A Bible Lesson on Galatians 6

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Paul now considers relations between Christian people. There are various theories about the exact circumstances in Galatia that might have motivated these verses. Some think that 6:1 refers to correction and restoration of the Judaizers. Maybe, but I suspect not. In any event, these verses give sound practical advice.

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.

It’s a fact of life in God’s church that there will be instances of “transgression.” We are not yet home, we are pilgrims and sojourners, and we are frail. Would that we all keep before us the necessity of walking the line God’s Spirit lays down. But in the event that one falls off the narrow way, others walking it are to “restore.” The Greek word employed here was used to describe the setting of a broken and out of position bone. The place of God’s people is not to shun, but to help one who has veered off. This is to be done in gentleness. Of course it’s “in gentleness.” Those walking in God’s way, led by His Spirit, are gentle people.

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

Bear one another’s burdens. This may be a new thought, but it may also be a continuation of the discussion of verse 1. There is reproach and difficulty associated with the failure of a Christian, and the natural impulse is to disassociate from one whose failure is publicly known. But where there is repentance, there is to be restoration, and the church is to bear that reproach with the repentant member.

Whether this is a new thought or a continuation of verse 1, the charge is that as Christ voluntarily took on Himself our troubles, we are to voluntarily take on the troubles of other believers. We are to share them, and in the process make them lighter for our brethren.

3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

What Paul has commanded in verse 2 is not beneath the dignity of any believer. It certainly wasn’t beneath the dignity of the Son of God. How could it be beneath ours? If this is a continuation of the previous two verses, Paul is saying that if we choose to look at a fellow Christian who has fallen off the narrow way as if we ourselves are immune, we show ourselves to not have a clue, to be nothing and to be completely self-deceived.

4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

Humility, that is part of walking not according to our fallen human nature, doesn’t look around for someone weaker to compare oneself to. It reckons from one’s own responsibilities. And on that account

5 For each will have to bear his own load.

I can’t blame you for my delinquencies. The “burden” of verse 2 is not the “load” of verse 5. This word is the word for a soldier’s pack. It’s what I was issued as my set of responsibilities to love God and my neighbor.

Paul now makes a series of observations tied together through their relationship to the universal law of reaping and sowing. You don’t sow one thing and harvest another. You don’t live one way and expect results appropriate for a second way of living.

6 One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.

It’s appropriate that churches support their pastors. They sow good teaching and should harvest appropriate physical support. The word Paul uses is “share.” It’s not a word of commerce. It’s a word of community and relationship. A pastor is not an employee, but rather a brother, with whom a congregation should share all good things. There is a proper reaping of physical support.

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

One cannot turn up one’s nose at God. We can’t live in rebellion, contrary to the leading of God’s Spirit, and have life. Nothing else in all creation works that way. What is sown will be reaped.

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.

Stott quoting an “old adage” said “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.” One doesn’t slide through life in indifference to the things of God (or worse yet live in open rebellion against Him) and reap holiness or the beauty of the Savior. Those grow from careful attention to the Spirit and the Word.

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

This is good news. We each have our packs. It’s our job to carry them. We’ve each got our load, our part to play. But as sure as soy beans produce soy beans, God’s Spirit working in us will produce through us what He wills as we cooperate with Him! So carry on!

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

Pick up your pack and get on with it, doing good to all, especially other believers. That’s our responsibility. Part of that will be purposely taking on some of their trouble.

11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Paul is now finishing up. He’s probably dictated the letter, but now writes the last part in his own hand. Perhaps because he’s not a skilled copyist, possibly because he’s writing big for emphasis, what he’s now writing is in a large hand. He returns to his main themes. First, Christianity is fundamentally inward not outward.

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.

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.

Circumcision had its purpose and was indeed commanded by God for the Jews. But to try to make it something for gentile Christians as an add-on to or somehow a prerequisite for the work of Christ is foolish and horribly wrong. If you go down that road you end up making make Judaism a prerequisite for Christianity, and acting as if Christ’s work is not in itself sufficient for making us right with God, and that is vile heresy. If circumcision is required for salvation, then so is all else in the Old Testament economy. Even the proponents of circumcision would have to admit that they didn’t perfectly keep the Old Testament law. Circumcision could make one palatable/acceptable to Jews and to the Romans who had granted the Jews the right to be Jewish. But treated as a necessity for salvation, it destroys salvation by faith in Christ alone, our only hope. The law of God teaches us our fallenness and intrinsic lack of genuine goodness.

Further, Christianity is fundamentally of God, not of man.

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.

