know of its comfort and wisdom, I have often heard the comment, "That's too good to be true. I just can't believe it's that simple." We should remember that Paul feared for the Corinthians' corruption from the "Simplicity that is in Christ Jesus." Philosophical, cosmopolitan cultures don't like a simple effective package of anything. It must challenge their imagination with complexities and contingencies. They want to have their hands on the control and direct the outcome. Although a legalized gospel fits this culture quite comfortably, such is not the native soil of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Many of the religious controversies which have passed through the limelight over the centuries were not at all original to those who propagated them. Either they formed the fiber of thought which distinguished opposition and rejection of the teachings of the apostles themselves in the First Century of Christianity, or they simply restated those original truths. John Calvin did not originate the idea that salvation was by grace, not works. Martin Luther did not initiate the truth that faith is a better rule of life than the law. Galatians establishes both doctrines.
Salvation by works, popular with man, greeted the apostles in the very infancy of the church. Study Ac 15. In verse 1 we read, "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." This notion, only slightly modified, forms the bedrock for most Twentieth Century preaching. Simply fill in the blank with each preacher's preference and bias, "Except ye be _____________________, ye cannot be saved." Was this the accepted doctrine of the apostles or the early church? More importantly, was it the teaching of Christ and inspired scripture? You need not leave that chapter to find the answer. Look at the very next verse. "When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." No small dissension and disputation. These words suggest that Paul and Barnabas considered this teaching a vital threat to the gospel they had preached. How could they make their objection to such a thought more obvious? What was the conclusion of the "Apostles and elders" at Jerusalem? Read the entire message, but especially Peter's crisp response in verses 10 and 11, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." Tempting God, putting a yoke on the neck of disciples, these are not the words of a man endorsing and supporting a doctrine! It was soundly rejected! How is the sinner saved? Jew or Gentile, both are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. How could anyone who had tasted the sweetness of the gospel message be enticed to forsake it for a legalized gospel? Paul was amazed at the conduct of these Galatian churches.
The lesson emphasizes another distinction between the true gospel and the many legalized substitutes. "So soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel." There is a glaring contrast between faith in the person of Jesus Christ and faith in a particular system of belief. Perhaps the most significant mark of genuine discipleship is an unqualified love for, and faith in, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is not simply another set of laws or another philosophical concept. At the core, it is personal belief in, and dedication to, the Lord Jesus Christ. Now look at the mark of the false gospel, "Another gospel." It's just another system of philosophical thought, a challenging, but faceless, concept. The office and person of Jesus Christ, the Jesus Christ of inspired New Testament writing and of true Christian experience, is mysteriously absent from the legalized gospel. Oh, he is mentioned with impressive lip-service, but the essential Christ is absent, replaced by a system of "Do this and don't do that to earn you eternal crown."
It was the fundamental integrity of the body of Christ, a specific, chosen, living body, which caused such a harsh rejection of the words of Christ in Joh 6. Begin at Joh 6:60, "Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?" Joh 6:65 focuses the objectionable thought, "And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father." The vital lordship of Christ, the sovereignty of God in the salvation of the sinner, is as objectionable in our age as it was when spoken by the Lord himself!
This tendency of disciples to forsake the simple truth of the person and the certain accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ was a marvel to Paul. He couldn't understand it. Why would these Galatians do such a thing? What moved them to such folly? We can learn much from Galatians.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. Ga 1:6-7.
"Everyone has a right to his opinion," represents the prevailing voice in religious circles. If the subject were politics or the weather, certainly the statement would be true, and anyone who sought to interfere would be labeled a bigot. If the statement referred to civil liberty of religious conscience, that government is not empowered to dictate religious conviction, it would apply with equal justice. However, when applied to the absolute truth of God, the issue is not, first or last, decided by anyone's opinion! It is a matter of God's truth! In Ro 3:4 Paul wrote, "Let God be true, but every man a liar." Without question the final word on what God is and how he works is God's, not someone's opinion. Either our opinion agrees with God, or we are wrong!
Another which is not another is quite enlightening. The first occurrence of the word another was translated from the Greek heteros, different, the root for such words as heterogeneous, heterosexual. The second word was translated from a word which implies something not of the same quality or kind. That all the diverse teachings of the day are simply so many perceptions of the same truth also fails the test of this lesson. What the false teachers taught to deceive the Galatian churches was no part of the gospel of Jesus Christ! It was a different gospel which was alien to the gospel Paul had taught them. In his commentary on this verse Bishop John Lightfoot wrote, "A vain attempt, for the Gospel perverted is no Gospel at all."
Salvation by grace and by works are not simply two limited perceptions of the same deeper truth. One is the truth and one is not! Reincarnation and resurrection are not compatible beliefs. One is paganism and one is God's revealed truth! Salvation by Moses' law, or by any principle of law and works, is not the truth. It is a perverted gospel, a corrupted mutation of the stellar truth of Jesus Christ. When people finally understand that salvation in the Old Testament was not by keeping Moses' law, they might better grasp that salvation in the New Testament is not by works! Old Testament or New Testament, "Salvation is of the Lord!" Jon 2:9.
When Paul laid the foundation for the truth he taught in verse 4, he drew an impressive contrast. Before the work of Christ was applied to the heart, the distance between us and God was filled with sins, our own personal sins. The whole distance was saturated with corrupted moral decay. Then Jesus gave himself for our sins, and we now see another scene. The whole distance between us and God now is occupied by Jesus Christ, every moral space. He is the only thing between us and God. If this is the way of salvation, the legalized gospel cannot be a version of the same truth; it is a perversion, a different gospel altogether.
While we must certainly allow for non-essential differences which mere mortals cannot fully penetrate, the Bible is too clear on the major issues to leave any doubt. The Godhood of Jesus Christ, the distinctive and effectual results of his death on the cross, salvation by grace, not works, and the resurrection. Such doctrines as these are not left to the liberty of private interpretation. Inherent in the open-minded interpretation and quite common in contemporary religious thought is the idea that the Bible is too obscure, too ambiguous to allow any distinctive beliefs whatever on the basis of its language. Being broad-minded relates intimately to the "Broad way," and it does not lead to functional discipleship. It leads to the death of the Christian witness, the spiritual salt of its owner.
If there is one distinctive truth about the teachings of Jesus Christ, it is that his teachings have form and substance. How can one read Mt 23, and conclude that he was ecumenical at any price? Yet we should remember that, to those who sincerely sought him and his ways, he was the kindest of men. The Bible draws a clear distinction between the sincere, but mistaken, disciple and the informed deceiver. So should we! Paul was merciless in his condemnation of the propagators of this false gospel in Galatia. While he was obviously disappointed in the shallowness of the Galatians, he reached out loving, though firm, hands to help them recover. This is an important discrimination for us to make in our treatment of those who may not agree with us. The informed, but calculating, deceiver is rejected without hesitation. The deceived follower should be embraced, nudged, admonished, and patiently instructed back to the path of true gospel service to the Lord Jesus.
Many years ago, I heard a preacher boast that he had preached a complete sermon to a church and made them think he was teaching a doctrine they believed. In fact, he was deceitfully laying the foundation to lead them away from the very doctrine they thought he had taught. At that moment this man destroyed all the respect and confidence I had for him. Scripture teaches preachers to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, but they are not at liberty to be duplicitous! A charlatan may occasionally fill the pulpit, but God does not lend his blessing to the matter! We need to "Buy the truth, and sell it not."
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Ga 1:8-9.
Who determines truth? A conference of preachers and churches? Never! Even history and old confessions of faith cannot absolutely settle the matter. God through his revealed will, the Bible, always has the last word. Periodically, those who study church history become fascinated by a certain historic era or a particular religious leader of the past. This fascination often exerts excessive influence on the admirer, sometimes convincing him that all the idiosyncracies of belief and practice of that time are absolute truth, equal in authority and purity with the Bible. This is a monumental mistake! Neither history nor any particular group of people since Christ and the inspired apostles are infallible. Be they the simple Anabaptists of pre-Reformation times or the Puritans of England, they cannot supplant the Bible as God's final word of truth.
The London Confession of Faith of 1689, first adopted by several Baptist churches in the London area, England, in 1643, while serving as a notable historic document, did not pretend to replace the Bible as the authority for our faith. Chapter 1, Article 10 of the Confession states, "The supreme Judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scriptures delivered by the Spirit, into which Scriptures so delivered our faith is finally resolved." In Chapter 20, History of the Church of God, Hassell wrote, "Confessions of Faith have not been held by Baptists as absolutely necessary, either. Their Confession of Faith is the Bible. Their Articles or Creed are in that blessed book. They need nothing better and nothing else for their guidance."
This reliance on God and his word, first, last, and always, was the landmark of the Apostle Paul's statement in our lesson. Writing under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, not simply stating a personal bias, Paul observed that teaching any other gospel than that which God revealed in his word brings with it a Divine anathema, a curse from God. Paul was not cantankerous or narrow-minded here. He simply honored the foundational truth that God does not leave the forming of his opinion or the determination of his purpose and methods to the bias and philosophy of man. Implied first in this lesson is that God has a definite way of looking at things, eliminating the option for man to negotiate an alternate view. Secondly, the lesson distinctly builds on the premise that this truth is revealed and knowable by the God-fearing Bible student. There is no excuse for such a gross departure as the Galatians had committed. Even an angel in heaven could not be permitted such action. Perhaps the angel illustration is intentional. Angels are in a position to know better. So are Christians, church members and preachers. The truth of God is within mental reach and comprehension. Failure to grasp it is without excuse!
The legalistic spirit does not stop at the notion of eternal salvation by works. It manifests itself in every quarter and in every disciple's life. The minute we set ourselves up as judge and jury, justifying ourselves and condemning all who fail to agree with us, we have subscribed to another gospel, and God will not approve. As we study through Galatians, we will learn that much of the book examines the behavioral implications of the legalist's spirit. Perhaps more legalists hide in the Book of James than in any single book of the New Testament, but that book holds no refuge for the legalist, "There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" Jas 4:12. Are we judges or disciples of the Lord Jesus? Where is our joy? In searching out minuscule faults in others and publicizing them with self-justifying zeal? In criticizing any who do not agree with us as blind idiots who departed from the faith we are perfectly guarding? Do we think, as Elijah did in the cave, that without us, God would have no true witness on the earth? Then we need to repent and learn from the Galatian epistle.
There is something sacred and solemn in this lesson. The bulwarks of God's truth are established on eternal bedrock. Are we in step with them or blindly deceiving ourselves? Have we become like the praying Pharisee in Lu 18:9? "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." Notice the spirit of this man. He was like the Galatians! Neither trusted in God, but in themselves. Now examine verse 11, "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself." Prayed with himself? What can this mean? Does it not suggest that he thought he was his own God? That he was actually going through a very pious form of temple worship, while he was, in fact, committing sacrilege, idol worship? Was he not worshipping himself? The legalist usually does worship self! Behind the facade of laws and piety, the true object of worship is not God, but self. Perhaps this is the reason Paul was so severe in his pronouncement of a Divine curse on all who preached a perverted gospel, a gospel which, despite using the right words and forms, really set up a false god in the minds of those who were deceived by it. God alone deserves the worship and reverence of the believer. May we settle for none less as the object or our worship!
For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. Ga 1:10.
What is the ultimate objective of the preacher? Is it to convince men to accept the ways of God, or is it to convince God to change his ways toward man? Paul's language here raises the idea that some, perhaps those whose perverted gospel had deceived the Galatians, actually thought they could persuade God to change his eternal purpose. Is it possible for us to be so convincing as to cause God to reconsider his purpose and work? Can we gain agreement with the "In" group of Christians, preachers, or churches and cause God to alter his course? Remember, scripture says, "But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth," Job 23:13. Think, too, of Mal 3:6, "For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." In reflection on these and other verses which declare God's essential godhood, how can anyone think that God can be so fickle, but remain God? It's hard, isn't it?
If you listen carefully to a man when he is preaching, you will soon discover what he thinks his mission is. Is he trying to get man to negotiate with God, effectively preaching an inviolable man and a plastic, changeable God? What is the routine teaching today about man's free will? How often do you hear, "God cannot violate man's free will, but he wants ......" Implied in this thought is the idea that sinful man violates the will of God every day he lives, but God cannot violate man's will. After hearing this kind of teaching for a while, one begins to ask, "Who really is God, anyway? Man or God?"
The lesson further proceeds with convincing logic to its natural resolution. "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" points our minds to the most fundamental idea in our religious activity. Who is our master? Who do we really want to please? Paul quite effectively pierced the Galatian armor in a vulnerable spot. They talked loudly about being right with God, but spent all their time trying to please men! Conspicuous inconsistency! The word servant is here translated from a common word which literally means a slave. It may be voluntary or involuntary, but the position is that of a slave. Who does the slave seek to please? If he is a wise slave, he will work at pleasing his master! In Ro 6:16 Paul repeated the same message with impressive simplicity, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey." Here he leads the Romans all the way to the final detail. When you identify the person to whom you surrender or obey, you have just named your master, and you are the slave. If you yield a slave's obedience, then you are that person or power's slave, plain and simple.
The problem at Galatia would be laughable were it not so serious a matter. The Galatians egotistically called themselves the "True servants of God," but fell all over themselves to please their new-found human masters. This was tantamount to being one master's slave while claiming to be another's. Neither master will be pleased in the end.
If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. Notice the wording carefully. He did not say, "I cannot be," or "I will not be." He said, "I should not be the servant of Christ." The point was simple to Paul, painful to the Galatians. While pleasing men, they claimed to be Christ's servants. Paul said, "If you please men, don't claim to be Christ's servant. Claim your real master!" I should please the man who is my master. If Christ is my master, then I should please him. These Galatians wanted to think that they were the servants of Christ, but their actions proved otherwise. By action they were obviously the servants of the false teachers who had so "Bewitched" their minds. More than anything, they wanted to please those men who had captivated their minds.
Is it possible that we live too close to this neighborhood? Do we spend all our emotions and energies to make a good impression, to please some man or woman? Then when someone asks us if we are Christians, the servants of Christ, we immediately tell them how much we love God and seek to please him. The question Paul asked the Galatians might just someday awaken us in the middle of the night? "Who is really Lord of your life?" If you are serious about being Christ's servant, how much are you willing to give up in the eyes of people around you? Does it sting when someone looks down on you for your faith? What do you do? Maintain your faith or begin convincing them that your faith is not as important as you had thought?
The issue in this lesson is not that getting along with reasonable people is a sin. Nor does it teach that you cannot please God and maintain harmonious relationships with others. Many malcontents justify their unkind, unbiblical spirit behind this facade, but God does not approve of such folly. Being the servant, literally, the slave, of men means essentially placing man ahead of God in our priorities. Given the opportunity to conciliate man or God, the "Man-pleaser" will choose the path toward man and excuse or justify his conduct before God. This sounds too similar to the record of Ge 3, where Adam placed Eve above God and ate the forbidden fruit; then attempted to justify his conduct before God. The issue at the heart of the lesson is this. Who do you really worship? Who is indeed your god? Does your mouth claim one god, while your feet serve another?
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. Ga 1:11-12.
Authority and source of the message preached is key to its truthfulness and reliability. Although many messages do not live up to their potential, a message will never rise above its source, nor have more power than its authority. Faced with the typical legalists' innuendos questioning his authenticity and authority, Paul addressed the challenge directly. The gospel they heard under his teaching was not a contrived message, conformed to human standards or expectations. God didn't intend it to please carnal appetites. He had not received it from Peter or John, nor did he learn it from his extensive education while in the "Jew's religion." Although the gospel message is not the least anti-intellectual, Paul recognized that his knowledge was not derived from others who knew the message before him. He would have none of a "Second-hand gospel."
By the revelation of Jesus Christ, leaves no question as to the source of Paul's gospel. Ac 9 tells about Christ's revelation of himself to Paul on the Damascus road. From this chapter, enhanced by his repetition of the experience in Ac 22 and Ac 26, we learn numerous significant truths about Paul's revelation. First, it was not the product of a long tedious mental struggle; it was sudden, literally, unexpected. At the time of the revelation Paul was not engaged in an extensive study of Old Testament prophecies and their theological implications; he was engaged in a zealous persecution of Christians. The light and the voice which confronted him were the last thing he expected! We also learn that Jesus told him what he was to do and what his mission and message were to be. Especially in the account recorded in Ac 26:16-20, the extent of the Lord's revelation to Paul is documented, "For I have appeared unto thee for this purpose."
We often hear or read of Bible teachers shunning Paul's writings under the guise that he was prejudiced against women, that he was too severe in his theology, or that he was too deep and mysterious. Isn't it interesting that nearly two thousand years has revealed no change in the legalist's tactics? If a mere man can, by the sweep of his hand, remove nearly one third of the New Testament, what security can he offer for the remainder of the book? In 2Pe 3:15-16, Peter specifically named Paul's teachings and lovingly endorsed them as words of wisdom, but words which the unlearned and unstable twist out of joint to their own destruction. Paul's message was the authentic gospel! He built it on the right foundation, a revelation from Jesus Christ. It was the true account of God's grace to man. Paul successfully exposed these legalistic disturbers of the spiritual peace for what they were.
In Eph 3:1-12 we read Paul's enlarged statement of his revelation and the content of the message which was revealed to him. Frequently, preachers assert that God has revealed some particular thing to them. When examined under the scrutiny of scripture, their assertion fails, for it contradicts the express message of scripture. God will not reveal contradictory messages to anyone. His revelation in every age is compatible and true. In Eph 3 Paul built his revelation on the consistent foundation of Old Testament prophecies.
How can we validate the truth or error of a man's claim to revelation? How can we know for ourselves what the truth really is? In Eph 3:4 we find the fundamental rule of all revelations and all doctrines asserted by any man. "Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ." How does understanding come? No doubt, God continues to reveal himself to his people, but the essential quality of indisputable revelation, its inclusion in scripture, does not occur today. Our revelation comes in direct correspondence to reading the scriptures. "When ye read, ye may understand." Do you want to know what Christ revealed to Paul? Read his writings in scripture! Do you want to know what a real revelation of Jesus Christ is? "Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things," 2Ti 2:7. How do we gain this knowledge? Consider, weigh carefully and prayerfully what Paul wrote in scripture! Then the Lord give thee understanding. This message is especially meaningful, for it spoke to a young preacher in the generation of the church which was to succeed Paul. Rather than appeal to the perpetual continuation of this special revelation, Paul urged young Timothy to study his writings for understanding from the Lord. We gain understanding today in the same way!
In 1Co 11:23 and 1Co 15:3 we find definitive records of Paul's revelation, for in these verses we find unique information not otherwise so clearly revealed in scripture about the Lord's Supper and the resurrection. In both examples Paul claimed revelation as the source of his teachings.
Do you want to know more about Christ? Would you like to learn more about Christ's revelation to Paul? Then follow Paul's inspired teachings and read the Bible! Do you want a revelation of Christ and his glory? Then solemnly weigh what Christ directed Paul to write, and Paul assured you that the Lord would give you understanding. Would you like to know more about the mind of Christ? You can know what God's truth is, and Paul's writings tell you exactly how to gain the confidence of that knowledge. God bless the revelation he has given of his marvelous grace to the children of men.
Paul, Persecutor To Preacher
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Ga 1:13-17.
How many theological systems correspond to the genuine life experiences of its advocates? So often we see systems of belief which can only survive in the vaporous atmosphere of insulated religion, but, when faced with authentic day to day demands, they evaporate, unable to endure such reality. The gospel Paul preached in church was the same message his feet preached every day he lived. In a time when financial abuse and moral scandal form so much of the public image of many well-known ministries, it becomes painfully obvious that the message of the lips and the message of the feet are woefully incompatible in many who profess faith in Christ. The first step to repentance is confession of the sin, which inherently demands a confession that we are sinners. If our theology cannot deal with that disclosure, then we must seek excuses and justifications to cover the sin. Paul had no such problem. It is fascinating that Paul openly confessed his sins, past and present, yet was undoubtedly one of the most morally upright men who ever lived. In contrast many who proudly deny sin in their lives, are exposed as scandalous sinners.
The power which converted Paul was not simply another human influence; it was God's sovereign power, illustrated in the consistent, dramatic reform we see in his life. No mother's prayers, no evangelist's heated warnings could so fully alter the course of a man's life. The only explanation is that he was changed from the marrow out by the sovereign grace of God, a change which imposed itself on the conduct of his life, as it does on the life of all who experience that same grace. Notice the catalyst which changed his life, "But when it pleased God." He didn't attribute the change to his decision, to that preacher in Damascus who first took him by the hand with the loving "Brother Saul." The change in Paul's life was not by the will of man, not even Paul's will, but by the good pleasure of God. The same God who separated him from his mother's womb, his natural birth, was the God who called him by grace and revealed Christ in him. Only God's sovereign grace can touch the sinner's case! And only God's law written in the heart can reform and mold a new moral code in the life of the chief sinner.
Upon experiencing this change, Paul was lead into a remote region to learn what God intended for his future. When a young man desires to enter a particular ministry today, he commonly seeks out population centers and large universities. When God intends to use a man mightily, he sends him to a quiet isolated area, suited to tune the life to his melody. Consider Paul's experience related here or Moses' forty years in the wilderness. Many years ago, a young minister asked me what books I would recommend that he study. I replied, "Spend at least five years with your Bible, a good dictionary, and a good concordance. Then you'll be ready for any book you care to read." I have one whole wall of my study lined with books, most of which I have read or at least scanned. Yet I find myself, after more than thirty years in the ministry, respecting the advice I gave that young man. I learn more helpful truth in the Bible than I have ever found in any other writing. The more I study it, the more I appreciate that it interprets itself better than any commentary or language help on the market. Spend time with God and his word, and you will be prepared for whatever you face.
This lesson does not excuse anyone with a lazy mind who prefers to gain knowledge from sources outside the Bible. Paul's statement of his experience here documents the validity of his apostleship and his inspiration, which the Galatian corrupters had challenged. Scripture directs us to study the Bible for our knowledge, a course which will attract Divine approval and blessing. This practice will honor God in our lives. The alcoholic in Skid-row will quickly tell you that his misfortune was caused by someone else, but the successful executive in the mahogany office will eagerly want to tell you that he is responsible for his own success. It is interesting that Paul had a success story to tell, but he attributed all the success to another, his Lord and Savior! When things go well in our lives, who gets the credit? Do we claim the honor, or do we pass the credit on to the One who opened the doors of opportunity for us, who paved the precarious way before us and protected us from the perils of vicious powers which would have destroyed us?
The pivotal change in Paul's life was the pleasure of God which imprinted the revelation of Christ into his mind and heart. Once that revelation came, his confession was, "I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision," Ac 26:19. I must confess that I am deeply disturbed by those who make their ministry a boast of their disobedience, of their time in "Jonah school." One of my fathers in the ministry described the time when he first felt the convicting grace of God, calling him away from a carnal course of life. He said, "Some would call that an experience of grace; I call it an experience of disgrace!" Like Paul, his boast was not in himself, but in his God and his God's sovereign grace.
Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. Ga 2:1-2.
God's crucible is slow, but it is ever so effective! In Ga 1, Paul mentioned that he spent an unspecified time in Arabia. Then he reported a three year delay before he met Peter in Jerusalem. Finally, in our study verse he documented a fourteen year lapse before his next Jerusalem visit. We can easily reconstruct nearly twenty years of Paul's life during which he only visited Jerusalem two times. Jerusalem was the hub of the First Century Church. Why should one of the apostles, albeit born out of season, almost seem to avoid Jerusalem? We may engage in endless speculation, but it is clear that he avoided the place, and it seems equally clear that the Lord directed him to other quarters. The Lord was as surely guiding him as he was the apostles and that early church in Jerusalem. His ministry was being blest, he was following a Divinely ordered course, accompanied by God's power and grace.
Had Paul wished to follow the logical course, he would have rushed from Damascus after his miraculous experience and sought to become an understudy of the apostles. That was not God's way. Had he followed the sensible path, he would have worked at gaining immediate approval of the apostles and the Jerusalem Church. Not so. Evidently, some in the Jerusalem Church were more the problem than the solution in Galatia. Although there is no indication that the Jerusalem church was the instigator, Paul does record in Ga 2:12 that certain people came from James to a Gentile community where Peter was preaching and caused the same kind of legalistic confusion which Paul faced in Galatia. Well-meaning honest people can get the wrong impression and spread empty influence far and wide with quite good intentions. However, we need to learn that good intentions do not make a wrong position right! Good intentions do not cure faulty theology!
These people, like most legalists, had excellent form, but they had one gigantic problem. Their theology and their practical application were faulty to the core! They may have been sincere, but they were sincerely wrong! Perhaps they were telling all the Galatian Christians that they were teaching exactly what Peter and James taught, that they were doing things exactly the way the Jerusalem Church did things. They could not distinguish form from substance. Although they may have imitated Peter's and James' form, they had lost the substance these men represented, and couldn't tell the difference!
After his Damascus road experience, Paul delayed going to Jerusalem for three years, plus the time of his stay in Arabia. Then his next visit was fourteen years later. Yet the inspired record tells us that the Lord directed his travels. When Paul finally visited Jerusalem, he went "By revelation," by Divine order. Yet he was cautious even then, in particular settings to preach privately to certain of the apostles and early Christians. Why? "Lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." No one could be left to think that he went there to seek or obtain approval of the message he preached. Nor could it be thought that they heard his message, thinking to bless or condemn it by their judgement. This would negate everything Paul had done. The slightest appearance of such a dependency could not be allowed.
Unlike Peter's experience later in this chapter, regardless of the audience, Paul always preached the same message. Among the Gentiles or in the presence of the apostles, he preached the same gospel. When a man preaches with such conviction, it matters not where he preaches. If God supports the preaching, it is the most powerful force on earth, and its message should be encouraged where ever the God who sends it with such force opens the door of opportunity.
When we indulge our legalistic tendencies, we endanger the substance of our testimony in lieu of the empty form. In the mind of the legalist the form itself is the ultimate objective. Never mind what is in the form, or isn't. Is the form right? If not, then to the legalist nothing can be right. And if the form is right, nothing can be wrong. Yes, there is form to the gospel, but the form is only the vehicle for the substance of the gospel. The substance of the gospel is the vital reality, not the form. Whether a man speaks the gospel with the fire of a zealous Paul or with the deliberate, well-thought-out love of the Apostle John, it is the same gospel and comes, regardless of form, with the same dynamic power. No, a man does not have to chant or grunt in cadence to preach effectively. But he must bring with his message the essence, the substance, of the gospel of the grace of God. A church need not use only one particular hymnal, or maintain a certain schedule of meeting times or frequency to be blest. But when it does meet, it must meet with the substance of its Lord Jesus Christ, or it is an impotent form.
The substance of the gospel of Jesus Christ may take on many forms, but retain the unique characteristics of the original substance. You may contain water in a barrel or a bath tub, but it is water, regardless of the form. However, take away the water and try to nourish a thirsty man with the empty barrel. Try to get yourself clean in a bath tub with no water. Do you see the difference between substance and form? What is the essential feature of your religion? Form or substance? Power or profession? May we always know the difference!
But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. Ga 2:3-5.
Especially among the Jews who understood the national roots of the gospel, circumcision was an old and accepted practice. What was wrong with it? Why not continue it in the New Testament church? What constitutes an acceptable deviation in practice? In Ac 16:3 Paul circumcised Timothy, but in this lesson he stubbornly refused to allow Titus to be circumcised. Why? Churches in different areas of the country practice many different customs. Which differences are allowable? Where do we draw the line? Should the church be sensitive to non-members in determining the pattern of non-essential practices? Our lesson is rich in practical truth.
Paul's circumcision of Timothy in Ac 16 was allowed to prevent a damaging criticism from the Jews. It had nothing to do with required church practice. We do well to learn from this lesson, reinforced by 1Co 14:23-25, that our conduct before those outside the church must be considered and cautious. We are not at liberty to ignore actions which are liable to cause offense to that worthy name by which we are called. Since Timothy was half-Jew and since he and Paul were ministering among the Jews, his lack of circumcision represented a potential stumbling block to Jews who might otherwise give heed to their preaching. Paul wisely recorded this experience as an example for us. Which is more important, an insignificant personal issue or gaining someone's ear and heart for the truth? No contest, the gospel is more important.
However, in our lesson from Galatians false brethren entered the church in the spirit of espionage to gain damaging inside information. Once in the church, they attempted to plant seeds of error and discord, demanding that Titus, a Gentile preacher, submit to circumcision. Perhaps they pretended to appeal to consistent practice. After all, Paul had Timothy submit to circumcision. Perhaps they believed in the necessity of circumcision for salvation, like those who confronted Paul and Barnabas in Ac 15.
It is equally interesting that Paul identified their purpose as, "To spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." To have liberty to be circumcised or not, this was beyond the wildest imagination of these legalists. In their minds it must be one way or the other! Straining at gnats is the special talent of a legalist. Of all the things which made the New Testament church different from the Old Testament form of worship, this is perhaps the most distinctive. Although we are certainly not at liberty to violate New Testament teachings, we enjoy a measure of liberty unknown in the Old Testament. The essential guide of the New Testament Christian is not a complex body of laws which we must memorize and painfully follow. Our guide is the person, the living, loving person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul captured this distinction in 2Co 3, where he contrasted the glory of God which shined in the face of Moses, the law, with the glory of God which shines in the face of Jesus Christ. In verse 17 he summed up the difference, "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
That they might bring us into bondage. The legalist cannot tolerate the thought of someone else enjoying liberty. He cannot distinguish liberty from license. To him they are indistinguishable. Therefore, he considers it his highest mission to destroy the liberty of others by bringing them into the same comfortable bondage which enslaves him. What did Paul think of this? "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." Tolerance of this legalistic bondage would have jeopardized the future of the truth in Galatia.
At the heart of this issue is the question of authority. What constitutes authority for our belief about God or what we do? Where can we find solid footing, real authority for our beliefs and actions? To these legalists, what the Jerusalem church believed and did, or rather what they thought it believed and did, was sufficient. There is an interesting feature to the concept of final authority. We can have only one such authority. If it is the Jerusalem Church, the Bible is secondary to Jerusalem. If it is the Puritans or C. H. Spurgeon or a particular confession of faith, they take precedent over the Bible. If it is the church, the church's decision is more important than the Bible. In 1Ti 3:15 Paul taught that the church is the "Pillar and ground of the truth." Unfortunately for the legalist, he did not say that the church is the architect and builder of the truth. The church's role is to be a faithful custodian of truth which is established and grounded in solid Bible authority. When we look to any of these sources, indeed to any source of authority other than the revealed truth of God in scripture, we forsake the authority which he has given.
Many think that the Bible sufficiently teaches the truth on theological matters, but that it is entirely obscure on practical matters. Others reverse the fields and think that the Bible is obscure on theology, but quite clear on practical issues. I believe that in all essential matters of faith and practice, the Bible is both clear and the final authority! May we rest contently with it as our final authority. It defines our liberty!
But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. Ga 2:7-10.
There can be no doubt that the Lord guided Paul to the Gentiles, and we Gentiles should be quite thankful that he did. Despite Paul's rich fruits among the Gentiles, those who came to Galatia opposing him seemed intent on destroying his ministry. His preaching was different from Peter's and John's. He kept company with many questionable characters, an accusation which religious Jews hurled against Christ, as well as Paul. He acted as if Jews and Gentiles were equal in the gospel! A review of the first two chapters of Galatians will strongly suggest that these people accused Paul of holding to a doctrine some way different from the apostles and early Christians at Jerusalem. After almost twenty years in the ministry, Paul made his second trip to Jerusalem, the subject of his discussion here.
Did James, Cephas (Peter), and John find fault with Paul's preaching? This lesson rather indicates that they agreed with Paul. That God had called him to preach among the Gentiles, and form his message wisely to reach them, gave them no concern. Their conclusion was that Paul's ministry was to the Gentiles as theirs was to the Jews. Prevailing over this directional variation in their individual ministries, they perceived the grace of God which was given to Paul and Barnabas.
Did the other apostles allow this kind of difference? Not only allow it, they rejoiced in it! This is the only verse in the Bible to mention the right hand of fellowship. It was not a public assembly, nor was it part of a worship service, but it was most definitely a significant event to Paul. It symbolized their unqualified support of him and his ministry. It also symbolized his equal standing in the faith with them. They did not pass on an ecumenical judgement from the ruling apostles to an inferior convert. They gave Paul the position of an equal in the faith. Isn't that what the right hand of fellowship signifies?
In his three chapter discussion of spiritual gifts, beginning in 1Co 12, Paul offered this marvelous insight, "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." Diversities, the idea is that God himself calls different men into different ministries for different reasons. The diversity itself is of the Lord, the same Spirit. While we must cling to the common doctrine of the Bible, we need to respect the diversities of gifts and applications. A few years ago, a young man who was studying our people extensively asked me after church one Sunday, "I hear you preach, and I read your church papers from all over the country, along with books written by your preachers for the last hundred years. You have no seminary, no headquarters, and no central church government. Yet I see consistent belief throughout. How can this be?" This question was delightful! I responded, "They all have one teacher!" Christian liberty and diversity do not offer a license for each of us to sit down under our own vine and fig tree, believing anything we please. The New Testament explicitly defines Christian liberty and diversity. The diversity of gifts is not contradictory, but complementary, for each unique gift speaks to the same truth from a different perspective.
