Galatians, Chapter 6, Part 2

Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Welcome back readers!  We are in the middle of the final exhortations of Paul to the churches in Galatia.  We just examined verses 8-9, in which Paul lays out some very clear and far reaching spiritual principles. 

Paul has revealed to the Galatians that whatever a person sows/plants, that shall he also reap.  We noted that this principle applied to the immediate context of the chapter which was support of the local church.  We also noted that God’s laws of sowing and reaping apply to every aspect of life (spiritual and temporal).  Verse 9 applies to both as well. 

Let us not grow weary in doing good – Sometimes, we grow weary.  Let’s face it:  There is a lot of opposition to Christian views, ideas and plans.  There are countless people to be won to Christ.  There is an overwhelming need in the world for food, clothing, medical care, etc.  And often there is a lot of ingratitude in those who benefit from our charity.  At times the problems of our day seem so immense and overwhelming, that we can become weary.  We can be tempted to just ‘walk away’ from the needs of the world and focus on our own lives and families. 

The truth is that if we try to meet these needs within our own abilities, we will fail.  We will certainly become discouraged, run out of resources, lose our patience and simply give up.

But if we walk according to the Spirit, our heavenly Father will make it possible for us to continue in the ways of righteousness. 

  • He has unlimited strength (Isaiah 40:31). 
  • He has unlimited resources (Haggai 2:8, Psalms 50:10). 
  • He has unlimited wisdom for solving problems (I Kings 4:29, Ecclesiastics 2:26). 
  • He is the one who pours out his Spirit to convict sinners and bring them to Christ (John 16:8).   

And He is eager to give us all that we need to be victorious in this world.

If you are experiencing ‘combat fatigue’ in your Christian walk, take some R&R time – shut yourself away with God and let him renew you!

For in due season–Again, we find that God’s spiritual law is plainly evident in the physical realm.  We all know that if we plant peas, there is a season of waiting before the vegetables are ready for harvest.  If you actually read a packet of garden seeds, it will tell you the approximate number of ‘days until maturity’, or the average time it takes to reap a harvest. 

So it is with good works/loving our neighbor/doing God’s will.  We sow as we are able and as God leads.  We may not see much happening, but we can be sure that God has an appointed time for the harvest to manifest.  That harvest may manifest itself here on earth, or we may not see it until we get to heaven.  But either way, God rewards those who sow into his kingdom.

We will reap if we do not give up – Do you see the significance of this part of the verse?  We are guaranteed a harvest.  In the natural realm, that doesn’t always happen.  Any number of factors (drought, floods, extreme temperatures, pests, etc) can rob a farmer of his entire harvest.

But in God’s economy, our efforts always produce results.  Every time you pray for revival, seek a move of Holy Spirit, weep before the Lord for the problems of our nation, use your money to spread the gospel, help the needy, love your neighbor, etc, you are sowing to the Spirit. And you WILL reap a harvest, either in this life or the life to come.  The key is not to give up – to stay in faith until you receive the promise. 

The scriptures are full of wonderful examples of this principle.  Let’s examine one of my favorites – the case of Caleb. 

As you know, he and Joshua were the only two spies who believed that God would give Israel the Promised Land.  They sowed seeds of faith and victory into their community and into their own lives.  After Israel rebelled against God, it appeared as though Caleb would not reap anything for his efforts.  But, hallelujah, that was not the case!  God preserved Caleb for 45 years, until he could reap his harvest! 

Joshua 14:10 – And now, behold, the LORD has kept me [Caleb] alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the LORD spoke this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old.

Can you imagine waiting 45 years for a harvest?  Do you think that Caleb had plenty of opportunities to quit?  To complain?  To become weary?  To be bitter?  To believe he was too old?  You bet he did!

But he didn’t give up, and he didn’t give in, despite the appearance of his circumstances.  He stayed in faith, knowing that you can never lose a harvest in God’s economy – eventually, in due season, you will reap.

Joshua 14:12 – Now therefore give me [Caleb] this mountain, of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.

Joshua 15:14 – And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak.

Caleb is an excellent example of a person who understood that he would reap his harvest in due season, if he didn’t give up.  If you haven’t read his story in a while, check it out in Joshua chapters 14-15.  What other biblical examples of ‘not giving up’ can you think of?  How about some examples in your own life, or the life of someone you know?

Galatians 6:10 – So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

There are several truths apparent in this verse:

God does not expect any one person to meet the needs of the entire human race.  Instead, he will present every believer (including you) with distinct opportunities to do good.

You can expect these opportunities to pop up all throughout your life.  They may come at unexpected times, or in unexpected places, so be on the alert for them, because they are coming!

As we all know, it is possible to miss an opportunity.  For example, the children of Israel missed their original opportunity to take the Promised Land.

Numbers 14:22-23 –Because all those men who have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness…and have not hearkened to my voice;Surely they shall not see the land which I swore to give unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it:

I am sure that was a missed opportunity that they regretted for the rest of their lives.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any missed opportunities in my life.  So pay attention to the Spirit!  Maintain an intimate, ongoing relationship with him.  If we are living by the Spirit, and we are actively looking for occasions to do good, he will direct us to the specific opportunities that have been set aside for us to accomplish.

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

Do you remember the New Testament parable of the good Samaritan?  If not, you can refresh your memory in Luke 10:30-35.  In this parable, a priest and a Levite both missed the opportunity to do good to the Samaritan, because they didn’t consider him to be their ‘neighbor’.  They didn’t realize that representatives of God should be doing good to ALL men. 

In our case, we need to be aware that we could be called upon to do good to literally any man or woman on the planet.  This might include an adversary; someone who has belittled, bullied or mocked us for our faith; someone we don’t think is deserving of help; someone of the opposite political party; someone with different religious beliefs; an illegal alien; or even a person caught up in sin.  It isn’t our job to judge. If Holy Spirit leads you to an opportunity, take it!

When opportunity knocks, don’t hesitate – open the door immediately!  If God has spoken to you about doing a good work don’t put it off until a time that seems convenient for you, or when it most benefits you, or when you get the most recognition for it.  Timing may be of the essence in the situation; we should always be ready to do the will of God immediately. 

We should especially watch out for opportunities to minister to our Christian brothers and sisters.

Since God has made it our duty to do good to others, he will make sure we have the opportunities to do it – so watch for them. 

Galatians 6:11 (ESV) – See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Honestly, it’s kind of funny how the smallest or most obscure verse can cause such a difference of opinion among scholars!

This is one of those verses.  Let’s compare the translation above (English Standard Version) with the King James Version:

Galatians 6:11 (KJV) – Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.

Now, compare the two verses and ask yourself this question:  What does the word ‘large’ refer to?  Is it the actual size of the writing in the letter, or does it refer to the length of the letter itself?

Apparently, it can be interpreted either way in the original Greek.  But no matter which interpretation you favor, the meaning is substantially the same. 

Paul has written this letter himself.  This was not his normal method of operation.  Usually, he dictated his letters, only signing them at the end (Romans 16:22), or sometimes personally writing the salutation of the letter (1 Corinthians 16:21).

By writing the entire epistle himself, he proves to the Galatians that this letter is genuine.  Not only that, it shows the great care and concern he felt for them.  Let’s be honest – Paul has a lot going on in his life.  He bears the responsibility of caring for ALL the churches.  Can you imagine the enormous number of distractions, problems and endeavors he was involved in?  And these were aside from his main duties to travel around, start new churches, preach the gospel and contend with the Jews over the law!  So for him to stop and invest so much time in writing this letter to the Galatians, it is clear that he has a deep love and concern for them and their spiritual welfare.

Also, it should be noted that because Paul wrote this letter with his own hand, it lends extra weight to the importance of what he discussed.  Because he had gone to so much effort to pen this himself, it must be important.  Therefore the Galatians should pay the strictest attention to what he has taught in the letter.  We should do the same! 

Galatians 6:12 – It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

At the close of his letter, Paul returns to the main evil that prompted him to write to the Galatians.  Namely, false teachers had fooled the Galatians into believing that they must be circumcised and keep the law in order to have salvation.

In his ‘closing argument’ Paul reveals the true motivations of these teachers.  They are not really concerned with the promotion of true religion or the salvation of others.  Their real motivation is to avoid persecution from their fellow Jews.  If they were to renounce the practice of the law and preach grace alone, they would expose themselves to the rage of the Jews – the same rage that caused the Jews to so furiously and relentlessly persecute Paul. 

Because they did not want any part of that persecution, they attempted to blend the Law with grace in order to keep both parties happy.  This led to the promotion of an evil and unnatural form of religion that robbed the blood of Christ from its true power and led people astray.

Galatians 6:13 – For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

Paul also reveals the hypocrisy of the false teachers.  By adhering to circumcision, they obligated themselves to keep the entire law.  Yet, they are very careless in how they observe it. 

Another reason they want the Galatians to be circumcised (besides avoiding persecution) is so they can brag about how many converts they have made to their false Jewish-Christian sect.  We can’t help but notice that they desire to create an outward change in the flesh of these believers, as opposed to an inward change effected by the Spirit.  So while they claim to promote true religion, they are actually enemies of it! 

Galatians 6:14 – But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Paul now contrasts himself with the false teachers.  Unlike them, Paul has no ambition to glory in the Galatians as his converts.  He will boast only in the cross of Christ, which brings justification and salvation to all who believe. 

It is interesting to note that the cross was a stumbling block for most Jews:

I Corinthians 1:23 – But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

This is because the Jews attached feelings of shame and ignominy (public disgrace and dishonor; reproach) to it.  Paul, however, rejoices in the cross because the sacrifice made there is the foundation of grace/salvation.

Paul goes on to say that because of the cross, the world has been crucified to him and he to the world.  In this instance ‘world’ refers to the flesh or desires of this life. 

When Paul accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, his old nature was crucified with Christ.  He now considers himself dead to the fleshly desires of this world; he no longer cares for them or spends time pursuing them.  Meanwhile, unbelievers who continue to live according to the flesh have no love for Paul because they despise and condemn the doctrine of the cross. 

This is the opposite of what we find in the false teachers.  Their chief concerns were deeply rooted in the world.   They were interested in the number of followers they could amass, which would in turn earn them glory and privilege in this world.   

Galatians 6:15 – For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Under the law, circumcision was essential because it was God’s covenant in the flesh of his people.  Those who were not circumcised could not inherit any of the covenant promises. 

But under the gospel dispensation, neither the presence nor the absence of circumcision in the flesh justifies us in the sight of God.  Rather, we are justified or made a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17) by the blood of Christ.  In the book of Romans, Paul refers to this as circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29).

Galatians 6:16 – And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Again, redemption is not through the law (circumcision); it comes through the sacrifice of Christ which makes us a new creation.  We must accept the sacrifice of Christ in order to obtain all the rights and privileges of a member of the family of God.

Any person who walks or lives their life as a member of the family of God will live/walk in the peace and mercy of God.

Notice that Paul refers to Christians as the “Israel of God”.  As you recall, the Jews were Israelites simply by virtue of their physical birth.  However, any person (Jew or Gentile) can become a member of the ‘Israel of God’ or ‘spiritual Israel’, by receiving and embracing Jesus Christ as revealed in the gospel. 

Galatians 6:17 – From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is now coming to a close.  He has fully revealed the mind of God in the matter of circumcision (the law) and settled the controversy between himself and the false teachers. 

Those same false teachers have been a real pain in the neck for Paul – they practically destroyed the Galatian churches, they undermined Paul’s authority and they led people astray with their false doctrine.  In short, they created a real mess, which the apostle had to stop and clean up. 

But now, using his apostolic authority, he declares ‘enough is enough’.  He calls on the Galatians to return to the pure doctrine of the gospel, to separate themselves from those who led them astray, and to abandon the practice of the law.

Paul says that he bears the marks of Jesus on his body.  In other words, he is telling the Galatians that he already suffered (and continues to suffer) for the cross of Christ.  This was evident in the scars or wounds that he received as a minister of the gospel.  Paul had been beaten, stoned, placed in shackles and otherwise persecuted in a variety of ways.  These marks are proof of the afflictions he has suffered because of the cross; he implores the Galatians not to add to his suffering by abandoning the true gospel. 

Galatians 6:18 – The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.  Amen.

Paul’s closing prayer for the Galatians is that God would pour out his grace upon them; that God would guide them throughout life, strengthen them in their work, and encourage/comfort them in all the trials of life and even in the midst of death.  What a wonderful and affectionate prayer!

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Are you laboring and sowing seed into the kingdom of heaven?  If so, you can be assured that you will reap a harvest – so don’t complain, don’t worry and most importantly – don’t give up!  That harvest is on the way!

Let me offer you some relief:

The Lord has made it our duty to help our neighbors and to do good works.  But before you panic, remember that no one person can help the whole world!  Holy Spirit will bring specific opportunities for ministry across your path.  If we live each day with an attitude of expectancy, we will surely recognize them when they appear. 

Let me offer you some strength:

I may not know you, but my guess is that you are not perfect!  Even though you and I are new creations in Christ Jesus, we still occasionally sin.  We are still sometimes blindsided by our enemy, just like the Galatian Christians were.  But that is not the end of the world.  Like the Galatians, we can be forgiven and restored in our relationship with Christ.  If you have fallen into sin, take it to the cross and leave it there!  Jesus will give you the strength to pick up the pieces and continue in your Christian walk.

Galatians, Chapter 6, Part 1

Galatians 6:1 – Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

This chapter contains the closing comments of Paul to the Galatian churches.  He speaks to them kindly, offering fatherly advice and encouraging them to watch out for each other spiritually. 

Paul plainly states that it is possible for Christians to be ‘caught’ in sin.  The actual root meaning for the word is exactly that – to be taken unaware or by surprise.

In other words, Christians do not plan to deliberately sin.  They set their hearts to purposely follow Jesus and his ways and to live holy lives that are pleasing to the Father (which is in opposition to walking in the flesh, as discussed in chapter five).

But in the midst of that, it is possible for a Christian to be snared by a sudden or unexpected temptation which they are not prepared for.  There are also cases where a Christian can be caught up in an episode of headstrong passion which leads to sin (we would call it ‘the heat of the moment’).  Paul is undoubtedly referring to some of the sins mentioned in 5:19-21 of this letter, which we covered in our last post.

When a brother does fall into sin, there are those in the church who can help.  These are the people who are ‘spiritual’.  They are believers who have overcome temptations because they walk according to the Spirit.  They are qualified to go along side the transgressor and bring him back to the ways of righteousness.  Paul does not say exactly how this is to be done, but a combination of council, prayer, accountability and changes in action/behavior may all be warranted. 

What Paul does make clear is that this restoration cannot be done in anger or with an attitude of harsh judgment/discipline.  The transgressor is to be restored with an attitude of love, patience and gentleness.  While his/her sin is totally unacceptable, we don’t need to martyr them in order to restore them.

The truth is that all Christians are liable to sin; anyone of us could be ‘caught’ in it at any time. 

I Corinthians 10:12-13 – Therefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…

Notice that the result we are looking for in these situations is to restore or bring our brother back into his former condition – living in a righteous relationship with Christ as a fully functioning member of the church body.  This is a type of spiritual healing.  If we try to heal through accusation, condemnation or harsh judgment, we are likely to make our brother’s injuries worse rather than better!

