Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reading Through Galatians #1 (1-3)

galatiansThis post begins the quick read through of Paul’s letter to the Galatians accompanied by Galatians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by G. Walter Hansen. Galatians is written to correct the serious error of forcing Gentile Christians to adopt the rules and rites of the Torah to be part of the fellowship of the church. Paul calls this “another gospel” which is not a gospel. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Paul writes the letter to the Galatians to address the issue that the churches there were adding Jewish law and restrictions to the gospel and requiring these customs to be part of the church fellowship. Paul counters this with his own personal example and scriptural witness that: Because God pronounces us righteous and to be part of his kingdom people by grace through faith alone, we must accept all people who trust in Christ and the gospel message without additional requirements as God's family, and we must 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 in unity with people from all nations, cultures and stations in life.

In Galatians Paul develops his argument for justification by faith in order to correct a social problem: Gentile believers have been excluded from fellowship with Jewish believers because they did not observe the law. Paul demonstrates that justification by faith means that Gentile believers are included within the people of God; on the basis of this doctrine Gentile believers have the right to eat at the same table with Jewish believers. Intro to Galatians

We cannot attain moral perfection by trying to observe the Mosaic law (3:2–3), nor can we win moral victory over the sinful nature’s desires by submitting to the guidance of the Mosaic law (5:13–18). But what the law cannot do God does by his grace: through the cross of Christ he removes the curse of the law (3:13); by the Spirit he reproduces the righteous character of his Son in us (5:22–23) so that the ultimate moral standard of the law is fulfilled (5:14; 6:2). Intro to Galatians

Paul begins the letter with a short standard greeting and then launches right into a strong rebuke of the church. They have transformed the gospel into something that does not save by adding the requirements of Jewish custom and law to it as necessary for membership and fellowship in the church. To add anything to grace and faith, or to the work of Christ, for entry into or participation the fellowship of the church, is to negate the gospel and must be resisted without exception.

Grace is God’s unconditional, unearned acceptance of us accomplished through the love-gift of Christ. The experience of grace by faith results in peace, a sense of harmony and completeness in our relationship with God and with one another. To look for grace and peace from any person, organization or activity in the world is to forget that God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the only source of these blessings. Galatians 1:1-5

We need to understand that Paul was willing to accommodate himself to differences in matters such as what foods to eat or what days to celebrate (Rom 14–15; 1 Cor 8–10), but when the central truth of the gospel was at stake, he drew a clear line and refused to compromise...While we should seek to maintain harmony in a context of religious pluralism by showing tolerance and respect for people of other religious persuasions, this should not lead us to compromise in any way the exclusiveness of the true gospel of Christ. Galatians 1:6-10

Paul defends his position, first, with an autobiographical argument in the rest of chapter 1 and 2. Paul's point is that he did not receive the gospel, or his commission to share it, from any person, including the apostles. He received it directly from Jesus and it carries the authority of God Himself. The gospel, not the law or Jewish rituals, changed Paul from being a persecutor of the church to being one of its leading spokesmen.

God’s revelation of his Son is a personal, inward experience of the heart, but it was not meant to be kept private. The purpose of revelation is evangelism. The fruit of true conversion is mission. Evangelism is not some optional extra, an elective course that may or may not be taken. It is the inevitable result of real conversion. Galatians 1:11-24

Paul then describes a confrontation with Peter and some Jewish Christians regarding this issue. Because of ethnic pressure, these Jewish Christians, including Peter and Barnabas had withdrawn fellowship from their Gentile fellow believers. Paul rebukes this as a denial of the gospel. The gospel is not just spiritual but has social implications. Paul was vindicated when the Jerusalem council did not require Titus to be circumcised. The bottom line is that Paul draws his identity primarily from his relationship with Christ and not from ethnicity or any other connection.

Whenever we identify ourselves as American Christians, or British Christians, or Chinese Christians, or German Christians, we must be aware that being American, British, Chinese or German may easily become more important to us than being Christian. Galatians 2.12-14

Paul’s confession of faith expresses his own experience that Christ, not the law, is the source of life and righteousness. The reason for his personal confession was his insistence that Jewish and Gentile believers should not be separated as the law demands, but united as the truth of the gospel demands. His new spiritual identity—I no longer live, but Christ lives in me—is the basis of his new social identity. Galatians 2.15-21

Paul now moves to his scriptural argument that inclusion in God's family does not come from becoming Jewish, but from faith in Christ. First he points to the reception of the Spirit and all his blessings that happened by faith alone. Then he points out that Abraham received the promise and blessing long before the law came into existence. He then explains the nature of the law: it was a temporary restraint on sin until Christ, the promised seed brought in the blessing. Thus, the key to blessing in God's family is faith in and identification with Christ, not ethnic identity or religious observance.

Whereas the law made a division between Jews and Gentiles, Christ, the promised seed of Abraham, is the center of a new unity of Jews and Gentiles. The people of God are no longer identified by ethnic origins, but by union with Christ. Galatians 3.1-18

But the giving of the law was not the final goal of God’s plan. The law was an essential step, but only a step,  toward the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ. Christ is the beginning, end and center of God’s plan. Galatians 3.19-25

When men exclude women from significant participation in the life and ministry of the church, they negate the essence of the gospel. Some will argue that the equality Paul defends here is only in the “spiritual” sphere: equality before God. But Paul’s argument responds to a social crisis in the church: Gentiles were being forced to become Jews to be fully accepted by Jewish Christians. Paul’s argument is that Gentiles do not have to become Jews to participate fully in the life of the church. Neither do blacks have to become white or females become male for full participation in the life and ministry of the church. Galatians 3.28

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