15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

Christ is all a believer claims as a basis of right standing with God. Christian people do not care one way or the other about whether they are “in” with the world’s system. What matters is Christ, what He’s done on our behalf and being given real life in Him. Paul didn’t care whether he was acceptable to the religious or governmental powers that be, only whether he was alive in Jesus.

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

What was true about Paul is equally true about all real Christian believers. What counts is the work of Christ, and it produces peace and mercy and grafts one into the eternal people of God.

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

It seems like Paul is pretty much of the opinion that this should all be self-evident to a genuine Christian. He really isn’t interested in further debate on this topic. He’s an Apostle and one who has suffered for Christ. If the Judaizers want to brag about physical evidence of devotion to God, he’s got scars from stoning and beatings to show in return. Rather than theological debate

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

It should all be about the work of Jesus. It’s His grace and it’s the work of His Spirit applying it that make Christians who they are, brethren in the true and lasting Israel of God.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Galatians 5

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Paul has defended his apostleship and has defended the Gospel itself, insisting that we are justified through faith and faith alone, not through human works. He’s been unyielding that it is by grace and not by rule-keeping that we are brought into right relationship with God. In the last two chapters he must now make the point that the liberty into which believers are called is not license. Rather, it is a mature state, in which guided and empowered by the Spirit of God, the believer lives in holiness and love. It is service to God and to others.

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

Christian people are free from the condemnation that comes from our failure to behave perfectly. We are free from the misery of being unable to by rote follow a set of rules in the futile hope of gaining God’s favor and forgiveness. Christ has perfectly fulfilled the whole will of God and taken our just punishment for coming short of God’s glory. Through gratefully and humbly accepting His offer of unmerited forgiveness, we’ve been set right with God. Christ’s purpose in doing this is that we now live in that great freedom from despair and condemnation.

So, stand firm. Don’t knuckle under. Galatians, don’t let yourselves slip back into a mindset that rule-keeping is what saves you or keeps you saved. If you do that, you’re right back where you started. Christ plus anything is not the Gospel. Christ plus anything is heresy that not only won’t save you, but will damn your souls. That’s the glorious and wonderful truth of the Gospel. It is our reliance on, faith in, clinging to, trusting in God, His great mercy and provision in Christ that makes us right with Him. That and nothing else.

The Jew of Paul’s day spoke of “taking on the yoke of the law.” Paul says “Don’t knuckle under again to a ‘yoke’ of bondage.” Don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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

Circumcision was initiation into Judaism and taking on the yoke of the law. If you accept that your salvation turns on keeping the law, the sacrifice of Christ is of no avail. Biblical religion never has any place for mixing and matching. You can’t have both justification by faith and justification by being good enough. They are mutually exclusive.

3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

Believe that you must join up with Judaism in order to be right with God, and you believe that you must keep the whole of the law. When one becomes a naturalized citizen, he or she doesn’t then get to choose which of US laws will govern him or her. They come with the naturalization. Paul declares that it’s a legal matter that if you want to add circumcision, you in fact replace Christian faith with the keeping of the entire law.

4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

This is genuinely serious business. There is no mixing of grace with works. Want to claim that your meritorious behavior helps save you, or that it keeps you saved? If so, you’re canceling grace, and Paul has already argued that you are then in a world of hurt. There’s no adequately keeping the law in order to make one righteous. We don’t have it in us. Go that route and you are “severed.”

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

Paul contrasts attempting to keep the law as a means of establishing righteousness to a life lived through the Spirit by faith. The freedom he’s talking about is a life indwelt by God’s Spirit, trusting in, relying on, cleaving to Christ. A life spent not desperately trying to WORK and build a case for acceptance on our own merits, but WAITING eagerly. Biblical hope is that which is certain, but not yet fully realized.

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

Paul’s hope is in Christ. It’s not in the fact that he has been circumcised. Neither could it be in lack of circumcision if he weren’t. Paul is evenhanded. Keeping the rules, one way or the other is not the basis of any hope. Rather it is “faith working through love.” That’s a beautiful phrase. If my reliance is upon the completed work of Christ, who stood the just penalty for my sin because of His great love for me, how could the genuine article be anything other than a faith that loves? This faith loves God and genuinely loves people.

7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Paul has been talking about the Galatians and himself. Now he turns again to the Judaizers. The Galatians are foolish, but there is an agent or agents who have been instrumental in derailing them. The Galatians started well, by faith but someone has brought in this heresy, and caused them to turn aside from the Gospel to that which is not the Gospel.

8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you.