Keep in mind that our brother has been ambushed by the enemy.  It would be cruel indeed to treat him harshly when he is already suffering.  Rather, we should be moved by compassion and try to restore him with forgiveness.  But again, let us make the distinction that this directive of Paul refers to sins we are inadvertently caught up in.  It does not refer to instances of rebellion when we purposely choose to walk according to the flesh. 

We should be all the more willing to forgive and restore others in a spirit of meekness, when we consider that we too can be ensnared by our enemy and fail in our Christian walk.

Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

This directive of Paul can be taken one of two ways.

If we interpret it in light of the former verse, then we understand it to mean it is our duty to nurse our fallen brothers back to spiritual health.  If they have fallen into a sin or error and recognize their mistake, their sin is undoubtedly a weight or burden on their soul.  At that point, we should come alongside them to offer comfort, forgiveness and restoration.  We should be there to assist them in accountability, so as to avoid future lapses. 

Alternatively, if we consider this verse to be a new precept or command from the apostle, then we understand it to mean that we should sympathize with our Christian family anytime they are under a trial or affliction. 

Romans 12:15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.

This would include seasons of financial hardship, illness, bereavement, etc. Perhaps his instructions can best be interpreted as a mandate for us to support the family of Christ at all times! 

When we support each other and help bear one another’s burdens, Paul says we are fulfilling the law of Christ.  We cannot help but notice that he uses the phrase ‘law of Christ’ very strategically. 

Remember, the overall problem in Galatia is that some Christians have been led astray by false teachers, who have added the observance of Mosaic Law into the practice of Christianity.  But Paul has made it very clear that the grace of the gospel message does not include observance of the Mosaic Law.  The “law” that Christians need to observe is the one that Jesus gave us:  The law of loving one another/loving our neighbor. 

John 13:34 – A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

There is no way on earth that a person could fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic Law.  But Paul indicates that the law of Christ – the law of love – can indeed be fulfilled as we bear one another’s burdens and assist each other in our Christian walk (Romans 15:1-3). 

Galatians 6:3 – For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

Paul is still cautioning believers to exercise tenderness and compassion towards brothers or sisters that have fallen into sin.  He now particularly cautions the rest of the body to beware of the sins of pride and conceit.  He intimates that having a high opinion of ourselves will cause us to judge/condemn others without pity or compassion and make it impossible for us to restore them to the body. 

So, let’s ask ourselves this important question:  What causes a person to think they are something, when they are really nothing?  Where does that pride come from?

The root of this pride can be found in the comparison of ourselves to others.  Let’s consider an example.  Suppose that a fictitious Christian name Alice looks at the life of another fictitious Christian name Bertha.  Alice notes that Bertha has committed several sins which she considers to be ‘big sins’ such as murder and grand theft.  Alice then looks at her own life.  She determines that her own sins are ‘small sins’ such as lying or gossiping.  So, when she compares herself to Bertha, she considers herself to be a superior Christian.  She further determines that because of her superior spiritual walk, she would NEVER commit the ‘big’ sins of murder or theft.  By comparing herself to others, Alice is opening the door for spiritual pride and deception to enter her life. 

We further note that Alice has used faulty logic to reach her conclusion.  The truth is that sin is sin.  All sin is repulsive in the sight of God, regardless of how harmless we consider it to be.

  • The truth is that ALL of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and ALL of us are saved by the grace of God alone (Ephesians 2:8). 
  • The truth is that any one of us is capable of committing any sin (including murder) given the right set of circumstances.
  • The truth is that when we give an account of ourselves before God, there won’t be any comparisons with others.  We will be judged by our own stewardship (Romans 14:12). 

So, if we want to do any comparing, we need to compare ourselves to Christ alone.  When we do, we will realize just how sinful we are.  This will dispel any false notions of pride that we may have about ourselves. When we consider the reality of our own sinful state, it puts us in a position to restore our fallen brothers/sisters in a spirit of meekness and humility. 

Galatians 6:4-5 – But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.  For each will have to bear his own load.

Personally, I prefer the King James Version of this verse:

“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.”

Examine your own life!

Rather than comparing himself to others, each Christian needs to examine his own life and conduct in light of the word of God.  If he finds that he is on the right path, that the Spirit is producing fruit in him, that he is being made over into the image of Christ, and he has a sure assurance of heaven, then he has a true reason to rejoice.  He has found a source of pure joy in his life. 

Because the source of this joy/rejoicing is within himself, it cannot be taken away.  No matter what may happen in his life, the enemy cannot rob him of this joy.  Neither can the opinion (good or bad) of others affect it.

On the other hand, if a Christian finds joy by comparing himself to others, then his joy is always dependent on the outcome of that comparison.  He can be joyful only when others approve of him and he will certainly be miserable when they disapprove of him.  His joy/rejoicing is subject to change as often as the fickle opinions of man change.

We should never forget that each of us will ‘bear our own load’ or reap the rewards/judgments of our own actions in this life, regardless of what others do.

Galatians 6:6 – Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.

It is quite likely that there were a number of false teachers circulating among the Galatian churches.  Once they found out that they had been deceived, the Galatians’ love for the word of God and ministers of the gospel had naturally grown cold.  In response, they stopped giving offerings to the church. 

While this was understandable, it had to change.  There were many true gospel preachers ministering to the flock of Christ, and they relied on the support of the church.  So Paul now exhorts the Galatians to perform this part of their Christian duty;   good and faithful pastors/ministers should be financially supported by those they minister to. 

As for those of us who benefit from their teaching, let us remind ourselves that no earthly sum can make up for what we receive in the spiritual realm from these men and women of God, who have dedicated their time to the work of the gospel.  It is only fitting that we share in their support.

Galatians 6:7 – Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

This particular exhortation from the apostle is very weighty and complex.  But first and foremost, it must be interpreted in the context of the chapter, which is the financial support of ministers. 

Here is the situation:

  • It was the duty of the Galatian Christians to support their local church and ministers.
  • Some of the Galatian believers apparently chose to stop or withhold their financial support. 
  • These people no doubt provided a lot of seemingly plausible excuses for this action to their fellow brothers and sisters in the church.
  • These excuses may have included things like:
  • I have bills to pay. 
  • I need to save for retirement. 
  • I am going to buy a house. 
  • Times are uncertain. 
  • I don’t want my money to support false teachers. 
  • Etc, etc, etc.

In the eyes of their fellow Christians, these excuses seemed legitimate. 

Here is the problem: 

While these excuses seemed legitimate to their fellow brothers and sisters, they were unacceptable in the eyes of God.  So, this is how the Galatians deceived themselves:  They believed that their excuses exempted them from doing their duty before God. 

What is the meaning of ‘God will not be mocked’?

To mock means to imitate or mimic in sport or contempt.  We are all familiar with this definition.  But the word also means to disappoint the hopes of; to deceive or tantalize.  So while these Christians convinced their fellow brothers and sisters that they had no resources to help support the ministry, they could not fool God in the same way.  They could not mock or deceive him.

Why were their excuses unacceptable to God?

Well, let’s examine the thoughts and motivations of the Galatians.  As we have already established, it was their duty to financially support the ministers of their local church, but for various reasons, they stopped doing their duty.  In their eyes, giving money to the church was like putting it into a black hole – it just vanished.  In their opinion, they received nothing in exchange for it.  They truly believed that whatever they gave to the church was lost to them.  Therefore, they simply weren’t going to give anymore; they were going to keep their resources for themselves.

But they overlooked the most fundamental truth of supporting the gospel:  We give to God, not to man.  The gospel is to be supported through the tithes and offerings that God has instructed us to give to him.   

Malachi 3:10 – Bring you all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

This truth has some pretty far reaching consequences and rewards.

Because we give to God and not to man, we don’t need to be devastated if a false minister misuses some of that money.  Obviously, we can and should do all we can not to be fooled, but it may just happen on occasion.  But even in those instances, our conscience is clear and our reward is sure, because we gave to God in faith.  If that other person stole or misused the money, he stole it from God; and God will deal with him.  This was probably one of the main concerns of the Galatian Christians.     

Because we give to God and not to man, we don’t need to fear that we will not have enough for our personal needs.  It is true that you are to be a wise steward over what you have.   But even if we make some bad financial decisions, we can count on our heavenly Father to help us.  God is Jehovah Jireh, our provider and he is more than capable of making sure our needs are met.  When we honor him with our obedient giving, he makes sure we have enough to meet all our needs.

I will personally testify to you right now, that this is true!  My spouse and I have always tithed and God has always provided everything that was needed, without exception.  I could give you example after example, if time and space allowed!  But let me leave you with this thought: Try it yourself.  If you do not pay tithes into your local church, speak to God about it and begin to give.  Watch and see what happens!   

Because we give to God and not to man, God’s laws of sowing and reaping apply to what we give. 

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your lap. For with the same measure that you measure it shall be measured to you again.

As you are probably aware, entire books have been written about the implications of the verses we have just mentioned.  Obviously, we can’t examine them at length in this blog post.  But I hope that I have stirred up your memory and your curiosity in regards to this subject.  I encourage you to do some further reading and research.

In the meantime, know this:  Supporting the gospel is not throwing your money into a black hole.  It is sowing seed which will result in a harvest, for both you and the kingdom of heaven.  Please remind yourself that when you support the gospel, you are giving to God, not man.  And God will always reward you.  

Now, we cannot move away from this verse without noting that while Paul used this truth in the immediate context of supporting the church, it is a spiritual principle which applies to every aspect of life.  

In other words, if you plant corn seeds, what do you get – obviously, a harvest of corn (Genesis 1:11-12, 21, 24). 

If you sow mercy and kindness, what do you get in return?  That’s right – mercy and kindness for yourself (Matthew 5:7)!   

God’s laws of sowing and reaping cannot be overturned (Genesis 8:22).  So consider carefully where you are sowing your time, attention and resources.  Carefully consider the values and principles you are sowing into your children and grandchildren.  Give heed to the seeds you sow with your mouth!

Galatians 6:8 – For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Again, the laws of sowing and reaping apply here.  A man who sows or invests all that he has in this life without any regard for the next, will indeed gather fruit corresponding to the seed he has sown.  He may reap immense personal wealth and every good thing found in this life.  But these things are corrupt and temporary.  They are tainted with sin and will soon pass away.  The man who sows to his flesh will have nothing in the next life. 

What are you planting?

But the man (or woman) who sows seed into the kingdom of heaven will reap a reward both now and in the next life.  They will harvest riches that can never rust, fade away or be stolen (Luke 12:33-34). 

Paul is probably also making an overall conclusion to his earlier teaching.  Circumcision of the flesh (any attempt to keep the law) is futile.  Those who sow into this system will reap corruption/death, because they cannot keep the law.  But those who are circumcised in the heart by the Spirit of God will certainly reap eternal life through the blood of Christ. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Back in the book of Genesis, Cain asks the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  (Genesis 4:9).  The real answer to his question is ‘yes’.  When one of our brothers or sisters in Christ falls into sin, it is our job to meekly come along side them to assist in their restoration to the body of Christ. 

This is an important function of the church which requires time, effort, patience and love.  If you are presented with an opportunity to restore a brother or sister, I encourage you not to turn away from it.  It is a work that will be well pleasing to God. 

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

In this post, we talked about the laws of sowing and reaping.  Maybe you haven’t sown the best seed into your life.   But that doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless.  Cry out to God in prayer.  Renounce the bad seed that you have sown with your mouth, your actions and your attitudes.  Then begin the process of sowing good things into your life.  Here is a promise that you can stand on:

Joel 2:25 – And I [God] will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, and the consuming locust, and the cutting locust, my great army which I sent among you.

If you are alive and reading this blog right now then it is NOT too late to begin sowing seeds in the kingdom of heaven!  So get started today!

  

 

 

Galatians, Chapter 5, Part 2

Galatians 5:15-17 – But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

In verses 14-15, Paul was admonishing us to love our neighbors as ourselves as opposed to biting and devouring one another.  In other words, we should not be contending with one another or pitting ourselves against each other.   

It appears as though this was a problem among the Galatians.  They were full of pride, anger, slander, envy and ill will towards each other.  They were doing the exact opposite of loving their neighbors as themselves!

This approach to life has some serious consequences.  As the Galatians oppose each other, they ‘devour’ their opponent’s mental health, physical health, character, peace and resources.  Meanwhile, their opponent is doing the same thing to them; they are destroying each other. 

If Christians are busy fighting each other, how can they unite together to fight against Satan?  How can they focus on winning souls for Christ?  How can they love and disciple new believers?  The obvious answer is – they can’t!  This was a very real problem for the Galatians.  It is also something we need to guard against today.

If we fight against each other, we make Satan’s job easy – he can just sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.  But if we are willing to overlook offences and stay unified in the Spirit, we can win the world for Christ!   

Ephesians 4:2-3 – With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Maintaining Christian peace and unity takes effort.  Here’s why:  Each one of us has a constant struggle between our flesh and our spirit.  Our flesh, the fallen, carnal part of our being, is constantly opposing all of the righteous, holy things that our Spirit longs to do.  By the same token, our Spirit, which has been made new through Christ, strives to take authority over all the ugly sinful things our flesh desires to do.   As long as we are in this world, we can expect to deal with this struggle. 

Now that we recognize the problem, what can we do about it?

Paul gives us the answer.  If we will walk by the Spirit, we will not gratify our fleshly desires. 

Holy Spirit himself dwells in the hearts of all Christians.  He is standing by to guide and assist us in subduing our flesh.  For our part, we must set our will to act under his guidance and influence.   This is not a one-time thing.  We need to practice living our lives under his direction every day. 

Here is a promise we can cling to:  While walking by the Spirit will not completely remove the pull of our own corrupt nature, it will keep us from fulfilling the lustful desires that seek to overtake/dominate us.  

So feed your Spirit, not your flesh.  Read the word.  Pray in the Spirit and with your understanding.  Ask the Spirit to help you make important decisions in your life.  Then do what he recommends!

Galatians 5:18-19 – But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.

If the Galatians will return to the true gospel message of grace in Christ and permit themselves to be influenced or governed by Holy Spirit, he will lead them into a state of freedom and holiness that they could never obtain under the law. 

Believers who live according to the leading of the Spirit find the desire, will and ability to choose righteousness over the lusts of the flesh.  What we cannot do in our own power, Holy Spirit makes possible through his power.

Again, if we walk according to the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of our flesh (fallen nature).

Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,

Having made the distinction between walking in the Spirit and walking according to the flesh, Paul now tells the Galatians how they can be assured which path they are on.  All they need to do is examine the fruit that is being produced in their lives, because the scripture tells us that ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ (Matthew 7:16-20) 

There is no need for us to define the specific terms Paul uses here in verse 19.  We are all familiar with sexual sins.  Sadly, they are rampant not only in our society, but in the church as well.  Those who practice these sins are walking in the flesh.  They are not being led by the Spirit. 

If you are among the Christians who practice sexual immorality in thought, word or deed, I beg you to stop and consider what you are doing. 

These types of sin do tremendous damage to you and those around you.  They kill healthy relationships, wreck marriages and destroy families.  They can bring physical illness and financial hardship.  They certainly bring emotional damage to everyone involved.   They put a wedge between you and the Lord; by entertaining these things in your life you prevent the Lord from blessing you. 

In fact, the bible declares that God chastises or corrects his children.  That’s what you are setting yourself up for when you live in sexual sin.  But don’t take my word for it; search the scriptures.  See what they reveal about the life of King David.