In Jerusalem the Jews who had been converted from Judaism lived their entire lives under the shadow of structure, of rules and regulations. They likely needed a rather structured culture in the church for their own comfort. That did not mean that the gospel must be presented as quasi-legalism in every place where it was preached, and the Jerusalem leaders, James, Peter and John, understood that practical truth. Much of Paul's ministry was to strong self-sufficient people who had lived their lives without such a tight external structure. Yet when he taught them about the law of God written in their hearts, they knew the moral structure of God's grace and were altogether comfortable and godly in their conduct without such a stringent legalism. This same diversity holds true twenty centuries later. There are some children of God, worthy God-fearing people, whose personality and experience make them more comfortable with a legalistic surrounding. In that setting they live God-honoring lives. More power to them! At the same time there are others whose personality is stifled by such an external legalized structure. They are well equipped with a strong moral and spiritual structure within. They, too, live God-honoring lives.
The voice of wisdom, like those three men in Jerusalem, recognizes both situations and praises God for his grand diversity. So should we. So long as one type of disciple does not seek to impose their personal needs or preferences on the other type, God is honored in both quarters. However, if one group decides that their personal views are the only true form of discipleship, judging that those of the other persuasion are inferior disciples, if indeed disciples at all, then we become victims of the same legalistic perversion which Paul opposed in Galatia. If the truth is preached and practiced in both settings and God is honored, then both should rejoice and praise God for his kindness in the diversity of gifts and of blessings.
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. Ga 2:11-13.
Can confrontation occur without hostility and divisiveness? What is the basis of Christian confrontation? The objective? Solomon said, "The fear of man bringeth a snare," Pr 29:25. That thought could not apply more perfectly than to the situation described here. Why, we think, should Peter be afraid of anyone? Didn't he learn his lesson on the evening before the Lord was crucified? After three denials and the Lord's confronting him with his unbelief, should he not understand his Lord sufficiently to be immune to intimidation by the fear of man? Obviously, he enjoyed no such immunity.
Before dealing with Christian confrontation, let's consider the impact of our example on others. Whether we intend it or not, we stand as an example every time we say or do anything which anyone can see. As an apostle, Peter enjoyed deep respect. His conduct was accepted almost without question. After all, who would dare question Peter himself? In this situation Peter failed his calling, and his failure directly affected those who stood by him. Once Peter recoiled in fear of the Jews who inspected his ministry among the Gentiles, the "Other Jews dissembled likewise with him." If Peter feared these people, they surely deserved to be feared. Further, the mass desertion of Peter and the other Jews caused Barnabas to be "Carried away." Dissimulation is here translated from the Greek word which is the root for our English word hypocrisy.
One more group of participants in this ugly scene call for our consideration, the Gentile Christians who were suddenly set aside by Peter's fear of the Jews. How did this whole situation impact them? What did they think about being rejected because they were Gentiles, not because of some personal fault they committed? What a terrible discouragement! Do you think Peter told them the story of his visit to the house of Cornelius, recorded in Ac 10? Why did he reject them after such a mighty experience with another Gentile community? What was wrong with them? When the fear of man intimidates you, remember that a fear-of-man reaction will inevitably discriminate against some other member of the household of faith.
I withstood him to his face. Was it easy or pleasant for Paul to stand up to Peter? It was probably one of the most difficult things he ever did, but he did it! Although this language positions Peter and Paul in a face to face difference, it contains nothing to infer that Paul denigrated Peter or reacted with carnal ego or anger, sins equally wrong compared to Peter's error. The failure of most personal confrontations lies in this precise area. Somewhere deep in our minds, we feel that if someone has erred, we can treat them with anger, with the same "I'm right and you are wrong" superiority attitude which was at the root of Peter's error. Two wrongs never make anything right!
How did the relationship between Peter and Paul endure? Near the close of his life, Peter offered a unique commentary on Paul which answers the question. "Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you," 2Pe 3:15. Are these the words of a resentful, bruised relationship? Hardly! They include both personal affection, "Our beloved brother," and they include professional respect, "According to the wisdom given unto him."
We can learn much from this lesson. First, we should settle any matters of personal sin, such as hostility, resentment or anger, with the Lord before we proceed with a friendly confrontation of an erring brother or sister. "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil," Eph 4:26-27, holds much wise counsel in these situations. The verse does not encourage us to strike while the iron is hot and we are mad enough to carry through with giving that erring sinner a piece of our minds, the typical approach to confrontation of this sort. Such action directly violates the lesson, for it give the devil a place in our own angry sin. Believe me, my friends, when you give the devil a place in strained relations or differences of view, the resulting confrontation will not solve the problem! This wise lesson instructs us to settle our own hearts with the Lord before the sun goes down and we have time to fester and fume in our own self-righteous indignation. Give your anger to the Lord before the sun goes down! Then when the calmer loving juices of your heart are more in control, follow Paul's course and confront the erring friend in love.
Whether Paul and Peter were alone or in a public setting when this confrontation occurred, we do not know. However, the dynamics of the situation were clearly private between Paul and Peter alone, suggesting that it was a private meeting, a wise choice in such affairs. To his face, this rules out another common, but sinful tactic. Paul did not tell everyone in the country how disappointed he was with Peter, how wrong Peter was, and how he was planning to "Straighten Peter out." Everything was to his face, not behind his back, and the basis of discussion was principle, not personal.
May the spirit of respectful love which Paul exhibited with his beloved, but erring brother Peter, guide our less than perfect relationships with each other, and may the same loving respect be the result of our friendly differences.
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. Ga 2:14-19.
What is your measuring stick, the criteria for validation of your actions? To the extent that we all have strong legalistic tendencies, we each have a set of rules, mentally noted, if not written, which guide our conduct. In particular settings we will typically react in a predictable fashion because of those rules. Is this the only basis for your decision of what is right and wrong? If it is, then over your lifetime you have built a steadily increasing weight of rules and regulations. With that principle at the base of your conduct, the load will become odious, for no set of rules can anticipate all the variations of true-to-life situations we each face and must sort out. Is there a better way? Yes, this lesson tells us of an infinitely better way. The contrast is dramatic, the rule of law versus the rule of faith.
The issue which initiated this difference between Paul and Peter was a matter of proper conduct, not the gaining of eternal life. Peter and Paul may have disagreed at the moment about suitable conduct, but they had no disagreement on the issue of eternal life. Ac 15:11, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." Remember, these are the words of Peter. In the face of Jewish people who continued to believe in the law, rather than in Jesus Christ, Peter buckled and momentarily reverted to the legalist's posture. At that moment he was not weakening on the issue of salvation, but of conduct.
Paul confronted Peter with his inconsistency. If the law continued to prevail, why had Peter ignored the law and maintained company with Gentiles, including habits which were contrary to the accepted interpretation of the law? If Peter was living like a Gentile, how could he impose a legalistic demand on the Gentiles to live like Jews? His appeal to Peter was simple. Neither in the matter of eternal life nor proper Christian conduct is the law capable of guiding the Christian. We cannot be justified in a timely sense by the law any more than we can hope for eternal justification by it. Justification of our Christian living cannot hang on the law, "For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." The idea that we are saved by the work of Christ on the cross, but justified by our own works, even in a practical sense, is the height of inconsistency! Our daily living is justified by the faith of Christ and our belief in him. Otherwise, we are disciples of the law and not of Christ. Even in this practical observation, Paul attributed faith to Christ, not to himself, "The faith of Christ."
Hab 2:4, "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith," a verse often quoted in the New Testament, teaches this same truth. The lesson is not the lost sinner's guide to eternal life, but the rule of life for the just man. The man in this verse is already a just man, and the verse tells us how he lives, the foundation of his attitude and rule of life.
The tentacles of practical error always reach into a man's belief about eternal things. Peter had been mislead by the fear of man into the temporary belief that his Christian conduct was validated by the law. However, the perverters of the gospel, who were responsible for Peter's slip in the faith, apparently believed in the necessity of obedience to the law for eternal life. If we fully understand that the law never was designed to give eternal life, even to the Old Testament Jew who was under it, then we can easily grasp that the rule of faith, presented in this lesson, was not intended to give eternal life. Heb 10:1, and the verses which follow, distinctly states that the law could not make those who were under it perfect. Lacking the ability to perfect, the law could not entitle the Old Testament Jew to eternal life. Why was the law given then? In the verses following in Heb 10 we learn that the sacrifices offered under the law were designed as a remembrance of sin. Later in Galatians, we will read that the law was a "Schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." As it were, the law served as a faithful finger, always pointing the people in the Old Testament to the ongoing residence of sin in their lives, but also faithfully pointing them to the Lamb of God who was to come and permanently deal with the sin issue.
For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. In these words Paul acknowledged that he was a sinner; therefore, under the law, a dead man. However, being dead to the law, he could live his life to Christ under the rule of faith. Does freedom from the law license a man to sin? This verse answers in commanding tones. We are under the rule of faith to Christ. Does faith allow reckless sin? Does faith allow selfish rebellion? Freedom from the law does not mean freedom from any sense of obligation. The law has been replaced by a better rule of life, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. Ga 2:19.
What are we alive to? What sparks life and enthusiasm in our minds? What really drives us to rise above ourselves and make that extra effort? Is it that promotion which is just around the corner? That new house you dream of buying? All of these things, in their place, are commendable. But are they at the root of your drive? Do they represent what you live for more than anything else? If they do, then you have a big problem. Such temporary things easily become too important to us and take over our most productive time and energy, robbing us of the certain riches of a solid relationship with our God.
This verse contains both theological and practical truth. The theological truth to those who think they are saved by the law, Moses' law or their own legalized gospel law, is staggering. If you are saved by keeping the law, how are sins which inevitably slip through your defenses covered? Under the law, a violator must be punished without exception or mercy? The convenient notion that God simply overlooks these slips denies the essential attribute of God's justice. It is theological vacuum! The idea that confession makes it somehow acceptable is equally weak. Confession does not remove the guilt or the just demand for punishment. And all of these notions uncomfortably overlook the certain fact that we all commit sins of which we are not aware. What happens to them? If salvation is by keeping the law, then all of the side issues must be resolved consistently with the law. This position successfully carries us to legal death, but hopelessly leaves us there!
However, the verse, while logically taking us to death under the law, leads us to a better way of life than any legalistic rule can provide. Death is not the final goal of the verse, nor of the profound truth Paul used to retrieve Peter from his temporary regression into legalism. The simple principle of law presented here is that the sinner must die, and, since we are all sinners, we are all dead under the law. We are pronounced guilty, and death justly charges us with separation from God and from the law. Once we are dead, however, the law no longer prevails over us. We then stand directly before God. Our position is not that of a deserving plea-bargainer, but of an undeserving sinner. Guilty! Pertinent truth then is not what the law says, but what God says. What says God? "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear him." Without Christ the full measure of distance between God and the sinner is filled with the sinner's guilt, but Ga 1:4 reminds us that Christ gave himself for our sins. This puts Christ logically in the position where our sins formerly were, between us and God. Wonderful revelation! Now the ground between us and God is fully occupied by our Lord Jesus Christ, not our sins!
Although many profess to teach that Christ is the remedy for their sins, sadly most teach that their own faith in Christ, not essentially Christ himself, is the cause of their salvation. You could say that they have faith in their faith and that they believe in their belief. Paul reminded Peter in this context that our faith is not in the law or in our own belief, but in Christ. Once we realize that the sin issue between us and God has been for ever settled by Christ, we are free to rejoice in the glory of God and fellowship with Christ our Savior. In this understanding of the gospel, discipleship is not a selfish, essentially mercenary issue, but a loving family affair. As members of the family of God, graciously embraced in the love of the Savior and his saving grace, we are free to live out the best and most energetic mission of life in faith toward him and obedience to his marvelous person. This is the foundation for Paul's teaching in Ro 7, where he appealed to the dignity of marriage. As long as a husband and wife are alive, they are to maintain the integrity of their marriage. If the husband dies, the wife is free to marry another. Paul concluded, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." A marriage based on fear or obligation would be a cold empty marriage. One based on love is marvelous. Could this be the cause for so many professing Christians living out the form of discipleship, but never manifesting any of the joy which accompanies valid, family-based, loving Christianity?
That I might live unto God. The vibrant living issue in Paul's life was not a report card of his life, compared with the law. It was the grand joy of living, really living, abundantly living, joyously living to God. No doubt, you could have engaged Paul in a conversation about the better methods of tent making or of Roman government. However, if you wanted to see him spring to life and bubble with enthusiasm, get him to talk about his Lord.
I can safely appreciate that the Lord did not teach us to seek only the kingdom of God, for responsible living requires that we apply ourselves to many duties. But I am thankful that he taught us to "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." This lesson, along with Paul's lesson from Galatians, challenges us to examine our priorities. What is first in our lives? What do we really live for? Do we understand and appreciate that we have been saved from the law, permitting us to live for God? Do we understand that we can apply ourselves to the necessary duties of life with God's blessing, so long as we keep him first in our priorities? Every duty of life, every demanding requirement of our profession, is validated and enriched when we keep God in the position of prominence and priority. When he is first, everything else fits better. May we remember him!
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Ga 2:20.
Whether for time or eternity, the bedrock of biblical Christianity, of the whole purpose of God in salvation, is legal and personal identity of the child of God with Jesus Christ. It forms the exclusive basis for a permanent relationship with the Savior, a vital union, an energized Christian life.
I am crucified with Christ. This says more than the simple legal union of the elect with Christ in his crucifixion, for that certain Bible truth, could be expressed by "I was crucified with Christ." That truth appears in the statement, but we are taken beyond the legal union of the elect with Christ at the moment of his death. The words carry an imposing present reality with them. I was, and I am now crucified with Christ. The legal accomplishments of the cross were for me, and they remain permanently accrued for me, even now. In God's sight my union with Christ is as secure as if Christ at this moment were hanging on the cross for me! The idea that Christ died for some who will not benefit from his death, not be made heirs of eternal life, is banished from this lesson. All the devils in hell cannot separate the child of God from his crucified Lord. Paul confirmed this truth in Ro 8:38-39, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Here lies the essence of the victory of the cross of Christ, a finished, successful work, which legally removed the sins of those for whom Christ died, removed them for all eternity.
Nevertheless I live. I am dead, yet alive, and the dynamics of my life are to be found in the reality of my death, my death with the crucified Christ. Then Paul imposed a quick clarification into the logical course he taught. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. The theology of this verse is overpowering! If salvation in eternity or justification in the practical course of discipleship were of the law and man's own doing, then this statement could not stand, but it stands as a sentinel here at the heart of Paul's gold mine of truth for the faltering Peter and for all of us who occasionally falter into legalism. My living state with God is the outgrowth of Christ living in me. My active Christianity is a result of the living Christ energizing and motivating me.
The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God. The usual view of faith is that we must generate faith, we must migrate from non-faith to faith within ourselves. In Eph 2 Paul taught that faith is the gift of God; later in Galatians, he taught that it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Here, in analyzing the whole issue of his vital eternal and his practical timely relationship with God, he repeatedly spoke of faith as "The faith of the Son of God." Faith itself within the child of God is not a self-generated mental evolution, but the product of God's grace. It is the faith of Christ which causes our faith in Christ! Many seem uncomfortable with the idea that God has faith, so they strain to reconstruct these verses to "Faith in the Son of God." However, their struggle is unnecessary. As an attribute of personality, faith and faithfulness are inseparable. Who would question the faithfulness of God? As "Faith versus sight," of course faith would be inconsistent with the attribute of God's omniscience, his all-knowing mind, but as a reflection of his faithfulness, his covenant-keeping integrity, there is no strain. To understand that God imputes that same faithful quality to his child, including the ability to rely on and trust him without reservation, is not ground for doubt, but for great rejoicing!
Who loved me, and gave himself for me. No truth can be far removed from the foundation upon which it rests. Eternal life or practical Christianity, the love of God and the death of Christ are the solid ground upon which every part of our relationship with God stands. From the towering peaks of truth Paul taught in Eph 1 to the man who walked away from Christ in Mr 10 with bowed head, unconvinced to give up material possessions for his Lord, the love of God permeates every portion of the Divine landscape. In Eph 1 we read of God's eternal determination that the elect will stand "Holy and without blame before him in love." From heavenly places here to the heavenly land there, the foundation of God's work is his love for his people!
Not so easy for mere mortals to comprehend is the lesson from Mark. A man who was uncertain, perhaps confused, obviously proud of self and over-confident in his personal goodness, heard the Master say, "One thing thou lackest." Jesus told him to sell his goods, distribute them to the poor, and take up his cross. As Jesus told him of his deficiency, he went away grieved, mourning over the prospect of loosing his earthly treasure. Yet in this same moment Mark tells us, "Jesus beholding him loved him." Marvelous love! In full view of this young man's proud over-statement of his personal goodness (Do you think he really had kept all these commandments from his youth?), fully aware that he would walk away mourning his possessions, we read that Jesus loved him!
What is the foundation for your discipleship? For your obedience to God? Is it your confidence that you have kept the law so vigorously that God is indebted to you? Or is it your understanding that he loved you and gave himself for you? That love and gift is the exclusive footing of your hope for a place with God in eternity. May we build our lives on the sure foundation of the Rock of Ages, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Ga 2:21.
As much as any book of the New Testament, Galatians instructs us that our view of timely and eternal things will eventually blend into a homogenous sameness. If we pervert our grasp of timely truths, we will not long be sane in eternal matters, and if we confuse eternal issues, timely affairs will soon suffer. This verse most assuredly defines the cause of eternal life, but it is more encompassing than that truth alone. Whatever we think actually causes our eternal life will soon become our god. If you wisely note what a man worships, you will learn much about his priorities and habits. The man who thinks his works are the immediate cause of eternal life will eventually worship himself, and you will see the fruits of this belief in his immoderate ego. Remember the Pharisee in Lu 18:9, "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." Verse 11 speaks a world toward this Pharisee's self-worship, "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself." When he said, "God, I thank thee," he was talking to himself! He prayed with himself! Self was his God!
As the Pharisee deified himself, many people with impressive, but mistaken, sincerity deify the law. The law in the place God intended it is perfect, but God did not institute the law as an object of worship. He rather founded it to guide his people to himself, the only valid object of worship. We may safely conclude that the Galatians had replaced God with the law. Notice how our study verse contrasts the law and Christ. Righteousness is the only credential which can speak effectively for any man before the judgement of a righteous God. A man must worship that which secures righteousness at the judgement. What do most people think of in conjunction with the eternal judgement of God? Is it not their own works? And how are their own works judged righteous? Is it not by the law? Now examine the verse again. Think of the profound relevance it imposes upon our thinking. Righteousness, eternal vindicating righteousness, must be either by Christ or by the law. Which do you think is the right answer? Paul left no doubt that his answer was Christ, not the law!
He forced the logical process to its bitter, but unavoidable, conclusion. Righteousness is either by the law or by Christ, and if it is by the law, then Christ died in vain, without a cause or need. Such a thought assaults the intelligence of God. If man could attain eternal righteousness by keeping the law, then Christ had no compelling reason to die. Conceivably, there may have been a reasonable purpose in his coming and living out a model life before the law, but, if righteousness is by the law, then his death stares into our souls and cries for a reason which cannot be found! He died in vain; the idea of grace, of a gracious benevolence in God mercifully to provide for the sinner, what the sinner could not accomplish for himself, is frustrated. It is senseless! If merely following Christ's good example is sufficient to gain eternal bliss for us, then grace is frustrated, and Christ died in vain. Why didn't he simply live out the model life, and ascend back to glory without the shame of the cross? What was the purpose of it all?
This imposing logic leaves its mark deeply burned into our minds. Inspired poets and suffering saints give voice to its truth. From "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness" to "There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins; And sinners plunged into that flood, Lose all their guilty stains," the song of the saints from the caves and rocks where they worshipped in the long ago still cries out the praises of the dying Savior and his perfect sacrifice for our sins. The grace of God is not frustrated! Christ did not die in vain! His death accomplished the righteousness by which we will stand before the eternal judgement, be declared innocent and ready finally to "Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." It was grace which purposed our salvation, grace which devised the method to accomplish it, grace which sent Christ to die for us, and grace which applies the perfect righteousness of the Savior to our souls. Grace in the beginning, grace in the middle, and grace in the end; it is all of grace! Not frustrated grace, not weak grace, but perfect, attaining, justifying grace!
Now we may take the next logical step. What validates your present, practical righteousness? What assures you that your daily actions are righteous? Is it the law, or is it Christ? Surely Christ is as directly the measuring rod for our daily conduct as he is for our eternal righteousness. Is Christianity another ritualized religion with its ever-increasing, odious burden of rules and regulations, embodied in the law? Or is it an informed and devoted trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? To borrow the language of heaven itself, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him," Mt 17:5. "Hear ye him!" These are the trumpet sounds of the Christian's faith throughout all the ages. They have guided the saints through persecutions and trials where the law would have failed. They have burned in the gospel message across centuries and continents. And, today, the informed Christian still feels the burning power of these words in his soul. Dark Ages or Enlightened Ages, it matters not. The single lasting reality to the faithful believer is that wonderful Savior and the voice from the heavenly cloud, "He is my Son! I love him! Listen to him!" May we be so blessed as to quiet the noise of our own souls and hear that voice which yet speaks to the hearts of those who seek him.
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? Ga 3:1.
Since the Garden of Eden, fascination with something new and different has been one of man's most infamous weaknesses. One need only study the introduction of new philosophies to grasp just how pervasive this poisonous tendency has been in the Christian faith. The word translated bewitched comes from a Greek word which means to fascinate by false representations. Often an idea prevails because it is new and different, not because it is true. The translators wisely used the word bewitched to suggest sleight of hand, chicanery, duplicity, all of which correctly define the false teachers in Galatia. It may be mysterious and amazing, but mortal man has long thought that his private thoughts are somehow capable of changing God into his own wishful image, a false representation. Consider Ro 3:3-4, "For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged." Paul's quote is from the Old Testament, Ps 51, in which David confessed his sin with Bathsheba and prayed for forgiveness. "When thou art judged" implies that man will attempt to judge God! Especially when man faces his sin, he seeks to justify his conduct, even if it means blaming God! In contrast, David freely confessed his sin, that none would charge God with it.
The periodic "Discovery of newer and deeper truth" by theologians is nothing more than Galatian witchcraft, plying its influence on unsuspecting minds. The oft repeated "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion" should be replaced with "No one is entitled to his own opinion" in matters pertaining to God. God is God, regardless of anyone's opinion, and no private opinion will change what God is! Bewitching error is never neutral; it is always destructive to the truth. In this verse it prevented the Galatians from obeying the truth.
What was the central theme of Paul's message which the bewitching error of false teachers overshadowed? "Before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you." What a gold mine of truth for our study. Jesus Christ was the central theme of the truth which Paul taught, but his teaching was not simply of Jesus Christ, a good man, a prophet, or a living example of the law. The Jesus Christ at the center of Paul's gospel was Jesus Christ crucified. Paul's preaching had so emphasized the crucified Christ that he could infer to these wavering Galatians that Christ had been crucified among them. Although Christ was crucified hundreds of miles from Galatia, Paul preached so emphatically on the death of Christ that he could charge the Galatians with almost being eye-witnesses of that event. They had heard the message, and they had seen the evidences of the crucified Christ. Then they had walked away from the significance of that truth, as if it did not exist. What trickery of mind, what philosophical sleight of hand had these false teachers employed to so thoroughly take the crucified Christ away from the Galatians? How could such a thing be?
Why is the message of Christ crucified so important to the gospel? It first speaks to the reality of our sin, as weighed in the judicial scales of God, that God acknowledged our sins without any gloss or excuse, yet loved us supremely. It speaks to the truth that God's love and grace made provision for our salvation through the death of his Son, a fact which profoundly says that God considered that act by his Son the only thing sufficient to remove the stain of sin from his elect. It speaks of his free and loving forgiveness of our sins through the death of his Son. If the prodigal son could stagger home with the hope of being received as a mere hired servant, yet was received into the father's loving arms, it gives the modern prodigal the same hope that he, too, will find forgiveness. It speaks of the honesty of God in dealing with our sins, yet loving us freely. It speaks convincingly that if God so loved us and forgave us, then we may forgive ourselves and embrace the feet of a loving Savior, touch the hem of his garment and find soul-healing for the horrible sin disease which has cursed our lives.
What is a gospel without that wonderful truth? It is no gospel! It is witchcraft, bewitching fascination built on false representations and empty promises which the law cannot deliver! It offers no forgiveness, no repentance, no faith in God, no love, no deliverance from the bondage of corruption. It is a house of cards in a wind-storm!
How was it possible that these Galatians who had heard the gospel with such power and conviction could suddenly forget it, most notably, forget the crucified Christ who formed the heart of its truth, and commit sacriledge with the law? It was more than Paul could believe. Not only was he puzzled by how they could do such a thing, he was amazed with why they would do it.
Ask ye now among the heathen, who hath heard such things: the virgin of Israel hath done a very horrible thing. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken? Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up. Jer 18:13-15.
God help us never to forsake the cold flowing waters of Christ crucified, the theme of the gospel of the grace of God.
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. Ga 3:2-4.
What does it mean to receive the Spirit? When does it occur in the Christian experience? Although this expression is not frequent in the New Testament, it must have been a common experience for Paul to present it with such force here. A similar statement appears in Joh 20:22, "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost." In this verse the resurrected Christ was speaking to his disciples. They had followed him for over three years, and they rejoiced at his resurrection. It would be clearly unjustified to interpret receiving the Spirit as the initial work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. These disciples were not born again in Joh 20; they had been faithful followers for several years already. It would be equally ungrounded to interpret this lesson as a "Second blessing," suggesting an elevation into a superior spiritual state, for the New Testament rejects the notion of a hierarchy of saints, some in one state of salvation and others in a more prestigious state. Such a doctrine does more for the human ego than it does for the household of faith. Receiving the Spirit is the Father's blessing to his child, not the Judge's verdict to the sinner, Lu 11:13.
Scripture describes the invigorating joy which accompanies discovery of the gospel, in fact, forming the basis for the word gospel itself, as something far deeper and more profound than your basic emotional high. It is soul-joy, a heavenly insight too glorious to be expressed in mere mortal words. Peter described it as "Joy unspeakable and full of glory," 1Pe 1:8. Paul described it as "The earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession," Eph 1:14.
How could the Galatians explain that heavenly joy by the law? Was the law prominent in their minds when that joy first came to them, or was it the glorious enlightenment of the crucified Christ? And if that joy came through the Holy Spirit's bringing the knowledge of Christ crucified to them, when the Spirit opened the ear of faith to understand the scriptures and the good news of the gospel, how could they now explain their regression? Although personal experience is not the final criteria for truth, the workings of God in our personal experience profoundly influences our thinking. If you have had a deep experience which you attribute to God, that which appeals to it and harmonizes with it represents a strong force in your mind. Remember Nathanael under the fig tree, Joh 1:48. Even Christ used personal experience to confirm truth.
The law could not explain such joy as the Galatians had experienced in coming to the truth. Paul knew it, and so did the Galatians. Serving God's purpose, the law brings the knowledge of sin, Ro 3:20. It shines the spotlight on the perfect conduct demanded by the law of a righteous God. Then it shines that pattern on the screen beside the image of our lives. We see painfully and clearly just how different our conduct is from that which the law demands, we know what sin looks like, and we hate it. This work of the law serves a worthy purpose in us, but joy? Joy is not exactly the emotion the law evokes. A review of Ro 7 suggests that self-loathing, loving God, but despising our sins, and ourselves for sinning are more typical fruits of the law. Paul's argument hit these Galatians where they lived. They couldn't wax philosophical under this question.
While the Bible does not support that all children of God are obedient to the faith, it distinctly does teach that only those children of God who listen to the voice of faith ever find joy and peace. We should be ashamed of our time in "Jonah school," not boast in it, but we should not deny that it exists. The Bible teaches that the new birth and discipleship are two altogether separate things. While all who are born again should be disciples, it teaches that, in fact, they are not. The prodigal son was a son in the foreign land, and he lost the image of his father's home in that land, but he did not loose the relationship of son. Even there, he remained his father's son. If there were no unbelief, no prodigals in the family of God, what purpose would this lesson serve?
However, the scriptures emphatically establish a unique blessing and joy in discipleship which will not be found in any other lifestyle. That is the point of this lesson. The Galatians had tasted the joys of salvation. They had rejoiced in the truth, the liberating, exhilarating truth of the gospel. In this flirtation with the law were they still so happy? Could they remember that first moment of joy and honestly attribute it to the law? They had suffered persecution because of their faith in the crucified Christ. Was all that suffering in vain? If their salvation and joyful living were by the law, they had suffered that trial without cause. Could they honestly tell Paul that they now attributed all their former joy, and suffering, to their faithfulness to the law?
A study of cause and effect is one of the most enlightening exercises our spiritual minds will ever pursue. Paul nudged these faltering Galatians to examine the cause of their former joy and fruitfulness, as well as their former persecution. Man may change courses in mid-stream, but God is not so changeable. If the Spirit caused that blessed state, what could be their justification in now deserting the Spirit for the law? May we, too, examine the cause of our past joy and return to the fountain of blessing, Christ crucified.
He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Ga 3:5.
Having established the practical nature of receiving the Spirit, we are now ready to proceed to the continuing influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This verse says too much to describe the preacher, for no preacher has the ability to control and serve the Holy Spirit at will, as the administrator in the verse does. Joh 3:8 should convince us that the Holy Spirit is not some mere compliant energy which we guide and control as we please. To the extent the Spirit is ministered, literally served, and miracles are worked among us, we have no grounds for attributing such dynamic work to a preacher or any man. Only the risen Savior directs the Spirit in his ministry, and only the risen Savior works miracles.
Paul attributed personality and intelligence to the governing force in the Galatians' lives. He ministers, he works miracles. The law could not explain this, for the law had neither personality nor intelligence. What is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer? We need not doubt, for Scripture furnishes abundant instruction on this subject.
First, the Holy Spirit is responsible for our understanding and joy in a crucified, but risen, Savior. Joh 14-16, is one of the richest areas of scripture to teach us about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In Joh 14:18 Jesus said, "I will not leave you comfortless." Comfortless comes from a word which means to be left as an orphan, without the comfort of a parent. How beautifully the Holy Spirit confirms our relationship and security with Christ. Could the law do that? Next the Holy Spirit is said to teach us, to bring to our remembrance, to testify of Christ, to take of the things of Christ and show them to us, Joh 14:26; 15:26; 16:13. What a glorious ministry! Could the law explain that or perform it?
Inevitably, the law tends to make a man look at himself and evaluate his personal conduct. Perverted by the carnal mind, it makes that same man justify himself and accuse those around him of falling short of the law. Quite to the contrary, the Holy Spirit causes a man to look outside himself to those around him who are in need. In Joh 7:37-39 Jesus compared the Holy Spirit's ministry to a river of living, running, water, flowing out from a man's belly, a common symbol for the deep central emotions. It is suggestive of caring and giving, of being more involved with helping others than with selfishly taking care of self. Such a work is not the product of the law!
By the hearing of faith. What does this mean? Often scripture unites faith and hearing. Communication requires the wise use of two senses or abilities, speaking and hearing. Unless both work together, good communicaiton dies. The first thought suggested is that God intends to communicate something of himself to his people. He will not abide in hiding. What a comforting thought! God, the gracious, good God intends that his people know something of himself. He takes that communication upon himself. The next thought is that he communicates to someone who is able to hear and understand his message. That which enables a man to understand God is faith, Bible faith. Only the man who possesses faith can comprehend the communication of God. In 2Th 3:2, Paul taught that all men do not have faith. Who then does have faith, and what is its source? Where did they get it? Later in Galatians, we will learn that faith is a fruit of the Spirit, not its cause, its fruit. To the child of God, faith serves as a communication receiver, an interpreter, which receives the communication of God and translates it to the mind and heart.
A few years ago, a popular advertisement said, "When E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen." Well, when God speaks, his children listen. Faith, the gift of God and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, hears what God has to say. In our study verse Paul used this well-known truth to restore the Galatians to their faithfulness. Doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Did the law understand the needs and comprehend the most effective way to communicate the truth of God to the Galatians? Did Christ, who ministered the Spirit and worked miracles among them, perform these deeds by the law? Was it the law which convinced them that God knew their every trial and loved them deeply? Was Christ dependent on the law to reach them with his comforting voice? They well knew this was not the case. They knew that Christ was altogether able to speak directly to them in their moment of need. They knew that he required no intercessor. The deceiver's idea that Christ can only speak to his people through the law is preposterous, almost as preposterous as the idea that he can only speak through the agency of the gospel!
When Christ wants to speak to one of his little ones in need, he speaks directly, and faith hears and perceives the voice of the Good Shepherd! By design, he speaks to the hearing sense of faith, and faith hears the message from the portals of heaven. It understands what God has to say. It knows the voice of the Good Shepherd, and rejoices that he is present and cares enough to speak his love and wisdom to the hungry child. In Lu 11:13 Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray with this lesson, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" The gift of the Holy Spirit as a minister and counsellor is not to the wicked, but to the child of God. It cannot be by the law, but by the grace of God to the hearing faith of the child of God.
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. Ga 3:6-7.
