Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Reading Through Galatians

indexI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The ninth volume of the series is The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, authored by John R. W. Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

Galatians was written right after the 1st missionary journey and ,most likely, right before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. It may even have been used as testimony at the Council for the  principle that Gentiles should be welcomed in the church without having to become Jews. “Judaizers” (people who wanted to add Jewish requirements to the Gospel) had infiltrated the church and were perverting the Gospel and discrediting Paul’s apostleship. Thus, Galatians was written to defend Paul’s apostleship (authority) and the truth and reliability of His gospel and through that to defend justification by faith, sanctification by grace and Christian liberty. The main message of Galatians is “Because God pronounces us righteous by grace through faith alone we must also live by God’s grace through faith alone in the power of the Spirit, free from the law and free from sin, to serve and love God.”

The Bible divides history into two ages: ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’. It tells us, moreover, that ‘the age to come’ has come already, because Christ inaugurated it, although the present age has not yet finally passed away. So the two ages are running their course in parallel. They overlap one another. Christian conversion means being rescued from the old age and being transferred into the new age, ‘the age to come’. And the Christian life is living in this age the life of the age to come. 18

Paul writes to show that the gospel of grace is from God and is the only true and effective way to be righteous. Only the gospel of grace can bring salvation and peace with God. This message comes with authority directly from Jesus and God the Father. Only the gospel of grace based on Jesus’ sacrifice for us brings salvation and peace with God. The problem was that the Galatians had deserted the gospel for a perverted, false gospel that brings condemnation. First Paul had to defend the divine origin of the gospel he preached. God alone was the source of Paul’s Gospel. Paul didn't make it up. It was a revelation from Jesus Christ. His life change caused by his conversion, without human influence, shows the power of his gospel. Though Paul did not get his gospel from the apostles, they recognized the truth and authority of Paul and his gospel. They agreed that Titus need not be circumcised, agreeing with Paul that salvation came by grace through faith alone without Jewish ritual or law. They agreed that the authority of the gospel of grace was even greater than that of Peter or any apostle and that we are justified and live righteously through Christ living in us by grace through faith, not through any Jewish rites or practices.

Paul was very gentle with ‘weak’ brethren, whose conscience was over-scrupulous. He was ready to make policy concessions, as when he later circumcised Timothy. But on a matter of principle, when the truth of the gospel was at stake, he stood firm and would not budge. Galatians 2.9, 47–48

Once we have been united to Christ in His death, our old life is finished; it is ridiculous to suggest that we could ever go back to it. Besides, we have risen to a new life...The whole tenor of our life has changed. Everything is different now, because we ourselves are different. See how daringly personal Paul makes it: Christ ‘gave himself for me’. ‘Christ … lives in me.’ No Christian who has grasped these truths could ever seriously contemplate reverting to the old lifeGalatians 2.17-21, 65–66

In chapters 3 and 4 Paul shows through his own personal experience and in scripture that true righteousness has always come by God’s grace received through faith. Abraham received righteousness by faith and we enter in to his blessing in the same way. Trying to be justified by the law can bring only a curse. Only redemption by Christ will counteract the curse of the law and bring the promise of the Spirit and blessing. The promised covenant through Christ was before the law and is superior to the law; in fact the law's purpose was to show us our need for Christ. Because we are “in Christ,” We inherit all His righteousness, benefits and promises.

We do more than describe the cross as a first-century event. We actually portray Christ crucified before the eyes of our contemporaries, so that they are confronted by Christ crucified today and realize that they may receive from the cross the salvation of God today. Galatians 3.1-6, 74.

Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free. Not until the law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and life. Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus. Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven. Galatians 3.15-22, 93.

He then gives three pictures to show that living by grace is superior to living by law. The first is adoption: Faith is superior to law as being a son in the house is superior to being a slave. We do not need the law because we have the Spirit and intimate relationship with the Father. The second is his own example: Be free like me to become like Christ. Legalism and ritualism is slavery that actually leads to idolatry. Instead bee zealous to be like Jesus. Don’t be zealous to enslave yourself. Real life change through relationship with him. The third example is an allegory of the story of Hagar and Sarah showing that we must make a choice. Legalism and grace cannot exist together. Legalism always enslaves, always persecutes true faith and never makes one holy. So we must choose grace, oppose legalism and live freely in the victory Christ provides.

The way to live the Christian life is to remember who and what we are. The essence of Paul’s message here is: ‘Once you were slaves. Now you are sons. So how can you revert to the old slavery?’...By the grace of God we must determine to remember what once we were and never to return to it; to remember what God has made us and to conform our lives to it. Galatians 4.1-11, 109–110.

In seeking to win other people for Christ, our end is to make them like us, while the means to that end is to make ourselves like them. If they are to become one with us in Christian conviction and experience, we must first become one with them in Christian compassion. Galatians 4.12, 113

In chapters 5 and 6 Paul counsels us to Live FREE as the power of the Spirit in us produces Jesus’ character and actions. Take a stand for the freedom Christ has provided and don’t let anyone enslave you with legalism. The only actions that count with God are actions that come from faith expressing itself through love. Legalists are heretics who must be exposed, rebuked and opposed. Real liberty does not indulge the sinful nature but allow the Spirit to produce Christ’s character in you. The purpose of the law was to teach us to love God and each other. So the key is to be attentive and obedient to the leading of the Spirit. Then the character of Christ will be produced and the sinful nature crucified. This is superior to keeping rules.

What Christ has done in liberating us, according to Paul’s emphasis here, is not so much to set our will free from the bondage of sin as to set our conscience free from the guilt of sin. The Christian freedom he describes is freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view to winning the favour of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ. Galatians 5.1-6, 132.

It is not enough to yield passively to the Spirit’s control; we must also walk actively in the Spirit’s way. Only so will the fruit of the Spirit appear... the first and great evidence of our walking by the Spirit or being filled with the Spirit is not some private mystical experience of our own, but our practical relationships of love with other people. And since the first fruit of the Spirit is love, this is only logical. Galatians 5.24-6.5, 154-155

Liberty sets us free to serve Christ and each other. Service in Liberty restores the fallen gently and takes responsibility for its own life and growth. It is generous in meeting the spiritual and material needs of others. Living a life of Christian liberty is not easy but it it has tremendous benefits. To live in liberty brings persecution, often from fellow-believers. To live in liberty removes boasting because only Jesus in you counts. To live in liberty is to share in Jesus’ persecution and in the benefits of His grace.

We are to love and serve our enemies, Jesus said, not only our friends. Thus, a ‘patient continuance in well-doing’ is a characteristic of the true Christian, a characteristic so indispensable that it will be taken as evidence of saving faith on the Judgment Day. Galatians 6.6-10, 172.

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