Even though David was a child of God, he chose to walk according to his flesh.  As you well know, he fell into sexual sin with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.  Then, instead of confessing his sin and repenting, he tried to cover it up.  When that didn’t work he actually committed murder in an effort to hide his sin.  Did God bless David for that?  No, he did not!  God had to bring correction/punishment to him.

2 Samuel 12:10-11 – Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house; because you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house, and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them unto your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.

David’s sin had physical, emotional and financial consequences for his entire family and his kingdom too.  If you are a child of God and you are choosing to live in the realm of sexual sins thinking that God is okay with that, you are wrong.  God will withhold blessings from you and bring loving discipline to your situation. 

You also need to ask yourself what kind of a testimony you are presenting in front of others.  The prophet Nathan said that David’s behavior gave “great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Samuel 12:14).   

When you claim to be a child of God but live in rebellion to his commands, what are you telling the world about your Lord?  Aren’t you really saying that God doesn’t take sin seriously or that he judges unfairly?  Aren’t you mocking his mandates for personal holiness?  Aren’t you telling the world that they have no real need to repent? Aren’t you, like David, giving the world a reason to blaspheme the Lord? 

Consider this:  When Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery, his final words to her were very specific:

John 8:11 – … Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn you: GO AND SIN NO MORE.

Listen, I am not trying to condemn you.  Believe me, I have my own sins to consider! I just want to give you a loving warning – live by the Spirit.  Get rid of sexual sins in your life. 

Galatians 5:20-21 – idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Again, Paul is admonishing the Galatians to examine the fruit in their lives to determine whether they are walking by the Spirit or by the flesh. 

Idols/idolatry:  Idolatry originally meant the worship of idols, or the worship of false gods by means of idols.  Eventually, among the Old Testament Hebrews it came to mean worship of any false god by images or any other means.

Some of the most common idols were items found in nature such as trees, rivers or animals.  Specific idols/false gods that fall into this category include Dagon, Beelzebub, Ashima, Nibhazz, Ashtaroth, and the golden calves at Bethel.

The worship of heavenly bodies was also a common form of idolatry.  Examples would include worship of the sun (Ra), the moon (Luna or Astarte), Venus (goddess of beauty), Mars (god of war and husbandry), etc. 

Worship of these idols often included such practices as giving them offerings made by fire, pouring out drink offerings to them (libations), giving them tithes or first fruits, setting tables of food before them, kissing the idols or blowing them kisses, stretching out their hands in adoration, kneeling or prostrating before the idol, dancing before or around an altar which was sometimes accompanied by cutting themselves with knives, offering their children as sacrifices, sexual orgies, etc.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking – “I haven’t bowed down before a golden calf today, so this does not apply to me.”  But don’t be too hasty in your conclusions. 

Ultimately, in the New Testament, idolatry came to mean not only giving a creature the honor and devotion which belongs to God alone, but giving any human desire precedence over God and his will (I Corinthians 10:13-14, I Peter 4:3).

Colossians 3:5 – Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry:   

There are actually many modern day idols such as sports, money, entertainment, our spouse/children, hobbies or even work!

Take a moment to examine yourself and your life.  Do you have hours and hours to spend making money, but no time to pray for 20 minutes a day?  Are you so busy and involved with your hobbies that you can’t hear Holy Spirit nudging you towards good works?  Do you ever go an entire day without praising God and reading his word?  Do you walk right by hurting people because you are completely focused on your own agenda?  If so, you may have an idol.  If you have an idol, you are walking according to the flesh, not the Spirit.   

Sorcery or witchcraft: The Greek word used here is the same word from which we get the word ‘pharmacy’.  It refers to medicine, poison or magic potions.  It also includes the practice of magic arts or enchantment, because the ‘potion’ was generally administered along with some kind of magical incantation which invoked assistance from evil spirits.   

The main focus of sorcery is to achieve something you want.  You might desire for a particular person to love you, to be healed of a disease, to obtain something you covet, or the death/destruction of an enemy. 

By using sorcery, you show a willingness to get what you want by acting apart from God’s principles (true religion).  You are willing to use fleshly, carnal or evil means to get what you desire; even partnering with demons.

If the Galatians are practicing sorcery, they are not walking according to the Spirit. 

Again, you might be saying to yourself, “No problem here.  I haven’t sacrificed a goat in the middle of a pentagram today.”  But don’t be too hasty to reach this conclusion! 

At its most basic level, sorcery is actually a distrust of God and adherence to a false religion.  It represents our efforts to manage our own affairs, because we don’t believe that God can (or will) take care of us.  Just like idolatry, sorcery is a form of elevating our desires over God’s will for us.

For example, let’s suppose there is a job opening at your work place.  It would be a promotion for you; this position would give you more money, more opportunities and more authority.  There is nothing wrong with your desire for that job.  There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward and praying to receive it. 

But if you start doing things like spreading rumors about the other applicants, or ‘calling in favors’, or threatening to quit, or plotting and scheming, etc, what are you doing?  In essence, you are elevating your own desires to the forefront, even if they conflict with God’s principles or his will for you.  By your machinations, you are saying that you don’t believe that God can/will grant you this promotion; you don’t trust him to give you what is best for you.  You are unwilling to accept his providence in your life. 

Elevating our own desires above God and his will for our life (idolatry) or using carnal powers to manage our own affairs outside of the principles of God (sorcery) are indications that we are walking according to the flesh, not the Spirit.         

Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness and orgies:  What do these things have in common?

  • They indicate that we are walking in the flesh. 
  • They are pleasing to Satan and offensive to God. 
  • They defile your body and darken your soul. 
  • They bring shame to religion and the gospel message.
  • They furnish irrefutable proof of the depravity of fallen man; they are the works of human nature when left to its own devices. 
  • They declare, with absolute and utter certainty, that the human heart must be changed or it cannot be saved.

This was true for the Galatians and it is true for us.   

Our hope of salvation lies not in our human ability, but in the shed blood of Jesus which alone can atone for our sin and make us righteous in the sight of God.  Through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit of God, we can reject these fruits of sin and instead produce fruits of righteousness.       

Galatians 5:22-23 – but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Interestingly, the virtues Paul enumerates here are not the result of our own hearts, even after they have been renewed.  They are attributed to only one source – the operation of Holy Spirit in our lives. 

We are not going to simply examine the definitions of these graces.  You can look them up yourself, if you are unfamiliar with them.  Instead, let us draw some general truths which we can apply to our own lives.

Growth in grace and holiness is the best security against fulfilling the desires of the flesh.  As Paul indicated, if you want to avoid sin, the best way to do that is to walk daily in the Spirit.

If you desire to constantly walk in the Spirit, you should strive to avoid whatever grieves him.  Instead, bend your will to his; yield to godly promptings.  Lean into Holy Spirit’s guidance and teaching.

Anyone who owns a fruit tree understands that fruit is the highest form of development or achievement for that plant.  All the parts of the tree (roots, leaves, branches) are engineered for a single purpose – to produce that piece of fruit.  The production of fruit indicates a state of maturity. 

So it is with the Christian.  To have the fruit of the Spirit produced in our lives is the highest form of development we can achieve here on earth.  It indicates a state of maturity in our Christian walk.  It is the final result of all the circumstances that God has engineered in our lives.  If our roots are truly in Christ, fruit will be produced in our lives.  

Fruit does not instantly spring forth from a tree.  It grows slowly over time.  Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit grows in our lives little by little over time.  A good indicator is to ask yourself this question:  Do I have more peace (or joy, or patience, or kindness, etc) today than I did six months ago?  Or a year ago?  If your answer is ‘yes’, then the Spirit has been working in your life.

Not all fruit grows at the same rate of speed.  Lemons may take longer than peaches, which may take longer than plums.  You may find that the Spirit quickly produces faithfulness in your life, while self control may take a bit longer.  This is not reason to despair.  Holy Spirit will continue his work in your life until the day when God calls you home. 

Galatians 5:24 – And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 

Those who are true disciples of Christ have crucified, subdued or to some degree mortified their fleshly corruptions/carnal lusts and sinful passions.  It cannot be done once and for all, but is a daily way of life to those who are controlled by the Spirit. 

Although our fallen nature will not be completely removed until the next life, it has no right to exercise dominion over those who are found in Christ. 

Galatians 5:25-26 – If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

If the Spirit of God lives in us, and we willingly partner with him, he will manifest himself through our actions, attitudes and words. 

The world will know that we are Christians by the life they see us living.  We will be a light to the world, drawing them to freedom in Christ.  

Matthew 5:16 – Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

We should all be on our guard against pride and envy, which drives a wedge between brothers and dishonors the name of Christ.  

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Each one of us has a constant struggle between our flesh and our spirit.  We can’t completely remove the influence of our fallen nature, but we can drastically lessen its effects.  We do this by feeding our spirit, not our flesh.  I encourage you to make time for spiritual disciplines including bible reading, prayer, intercession for the lost, witnessing and even fasting. 

Let me offer you some relief:

As a Christian, you should see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life.  But don’t make the mistake of comparing your fruit to that of another.  God has created each one of us as individuals, and Holy Spirit works with each one of us individually in the production of his fruit.  You may have a very easy time cultivating bushels of gentleness, while it takes me a very long time to even produce a bloom!  The key is to compare yourself to yourself – make sure that over time, you see growth in your life. 

Let me offer you some strength:

Perhaps you have some things in your life that need to be pruned away, like the sexual sins we spoke about earlier.  That can be very difficult to do as they involve another person.  But let me assure you, if you begin to bring this issue before God, and you truly want to repent and change, God will give you the wisdom and strength to properly deal with your situation. 

I suggest that after a season of prayer, you seek wise council from a pastor or elder at your church.  They can give you practical direction on how to break off sinful sexual relationships with as little damage as possible to your partner and those around you.

   

  

Galatians, Chapter 5, Part 1

Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Welcome back, readers! 

In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul continues to exhort the Galatians to be firm and unwavering in their resolve to reject the yoke or bondage of the law.  Since they are under grace, there is no need to continue observing the rites and ceremonies of the law.

The law was a burden!

Just take a moment to consider the burden of the law:  There were daily and weekly sacrifices.  There were numerous (and frequent) washings and purifications.  There were dietary laws.  There were restrictions on what was ‘clean’ and what was ‘unclean’.  There were rites and ceremonies for births, marriages and burials.  There were even laws for sowing and harvesting.  There were laws that defined when you could work and when you must rest. 

William Burkitt’s Expository Notes sums it up this way: “… so numerous were these observances, that they took up half their time, and were as burdensome as they were numerous.”

In fact, the scriptures describe the law as being impossible to fully obey:

Acts 15:10 – Now therefore why test God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?   

The good news is that as Christians, we are free from bearing (or trying to bear) this heavy load. 

As Paul points out to the Galatians, Christ has made us free.  By his obedience to death, he has purchased freedom from not only the law, but from our slavery to sin, and the curse of death. 

Since Christ has sacrificed himself to buy this freedom, the Galatians should consider it their duty and privilege to firmly defend their liberty in Christ.

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.

It is true that Paul had a relationship with the Galatians, and they might well listen to him because of that bond, but there was a much higher authority at work here.

Paul spent the entire first part of this letter establishing the fact that he was an apostle expressly chosen by Jesus to carry the gospel message (see our discussion of chapter 1).  Therefore, Paul has the authority of Christ backing up his teaching.  So when he makes the point in verse 2 that “I, Paul” say something, Christians need to pay attention; his comments carry the authority of Jesus.   

In regards to his comments in chapter 5, we must tread carefully.  We must take Paul’s remarks in the context of his whole letter, or we will fall into a serious misinterpretation.  Paul says “if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you” 

Paul is NOT saying that anyone who is circumcised is excluded from salvation/Christianity.  All Jewish males, including the 12 apostles were circumcised according to the law.  In fact, Jesus himself, as a Jewish male, was circumcised on the eighth day of his life:

Luke 2:21 – And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, who was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The issue here is that the false teachers in Galatia claimed that circumcision was essential to salvation.  In other words, they taught that faith in the blood of Jesus was not enough to save you.  If you wanted to be justified and accepted by God, you had to add your own works to the blood of Christ.  This is tantamount to blasphemy, because as soon as you accept that doctrine, you are declaring that the sacrifice of Jesus was insufficient to save you.  By default, you are saying that you had a hand in saving yourself, which we know is utterly false!

Ephesians 2:8-9 – For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast.        

To claim that circumcision was required for salvation was a denial of Christ.  If you deny Christ, then you can’t be saved by grace.  You are left to try and justify yourself by keeping the law.   

So again, the act of circumcision does not exclude people from salvation.  However, it doesn’t save them either.  Salvation is through faith, regardless of your circumcision status.    

Galatians 5:3-4 – I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.   

You can be justified by faith, or you can try to earn salvation through keeping the law, but it’s one or the other… the two will never, ever mix.

The person who chooses to try justification by the law binds himself to obey the entire Law of Moses.  He must perfectly and completely fulfill all the requirements of the law for his entire life.  If he fails in even one instance, he is guilty of breaking the whole law. 

Keep this in mind too – anyone who is bound by the law and breaks it, is subject to the penalties outlined in it.  The penalty for breaking the law is condemnation and death – for eternity.    

The Galatians must make a choice: the law or Christ.  If they choose the law, then they forfeit the favor and mercy of God.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of that!  As I read and study Paul’s words, joy and thanksgiving well up within my soul for the freedom I have in Christ.  What about you?  Are you even more thankful now for his mercy and grace?  I certainly hope so!

Galatians 5:5 – For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

What is the hope of righteousness?  It refers to the state of being justified before God or to be counted as righteous in his (God’s) sight.  Those who are justified/righteous in God’s sight can expect to spend eternity in his presence and experience all of the untold blessings that await them in the next life.  This is often called the ‘hope’ of Christians. 

This hope is not founded on any works of our own, but solely on the redemption provided for us by Jesus.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. 

And how do we obtain this hope?  We receive it by faith through Holy Spirit.  It is the work of the Spirit to convict men of sin and draw them towards salvation in Christ. 

Any person living in the gospel dispensation who attempts to be justified in any other way will be disappointed.  If the Galatians misplace their hope in their own observance of the law, they can expect nothing but condemnation.  But if they will rely on the mercy of Jesus, they will have a ‘living hope’ for salvation (I Peter 1:3).     

Galatians 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

The era of the law put a separation between people.  You were either one of God’s people (a Jew) or you were not (a Gentile).  Because of the nature of the law, it kept a constant separation between the two groups.  And as we know, the signature sign of being Jewish was being circumcised in the flesh.    

But God never intended for that state of affairs to be permanent.  He always intended to make it possible for EVERYONE to be justified in his sight, whether Jew or Gentile:

Isaiah 49:6 – And he [God] said, It is too small a thing that you [Messiah] should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel: I will also give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.

When Jesus ushered in the gospel dispensation with his death and resurrection, God’s plan was fulfilled.  The law, along with all of its rites and ceremonies (including circumcision) passed away; it was no longer in effect.  Therefore, at the time Paul is speaking to the Galatians, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision of the flesh mattered anymore; neither state could make a person justified in the sight of God.

If circumcision did not justify a person in the sight of God, what would?       

Salvation by grace through faith!

How is our faith displayed to the world? 

Through our love of God and our fellow man. 