What was the circumstance of Abraham's believing God? When did it occur in his experience? Was it a saving act? Was it an act of discipleship? Whatever it was, Paul paralleled it with his interrogation of the Galatians about their receiving the ministry of the Spirit. If Abraham's believing God was what saved him, then our receiving the ministry of the Spirit saves us. However, if Abraham's believing God was the obedient response of a child of God, then the same holds true with our receiving the ministry of the Spirit. Even as essentially links the two events as similar experiences. We should recall the setting of this writing. Paul wrote the Galatians to recover them from a perverted legalistic gospel. The first few verses of this chapter, including this lesson, form one of the strongest arguments in the book against the legalistic gospel.
To interpret this illustration rightly, we must be familiar with the life of Abraham, especially this particular event. In Ge 12:1 we read, "Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee." In Heb 11:8 we learn that Abraham's leaving Ur was an act of faith. Notice that at the time of the verse when Abraham was living in Haran, God had said, had already spoken these words to him. This message from God was the reason Abraham left Ur and traveled to Haran. Abraham lived in Haran for as long as five years. Then he left at God's direction for the land of promise. Through the next several chapters of Genesis, every time Abraham stopped in a place for any length of time, he built an altar and worshipped God. Certainly this continuing habit of worship and looking for the land which God had promised was also a continuing life of faith.
In Ge 15:6 we find our study verse quoted by Paul, "And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness." This chapter records a personal revelation of God to Abraham, confirming the promise of a child. At the time of this revelation Abraham was probably between 80 and 85 years old. He had been away from Ur for 10 to 15 years. According to Heb 11:8, he had been walking by faith for 10 to 15 years, prior to the verse quoted by Paul here. Considering that historic reality, vividly confirmed by one of the most specific records in the Old Testament, it is appropriate to ask the questions which introduced this chapter. Was Abraham's believing God at this particular time an act of "Saving faith," as it is often termed, or was it the act of a saved man, responding in faith to his friend and God? Although this lesson is typically interpreted to defend the theology that an act of belief or faith is essential to eternal salvation, such an interpretation in the historic setting will not stand! He had been walking by faith for almost 15 years, he had left family, friends, culture, and profession, motivated by a message from God. Scripture tells us that his leaving for this journey was an act of faith. We learn from the Genesis account that the intervening years saw him perform one act of worship after another. If Abraham's believing God in Ge 15:6 was an act of "Saving faith," then 15 years of continuing faith are necessary before one can hope for salvation. Quite contradictory to this historic record, the theology of salvation by faith teaches that the initial act of faith is the saving act. Then how do we explain all those works of faith in Abraham's life for 10 to 15 years prior to this verse? Faulty theology makes for burdensome difficulties!
Abraham's belief of God in Ge 15:6 was the faithful obedience of a saved man, faithfully trusting his Lord and Master. Paul's choice of this lesson was wise and intentional. Abraham lived several hundred years before Moses received the law. Yet the scripture says that he believed God, and God counted his belief to him for righteousness. Righteousness without the law? This assaulted the fortress of error which had ensnared these Galatians. In their minds such a thing could not be, but Paul used one of the earliest Old Testament writings to demonstrate from the same record the legalists had used that their teaching was in error, even by the authority they claimed. As Abraham obeyed God "By the hearing of faith," so had the Galatians. God responded to Abraham's faith as if he had committed a righteous act; so had he done with the Galatians. As this all occurred to Abraham without the benefit of the law, so had it been with the Galatians. Now consider the bluntness and force of his words in Ga 3:1, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth?"
We see yet another fascinating truth in this whole scenario. God gave the law to national Israel. In Ro 3:1-2, Paul asked, "What advantage then hath the Jew ....? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." The chief benefit of being a Jew in the Old Testament was having the law and the other writings, oracles, of God. Here is the irony of the situation at Galatia. The Galatians were Gentiles! They had lived without the law before they converted to Christianity. They had embraced the faith which Paul preached with joy, altering the course of their lives from amoral Paganism to Christianity. And this entire change was accomplished without the law! Is this not your case, as well? The greatest change in your life came from the Lord Jesus Christ and your faith in him, not the law. What is your state of mind today? Is it marked by faith in him or faith in the law? Follow Abraham's example. Believe God and serve him by faith.
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Ga 3:8-9.
Paul could be as blunt as a lawyer in cross-examination, but he never forgot that he was writing to fellow-members of the heavenly family. Even in his bluntness, he turned his final conclusions to comfort the churches and individuals he wrote. In Ga 3:1 he suggested that the Galatians must be under witchcraft to follow such a foolish course. In the next six verses he cross-examined them, skillfully leading them to understand the folly of their error and the beauty of the gospel which he preached. In this verse he continued his legal brief, but he gave them such a beautiful glimpse of gospel truth that they would awaken in the middle of the night with its wondrous image haunting their minds.
The Galatians were Gentiles. Heathen in this verse means Gentiles. To a Jew who was a stickler for the law, all non-Jews were heathen. This verse pointed directly at them. The Gentiles were not under the law, yet they inherited the richest Old Testament promise God ever made. When God gave Abraham this promise, he did not intend that only his immediate offspring would receive the blessing. He said, "In thee shall all nations be blessed." God's original purpose was to include the Gentiles in the blessings of obedience to the faith. This verse rejects the idea that the church age, exemplified by the blessings of God's truth among the Gentiles, is a Divine mistake, resulting from God's failure to complete his primary mission in the first advent of Christ. The very idea is foreign to scripture! Every account of the first advent praises God and acclaims the success of the risen and victorious Savior. So should we!
This verse addresses the issue of scriptural integrity, of which Paul said more later in this book. "The scripture preached the gospel, saying." The quote, when traced to its numerous appearances in Genesis, was always a direct statement from God. So here Paul equated the words of God to scripture. This view from Paul manifests respect for the Providential preservation of scripture, sadly lacking in so many self-professed scholars. God has preserved a valid record of scripture throughout the ages in many languages, but he has not given us the option to judge scripture. We rather must accept the judgement of scripture toward us. When a new translation was needed, God raised up and qualified men who were equal to the task. Every preacher is not a Bible corrector, but he should be a Bible preacher.
When God made this revelation to Abraham, he intended to justify the Gentiles through faith. This was a foundational truth for the Galatians. If they were under liability to the law, they were in trouble from the beginning, for they were Gentiles, not Jews. The proponents of the legalistic gospel wanted them to be half-way under the law and half-way under the gospel, a perversion of the law as fully as it was a perversion of the gospel. The basis of practical justification, of confirming their godly conduct, was on the basis of faith, not the law, the essence of this verse Paul quoted from the Book of Genesis. God preached the gospel to Abraham, long before John the Baptist heralded the good news, and the message in God's gospel was justification by faith, not the law, nor the works of the law.
So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Many who do not understand the full implications of a life of faith are quick to infer that anyone who is not under the law wants to justify sin, to permit wickedness. They are "Antinomian," opposed to the law, against it. Do some in the Christian profession so lack committment to the Lord Jesus Christ that, without the law, they would abandon him? If they so easily forsake Christ, they are not living the faith of Abraham! Do you see the connection in this verse between "Of faith" and "Faithful?" Those who are of faith join faithful Abraham. In this sense people cannot be of faith unless they are faithful to God as faithful Abraham was. This being of faith is a noble definition of faithful discipleship. Remember the practical setting we observed in Paul's description of receiving the Spirit and the ministry of the Spirit? Remember the progression Paul followed from the ministry of the Spirit to an act of faithful belief in the life of Abraham, an act of faith which occurred some 10 to 15 years after he began a life of faith?
Practical justification by faith, the validation of true discipleship, was by faith, not works, for Abraham. God used Abraham's life of faith and his foremost promise of future blessing to Abraham as an illustration of justification by faith, not the law. He laid down the measuring line of faith, not the law, as the basis for Abraham's obedience and for the obedience of the Gentiles. How could these false teachers use the law to lead the Galatians away from faith? How could the Galatians permit themselves to be so swayed by this perversion of the law and the gospel?
Where do we find blessings today? In the law or in the promise God made to Abraham? What is our joy? The law or the faithful example of God's promises to Abraham? Do we find comfort in remembering that, after 30 long years, God was faithful to a promise that Abraham would have a son? When life is unkind to us and we are discouraged, are we comforted in thinking that, as God ultimately responded with abundant blessing to Abraham, he will deliver us, too, from our distress? Then we are blessed with faithful Abraham!
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Ga 3:10.
As in Galatia, many in our time insist that salvation and a clear conscience can only come from obedience to the law. Their sincerity is admirable, but their theology is devastating to themselves and to others. If they understood the implications of their obedience to the law being their only access to God, they would cry out for deliverance as Paul did in Ro 7:24. Only Jesus lived under the law and remained clear of its condemnation. The law condemns all others who are actually judged by it. According to this verse and many others like it, this rule knows no exceptions.
Whether you seek validation of your discipleship or eternal security, if you are under the law, you, my friend, are under its curse. No man is able to withstand the merciless scrutiny of the law! Is that not the message of the verse? As many as are of the works of the law are under its curse without exception. The only way to escape the curse is to keep the law without a single exception. Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
The normal pattern for the man who thinks he can live the law to perfection is to select certain portions of the law as his personal measuring rod, but he will conveniently avoid other portions of the law which are not so compatible with his point of view. According to our verse, this tactic will not stand. If a man is under the law, he is under all of it. If he violates a minuscule statute, he is guilty of breaking the law and must answer to its curse which falls upon all who continue not in all things which are written in the law. Some protest that their good intentions are the limit of measurement, that if they have good intentions of keeping the law, God only measures their good intentions, ignoring their actual conduct. This interpretation fails under the penetrating gaze of our study verse. Man must continue in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. If God indeed justifies a man by the law, then good intentions alone are futile without a perfect obedience to accompany them. The curse descends on every man who fails to continue in the doing of those things which the law demands. Many years ago in a conversation with a man who wanted to select one particular statute of the Mosaic law as a binding ritual in the New Testament, I challenged him with the logic of this verse. "Next Sunday before you come to church, make sure you have a tenth part of every thing your grew or earned during the week, and be sure to bring a young goat or lamb for your sacrifice." He knew what I was saying. Although the morality of the law remains God's moral standard, the disciple of Jesus Christ is under a superior code of conduct, the person of Jesus Christ and faith in him.
The cold, demanding logic of this verse confronts us with a reality which the Galatians had forgotten. Salvation in eternity or a justified discipleship in time cannot derive from a mixture of grace and works or of law and faith. If salvation is of works, you must comply with the demands of this verse. If it is of grace, your obedience to the law is not the cause of your salvation. God's grace is sufficient! If the law is to judge your discipleship, faith has no purpose. And if faith is the measure, the law is unnecessary. These principles are exclusive by their very nature. Yes, many think they have kept the law sufficiently to be saved by it, but this verse reaches beyond what they think to the reality of law justification and the unavoidable curse it always imposes. There is no indication in Mr 10:20 that the young man was insincere in his assertion, "All these have I observed from my youth." However, there is abundant evidence from Jesus' answer in the next verse that he did lack sufficient righteousness to be saved by his obedience to the law, "Jesus ... said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." One thing thou lackest. These are bitter words for the young man to hear, but they are, nonetheless, true words from the Master himself. Although many may think they are sufficiently righteous before the law to earn their salvation, they, too, stand before the law deficient and lacking.
The student of faith in Christ reads this verse and joins Toplady's historic poem.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill the law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone--
Thou must save and Thou alone.
Paul's intention with this hard, but true, logic was to drive the Galatians away from their false hope in the law, urging them to return to Jesus Christ and faith in him as their guide. When we invest the mental energy to absorb this verse, we hunger to leave the cold merciless law and hide in Jesus Christ, the Rock of Ages. We seek our shelter in him, our deliverance from him, and we expect him, not the law, to validate our discipleship. This verse grabs our attention, forcing us to look at the law and its most basic reality. Do you really want to stand or fall on the basis of your obedience to the law? May we find the wisdom to learn from Paul's lesson and expect our security and fulfillment in none other than our Lord Jesus Christ.
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. Ga 3:11.
In context justification is a timely matter, suggesting validation of conduct or action. However, to the man who is a slave to the law and has forgotten the person of Jesus Christ, it also represents his eternal justification. He is wrong on both counts! The law will not justify him in either case. We may become legalists in either area of our thinking, time or eternity.
Let's focus our primary attention on the timely practical issues raised in the lesson. There may have been a suggestion from the legalistic teachers who had corrupted the Galatians, "Everyone knows the law was the measure of right and wrong in the Old Testament. Unless God has changed, it commands the same respect now." Certainly, the law was a measuring stick of conduct in the Old Testament, but it was never the agent of vindication and support to the people of God. That's right! Think carefully.
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. 1Ti 1:5-11.
The real issue in this lesson is not that the law is faulty, but the question, "What is God's real purpose with the law?" I do not hold to the antinomian position which is antagonistic to the law for the purpose of excusing immorality, for such action is reprehensible to every attribute of God. However, I do hold that God instituted the law for a particular purpose, and that any use of the law for other than that purpose is inexcusable error. In the above verses from Paul's letter to Timothy, we learn that God did not intend the law for the God-fearing faithful Christian, but for sinners. We also learn from these verses that the true design of the law is not eternal life or a disciple's guide to godliness, but love, the unselfish God-kind of love, which springs from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere honest faith.
What is the disciple's guide to godliness? Our study verse leaves no doubt in our minds, "The just shall live by faith." This lesson does not tell the sinner how to gain eternal life. If it taught that, it would read, "The unjust shall become just by faith." The man in the verse is already in a just state. The verse does not explain how he became just, but it does tell us about the measuring rod of his conduct. What does he live by? What standard of conduct guides him? Is it the law? No, it is faith! His inspiring principle, his guiding light, is faith. Deeper than a commitment to the law, his commitment is to his God in person, directed and controlled by faith.
Consider the weight of this verse to the Galatians and the false teachings which had perverted their minds from faith in Christ. Their false teachers pretended to base their doctrine on the Old Testament and the law. Paul reached into the very book they claimed and produced a verse that said the just man walks by the rule of faith, not the law. The shifting-sand foundation of their error disintegrated before their very eyes.
Far from being easy on sin, the walk of faith draws the child of God closer to God than the law could ever hope to do. Study each Old Testament saint in Heb 11. Examine carefully the faith which prompted their mention in this chapter. Countless other Israelites lived in the same age and communities where these people lived and were fully as moral as they. Why were they not mentioned? It was not the law which caused them to rise above the ordinary righteousness of the law to a higher standard of conduct. It was an extra-ordinary faith in their God which elevated them to those soaring spiritual heights. They were all just men, but some of them chose to walk by faith, a choice which raised them to Faith's Hall of Fame, attributing timeless honor to the God whose wondrous godhood justified their faith in him. You see, the walk of faith is not a looser walk, but a closer walk, one which is even more intimately in step with God than any written code, however beautifully written and perfectly reflective of the Divine moral character.
The lesson from Galatians is not that faith is the path to life, but the path of life for the Christian. It is the star which guides the Christian pilgrim through the strange uncharted course of an unfriendly world. When the whole world around turns dark and frightening, it shines its compass, giving the Christian both direction and assurance that he is loved and remembered by the only God who deserves unquestioning faith in his person, his integrity, and his godhood. It reinforces Paul's reminder, "We walk by faith, not sight." When there is no written explanation for life, it reminds us that God will not forget us. In this way it does for us exactly what it did for Job, long before the man of God had a written Bible to instruct him. Yet, even with that Bible as a guide, faith shines the light of understanding on its pages to give voice and purpose to the soul's ears and eyes.
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. Ga 3:13-14.
Redeem, not a very common Twentieth Century word, is acutely pertinent to biblical truth. Le 25 exhaustively delineates the foundation of New Testament redemption. Although an Israelite could not pledge his land as collateral for a debt, he could encumber the goods produced by the land. The land belonged to God who entrusted it to each tribe. If the family which occupied the land could not pay their debt, they pledged the land and themselves to a certain time of servitude. At the end of that time they returned to the land. However, such servitude was often cruel and exhausting. Leviticus provides that any near kinsman of the man sold under the burden of his debt could repay the debt and free the man to return to his land. A stranger could not pay the debt; only a member of the man's family could redeem him.
While Old Testament redemption was a legal matter, it was more importantly a family matter. This principle encompasses all the essentials of the New Testament doctrine of redemption. The family of God was sold under the burden of its own sin debt, a just, though cruel burden. Had the doctrine of salvation by works taught by the false teachers in Galatia been true, Christ would have no right to redeem them, for he would not be related to them until after their works earned their position in the family of God! A child belongs to the family by birth, not by works! So it is with God's family! You are his by birth, the new birth. Since you were his by choice and purpose, Eph 1:3-9, he came into the world as your "Near kinsman," and he went to the cross to pay the price of your redemption! Paul's words declare the trumpet sound of the gospel, "The price was sufficient; Christ paid the debt, and you are free!"
The word translated from literally means out from under. We were under the law's curse. It justly demanded that we pay our debt, but we had nothing with which to pay, so we were liable for the penalty, the curse. Our near kinsman, Jesus Christ, came into the world as a member of our family, a relationship which enabled him to stand in our place, assume the debt and make the payment which was necessary to redeem us. Unmistakably, Paul here tells us the payment was sufficient; Christ paid the debt! There is nothing conditional or provisional in the verse. It is as specific and definitive as it possibly could be. What happens in the banking industry when a man pays off a contract? He receives a copy of the contract, stamped "Paid in full." What would happen if the bank sent him a delinquent notice next month, continuing to demand payment? He needs only to produce the cancelled contract as proof that the debt has been paid, and the bank is prohibited from further demands against him. This is so simple, yet in theological matters people seem fearful to accept the same truth about the death of Christ. If Christ paid the debt and God accepted it as payment in full for your sins, what do you have further to pay? Nothing! Your near kinsman already paid the debt! God does not required you to complete some imposing ritual, to utter some rhetorical incantation. If Jesus died for you, his death satisfied the legal demands of your sin debt. And you are now free of the debt!
Remember, redemption is a family matter! You did not become a member of God's family by your decision, your repentance, your faith, or by your good works. You were a member of his family by his choice from all eternity! You were a member of his family when he died for your sins. And you were actually born into his family when the Holy Spirit entered into your soul, as sovereignly as the blowing of the wind, Joh 3:8. As his child, you now have the blessing of understanding what a marvelous work Jesus has done for you and rendering due worship and adoration to him for that redemption. When he became a curse for you, he purchased you out from under the curse of the law. From that time forward, you have been legally free from its cruel claims on your soul. What would possess people so blessed to want to return to the cruel taskmaster of the law and its curse? That is exactly what the Galatians did under the deceptive influence of these false teachers. And it is, unfortunately, what multitudes of redeemed souls are doing today by blindly, but sincerely, accepting the burden of the law under the deceived notion that they must comply with some degree of its legal demands or suffer its curse. Wait, troubled soul! Christ paid all the debt! He intervened particularly for you at the cross. If false teachers or the devil bring the law's demands before you, you need only hold forth the tokens of his death and say, "This is my contract, marked "Paid in full." You have no legal claim against me!"
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding Surety's hand
And then again at mine.
"Complete atonement Thou has made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
What e'er Thy people owed.
How then can wrath on me take place
If sheltered in Thy righteousness
And sprinkled with Thy blood?
Turn, then, my soul, unto thy rest,
The merits of thy Great High Priest
Speak peace and liberty.
Trust in His efficacious blood,
Nor fear thy banishment from God
Since Jesus died for thee."
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Ga 3:13-14.
What is the extent and flavor of the death of Christ? Does it hold any benefit for the believer in time, separate from eternal matters? Does it hold anything for him exclusive to eternity? Is there some benefit in both areas, the timely and the eternal? This is a good verse for such questions. At the heart, it teaches that the work of Christ is the basis for everything good between us and God in time and eternity. Many timely penalties were imposed by the law. Remember, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This was altogether a timely consequence of the law. The man who negligently put out his neighbor's eye lost his own eyesight as a penalty for his negligence. Obviously, the Law-Giver wanted to establish an unforgettable sense of responsibility and respect for one's fellow-man. Yet the same law formed the basis of Old Testament instruction which taught the Children of Israel a deeper sense of eternity than any other nation of its time.
In our study of Ga 3:13 we learned that Christ's redemption was a family matter, that only a family member has the right to redeem, that he came and died under a terrible curse to pay the legal debt we owed, but could not pay. We learned that his death purchased us out from under that curse. We are now free from the curse by his full payment of the debt. Neither the law nor any other creature can raise a charge or claim of debt against those for whom Christ died. He paid the debt in full! These are clearly eternal issues. I once read a Jewish story related to Jer 50:20. In the story God laid some righteous work of his people on the scale of justice, while the devil would lay one of that same person's sins on the other side of the scale. After a while, the devil would retreat to find more sins to lay on the scale. During the devil's absence, God would remove all the sins the devil had placed on the negative side of the scale. When the devil returned, he complained to no avail that it was not fair for God to remove all of the sins of his people. In this ancient tale I prefer God's tactic to Satan's complaint, for it speaks dimly, but with rich comfort, of what Christ would accomplish on the cross. He took away the weight of all our sins by his death, replacing them with his righteousness, and the devil has been complaining ever since.
That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ. Here is the first of two blessings. First there is the blessing of Abraham, secured for Jews and Gentiles. What is that blessing? As Abraham had no hope in himself to expect the promised son, we have no hope in ourselves to expect Divine favor, but God sends it anyway. Did you ever wonder why? Wonder no longer. He blesses beyond what you earn or deserve by the death of Christ. Also, at a time when Abraham was destitute of a son, God took him out in the clear night air and showed him the sand and the stars, asking if he could number either. What a contrast! Both are innumerable, but one is under man's feet and counted as nothing. We view the other with admiration. Could the contrast be part of the lesson? Could the blessing of Abraham include a miraculous transformation from common despised status to heavenly blessings? "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ," Eph 2:13. Do you see a contrast in our former state and our state in Christ? Does it compare with sand and stars?
That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. This lesson reminds us of the first few verses of the chapter and the timely blessings Abraham enjoyed by faith. Abraham had been walking by faith for many years when the scripture reported, "And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness," Ge 15:6. This was Abraham's faithful response to an unbelievable promise from God. How do we react when God reminds us of his unbelievable promises? Faith enables us to believe God's unbelievable! What do we think when we read #Hebrews 13:5? "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." When you are up for that big promotion and you want it like nothing you ever wanted before, do you turn it over to the Lord with the conviction reflected in this verse, or do you worry yourself sick about the results? Do you think it foolish to expect God to intervene in your profession so as to decide that promotion? Well, that's exactly what you should think! Such things are God's daily business. If the job goes to another, perhaps a few months or years will reveal that your loss was actually a blessing. However, if you accept the decision gracefully, truly believing that God will provide your needs, and if you continue to give your best to your employer, your fellow-employees will take note of your gracious conduct, and so will your supervisors. God gives his own kind of promotions.
The Holy Spirit is God's empowering agent, imputing supernatural power, wisdom, insight, and grace. When God graciously blesses us in times of trial, it is the Holy Spirit's ministry. We may remember a saint who is dying with cancer, but rejoicing victoriously over it all, or we may consider the supernatural ability of the early Christians to die horrible, painful deaths while singing praises to God. Our first reaction is probably, "I could never do such a thing myself. I just don't know how they did it." Remember that this was not by their own power, but by the power of the Spirit through faith. And where did they get that power? It came from the accursed death of Christ just as surely as our eternal security. And if God calls upon us to go through such times, he will supply the same Spirit through faith.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Ga 3:16-18.
These three verses furnish a rich source of truth. Jesus Christ is at the heart of the message, although it is quoted from Genesis. It confirms the faithfulness of God in keeping promises. It witnesses the Providential preservation of scripture, for it builds the lesson on the singular form of one word written over 1500 years before. It establishes that the promises God gave to Abraham are parallel to his promises to us, empowered by the faithfulness of God, not by the law.
Based on the chronology of the promises God made to Abraham and the giving of the law 430 years later, Paul convincingly reminded the Galatians that the law could not secure these blessings to Abraham and his seed when it did not yet exist. How could a faithful God make promises and begin fulfilling them based on the law, when the law was four centuries away at the time? And since the life experience of Abraham was the gospel illustrated centuries before Christ, how could these Galatians think the law was the means of their blessed state with God?
And to thy seed. Paul emphasized the singular seed, not seeds, to teach that the ultimate fulfillment of the promise was not the preservation of the offspring of Abraham through Isaac, but the preservation of the family of God through Christ. His words are forceful and literal, not symbolic, "The covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." When we read the Genesis record, we are comfortable that Isaac's birth fulfilled the promise. However, though not contradicting that truth, Paul directly applied the lesson to a higher spiritual fulfillment in Christ. Yes, the nation of Israel was established and grew through Isaac, the miracle child of Abraham and Sarah's old age. But the highest reality of the promise was in Christ, the promised child who would enter the world some twenty centuries later. Do you recall Joh 8:56? "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." Abraham rejoiced at the day of Christ; he actually saw that day by faith. Paul's teaching in Ga 3 is in direct harmony with what Jesus taught. As the First Century Jew had lost sight of his nation's spiritual foundation and the promises of God, many in our time have fallen into the same error. The prophetic truth of Abraham's experience saw its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, not the nation of Israel!
For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What inheritance? Obviously, he intended the fulfilled promises God gave to Abraham, those promises whose fullness appears in Christ, not Isaac. As we saw in our study of verse 14, the death of Christ is the means of every blessing for the child of God both in time and eternity. In 1Jo 5 we read of the three who bear record in heaven, and of three who bear witness on earth. This may be Satan's most hated chapter in the Bible. John led us through the record of heaven and the witness of heaven's record on earth; then he told us what the record is in verse 11, "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." This record forms the substance of God's eternal promise in Christ. Does John tell us it is by our keeping the law or by God's gift? God hath given. The law gives nothing away but a curse. This gift hangs on the promise of God and his faithfulness in keeping it! Remember our verse. If it be of the law, it is no more of promise. How did God give it to Abraham? By Abraham's keeping the law? How could that be the basis when the law didn't appear until 430 years later? God gave the inheritance to Abraham by promise! He does the same for us!
While discipleship certainly sets a high expectation for the child of God, along with the promise of many blessings in obedience, we must be careful not to think that our obedience merits these timely blessings any more than it secures our eternal blessings. Both come from a loving Father to his beloved family, based on his promises and his unwavering faithfulness to them. In this lesson Paul penetrated another depth of truth upon which the whole wondrous walk of faith builds. It establishes that the walk of faith holds more comprehensive harmony with the moral character of God than any code of law. Faith incorporates every moral tenet of the law, but its personality is warm and nurturing, not cold and judicial. Trying to live with the law is about as comfortable as trying to sleep with a nervous porcupine! No matter what you do, you find good cause for pain. And when you are not in pain from a sharp barb, you live in morbid fear of the next barb which will stick you.
In spectacular contrast the walk of faith encourages and strengthens the soul. It brings visions of God's promises home to the soul and says, "This promise is to you!" It replaces the moment by moment uncertainty of dependence on fickle human nature and its faltering commitment to what is right with a strong comfortable trust in the faithfulness of God to keep his promises.
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Ga 3:19.
When a person under the influence of the Galatian deception hears of the grace of God, the first reaction is "What is the purpose of obedience and good works? Why, if I believed that, I'd live any way I pleased." In this verse you see that same mentality in the Galatians. Their mind was busily thinking as it read Paul's writings, "If eternal life and blessings are not by the law, why even have it at all? What is the purpose of the law, anyway?" This kind of thinking reveals a self-serving tendency, a "What's in it for me?" disposition. It suggests that the person who so thinks has deep desires toward a sinful life, but is prevented only by the threat of punishment under the law. Without that threat, sin would be this person's delicacy.
Paul's teaching on the walk of faith is that the love of God, respect for the person and character of God, and the family relationship of the child of God with his heavenly Father are sufficient ground to motivate the highest of moral conduct in the Christian. With no law in the world, the child of God should follow a moral course out of love and respect for God. Christian living for Paul was not a personal score card, it was a matter of family honor, God's family and love for what is pleasing to God. Those who accuse believers in the grace of God of antinomianism, of immorally opposing the law to justify a sinful abandoned lifestyle, reveal much of the Galatian spirit. The walk of faith, which Paul taught, as those who understand the grace of God believe, is not against the morality of the law, but against its slavery and its placement between the child of God and his heavenly Father. Rules and laws are a good thing to surround the family unit, but they are devastating when forced between family members and made into a conditional loving relationship, an "I will love you if...." mentality.
It was added because of transgressions. Transgression, sinful deviation from God's perspective, clouded the vision of God and his goodness with Adam and Eve, and it didn't improve with their offspring. Sin imposes a certain perversion upon its victim. The popular song of a few years back classically illustrates this warped mentality, "It can't be wrong if it feels so right." What does feeling have to do with morality? God is the final word on what's right, not a man's feelings. The Bible tells us that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Does that sound like a reliable guide for morality?
God added the law to provide the nation of Israel a moral anchor, a fixed reference point in a world of constant change, a world which suggests that the old moral view is nothing more than "Outdated Puritanism." God added it to the Christian's knowledge to help us keep him in view, despite the horrors of sin which had perverted the human mind, even the mind of God's children. Isa 5:20 speaks of those who "Call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" To curb this tendency, God added the law.
Till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. The Galatians could not separate the moral character of God, a part of his Divine nature, from the law. They thought the law was necessary to establish God's morality. They were mistaken! Noah, Abraham, and all of the patriarchs who lived before the law was given by Moses clearly understood the moral character of God. And this verse defines the termination of the law, as God instituted and used it, to the time when Christ, the subject of the fulfilled promise, would come. Once Christ came, God's moral character had a more perfect articulation in the life he lived. Paul's words in Ro 10:4 are altogether practical, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." He did not say that Christ is the end of God's moral character, but that Christ is the end of the law as God's revelation and expression of that morality. Once you truly see Christ, you see God's morality more perfectly expressed than you could ever see in the law. The law could only reveal a limited written expression of God's morality. Jesus is the living reality of the moral character of God.
It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Far from thinking the law was a useless code, Paul carefully preserved the dignity of the law as God's revelation of his morality for the time he used it. It didn't change, being written on stone. So the Israelite under the law could know that his morality was not determined by the prevalent philosophy of the college professors at Babylon or the religious fads of Egypt. The final word on right and wrong was written in stone and came from God. That precept is beneficial for us, but now has a better expression in "Jesus Christ, the same; yesterday, today and forever." It embodied the spirit of God's superior righteousness as expressed in the command to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and our neighbor as ourselves. We do well to retain that truth in our minds, but we now have a better expression of it in the love of Christ.
The beautiful reality of Paul's teaching to the Galatians is altogether fitting for us. Faith does not contradict the moral code of God; it is a better communication of that part of God than the law. Therefore, it has replaced the law as the guiding principle for the family of God. May we keep our minds set on the Lord Jesus Christ and follow the example he lived for us.
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. Ga 3:21.
In nature or in logical reasoning we frequently see apparent contradictions, which, upon careful investigation, are complementary, not contradictory. In nature all solid matter is subject to the law of gravity and must fall. Yet an airplane weighing many tons can gracefully rise above the ground and fly through the air, seeming to defy the law of gravity. However, it actually uses the laws of aerodynamics to offset the law of gravity. In religious thought a frequently heard discussion is the attempt to prove that the law and grace are compatible. Since most contemporary theologians subscribe to some form of salvation by works, mental or physical, the emphatic teachings of Paul often are a bit embarrassing. Such verses as the one quoted here are rather straightforward and difficult to interpret so as to accommodate the idea of salvation by works of any kind!
Whether we consider legal, eternal righteousness or practical Christian living, the law does not lend itself to a comfortable spiritual culture. It lends itself more to extreme interpretations and artificial demands than to warmth and nurturing spiritual health. However, the fault is not with the law, but with the warped sinful mind of those who attempt to use it to their personal advantage. Interestingly, the man who thinks his eternal salvation is by his works will show himself a promising legalist in matters of timely discipleship, and the man who respects the grace of God in eternal matters will tend to be more gracious in timely matters. Nevertheless, the carnal legalism which thrives within most of us can surmount any barrier and impose the yoke of legalism upon us so easily. None of us is immune to the legal virus. It is quite contagious! This lesson offers an excellent preventive for this infectious spiritual disease.
God's law and God's promises are not contradictory. They both originated with the same God! However, if you force either to do what God did not intend them to do, you create the impression of contradiction and loose sight of the harmony of both. God forbid! Paul used this expression when he wanted to respond with the most emphatic "No!" he could imagine. The problem was not with the law, but with the inaccurate use to which the Galatians and their false teachers had subjected the law.
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. In context, "If there had been" distinctly tells us that no law was ever given which enabled a man to keep it and gain eternal life. This was the precise error of the Galatians! Paul told them in this verse that they were charting an impossible course. What a dynamic statement! God never gave a law which a dead man could obey and gain life. The Bible describes the lost sinner as a dead man; for example, Eph 2:1, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." These people were active before and after their salvation, but they were dead, separated from God, and incapable of any friendly relationship with God, dead to God. Could they do something to alter the situation? The modern religionist gives you a law, a series of actions to perform, with the assurance that you will have eternal life if you successfully do all these things. What did Paul say about it under the direction of the Holy Spirit? No such law was ever given. Had such a law existed, righteousness, saving eternal righteousness, would have been by the law, and there would have been no necessity for Christ to come into the world and die for our sins.