Our love of God will always result in obedience to his commands (John 14:23).  This same love will prompt you to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). 

Galatians 5:7-8 – You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion is not from him who calls you.

Paul describes the Galatians as ‘running well’.  What does he mean by that?  The Christian life is often represented as a race in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, Hebrews 12:1).

Paul says they began their race or Christian life with zeal.  They had readily and joyfully embraced the doctrine of grace through faith.  They rejoiced that their sins were forgiven and their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  They were no doubt baptized and considered themselves disciples of Christ.  They had a very ardent love for God and his ways.  

But someone came along and hindered their obedience to the gospel.  The word ‘hinder’ is an Olympic expression which literally means ‘to beat or drive back’.  It has the connotation of someone cutting across the race track to push the runner off the course or throw him out of the way. 

Who is attempting to overthrow or thwart the Galatians with the doctrine that they must obligate themselves to the Law?   

Paul asserts most strongly that it is not the Lord (him who calls you).  The false doctrine could not be traced back to God, even though the false teachers claimed to be commissioned by him.  That leaves only one source for the despicable, foul lies that had ensnared the Galatians – Satan himself.    

Galatians 5:9 – A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

What do you think of when you hear this proverbial expression?  My mind immediately goes to bread!  For many people, bread is off limits.  They don’t want to eat it because of gluten or because of the carbohydrates it contains.  I am happy to announce that I am not one of those people!  I love bread of all kinds – white, wheat, cinnamon raisin, sour dough, pumpernickel, baguettes, bagels, ciabatta and even corn bread!

What do these breads have in common?  They all contain some kind of leaven.     

Leaven is any substance that is designed to produce fermentation in dough or liquids by producing a general change in the mass.  The most common application is when yeast is added to bread dough in order to make the bread rise.  The amount of leaven required to make this change is relatively small because the leaven penetrates and diffuses throughout the entire batch of dough.

In the scriptures, leaven or yeast often represents sin (I Corinthians 5:6-8, Mark 8:15).  That is why the children of Israel could only eat unleavened bread during the Passover, and why the use of leaven was strictly forbidden in all offerings made to the Lord by fire (Leviticus 2:11 and 7:12, Numbers 6:15).    

Paul’s point is that a relatively small amount of false doctrine which is introduced into a pure, healthy Christian will eventually spread and damage/destroy his entire spiritual life.  Likewise, it only takes a couple of misguided Christians to influence a whole congregation into accepting a false doctrine.   

So while the Galatians may think that their adherence to circumcision was only a minor issue, it was actually a very serious situation.  It had the capacity to destroy their faith and their church.

Galatians 5:10 – I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.

But Paul has confidence that destruction will not be the final outcome for the Galatians. 

Paul knows that when he speaks the words that Holy Spirit gives him, those words are anointed with power – power to convict, save and heal.  If the Galatians will listen to Paul’s message, the Lord will bring them to repentance and they will be restored to a right relationship with God.

Can we pause a minute and acknowledge that the same is true for us?  We too sometimes fall into sin or error in our lives.  This is one reason why it is so important for each one of us to read the scriptures every day.  The scriptures are the word of God and they are anointed with the power of Holy Spirit to convict, save and heal us.  But if we never open the book, the power will have no effect upon us. 

Paul then turns his attention from the Galatians to the teachers who have introduced the ‘leaven of the law’ into the church.  Punishment awaits those who have thrown the Galatians off course.  God himself will surely deal with these false teachers.  As for the Galatians, their duty is to identify the false teacher and cut off or separate him from their fellowship.

The hope is not that these men would be cut off from salvation, but in being cut off from Christian fellowship they might see the error of their ways and repent.

Galatians 5:11 – But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.

It is evident that the false teachers who insisted on circumcision had somehow included Paul in their teachings.  We know that Paul himself was circumcised.  We also know that in order to reach some of the Jews he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).  But there was never a time when Paul preached or taught that circumcision was a necessary component of salvation. 

Paul defends himself by asking this question:  If I preach the necessity of circumcision to salvation, then why do the Jews continuously persecute me?  If I really taught that men must keep the law in order to make grace effective, then the Jews would love and embrace my message.  They would not take offence at the message of the cross.  But take a look at the facts – everywhere I go, the Jews fight against me.  This is proof enough that I do not preach a mix of grace and law.

Galatians 5:12 – I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

Our version of the scripture has an interesting translation of this verse!  Let’s take a look at the King James Version:

Galatians 5:12 – I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

The apostle’s use of the expression ‘cut off’ is probably an allusion to the practice of circumcision where the foreskin of the flesh is literally cut off and thrown away from the rest of the body.

In the same way, Paul desires for the false teachers to be cut off and cast out of the church fellowship.  This shows the seriousness of their offence.    

Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Paul wants the false teachers to be cut off from church fellowship because the church has been called into liberty through Christ (freedom from the law), but the false teachers were destroying that liberty.  This example brings up a teaching point for Paul.

It is true that all Christians have been set free from the bondage of the law and have liberty in Christ.  But the liberty we have is not an excuse to sin.  Our liberty is not a license to throw off all righteous restraint.

Let’s face it – even though we are born again and are new creatures in Christ, we still live in a fallen world.  We still reside in bodies of flesh that are subject to corruption.  We are still tempted by evil.  Therefore, we all need to be vigilant to monitor our own lives.  We must still fight against temptations.  We must still diligently work to add Christian graces to our lives.  We must still allow Holy Spirit to continuously transform us into the image of Christ; this process will never stop until we arrive in eternity.

This leads us to the next important aspect of freedom:  how we treat each other.     

Galatians 5:14-15 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

At this point, Paul has rather skillfully changed from a doctrinal argument (which he has thoroughly covered) to a series of practical teachings for all Christians.

Do the Galatians want to obey the law?  Then let them fulfill the heart and substance of the law without being in bondage to legalism.  This is accomplished when we serve others in love. 

Romans 13:8, 10 – Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.  Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

If we act according to this command, we fulfill the law (Matthew 7:12) without being enslaved by it.  The Christian who loves God with all his heart, soul and mind and who seeks to love his neighbor as himself needs no other law.

This is a good chance to remind ourselves that there are two aspects of love, inward affection and outward action. 

It is also a good chance to define the word ‘neighbor’.  It includes all people, rich/poor, friend/foe, those that are near/far.  In some ways, it describes all of humanity. 

Our love of God is demonstrated in the way we love those around us.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Jesus said that all men would realize we are his disciples by our displays of love towards one another (John 13:35).  But quite frankly, recent world events have left many people separated from other believers.     

When was the last time you displayed love towards another believer?  What was your act of love?  If you can’t remember the last time you touched someone’s life with a display of love, I encourage you to reconnect with other believers.  Get plugged back into your local church!     

Let me offer you some relief and some strength:

All Christians have a ‘hope of righteousness’; we trust and believe that we will be justified in God’s sight because of the sacrifice of Jesus and we will spend eternity with God. 

Sometimes, when we make mistakes or we fail in our Christian walk, we may feel unworthy of this hope.  But let me offer you some relief – we were never worthy of it in the first place! 

Our hope of righteousness and our expectation of the benefits of heaven are the result of the mercy and free gift of God.  While we need to strive to live holy lives before God, there will be times when we fail.  Satan would love to convince us that we should walk away from God because we are unworthy, but the truth is we are unworthy no matter what. 

So repent, pick yourself up, and keep running your Christian race!  

Galatians, Chapter 4, Part 2

Galatians 4:17 – They make much of you, but for no good purpose.  They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 

In this verse, “they” refers to the Jewish teachers that have led the Galatians astray, claiming that works of the law must be added to grace in order to receive salvation. 

Paul is explaining to the Galatians that these false teachers ‘make much of you’, or in other words, they pretend to have great love and affection for you by being overly concerned with your welfare and everything that affects you.  But their love is as false as their teachings.  It was all a charade, masking their hidden agenda.  Their real goal was to drive a wedge between Paul and the Galatians.

Why would they want to do that? 

If they could destroy that relationship, then the Galatians would automatically reject Paul’s doctrine of grace (justification by faith).  Naturally, the Galatians would then follow the leadership of the false teachers, who would bring them into bondage by attempting to mix grace with works of the law.    

Rejecting the doctrine of grace would also cut the Galatians off from the true body/church of Jesus Christ.  If that happened, the only option left to them would be to give total devotion to the false teachers and their corrupt doctrine.  Again, the false teachers would get exactly what they wanted.  It was a diabolical and brilliant plan, and the Galatians fell for it hook, line and sinker!    

Make no mistake – this is a serious issue.  Unless someone opens the eyes of the Galatians, they will be fooled by false teachers and lose/forfeit their salvation. 

This is why Holy Spirit brings Paul back into the situation.  Out of a fatherly spirit of love and devotion, Paul reveals the truth to the Galatians.  In so doing, he accomplishes several things:   

  • He opens their eyes to the deception that has trapped them. 
  • He opens up a way of reconciliation between himself and the Galatians. 
  • He makes it possible for the Galatians to return to justification by faith.   

Galatians 4:18 – It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,

Zeal or ardent love and concern for others are good things, as long as it is for a just purpose.  As we recall, back in verse 15 the Galatians had such a zeal and love for Paul and the gospel.  They were willing to “gouge out” their own eyes and give them to Paul if that were possible.  This was a good thing because the Galatians had pure motives.  Unlike the false teachers, they had no hidden agenda or ulterior motive. 

But the Galatians had abandoned their righteous zeal for Paul and the gospel, almost immediately after he left them.  Paul reasons that he was a good man and worthy of their affections when he was present with them; likewise he is a good man and worthy of their affections when he was absent from them.  Since that was the case, they would do well to continue in their relationship with him and to continue in grace.   

 Galatians 4:19 –my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

For his part, Paul continues to have a sincere, ardent love for the Galatian believers.  He has a genuine and pure concern for them, similar to what a natural father would have for his fleshly offspring.  Paul refers to this love when he addresses them as ‘my little children’.  And indeed, spiritually speaking, they are his children.  Through the power and anointing of Holy Spirit, Paul has ‘birthed’ them into the kingdom of heaven through the preaching of the gospel.

The affectionate term ‘my little children’ also implies that there should be a process of ‘growing up’.  In the natural realm, infants are fed milk and constantly held until they begin to mature, eating solid food and taking care of themselves.  Eventually, they come to maturity, reproduce and continue the cycle of life in the next generation. 

This is what Paul expected to happen to the Galatians in the spiritual realm.  He had birthed them into the kingdom.  They should be growing in grace and taking steps along the path to spiritual maturity, becoming more and more like Christ.  Unfortunately, the false teachers led them away from the path to maturity.  

Hebrews 5:12-14 – For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.  For every one that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

In this case, Paul finds himself in a place where he must birth them into Christ all over again!  Paul must once again endure all of the pain and labor of birth to get the Galatians back on the right track. 

Galatians 4:20 – I wish we could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Remember, Paul is communicating with the Galatians by means of a written letter.  In our day and age, that is certainly an archaic form of communication!  Not only that, it is inefficient as well. 

Here is what I a mean by that:  There is no real exchange of ideas in a letter.  The writer expresses his thoughts to the reader but he does not have the benefit of any feedback or clarification.  If he wants that, he must wait and hope that the reader will write back to him.  It could literally take weeks until there is any return communication on the subjects/ideas in the letter.  

Now contrast that with conversations that take place in person (or even by phone or zoom).  In that case, there is an instantaneous exchange of ideas, a discussion of the issues at hand and immediate clarification of any misunderstandings.  Clearly, it would be much easier for people to resolve their differences in person, rather than by letters. 

With that in mind, we can easily see why Paul desires to be ‘present’ with the Galatians. 

  • He cannot understand what has caused them to abandon their faith in the true gospel of justification by faith. 
  • He cannot understand how they would once again pick up the bondage of the law, when grace had relieved them of that burden. 
  • He cannot understand how the Galatians could fully trust him as their spiritual father, but then abandon their relationship with him in such a short amount of time. 

As Paul indicates, it would be much easier to get those answers ‘in person’ rather than by letter.    

Galatians 4:21 – Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?

The phrase ‘tell me’ is a call to reasoning.  It invites the reader to stop, consider and explain their point of view.  It actually helps them clarify what they believe.  This is exactly what Paul wants them to do.  He wants them to fully and thoughtfully consider their return to the law.      

As they do so, Paul will now take the time to once again illustrate the profound difference between the law and grace.  He will show the effect of being under the bondage/servitude of the Jewish law compared to the freedom of the gospel. 

And again, Paul will refer to the Old Testament account of Abraham to make his point.  Using an allegory, he is going to show that the two sons of Abraham provide an example of the two covenants – the law and grace.   

Galatians 4:22-23 –For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.  But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.

Scripture tells us that Abraham had two sons. 

His firstborn was Ishmael who was the son of a bondmaid (Hagar), a kind of slave.  Ishmael was born ‘according the flesh’ or in other words, his birth was ordinary.  His mother was very young and Abraham was strong and these two people naturally produced a male offspring.  Divine intervention was not required.  Ishmael was no doubt a fine young man, but he was not the child of promise.

Abraham’s second son, Isaac, was a different story all together.  First of all, Isaac was promised to Abraham and Sarah long before Ishmael was even born.

Genesis 17:19 – And God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed; and you shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.

As Abraham and Sarah waited for this promise to come to pass, they no doubt continued to try and have a child.  But all of their efforts were unsuccessful.  Sarah remained barren.  The months turned into years and the years turned into decades.  Finally, the time for children to be born through natural means had long passed – Sarah was 90 and Abraham was 100. 

But that was the exact time God had waited for! 

Once a child was impossible through natural means, the only way to have one was through divine intervention.  At that time, God kept his promise and gave Sarah and Abraham a son – Isaac.  Thus, Isaac is the son of promise.  Through him all the promises of the new covenant (grace; redemption through Christ) would flow.    

Galatians 4:24 – Now this may be interpreted allegorically:  these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.

In this allegory, the house of Abraham has two different mothers who represent the two different covenants.  Hagar, the slave woman represents the covenant of works (the law).  Sarah, the free woman, represents covenant of grace. 

Their two sons are a reflection of the people who live under the covenants.

Galatians 4:25 – Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

The first mother is Hagar, the bondservant/slave.  She represents the covenant of the law.  Because she was a slave, her son Ishmael was also born a slave.  Since Ishmael represents the people who lived under the law, we can conclude that everyone born under the law was a slave to the law. 

They were slaves in the sense that they were required to keep all the rites and observances of the law, even though that was an impossible task.  Because they could not keep the law perfectly, it could not bring them real freedom from sin.  It could only restore the most tenuous of relationships between them and God.  

The law was also very limited in that it was given exclusively to the Israelites.  As you may recall, God came to the top of Mount Sinai, an earthly location.  From there, in the midst of terrifying darkness, thunder and lightning, God called Moses up to the top of the mountain and delivered the law to the Israelites through him (see Exodus 19).   

Why does Paul mention Jerusalem here?

Jerusalem, the city of God, is the location of the temple, the sacred place where the Jews worshipped and made sacrifices to God.  The earthly temple was closely tied to the law because many of the Old Testament rites and ceremonies were carried out there.  Because of the temple, Jerusalem became synonymous with God’s people and that name is sometimes used to represent the people of God (the Jews).      

Basically Paul is saying that the people who worshipped at the earthly temple in Jerusalem were the branch of God’s family that descended from Ishmael/Hagar the slave.  They were almost exclusively Jewish people who were under servitude/bondage to the law. 

Galatians 4:26 – But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

But there was another line of descendants in Abraham’s household. 

The mother of this line was Sarah, the free woman.  She represents the covenant of grace.  Because she was a free woman, her son was also born in freedom.  Since Isaac represents the people who live under grace, we can conclude that everyone born again in grace is free from the bondage of the law. 

How was the covenant of grace delivered to us?  Jesus left the presence of the Father in heaven and came to earth to introduce us to the kingdom of heaven.  Thus, we can conclude that the covenant of grace is a heavenly covenant. 

Why does Paul mention the ‘Jerusalem above’ here? 

In Paul’s allegory, the ‘Jerusalem above’ represents the spiritual Jerusalem, or the true spiritual church, born out of the preaching of the gospel message of freedom in Christ.  

Galatians 4:27 – For it is written, ‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!  For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.’

This Old Testament quotation is from Isaiah 54:1.  Paul introduces this scripture here to point out that the true church of Jesus Christ is not limited to just one group of people (the Jews).  It is filled with both Jews and Gentiles; people of every tongue, tribe and nation.     

Grace brings freedom from the law.

This means that the Gentiles, who were formerly desolate and without hope, can now enter into the family of God!  And they do not enter in via the bondage of the law.  They enter in via the freedom of justification by faith.

Galatians 4:28 – Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

What was the promise that God made to Abraham?  It was that he would bless all nations of the earth through him and his offspring (Isaac).  And God kept that promise – Jesus was a descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

And through the sacrifice of Jesus, Christians have been made partakers of the new covenant of grace.    

Galatians 4:29 – But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.

Back in the days of Abraham, Ishmael (the carnal son) persecuted Isaac (the son according to the Spirit):

Genesis 21:9 – And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, mocking.

In the same way, the Jews (the carnal seed of Abraham) still persecuted Christians (the spiritual seed of Abraham).  Paul himself was cruelly and viciously persecuted by the Jews (2 Corinthians 11:23-24). 

Galatians 4:30-31 – But what does the Scripture say?  Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.  So, brothers, we are not children of the slave, but of the free woman.

But what does the scripture say or teach about the slave/bondwoman and her son?  Were they not cast out/rejected and removed from the family?

Likewise, all Christians (including the Galatians) were to reject any type of bondage or servitude to the law.  They were to cast it out from their thinking and actions and adhere only to the freedom of grace. 

Christians of every age can take heart knowing that despite persecutions from the enemies of Christ, in the end, we are the true children of God and co-heirs with Christ Jesus.  All that he has is ours!   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

The false teachers tried to sidetrack the Galatian believers.  If they were successful, the Galatians would have missed out on one of the most wonderful promises of God – salvation.  Wouldn’t that have been tragic?

Likewise, God has wonderful things in store for your life and the enemy knows it.  He will often try to get you side-tracked into sin or doubt, so you miss out on all that God has in store for you. 

I encourage you to take a look at your spiritual growth.  Are you still growing and maturing in Christ?  Are you more like him today than you were six months ago?  If not, you should discuss that with the Father and see if you have been sidetracked by the enemy.

Let me offer you some relief:

The Galatians had been deceived by false teachers.  If we are honest, we will admit that none of us likes to admit that we are wrong.  I believe it was probably difficult for the Galatians to admit they had been fooled into moving away from the true message of the gospel.  But in order to get back on track, they had to admit their mistake. 

The same can be true of us.  If we have made a bad choice or been fooled by someone we trust, we should admit/confess it and move on.  The sooner we do so, the easier it will be to find relief from our mistake.  The longer we wait, the worse our situation gets.  So put aside your anger, resentment and/or embarrassment by giving them to God.  He will heal your heart and help you to move forward into healing.   

Let me offer you some strength:

Paul spent a lot of time and strength in spiritually birthing the Galatians into the kingdom of heaven.  But within a year or two, he found that all his work had been undone, and he needed to begin all over!  That must have been very frustrating.  I believe Paul could have made a case for just walking away from this situation.  But he didn’t.  He once again went in and did what needed to be done in the kingdom of heaven.

Maybe you are operating in similar circumstances.  Maybe you have mentored a person who just doesn’t seem to be making any headway in changing their life.  Or maybe you have been praying for a certain family member for years without seeing them come to Christ.   Don’t give up!  Ask the Lord to give you strength to continue to minister until you see that person come to maturity in the kingdom of God.  

 

 

Galatians, Chapter 4, Part 1

Galatians 4:1-3 – I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.  In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

Hello, again readers!  We are midway through the letter of Paul to the Galatians and we find that he is still making a case for justification by faith apart from the law.

Jewish false teachers have convinced the Galatian believers that they need to keep the law in order to have salvation.  Paul tears down that false doctrine with example after example from the Old Testament.

It is interesting to note that the false Judaizing teachers held onto the Old Testament with a death grip, but that is the very thing that Paul uses to make his case for justification!

In this case, Paul likens the Old Testament believers to an under-age child.

Perhaps you yourself have young children under the age of 18.  Obviously, they are heirs to all that you will have in this life.  This gives them advantages that other children don’t have, but at the same time they still don’t have full rights. 

When your child is young (say 5-8 years old) you are the one who determines when they go to bed, and when they get up.  You decide what to feed them and what they will wear.  You make sure they attend school and become educated, whether they want to or not!  They don’t determine the household budget – you do! In a way, they would be no different than a servant.  You make the decisions and they do as they are told. 

According to Paul, this is a picture of the people who lived under the law.  They were children of God, but they lived under a very tightly structured system. They had to do as they were told by the law; they had to bear the burden of all the rites and observances of the law (and there were LOTS of them!). 

Just as a young child does not understand everything their parents tell them to do (why do I have to go to bed?), those under the law did not understand the full meaning of the rites/ceremonies they had to obey. 

So, at the time of the law, God’s people were more like children/servants than heirs. 

Galatians 4:4-5 – But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

But God had an appointed time for the end of the legal dispensation.  All along, according to his master plan, he had a definite, set time to put the covenant of grace in place. 

Let’s take a pause here, to consider God’s timing.  God decreed a definite period of time for the legal age.  At the end of that time, he gave his people something MUCH better – the age of grace.  Likewise, God has also established a definite period of time for the age of grace.  When that is over, he will reward us with something even better – heaven!  I wonder what incredible things are waiting for us there!  Aren’t you glad to be a child of God?

Here is something else to consider:  You have a definite lifespan here on earth, predetermined by our heavenly Father.  Be sure that you redeem your time, making every day count for the kingdom of heaven!

Back to our lesson…the only person who was qualified to fulfill/end the law and institute the age of grace was Jesus Christ, the Son of God (as prophesied in the Old Testament). 

Jesus agreed/submitted to taking on a body of flesh, even though he was God.  Jesus agreed/submitted to earthly parents, even though he was Lord of all. 

He did these things in order to fulfill the law, thus removing that terrible yoke and burden from his people.   He suffered and died for us, to pay the awful price of God’s wrath against us.  Because of his sacrifice, we are no longer slaves to sin; we are children of God grown up and mature.

As mature children, he gives us greater freedom and more privileges than ever.

Galatians 4:6-7 – And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba!  Father!”So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Son-ship is no longer limited to the Jews.  It is now available to ‘whosoever will’ (John 3:16).  It was available to the Galatians back in the day of Paul, and it is still available now.

Because we are sons and daughters of God, Holy Spirit lives inside of us and leads us to call out to God as our Father.  Clearly, we are no longer servants/slaves but we are adopted children.  It therefore follows that if we are children of God, then we are an heir of God through Jesus Christ.  As heirs, we are entitled to a heavenly inheritance.

Romans 8:16-17 – The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Who in their right mind would choose to be a servant/slave rather than a son/daughter with an inheritance?  Yet, that is what the Galatians chose, when they agreed to bind themselves to the law!

Galatians 4:8 –Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

Paul now reminds the Galatians what life was like before their conversion.  During that time, they did not know the true God Yahweh and they certainly had no idea how to worship him. 

Instead, they were in slavery to false gods.  In fact, Gentiles were in the lowest, most grievous form of slavery possible.  They served multiple idols/false gods.  They were under constant pressure to give gifts, pay homage and do nothing that might be offensive to their idols.  Sometimes, they even sacrificed their own children in a vain attempt to get one of these gods to help them. 

Their religious duties had no power to cleanse them from sin or give them peace of mind or bring them relief from sickness and trouble.  The only thing they reaped by their efforts was more bondage and death. 

Can you imagine the hopelessness they experienced?  They were in the worst kind of bondage imaginable.  What a horrible life!

Galatians 4:9-10 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days and months and seasons and years!

What a remarkable change!  Formerly, the Galatians were slaves, not entitled to anything.  But now that Jesus has touched their lives with his grace, they are totally transformed.  Through the power of the gospel, their sins have been washed away and they have been made children of God, and heirs with Christ! 

Again, Paul is mystified about how anyone who has obtained such freedom and privilege could want to return to their former ways of spiritual bondage (represented in this verse by observing ‘days and months’, etc).   To make this choice is pure madness!

Galatians 4:11 – I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

The actions of the Galatians have crushed Paul.  He spent a lot of time, labor and expense in bringing them the true gospel of Christ.  He preached the true word, he trained them in righteousness and he surely introduced them to Holy Spirit.  As a laborer in the kingdom, Paul had the right to expect a spiritual harvest from the Galatians.

Instead, they have changed course, leaving him to wonder if his efforts had been in vain.

This lesson gives us a reason to examine ourselves.  Is it possible that we too began by living spiritual lives, but later traded an exciting life in the Spirit for a set of mere rules and regulations? 

Christianity is so much more than that!  It is a true relationship with the God of the universe!  It should never be dull or stifling.  It should never be dead or dry.  If your Christian walk is not constantly evolving and presenting you with new and exciting opportunities, then I encourage you to take a second look at it.  Perhaps you need to return to your first love/first works.

Galatians 4:12 – Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.  You did me no wrong.

Paul now reaches out to them on a personal level, addressing them as brothers, even though they had been alienated from him by the false teachers.  Paul wants to lay aside any and all resentment and he desires that the relationship between himself and the Galatians be restored.  This was a very noble gesture by Paul, considering he had done absolutely nothing wrong!

Though he must point out their sin, Paul still loves the Galatians tenderly as members of his own family; he expresses concern for their happiness and well-being.  Paul attempts to call them back into relationship with him, so they might more easily respond to the reproof he was forced to give them. 

Thus, we see that Paul’s motives were pure.  He does not want to show them their error simply to prove that he is correct.  He is motivated by a desire for them to know Christ. 

Before we chastise someone else for their choices or behavior, it would be a good idea for us to examine our motives for doing so.

Galatians 4:13-14 – You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

Paul does not hesitate to put the Galatians in mind of their past relationship with him.  Clearly, he had some type of sickness or infirmity that affected his body.  We have no way to know what this infirmity was, though many opinions have been given.

Some scholars believe Paul’s eyesight was affected when Jesus appeared to him as a bright light on his way to Damascus, and this might be the ailment referred to.  Others point out that Paul suffered horrific public beatings which must have affected his health and scarred him terribly.  There are other possibilities as well, however, since the Galatians were already familiar with the situation, Paul does not specifically identify his ailment. 

But the point is this – the infirmity (which might have caused people to reject him and his message), made no difference to the Galatians.  They did not despise or reject Paul because of it.  On the contrary, they received him, assisted him and revered him as one would an angel or even Christ himself!

Galatians 4:15 – What then has become of your blessedness?  For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

As we said in our introduction, the Galatians as a whole were very fickle people. 

At first, they so loved and respected Paul, that they would even have given him their very own eyes, if it would have helped him. 

At first, they were so pleased and enraptured with the gospel message, that they embraced it whole-heartedly.  They were satisfied and at peace being justified by grace and communing with God. 

What happened?? What caused such a reversal in their thinking?  Paul implores them to search their hearts and examine the reason for their sudden change in belief.

Galatians 4:16 – Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

The person who tells you the truth is the one you should love and respect.  Only a true friend or brother would tell you the truth in love, especially when it hurts!  Beware of those who are ‘yes men’, tickling your ears with what you want to hear, rather than what you need to hear. 

This is the trap the Galatians have fallen into – they now treat Paul as an enemy, despite the fact that he has dealt truthfully and faithfully with them in matters relating to their eternal salvation.

As we will see in our next post, Paul does not just give up on them, despite this awful treatment.  He continues to exhort and encourage them, hoping to restore them to their place in God’s kingdom.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Relationships sure can be difficult (just ask Paul!). Having a good one requires a lot of time and energy.  This is true in friendships, marriages and even employer/employee relationships.

One way we can help keep our relationships on track is by doing what Jesus told us to do – love our neighbors as ourselves.  Part of that includes telling one another the truth in love.  That can sometimes be a daunting task which we would rather avoid, but I encourage you to do so, when it’s necessary.  I believe that eventually, this will strengthen your relationship, not hurt it.

Let me offer you some relief:

Here is a sad truth:  Some relationships are toxic.  There are people who would love to consume all of your joy, resources and strength.  They constantly try to drag you down into the pit that has them trapped. But let me offer you some relief:  You don’t have to allow that.  Set some boundaries for the relationship, and stick to them!

If that too fails or does not solve the problem, and the relationship is damaging to you and those you love, you need to end it.  Don’t feel bad about doing so!

Let me offer you some strength:

In general, relationships are worth the effort needed to maintain them.  All that hard work pays off when you find yourself in need of some support, encouragement, strength or advice. 

Does God give us strength?  Absolutely!  But many times he works through others to give it to us.  So pay attention to your relationships; set proper boundaries and enjoy those that God had placed in your life.

Galatians, Chapter 3, Part 2

Galatians 3:15 – To give human example, brothers:  even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

Welcome back, readers!  In this third chapter of Galatians, Paul is giving us a proof of justification by faith.  In case it has been a while since you’ve been in school, let me remind you what a proof is. 

Proof:  A degree of evidence that convinces the mind of any truth or fact and produces belief; a test by facts or arguments that induce or tend to induce, certainty of judgment or conclusive evidence.

In this case, Paul is digging into the Old Testament and giving Christians conclusive evidence that they cannot be justified in God’s sight by keeping the law.  Therefore, there is no need for them to be circumcised.  As Paul pointed out earlier, mixing grace with works results in a false religion which places Jesus under the power of sin and negates his ability to make atonement for us.  Obviously, this is blasphemy. 

In the remainder of this chapter Paul is going to focus on a single proof, which is built upon a fact we discovered last week: Abraham believed God and was justified by faith hundreds of years (approximately 400) BEFORE the Law of Moses was given to Israel.

Genesis 15:6 – And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.   

Human covenants, once ratified, cannot be changed.  Once the obligations and conditions of the contract are agreed upon, no one can add or take away from them. 

For instance, if you take out a loan to buy a car, you promise to pay a certain amount of money back to the lender each month by a certain day.  You can’t suddenly change your mind and pay them less.  You can’t change the contract and decide to pay them every other month instead of each month.  You must abide by the conditions agreed upon in the contract or you are in default.

Likewise, the loan company must keep their side of the bargain.  They cannot simply come and take the vehicle, as long as you are making your payments on time.    