Paul's conclusion is unmistakable. Salvation by works, by the law, even Moses' law, is impossible! Not difficult, impossible! Not a living soul can gain eternal life on this basis, for no law was ever given which had that ability. The law was of God, and it wonderfully revealed God's righteous character, but God did not give it to impart eternal life. He gave it for another reason which Paul was preparing the Galatians to understand. Compare this verse to Ga 2:21, "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Law in this context is not a contrived law, a law of our own making, but the law of God, the Mosaic code written on the tables of stone and revealed in the Old Testament. It was God's law, and it had a noble purpose, but he didn't empower it to give life to the dead!
There is a relationship between legal righteousness and eternal life. Before the sinner is entitled to eternal life, his sins must be removed and their legal debt settled with God, a requirement which can only be completed at the cross. But the issue of eternal life and Christian living, practical godliness, are two separate issues in scripture. Eternal life is of God, sovereignly, exclusively of God, and inclusive of all for whom Christ died. Eternal life is not the result of conformity to a law, but the result of God's grace, accomplishing the new birth and bringing a new spiritual life into the world. Practical righteousness, Christian living, is the outgrowth, the manifestation, of eternal life. The one who has been born of God will manifest that birth, that eternal life which partakes of the Divine Nature of God, by righteous living. Eternal life causes the child of God to live out a righteous conduct. The Galatians believed that a righteous conduct would cause eternal life. They were guilty of reverse reasoning, of faulty reasoning and illogical theology. May God grant us the wisdom to know the true cause of our eternal life, Jesus Christ, God's Son and our Savior. May we never attribute our eternal life to anything else, not even some good thing which God gave us for another use.
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. Ga 3:22.
Does Christ have faith? This verse, along with several others in Galatians, speaks of the faith of Jesus Christ. If we think of faith, as opposed to perfect sight, it would be absurd to attribute faith to Christ. To delve deeply into and drink from the wells of salvation, we must set our minds on the natural interpretation of the scriptures in context and avoid unnatural extremes. To respect the truth of this text, we neither have to make Christ peer vaguely into the future, grasping it as a matter of faith, nor do we need to take shelter in "Another translation which reads ...." This lesson is fascinating and instructive, taken in the setting God gave it.
The scripture hath concluded all under sin. The reference is to scripture in general, the whole body of scripture, the message revealed in scripture. The conclusion is comprehensive and convicting for the Galatian error. Under sin reveals that God's moral law is in force and that its precepts were violated. The word translated sin means to miss the mark or target. It suggests aiming an arrow at a target, but releasing it so as to miss the target altogether. The core of truth presented is that the law defined the target of godly living, but that all have ignored its direction and missed the target. This interpretation coincides with Paul's reasoning earlier in this chapter, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." Why are they under the curse? Because they have missed the mark, they knowingly avoided the pattern of conduct set forth in the law? Consider that God gave the foundation of his moral code in ten brief, easily understood statements, but that mortal man has ignored and avoided those ten commandments from the day they were written in stone. While the Galatians thought they could keep the law and gain its final approval, Paul aimed that same law at them and reminded them that the scripture, not one particular scripture, but the entire body of scripture, reached a settled undeniable conclusion; that all are under sin. If they sought justification by the law, they were in real trouble, for they, part of the all in the conclusion of scripture, were under sin and deserved legal sentencing, not vindication. Justification by the law is impossible!
That the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. In verse 14 of this chapter Paul taught that the blessing of Abraham extended to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, "That we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." In context this promise relates to the blessing Abraham received by believing in the Lord and having that belief counted for righteousness. It draws a parallel between Abraham and the believer. Although many attempt to make this experience of Abraham his act of saving faith, they are convicted of error by the fact that Abraham walked by faith for 10-15 years before this particular act of faith. Far from being Abraham's first act of faith, this was a significant act of faith by a seasoned long-standing servant of God. "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went," Heb 11:8. God called Abraham to go out of Ur, and he obeyed by faith.
The beauty of this verse to the Galatians, and to those sincere, but misguided souls who live in the Galatian neighborhood today, is this. How can you attribute your deserving of heaven to your works under the law when even your daily blessings are the result of God's promise, not your obedience to the law? What is the strength of the promise? Is it the legal perfection of the Galatians' living? Their honorable performance under the ten commandments? No, Paul reminded them that they, along with everyone else who is under the law, were under sin, guilty of violation. Therefore, under the law, they deserved condemnation for their guilt, not praise for their obedience! At that point it is likely that the Galatians were asking, "How then can we find any blessing? Help us, please?" The promise by faith of Jesus Christ is more than passively suggestive to the Galatians that the strength of God's promise is directly fused to God's faithful character.
Might be given to them that believe. This is powerful teaching to those who strive for security under the law. Abraham, the Bible personification of the faithful man of God, called in scripture the friend of God, believed in God, specifically, in God's faithful character to give the son he had promised. That loving gracious God was pleased with Abraham's faithful acceptance of the promise and responded by counting his act of faith as if he had performed a righteous act. But the law cannot measure such conduct. It is entirely outside the visible perception of any man, resting comfortably between God alone and his faithful, believing servant. The promise of the Spirit through faith is not the promise of life to the lost, but fullness of life to the child of God. Based on Joh 5:24 and 1Jo 5:1 as examples of scriptural truth, the believer is already saved, already born of God. Therefore, belief cannot be the cause of what already exists when belief occurs in the heart.
What is the purpose of faith then? Why believe in God? I respond with the language of scripture, "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost," Ro 15:13. What comes through believing? Joy and peace, not eternal life! In Joh 10:10 Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, said that his coming was for two purposes, that his sheep might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. A settled trusting faith in God is the personification of the abundant life! May we enjoy it richly and fully.
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. Ga 3:23-25.
This verse defines God's purpose for the law. The Galatians had been deceived into a false notion of the law's function. Once corrected, they needed to know why God gave it, what purpose it served. Notice that all the verbs used to describe the function of the law are in the past tense. The age of the law had ended, replaced by faith in Christ, the better guide. Occasionally you hear someone say that it is necessary to make a new convert feel the crush of the law, that we should intentionally put them under the law and make them feel its demands. Then we should tell them about Christ to show them what deliverance is. This notion is false! Once Christ came and fulfilled the law, it forever ended God's purpose for it as a guide to the child of God. In the early spiritual experience a child of God will feel the conviction of the law written in the heart, but the law written in stone is now obsolete.
Before faith came. The law had a time limit assigned to it. This does not mean that the morality of God is bound by any time, for God's moral character knows no limits of time or dispensation. However, the law was for man, not for God, and the law, as a guide to keep the people of Israel under its protective custody, ended when Christ came. Now that faith has come, Christ the object and substance of faith, we are no longer shut up under the control of the law.
The law was our schoolmaster. The word translated schoolmaster is pedagogue. The idea is not that the pedagogue was responsible simply as a baby sitter in the parents' absence, but that he was responsible to raise the child to adulthood. From infancy through childhood to mature adulthood, the law was the Old Testament Jew's guide. Compare the wisdom God gave to Israel, knowledge of science, health, medicine, social and governmental laws, which were centuries ahead of any civilization around them. The Divine intent was that Israel would slowly progress in their appreciation of that marvelous blessing, that they would finally understand that their laws and customs from God were superior to anything in the world at that time. In a number of particular concepts only in the Nineteenth or Twentieth Centuries have scientists discovered the wisdom of many of the customs God gave to Israel some fifteen hundred years before Christ.
To bring us unto Christ. These timely blessings of the law are quite significant, but they are nothing to compare with the blessing of the law as a temporary guide to point the godly Israelite to the coming Messiah. In this function the law was far from contrary to faith and the Divine promises; it was a vehicle of faith and a reminder of the promises. But why pervert it and make it into something which God never intended when you now have Christ, the object of faith, and the fulfilled promises of God which flow through Christ.
That we might be justified by faith. We have the same blessing as Abraham, the Friend of God and seasoned sojourner of faith, who was justified by faith some ten or fifteen years after he began his walk of faith, when he believed in God's most precious promise. Paul's comparison is rich. When we believe in God, as Abraham did, we are justified by faith, as he was. Our faith is no less precious and blessed than Abraham's. In Abraham's faith and ours God is magnified as a covenant-keeping, promise-honoring God who will stand by his people at all times and in all circumstances.
The pedagogue's work did not end until the child became a mature adult. Until Christ came and gave substance and form to faith, the Old Testament Israelite was, in spiritual reality, an infant child. Only when faith clearly sees the Lord Jesus Christ as its object does the child of God reach adulthood. The mature, full grown child of God will be satisfied with nothing less, and nothing else, than the crucified and resurrected Christ. Here he sees all the promises of God brought to fruition, rich and complete in the glorious Christ. "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us," 2Co 1:20. We can consider none of the promises complete without Christ, and all the promises of God in Christ are "Yes!" "Amen!" There are no conditional promises in him, no provisional promises. Every promise of blessing is answered affirmatively in Christ. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ," Eph 1:3. How many spiritual blessings are in Christ? All spiritual blessings!
Paul could be as blunt and overpowering as the intellectual giant which he was, but he could also be the most tactful, kind teacher imaginable, much like his Master Teacher. In this passage he shows a wonderful touch of tenderness, not artificial emotional mush, but genuine compassion. As soft and subtle as a mother, teaching the child in her lap with commitment and purpose, but with unbelievable love, Paul took these wayward Galatians in his spiritual lap and taught them the true intent of the law. He established that the law could never bring a single Israelite to adult spirituality unless Christ had come and fulfilled the promises God gave. He gently, but clearly established that the mark of spiritual maturity is not a jealous adherence to the law, but a loving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Ga 3:26.
How can you be a child by faith? Is this the new birth or some other form of childhood? The Galatian error asserted that all relationships with God depended on the law. Paul's statement in this verse was a startling blow to these misguided Galatians. Based on this false assumption that the law was God's primary method of revealing himself and the only basis of a friendly relationship with him, they had abdicated any personal warmth and faith in God as a personal, approachable, caring God.
After having rather bluntly examined the error of law righteousness in the first two chapters of this book, Paul began Ga 3 with a personal interrogation of the Galatians. Who bewitched you? You began in the Christian faith long before you decided that the law was your claim to favor with God; how do you explain that beginning and the wonderful blessings you enjoyed then without the law? How do you explain that Abraham walked by faith, his faith being counted for righteousness, before his circumcision and 430 years before God gave the law to Moses?
Ye are all. Was every member of the Galatian churches equally faithful and equally included in this statement? Or was Paul saying that the only way any of them could manifest their relationship with God was by faith? Did he intend to contrast faith and the law? Someone has written that any text without a context is a pretext. Let's study the verse in context to find a natural interpretation.
Children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. In context, this statement could not reasonably apply to the new birth, the moment when a sinner becomes a child of God. Paul constructed the lesson on the example of Abraham's believing in God and it being counted to him for righteousness, an event which occurred several years after Abraham began his walk of faith with God. To claim the relationship of a child is to claim a close uncommon affiliation. Jesus spoke of the "Children of the bride chamber." These children were devoted friends of the bride and groom whose highest joy was the happiness of the newlyweds. Joy, not birth, characterized their title, "Children of the bride chamber." Paul wrote to Timothy as his "Own son in the faith." This means that he was Timothy's "Father in the ministry and the faith," not that he was responsible for Timothy's new birth. The new birth does not make the sinner a child of the preacher; it makes him a child of God! Further, in the same analogy a person cannot have two fathers. Either God is your Father in the new birth or the preacher, not both. Therefore, Paul was not alluding to the new birth in this term, but in his fatherly teaching relationship with Timothy. As natural birth creates a parental bond, so this symbolic use of children directs our minds to a firm nurturing bond between two people.
Abraham believed in God at a time when the belief seemed to represent an impossibility, that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age; so children of God by faith in Christ are characterized by exemplary faith in the face of impossible situations. They are not "Fair weather friends" of Christ's. They believe in him more than in anything physical or visible. They trust his promise more fully than anything else on earth. Never mind the impossible odds, the apparent difficulty of the situation. If God gave them a promise, he will perform it faithfully! This is not an attribute commonly seen in the family of God. By no means do we see it in everyone who gives evidence of the grace of God in their hearts. It is truly a rare commodity!
Faith is a unique trait. It is either as good or as frail as its object. If you have faith in something which is dependable and sure, then your faith is justified and worthy. If your faith is in something which is deceptive and fickle, it is a cruel farce. Here Paul contrasted faith in Christ with the law. The error to which some of the Galatians subscribed taught that their alliance with God, and God's approval or disapproval of their conduct, was by the law. Paul simply corrected their language and thoughts to exhibit Christ as the center of power and promise instead of the law.
How cruel was their new-found religion. They thought that God's utmost assurance of his fidelity was the law. Why then had Christ come into the world and died? What purpose did he serve? Compare that cold theological iceberg with the truth which Paul taught, that God's clearest revelation and assurance of his faithfulness appeared in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, God's Word! Abraham's faith in God did not depend on his imagination or his wishes. It depended on specific messages of promise communicated from God. Scripture repeatedly calls Jesus the Word of God, God's Logos, his very thoughts communicated to his people. Faith, the kind of faith described in this verse, also relies on a specific message from God. That message did not appear through the law, but through the person of Jesus Christ. The law was not against the promises of God, but neither was it a substitute for those promises.
Being children of God by faith in Christ Jesus constitutes consuming joy in the victory and honor of God, like the children of the bride chamber. It is characterized by a learning, teacher/student relationship, like Paul and Timothy's. It is marked by such an affiliation with the honor and fidelity of God to his promises that nothing can shake it. It is not dependent on how much money is in the bank account, how many friends you have, or how good your health is. It is dependent on the essential character of God! Paul's faith was not in his faith or his religion, but in his God!
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Ga 3:27-28.
When you discuss religion views with someone who differs from you, what is your approach? Do you attempt to build your entire case on the harmony your position demonstrates with scripture? If so, you are right, but you have not gone far enough until you do what Paul did in this lesson, apply your interpretation to the experience and emotion of your friend. Remember the cliche, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." If you don't get the man's thinking and emotions in touch with the correct interpretation, you may be right, but you will not convince him!
What is the purpose of water baptism for the Christian? What does it do? What lesson does it teach us? Paul used the Galatians' baptism to draw their hearts away from the error to which they had surrendered and back to the truth. Under the mesmerizing of convincing false teachers, they had inserted the law between them and God, thinking it necessary for any successful access to God. They were wrong! Earlier, Paul had proved the logical, theological and scriptural error of their new-found religion. Here he appealed to their Christian experience. They were Gentiles, not Jews. When they first heard the gospel and forsook pagan idolatry for Christ, they knew little of the law. Paul's gospel emphasized the work of Christ and faith in him, faith in his faithfulness to keep his promises. Accepting that message, they immediately repented and followed Christ, including baptism. Where in that experience was the law? And if the law was not prominent in that experience, why had it suddenly become so important after the fact? Remember, while rejecting the law, Paul at no time rejected the moral character of God, nor the obligation for everyone who names the name of Christ to depart from iniquity. He based his gospel on a better incentive to morality than the law!
As many of you as have been baptized into Christ. Did Paul suggest that water baptism legally puts the sinner into Christ? Such a position would be much more compatible with the legalists who had bewitched the Galatians than with Paul's teaching. The context deals with the life of faith within the family of God, not how the sinner gets into the family. Remember verse 26, children by faith, in which Paul appealed to Abraham's walk of faith and built his case on a verse which described an act of faith 10-15 years after he began walking by faith. What was the basic dynamic of baptism, faith's view of Christ, or loyalty to the law? The death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the image of baptism, and the person who genuinely enters into baptism does so with faith in Christ as God's Son and the Savior of sinners. This is no place for faith in the law, and Paul wanted the Galatians to think about that.
1Pe 3:21, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ," makes it abundantly clear that water baptism does not wash away sin. Filth of the flesh never in all of scripture describes dirt on the outside of the body; it always refers to the internal sinful nature of man. To dismiss this verse as simply saying that baptism is not to wash the outside of the body is absurd! Peter taught that baptism is an act of faith in the resurrected Christ and faith's answer of a good conscience toward him, not eternal salvation. Baptized into Christ in context refers to their essential public profession of faith in Christ, becoming one with him in life and action. In the culture of First Century Galatia, this was no small event. It likely signaled persecution like these people had never known, but their faith in Christ was so strong that they willingly took the step and joined their fortune and future position in their homes and community with Jesus Christ.
Put on Christ. They did more than make a quiet mental profession of Christ. They put him on and wore his teachings and lifestyle like a garment. He was not merely their Sunday morning Savior, but their full-time Lord and Master, reflected in their daily walk. "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof," Ro 13:14. This lesson deals with the walk of the Christian, not the saving of the sinner. What priority do we give Christ in our lives? Do we make provision for him or for our selfish carnal appetite? How consistently do we wear Christ? No one would dare consider walking out the front door in the morning nude. We always attempt to dress for the occasion we will face in the day. But do we put on the Lord Jesus Christ before we put on our natural clothes. Do we wear him with as much attention and propriety as we wear our clothing?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. The true test of a person's Christianity is not his words, but his actions toward his fellow-man. Allegiance to the law above Christ will always cause a person to look upon his fellow-man with a sense of superiority, thinking himself to be better than the other fellow in God's sight, because he obeys the law more perfectly. "My sins are forgiven, yours are not," is a common response of the self-centered legalist. For Paul what was the mark of putting on Christ? There was no room in his thinking for race, Jew or Gentile, intellectual or common man; no place for social standing and cultural background, slave or free; no double standard for men and women. Ye are all one in Christ. May we stand by that same example. We were baptized because of our faith in Christ. Have we put him on? Are we wearing him honorably?
And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Ga 3:29.
Relationship with Christ is essential. We all understand that, but what does it mean? What are the practical implications of this relationship? The legalists who perverted the gospel of Christ and confused the Galatians saw everything through the law. Every relationship they valued was established in the law and flourished through the law. Every key word in this verse speaks of relationships; Christ's, Abraham's seed, heirs. But there is not one mention of the law. The Galatians were not Christ's by the law, nor Abraham's seed by the law, nor heirs according to the law. Where was the appeal of these false teachers? What was the basis of their strained perverse teaching?
This whole chapter deals with promises, faith, and the personal experience of the Galatians. In the beginning of the chapter Paul questioned, "Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Building the whole of his case upon the crucified Christ and the constant flow of blessings from that fountain, he wondered how they could suddenly think that they began with Christ, but had to seek perfection through their flesh and compliance with the law. "He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" The ministry of the Spirit came directly from Christ. Did Christ depend on the law to dispense the blessings of the Holy Spirit's ministry? Never!
Because the Galatians received the gospel message of Christ crucified with such conviction, Paul could remind them that Christ had been "Evidently set forth, crucified among you." By faith the crucifixion of Christ was as real as if they had witnessed the event! Paul left no doubt about the content of his gospel; it was Christ crucified!
Building on this foundation, Paul reminded the Galatians that the most prominent man of God in the Old Testament, Abraham, enjoyed the comfort and assurance of God's promises by faith 430 years before the law. How could they explain that if the law were the basis of the promises? He expounded the lesson of God's building the nation of Israel on that promise to Abraham, interpreting the seed as Christ, not merely Isaac. He observed with obvious purpose that the promise did not come with multiple options for fulfillment. It was not through seeds in the plural, but seed in the singular. Was there a contradiction between the law and the promises of God? No, they were altogether complementary when taken as God intended them. As Abraham was called the Friend of God because of his faith, Paul reminded the Galatians that they were children of God by faith in Christ. This does not speak of the new birth, but of their behavioral identity with Christ. They beautifully illustrated that identity with Christ by faith in their baptism and their putting on Christ in their life. They were Christ's from beginning to end! How could they think their enjoyed all these blessings by the law?
Being Christ's equates to being Abraham's seed. As Abraham, they enjoyed a place of privilege and blessing by promise, not by their works or by the law. As Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, so their faith, too, was counted for righteousness. The law could not explain this blessing. As Abraham lived 430 years before the law, but was considered a righteous man by the righteousness of faith, so faith, not the law, was to measure them. While the law certainly voiced the righteousness of God, it was by no means the best communicator of God's morality. Faith in Christ, true faith, prompted a righteous conduct, called the righteousness of faith, which far more effectively reflected the Divine morality than the law, and was far more effective in governing the conduct of the Christian than the law.
Heirs according to the promise. Here is the crux of the Galatian error. They thought themselves to be heirs of every heavenly blessing by the law. Paul reached 430 years behind the law to Abraham and reminded them that they, like Abraham, had something better than the law to live by, the standard of faith. Although the Galatians were Gentiles, based on the true gospel and the place of Abraham's faith in that gospel, they enjoyed the position of heirs, beneficiaries to the rich treasures of God's grace, not based on the law, but on the promise of God.
While we cannot fully separate the timely blessings of faith from the eternal blessings of promise, nor should we try to do so, we should not become trapped into the common idea that we must wait for eternity to enjoy our inheritance. We do not possess the inheritance by the law and our works, or by our faith, but by the honor and promise of God. But we are blessed right now to reach out by faith and begin to enjoy the inheritance each day. The God who promised Abraham a seed also promised to be his shield of protection against the hostile tribes which surrounded him. He promised to be his personal reward on a daily basis. He promises no less to us. There was no thought of reserving the blessings of faith for eternity. "Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward," Ge 15:1. "I am," not, "I will be." The reward of faith is not in heaven, but in heavenly places every day we live and walk by faith with our faithful Friend and Master. Eternal blessing does not come by our keeping of the law, nor by our walking by faith, but by the promise of God. Equally, we do not earn timely blessings by our legalistic obedience and good works, but by God's loving promises to his family. That being the case, we are at liberty to rest securely and work unselfishly, full of faith in the promises of God for time and eternity.
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Ga 4:1-2.
In these verses Paul continues his discussion of the law as a schoolmaster to the Jews under the Old Testament. Under Jewish law, a child was a minor until around age 13, and in Roman law the age of majority was 25. In both cultures the child was under the charge of an appointed custodian and teacher until he reached legal adulthood. For New Testament preachers to think it necessary to put Gentiles under the mental anguish of the law before teaching them the gospel is cruel and unscriptural. Since these false teachers built their flawed theology on the need for Gentile Galatians to submit to the law, it was imperative that Paul conclusively define the scope and purpose of the law. To whom was it given? Why was it given? When did its authority end? And what was to replace it as the Christian's guide?
The lesson presents three instructive relationships, heirs, children, and servants. In addition it designates two functional positions, tutors and governors. Consideration of all five of these positions will do much to clear up the God-conceived function of the law. Before examining the three positions of the child, let's think about the tutors and governors. These people guarded the parents' most treasured souls, their children. If you found it necessary to appoint someone as your child's custodian for an extended time, what kind of person would you appoint? Our lesson applies this symbol to the law. No doubt, the Galatians wondered if Paul had some unexplained contempt for the law, some inherent disrespect for it. Was it not given of God? How could he hold anything given of God in contempt? Therefore, the Holy Spirit wisely directed Paul to clarify this matter of the respectability and worth of the law. As the parent sought out the wisest tutors and governors for his minor children, so God appointed the very best pedagogue for his people before Christ, the law. There was nothing in the law which Paul despised or rejected; he rejected the misappropriation of it by the false teachers. The law was a noble thing, but, as tutors and governors only serve for a time, so God intended the law to minister from Moses to the coming of Christ. As the child passed through a positive and worthy transition from childhood to adulthood, so the people of God in the First Century passed through a similar transition by the coming of Christ. After Christ, the prospect of the Messiah was no longer a shadowy expectation. It was a living reality, blazed across the sky of faith, lighting the darkness of the past and guiding the good student of the old schoolmaster into the mature adulthood of Christian faith and service.
The heir. Never forget that, regardless of the condition of the moment, this youngster is the heir of his Father's estate and position. He is lord of all, albeit, at the moment he is under tutors and governors who prepare him for his adulthood.
As long as he is a child. When was this? In the obvious interpretation to which Paul assigned this lesson, it applied to the Jews under the law before Christ came. There is no inference that all Jews before Christ were children of God by virtue of their race, but there were undoubtedly many children of God before Christ whom the law abundantly prepared for the coming Messiah. Remember Simeon in Lu 2:25, "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him." Simeon had learned the schoolmaster's lesson well. According to the history of the time, the Jewish nation was in a constant state of excitement in the time near the birth of Christ. They had learned from their schoolmaster that the time of the Messiah was near. To them, the Messiah was not a utopian state of national Israel, but a distinctive individual person who would appear at that time in fulfillment of every Old Testament prophecy. Yet until the age of maturity, the child is no different from a slave. He can only claim his position and take possession of the estate when he becomes an adult and is no longer under the pedagogue.
Differeth nothing from a servant. The position of adult son, the claiming of the tangible estate and the legal stature of the father, could only become a reality upon the adulthood of the child, the time appointed by the father. It is nearly impossible for us to comprehend the reality of a prior dispensation. We try in vain to perceive what faith would be like without the cross and the burning image of Jesus Christ in faith's view. Yet this was the situation for every Old Testament saint who lived before Christ. This makes Heb 11 even more impressive on our minds. We live in the bright sunlight of Christian adulthood. Faith's age of majority, of mature adulthood, has arrived. Don't expect anything better this side of eternity!
A playful three year old is as cute and enjoyable as anything on earth. Every new word, every new habit, every little giggle of discovery is a joy to behold. However, one of the sadest observations on earth is to see a forty year old with the mind of a three year old. Such was Paul's concern for the Galatians. They were living in the age of adulthood, but they were following adult children back into the shadows of infancy, for this is the meaning of the word child in the Greek language. It defines a small child who has not yet learned to speak. Why would adults consciously choose to return to infancy? Why, when the full estate is yours to enjoy and govern with fulfillment and wisdom, would you want to return to non-distinct garbles and diapers? What a mystery! Yet when a child of God replaces Jesus Christ with the law, he is doing just that. May we rise to our spiritual adulthood and live in the blessed light of Jesus Christ and our spiritual maturity.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Ga 4:3-5.
Relationships are essential to an intelligent explanation of Galatians, for they accent the essential difference between the law and faith. One is cold and unfeeling, void of warmth and rewarding relationships. The other forms the essential foundation for every worthy relationship.
Again, Paul reminded us that the law is not a New Testament Christian's tool. Our lesson distinguishes between we and you, we meaning the Jews and you meaning the Galatian Gentiles. Further, this verse is in the past tense, as are other functional references to the law in Galatians. In Ga 3 Paul established that the infancy of faith was in the Old Testament, before the coming of Christ. Here he advanced that same thought. When we were children, under the law, before Christ came, we were in bondage under the external ritual of the law. Until Christ came, Israel's worship depended on a visible temple filled with furniture made of wood, stone and metal. This worship certainly presented a shadow of Christ, but not faith's dazzling revelation of the risen Christ. The word translated children is from a Greek word which signifies an infant, yet unable to speak. Paul suggested to the Galatians, "In that time we were spiritual infants, not yet blest with the Christ. We had not yet fully learned to speak the language of faith in its mature, adult form which prevails since the resurrection of Christ. We had no choice! Why do you want to go back?"
Three relationships blend and intertwine in this lesson, bondage, redemption, and adoption. From the Twentieth Century perspective, we look at these three relationships and question. What do these three things have in common? From the First Century Jewish perspective, they merge beautifully. The setting is not of foreign slaves, but intimate family members who were in bondage. The key to a proper interpretation is to understand that, whether in bondage, redemption, or adoption, these people were at all times children. The Old Testament Jew who was in fact a child of God remained in the bondage of an incomplete form of worship, infancy, until the coming of Christ which escorted him into faith's glorious adulthood.
God sent forth his Son. The coming of Christ accomplished infinitely more than simply enhancing the form of worship. The object of faith must live up to its expectations, must accomplish what faith hoped for, or faith itself fails. Faith earns credibility only by the faithfulness of its object. In the Old Testament model of redemption only a near family member could redeem a fellow-Israelite from his debts. This text borrows from that symbolism to enrich the Galatians, and us, through the personal family qualities of the work of Christ. It was children of God in bondage under the Old Testament, children of God who were redeemed by their near kinsman, and children of God who will finally receive the full adoption of sons, restoration to the family without any encumbering debt or shadow held over them.
Notice that the bondage of the lesson was we, the Old Testament Jew who lived by faith under the bondage of the law. But the redemption and adoption includes more than we; it includes them that were under the law. Does he suggest that every human being was redeemed? No! The symbol of redemption is a family matter, and this redemption extends to the members of the family of God under the bondage of the law, a bondage which was altogether legal and just. Before the encumbered family member could return to his home and inheritance, the debt must be paid. Therefore, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. The Son assumed the debt of his enslaved relatives from the time he entered the world. He was born under the law, lived under the law, and died under the law to pay the family debt. That payment accomplished redemption! All for whom Christ died were redeemed! The death of Christ was not merely to open the door of opportunity for sinners to be saved. It accomplished the redemption of all for whom he died!
That we might receive the adoption of sons. No longer an infant who cannot yet speak, the word sons is translated from a word which means an adult son. We can only comprehend adoption as the bringing of a young, non-family person into the family. However, in New Testament times adoption was an entirely different affair. Upon birth a child inherited the social status of his mother, not his father. Literally, one of the Caesars could have fathered a child by a slave, and that child would have been born into the empire with the legal standing of a slave. Because of this tradition, upon the child's reaching adulthood, it was common for a father to host a gala celebration to announce the adoption of his biological child into his full legal standing. Adoption raised the son to the full legal position his father enjoyed under the law.
Our lesson is rich with comfort and instruction. Again, Paul rightly used the law which the Galatians had used unsuitably. The death of Christ was specifically for his chosen family, his beloved, but sin-laden near kinsmen. He approached it with deep tender love for the family's restoration. After he paid the debt which held the family in its slavish, but legal debt, he was free to restore them to the full unencumbered position of sons. The adoption of sons! The law could not accomplish this miracle of grace. Only our near-kinsman, Jesus Christ, could pay the redemption price and restore the family. What a Savior we have!
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Ga 4:6-7.
Beginning with Ga 3:1, Paul successfully and logically moved the Galatians farther and farther away from the deceptive perverters of the law. With each finely tuned argument he systematically dismantled their false opinion of the law. With this final lesson he concluded his logical arguments, proceeding next to a series of personal arguments for the truth of the gospel against the Galatian perversion. While this argument may be forceful and blunt to a legalist, it is warm and loving, fully of comfort and grace to every child of God.
Because ye are sons. The ministry of the Holy Spirit here is not to woo and charm sinners into becoming children of God. The recipients of the Holy Spirit's ministry are sons. The lesson accepts the family relationship, rather than attempting to cause it. Because ye are addresses an accomplished family identity. Further, the lesson sets the pattern for the personal arguments which follow. It leaves the phase of Paul's message which dealt with Jews and Gentiles as different, segregated entities. Here Paul pointed his message directly to the Gentile Galatians and addressed them as sons! And, despite the confusion in the Galatians' minds between their original conviction and the newly arrived deceivers, Paul addressed them as mature adult sons, not non-speaking infants.
God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. As with some of Paul's earlier lessons, verb tense played an important part in his reasoning. Hath sent is past perfect tense, not present perfect or future. The purpose is discerning. Paul did not believe that this work of the Holy Spirit was about to begin, contingent on the Galatians acceptance of his message. He knew that it had already occurred! God sent the Holy Spirit into their hearts as a permanent resident, even in their error of the moment. Once the Spirit assumed his dwelling in their hearts, he remained there. Paul did not consider the ministry of the Holy Spirit to be an "On again, off again" matter, depending on the fickle minds of the Galatians. Many modernists teach Paul's message from this perspective, "When you obeyed, God sent the Holy Spirit, but when you followed the deceivers into a false gospel, the Holy Spirit withdrew. Now if you want the Holy Spirit back in your hearts, forsake the legalists and listen to me." How thankful we should be that our God is not so fickle and cheap!
Crying, Abba, Father. These words say much about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, for they translate the words of the Holy Spirit within the heart of the child of God. They convince a mere mortal, even a sinful mortal, to believe that he is a child of God; God is his Father. This lesson will have none of the universal fatherhood of God notion, the idea that God is the father of every human being ever born. When Jesus confronted the people in Joh 8:44, calling them children of the devil, he destroyed the universal fatherhood doctrine. No man can have two fathers, and if Jesus said that these people had the devil for their father, I dare not argue pretentiously that God was their father! But these Galatian Christians, deceived as they were, Paul respected as children of God and recipients of the Holy Spirit's ministry, speaking within them that God was their Father.
Why the two words, Abba and Father? That, my friends, is the chief point of Paul's reasoning with these Galatians. Abba is the English form without the benefit of translation. The English alphabet spells out the word, but there is no English translation of the original language word. Father comes from the Greek Pater, paternal, having to do with the father. Abba is from the Chaldean language and was part of the common dialect spoken by First Century Jews. Pater, the normal Greek word for father, was the usual word spoken by a Gentile child.
This exceptional play on words is no accident, considering that Paul had just completed a forceful lesson on the matter of children in pre-speech infancy, and adulthood. One of the first words a child will speak, regardless of the language of his parents, is the word for mother or father. If he were born in a Jewish home, the first word formed would be Abba, the Hebrew term for father. If he were born in a Greek home, the first word would be Pater, the usual Greek word for father. Regardless of the culture or language, the word for father would be one of the first words formed by infant lips.