In the same way the original promise to Abraham (justification in God’s sight) was based on faith in God and that agreement cannot be altered.  Although the law had a specific purpose in the life of Israel, it could not change the original covenant of faith which was already in force at the time the law was given.

That bears repeating, just to make sure we get it:  The law had a specific purpose (which we will discuss later), however, it could not change the original covenant of faith which was already in force at the time the law was given.

The promise made to Abraham and his descendants was not made void or replaced by the giving of the law.  God had a purpose for the law, but it was not (nor could it ever be) the vehicle by which man could be justified. 

The rest of this chapter is the actual proof or argument that shows justification is by faith, not by works. 

Galatians 3:16 – Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.  It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Here is the promise that Paul is referring to:

Genesis 22:18 – And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

How many offspring did Abraham have?  According to the flesh, there were two:  Ishmael and Isaac.  The bible makes it very clear that both of these men would become great nations.  Ishmael himself begat 12 princes and his descendants became a powerful nation (Genesis 17:20).  Likewise, Isaac fathered Jacob who had 12 sons which later became the 12 tribes of Israel.  They too, grew into a mighty nation (Genesis 17:21).

But the bible also declares that the promises of God would be limited to only one branch of Abraham’s family line – the descendants of Isaac (Genesis 17:21).  Through this line God would appoint a single individual/seed that would be his instrument to bless the entire world.  Paul identifies this individual as Jesus the Christ.

 So, the blessing of reconciliation to God was already determined to occur through a single person, Jesus the Messiah.  The law could not supersede the promise already made by God.  Therefore, reconciliation between man and God could not come through the law. 

Galatians 3:17-18 – This is what I mean:  the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Let’s state it another way:  The law was given after the solemn promise of a redeemer had been made and confirmed.  Therefore, the law could not make that promise void.  The promise of a redeemer who would one day reconcile man to God would still be binding, according to the original agreement between God and Abraham.  Therefore, we can conclude that the law must have been given for some purpose entirely different from that of the promise. 

When reading this passage, we can’t help but notice that Paul makes it indisputably clear that God keeps his promises.  Period.  No exceptions.

What promises has God made to you?  Even though it may seem to be taking forever, we can be sure that God will bring those things about.  He will keep the promises he made to us, just as surely as he kept the promises made to Abraham.  In order to receive them, we need to do what Abraham did – have faith in God and never doubt! 

Galatians 3:19 – Why then the law?  It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Anyone listening to the proof of Paul would be led to ask an obvious question – If the observance of the law did not justify man in the sight of God, then was good was it? 

Why was it given in the first place?  Why were there so many injunctions to obey it?  Why so many commendations of it in scripture?  Why was it accompanied by exhibitions of divine power? Was it given in vain?  What was its purpose?

One of the advantages or purposes of the law was that it defined transgression/sin and revealed the penalties associated with it.  By showing us where we have failed in our duty to God, the law also brings about conviction.  It was readily apparent that mankind could never live in perfect obedience to the law. 

The law was added or introduced by God at a later date (that is, after the promise to Abraham) in order to secure important advantages to mankind until the superior arrangement under the Messiah came to pass. 

Since that was the case, something else would be needed to reconcile them to God.  Thus, the law points out the need for a redeemer.  It refers men back to the original promise made by God to Abraham that in the fullness of time, Messiah would come to make atonement for the sin that was revealed by the law.     

In the meantime, the law acted as a deterrent to sin; by understanding the penalties for sin, it helped to curb our sinful actions.

Galatians 3:20 – Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

The prior verse ends by mentioning that the law was put in place through angels by an intermediary.  An intermediary is a person who is the ‘go between’ for two parties.  The mediator facilitates communication between the two parties and/or works to reconcile them.  Another word for mediator is intercessor.  

The bible gives us an example of a human mediator – Moses.  He acted as a mediator between God and the Israelites in the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. 

If you re-read Exodus chapter 19, you will find that God did not deal directly with the Israelites at the giving of the law.  They were called to sanctify themselves and come to the foot of Mount Sinai, but they could not touch the mountain, or they would die. 

They remained at the foot of the mountain while Moses went up to speak to God and receive the law.  In this way, Moses was a mediator between God and Israel.  And this was not the only instance of Moses acting as a mediator.  We find him occupying this role the entire time he was leading the children of Israel. 

In his role as mediator, Moses was a reflection of Jesus as our mediator in the new covenant:

1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Now, ever since God called Abraham to be the father of the Jewish race, people have been divided into two basic groups:  Jews and Gentiles.  So, while “God is one”, there is “more than one” group of people that need a mediator/intercessor. 

Regardless of whether we are Jewish sinners or Gentile sinners, we had no way to come into the presence of God; if we did our sin would cause us to die.  But Jesus became our mediator, standing between us and God.  He paid the full price of our redemption; thus forgiveness and reconciliation with God is by grace alone, not works of the law.  Furthermore, Jesus has certainly purchased redemption not just for the Jews, but for all men of every tribe, tongue and nation.

Hallelujah!   

Galatians 3:21 – Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?  Certainly not!  For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

There might be some who would argue that the law was contrary or in opposition to the promise God made to Abraham of a redeemer.

But as we have already noted, that is certainly not the case.  The law is subservient to the promise.  The law defines sin and proves that no one can be perfectly obedient to its requirements.  Because no one can keep the totality of the law, the law cannot impute righteousness to any man.  In other words, the law cannot give life.  It does just the opposite – it pronounces judgment and condemnation on all people because of their sin.

The good news is that the law also points to the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The law encourages men to renounce any confidence they have in themselves, and have faith in the mediator, Christ Jesus. 

By this proof, Paul has just silenced his adversaries, who are preaching a doctrine of works to the Galatians.  By claiming that the Galatians need to keep the law, they are actually accusing God of contradicting himself, and breaking his promise to Abraham.  They blaspheme God by suggesting that the law can justify men before God.

Clearly, the Galatians cannot save themselves with a mixed religion of grace and works. They have been bamboozled by some false teachers!  

Galatians 3:22-23 – But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

What comes to mind when you read these verses?  Do you picture a convicted felon, held captive in a cell with no way of escape?  Do you picture a man or woman devoid of hope, with no chance of pardon? 

Essentially, that is the true picture painted by Paul.  The Old Testament scriptures (both the law and the prophets) pronounced mankind guilty of violating the law.  Thus, we were imprisoned under the condemnation of the law, without any hope of pardon or escape.  All that awaited us was eternal punishment and death.

Galatians 3:24-26 – So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

What does Paul mean when he describes the law as a guardian? 

The law revealed the mind and will of God towards man, which was a wonderful thing.  But at the same time, it pronounced a curse upon anyone who could not live by its regulations.  Man was actually imprisoned by the law.  The end result of this was that the law prepared people to embrace a better way – the way of faith.   

The law was able to convince men that their own attempts at righteousness were weak and insufficient in reconciling them to God.  Just like a prisoner, there was no hope for pardon under the law.  Once people came to this realization, they were ready to embrace a way of escape from the law – the way of faith.

The law also obligated the Jews to observe sacrifices and rituals that could not produce freedom from sin.  However, these rites pointed towards the Messiah, revealing the way of faith.

So we see that the law had a definite purpose: It directed men to the savior Christ Jesus, so that they might be justified by faith in him.  In this way, the law is a guardian or schoolmaster. 

But after the gospel dispensation began, there was no longer a need for this kind of guidance or instruction.  The truth of justification by faith had been revealed.  It was available to everyone who believed. 

Those who believe the gospel message are sons and daughters of God by faith in Christ.  We are no longer treated as servants, but we are welcomed into the family of God.  We have the privilege of a close, intimate relationship with our Father and we can enjoy all the benefits of that relationship.

Galatians 3:27 – For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

In the time of the apostles, people were saved, filled with Holy Spirit and baptized in water in rapid succession.  In the case of the first Gentile converts (Acts 10), all three events occurred in a single day.

Baptism is the outward sign of what has occurred in your inward man.  It is a testimony to the world that you have been cleansed from sin by faith in Christ.  Once a person becomes publicly baptized, they are said to have ‘put on Christ’.  The idea is that they have committed themselves to becoming disciples of Christ, following in his footsteps and being made over into his image or character.

Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

The law was very good at creating division.  It separated the Jews from the Gentiles (Greeks).  It also made differences between servants and masters as well as men and women. 

But this is no longer the case under grace.  Anyone and everyone may be forgiven of sin and reconciled unto God; we are all one united family of God!   

Galatians 3:29 – And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Those who have been justified by faith in the shed blood of Christ are the true spiritual children of Abraham.  If we are Abraham’s children, then we are heirs to the promises made to him – promises of an abundant life here on earth and also a heavenly inheritance!   

Let me offer you some encouragement and strength:

We have so many wonderful benefits that were given to us when we trusted in Christ.  Here are just a few: The opportunity to be in God’s presence, the ability to hear God speaking to us, and the power of Holy Spirit in our lives.  What benefits are most dear to you?  What benefits have you not utilized yet?  

If you are feeling a bit discouraged by what you see around you, don’t despair.  Instead, begin to immerse yourself in the wonderful benefits Jesus has given to you.  Before you know it, you will be encouraged and strengthened!

Let me offer you some relief:

You and I may not be able to give deep, spiritual proofs of our faith, like Paul does here.  But that’s okay. 

Having a simple, down-to-earth testimony about what God has done in our lives is all we really need.  Sharing our own personal testimony of what God has done for us will likely win more people to Christ than deep, academic proofs!

 

Galatians, Chapter 3, Part 1

Galatians 3:1 – O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Well readers, hold onto your hats!  Paul is about to launch into a deep proof of justification!  And he is going to confirm this truth by the authority of the Old Testament.

Paul describes the Galatians as foolish.  The Greek word implies instability of character.  In other words, they were prone to changing their minds, which made them an easy target for the false teachers.

The false teachers are described as spiritual sorcerers, who bewitched the Galatians.  The root word for bewitched means ‘to mislead as by magic arts, to fascinate, to mist or dazzle the eyes’.    

Using persuasive or dazzling speeches, the false teachers have succeeded in drawing the eyes/attention of the Galatians away from the true gospel, and focused it on a false doctrine of works, which could not deliver salvation. 

Paul rebukes the Galatians for this – they should not have been fooled by these heretics!   They had been clearly and logically taught that the sacrifice of Jesus had set them free from the bondage of the ceremonial law.  The true purpose of the suffering and death of the Savior had been fully explained to them.  In fact, it had been ‘painted’ to them as clearly as a picture or portrait of the crucifixion itself; they had been shown the living image of Christ through the gospel message.  How could they take their eyes off this image of Christ and focus on the law?      

Galatians 3:2 – Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

Paul’s use of the word ‘only’ implies that the answer to this one single question was enough to settle the whole issue:  Did they obtain the Spirit/salvation by hearing the gospel or by practicing the law?

In this argument, Paul draws out the personal spiritual experience of the Galatians.  This should be ample evidence to convince them of the truth.  The truth is, when they heard the gospel, they repented and received Holy Spirit, as a sign of their salvation.  Therefore, salvation is by faith alone; without the addition of works.

This is a proof used multiple times in scripture.  In Acts 10, when Peter preaches to the Gentiles for the first time, they received Holy Spirit without any works of the law.  Since that was the case, Peter had them baptized and declared them part of the family of God.

Paul and Barnabas used this argument in their testimony before the Jerusalem Council, in the matter of law verses faith (Acts 15:2, 12). 

Thus, the Galatians should have understood that the Spirit was not given when they performed acts of the law, but when they accepted Paul’s preaching in faith.    

It should be noted that there is a small debate over what is meant by receiving the Spirit.  Everyone believes this refers to sanctification and eternal salvation of those who believe.  But some feel it also entails the supernatural gifts of Holy Spirit which are given for the good of the church and the confirmation of the gospel.  These are the gifts listed particularly in I Corinthians chapter 12.  For myself, I believe it refers to both.  What do you think? 

Based on your own personal spiritual experience, how would you describe faith in Christ to another person?      

Galatians 3:3 – Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

They key word in this verse is ‘perfect’. 

What definition instantly comes to mind when you hear this word?  Most of us think of ‘perfect’ as being something without flaw, defect or blemish; something without error or fault. 

But it also has another meaning, which is the one used by Paul in this verse.  ‘Perfect’ also means finished or completed. 

Here is Paul’s argument: When we receive the Spirit by faith, we are renewed and sanctified by him.  Our sin is gone and we can now experience a fulfilling relationship with God.  We can worship him as he desires – in Spirit and in truth. 

By contrast the flesh refers to the things of this world, particularly the observance of carnal or fleshly rites of the Jewish law.  It refers to things that are outward, fading or already dead.  Nothing in the fleshly or carnal realm can accomplish/finish/complete something that is spiritual.  Carnal things simply have no authority or power to do anything in the spiritual realm; they are ineffective in that regard.

II Corinthians 3:4,6 – Such is the confidence that we have through Christ towards God … who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  For the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

How then, can the Galatians expect to finish their spiritual journey through fleshly means?  The obvious conclusion is that they cannot!  To try and do so is simply absurd!

And yet, we see the same thing today, don’t we?  There are still people today who have received salvation by faith in Christ, but immediately focus on works.  They attend church, teach bible study, tithe, etc but soon lose their thirst for spiritual growth.  They confine themselves to following a list of rules and regulations – wear this, don’t wear that; drink this – don’t drink that; go here – don’t go there; say this – don’t say that, etc. 

Soon they begin to place faith in the righteous things they do, rather than in the simple but profound grace that Jesus has given us.  They open a door in their lives for guilt and shame when they don’t live up to their own expectations.  Worse yet, they miss out on the intimate relationship that God desires to have with them.  They are on a path of spiritual barrenness, disappointment and eventually death. 

I don’t want to be that person, do you?  

Galatians 3:4 – Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? 

What or how did the Galatians suffer? 

They probably ran up against opposition from the Jews who were very jealous for the law (like the circumcision party we saw in the last post).  The Galatians had endured the rage of these men when they accepted salvation by grace alone.  If they now abandoned that same grace in order to adopt the principles of the Jews who persecuted them, that would be foolish indeed; all of their suffering would be vain!

But we note that Paul’s chastisement of the Galatians is not to condemn them or place them in despair – it is to clarify their error and give them the hope of returning to the truth.   Thus, he says ‘if’ it was in vain, which indicates that all is not lost!

Galatians 3:5 – Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith –

Miracles were not produced by the keeping of the law.  If they were, then the Pharisees and Sadducees would have been working miracles for years and years!  Theoretically, any devout Jewish person would have been working them too!  But this is not the case.

Instead, the evidence shows that miracles come through the anointing of Holy Spirit.  Believers who accepted salvation by faith in Jesus were baptized in the Holy Spirit.  This included both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10:44-47, Acts 2:1-11).  Through the anointing of Holy Spirit these people worked miracles, healed diseases, cast out demons, experienced supernatural wisdom and knowledge, and spoke with tongues, just to name a few.

The same would have been true of the Galatians.  They no doubt had received Holy Spirit and personally experienced his power in their lives.  How would it now benefit them to add works such as circumcision to their practice of Christianity?       

Galatians 3:6 – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

What role does Abraham play in the lives of the Jews?

As you recall, God called Abraham to be the patriarch of the whole Jewish race.  Accordingly, all Jews consider Abraham to be their father (John 8:39), and they have a very devout love and respect for him.  His name means “father of a multitude”. 

The original covenant between God and his people was made with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-11).  God met with Abraham face to face (Exodus 34).  The scriptures even described Abraham as a friend of God (Isaiah 41:8, II Chronicles 20:7).  So Abraham is an extremely important figurehead to the Jewish nation.  

Paul is now going to show that the Jews most beloved ancestor/eminent patriarch was not saved by deeds of the law.  He was saved by faith in God.

Genesis 15:6 – And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.  

(See also, Romans 4:3).  Do you see the significance of Genesis 15:6?  Abraham believed God and was justified by faith hundreds of years BEFORE the Law of Moses was given to Israel!  Therefore, obedience to the law could NOT be a requirement of justification.  If it had been, Abraham could not have been saved.  

Furthermore, if it wasn’t necessary in Abraham’s case, then it isn’t necessary in any other case either.  Consequently, the Galatians do not need to follow the law in order to be justified.  This example demonstrates that the false teachers were wrong, even according to the Old Testament which they held so dear. 

How then, was Abraham justified?  He was justified by believing in the promise of God.  When he received God’s promise, he embraced it as being certain.  If Abraham was justified by faith/believing in the promise of God, then all his offspring must be justified in the same manner.

Therefore, those who believe in the promise of salvation through the blood of Jesus will also be justified in God’s sight.

Galatians 3:7 – Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

The Jews prided themselves on being the flesh and blood descendants of Abraham – too bad they were nothing like him!

It can be argued that the most remarkable character trait that Abraham exhibited was his unrelenting, unwavering confidence in God and his promises.  His true children are those who share this trait.

The true descendants of Abraham are those who have given up all confidence in fleshly works.  They are people of every tribe, tongue and nation who place their hope of salvation on the mercy of God.     

Galatians 3:8 – And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

The Old Testament states multiple times that all nations of the earth would be blessed in Abraham (Genesis 12:3, Genesis 18:18, Genesis 22:18).  The word ‘nations’ can also be translated ‘heathen’ and it applies to all Gentiles. 

So what we find here is that the seed of the true gospel message (salvation for all people through faith) was revealed in the scriptures long before the law was established. 

The law certainly had its purpose.  Among other things, it defined sin and showed mankind the need for a savior.  But it could not redeem or justify mankind from sin.  Only Jesus, the promised savior of the nations, could do that. 

Galatians 3:9 – So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Abraham was blessed because he had faith, not because he was circumcised.  Abraham was blessed because he had faith, not because he was a Hebrew.  Abraham was blessed because he had faith, not because he trusted in his own works. 

If the Galatians wanted to be blessed with the hope of eternal life as Abraham was, it would come through faith, not works.

Galatians 3:10 –For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Those who are seeking to be justified by the law must perfectly adhere to every single regulation, every single day, in every single way.  It’s all or nothing.  You can’t earn partial credit by doing well sometimes, but messing up other times.  Even minor infractions cannot be overlooked. It’s do or die.  James conveys the same principle in this way:

James 2:10 – For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.   

It doesn’t take much for us to realize that keeping the law would be an impossible task. 

The problem is that if you fail to be justified by perfect obedience to the whole law, then you are guilty of breaking the whole law, and you are subject to the curses contained in it.  The violator of the law is subject to eternal punishment, destruction and death. 

Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense for the Galatians to abandon the gospel of grace in order to try and keep the law.  They have already failed in that regard!

Aren’t you glad you live in the age of grace?  What a blessing!

Galatians 3:11-12 – Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  But the law is not of faith, rather, “The one who does them shall live by them.”

If the Galatians can’t be justified by the law, how can they be righteous before God?  By faith, of course!

There is only one way to obtain eternal life and all the other spiritual benefits and that is by living in faith. 

Habakkuk 2:4 – … the just shall live by his faith.

It may seem like the law and the gospel are opposite of each other, but that is not really the case.  Rather, God has made them perfect compliments to each other. 

The law reveals sin; the gospel gives us the remedy for it.  The law points to the need for a savior; the gospel provides Jesus Christ our redeemer.  The law shows us our entire duty to God; the gospel furnishes the means (grace) to perform that duty. 

Only God could do something this amazing!

Galatians 3:13 – Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” –

This verse speaks about the curse that is inherent in the law.  This refers generally to all the laws of God that he has made known to man.  To break any of these laws is to sin; and the wages of sin is death or punishment in the future world forever.  This is certainly the reality we would face if Jesus had not intervened.

Paul says Jesus has ‘redeemed’ or literally ransomed us from the curse.  What do you think of when you hear the word ‘ransom’?  In my mind, it conjures up pictures of a person tied up in a chair in some abandoned house, while robbers try to extort money from their family.  It’s a dismal and dreadful situation and the victim has no hope of escape, unless his family meets the payment demand.    

In some ways, this applies to us in the spiritual realm.  We have been taken captive by sin.  That sin keeps us bound up, without hope of escape.  We are in a dismal and dreadful situation because we can’t pay the price for our sin.  But, Jesus came along and paid the ransom, setting us free from the bondage of the law.    

He set us free by taking the punishment of our curse upon himself.  He paid the ransom price with his own sinless blood, and we were set free from the bondage imposed by the law.

This proof of justification by faith is also taken from the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 21:22-23 –  And if a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is to be put to death, and you hang him on a tree:  His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that your land be not defiled, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.

According to the Old Testament, the person who suffered for a transgression was considered to be bearing the curse of that sin in his body.  That is why the Israelites were required to bury a criminal the same day he was executed – so that an accursed thing was removed from God’s sight.  Otherwise, the land would be considered polluted.

Galatians 3:14 – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

The blessing which Abraham enjoyed was being justified by faith in God.  Jesus has made it possible for any and all people, Jew or Gentile, to have this same blessing.  He made it possible by paying the price of our sin.  He did this so that by faith, we might receive the Spirit.

The Spirit is the source of all spiritual blessings.  He seals us until the day of redemption, guaranteeing our salvation.  Holy Spirit also influences and assists us in sanctifying ourselves and renewing our hearts.  He comforts, leads and guides us.  He displays the miraculous power of God through us.  He is the manifest presence of God in our lives.  What a blessing!  As children of God we should love and cherish the Spirit of God.  We should diligently seek to know him more intimately and open our lives to him more and more. 

Let me offer you some encouragement and some relief:

Paul refers to the Galatians as being foolish, because they made a decision that made no sense.   Their mistake was trading the freedom of grace for the bondage of the law.  From our perspective, it seems obvious that they made the wrong choice, and we wonder why they did so.

But the truth is, we make foolish mistakes too.  All of us have done something, said something, bought something or decided something that we wish we hadn’t. 

Maybe it was something like an unplanned pregnancy or an abortion.  Maybe it was embezzling funds or some other crime.  Maybe we mistreated someone or failed to be faithful in a relationship. 

Here is some encouraging news – God forgives ALL mistakes, the foolish ones and the accidental/innocent ones.  All we have to do is ask him in faith, and he will wash away our sin. 

Forgiveness in God’s sight does not magically erase the consequences of our actions.  If we got caught stealing funds, we will still have to go to prison for our crime, even though God has forgiven us.  But let me give you some relief – Holy Spirit dwells within us.  So if we go to prison, he goes with us!  He can comfort, lead and guide us in any and every situation.  The blessing of Holy Spirit has been given to us by faith; no one can take it away from us!   

Let me offer you some strength:

I wonder if the apostle Paul ever got frustrated.  He fully and completely explained the gospel to people (especially the Jews) all the time, but they simply refused to understand the truth.  They were willingly blind to the gospel message.  Yet, Paul never gave up.  Even while in prison he continued to teach, encourage and correct the church. 

Maybe you also experience some frustration in your ministry.  There are always people who will criticize what you do for the Lord or the church.  But let me offer you some strength – we don’t work for the approval of men, we work for the approval of God!  So listen closely to Holy Spirit and follow what he instructs you to do.  One day you will hear the Father say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

Galatians, Chapter 2, Part 2

Galatians 2:11 –But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

During his missionary travels, Paul founded several churches in the region of Galatia.  He brought them the true gospel message, free from the encumbrances of the law.  The Galatians gladly accepted this salvation.

But afterwards, when Paul had departed for other regions, some of the newly converted Pharisees came to minister at these churches.  They began to preach a false version of the gospel message; they asserted that Christians must observe portions of the law in order to be saved.

The Galatian churches were led astray by these teachings.  What a terrible burden this placed upon the Christians in the region!  Satan had successfully introduced confusion, fear and doubt into the church.  Instead of being a victorious, successful division of the army of God which warred against evil, it became an ineffective, sickly group of soldiers that needed immediate spiritual help!  How sad!

This situation created a ripple effect – now Paul must stop his other missionary work in order to clean up this mess.  He must now prove his own apostleship and doctrines.  He must attempt to show the Galatians where they went wrong, and bring them back to the true gospel message.

In this section of his letter, Paul now presents an argument to show that the salvation message he preaches (justification by faith alone) is the true gospel.  The incident he refers to took place in the city of Antioch and it involved the apostle Peter. 

Galatians 2:12 – For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.

In order for us to understand the argument Paul is making, we need to acquaint ourselves with some background information.

James was the head of the church in Jerusalem, which was the main house of worship for Jewish Christians.  As we noted previously, there were many Jews who continued to practice certain portions of the law, even though the law had been abolished by the death/resurrection of Jesus. 

This included things like dietary laws, observing the Sabbath, avoiding things that the law declared unclean, etc.  But the law of circumcision was by far the law that the Jews held onto most dearly.  They absolutely did NOT want to give it up.  There can be no doubt that this was the practice of the Jewish Christians in the Jerusalem church.  In fact, they are referred to as ‘the circumcision party’.

Antioch was the main house of worship for the Gentile Christians.  These Christians had been taught justification by faith in the shed blood of Jesus.  Obviously, they did not adhere to any of the rituals or laws that the Jews cherished so highly.

You can see where there might be issues, right?

Now, let’s talk about Peter for a minute.  As you recall, God had given Peter a vision of a sheet full of unclean animals and instructed him to kill and eat one.  Peter was shocked and dismayed at this command.  At the end of the vision, God told Peter not to call things unclean, which He considered clean. 

Immediately afterward, God revealed the interpretation of this vision to Peter.  God was saying that Gentiles were no longer unclean; He was calling Gentiles into the family of God (see Acts chapter 10 for full details).

As a result of this vision, Peter preached the gospel to a group of Gentiles in the house of Cornelius.  Everyone present was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Thus, using Peter as his instrument, God opened up the door of salvation to the Gentile world. 

Therefore, Peter was a first-hand witness that God had broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles.  Peter himself concludes that God is no respecter of persons; he views all men equally.

Acts 10:34-36 – So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

So, when Peter came to the church in Antioch, he readily fellowshipped with the Gentile Christians.  In other words, he ate with them, visited their homes, made friends with them, and worshipped with them.  He had no trouble dropping the practice of the Jewish law as he fellowshipped with his Gentile brothers. This was consistent with the truth God had revealed to him.

But later, some Christian Jews from Jerusalem (the circumcision party) came to town.  And that’s when the incident occurred.    

When Peter saw them, he began to separate himself from the Gentile believers.  In essence, he once again picked up and began to live by the Jewish law. 

He did this because he was afraid of what the circumcision party would think and/or say about him.  He was afraid of offending them, despite the fact that God had clearly abolished the law and broken down the barrier between Jew and Gentile. 

This was a very divisive issue in the early church, and the leadership needed to have the courage and strength to do the right thing.  But instead of Peter leading the way in living out the truth God had revealed, he continued to propagate the separation between the two groups. 

James 4:17 – So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Peter’s actions were not helping/healing the church; they were further dividing it.  Even though he was one of the apostles, he was sinning and allowing himself to be a tool for Satan.  Others joined him in this sin.

Galatians 2:13 – And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

As a leader, Peter influenced the beliefs of those around him.  He should have continued his fellowship with the Gentiles in order to show/prove to the Jews that salvation was obtained through justification by faith, apart from works of the law. He should have shown, by example, that the Gentiles were as much a part of God’s family as the Jews. 

But instead of publicly embracing the truth (which requires great courage and humility), he chose to go along with tradition and culture. 

Consequently, all of the other Jews that were present adopted the same attitude.  In their hearts, they were still passing judgment on the Gentiles and questioning their salvation, because they were uncircumcised.  Even Paul’s companion Barnabas was led astray!

What can we learn from this?  

Even the best of us can sometimes be weak or fail in our duty to God.  None of us likes to be rejected or ridiculed.  It takes great courage and strength to stand against the beliefs of our culture.  The good news is that God forgave Peter, and he will forgive us too if we fail.  But it would be even better not to fail in the first place!  Sometimes it is good to decide in advance how we will respond (verbally and/or physically) to some of the controversial issues of our day.  This will give us a greater chance of responding in a way that magnifies Christ.

Secondly, we need to be aware that anytime we are in a place of leadership or influence, we have an effect on other people.  This can be other family members, coworkers or even complete strangers.  Anyone in that situation has the responsibility to strive to do the ‘right thing’ and lead others into the truth. 

Thirdly, we need to stay humble.  Humility is the characteristic that will give us the power to risk rejection or persecution from others when we stand up for the truth and oppose sin.      

Galatians 2:14 – But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live as Jews?”

Now we come to the real reason that Paul is relating this story to the Galatian churches. 

Peter has failed to stand up for both the true gospel message and the peace/unity of the church.  Paul confronts him for his error.

Paul points out that Peter did not hesitate to visit the homes of the Gentiles.  He ate whatever the Gentiles were eating.  He freely worshipped and associated with uncircumcised men and acknowledged them as his Christian brothers.  For all intents and purposes, he was living as a Gentile would!

If Peter can do that and still be a Christian, then he clearly knows and even demonstrates that the keeping of the law is NOT a requirement for salvation.  How then, could he possibly expect or demand that Gentiles live according to the Jewish law?

By his own actions, he displays the truth of the gospel – that faith in the shed blood of Jesus is the only requirement for salvation!

Galatians 2:15-16 – We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentle sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Paul uses his encounter with Peter as the springboard to show the Galatians that salvation comes by faith.  Works of the law have absolutely nothing to do with it!  A religion that mixes faith with works is a false religion.

If people could have been saved by the practice of the law, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to die.  But God has shown us that no one can be justified by the practice of the law.

The Galatians need to understand that salvation is wrought solely by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.  Mankind was, and is, completely powerless to add anything to it.  All we need to do is accept it by faith.

Galatians 2:17 – But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?  Certainly not!

Let us, for a mere moment in time, adopt the belief that works are required for salvation.  If we believe that, where does it take us?

IF it was true that men could not be saved solely by the work of Christ – that is, if observance of ceremonial law was a necessary component of salvation –  then the only logical conclusion to be reached is that the sacrifice of Jesus was inadequate to redeem us.

Therefore, it follows that we are not justified by Christ; God has given us a defective remedy for sin!  So, by default, Jesus himself is a servant of sin. 

Obviously, we can see that this line of reasoning is utter blasphemy!  Those who continued to cling to the law as a factor in redemption (like the Galatians) were ultimately blaspheming the very one who provided their salvation. 

Galatians 2:18 – For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.