So what was Paul saying? He gave us one of the richest lessons in the Bible on the goodness of God in his personal family dealings with his chosen beloved family. With God race is not an issue! It matters not to God if you were born in a Jewish family or a Greek family, an Irish family or an American Indian family! But regardless of identity within the human race, children of God, the spiritual race of the saved, have a common experience in the family of God; God has sent the Holy Spirit into all their hearts. Upon entering the heart, the cry of the Spirit is to God as a loving Father. If it is a Jewish child of God, the word may be Abba; if a Greek child of God, the word may be Pater. But the cry is the same. It is the loving cry of a child of God, reaching out to a caring Father. Then you are no more a servant, not an infant child, but a full grown son and a full-fledged heir of God through Jesus Christ! Faithful Paul and faltering Galatians, both were equally beloved of God and both had the precious heart to call God their Father!
But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. Ga 4:9-10.
In this verse Paul turned his reasoning with the Galatians from theological to personal. He understood what we sometimes forget in discussions with those who differ from us. If we overpower them in logic, scriptural interpretation, and theology, but neglect to apply the truth to their personal experience, they will never change. "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." As Paul began the theological portion of the book with a blunt attention getting statement, Ga 3:1, he began this section in the same way. From a piercing question about their being bewitched, he moved to the question, "Do you know God? I know he knows you, but at the moment I doubt your knowledge of him."
After that ye have known God. Contemporary religious teachers wretchedly abuse the term, "To know God," by inferring that a person's eternal life depends on personal knowledge of God. Here Paul questioned the Galatians' knowledge of God, but did not at all doubt God's knowledge of the Galatians, their salvation. It is certainly no small matter for a Christian to fall victim to the deceiver and follow a false teacher, be it one who perverts God's law or one who teaches some other error. The chastening hand of God is grievous to the child of God who discovers that his sin has not gone without Divine notice. However, the idea that a child of God may loose his family position, his eternal life, by following error is foreign to scripture! God's family will remain whole and beloved by the power of God, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord," Ro 8:38-39. Notwithstanding, the chastening of the Lord will deal severely with any sin committed by a child of God to recover the erring one. The idea that God would eternally separate one of his own fails for lack of scriptural support, this lesson exemplifying that truth. Eternal punishment and death are not chastening!
Rather are known of God. Considering the faltering faith and shaky behavior of the Galatians, Paul doubted how much they knew of God, but he did not question God's loving family knowledge of them. This phrase does not merely suggest God's omniscience, his knowledge of all things, including the Galatians' error. In context it more directly refers to God's loving family knowledge of the Galatians as children of God, though prodigals at the moment.
Weak and beggarly elements. Paul reminded the Galatians that their error made them dependent on physical elements for their worship of God. Perhaps it included the temple or synagogue, perhaps the law written on tablets of stone. This verse deals decisively with the idea that the created universe is eternal; therefore, not created. Could you call something which is eternal weak and beggarly? According to the New Testament, the mature worship of God, which governs the heavenly family after the resurrection of Christ, takes place in the temple of the body, not the temple in Jerusalem. The law of God written in fleshy tables of the heart, not on stone tablets, commands our obedience.
Ye desire again to be in bondage. Again? The Galatians had never been under the law, but they had engaged in a form of worship which depended on temples made with hands, a worship which always brings its adherents into bondage. The gospel of the grace of God delivered them from the bondage of external ritual. Why would they reconsider that form of external worship? Why would they go back to that prison which depended on weak and beggarly elements? Verbally, Paul grabbed them by the shoulders and shouted, "Is this what you really want? I can't believe it!"
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. This is the key to all external ritualistic forms of worship. A religion based on the external instead of the internal must include constant reminders of its presence and control. What better reminder than a constant parade of religious holidays? It matters not whether you honor the Year of the Rabbit or observe Lent. A religion based on externals will not adequately address the reality of God! Every day the sun rises is God's day, made for our enjoyment and constructive use. Every day for the enlightened Christian is to be a Sabbath day to God. This is the truth Paul taught in Heb 4, that the Old Testament seventh day Sabbath has been replaced, not by the First Day of the week, but by the constant state of a believing heart. "We which believe have entered into rest," a Sabbatical rest from slavish reliance on self and rituals to appease God. This rest need not wait for a certain day of the week; it is available every moment of every day.
What is the most obvious mark of our faith in God? Are we, like the Galatians, capivated by the physical and visible? Do we feel insecure and fearful without some external rite to hold onto? Temples made with hands have never contained God, not even the temple Solomon built. External elements are not the personification of God. God transcends all of creation, for he is its Creator. He transcends every temple ever made with hands, for he is so immense as to inhabit eternity, but so intimate as to dwell in the heart of each of his children. Deserving and honorable worship is not external and contingent on physical structures or observance of times. God deserves better than that! May we give him deserved worship!
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ga 4:11-12.
This lesson is a tragedy of major proportions. It tells of a whole group of churches who began under the ministry of the Apostle Paul, but fell horribly into delusion. At a fearful distance, both in geography and spirit, Paul wrote these words. Can you feel the disappointment and sadness in his words? There is a sometimes overlooked bond between a preacher and the people or churches he established in the faith. Their faithfulness is one of the dearest encouragements to him this side of glory, and their unfaithfulness is one of the saddest discouragements. It isn't a matter of ego, but of amazement that someone who so loved the faith and followed the path of truth could fall to deception and leave it. As Paul said to the Corinthian church, "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy," 2Co 11:2. Godly jealousy is not the kind of jealousy the wise man compared with the cruelty of the grave. It is strengthening and gracious to the end.
I am afraid of you. With painful grief Paul had discovered a serious flaw in the Galatians' judgement. Their faith was strong; they understood the gospel of Jesus Christ. But he expected those who embraced the gospel to embrace it with more than words; it should permeate their whole life. The judgments of Christ in which they were to walk delivered them from many troubles, including their own carnal nature which must be checked and repressed constantly. As he became aware of the gravity of the Galatians' departure from the faith, Paul voiced concern as to what further departures they might pursue. Leaving the spiritual texture of the gospel for the ritual and external forms of the law, would they finally leave the law and return to pagan idolatry with its many crutches and external rites?
Have you ever noticed that some people never find satisfaction with their religion? They are in a constant state of change, never quite satisfied or sure of their convictions. Perhaps they are like some described in scripture, "Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." Christianity to these people is not a relationship with Jesus Christ. To them, he is not personal at all. He is just another philosophical idea! These poor troubled souls see Christianity and discipleship as a long unending journey, leading nowhere for sure. They are in solemn contrast with the teaching of Paul, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth," Ro 10:4. Some of faith's pathways lead all the way into eternity and heaven, and some of them, like this one, have an end, but all the paths of faith lead somewhere with design and purpose. How needlessly these poor souls suffer and grieve at their distresses!
Be as I am; for I am as ye are. Paul's words are both personal and powerful. He insisted that the Galatians follow him, his personal course of life. He practiced what he preached and expected the Galatians to do likewise! Paul was born an Israelite, of the tribe of Benjamin. He knew his ancestry in Israel. Educated in the strictest tradition of the Jews, he carried the promise of a noble leader until he met Christ on the road to Damascus. How many have so comprehensively forsaken their ambitions and professional or personal plans because they, too, met Jesus on the road to their greatest carnal success? All too often, those who so meet Christ look for a small manageable quantity of Christ to obscurely slip into their pocket, but they are afraid to hold Christ out for an honorable display in their lives. Someone of importance might consider them a radical, stripping them of that promotion.
In forsaking Judaism for Christianity Paul became a Gentile to his countrymen in Israel. Rather than consider it a disgrace, he thanked the Lord for it and filled his assignment as Apostle to the Gentiles with zeal and gladness. Consider how Paul's life displayed these words. If the law were everything the deceivers suggested, Paul could have claimed its advantage as a Jew. But no! He considered himself to be no better than the Gentile Galatians. I am as ye are. On that premise he encouraged them to "Be as I am." Their false teachers convinced them to become Jews under the law. Yet Paul claimed none of that empty right, rejecting it as an infant's toy, worn out and discarded for the maturity of the faith; he focused altogether on the glorified person of his Lord Jesus Christ. Be as I am.
A person whose worship and belief in God depends on the law will tend to build himself up in comparison with his fellow-man. The Jewish deceivers were practicing this habit with some subtlety, but they most certainly were encouraging the Galatians to think of themselves as better than others, even Paul, because they had just discovered this deep hidden truth of the law. What a sad state of affairs it is when someone in a close-knit loving family decides they are better than the rest of the family. It is even sadder in the family of God, where the blood of Christ and the love of God have been graciously bestowed upon all the heirs of promise without variation or partiality. Under the shadow of the cross, all hierarchies vanish! All self-worship dissolves away! And the man who hung on the cross looks directly at each of his children and says, "Be as I am, for I am as ye are! I was Lord of glory, but I choose to assume mortal flesh. I deserved regal robes and worship, but I choose to wash my disciples' feet. I could have lived in a palace, but I spent my whole life teaching my people about heavenly treasures, not about uncertain riches. Be as I am. Take up your cross! Follow me!"
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Ga 4:13-14.
The Apostle Paul's Twentieth Century critics frequently describe him as cold, harsh, and austere, revealing just how little they read their Bibles! Although you see individuality and personality in the writings of each Bible author, none of them attempted to upstage their message or their Lord, a timely lesson for our day. Paul's personality, as seen from Acts and his writings, is warm, caring, committed, and bold. The gospel message was repulsive to Jew and Gentile alike, "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness," 1Co 1:23. To the Jew, the message of Christ crucified sounded the end of external ritual worship. To the Gentile, it required separation from the vile sins of pagan religion.
Through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. Somehow we have the impression that Paul was a tall athletic type, a preaching Arnold Swartznager, but scripture does not confirm that description. Although many speculate about Paul's infirmity of the flesh, the Bible does not say what it was, and when scripture does not tell us something, it is for a good reason. We don't need to know. Foolish speculation is dishonorable to the Bible and to the God who gave its thorough record to us. Whatever this infirmity was, it was apparently visible and objectionable to the sight, but it did not impair Paul's preaching, nor the Galatians' receiving the truth when the Holy Spirit used him to lead them from paganism to the crystal beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected. Why did Paul refer to his infirmity as a temptation? Perhaps the malady was so obvious and objectionable to the beholder as to prompt an understandable tendency to withdraw from society and become a recluse. But Paul's zeal for his Lord and the truth of the gospel enabled him to resist that temptation. Further, the Lord's powerful use of Paul caused the Galatians to receive the message he preached without regard for the infirmity. We should learn from Paul that he did not make his infirmity the subject of his ministry. Can you imagine Paul on a satellite television show, talking incessantly for hours about the details of his infirmity; how he contracted it, what he thought when he discovered its severity, the emotional pain, and finally his resignation to it? Paul's message of Jesus Christ overshadowed everything else, self included!
Received me as an angel of God. The Galatians were apparently oblivious to Paul's physical malady. Ignoring the matter altogether, they heard his message, accompanied with the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and rejoiced that God had sent them a personal message through Paul. There is a historic comparison of preachers to a postman. He receives a special message from the sender, addressed to a particular individual, carries that message with dispatch and respect for its value, and delivers it without editorial comment. The postman's job is not to rewrite the message, but to deliver it! It is a personal message between the writer and the receiver, and the postman's responsibility is to see that the message is delivered. The common interpretation that the gospel is addressed to Occupant, Resident, or some other non-specific notation is repugnant to Bible precision. New Testament messages were always clearly addressed to the particular people intended to receive them. Consider Ac 2:39, "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call,." or Ac 13:26, "Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent." Those who distort the "Whosoever will" verses of the New Testament, as the Galatian false teachers distorted the law, could learn much from this truth. The gospel is always addressed to a specific and prepared audience!
Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? Paul's zeal for the truth had to do with his love for Christ, not with his ego. While not striving to be unpopular or offensive, he was unwilling to compromise the truth of Christ for opinion polls. Sometimes certain truths are not in the mainstream of popularity, even among the saints, but the full message of the gospel must be preached to preserve a balanced, healthy Christian. Paul knew his message would be abrasive to the Galatians. He also knew the truth of Christ, delivering the gospel with full knowledge that the message he preached might make the Galatians despise him. With obvious bluntness, yet with equally obvious compassion, he delivered the message he had received. There is no mean-spirited vengefulness in his message. Often when a preacher follows some theological deviation which the church could charitably tolerate, he becomes mean-spirited and makes that error the central theme of a harsh hateful ministry, claiming to be plain-spoken like Paul. However, the comparison will not stand. Paul was never mean-spirited. This statement was not an attack on the Galatians, but a loving plea, a reminder of his love for them, a love which was stronger than their error.
May we never compromise the content of the gospel message, nor permit a mean-spirited carnality to invade our message under the self-deceived notion that we are following Paul's straightforward speech. We cannot claim his example, unless we are willing to equal his love for erring Christians, including those who disagree with us.
They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. Ga 4:17-18.
In an age when zeal sometimes is the only universally accepted religious tenet, this verse is altogether timely. The problem in Galatia was not zeal. They had plenty of that. Like children with a new toy, they had an abundance of zeal, but, without discipline and navigation, zeal can be a dangerous thing. Often "Mainstream" Christians note with a measure of admiration the affective zeal and blind dedication of their neighbors who are always so busy and dedicated to their cult-like religion. "They are so dedicated, so full of energy, always working for their church. We should be so busy." You can program a lazy robot into a merry-go-round of never-ending activities, but that neither makes his activities admirable nor worthy of imitation.
They zealously affect you, but not well. Hot flashing zeal without the lasting stabilizer of truth and consistency is not at all admirable. It is dangerous! The infectious zeal of falsehood is sometimes more appealing than the long-lasting committment to the truth of Christ, not because the truth is dull, but because of the carnal mind's intoxicated desire to find something new and different.
Yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. Despite the subtle methods of these false teachers, Paul knew the substance of their error. They really wanted to do much more than simply win the Galatians' allegiance to the law of Moses. They wanted to return to the full sphere of the law, including their favored position as a race of people. Paul taught that salvation was by grace; the deceivers taught that it was by race. Oh, in Galatia, they were very careful to pass over that minor point with the Gentile Galatians, but the point was there, and Paul knew it. They would exclude you. It's fascinating that these people were so zealous for new converts, knowing all the while that they would be treated as second class citizens under their system of teaching. Why? Every legalist wants an audience, a cheering section to admire him and point out his superiority. And this tendency has no exclusive domain among the Jew. Everyone, regardless of race or culture, has it. Adopt a religion which encourages it, and you will see it flourish like Spring weeds.
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing. Was Paul opposed to zeal? Not at all, for he often demonstrated a magnetic zeal for the truth. What was the difference between his zeal and the Galatians'? Undoubtedly, it had to do with the substance which inspired the zeal. They were zealously affected in a bad thing, a gross perversion of the law. Paul was zealously affected in a good thing, the person of Jesus Christ. Affected, the word has to do with behavioral changes, caused by their zeal.
But there are good things which cause an affective zeal, too. Paul was zealous over the cross of Christ, over the superiority of faith in Christ, as a compass of behavior, compared with the law. He lived his zeal for the gospel, day and night, through storms, shipwreck, severe persecution, and many other horrors. He could have said with his Master, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." Just mention the glory of Christ around Paul, and you would have no guess as to his zeal. Some say that belief in the doctrines of the grace of God will quench a Christian's zeal. That's ridiculous! Nothing so inspires devout zeal in a good thing like a renewed discovery of the good news which tells of the success of Christ in his work of salvation.
Surely it was good zeal which moved Abraham to leave his family and profession in Ur to travel by faith, seeking a city whose maker and builder was God. It was zeal in a good thing which strengthened him to believe for thirty long years that God would provide the son he had promised. It was zeal in a good thing which moved him to take his son on a journey of several days to Mount Moriah, where God had required the life of that promised son. It was truly zeal which enabled him to rejoice at the ram caught in the thicket. We see that zeal in Joh 8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad." Think of it. Two thousand years before Christ, Abraham, full of zeal and faith in his God, saw the day of Christ, God's substitute offering for his people. His faith reached across two thousand years and embraced the life of Christ, his Savior. With fervent zeal in a good thing Abraham continued his journey with God as his companion and good friend.
It was zeal in a good thing which inspired John the Baptist to preach in the wilderness of Judaea, not the least bothered by the fact that he was not preaching in the temple in Jerusalem. John was a Levite, the son of a priest, but the zeal of his calling was not dampened by that matter. He rejoiced at the Lamb of God whom he heralded. He was even able to rejoice in his own temporary ministry. It was zeal, godly, holy zeal, which sent these words from his lips, "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease," Joh 3:29-30. John rejoiced with holy zeal at his joy for Christ, his Lord and Master. He rejoiced that while he decreased, Christ would increase. That's one of the special traits of Christian zeal in a good thing. It's joy is not in self, but in Christ! What causes our zeal to rejoice? Is it affected by a good thing? May it be so!
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. Ga 4:19-20.
Was Paul Christ's midwife, assisting in the Galatians' new birth? Does man have any part in the new birth? Often the Bible uses a well-known natural situation to teach different spiritual truths. A study of the Bible with the mind engaged always helps our chances of finding the truth in its pages! Two tests, if consistently applied, would do wonders to improve the accuracy of Bible interpretation, an examination of existing relationships and an analysis of cause and effect.
My little children. Paul assumed the position of father, not midwife. A midwife may have an emotional bond with the child she helped deliver, but she has no right to claim the position of parent. In the new birth God becomes the Father, precluding any other being from holding that position. In this verse Paul did not claim the position of midwife, but of parent. Therefore, the verse cannot logically apply to the new birth. Consider additionally that, according to the verse, the Galatians were Paul's children already, ("My little children") even though he wrote of travailing again in labor pains with them. Weigh all the facts given in the verse. They were his little children; yet at the moment of the writing he was in labor pains to deliver them. We should further note that Ga 3:26 assigns the position of parent to God, and Ga 4:19 assigns that position to Paul. Can a person be the child of two different sets of parents? Of course not! Such an idea is both biological and spiritual nonsense! This verse has no more application to the new birth than Abraham's believing in God over ten years after he began his walk by faith. It served as a reminder that he was their teaching father in the faith and that they needed restoration to that respected position.
At the moment I can think of at least three uses of the parent-child analogy in the New Testament.
The New Birth
Joh 3:8, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." This is the new birth, the forming of the essential relationship between God and his child. Tracing the analogy to its base, the wind blows where it pleases, and you can see the effects of its blowing, but you can neither tell nor dictate where it came from or where it is going, one of the clearest indications in the Bible that God is the cause of the new birth and that he works sovereignly and without intermediate agency in accomplishing the new birth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit. God does not have a hundred different ways of saving people, only one, but that one way is altogether sufficient to save all whom God saves, for it depends on God's almighty power, not on the contingency of a midwife.
Children by Faith
Ga 3:26 illustrates this truth. The Galatians were identified with Christ by faith, not the law. Premised, as it is, on Abraham's seasoned act of faith, it cannot reasonably apply to the new birth at all, but to the lifestyle of a faithful servant of God, like Abraham. Here Paul reminded the Galatians of their true gospel heritage in the faith. This thought embraces practical Christianity, not the new birth.
Children by Instruction
Paul referred to Timothy and Titus as his own sons, to Titus as his son after the common faith. In this same way we speak of our fathers in the ministry, or of those whom God used to first enlighten us to the truth of Christ as our fathers in the faith. In similar examples, we speak of fathers and mothers in Israel, older Christians who command such respect from us that we gladly claim a child-like relationship to them in the faith.
Of whom I travail in birth again. This is not the language of the midwife, but of the woman who is pregnant and in labor to deliver her child. Consider Paul's historic relationship to the Galatian churches. He had first visited Galatia and preached the gospel to these people. Under his preaching, they were converted from pagan idolatry to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were his children by instruction! Subsequently, they had been deceived by the false teachers of a perverted legalism and were in danger of forsaking that original truth which Paul had taught them. In the teaching sense Paul had first labored to deliver them into the truth, but they had forsaken it. Now he must go through the same labor pains he first experienced to deliver them from their error and recover them to the truth. This lesson could only make sense when applied to the concept of children by instruction.
Until Christ be formed in you. In the new birth you are formed in Christ, Eph 2:10, but in this birth illustration Christ is formed in you. Paul was teaching these Galatians the importance of Jesus Christ being the central theme of every worthy gospel truth. Under the deceptive influence of false teachers, the Galatians made the law the focal point of their faith. In their minds, their understanding of the truth, it was necessary that Christ once again be formed in them. That harmonizes with Paul's observation, "I stand in doubt of you." He was amazed at their vulnerability to false teaching, and he doubted the soundness of their spiritual minds and judgement. May we never forsake the Lord Jesus Christ as the central theme of our faith!
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? Ga 4:21.
In politics and religion the human mind responds more to bias and emotion than to sound logical thinking and facts. That's why people are often afraid to become too involved in a discussion on either of these subjects. It is truly memorable to recall times when, as a child, I listened to my father and other adults in the neighborhood discuss their different religious views with measured, but honest, difference of opinion, never failing to respect the other as a sincere Christian who believed in God. The basis of this dialogue was normally an interpretation of a Bible lesson, not a sarcastic assault on the other person or his religion.
The people who had shaken the Galatians' faith in God and the truth Paul preached had not reasonably interpreted the law. They did not teach what God intended by the law at all! They perverted it to their own purposes and painted a pretty, but deceptive, image of their version of the law. They were convincing enough to shake the faith of a whole group of churches in the Galatian province. When Paul drew the contrast between the law and faith, he was not attacking the law, as God designed it. He was attacking a monstrous perversion of it! Do you think anyone accused Paul of being antinomian because of his attack against this perverted legalistic gospel? Of course they did. To see his defense of this attack, read Ga 3:21.
Ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? He presented his teachings on faith from Abraham's life, Old Testament events which occurred some 400 years before Moses received the law on the mount. He reasoned from the strength of their baptism early in their religious profession. He appealed to the accepted practice of the times in raising children under a respected pedagogue and skillfully related that position to the law, only to establish that the children of God after Christ had reached faith's full adulthood and no longer needed the pedagogue. In this verse he prepared the Galatians for yet another test of their belief in the law, as God gave it. How many of Paul's proof texts in Galatians come from the Book of Genesis? He was trying to draw the Galatians into a thorough scrutiny of the very law which their new found teachers had corrupted. You say you want to be under the law. Well, listen to the law! Then tell me if it supports the error you learned from these people. Tell me if you really want to put yourself under the law. Paul was carefully preparing the Galatians for one of the most profound lessons in his entire letter to them. He wanted their attention!
We learn another prominent truth from this verse. What was Paul's source of authority for what he believed? What was the Galatians' source of authority? Paul stood solidly on the scriptures as his authority. It is likely that the false teachers raised such questions as, "How can Paul deny the historic position of the synagogue in Jerusalem and claim to believe in God's truth?" Typical of skilled, but errant, disputers, they created the appearance of a contradiction. Paul must either go off on his own private opinion, or he must submit to the position of the Jerusalem elders.
Most often when one sets up the two horns of a dilemma, it is because he cannot perceive any other reasonable interpretation, so he wants to narrow his hearers' field of thought to his own tunnel vision. "You can only take one position or the other. There is no other way to look at it." Where is our authority? In fact the truth of Jesus Christ is not dependent on any particular historic age or individual personality of the past. The only voice from the past which God sees as speaking without error is the voice of his Son Jesus Christ. All other voices have spoken part error and part truth. Although some have certainly spoken more truth than others, those who revered the truth did not want their words to become a substitute Bible or stand in competition with the Bible as God's final word on any particular doctrine. Such an idea would have been highly offensive to them! Every father of the faith in our past who deserves that title was a defender of the same truth Paul established here. The only legitimate authority for what is true with God is God himself and that which he has set forth in his revelation to his people, the Bible!
My friends, may I impose upon you for a moment, this very solemn moment, privately shared between us? In your mind what is the final authority for what you believe about God? What is my authority? I grew up in a faith which is more comfortable to me after thirty years of actively living in it than when I first became attracted to it. I look back with deep pride to many of my forefathers in the faith, but I remember well that they stood strongly for something more distinguished and timeless than themselves! Their cry was, "Do ye not hear the law? The scripture says ..." That call spoke volumes of their respect for God and his Bible as their authority. While loving their memory, remembering their humanity, and sometimes their quarrels, even with each other, we can legitimately claim only one authority as ours, the Bible which God has inspired and preserved and the faith of Jesus Christ which sheds intelligible light on the pages of that Bible! Nothing else will stand the test! Are we willing to plant our faith on that foundation? Are we willing to consign our future faith and our link to God's timeless truth on that authority? Are we, like they, living for the holy and reverend God of the Bible? Or shall we settle for a distorted and limited opinion of our God? What does God expect from us? What authority will meet with his approval?
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Ga 4:22-27.
What is an allegory? How does it differ from a parable? Literally, a parable builds its meaning on parallels. A relationship or activity in the parable is a logical parallel to the spiritual lesson we draw from the parable. In an allegory there is no parallel. The characters in the allegory take on the identity of their deeper meaning. Let's look at two columns to illustrate the players in this allegory. Abraham is at the root of the lesson, but the significance of the allegory occurs between his two wives and their sons. Both wives and sons shared a common relationship with Abraham, but God made a dramatic distinction between them, the subject of the allegory.
Bondwoman Free woman
Mother of Ishmael Mother of Isaac
Ishmael, Natural Birth Isaac, Supernatural Birth
Covenant of the Law Covenant of Grace
Earthly Jerusalem Heavenly Jerusalem
Jew by Race and Religion Jew by Grace
In Bondage Free
Married to the Law No Husband
The scope of this lesson is staggering to the finite mind, yet meticulously constructed on an allegorical base to conduct us methodically to the grand conclusion. As in a movie, identify the characters with the roles they play. Then follow the plot, remembering the part each actor plays. In a movie you may think the personality of an actor matches the character he plays, but you must keep him in the part he plays in the story.
The First Century Jew, obviously including those misguided teachers who invaded the Galatian churches and led them astray from the truth, held a strong affiliation for Sarah. She was Isaac's mother, and he was the promised son. They were Isaac's offspring by nature. They had Abraham as their father through Isaac! Remember Joh 8:33, "We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man." See their claim to Isaac in the background of their minds. It was enough that they had the natural family tree. They were still living in the shadow, the external ritual, of their distorted view of the law. How dare any man accuse them of being in bondage! Paul took them back over the same truth in Galatians that Christ taught in Joh 8.
We need thoughtful time in Joh 8 to appreciate Ga 4. "Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham," Joh 8:39. To them, being Abraham's natural offspring was quite sufficient. What else could they need? The conversation continued, "Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham," Joh 8:39-40. The discussion swings on the logical truth Jesus taught in another place, "By their fruits ye shall know them." If these people failed to bear the fruits of Abraham's life, they were not his children! This simple insight of Jesus incensed the Jews whose minds, like their disciples who deceived the Galatians a few years later, were immersed in external ritualized religion.
Before we look further into the allegory, let's take one more clarifying step into the matter of Jewish identity. "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God," Ro 2:28-29. This lesson will do much to prepare us for the allegory. A real Jew is not merely one of Abraham's natural offspring. True circumcision does not consist of a physical circular cutting applied to the body. Being a Jew, a real Jew in God's sight, is an inward spiritual matter. Circumcision in God's sight has to do with God's operation on the heart, his circular cutting off the foreskin of the guilt of sin, freeing us from the legal debt of sin and marking us as members of God's unique spiritual family. After the cross of Christ, the middle wall of racial partition which was a part of the Old Testament pedagogue, was broken down and removed for ever.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Eph 2:14-18.
We have much yet to learn from this allegory!
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Ga 4:22-27.
Having established the New Testament definition of a Jew, an inward spiritual Jew, we may now look further into this allegory. First Century Jews, as natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, considered themselves to be God's exclusive people. Gentiles are called dogs in the dialogue between Jesus and a Gentile woman who sought his blessing. Paul, an Israelite by birth, found himself in a strange situation with the Gentile Galatian churches. They, Gentile Christians, had fallen under the influence of false Jewish teachers who distorted the law of Moses and taught a gospel which curiously mixed this distortion of the law with an equally distorted view of Christ. Think of it, a Jewish Apostle, trying to deliver Gentile Christians from a perversion of the law of Moses.
Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. Israelites proudly claimed Abraham as their father through Isaac, the son of the free woman. However, in the allegory Paul reversed the symbol and identified the Jewish worship at Jerusalem with Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman. Following the law after Christ came left its adherents in bondage. The law, with the external ritual and ceremony which accompanied it, had been fulfilled in Christ. Once fulfilled, it was an empty shadow of something better which now appeared and melted the shadow with its bright sunshine, the brilliant reality of fulfilled prophecy. To remain under the law was to take on the identity of Ishmael. Ishmael's offspring traditionally followed part of the Old Testament, claiming Abraham, but rejecting all subsequent teachings in the law and the prophets. How fitting that Paul would identify Ishmael with First Century Judaism which claimed the Old Testament, but rejected Christ and the New Testament.
For these are the two covenants. Hagar and Ishmael stand for Mount Sinai, the Old Testament law which was of God, but had completed its mission with the coming of Christ. Sarah and Isaac stand for "Jerusalem which is above," of which Paul wrote in Heb 12. Ishmael, Abraham's son by a fleeting moment of fleshly weakness, represents the vain attempt to achieve God's promise by works. Is salvation by works or grace? Is God pleased by law or faith?
What does this all mean? It is a graphic study in two concepts of worship, concepts which are as much at war in the Twentieth Century as they were in the First. The child of bondage represents external religion and rites, rituals and works which vainly attempt to satisfy a law written in stone, building upon the idea that man must climb Jacob's ladder and work his way into God's favor. It bases all worship upon the external, upon the idea that man must some way earn God. The child of the free woman represents worship based on the law of God written in the heart, of favor with God through his performance of the miraculous, of God's family securely wrapped in eternal love, of Jacob's ladder representing God's all-sufficient mediator, Jesus Christ, through whom the angels of God deliver all blessings to the heirs of promise, Joh 1:51. In the Old Testament the form of worship was necessarily external and ritualistic. For that time it was the best method possible to show the way to the cross and the Messiah. But once Christ came, the worship of God grew into the full expression of an adult, mature faith in Christ, no longer hidden in the shadows of the old covenant. This lesson recalls thoughts of Paul's earlier Galatian lessons which contrasted the pedagogue, or schoolmaster, and a mature faith in Christ; his contrast between infant non-speaking children and mature adult sons, clothed in the full privileges of their father's inheritance.
The desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Taken from Isa 54:1, this verse is not a general reference to all desolate women, but to one particular barren woman, Sarah, whose dead womb was revived so that she could bring forth the promised son whose seed were to be as the sand of the sea shore and as the stars of heaven. Although the inclusion of the Gentiles is a part of this lesson, to apply it merely to Jews and Gentiles would rob it of its deeper beauty. It finishes the allegory we have studied, contrasting the old and the new covenants.
Earlier, we studied Joh 8. To finish our journey through this spiritual gold mine in which we have only picked up the most obvious nuggets, we return to the primary treasure, the words of our Lord Jesus himself.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Joh 8:31-32. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. Joh 8:36.
Blessed liberty from our Lord Jesus Christ. May we know more of his freedom and less of our carnal bondage!
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Ga 4:28-31.
These verses conclude the section of Galatians which deals with critical theological issues and faith in Christ. Paul had successfully taken the Galatians through the law's true design as a prophetic view of Christ. He had established the character of the two covenants by the allegory of Sarah and Hagar. Now he was ready to draw the grand conclusion, to ice the cake.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. The worship of God in the New Testament Age does not depend on a stone and wood temple in Jerusalem, but on the washed, saved, temple of the heart. The law written in stone was replaced by the law written in the living feeling tables of regenerated hearts. The middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles has been broken down. Now we, Galatian Gentiles and a Jewish Apostle, are no longer separated, but have equal access and privilege to the throne room of God's Great High Priest, Jesus Christ.
Children of promise. Although the Bible uses Abraham's faith as the premier example of true faith in God, regardless of the dispensation, it was not Abraham's faith which delivered Isaac, but God's promise. New Testament worship, as seen in its central activity of preaching the gospel of a crucified and risen Savior, moves forward through children of God, children of promise. They are children of God by his accomplishment of the miraculous, a work of sovereign grace which rises above anything the unsaved natural man could accomplish.
He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. So long as the matter is seen as a controversy of natural descendants versus spiritual heirs, of ritual versus spiritual, of internal versus external, an inherent hostility between the two will exist, just as there was between Ishmael and Isaac.
The son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. Never in the history of Christianity has this truth been more needed! God will never return to an external, racial foundation for his kingdom on earth! That age is over! This rather establishes a superior basis for worshipping God and interpreting scripture. The most obvious meaning of this lesson is this. The son of the bondwoman, Old Testament Judaism, shall not become the basis of New Testament worship. From the resurrection of Christ to the resurrection of all the dead and eternal glory, God's worship on earth depends on a better covenant than the old one. Occasionally religious teachers infer that the repossession of the "Holy Land" by the nation of Israel fulfilled Bible prophecy. Until significant numbers of those people manifest faith in Christ and follow him, they have no more claim to fulfilled Bible prophecy than any other nation. And once they believe in Christ and follow him, they join the happy children of the free woman who have been rejoicing in the heritage of the saved since the resurrection of Christ.
We are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. We, Gentile Galatians and a Jewish Apostle, become one in Christ and share the blessing of Isaac, son of the free woman. Spiritually, we do not define race by earthly parents or family trees, but by a heavenly heritage; our names are written in heaven. We need no longer walk in the ominous shadow of unresolved sin. We stand in the company of just men made perfect by the blood of the Lamb. The blood of Abel cried out for the revenge of his murderer; the blood of millions of animals sacrificed under the law cried out that sin was not yet covered in God's eyes. But New Testament worship by the sons of Sarah, gathers around the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, which speaks of covered sin, of guilt removed, of sin stains washed away and forever settled before the judgement bar of God.
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. Heb 12:22-24.
The worship of God has moved into a better temple!
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Eph 2:19-22.
May the children of the free woman magnify the Lord their God and fall rejoicing before the throne of his grace in holy worship, casting their crowns at his feet with the glad cry, "Thou art worthy!"
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Ga 5:1-3.
This lesson begins the third major division of the Book of Galatians. First, Paul asserted his apostleship and personal experience with Christ. Then he contrasted the law and faith as guides for life's tough decisions, covering both practical and critical theological issues. Here he introduced the contrast of liberty and bondage in preparation for a thoroughly practical close to the book. The remainder of the letter frequently repeats this theme.
Choices, in every arena of life we face them. But, oh so often, we make them lightly, discovering later that the choices were much more serious than we had thought. While I reject the concept of man's free will in the matter of eternal salvation (The problem which must be resolved to accomplish eternal salvation is substantially more profound than man's will!), the Christian must face numerous decisions every day, decisions which directly impact his peace of mind and his ability to lead a God-honoring life. Perhaps no decision is so important as the one Paul laid in the Galatians' lap here.
Most of us are afraid of liberty. We prefer the safe guarded shelter of laws and rituals to surround and protect us. This liberty came from Christ, so it must be good, but we ask, "Liberty from what and liberty to do what?" Christian liberty is not immoral license. Being free from the law does not mean that we consider ourselves free to pursue a course of sin. In 2Ti 2:19 Paul taught that God's foundation is stronger than the corrosive influence of false teachers, because "The Lord knoweth them that are his." This verse assures us that, though false teachers may deceive a child of God and provoke him into conduct which does not honor his heritage, the foundation of God stands secure with this seal of truth, "The Lord knows them that are his." However, Paul punctuated that verse with these words, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity!"
Christian liberty of which Paul wrote means freedom from a heavy burden of external forms and rites, freedom from a hierarchy of laws and rituals, many of them contrived and expanded by legalistic leaders, wholly uninspired of God. It is the liberty of the athlete who wears heavy weights in training, but on the day of the competition he is free to shed the weights and run with all his might, Heb 12:1. It is liberty from superfluous layers of bureaucratic go-betweens who impose themselves and their biased legalisms between us and God. It is liberty to go boldly into the throne room of God and speak with him directly and sincerely from the heart, Heb 4:16. It is liberty to wear the yoke of Christ and to shed all other yokes of bondage, Mt 11:29-30! It is liberty to consider him your best and dearest friend!
Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Entangled again? Yes, the Galatians had recently become entangled with these false teachers and their bondage, so they certainly should disengage themselves and not return to that distortion of the law. However, I suspect that these words intended a more personal admonition. Before they heard the gospel of Christ, the Galatians had worshipped pagan idols in temples made with hands, following priests blindly through a maze of rituals and external ceremonies. After their conversion to the gospel, they heard the distortion of the law from false teachers and gullibly returned to a form of external, ceremonial religion, dictated by men who placed themselves in the position of priest-like representatives of God. Of course this second escapade into ritual was more moral than the first, but it was, nonetheless, a counter productive entanglement in bondage which interfered with the blessings of grace, service, and Christian liberty which they had every right to enjoy as children of God.
If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. There is strong inference here that the false teachers who had misrepresented God's law and the gospel insisted on circumcision as a part of their ritual. This is consistent with the ritual error of that time, Ac 15:1. These people took what they wanted from the law of Moses, what they wanted from the gospel of Christ, and taught the Galatians a muddled, polluted gospel. When the three disciples saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration, they effectively saw, Jesus, the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). The voice from heaven emphatically commanded, "This is my Son; hear him!" Does this not teach us that the Son of God is sufficient to fill the needs and answer the questions formerly addressed by the law and the prophets? If that is true, then looking back to circumcision constitutes looking away from Christ! The cold prickly legality of the past replaces the warm personal reality of Christ. What's the difference, if you are still under the law?
Every man that is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law. The legalists had selectively chosen those parts of the law which they liked and wanted, ignoring the balance. Paul rejected this falsehood with these words. If the Galatians, or their new teachers, wanted the law, they had to take it all! If they assumed the logical debt of the law, they must assume the whole package! Such a burden was impossible! Paul knew it and the Galatians knew it.
Does your conviction about God contain yokes of bondage? Does it impose ritual burdens upon your conscience? Must you rely on another mortal to determine your state with God? Disentangle! Stand free with Christ!
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. Ga 5:4.
Is it possible for one who is truly saved to fall finally away into eternal ruin? Is that the subject of this lesson? Our verse has suffered through much dispute in this historic controversy. Let's briefly examine both issues, eternal falling or eternal security and the valid subject of this verse.
According to the verse, those who are accused of falling from grace also claimed to be justified by the law. According to scripture, is it possible for a man to gain justifcation by the law? "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin," Ro 3:20. This teaching, that no flesh, not a single mortal being, earns justification before God by the law, appears frequently in scripture. If the verse in Galatians deals with eternal falling, it was most poorly constructed to establish that point! Why confuse the issue by posing an impossibility, justification by the law, against a supposed possibility, falling eternally away? To those who believe that the saved can fall away and be lost for eternity, I ask the obvious question, "Are you justified by the law?" In this verse Paul made the specific application of "Ye are fallen from grace" to those who were justified by the law.
Most of the scriptures ordinarily used to teach eternal insecurity, when examined carefully, actually deal with practical, timely discipleship, not eternal security. At the same time the Bible is full of such direct lessons on the eternal security of the child of God as Ro 8:35-39. If the child of God is in danger of eternal falling, then the glaring contradiction with those verses and Ro 8 must be resolved. There are no contradictions in the Bible, only in the minds of those who are unwilling to permit the Bible to teach them its stellar truths! Eternal security is not contingent on the conduct of the believer, but on the love and grace of God!
Interestingly, most of those who teach the possibility of eternal falling build their theology on the same kind of legalistic distortion which Paul rejected in this epistle. Ironically, by teaching their legalistic gospel, they have fallen from grace in the very way Paul taught here!
Christ is become of no effect unto you. In the setting of this verse Paul's intent was to challenge the creative, but perverse, distortion of the law and of Christ by false teachers. The subject was timely and practical, having to do with the consequences of a choice Paul had just given the Galatians, standing in the liberty of Christ or remaining in an entangling yoke of bondage under a garbled interpretation of the law. If the Galatians chose to remain in legal bondage, they would forfeit the joy, warmth, and liberty of Christian discipleship. Mixing the dynamic, loving person of Jesus Christ with cold rigid legalism makes Christ of no effect in a very practical sense. It promotes a cold, legalistic Christless Christianity.
What was to be the future course of the Galatians churches? Would they continue in their present Christless legalism, an entangling yoke of bondage? Or would they extract themselves from that error and return to the liberty of Christ Jesus, putting on instead the productive yoke of discipleship with their Lord Jesus Christ? The issue was not libertarian license versus the morality of the law, antinomianism versus responsibility. The issue was for the Galatians, and for us, to decide who should be in the yoke with us. A yoke ties two oxen together to pull a heavy load. Who would the Galatians find next to them in the yoke of life and religious service? In Paul's comparison one yoke-fellow, the Lord Jesus Christ, is a strong wise companion. He pulls more than his share of the load, giving his yoke-companions the feeling of liberty from the load, because he pulls so much of if for them. The other yoke-fellow is the law, distorted out of purpose and design, for it was never created to be a yoke-companion. In that unsuitable assignment, distorted by false teachers to appear as something God never intended for it, the law adds more burden to the Christian, rather than helping him with the load. Instead of digging in and pulling hard against the load, at the very time the believer needs help and support to work through the heavy burden of trial, the distorted law gets tangled up in the yoke and drags its yoke-fellow down, actually adding to the burden. Jesus indicted the Jews for adding heavy grievous burdens to men instead of relieving their afflictions.
Ye are fallen from grace. They had forsaken the grand design of the supporting, nurturing grace of God, substituting in its place the miscast legality of their false teachers. Grace, as defined by the Greek word from which it is translated, carries with it the idea of graciousness. Nowhere more than in this verse is that thought so prominent. The graciousness of the strong yoke-fellow, Jesus Christ, who made the burden seem so easy because of his assistance, had been forsaken for an entangling ineffective legalism. Another instructive lesson appears in the thought. Ye are fallen. When a child of God forsakes the grace of God in his theology or in his practical Christianity, he falls. Any direction away from grace is down! In contrast with the entangling yoke, the refreshing words of Jesus remind us of the liberty which is in him for each of his children.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Mt 11:28-30.
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. Ga 5:5.
What determines your assessment of a righteous act in yourself or another person? Is it a set of rules and regulations somewhere in your rule book of life? It is for most of us. Is that rule book always satisfactory? It isn't for me! Our verse tells us of a better way to look at things.
Through the Spirit. Most scriptures will reveal some pattern or key to a straightforward interpretation. In this verse it is the prepositions, through, for, of, and by. They give solid progressive direction for the Christian to follow. The path they trace will not lead to disappointment, but to joy and a strong righteous foundation for life's most trying times.
Through the Spirit. The dynamo behind this verse is not the law, or a lifeless legalism. It is the Holy Spirit himself! The Holy Spirit's ministry centers on the spiritual vitality of the child of God. He gives life, vitality, conviction, and a sense of direction and goodness in his motivation of our behavior. The Spirit inspires self-control, conviction from within, enabling us to withstand the temptations which would lead us away from serving God with honor and integrity. The law imposes fearful rigidity, stiffness which dares not bend for fear of yielding. One resides within, one without. One is successful, yet warm and responsive. The other is cold and deficient.
Wait for the hope of righteousness. Although God's children sometimes disagree on various issues, those who heed the ministry of the Spirit work to live a better life for God. Their heart seeks a righteous course. This included the Galatians and Paul. And it includes sincere, God-fearing children of God in our day, some of whom are legalists, some of whom are frightfully deceived. The idea that a man can be saved and live in abandoned sin is repulsive to most righteous people, and it should be! The law of God written in the heart by the Holy Spirit at the moment of the new birth will not stand silently by while the newborn child of God walks along forbidden pathways. Every child of God will certainly not be a sterling disciple, nor perhaps come to an intelligible knowledge of the truth, but the law in the heart will make itself known in the conduct. The one who once hoped for opportunity to sin now waits for the hope of righteousness.
Righteousness by faith. How is this righteousness measured? How is it defined? By the law? No, God taught Paul a better way to know righteousness than the law. Faith and the law are not contradictory, nor are they exclusive of each other. In truth they are inclusive and complementary. Remember the illustration Paul used in Ga 2 about the pedagogue, the schoolmaster. Think about the child who grew up under this pedagogue. When the child became an adult, the pedagogue became unemployed, but, if the pedagogue had done his work well, the child would always remember the knowledge, ethics, judgement and skills he learned at the pedagogue's feet. For Paul the law had been his childhood minister. Then when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he quickly grew up into a mature adult in the faith of his Lord. In Ro 7, writing about his life before the Damascus road, Paul said he had not known sin but by the law. There was no law within, only one without. His only concept of sin was what that external law said. Suddenly that marvelous Jesus stood before him, and he began to realize areas of sin in his life which had never seen the light of the external law in his consciousness. But the law within left no corner of his life untouched, shining its brilliant revelation of God's righteousness into every dark, forbidden corner of past shameful experiences, every deep dark pool of unexpressed thoughts of selfishness and demeaning sin. He first sought desperately for deliverance. Then he confidently realized that he had the deliverance he sought in his Lord Jesus Christ.
Righteousness by faith. By is translated from a Greek word which mean out from. It denotes source or origin. The righteousness of this verse originated in faith, not in the law. There were millions of godly Israelites in the Old Testament who followed God through the directions of the law. They loved God with all their hearts and their neighbor as themselves. They remembered the holy days and feasts. They knew when and how to see the priests. But it was not Mosaic legality which marked the men and women who appear in Faith's Hall of Fame, Heb 11. It was a finely tuned faith in God, a personal union with him which penetrated to the marrow of the soul. It was an allegiance to him which found his words and counsel at every corner of their lives. The righteousness they lived exceeded the righteousness expected by the law, the principle lesson Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven," Mt 5:20. He extended loving our neighbors as ourselves to loving our enemies. He talked about moats and beams in eyes, about being tender and loving in judgement. He spoke of walking the extra mile, of giving your adversary the clothes off your back. He dignified the state of women and marriage, and warned against the danger of unwarranted anger. He taught honest communications, encouraging the same honest hearts in prayer to God, a God who was in every sense the God of the Universe, yet a personal Father to those who cried out to him in prayer. He reminded his disciples that the God who sheltered birds and made grass to grow was quite able to feed them and nurture their souls. He raised the whole scale of righteousness by these words. He established the concept of righteousness by faith! May we learn the beauty of such a life.
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ga 5:6.
Paul's difference with those who taught deformed legalism was not a matter of accepting or denying the morality of the Mosaic law, as the false teachers in Galatia surely claimed, but the invariable adoption of external rituals and symbols as the means to gain acceptance with God. In that distorted teaching God highly favored circumcision. According to Ac 15, they considered circumcision a requirement for salvation. How fitting! In our time the idea of requiring external actions for salvation is so common that to deny it is tantamount to blasphemy. The Galatian problem is still with us. God's wisdom is timeless!
What is it that pleases God? What can we do to honor him? Paul captured the whole sphere of godliness in one simple phrase. God's acceptance of a man has absolutely nothing to do with circumcision. That, along with the whole pedagogue function of the law, ceased at the cross. A mature faith, adult and well nourished in Jesus Christ, feels no craving for a symbol, either in the body or in a temple made with hands. The true God of the Universe, whom no man can see, receives worship in the temple of the body, not in temples made of perishable wood, stone and metal.
Through the history of Christianity, internal versus external has been one of the most consistent problems to challenge the faith. In some circles the symbols of worship retained the form of statues and temples, which supposedly housed and contained God, and physical exercises directly related to those physical forms. In other circles the symbols of worship took on a more subtle texture, as miscast scriptural ordinances and commandments became the highway to heaven. In a Waldensian Confession of Faith, 1120 A. D., we find these words, "We consider the Sacraments as signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We acknowledge no sacraments (as of divine appointment) but baptism and the Lord's supper." These words are pregnant with truth, for they first denied all external rites, except those instituted by the Lord himself, baptism and the Lord's Supper. Further, they insist that these two ordinances are not the essential means of salvation, but that they are "Visible emblems of invisible blessings." Consider the early date of these words and the prevalent teaching of that time, emphasizing numerous "Sacraments," which religious legalists considered essential for salvation.
In Christ Jesus. The sphere of life where this issue emerges is in Christ Jesus, a sacred circle in which to operate.
Faith which worketh by love. Just behind this statement we hear the mind of the Apostle speaking to the Galatians, "It isn't external legalism and circumcision which works by the law. It's faith in the glorious person of Christ which really pleases God. And that faith works, not by a legal self-righteous arrogance, but by supreme, giving, self-sacrificing love!" Consider these words:
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Ro 14:17-18.
Do you see faith working by love in this verse? Do you also see the glorious liberty of the children of God, liberty in which we are to stand fast? Interestingly, in the Old Testament it was the spirit of the law, much more than the form and ritual which pleased God. Ponder these words from Isaiah, some 800 years before Christ.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. Isa 58:6-8.
These words were written in an age when fasting constituted sack cloth, ashes, and a long face. Yet God made it clear that the fast which would gain his attention was not the one which gave men a good show. It was faith working by love to help the weak, the burdened, the hungry, and the poor.
Faith works. It is not faith expressed by hair-splitting theological dialogue with no practical value and no sweat on the brow to transfer the sermon from the lips to the feet. The faith of which Paul wrote is not shallow pretense, but a working, dynamic faith which accompanies you to the work place, goes actively along with you to visit the neighbors, and is your faithful friend in recreation. It typifies your relationships with your spouse, your parents, your children, and even the black sheep of the family, or that boss who is impossible to please. It does not exhibit hard-nosed sarcasism, but tender kindness. Works by love, remember. It is not the exclusive property of those who agree with us and like us. It is most helpful when we face those who disagree with us and despise us. How is your faith working?
This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. Ga 5:8-11.
Persuasion can be a wonderful thing, or it can be a curse, depending on the wisdom of its use and the cause which motivates it. In Ro 8:38 it is exquisite, for it speaks of Paul's deep thought out conviction that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Here it was the over-zealous arm twist of false teachers and the erroneous thinking which it prompted in the Galatians. Too often, religious persuasion takes on the texture of the persuasion these Galatians and their new-found teachers pursued. High pitched emotional altar calls are strangely foreign to both the spirit and letter of the New Testament. The Lord's love of a willing service and the joyful willingness of biblical discipleship do not feature such actions. Have you ever heard the song, "Almost Persuaded," along with the scripture from Acts, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a christian?" If you want the surprise of your life, look up the word almost in a good Greek dictionary. Could excessive persuasion indicate unpersuasive doctrine?
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Except for one of the parables, leaven always represents evil in scripture. Paul's emphasis on "A little leaven" indicates that the desire to return to the law and its distorted interpretation was not the persuasion of all the Galatians, but perhaps only a small minority. Likely they were a vocal, persuasive minority whose spirit and overactive zeal were in danger of spreading throughout the whole body of the Galatian churches. This would certainly explain Paul's use of the symbol here. It is unfortunately the case all too often that a small number of unhappy people in a church migrate, as if drawn by a magnet, to some error and use it to infect the whole church. This is a timeless truth, just as needful today as it was when the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write it.
If I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. Error, when examined, will always reveal deep flaws and inconsistencies. How could these people harmonize circumcision, likely considered essential for salvation as in Ac 15, with the cross of Christ? Paul intended to stir deep questions in his Galatian friends. Could it be that, in his absence, these false teachers inferred that even Paul agreed with them? Those who propagate error seem addicted to the habit of suggesting that everyone in the world agrees with them. Name dropping is a frequent tool of the deceiver. If he truly preached circumcision, why did those who believed in circumcision persecute him in every quarter? Why did they always object to his preaching of Christ crucified and resurrected? Had he preached the doctrine of circumcision, he would have been their hero, not their villain.
This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. The thought here is broad, all encompassing. It embraces the teachers who worked to persuade the Galatians to accept their error. It includes the fickle minds of the Galatians who heard this teaching and accepted its flawed reasoning, despite the obvious conflict with the message Paul first preached to them. To Paul, the persuasion was as good or objectionable as its root, its origin. For the moment he ignored the persuasion itself and concentrated on its origin.
Cometh not of him that calleth you. Him that calleth you is a distinct reference to God himself. It was God who called the Galatians to truth and godliness by his Spirit, who by his messenger, Paul, sent them his message of grace and tenderness, a message quite contradictory to the pagan concepts of a rash, vicious god which they had known in their earlier life. The gospel called them to a settled body of truth whose foundational core was Christ crucified. But as soon as Paul left Galatia and these false teachers arrived, they blindly followed this new persuasion. Didn't Christ suggest such a disposition in the Parable of the Sower? What mental condition do you think of as a parallel to the stony ground hearer? He has no root in himself, and quickly withers away.
The persuasion which comes from God, him that calls his people to holiness and truth, is not questionable, though unenlightened minds often questioned it. Throughout his New Testament path, Paul repeatedly insisted that his hearers and readers test his teachings against the teachings of Christ. This raises a timely question. Is your persuasion based on the personality, persuasiveness, or popularity of your teacher? Or does he fade into the scenery while your persuasion settles itself on the Lord Jesus Christ? The true minister of Jesus Christ does not seek to establish a personal following of thoughtless disciples. The true minister stands beside his Lord and rejoices at the thought that he must diminish, but his Lord will ever increase. "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease," Joh 3:29-30. By persuasion, where do you stand in the wedding party? Are you content to be friend of the groom, rejoicing in his moment of joy? Is your joy fulfilled in the realization that he is rejoicing in victory? Those who are persuaded of the truth of the Bible have read the last chapter of the Book and know the outcome of the story. They know who the winner is! And they rejoice in the persuasion that he will have the victory. That is their joy!
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Ga 5:13.
Given a choice between liberty and bondage, which would you choose? One would think that liberty would be the unanimous choice, but it is sadly not the case. Many of us, like the Galatians, yield to our lower inclinations and fear to claim the liberty to which Christ has entitled us. Human nature, even the human nature of a child of God, incessantly seeks extremes. It cannot long endure the sweet moderation of truth which God generously bestows upon his people. In so many minds liberty translates into license, the idea that having liberty permits any form of debauchery or dishonesty the wicked heart can imagine. Not so with this liberty! Christ has called each of his elect to the liberty of children, mature adult children who are free to enjoy the privileges and live up to the responsibilities of their position in the family of God. They have no cause to fall into the slavish bondage of thinking of God as a punitive small-minded being who scrutinizes their every action. They have no reason to think that they must, some way, earn God's love, for he has freely bestowed his love upon them and sealed it with the blood of his cross. God's love is not conditional and transient! It is eternal!
Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh. Often when people first learn of the sovereignty of God in salvation, they respond that if salvation were on the basis of God's sovereign grace, they would go right out and live in sin. Perhaps they reveal much more about their lack of personal morality and sincere love for God than they intend. When I was a child growing up in a home which enforced strong moral discipline, there were admittedly times when I refrained from certain actions for fear that I would be caught and spanked. But when I grew older and began to appreciate the value of the moral code my parents had taught, my obedience became a personal choice, based on love and respect for them. Which obedience most honored my parents? One was the resentful constraint of an immature child; the other was the responsible obedience of a mature member of the family. It is not the mature Christian who is in danger of abusing his liberty to justify the carnal nature's insatiable appetite for sin. Faith in Christ and love for God are the most powerful incentives to morality which God ever instituted! Obedience based on fear of punishment and hell are poor substitutes for genuine Christianity! To one of the most disobedient churches in the New Testament, Paul wrote "For the love of Christ constraineth us," 2Co 5:14. The love of Christ remains the most effective constraint upon the conduct of a child of God, both in the prevention of licentious pursuits of sin and in responsible, loving exercise of Christian liberty.
By love serve one another. A relationship genuinely based on the God-kind of love, does not take advantage of others or manipulate circumstances for personal benefit. Whether in a marriage, the home, the work place, or the church, the person driven by authentic love will look for reasons to serve, not to legitimize selfishness. This is probably the most common cause for marital problems, especially in newlyweds who are trying to adjust to life together. Instead of giving, they too often look for reasons to claim more turf in the territory of life. A marriage which becomes a territorial battleground cannot be fulfilling and enjoyable, nor can any other such relationship, regardless of the setting; church, work, or personal.
Mr 9:30-37 provides a most informative lesson for this thought. After Jesus told the disciples that he would soon die and be raised, the disciples engaged in a secret dispute about which of them should replace him as the leader. When Jesus asked what they had been disputing about, they were justifiably embarrassed. Rather than controlling these weakling disciples with a guilt trip, a frequent and most despicable method of behavior control, the Lord quietly sat down, and gathered them around him for these words, "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all," Mr 9:35. He then took a little child in his arms and gave the illustration, "Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me," Mr 9:37. The lesson of the little child illustrates several thoughts in scripture, but here its purpose is so simple we walk right over it. A little child is not often humble, nor obedient. But a little child nestled lovingly in the arms of a caring adult is a beautiful illustration of secure trusting love. Do you want to be great in the kingdom of God? Then rest in the arms of your Lord Jesus Christ, secure in his love. From that position reach out with strong arms of love to those around you who need your help. By love serve one another!
I can think of no more suitable illustration of Christian service. The premise upon which we build predicts our success or failure. The man or woman who is insecure and thinks only of enhancing self cannot succeed in serving someone else. They cannot get over the insatiable need to protect self. However, the child of God who understands that he is nestled securely, as that little child, in the arms of Jesus, without a thought for self will reach out to those around him, doing everything possible to make life easier for them. In the process the loving Savior in whose arms they rest will wrap them even more closely in his tender care.
Christ has delivered us from keeping score, from judging every person we meet by the law and condemning all for their failures which we can surely find. He has delivered us into the glorious liberty of gently serving one another. May we find the joy and liberty of serving in love!
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. Ga 5:14-15.
When our legalistic minds take control, we strain to find contradictions and pull ourselves into self-made theological strait jackets, creating our own bondage. One of those self-imposed prisons is the notion that the law and faith are contradictory. The belief that the moral law God gave is in conflict with the faith God gives is preposterously offensive to the harmony of God. God is not a bundle of contradictions! In the mission for which God gave it, the law was perfect, holy and good. Contradictions emanate from the warped carnal mind, not from God. Paul could be blunt and hard-hitting, but he could be a marvelous diplomat when the occasion warranted it. We see both sides of his personality in Galatians. Here he put on the uniform of the diplomat. When we are in discussion with someone who disagrees with us, the way to win their heart to our position is not to club them with bluntness or ridicule. The best way to win them is to gently use their own position and their own proof texts to prove their error.
The Galatian churches falsely believed that they had to make a choice between faith and the law. The concept that God's law and God's faith were not the least contradictory was beyond their imagination. So what did Paul do? He reached back into the Old Testament for a verse which brought the two thoughts into union, "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord," Le 19:18. This verse effectively disarmed the Galatians by showing the true purpose of the law. It was not to justify self-serving condemnation of others. It was not to guide man into earning his way to heaven by good deeds. It was certainly not to impose the idea that salvation depended on circumcision. All of these thoughts were essential parts of the faulty doctrine the Galatians had believed. These were part of the distortion to which their teachers subjected God's law, such a distortion that Paul called it perversion in Ga 1.
Invariably, human relations is a study in conflict, for when two people spend time together, they will expose areas of personality or character which do not mesh well. If they are not tempered by the love of God, they will eventually become so offended as to feel justified in taking revenge. Paul introduced the reconciliation of the law and faith with this Old Testament verse. The moral foundation of the law prohibited revenge and grudge bearing. Not simply when our neighbor does exactly what you think he should do, but especially when he is driving you up the wall and making himself a real pain to get along with, the law of God challenges us with two instructive words. First, it curbs our desire to lash out and get even, to tell them off, give them a piece of our minds, put them in their place, and make them pay. Secondly, it requires at that very moment that we treat them with the same moral integrity and fairness that we would expect for ourselves. When we crawl into the moral gutter and act just like the people who wrong us, we do not honor God.
Where does faith enter this verse? It gleams in the words, "I am the Lord." Our faith may be stretch to the breaking point with the trials of life and the cry of "Why would God allow such a thing?" It may be pushed to the edge by those eternal doctrines which show God to be altogether different from ourselves, such as eternal election or predestination. But the most severe practical test of faith will usually occur in a more ordinary experience than any of these, precisely in the area of human relations where our neighbor -- the person who rubs shoulders with us on a daily basis, spouse, parent, child, boss, employee, pastor, church member, or friend -- rubs us the wrong way and provokes a feeling of anger within us. When that moment strikes, the moral facet of God's law says, "Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against that person." That is the time to exercise self-restraint and treat that person with tender kindness, as yourself. Faith now enters the scene, "I am the Lord." Do you feel violated, imposed upon? Is every emotion straining to strike back? If you simply tell yourself that revenge is wrong, the anger and frustration will remain in your heart and fester into a growing infection of the soul. How is it neutralized? Faith reaches out and energizes the soul by remembering that God is on his throne, that he knows the hearts and actions of every living soul. Faith reminds us that we cannot fool God, nor can we hide the motives of any action from him. Therefore, faith gives the whole messy offense to God and rests in the assurance that such matters are best left with God. It respects the integrity of God so deeply that it is willing to give the anger and hunger for revenge to God and trust him to make it right. Surely Paul remembered at this moment that, when Jesus taught continuous forgiveness toward those who offend, the disciples responded, "Lord, increase our faith!"
If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. Once we give ourselves permission to strike back, get even, and take revenge into our own hands, where does it all end? What revenge is legitimate and what is forbidden? There can be only one answer. All revenge belongs with God! If ever we allow ourselves to bite back, give that fellow who offended us a proper tongue-lashing or worse, we only add gasoline to the flames and justify that person's feelings of offense and his tendency to "Fight fire with fire." The battle will rage on, consuming both of us by such an ugly vindictive spirit that nothing remains of the spirit of Christ in our actions. Vengeful fires devoured us! Christ has given us liberty from revenge. Stand fast in that liberty!
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. Ga 5:16-17.
Are you always able to do what you want to do? What you think is right? What in good conscience you believe is pleasing to God? Or do you often feel caught in a spiritual tug of war, torn in two directions? Spirit and flesh are both very real parts of the child of God. When the new birth occurs, the child of God receives the gift of God's life, Spirit, which possesses the nature of God, including his moral code. As a part of the new covenant, the law of God is written in the heart and printed in the mind of all the beneficiaries of that covenant. Prior to the new birth, there was no conflict, for the whole of the being was quite happy with the way of the flesh, of sin. This does not mean that everyone before the new birth is as bad as they can be. It means that they are content with the way of sin and pursue it to the extent that circumstances and convenience permit. They have no moral or spiritual conflict. This tug of war so explicitly described here is unique to the child of God. The law, the moral fiber, of God has been written into the emotions and moral convictions of the soul and mind.
These are contrary the one to the other. Herein lies a colossal problem. A part of the old nature remains after the new birth, some way affiliated with the flesh, the natural body. Essentially, with no complex psychological analysis intended, the child of God has a split personality, having two dispositions or natures which clash in vigorous irreconcilable dissension. In this verse they appear as Spirit and flesh, Spirit representing the very being of God within and flesh standing for the old sinful nature.
So that ye cannot do the things that ye would. This conclusion seems to apply to both sides of the dual nature. The old carnal nature would love to continue unfettered in the course of sin, but the Spirit wars against it and intervenes. The Spirit would love to do nothing by walk with God, but the flesh tugs and pulls in opposition. What is the outcome? As a child of God with these two natures resident within, you cannot walk exclusively in step with either of the two dispositions.
So what is the outcome? Does the child of God have any responsibility in this combat? Yes, that is the issue Paul made in this verse. The conflict cannot disappear in this life; it will be with us as long as we live, but we are able to follow a course of life and thinking which will predict the outcome of the struggle. The child of God is not a helpless rag doll, passively suffering through the disemboweling ordeal. God is not the cause of sin and wickedness, nor does he wink permissively at its presence! He has provided his children with a practical alternative and has given them a command to walk in that way.
Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. The legalists who were misleading the Galatians apparently had not the faintest knowledge of this doctrine. To them, obedience was merely defining the rules and regulations and following them. The energizing dynamic of their theology was adherence to the law. That was quite sufficient in their minds. For Paul and the Galatians who lived this conflict, the issue was more complex. They lived a daily battle of two dispositions in conflict at the core of their being. They could not gain daily victory, overcoming the carnality of the flesh, by simply remembering the rules of the law.
Walking in the Spirit is not some angelic bird walk through the illusionary clouds of sinless conduct. It is a down to earth engaging of the enemy in the conflict of life. The outcome of the battle is not determined by environment, circumstances, or companions, though each may wield their influence. The result of the conflict is determined from within! The child of God may walk in the Spirit or in the flesh. Either lifestyle imposes certain predictable consequences. You cannot walk in the flesh without picking up the moral scars of your conduct any more than you can walk in the fire and not smell of smoke.
Walk in the Spirit. The preacher must get the sermon from the lips to the feet. The hearer must be more than a hearer. The integrity of our religion does not depend on what we conclude philosophically, but by what we do seven days a week. In the board room, the fields, the classroom, the home, in every facet of life, we manifest the validity or the counterfeit quality of our religion. We cannot escape the conflict of flesh and Spirit, but we can take a responsible course which predicts godly authentic Christianity! Walk in the Spirit! Nothing insulates and protects the child of God from the sinful path of the flesh like walking in the Spirit.
It is important to know the eternal issues of God's grace and to have the security of that grace firmly established in our minds. It is critical to know the essentials of God's person and holy character. What Paul taught in this lesson is that those convictions and the living reality of the Spirit of God must be tranformed into footsteps. The most basic motion of walking, putting one foot in front of the other, is where your Christianity will attain authenticity or appear as insincere pretense. How are we walking? How do we treat those around us who are difficult to get along with? How do we handle personal conflicts or disagreements? When no one is watching, how do we walk? Where do we permit our feet to step in the sands of time? Our foot prints reveal our companionship! Keep company with the Spirit!
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Ga 5:18.
Who rules your life? Your budget? Your ambition for that big promotion? The opinion of your peers? These questions define a popular, well-accepted choice which springs from within. In life's conflicts we often feel controlled by circumstances. As if by a ring in our nose, we feel dominated and led around by these things. In our religion we easily become encased in a comfortable set of rules, but life often delivers a curve to us which escapes the rules. We cry out in frustration for a new rule or for a better way to look at life. My friends, if this describes your experience, I highly recommend our verse. That which leads you holds you under its control. You trust it to guide your choices, and you depend on it to sort out all the options which often inundate your mind. The Galatian letter defines two essential ways of looking at life and makes a distinction for us. Paul defined them in several contrasting pairs, the law and the Spirit, the law and faith, infant children and mature adults. But in each lesson he demonstrated the deficiency of one method and the sufficiency of the other. As God gave it, the law was perfect, but he never intended it to replace or undermine faith in God or the ministry of the Holy Spirit, consequences of the doctrinal flirtation the Galatians were pondering.