Paul goes on to point out that if he (or any believer) who has taught (by either word or practice) that observance of the law is NOT necessary to salvation now changes course, and says works are required, it would be like rebuilding a wall that you have just torn down. 

You would be making yourself a transgressor or sinner all over again.  You would be placing yourself back under the burden and guilt of sin, despite your faith in Christ. 

This is the main point Paul wants the Galatians to see and understand.  They had accepted salvation on the basis of justification by faith in the shed blood of Christ.  Period.  Nothing else was required on their part.  But if they now change course and add works as a necessity of salvation, then they place themselves back into condemnation, despite the work of Jesus. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of that!

Galatians 2:19 –For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

Despite what others may say or do, Paul declares that for himself, he is dead to the law.  Paul realizes that the law can never result in life/freedom from sin, because no one could ever fully do all that is contained in the law.  Break it just once, and you are doomed. 

He also understood that the law was just a shadow or tool that defined sin and pointed out the great need for a redeemer.  In this way, it led mankind to the redemptive work of Christ.  Once Christ completed his work, the law died.  Consequently, justification cannot be obtained through works of the law.  Observances of things like circumcision and dietary laws was no longer necessary, since the law was dead.

Paul now considers himself free from the burden and bondage of the law.

Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Sometimes we describe portions of scripture as the ‘milk’ of the word.  By that, we mean the doctrines in that scripture are very simple and easy to understand.  While they apply to all Christians, they are especially good for those who are new in Christ.

The last half of the second chapter in Galatians is just the opposite – it definitely falls into the category of the ‘meat’ of the word.  This means the doctrines are complex or deep.  They contain deeper levels of wisdom to be searched out by more mature believers in Christ. 

We could probably spend an entire blog on this one verse, but instead we are just going to make three points for your consideration.  Keep in mind, there is much more to this verse.  Feel free to continue to meditate on it this week and see what else Holy Spirit will reveal to you!

  • The Judicial angle (I have been crucified with Christ) – All men are born in sin.  So from the very beginning, we are a transgressor of the law and therefore from the standpoint of the law we are as good as dead.  We have been charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to an eternity of death/wrath under the law.  As soon as we die, our punishment begins.

But wait… Jesus has intervened.  He took upon himself the sins of all mankind, taking them to the cross.  Through his suffering and death, he paid in full the debt that we owed. 

So as far as the claims of justice/judgment are concerned, Paul (actually every Christian) has been crucified with Christ.  Because Christ’s death/crucifixion stood for ours, we are personally free.  In this way, we have died, yet we live!

  • The Spiritual angle (It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me) – The moment you become a believer, the old you is dead.  You instantly become a new creature in Christ.  This change occurs in your inner man, even though your outward man remains unchanged. 

Your inward man has been changed because you have been freed from the bondage of sin and now Jesus (in the person of Holy Spirit) lives within your heart.  Thus, once you receive salvation it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you!

  • The Practical angle (The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God) – Although Christians live in a mortal body, in a three dimensional world, we are not under the dominion of either.  We can choose what do think, what to say and how to act.  We can choose to conduct ourselves after the principles of God; we can live by faith in Jesus.  By doing so, we allow his law to rule our lives.  Therefore, the life we now live as Christians we live by faith in Jesus!     

Galatians 2:21 – I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Paul concludes with these thoughts on the doctrine of justification by the works of the law:

ONE, this doctrine frustrates or nullifies the grace of God. 

TWO, the logical conclusion to this doctrine is that Christ has died in vain. 

For these reasons, this doctrine should be rejected by all true believers.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Peter was a witness to the fact that God had broken down the barrier between Jews and Gentiles.  In this case he (most unfortunately) missed an opportunity to share that fact. 

What about you?  Has God made you a witness to the fact that he heals people today?  Has he made you a witness to the fact that people can be delivered from anxiety?  Has he made you a witness to the fact that he still performs financial miracles for his people?

If so, I strongly encourage you to share that witness/testimony with others!  Your testimony may cause faith to rise up in the life of another believer and assist them in gaining a victory in their own lives. 

Let me offer you some relief:

Peter made mistakes – lots of them!  Some of his mistakes (like the one at Antioch) even rippled out and affected others.  But Peter learned from his mistakes.  He sought forgiveness from God, made adjustments, and continued to live the best Christian life he could. 

Have you ever made mistakes or led other people astray?  If so, take heart – you too can seek forgiveness, change your ways and continue to live a victorious life in Christ.

Let me offer you some strength:

It sure seems like the apostle Paul never got a break – he was forever advancing the kingdom of God, putting out fires (like the one in Galatia), or writing the books of the New Testament!  How was he able to accomplish all of that without collapsing?

Paul reveals that in his weaknesses, Christ stepped in to make him strong.  In so doing, Christ was glorified through Paul. 

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God is standing by to give us the comfort and strength that we need to complete the course he has set before us.  Let’s depend on him and allow him to be glorified through us.  

 

   

Galatians, Chapter 2, Part 1

Galatians 2:1 –Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.

In this chapter, Paul continues to defend his apostleship to the Galatian churches.  He continues to offer proof that he had not been taught the gospel message by any man.  Rather, he gained his knowledge by direct revelation from God. 

In chapter 1, Paul explained that he was not in direct contact with the apostles; upon his conversion he immediately operated independently of them in his preaching of the gospel.  It was three years before he first went to Jerusalem to even make Peter’s acquaintance.  That visit lasted only 15 days – far too short of a time for Paul to have been ‘trained’ by the other apostles. 

After that short visit Paul was sent to Syria and Cilicia.  It wasn’t until eleven years later (14 years from his conversion), that Paul finally returned to Jerusalem a second time.

When he returned, he brought Barnabas and Titus with him.  Titus was a Gentile (Greek) who was obviously converted to Christianity through the preaching of Paul.  Because Paul believed exclusively in salvation by faith alone, he did not compel Titus to be circumcised.  Titus was a living example of the freedom of the Gentile converts from the bondage of the law.  Perhaps Paul traveled with him for just this reason.      

Galatians 2:2 – I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Why would Paul bother making a second trip to Jerusalem after 14 years?  His reason was a good one – he traveled to Jerusalem at the express command (revelation) of God!  And in this portion of scripture, Paul tells us what passed between him and the other apostles during this trip.  

First, it should be noted that Paul acts with prudence.  We know that there were loads of Jews in Jerusalem who had accepted Christ as savior, yet they still practiced the law.

Acts 21:20 – … and they [the apostles] said to him [Paul], “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.  They are all zealous for the law….”  

It would have been a disaster for Paul to confront thousands of Christian Jews about their belief in the law.  If he mishandled this situation, it could create a chasm of contention and division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.  It could nullify all the work he had done for the last 14 years; it could make all of his efforts vain.

Instead, Paul meets with only the twelve apostles and some leaders of the church.  While privately meeting with them, he openly communicated the pure gospel message he was sharing with the Gentiles.  It was a message that did not require any of the rites of Judaism.  He also shared the results of that message – large numbers of Gentiles were being saved and set free from the bondage of sin to become a part of the family of God! 

Paul then left the apostles to judge for themselves whether or not his gospel message was the true gospel of Christ.  Sure enough, the 12 apostles were in full agreement with the doctrine Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. 

Therefore, the Galatians can be sure that Paul is not preaching a false or changeable doctrine like the Pharisees are claiming.  His authority and qualifications as an apostle are in every way equal to the other twelve.  His pure gospel message of salvation by faith is a true message; the Galatians do not need to observe the Law.     

Galatians 2:3-5 – But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.  Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

At some point, Paul had come into contention with ‘false brethren’.  It is unclear whether Paul encountered them in Jerusalem or Antioch (or both), but it really does not matter. 

These men were Jewish believers who maintained that Christians must keep the Jewish law.  Were they hypocrites or just good men who did not truly understand Christianity?  We have no way of knowing.  What we do know is that they were opinionated, obstinate and determined to have their way in the church.  They fully opposed Paul.  They regarded his teaching/doctrine as dangerous and false.  They perverted his message, spoke out against him and claimed to have a clearer understanding of the gospel than he did!

In some ways, the trip to Jerusalem was like a western show down – the Jews who believed in keeping the law were staunchly opposed to the grace message that Paul was spreading.  For his part, Paul had absolutely no intention of backing down from the freedom of the gospel message as given to him by Holy Spirit.  There was no way he was going to allow these Jews to bring the Gentile believers into slavery by the law!

Paul came to the fight with a secret weapon – Titus. 

As previously mentioned, Titus was a Gentile.  He heard the preaching of Paul, repented of his sin and was admitted to the church purely on the basis of justification by faith.  In fact, he was a teacher within the church.  He was not required to submit himself to any of the Jewish laws such as food laws, observing the Sabbath or, most particularly, circumcision.  He was an example of the freedom in Christ which was available to any/all believers.   

In other words, Titus did not have to become a Jew first, so he could then become a Christian.  Jewish rites, like circumcision, were not necessary for salvation.  Titus was admitted to the family of faith simply on the merits of the shed blood of Christ. (As the Galatian believers had been, before they went astray.) 

This raises a question – could Titus have been circumcised and still been a Christian?  Of course!  Since salvation is not dependent on works, he could be a Christian regardless of being circumcised or not. 

However, Paul confidently declares that he never ever, not even for a moment, considered having Titus submit to circumcision.  Why? 

If Paul had given in to the demands of the majority of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and forced Titus to become circumcised, then the Jews would have considered this a precedent.  Based on this one single incident, they would have made circumcision obligatory for any male seeking salvation in Christ.  Thus, slavery to the law would be introduced into the gospel message.

So while Titus actually had the freedom to be circumcised or not circumcised, it was essential in this case that he remain uncircumcised, so that the ‘false brethren’ or those fighting to introduce Jewish customs into the church would not have any basis for their doctrine of works.  It was essential that the purity of the gospel message be preserved and not clouded with works.

Earlier, I made the comment that this meeting was kind of like a western show down.  But in reality, that was not the case.  There was no show down.  Holy Spirit was going to direct the church in the way it needed to go.  Heaven was not going to allow Hell to pervert the gospel message!

At the same time, it is good to note that God was understanding and patient with the Jews.  Even though the ceremonial rites had been put to death by the sacrifice of Christ, God allowed the Jews to continue their practice of the law, if they wished.  While God tolerated (and was merciful to) this weakness, it was not his plan for all of mankind for all ages. 

Once Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the other apostles, the arguments of the false teachers simply washed away.  The twelve accepted Paul as a true apostle and agreed with his doctrine.

Thus, the attempts by the false brethren to create scandal and offense among the believers were thwarted.  God had protected the reputation of Paul and the integrity of his gospel message.  

This should serve as proof to the Galatians that Jewish rites like circumcision were not required for salvation.  They could enjoy the full freedom and liberty of the gospel message, just as Jesus intended it to be.  

Galatians 2:6 – And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

Here Paul is referring to men who were of reputation or influence in the church of Jerusalem but who were not apostles.  Regardless of their rank among the Jews, it did not in any way affect Paul’s authority as an apostle appointed by Jesus Christ. 

While he must have been happy that they concurred with his teaching, their opinions didn’t really matter.  After all, they had not appointed him as an apostle, nor had they taught him the gospel message.  Jesus himself had done that.  While Paul no doubt treated them with dignity and respect, he openly acknowledged that they had no right to claim authority over him or his message.

Galatians 2:7-8 – On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),

We need to pause and make an important point here.  God did not make an official division in the church, sending Peter to minister exclusively to the Jews and Paul exclusively to the Gentiles. 

We find many instances in the New Testament where Paul preached to the Jews in their synagogues (Acts 13:13-15).  Likewise, Peter was the first apostle to share the gospel message with a Gentile household – that of Cornelius, in Acts chapter 10.

What Paul meant here was that the main business of Paul was to share the gospel with Gentiles, and the main business of Peter/Cephas was to share the same message with Jews. 

But it was and continues to be the work of all Christians to bring the salvation message to a lost world.  And it is the constant job of Holy Spirit to bring conviction upon men that leads to salvation in Christ. 

Galatians 2:9-10 – and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

James was the head pastor of the Jerusalem church, John was the beloved disciple, and Peter was the leader of the twelve apostles.  These men were certainly ‘pillars’ or persons of leadership and influence in the church. 

When they met with Paul and had a chance to hear his doctrine, they agreed with his message.  When these men saw the favor that God had placed upon Paul for the salvation of the Gentiles, they gave him the ‘right hand of fellowship’. 

This means that the twelve were entirely satisfied that God had indeed called Paul as an apostle, and they approved of his ministry.  They were neither jealous nor critical of the work Paul had done.  They rejoiced at the success Holy Spirit had given Paul and his companions; they were glad that Gentiles were being welcomed into the kingdom of God. 

They did not throw any obstacles in Paul and Barnabas’ path or contend with them in any way.  In fact, the twelve publicly acknowledged Paul and Barnabas as partners in the great work of spreading the gospel around the world.  Paul and Barnabas were now associated with the apostles, in the great work of salvation.

Rather than duplicating their efforts, it was decided to follow the path that God had already outlined – the twelve would continue to minister to the Jews first and foremost, while Paul and his companions would continue to minister mainly to the Gentiles. 

The only request of the Jerusalem leaders was that Paul continue to remember the poor.  By this, they meant the poor Christians of Jerusalem.  Due to a regional famine, and persecution against Christians, this group of people seemed to be suffering intensely; they were in great financial need.

Paul had already collected contributions for them from the wealthier churches of Antioch (Acts 11:29-30).  He promised to continue sending aid to this group of believers and scripture confirms that he did exactly that. 

Romans 15:25-27 – But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem.  It has pleased them greatly; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in material things.   

Also see Acts 24:17, I Corinthians 16:3, II Corinthians 8:1-2 and others.

Thus, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem produced a spirit of harmony between himself and the other twelve apostles.  The church of Jesus was knit together in unity, each man having his individual task to complete for the master. 

The agreement of all the apostles and leaders in the church to the doctrine of Paul should be certain proof to the churches of Galatia that Paul’s authority and doctrine were genuine.  Those preaching a message of works mixed with grace were false teachers. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul draws a parallel between the human body and the church.  Just as our bodies are made up of many parts (hands, ears, knees, feet, etc), so the spiritual church of Jesus is made up of individual members, having individual callings and gifts.

What is your spiritual gift to the body of Christ?  Are you an encourager, a leader, a teacher or something else?  I encourage you to find your gift and begin to operate in it, for the sake of the church.  

Let me offer you some relief:

False teachers tricked the Galatians into abandoning their salvation by grace.  False teachers have not gone away; they are still at work in the world today.  But we don’t have to fear them or be fooled by them. 

First and foremost, God has given us his word.  Anything a teacher says can be verified by searching the scriptures we already possess.  Holy Spirit, who is residing in our hearts, is also of tremendous benefit in this area.  If he gives you a warning signal about a certain teaching or minister, pay attention!

If we are diligent to look at the scriptures and listen to the Spirit, we can avoid being led astray.   

Let me offer you some strength:

Paul faced a lot, I mean A LOT of opposition in his ministry from both Jews and Gentiles.  But the good news is that God gave him the strength he needed to complete his mission.  In order to get that strength, Paul had to trust in God alone, and not be so concerned about what men said about him.

This is good advice for us too.  God is standing by ready to give us all the strength we need to stand up to opposition and run the race he has set before us.  All we need to do is trust in him!