Between the giving of the law to Moses and the coming of Christ, the spiritual leaders of Israel drifted progressively, or should I say, digressively, deeper into the belief that the law formed the exclusive revelation of God to them. Since they constantly faced situations which didn't seem to fit any particular tenet of the law, they enlarged the law, a never ending list of technical interpretations which became an onerous burden to remember, much less obey. This is the essence of Mt 23:4, "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." It also appears in Ac 15:10, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
There must be a better way! The false teachers in Galatia were doing exactly what they had always done. Never mind the heavy burden or the impossibility of the task, lay on the yoke and crack the whip. However, in the gospel Paul established a better way to live. He gave them a more personal view of God than they could see through the law. He exposed them to the love of God as confirmed in the death of Christ, something the law could not possibly do. Through his teachings, they began to understand that the ministry of the Holy Spirit enlightened them to a righteousness based on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith kept their minds sweetly captivated to the mind of Christ and inspired them through every situation imaginable into godly integrity. The maze of decisions and choices could be overpowering, if each of them had to fall under the scrutiny of several thousand pounds of technical books. But the Spirit, always harmonizing with the inspired writings of scripture, but often affording light and wisdom for a proper application of scripture, perceived their situation and made the mind of Christ known to them.
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Paul's thought was crystal clear. If the Galatians truly walked by faith and followed the leadership of the Holy Spirit, they had a better guide than the law could ever be. Therefore, they were no longer under the law, but under the better guide which God provided. Christ's Sermon on the Mount reveals a superb example of the Spirit's superior leadership. First, it illustrated that the personal interpretation of the law by the Lord Jesus Christ excelled any other view presented by the lawyers and scribes in their voluminous writings. Secondly, it established that the true application of God's morality and wisdom to the practical decisions of life by the Holy Spirit (Who takes the things of Christ and shows them to us) never violates the moral fiber of God's law. It rather enhances and wisely applies that truth. Consider any one of the illustrations in the Sermon on the Mount, comparing what Jesus taught with the interpretation of the lawyers. In their writings the lawyers chronicled copious methods by which a man could forsake his Divine obligation to honor the marriage vow and divorce his wife for such trivia as disliking the way she cooked or kept house. Jesus restored the integrity of marriage and the solemnity of the relationship. Rather than justify the divorce, he taught the man to stop looking lustfully upon other women, adultery in the heart. Study that entire message of Christ, Mt 5, Mt 6, and Mt 7, with the ten commandments in your hand. How many of the commandments did Jesus explain in that brief message?
The Jews customarily wore all or some portion of the law written in miniature on a piece of jewelry tied around their heads or necks. Thus, they wore the law "Before their eyes" or "Over their hearts." However, the teachings of Jesus, reinforced in this book by Paul, suggested that the better way to remember the law of God was to follow the Holy Spirit and remember the law written in their heart. It is better to wear the law on the inside than on the outside, applying it to the life where it is worn. If we do not administer the law until a behavior has begun, it is too late to control the behavior. But if we apply it to the thoughts and motives of the heart, curbing and controlling them at the very thought of wrong, it effectively molds godliness and integrity into the feet. Someone has teasingly written, "It is better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent." The thought well applies to this lesson. The Holy Spirit's leadership always gets it right the first time! May we follow God's wise leader.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Ga 5:19-21.
We should remember the key problem which prompted Paul to write Galatians. Taking advantage of the innate legalism which lives just beneath the surface in most of us, the false teachers easily induced the Galatians to cultivate that harsh legalistic spirit, as if it needed cultivation. The burden of legalism is fertile soil for guilt trips and denigrating manipulation over ourselves and others, altogether alien to the refreshing joy of serving God in the bright sunshine of his unconditional love and grace.
When a person arranges his conduct to obey rules, to attempt to live up to a body of laws, we typically describe such forced conduct as the works of the law. When that same person allows a peaceful sense of security to govern his outlook and activities, it is as natural and beautiful as fruit growing on a tree. As Paul prepared the Galatians for the express mainfestation of the carnal nature, the flesh, he did not lightly choose the word works. Nor when he listed the spiritual dealings of the Holy Spirit within the believer, he did not casually use the word fruit. While the Galatians thought they had to live up to the super-human expectations of an ever-expanding body of laws, a never-satisfied list of impossible demands with the associated guilt and self-hatred which failure to perform always brings, Paul set the stage for a better way to live and to see the world. The flesh works; the Spirit produces fruit! If God's children could only understand this truth more fully and stop working so hard with the flesh, the Holy Spirit would demonstrate just how fertile the soil of a saved soul really is for its fruit.
Let's briefly define each work of the flesh. They fall into four natural divisions; sensual passions, dabblings in spiritual darkness, violations of brotherly love, and intemperate excesses of appetite.
1. Adultery. An irresponsible attitude toward marriage, which culminates in divorce. "It's only a piece of paper."
2. Fornication. From the Greek word porneia, from which we derive our word pornography. It covers any form of sexual impropriety.
3. Uncleanness. Moral impurity, to the soul what dirt is to the body.
4. Lasciviousness. Wantonness, promiscuity.
5. Idolatry. The worship of idols, indeed, of anything other than God.
6. Witchcraft. From the Greek root pharmakeia, this word appears in our language as pharmacy, pharmaceuticals. It is suggestive of the drug culture, and the enslaved mind of the drug addict.
7. Hatred. Personal animosity, hostility, resentment.
8. Variance. Quarrelling, a personal wrangling.
9. Emulations. Overheated zeal, intolerance with anyone who dares to disagree with us.
10. Wrath. Hard-breathing, fierce, uncontrolled adrenalin time.
11. Strife. Over-stimulated factiousness, contentious.
12. Seditions. Disunion, sinful divisiveness.
13. Heresies. A party spirit, to create or contribute to the "Us versus them" attitude.
14. Envyings. Withering ill-will, spiteful detraction.
15. Murders. Literally, or symbolically, taking of a life.
16. Drunkenness. Intoxication, excessive indulgence.
17. Revellings. Letting out the stops, unrestrained indulgence of the immoral or carnal appetites, any of them.
18. Such like. Once you have examined this infamous list, can you think of other similar things which fit into the same general categories?
They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. There is a distinctive timely aspect to the kingdom of God, aside from the eternal. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost," Ro 14:17. Unquestionably, those who do the things in our list will not experience the righteousness, peace, and joy of this verse? It is possible for a child of God to commit one or more of these sins in a moment of weakness, temptation, or discouragement. What follows? As the conscience begins to focus on the wrong and Divine chastening is firmly, but lovingly, administered, there is a sense of soul-withering. Joy and peace seem far away. What God intends as chastening, loving parental correction, the devil translates into self-hatred and a doubt of God's love altogether. "How could a holy God love me, such a sinner?" There is no question that these sins are the daily traffic of the wicked, but Paul was not writing to the wicked; he was writing to a group of churches. By defining the works of the flesh so particularly, Paul surely hoped to stengthen the Galatians' ability to spot and resist such works in their own flesh.
Of seventeen specific works of the flesh we see a curious division into the four categories. The first four deal with the sensual or sexual passions, two with dabblings in spiritual darkness, nine with violations of brotherly love, and two with intemperate excesses. The weight of these numbers alone says much about the habit of sin for the child of God. A child of God may sin in any of the four categories, but the most frequent sin in the family of God is that which violates brotherly love within the heavenly family! Armed with this knowledge, may we remember to love the brotherhood.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Ga 5:22-23.
This list appears in stark contrast to the works of the flesh list which preceded it. Paul defined activities of the flesh as works; those of the Spirit as fruit. Works is in the plural; fruit is singular. The works list falls into four natural divisions of sinful conduct; in this list we see one harmonious list of godly traits, all the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is a natural process, controlled by the tree or plant which grows it. The farmer may work the soil and cut the weeds, but he must depend on the plant to produce its fruit. It is sad to see so many godly people working to produce the fruit of the Spirit when no amount of such work will succeed. However, when the child of God relaxes and consciously begins to walk in trusting faith toward God, the fruit will miraculously appear.
This choice of words seems appropriate to the Galatian error. The false teachers urged that human works, controlled by the law, were the only way to please God. Paul taught that the law could not control human conduct, that man's works inevitably manifest the corruption of the flesh and result in the works of the flesh. Then he presented this list and clarified that these virtues are not attained by works, but by the natural process of the Holy Spirit, generating its influence as naturally as a tree growing fruit.
Such traits are not the result of human effort, self-discipline, free will, or inherent goodness. They always manifest the fruitful influence of the Holy Spirit! Just before the crucifixion, Jesus taught his disciples the law of fruit-bearing, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing," Joh 15:5. This is an admonition to children of God, not a warning to sinners. Addressing his disciples, Jesus built the entire lesson on an existing relationship. I am the vine, ye are the branches. How does the branch produce fruit? By working harder than a fellow-branch? How foolish! The branch is capable of producing fruit only by maintaining its integral link with the vine. The vine produces its fruit through the branches. This lesson beautifully captures the relationship of the fruitful disciple and his Lord. It set the stage for Paul's teaching that the goodness which honors God in the Christian's life is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Let's briefly examine this fruitful list.
1. Love. Not merely a casual affiliation or friendship, but the self-sacrificing God-kind of love.
2. Joy. Cheerfulness, calm delight. Despite life's difficulties, the child of God who walks by faith has read the last chapter of the book and knows that God will have the victory, reason for joy at all times.
3. Peace. Knowing that God is at peace with you and resting securely in that peaceful miracle.
4. Longsuffering. Patiently enduring the difficulties of the moment, because you know that God will have the last word.
5. Gentleness. Curbing the self-serving "Bull elephant in a china closet" tendency. Refusal to compromise that kind usefulness of a loving heart by indulging harshness or severity with others.
6. Goodness. At the heart, a caring genuine quality of gracious virtue.
7. Faith. The ability and disposition to trust God, as Abraham did. This is a fruit of the Spirit, not the cause of the indwelling Spirit!
8. Meekness. Gracious humility. Absence of self-serving ego.
Contentment to give God all the credit and honor for everything good.
9. Temperance. Avoiding extremes, self-control.
Against such there is no law. Heathen philosophers constantly offered their lists of the most important virtues, but this list excels them all, for it came from the wisdom of God, not from Paul's personal philosophy.
We should remind ourselves that personal determination or good intentions did not produce these cardinal virtues. They result from a relaxed trusting of God and a relying on him for breathe, life, and every moment's need. Jesus taught the disciples, and us, that God knows when a bird falls from the roof top, numbers the hairs on our heads, and clothes the fields with grass. If the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe continually attends to such daily details of the natural world which will soon decay, how much more will he clothe (And feed, love, protect, and nourish) his own children. Is this Providential richness contingent on us? How did Jesus conclude the question of providing for his own? "O ye of little faith!" Without question, there are blessings in faithful obedience, but those foundational blessings of Providence, the loving care of a father for his children, are not conditional promises. They are a part of the essential nature of God!
An Old Testament verse, written some 800 years before Christ, beautifully captures the essence of this lesson, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint," Isa 40:31. The blessings of the verse come from waiting on the Lord. They all flow from an uncomplicated trustful waiting. In your King James Bible the word renew is marked with a footnote which offers the word change as an alternate word. What does he mean? They shall change their finite, corrupt weakness for his infallible strength. God be praised for the fruit of the Spirit!
And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Ga 5:24.
From Ga 5:16 Paul discussed the intense conflict within the child of God, not only describing the battleground between the flesh, or carnal nature, and the Spirit, the Holy Spirit dwelling within, but carefully defining the weapons of the battle, the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. Within each child of God this battle rages from the new birth until death. Although the final victory is always God's, the flesh, encouraged by Satan, imposes frequent and painful conflict. This verse describes the victorious strategy of the child of God who follows the Holy Spirit's battle plan.
They that are Christ's represents those who follow his leadership in the battle, who rejoice in the fruit of the Spirit and mourn the works of the flesh. The relationship defined here is not that of eternal union, but of affiliation in the battle. Within the family of God, we see wide variations of faithfulness, some faithfully walking with the Captain of their salvation and some appearing more like Washington's "Sunshine soldiers," quite happy to fight when it is convenient and victory appears certain, but altogether reluctant to engage the enemy in the cold winter of the soul. In this verse they that are Christ's does not embrace all children of God, but all faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ in the conflict of flesh and Spirit. Not only do these people belong to the family of God, they also clearly identify with him in the spiritual warfare between these two opposing forces. They manifest in their conduct that they are Christ's.
Have crucified the flesh. How can we crucify the flesh? Over the centuries well-meaning souls have treated their bodies with brutality and deprivation, thinking to fulfill this lesson by such measures. Was Paul speaking of the literal body and its flesh, or was he speaking of the carnal nature which identifies with the body? In Ga 5:15 was Paul concerned that the Galatians would become cannibals, biting and devouring one another? Obviously, the lesson uses the actions of the body and the flesh to symbolize the carnal nature within, the weapons of Satan in the spiritual war which rages within each child of God. These faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ have curbed and controlled the sinful appetites which tempt them to indulge in one or more of those seventeen sins described as the works of the flesh in Verses 19-21.
To be crucified denotes cruel, painful finality, but in the spiritual world to be crucified more represents the dethroning of the sinful nature, followed by a victorious resurrection of the higher spiritual disposition. After crucifixion there is something better, more noble than anything we ever knew before. The language of the disciple's crucifixion in the New Testament is usually the language of Christian obedience. Denying self and taking up our cross daily is probably the most frequently quoted verse in the New Testament to encourage discipleship.
With the affections and lusts. Paul unrelentingly worked his way to the root of the matter. It is not the molecules of our physical anatomy which cause sin, but the corrupted mentality which resides within and uses the appetites and abilities of the flesh to fulfill its course. Consider these words.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Jas 1:13-15.
What is the origin of sin? It comes from the affections and lusts of the corrupt nature within. To win the battle against sin, a necessary step for successful discipleship, the child of God must wrestle his sinful thoughts and emotions. Discipline applied only to the body will surely fail, like sweeping away the web, but leaving the spider. Remember the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Mt 5:21-22.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Mt 5:27-28.
Both lessons attack the nucleus of sin, the emotion within, affection and lust. In the first instance Jesus compared anger with murder, and in the second a lustful look with adultery. Plucking out the eye and cutting off the hand is not a command to mutilate the body, but lively instruction to deal with sin at the cause. Anger in the heart will drive harsh words out of the mouth. Lust within will drive the eye to look and the hands to reach out toward fulfillment. Cut off the cycle of sin before that occurs! Demonstrate that you are a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Ga 5:25.
Is it possible to be a child of God and not be a disciple? What is the function of chastening? What is the essential relationship of the chastened with Christ? This verse sheds light on all of these questions. We should clearly understand that the Bible gives no excuse or encouragement to the disobedient, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity," 2Ti 2:19. However, we also need to understand that the only mortal ever to walk this earth who lived up to the potential of his life was Jesus Christ himself. For the rest of the family of God, this admonition brings productive instruction. We live in the Spirit. We should also walk by the same power which gives us life. However faithful and obedient we may be, we can improve and grow stronger in the Christian walk. "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do," Lu 17:10. Too often we place duty in a practical category with a number of other unseemly four letter words. People reject the idea of a duty imposed upon them; they want to do their own thing. However, the Christian's duty is a noble venture, following in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The logic of this verse suggests that being alive in the Spirit precedes walking in the Spirit. In fact it teaches that walking in the Spirit depends on our already being alive in the Spirit. These words would have especially strong meaning to the Galatians who were leaning toward the theology that walking by the law caused them to live in the Spirit. The kind of legalism Paul rebuked in the Galatians builds on at least three basic assumptions.
1. Christ died for everyone, but his death saved no one.
2. Salvation is by the law, not by grace. It matters little whether the law is the Mosaic law or the gospel message perverted into a law.
3. Christianity is a new form of law worship, not personal faith in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
All three assumptions are false and were soundly rebuked by Paul in the Galatian message. Paul's answer to these faulty beliefs is crystal clear.
1. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us," Ga 3:13. The death of Christ was not a proposition, but a finished accomplishment. It didn't merely open the way for potential salvation; his death removed the curse from those for whom he died.
2. "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law," Ga 3:21. Since God gave no law by which a man could gain eternal life, salvation must be by grace, not works.
3. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified," Ga 2:16.
If we live in the Spirit. Paul contrasted this foundational truth with the Galatian error that life came by the law. He based the essential principle of our existence in the family of God on this truth. We received eternal life by the Spirit, and that same Spirit preserves our eternal life.
Let us also walk in the Spirit. It is possible for a child of God to walk in the flesh and fall under the chastening rod of God, Heb 12, but we should not desire or consider such conduct as acceptable Christianity. Divine chastening is restrained parental correction of a child of God, not eternal separation! It represents a breach of fellowship with Christ, but it does not represent a breach of the eternal union of the child of God from God and his family. To believe that a child of God can be lost eternally is equivalent to believing that it is reasonable for a parent to kill his own child for a breach of the family's rules! Preposterous!
It is equally preposterous to think that the security of grace is license to sin! The honor of the family, the love of God, and the dignity of his name all compel the child of God who lives in the Spirit to walk faithfully in the Spirit, to manifest the fruit of the Spirit which Paul listed in this context. Whether we always realize it or not, we pick up habits and attitudes from those with whom we associate. The primary contributor to godliness, a life characterized by walking in the Spirit, is that the effective Christian keeps constant company with his Lord Jesus Christ. That companionship will rub off on us and will be known by those around us. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus," Ac 4:13. New Testament Christianity was not an exclusive intellectual philosophy, accessible only to priests and theologians. It made its mark on the wise and the unwise, and in all kinds of people, its mark was the same, "They had been with Jesus!" Is that our distinguishing mark?
It is better to be a good foot-preacher of Jesus Christ than to be a mere mouth piece with no substance in the feet. Unbelievers often ridicule Christianity because of professing Christians whose feet speak louder than their mouths, loudly attesting that their walk is not in harmony with their mouth. May our feet not be responsible for an evil report against the way of truth. We live in the Spirit. Let us walk in the Spirit!
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Ga 6:1.
We all walk on feet of clay, but we don't always remember our own clay, especially when we see another person's clay. This lesson illustrates the example of loving restoration. Each word represents a veritable treasure chest of spiritual wisdom. The symbolism is practical and instructive. There is no joy in amputation; yet many in the body of Christ, driven by the legalistic spirit, seem bent on finding, or making, occasion to punish another for breaking one of the rules. Restoration of the weakling would make us appear to be soft on sin. How refreshing Paul's teaching is on this subject! Truly, it does grant us liberty lovingly to restore one who has stumbled.
If a man be overtaken in a fault. Overtaken, the word suggests surprise. The man involved in the sin is caught by surprise in the very act of his sin. Fault comes from a word which means a side-slip or deviation which may be either unintentional or wilful. The wilful sin should be treated differently from the unintentional one, but both fall under the command to restore. Judging between wilful and unintentional is a difficult thing to do, for it requires us to step inside the mind of the person who is taken in the fault. From our perspective it might seem to be unquestionably wilful, when it was actually an unintentional slip. It would be wise to treat any particular situation with the utmost mercy; the spirit of the lesson requires it, as does the spirit of Christ. In an unkind spirit we easily think that any particular slip, especially by a person who is not our favorite friend, is intentional and devious. However, remember in judgement that the measure with which we judge another, any other, is the rule by which we shall be judged.
Ye which are spiritual. Only when we are assured that our spirit is not carnal should we enter into the cautious business of restoring the one who was overtaken. Remember the lesson of the beam and the mote. This criteria imposes a demanding price upon the one who takes it upon himself to correct and restore his brother or sister.
Restore such an one. The word translated restore is elsewhere translated by fit, frame, mend and perfectly join together. Some say that it was commonly used in the First Century to describe the setting of a broken bone. The bone was carefully reset into its original relationship to its severed part, then tightly bound and shielded until it had time to mend and grow back into its functional place in the body. What a priceless illustration of the exemplary work of the church. Some have said that the church is not to be a reform school. Certainly in the sense of tolerating unrepentant sinners this is true. However, in the restoring of those caught in a soul-breaking sin from which they long to find both repentance and forgiveness, the church should be constantly in the business of reforming and strengthening those who live within its sphere of influence. The broken bone is not amputated and told to grow back into its relationship within the body; an amputated member dies to a productive position within the body! Wise discretion must prevail in this matter. Undoubtedly, an invasive cancer must be amputated from the body, but an injured body member should be restored. It should be carefully restored to the severed position, then shielded and nurtured until it has grown back together and regained its strength and function on behalf of the body.
Under the law, many sins were punished by stoning. Once stoned, the sinner was beyond restoration. But we should observe that God's personal dealings with his people in the Old Testament included this example of restoration, just as clearly as the New Testament. Study the life of David. "He restoreth my soul." "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." The beauty of New Testament worship is that it follows the very heart of God in extending mercy and restoration to the fallen. This lesson should have been a refreshing Spring shower to the Galatians as they examined the differences between the gospel Paul preached and the legalism their new teachers urged.
In the spirit of meekness. Restoration is to occur with loving gentleness. Guilt trips and revenge never restored anyone! These are the tools of amputation! Much of the modern practice of dentistry involves restoration. We have all experienced the dreadful pain of the dentist who seems to care little about our comfort. The needle pierces rapidly and painfully into our tender gums, the drill begins its work before the nerves are fully blocked, but the dentist charges ahead. Yes, he restores the tooth, but the next time we need a dentist, we will surely look for someone else. When we find a gentle, caring dentist who knows exactly how to restore the weakness in the tooth, but who also knows how to reassure us that he is concerned for our pain and wants to minimize the discomfort, we will call him the next time we need dental care. Perhaps we should remember here, more than in any area of our practical Christianity, that our assignment is not to decide how much pain or punishment the erring Christian should receive, a matter which belongs to the Lord, but how skillfully and gently we can restore the erring member.
Considering thyself. Regardless of the particular sin we see in another, we should be mindful that we are vulnerable to the same sin. At another time and place we might be the one who errs and others will be restoring us. Be as gentle with the one who erred as you hope those who restore you will be with you. Yes, restoration is a wondrous liberty of the gospel.
Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. Ga 6:2-3.
James wrote of the royal law of liberty. Here Paul mentioned the law of Christ. Is the royal law and the law of Christ the same thing? What is this law? Is it one of the Ten Commandments? How does it fit into the context of Ga 6? Perhaps this lesson brings us closer to the central theme of biblical Christianity than any other single issue we could study. On several occasions in the four Bible accounts of the life of Christ, people asked him what was the most important commandment. His answer and this lesson blend perfectly. Jesus condensed the first four commandments into one, loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Then he summarized the remaining six with "Likewise," loving your neighbor as yourself. The essential reality of Christian liberty does not violate or dilute the moral substance of the Ten Commandments; it rather builds upon them to a more noble expression of God's gracious disposition. There is no conflict between Moses and Christ, but an enormous conflict exists between Christ and the rigid brutality of those who carve rules and regulations in stone and worship them, as a golden calf, loosing sight of the God who gave them.
We cannot ignore or dilute theological soundness, for it forms the foundation of effective Christian living. However, there are two extremes into which we easily fall. We can place so much emphasis upon theological soundness that we build our foundation five stories high and never build a liveable structure on the foundation. On the other hand, we can ignore the foundation and merely build our lives on the shifting soil of family, culture, or legalistic regulations. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus punctuated his message with this illustration. The man who heard his sayings and built his life upon them was like a man who built his house upon a solid rock, a lasting foundation. The man who heard his sayings and did not do them was like a man who built his house upon the sand which could not weather the tests of time and trial. It is not by accident that the Sermon on the Mount dealt with the Jews' abuse of the Mosaic law. Each illustration was carefully framed to show the contrast between the distorted interpretation of the law and the truth which Jesus taught. "They say, .... but I say." The "I say" of the Sermon on the Mount did not ignore or compromise the moral code of the Ten Commandments; it rather applied the true spirit of that morality to the mind and motives, as well as to the more obvious conduct.
Look at the setting of this verse about bearing one another's burdens. The verse immediately preceding it taught us to restore those who are overtaken in a fault. Restore suggests the setting of a broken bone and protecting it until it mends. It is necessary for the healing process that we not only reset the bone and splint it, but that we also relieve it of its normal burden until it becomes strong again. This verse serves to enlarge and illustrate the teaching of the first verse. After the initial work of resetting and splinting the broken bone, the broken life of a member of the body who has been overtaken in a fault, our job is not finished. We need to wrap loving arms and support around that broken member and carry the weight he would normally carry on the broken bone until he recovers.
This kind supportive work is so important, "And so fulfill the law of Christ." Recall the lesson of the Good Samaritan. The man who needed help had not followed the best pattern of conduct. He left Jerusalem, the place where God was worshipped. He went down, always the direction of backsliding and failure. He went to Jericho, well known for its wickedness. As with any child of God who takes the wrong turn, he fell among thieves and was robbed and beaten, left for dead. It is easy to look at this man and think, "I don't have a lot of sympathy for him. He got what he deserved. It serves him right!" Several very religious people passed by and took that same attitude! Did you ever wonder where they had been? Why were they on the Jericho Road, going in the opposite direction? If they were as religious as they pretended to be, they would probably have been on the Bethlehem Road! How instructive! The hero of the lesson was not a Levite or a priest, but a despised Samaritan. When we care enough to help someone whose life has been broken by sin, resetting the fault, splinting it to assure that it will not slip out of place again until it has mended, and finally, but most importantly, giving our personal support to the wounded soul and bearing his burden until he is again able to carry it, we have fulfilled the law of Christ! We have become that man's neighbor! We have loved our neighbor as ourself!
For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. This verse requires as much self-examination as any verse in the Bible. We can be so sure of our soundness and Christianity, so proud of ourselves that we see the poor man who has fallen among thieves and loudly condemn him, thinking ourselves to be so much better than he. Friends, if we were not travelling the Jericho Road ourselves, we would never have seen this man. Have we ever walked that road in the wrong direction? Fallen among thieves? Been beaten and left for dead? By the grace of God and the caring attention of some Good Samaritan, we recovered and were blessed to continue our journey in the right direction. Now we see the poor man who is in the position we were in, or could be in. Unless we reach out and give him our help, we are nothing! We may think we are noble Christians, but without that merciful spirit we are only self-deceived Laodiceans, thinking we are rich and need nothing, when, in fact, we are poor, naked, miserable, and blind! May God help us to be Good Samaritans, bearing the burdens of those who may have been injured and left by the side of the road.
But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Ga 6:4-5.
These verses continue the subject of restoration. When you see someone in error, overtaken in a fault, what is the normal tendency? Is it not to judge that person unkindly, to scrutinize him under the spotlight of our self-righteous indignation? We are all experts at proving the other fellow's work! We can analyze his mistakes and determine exactly where he went wrong, perhaps rejoicing in his error. Our lesson takes this attitude to task. The spotlight should be on our own life and work, not the other fellow's. We should live so as to rejoice in what we do, not in the mistakes of others. Remember what Jesus taught, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again," Mt 7:1-2. If we shine the light too harshly on another's faults, eventually that same light will shine on us. The tendency of the legalistic spirit which invaded the Galatian churches, and has cursed so many churches over the centuries, is to apply the judgments of the law to another, while carefully protecting self from its probing gaze. The man who is obsessed with the law, but has forgotten the God who gave it, will be the first to demand that the sinner be stoned, but he will conveniently pretend never to be the sinner who deserves to be stoned!
At no time do we need to consider self as when we are working to restore one who has fallen. Paul admonished the Corinthian church of this truth quite forcefully, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" 2Co 13:5. Biblical reprobation is not eternal separation, but allowing ourselves to become so proud and self-serving as to be "Useless," the meaning of the word in the Greek text. This reprobation, uselessness, occurs in the family of God through failure to examine ourselves, while tediously examining those around us who are overtaken in faults.
For every man shall bear his own burden. In Verse 2 burden is translated from a Greek word which signifies an overpowering weight which drags you down, too heavy to bear. In this verse, burden is translated from a different Greek word which denotes legitimate cargo. We should cheerfully carry our bill of lading, our invoice of cargo and service from the Lord. That point is rather self-evident in the verse. More at issue is to discover what that burden is. Frequently, people say they are praying to discover the will of God for their lives. Certainly there are times when we need to pray for direction and wisdom. However, we should never fail to examine scripture, our bill of lading, for it clearly lists the cargo for which we must give account. Scripture includes the Christian's bill of lading. A faithful study of the Bible will do much to inform us of the will of God for our lives! This verse puts us on notice that part of our burden is to carry our brother's heavy burden when he has been overtaken in a fault and needs our help to recover his spiritual strength and vitality. One of Christ's most convicting messages to the scribes and Pharisees, the highly religious groups of his time, was that they were free to load heavy, grievous burdens on men, but would not lift a single finger to relieve those burdens. Is our life more characterized by the loading of burdens on others and demanding that they carry their unbearable burden, or by taking part of the other fellow's burden on our shoulders until he becomes strong enough to carry it on his own? If your burden is oppressive, it appears on my bill of lading. This lesson instructs me to help you bear it.
While I could find fault, moral fault, with many modern songs, I have special fondness for a particular song which speaks to the truth of this lesson, "He ain't heavy. He's my brother!" If my brother is suffering under a heavy burden, his oppressive burden is part of my cargo, my bill of lading, my official assignment. Paul teaches me to accept that burden as if it were my personal burden. Christianity specifically includes the requirement that we personally assemble with the saints in public worship and that we maintain biblical orthodoxy in our faith. But the full measure of our Christianity does not stop at Sunday church services. How do we relate to our children, our parents, our neighbors, or our work associates who occasionally stumble and demonstrate embarrassingly that they are altogether human and subject to fault? We can laugh at a President Ford who stumbles over chairs or trips and falls down the steps of an airplane before live cameras. But how does it feel when we are the one who stumbles, when we fall "Into the hands of the living God?" You see, this lesson puts us on notice that our brother's slip carries with it a legitimate responsibility upon us to do everything within our power to restore him. After all, he is our brother!
One of the primary evidences of grace (As distinguished from the cause of grace) is this, "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," Mt 25:40. It is crucial to our understanding of this lesson that we see the recipient of our kindness, "One of the least of these my brethren." This is not the one who feels to be least or truly sees himself as least, for Jesus taught that he is the greatest in the kingdom. Here those described as sheep and heirs of eternal glory are identified by that spirit toward those who really were least among the brethren! Could that perchance be one who was overtaken in a fault, leaving him weakened and spiritually sick?
Is your burden too heavy to bear? Are you tired and discouraged by the difficulties of life? Let me help. I care! Your burden is mine!
Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Ga 6:6.
A special relationship exists between the teacher and the taught, especially in the realm of spiritual truth. When God opens a door of utterance to the preacher and the hearers are taught, both teacher and student experience a miracle of God's grace. Although Paul sows and Apollos waters, we must always remember that it is God who gives the increase. Nevertheless, God uses chosen vessels to communicate his word, and those vessels are to receive proper communication in their teaching.
The word translated communicate is a comprehensive word, meaning substantially more than ordinary language communications. In particular scriptures it denotes the monetary obligation of the church, as in Ro 12:13. In other places it relates to other types of intimate sharing; for example, 1Pe 4:13. In this particular verse I would not exclude the communication of financial support from the verse, nor could I comfortably make that the primary meaning of the verse. Immediately before the verse we find a pointed lesson about "Hands-on" restoration of a brother overtaken in a fault. Without question the restoration involves teaching. Immediately following the verse, we find a lesson on the principle of sowing and reaping. Both of these lessons encourage a broader interpretation of communication in our study verse. Let me draw at least one application of the word which flows with the context we have studied from the beginning of Ga 6.
In the process of restoring the brother who was overtaken in a fault, the spiritual members of the body find it necessary, either by example or by loving instruction, to teach the erring member a way to prevent his falling into the same fault again. There is a difference between "Preaching" at someone who has fallen into error and teaching them. A "Preachy" disposition will usually cause resentment, not repentance. Gentle teaching will confirm a solid bond of love and family commitment between the erring, broken soul and the one who aids in restoration. None of us will live out a lifetime without the need somewhere along the way to be restored from a fault which overtook us. After being restored and instructed, after the broken spiritual bone has mended and resumed its productive assignment in the body, we should communicate our love and appreciation to those who were instrumental in our restoration. If the gentle restoration of someone in the body whom we respect and love was responsible for motivating us to sow to the Spirit instead of to the flesh, we should communicate that blessing to them.
In all good things. There is nothing base or vulgar about the financial care of the church (although many have idolized it to the extent that they have driven away hungry sheep by constantly preaching on little else but giving). However, it is an indisputable over-statement to interpret all good things as meaning only money. The work of restoring a broken member who was overtaken in a fault is a grave and often emotional business; you cannot always tell if the restoration is successful right away. How good it is to hear that same person who was restored communicate to you, both in words and in a reformed God-honoring life, that the bones have mended and he rejoices that you cared enough to minister to him in his time of weakness and need.
Often the Lord directs the minister with words to restore broken spirits which were not evident to the congregation. A bone may be severely broken and out of place so as to be painfully obvious to all, or it may have a "Hair-line fracture" which no one could detect. In this case the message preached or a caring conversation with the erring member may be all that is necessary to restore it. It is encouraging to the body and to the integrity of the God-instituted process of restoration that the restored member communicate to those who were instrumental in the restoration that they were a blessing. Many years ago when I was in the midst of some important decisions about my career, I decided on a certain course which I thought would be right, but, in afterthought, could have been disastrous. During this time, a preacher whom I deeply respected preached several practical sermons, one of which hit me with deep conviction, immediately changing my mind. I followed the course of that conviction, and the Lord blessed the result. Over twenty years later, I saw that preacher and communicated to him the blessings I had experienced as a result of his preaching. He thought a few minutes and couldn't remember a thing about the sermon which had so profoundly touched me, but knowing that the Lord had used his words to help me encouraged him.
Our carnal society has imposed some silly rules suggesting that grown men and women shouldn't show too much of their loving, tender emotions. Often embarrassment overcomes tenderness as we think of sharing such an experience with those who helped us, but we rob ourselves of a great blessing by such a course. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. It is so easy to overlook a need to restore with the thought that it really won't change anything. The one who is in the fault probably doesn't want to be restored. At the heart of the matter, we are afraid that the process itself is not capable of accomplishing restoration, being more liable to cause offense than healing. We thus lift our judgement against the Lord who gave us this process by which to help each other. If we take a judgmental, superior attitude, it will surely fail, but that is not what this lesson directs. If we confirm our love and acknowledge our own vulnerability to the same fault, then our love will be more prominent and restoration will be more assured by the process. When a caring brother or sister successfully restores us, let us be sure to communicate that success to them. In so doing we confirm the process God established for the growth and health of the body. This is a good thing!
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Ga 6:7-8.
With these verses Paul moved from a very pointed lesson, the practice and the effective method of restoring an erring brother or sister, toward a general principle, drawing his illustration from the farmer's sowing and reaping. A number of variables enter into the farmer's work. The selection of the field in which to sow, the quality and kind of seed sown, and the care given to the field during the growing season all contribute to the outcome at harvest time.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Paul returned to the core issue of the book, perverted, distorted legalism versus authentic spirituality. The Galatians could well follow their new teachers into legalism which inherently demonstrates an impressive appearance of religion. It looks good! But appearances will not fool God. All the legalistic forms on earth cannot fool God. He knows if the form is right or wrong, if the motivation is of the flesh or the Spirit. The legalist continually tends to make new laws and develop new interpretations, as if God has not yet decided what right and wrong really is. The God of the Bible does not consult an opinion poll to decide how to determine his ways, nor is his will altered by human preference! As usual, Paul drove to the very heart of the issue.
This lesson implies a subtle, but essential, difference of emphasis from the Parable of the Sower. That parable showed how the same seed produced differently because of the soil, each soil representing a different person and a different lifestyle. Here we see evidence of two kinds of seed sown in two distinct fields. Evidently, both fields and both kinds of seed illustrate one person in his choice of conduct. Three basic principles of farming enter into a correct interpretation of this lesson. (1) The kind of seed sown will predict the kind of fruit gathered in the harvest. You don't sow wheat and gather oats. (2) You reap the harvest in the same field where you sowed the seed. You don't sow in one field and reap in another. You don't sow in the field of the flesh and reap in the field of the Spirit. (3) There is a distinct growing season and harvest season.
Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. The emphasis here is on the kind of seed sown. The Galatians were not lost sinners, confronted with a choice of heaven or hell; they were a group of churches who had become confused and misguided by false teachers. The choices they faced had to do with whether they would continue sowing the seeds of legalism, which seeks to justify self and harshly judge others, or the seeds of truth, which claims the privileges of Christian liberty. Their fate as churches, not their fate in eternity, was in question. If they sowed to their ego by following the normal course of legalism, they would reap the fruits of legalism, a life constricted and made miserably unfulfilling by a perpetual inventory of rules and regulations, one miserable report card after another. If they returned to the gospel Paul originally preached to them, they could reap the joys of walking in faith, fellowship with Christ, and Christian liberty. Theological choices always impose themselves on the harvest of the practical life. Would they sow legalism and reap bondage or would they sow faith and reap liberty?
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Now the emphasis shifts from the seed to the soil. You don't sow the flesh or the Spirit; you sow to the flesh or to the Spirit. In the life of every child of God you will find two fields, the flesh and the Spirit. We all sow in both fields, and we most surely reap in both fields. The question Paul posed to the Galatians was this. Which field will receive your most diligent care and attention? Where will you place your priority? Many a child of God has invested most of his productive life in a career, climbing the ladder of success for another promotion, another raise in pay, or another title, only to reap broken health and a broken home as the harvest. Yes, he reaped what he sowed! The seed of selfishness sown in the field of the flesh grows corruption for harvest time.
A few years ago, I read a story, representative of frequent true-to-life experiences. A young man grew up in a God-fearing home. Throughout his youth, he went to church with his parents. He learned to respect their sincere faith. After high school, he went away to college where he graduated with honors and was immediately hired by a prestigious firm. Over the years, he quickly climbed the ladder of success, gaining one promotion after another. During especially stressful times, he remembered his parents and that simple godly church he attended as a youngster. It was refreshing to think of that beautiful, sincere congregation. At times he thought about returning to visit the church, but another business challenge quickly crowded out his schedule, and away he went on his next conquest. As a reached his fifties, he found himself more tired and more often thinking of that little church. Then one day, his record of success was reversed. He found himself out of a job, his children were grown, and his wife had filled her life with activities which didn't include him. With no plane to catch and no business to run, he finally decided to return to that little church, to find what he had longed for so often over the years. On Sunday morning, he drove to the place where that little church had been, only to find an empty lot! Too many people had moved away and sowed the wrong seed in the wrong field! The little church had died from neglect. What kind of seed are we sowing? Which field receives our priority? Harvest day will soon come!
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Ga 6:9.
Life is full of seasons, physical, emotional, and spiritual seasons, the subject of this verse. Under Paul's preaching, the Galatian churches had grown through their spiritual infancy on the sincere milk of the word. He had helped them become established in a mature faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But after he left Galatia, false teachers came among them with distorted teachings, a contagious virus, a spiritual form of "Seven-year itch." It would be wonderful if rules existed to deal minutely with every possible situation we face in life. How simple, merely to look up the experience in an index, research the printed material, and know exactly what would result from every possible decision. Absolute black and white for every eventuality would be wonderful, or would it? The book has not been written, nor will it ever be, which so finitely defines life. Should we vote Republican or Democrat? Should we locate our family in California or Kalamazoo? Should I accept the company's offer of a promotion and relocation? The spirit of legalism attempts to write all the rules, but, since new situations constantly arise to defy all existing rules, new rules and new interpretations must constantly be added to the list. Eventually, the list of interpretations and regulations becomes so tedious and burdensome as to be impossible. This was the complaint of Jesus against the Jews in Mt 23:4, "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
What can we do? What is the alternative? Throughout the Galatian letter, Paul offered the law of faith, faith in God as a guiding principle of life, as a better way to live than attempting to live up to an ever-growing body of regulations. The general principle of well-doing stated in this verse, the general synopsis of the Ten Commandments into two simple axioms, loving God supremely and loving your neighbor as yourself, are more indicative of true godliness than a back-breaking encyclopedia of laws and interpretations.
The walk of faith occasionally troubles the child of God. It is not walking by sight; every step is not carved in stone. Often we must look to God with a prayer and struggle with every fiber of strength to walk in the direction which seems best to honor God in the immediate situation. At times the outcome is unclear. Did we do the right thing? Will God approve? The seed of well-doing takes much longer to germinate than fleshly weed seeds. It takes a gigantic supply of patience to be a farmer! While we are waiting for the seed to manifest itself, we begin to dwell on the seed, to worry about the harvest. What if we failed to do something right in the planting? Think of all that wasted time and useless work we invested in the situation.
God's seasons do not necessarily follow three month cycles as the seasons of the year, but as surely as we have sown good seed in the field of the Spirit, we shall surely reap. Due season. When is that season? When will we see the fruit of our labors and enjoy the harvest? We do ourselves and God grave disservice to think that all reaping occurs in eternity. Every day we reap the fruits of what we sowed some time in the past. The altogether practical quality of Ga 6 imposes a strong intimation that the sowing and harvesting of this verse is a timely issue for the child of God. In due season teaches that, as we experience the season of sowing, we shall also experience the season of reaping, reaping in the field of time where we sowed the seed, not in the field of eternity where Christ will reap his harvest.
If we faint not. This thought also encourages a timely interpretation. It is possible for a child of God to sow good seed in the good field of the Spirit, but become impatient and fail to reap the good harvest of blessings which needed more time to grow to maturity and full fruit. Remember the humorous card, "Lord, give me patience, and, please, I need it right now!" The essential value of faith is so important to this lesson and the blessings we enjoy in well-doing. When we have done the right thing, there is no need to fret over it or dwell anxiously on the outcome. In due season we shall reap. Our job at that point is not to dig up the seed every few days to check on it, or to become so obsessed with one seed that we miss an opportunity to sow another seed. Sow the seed and trust God to give you the outcome he promised! He has never failed to honor a single promise he made. Do you think he will now suddenly violate his own faithfulness and forget the promise he made to bring the reaping season into your life?
There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. Ps 4:6-8.
I love this lesson. Can you see a hint of David's impatience in well-doing? Many around him said, "I did what was right. Now where is the good? Where is any good?" David could have responded with a thousand promises of God's goodness, but, instead, he responded with a prayer, bordering on personal desperation, "Lord, lift up the light of your countenance! Quickly show us the harvest season." The Lord graciously answered his prayer with gladness of heart, gladness which came from a bountiful harvest, more than any natural harvest of corn and wine. With such sweet assurances of God's mercy, David could continue on, not being weary in well-doing. He could patiently lay down and sleep, knowing that God would protect his sleep and keep him safely.
As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. Ga 6:10.
Continuing the lesson of sowing and reaping, our study verse defines the field where we are to sow good seed, not growing weary in well-doing. Regardless of the setting, the Christian is to do good at all times and toward all types of people. In some circumstances the Christian will best serve his Lord by avoiding the situation, and the people who are involved, altogether, but he should employ every possible opportunity to do good.
Legitimate "Witnessing" occurs more truly in well-doing toward an unbeliever than by sanctimonious preachy conversation. On every reasonable occasion we should practice doing good to those around us. Several years ago, a group of employees in the business where I worked went on strike. For almost two weeks, I drove through picket lines, overhearing a litany of harsh put-downs from those who were striking. After the strike ended, the employees returned to work with much fear and anger. I determined to respond with a special measure of warmth and concern. Almost immediately, they began to act as if nothing had happened. My strategy worked! But there were two employees who felt too angry to let go. I gave them a few days for the emotional juices to calm down. Then I started watching their movements, and every time they were out walking through the compound, I would find a reason to take a walk, too. As they walked toward me, I carefully positioned myself directly in their path. Then just before they ran into me, in a loud cheerful voice, I would greet them and offer some friendly verbal gesture. Within a few days they had melted and everything was back to normal. Simple Christian warmth had erased the wounds of a Twentieth Century labor strike! My department was small, and most of these people were decent and honest, but I truly believe the same tactic would work on a grand scale, if people were willing to give it a try!
Paul's words explicitly tell us that doing good to all men should be taken an extra mile with the household of faith. After all, they're family. The conduct of many professing Christians who take the opposite position to this verse is shocking. If a fellow-Christian disappoints them, they will react toward the offending brother or sister with severity. When asked, they are quick to defend themselves. "For a Christian to do such a thing is worse than being an athiest," they say, somehow thinking that this justifies their own ungodly cruelty to the offending member. Two wrongs don't make anything right! If this scripture says to take special care in our treatment of the household of faith, we have no excuse to do otherwise! "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth," Ro 14:4. That fellow-servant must give account to his Master for his conduct, not to another servant. Those who are too harsh with their fellow-servants may find themselves in the Master's courts, answering for their own sin! The most fertile field for sowing to the Spirit is the household of faith.
Taking this very timely lesson to its full application, we should note that, if we sow in the household of faith, that same field is where we will reap the harvest. The Lord does not defer the harvest of kind words and gentle deeds of righteousness for eternal judgement. He sees to it that the harvest takes place in the household of faith, exactly where the seed was sown. In some cases the harvest may be almost instantaneous. In others we may wait for much of a lifetime before the harvest is ripe. But invariably the seed sown will grow in the household of faith until it reaches full fruit and is ready to be gathered. Consider the love and respect with which we regard those older members of the church who have demonstrated a long life of wise service. They are harvesting what they spent a lifetime sowing. God took their sowing in faith and added his nurturing sunshine and invigorating water to it. He fertilized it with the richness of the gospel and gave that little seed his increase. Regardless of what we sow in the household of faith, God always adds the increase of grace to our harvest.
The notion that God weighs all conduct in time for an eternal harvest creates a shallow self-serving Christianity. Are you doing good for the benefit of the man who is in need or to add to the wealth of your personal harvest in eternity? Is it wise for God to defer any blessing or reward for well-doing until eternity? In a scripture often used to teach the idea of rewards in eternity, Paul offered an altogether timely lesson in support of a prompt and timely harvest for the Christian. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences," 2Co 5:10-11. That Christ will have the last word about the right and the wrong of any particular action, all can agree. That the things done in the body by the Christian are accountable is obvious. The interpretation of the verse pivots on this question. Is the judgement seat of Christ in time or in eternity? Paul answered the question for us. "Knowing (by experience) therefore the terror of the Lord." How did he know the terror of the Lord? He could have only known the terror of the Lord, the terror of the judgement seat of Christ, if he had already appeared before that judgement seat. The judgement seat of Christ is the seat of parental judgement and chastening. It occurs during the spiritual growing season, in the field of the household of faith. It is an expression of Divine intervention to cultivate and fertilize the field, improving the harvest of godliness and well-doing. May we be fruitful laborers!
As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. Ga 6:12-13.
With the most severe tone since Chapter 1, Paul turned his analytical mind on the false teachers who brought all this confusion and error to the Galatian churches. He began the lawyer's summary statement with this examination of the teachers themselves, as well as their error. They want you to comply with circumcision. Why? Is it to lead you to unselfish truth or to give them grounds for boasting of their own accomplishments in proselyting you? Are they interested in a display of their own goodness or the cross of Christ? If they demand that you submit to circumcision, do they keep the law?
Although every Christian who has been deceived into embracing legalism with its shallow emphasis on external ritual and appearances is not guilty of this self-serving spirit, they are under the control of one who is. They have lost sight of the liberty with which Christ has made them free and the joy which accompanies the exercise of that liberty. To them, Christianity is a prison, not a place of liberty, a field of drudgery and unrewarding work, not a fruitful field. Legalism, unlike most other perversions of the faith, will invade every doctrine, every duty, and will destroy every joy. It will not stand to be isolated in one little compartment of life; it must invade the whole experience. It is like a contagious virus, spreading rapidly and pervasively into the lives of all who innocently entertain its impressive show of devotion and religion. Unfortunately, in the logical relationships of the legalist's body, the energy of the mouth seldom connects with the attainment of the feet, except in its demands that someone else must live up to their exacting charge. They made stringent requirements that others be circumcised, but they did not live by the law themselves.
Faith in Christ exposed First Century Christians to persecution. Although the Romans permitted the Jews to continue their religion, relatively unhindered, they were cruel and aggressive in their persecution of the Christians. Under accusation, a man could conveniently use circumcision to protest the charge. "Oh, no! We are Jews, not Christians. The Christians don't require circumcision." Further, the cross of Christ had no place in a theological belief, apart from the resurrection. A crucified leader was no unusual thing, since crucifixion was the Romans' common method of killing undesirables and criminals. But belief in one who was horribly crucified and buried, only to rise from the dead, such a religion was to be greatly feared by Jews and Romans alike. To the nominal professor of faith in Christ, removing the stigma of the cross was highly desirable, even by circumcision and a pretentious loyalty to the law. But for the sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, denial of the cross's reality also meant denial of the resurrection. That was denial of the faith!
On the practical side of life, the cross of Christ demanded that the self-centered legalists crucify their false egos and selfish pretenses, that they nail the spirit which craved a fair show in the flesh to the cross of discipleship. Self-denial for the legalist is too painful to endure. You can take up strange, even weird, religious customs, chant incantations, memorize long prayer forms, or believe almost anything. But to hold a conviction which demands that you take self off the throne of glory is unbearable! Most religion, even among modern Christians, is quite acceptable, if it permits us to enthrone self in the name of Christ. But the dethroning of self and making Christ the object of all glory is just too threatening to the legalist's ego. As in Galatia, he will look for a different brand of Christianity which permits him to enshrine the flesh. Self-improvement and self-respect are honorable goals, but self-worship is abominable!
That they may glory in your flesh. If you quietly listen to a person, you will discover what drives his action, what causes him to glory. Many are discouraged by the abundance of false glory among so many who profess Christ. Measure the time spent and the subjects discussed in a sermon or in a person's private conversation. You will quickly discover their priorities. We all display the things which drive our lives. So often fleshly glory is the sustaining force behind conduct. We should never discount the work of spreading the gospel and winning the hearts of hungry souls to the truth of Christ, but we should avoid the temptation to glory in the number of our converts, as if each convert we win will be a star in our crown. Boasting in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ and his cross is false boasting! Our lesson presents an example of those who boasted in the number of new converts they gained to their cause. Unfortunately, they forgot to glory in the One who made their cause different from any other cause on earth. Yes, children of God, even preachers, have ego needs, but those needs must not compete with the cross of Christ, for that is idolatry. What do you first remember as you consider your religion? The building? The preacher's oratory skill? If you think of anything before you think of Jesus Christ and his cross, you have robbed yourself of the richest treasure an earth-bound mortal can know. Don't settle for such a cheap religious experience!
What can sustain a philosophical Job in his lonely search for answers to mysterious personal disaster? What can comfort a grieving David in his desperate guilty grief over the death of Bathsheba's child? What can convince a logical Paul with his thorn in the flesh that sufficient grace prevails? What will convince a doubting Thomas that the tomb is indeed empty and the Christ has arisen? When you find the answer to these questions, you will find that which deserves your glory, something which puts fleshly glory to shame. What is it?
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Ga 6:14-15.
Of all the symbols which have illustrated Christianity for almost two thousand years, none has gained such widespread acceptance as the cross. Few are the Christians who understand it and respect its accomplishments, but it stands as the universal symbol of Christianity. Paul made it his source of glory, his exclusive glory. The cross of Christ, and its attainment, are the principle reason that Paul so fiercely opposed the legalists in Galatia and their self-serving, man-centered religion. This is why, in the first chapter, he called that false teaching a perversion of the gospel.
At least two crosses hold prominence in the New Testament, the cross of Christ and the cross of discipleship. When Jesus taught on discipleship, he said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me," Lu 9:23. You will note that Jesus said the disciple should take up "His cross," not Christ's cross. Few appreciate this subtle distinction. It is not the cross of discipleship which saves the sinner, but the cross of Christ. The cross of discipleship did not crucify Paul to the world or the world to Paul, but the cross of Christ.
What is the significance of the cross of Christ? Some suggest that Christ experienced a deep conflict between sin and perfection, sin residing in his human nature and perfection in his Divine nature. Although undoubtedly sincere, this concept borders on blasphemy. Neither in action, nor in thought, nor in inclination, however subtle or subdued, did Jesus Christ possess sin or a sinful tilt. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," Heb 4:15. To be tempted does not mean to struggle against a desire within. It means to have the temptation presented and the enticement offered. We read of this experience in Christ's temptation in the wilderness, but we do not read that he, in any way, struggled to resist the offers of Satan. Without hesitation, he immediately answered Satan with scripture. Only in philosophical thinking, never in scripture, do we hear of Christ struggling against a corrupt influence within to control his actions and resist sin.
What then is the cross of Christ? It represents his position as mediator between God and man, resolving the conflict between a holy God and a sinful man. It represents his willing acceptance of the punishment for sin, despite his sinless life. All that is incongruous and out of harmony between God and the people for whom Christ died was resolved at the cross. But never do we read of a sinful nature within his being. He took part of our nature, our flesh and blood, but not our sinful disposition, Heb 2:14.
This symbolism holds no reference to the wood of the Roman cross upon which Christ was crucified. If we could find the very wood of that cross today, it would be no more able to sanctify us before God than a common shrub in your front lawn. It might hold understandable sentimental value, but it would hold no power to atone for sin. It was not the Roman cross in which Paul gloried, but the cross of Christ. Despite its popularity, I dislike the song about the "Old Rugged Cross," for it focuses too much on the Roman cross of wood, rather than the cross of Christ, symbolized in this verse.
What did the cross of Christ accomplish? "The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." The vital link between the child of God and the world is eradicated in the cross of Christ. That link represents a legal attachment to a sinful world which embodies everything contrary to God. Experientially, it represents the emotional attachments which hold on long after the blood of Christ washes the soul. They may hold on to our emotions, but their ability to impose their consequences between us and God was crucified by the cross of Christ. Everything which stands between God and those for whom Christ died is crucified and removed. Removal of the guilty corruption which separated you from God does not depend on your discipleship. Your cross of discipleship cannot resolve the guilt of that corruption. Only the cross of Christ can sweep it away and bury it beneath the eternal flood of his atonement. On the annual day of atonement under the law, the cherubims over the mercy seat and the ark of the covenant looked down and saw the tables of the law, as on every other day. But on this day which symbolized the work of the cross of Christ, those cherubims could only see the law as they looked through the blood of a slain lamb. Today, when the eyes of Divine justice and judgement look down upon you, they still see the law, but they can only see the law as they look through the blood of the Lamb of God who was slain upon his cross.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. 1Co 1:30-31.
Do you see all of your glory, all of your wisdom, your righteousness, sanctification and redemption in Jesus? Or do you still want to see a little of your righteousness, wisdom and sanctification in self and what you do? Do you see that the whole of your salvation is of God who has so designed the work of Christ to accomplish these wondrous miracles in your relationship with him? As with Paul, is that arrangement satisfying to you, cause for glory?
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Ga 6:15.
What does God really look to for satisfaction of his offended justice? How does he accept the sinner, but remove the guilt? The legalists who had distorted the law and corrupted the minds of the Galatians apparently taught that God required obedience to the law. Circumcision and some form of obedience were high on their agenda for salvation. If salvation were by works, the Galatian letter would have been a very different message than we have before us. Had that been the case, Paul would have commended these teachers, not charged them with spiritual perversion.
Galatians offers an instructive study in dealing with those who oppose the truth. Our usual tendency is to respond to their error by an immediate counter with truth, and such a counter almost always falls on deaf ears. Why? So long as a person thinks he has the truth, he will close his mind to anything which contradicts his belief, so he merely dismisses your words as error. What did Paul do? In the early part of the Galatian letter he dedicated most of his effort to a careful scrutiny of the error. He made no secret of his disagreement, but he analyzed the legalistic position and demonstrated its flaws. Only after proving the legalistic doctrine to be gross error could he establish the truth with these Galatians. The most effective way to win someone from error is to listen to their reasons for their belief and make sure you understand their thinking. Only then should you speak, carefully and compassionately examining the fallacy of their position. Convinced of the weakness of his old belief, your friend will be more likely to listen.
If circumcision and keeping the law are essential to salvation, this verse is out of place. When we review the text of Galatians and observe many of the verses which speak of the inability of the law to justify the sinner, such as Ga 3:21, we note that the definite article is absent in the Greek text. This expands Paul's logic far beyond circumcision and the Mosaic law to the general principle of law. Paul was not just demonstrating the weakness of circumcision and the Mosaic law to make the sinner righteous before God; he included any law in his conclusion that the principle of law is incapable of making the sinner righteous before God. It may be a gospel law, a baptismal law, a church attendance law, or a tithing law. There is no law which the sinner can obey to gain righteous standing before God!
What does God see as the satisfaction for sin? A new creature! This rich doctrinal truth appears in several New Testament lessons. It is borrowed from the natural creation. God created the natural universe by his sovereign power. There was no necessity for him to consult the elements and gain willing acceptance of the forces of natural energy. In the process of creation, he certainly did not violate the will of matter or energy. Whether in nature or in the spiritual world, creation and evolution are diametrical opposites! The Holy Spirit guided Paul to use this dynamic word to capture the kernel of fundamental truth upon which the whole of the sinner's relationship with God is established. A new creature, the product of a sovereign creative act of God, designed of God, ordained of God, and accomplished by God, is the cardinal issue with God!
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10.
How does the sinner get into Christ Jesus? By evolution? By self-will? No, by creation! What is the order of activities? The Twentieth Century Galatian legalist will tell us that the sinner performs a certain amount of good works, and God will respond by creating him in Christ Jesus. This verse says that we are created in Christ Jesus, and then we can perform the good works for which we were created in the spiritual family.
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2Co 4:6.
During the first day of creation, God commanded the light to shine out of darkness. God did not consult the will of the light, nor reason with the light to gain its acceptance of his plan. He said, "Let there be light," and there was light. Again, the modern Galatian legalist has the Divine order reversed by suggesting that, if you will receive the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, then God will command the light of life to shine in your heart.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 2Co 5:17.
God doesn't have many different ways to save sinners; he has only one. Are you in Christ? If you are, this verse explains exactly how you got there! You are a new creature, literally, a new creation! God created you in Christ Jesus, commanded the light of eternal life to shine in your dark sinful heart, and made you a new creature in Christ Jesus. By this work of spiritual creation, he crucified the world to you and you to the world; "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." Now you may perform good works to which you are ordained, and you may rejoice in the warm nurturing light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. Ga 6:16.
Regardless of the message, Paul always began and ended his letters with an upbeat word. But his messages never showed insincerity or pretense. This is a most instructive verse, full of symbol and teaching.
The verse includes two major contrasts. This rule versus the rule of the law is a fitting summary of the whole letter. The legalists taught the Galatians to walk according to the rule of law and circumcision. Paul taught them to walk according to the rule of faith and a new creature. Repetition is an effective teacher. Most people do not catch every point the first time by, so the effective teacher will repeat his message, but he will change the flavor and illustration to challenge the minds of his audience. In one way after another through the letter, Paul drew upon a multitude of illustrations to contrast law and faith. One is an oppressive burden on the back of its followers; the other is a liberating joyful experience. Despite the distortion in the minds of the Galatians and their new teachers, God never relied on the law to impart life to the lost, but to guide Israel to the Messiah, Ga 3:24. The schoolmaster, pedagogue, did not impart life to the young child under his charge. Neither does faith give life to the child of God who walks by it. The law instructed the mind of the Old Testament Israelite, teaching him to look forward to the Messiah. Faith instructs the mind of the New Testament saint, manifesting the light of truth and service to the Lord. It educates the spiritual mind and enables the child of God to manifest his family relationship. Ga 3:26 does not teach that the lost sinner becomes a child of God through the exercise of faith, but that the child of God becomes a manifest child of God through faith. He demonstrates his family and heavenly culture. This interpretation harmonizes precisely with the schoolmaster context in which it appears.
The second contrast in the verse is between Israel after the flesh and the Israel of God; one was national, and one is spiritual. One was then in mortal bondage with her children; the other was born from above and was free, Ga 4:22-31. One lost its identity as the middle wall of partition was broken down, never to be reconstructed. The other became the foundation for worship among the elect of God, regardless of nationality, age, sex, or social standing, Ga 3:28-29. The true Israelite of the New Testament is not restricted to the nation of Abraham's offspring, but to those who are born of God, the heavenly race. Consider Ro 2:28-29 which speaks so clearly of this true Israelite, the Israel of God. New Testament blessings do not fall upon particular people because of race or national origin, but because of grace and a new creation in Christ Jesus.
Peace and mercy are the heritage of the Israel of God who walk by the rule of faith and the new creation. Peace was one of Paul's key greetings. The rebels of the 1960's were known by the "Peace" sign and the common greeting of "Peace." However, with all the emphasis on peace, they never seemed to define the basis of their peace. Paul's greeting of peace always had a specific foundation. Consider the first five verse of the Galatian letter. Grace and peace came from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. The cornerstone of that peace was the fact that Jesus gave himself for our sins and delivered us from this present evil world in keeping with the will of God. Paul knew where these blessings came from and how they were accomplished.
How could a restored Israelite nationalism be reconciled with Paul's message to a neighboring church?
For he is our peace, who hath made both (Both Jew and Gentile) one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us (Between us Jews and you Gentiles); Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain (Of two racial classes, Jew and Gentile) one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you (Gentiles) which were afar off, and to them (Jews) that were nigh. For through him we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye (Gentiles) are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens (Equal citizens with the Jews, no double standard citizenship here) with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building (The whole building, Jew and Gentile alike) fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Eph 2:14-22.
I have taken the liberty to add both emphasis and parenthetic statements to the quotation to make the theme of the lesson stand out in your minds. This is the message of peace like no peace mortal man has otherwise known.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. Isa 9:6-7.
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Ga 6:17.
In addition to false doctrine, had the fraudulent teachers in Galatia also questioned Paul's position as an apostle? A put-down can be a potent tool in the hands of an unscrupulous teacher. Once the Galatians received this letter, these teachers could never again in Galatia intimidate Paul or distort his message. The record was established above question. I can almost hear Paul in 1980's jargon, "Don't bug me!" What caused this sharp reaction? Why did he consider it necessary to make such a point of setting the record straight? These teachers had corrupted the sincere conviction of a group of churches. They had taught a doctrine whose message robbed Jesus Christ of both honor and accomplishment. They had probably put Paul down personally by some form of criticism or faint praise. On all points their mouth must be stopped!
The marks of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word translated marks comes from the Greek root to our English word stigma. It was used in at least three ways in contemporary writings, all of which allude to some form of tatoo or brand in the body. It described a household slave who was branded, marked, but usually only when he unsuccessfully attempted to escape, a disgraceful mark. It was used of a soldier to identify his commanding general or country. And it was used to mark slaves who were permanently assigned to the temple of some particular god. Paul certainly did not offer the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ as a mark of disgrace, so I would discount the first use of the word. He was a soldier of Jesus Christ and frequently used this analogy in his writings, a most appropriate interpretation of the words. And he also spoke of himself as a bond slave of Jesus Christ, so he had no problem being invariably marked as a permanent servant in the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In my body. It is possible that the symbol here refers to the scars in his body which he received because he was a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ. He was beaten, left for dead, suffered shipwreck, and who knows what else, all for his Lord. In my body. Paul did not hold to imposing his marks in the bodies of others, such as those who required others to be circumcised. He carried the marks of his Lord in his own body. We live in an age which intimidates many faint Christians. They love the Lord sincerely, but they are afraid of the world around them. Tell your boss you are a believer in Jesus Christ? What will he think? Will it encroach on your chances of that upcoming promotion? The spirit of Paul cries out at such timidity! Who is more important, your boss or your Lord? Is he not able to protect you and provide for you in this unfriendly world? Why flirt with the world because you are afraid of it? Trust Christ for protection and walk by the rule of faith. I do not believe in being offensive or crass with our faith; such conduct brings just criticism upon professing Christians. However, I certainly do not hold to keeping our belief a secret from those with whom we work. Legitimate Christian conduct, honesty, sincerity, regard for others around you, and the general practicing of the Golden Rule are highly desirable traits in most legitimate businesses.
Regardless of the particular illustration Paul had in mind at the time he wrote these words, he made it clear that he gladly carried the stigma of his Lord Jesus Christ. There may be a subtle contrast between the mark in the body of the law, circumcision, and the mark in the body of Jesus Christ. While the illustration will certainly allow for these marks to be the many scars Paul received in his undaunted service, the lesson suggests much more than a physical image. The most distinguishing marks of the Lord Jesus Christ in the body result from the effect of the spiritual mind on the conduct of the body, a life of sincere Christian living and godly conduct, contrary to the body of the flesh and sin. On legitimate occasions Paul would not hesitate to allow for modification of the physical body, such as his encouraging Timothy to be circumcised to prevent undue criticism from the Jews in Jerusalem. However, he would not remotely entertain the idea of compromising his Christian conduct and its mark in his body.
A stigma or tatoo in the body is a permanent mark. Paul's use of the term strongly teaches that his decision to serve his Lord and carry the brand of Christ in his body was not a temporary commitment. His service to Christ was a permanent part of his life. Whether he faced the wolves without or the conflict within, he was determined to perpetuate the image of Christ in his life. He did not condone convenience Christianity! How greatly the cause of Christ would improve in our time if those who profess their Lord would stand by such a fixed commitment. What if you become unemployed? Loose your health? Your family? What does any of that have to do with your loyalty to your Lord Jesus Christ? What if someone in the church offends you, either because of their error or your weak conscience? What does that have to do with your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and his command that you not forsake the assembling together with his saints, even imperfect saints? He calls upon you, all circumstances in life notwithstanding, to accept the irreversible brand of loyalty to him, to see that your body bears the stigma of the person and cause of Christ.
As surely as the cross imposed marks on Christ's body, the cross of discipleship will impose its image upon the life of the faithful believer. Walking by faith, the essential message of Galatians, will not allow secret belief in Christ. It makes the believer live too close to his Lord for such passive obedience. May the Galatian message incite us to be strong and constant believers. May we wear the brand of Christ with commitment and honor!