This is a politely worded statement. Paul could have said “this stuff is from the pit of hell” and he would have been right. He’s already said that these folks are in danger of being severed from Christ. Clearly, this is not the work of the God who originally called them out of darkness.

9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Paul has no choice but to write forcefully. This heresy is not from God, and it is infectious. It spreads. It needs to be quarantined and eradicated. Bad doctrine is not a light matter.

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

Nevertheless, Paul expresses the confidence that God will work in these Galatians and pull them back from this error. There is apparently a kind of play on words running through verses 7-10 that is hard to capture in a literal English translation. It might be paraphrased roughly something like “Who hindered you from being persuaded as to the truth? The kind of persuasion they used is not from Christ. But I am still persuaded of better things of you.” The passage is more cohesive if we could hear that repeated use of the notion of “persuasion.” The situation is bad, but God is not powerless. He’s sovereign and Paul is confident that He’ll work in the Galatians.

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’s not completely clear what the first part of this verse is about. It may be that in keeping to the narrow path, Paul is getting criticism in Galatia from “both sides.” Maybe some have criticized his circumcision of Timothy (that was done not so that Timothy could be qualified for salvation, but so that there would be no natural social barrier when Paul brought Timothy into Jewish circles). In any case, clearly Paul isn’t preaching (and never would preach) the addition of anything to the Gospel. If he did, he’d be popular, not suffering as he is.

The offense of the cross (has been removed). This is the “skandalon,” the stumbling block, the scandal. Why is the cross a scandal/stumbling block? It is because we fallen humans can’t honestly look at it and not know that outside of the mercy of Christ, we’re undone, and we hate that. We want to think that somehow, we have some merit of our own to add. The cross cuts through that baloney and shows us our lost condition.

12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

There were apparently pagan priests in or near Galatia that actually did this to themselves, in a vain attempt to work themselves into an OK position with some false deity. This sounds indelicate to our ears, but Paul’s argument is sound. If you’re going to add circumcision or Jewish law-keeping to the Gospel, you might as well add all other pagan practices. You’ve destroyed the Gospel.

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.

It is a reflection of our fallenness that we seemingly inevitably want equate freedom with license to follow whatever whim enters our pointed heads. We are free from guilt, we are free from condemnation, we are free from the necessity of following our sinful nature and inclinations. And still, what the old man wants to hear in the word “freedom” is the right to do as he pleases. Paul, as he said in Romans, says here “NO, freedom doesn’t mean license!!! That’s crazy!!! God doesn’t pardon us so we can go on doing our own thing! What He does require is that we love and serve Him and love and serve one another.”

The word the ESV translates “opportunity” could be rendered “beachhead” or “staging area.” Don’t use freedom as a place from which the old nature could launch an invasion.

We are freed from slavery to our selfish nature to serve one another. The “love” here is the New Testament “agape” love, the love that is a matter of the will. This is the love that will doggedly and determinedly do the best for another, whether or not it is appreciated. It is the kind of love that sent Christ to the cross for rebellious humanity.

14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our freedom in Christ saves us from living under the constant worry about whether we’re making it, whether we’re keeping enough rules to please God. It is freedom not to indulge our sinful desires but to control them. It frees us to love God and love people. And in the end, as we do that, as we love God and love people, we find that far from discarding or contradicting the law as a guide for what is good and right, we will have fulfilled its real essence. The law is fulfilled in both the sense that we keep it and in the sense that its heart is that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

NOTICE that this is NOT saying (as modern relativists want to imply) that love allows the breaking of the moral law. It says that love will lead to fulfilling of the moral law. Christian liberty expresses itself in self-control, loving service of our neighbors, and a comfortable/natural obedience to the law of God.

15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

On the other hand, here’s something that is contrary to love. Paul says that if we habitually participate in it, it will be our undoing. This is biting and devouring, making cutting remarks, nurturing petty differences that have no real basis, keeping hard feelings alive. We don’t know the circumstances in Galatia that prompted Paul to give this warning, but this is poison for the soul.

The “bite” is a word usually used of snakes and animals. Paul says “Watch out that you are not consumed, eaten up till nothing remains.”

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

This is the Galatians short version of Romans 6-8. Paul is saying that there are two principles at work in Christian people. There is the old nature, the flesh, the sinful nature, the selfish nature, whatever you want to call those inclinations we inherit from our earthly parents and that stand opposed to and outside the rule and reign of God. There is also the new nature, the new man, God’s rule in us instituted and sustained through the work and constant presence of God’s Holy Spirit. And those two are at war in us … outside of the work of God, there is only the first of these.

Paul says “choose to walk by the promptings of the Holy Spirit and you will not be driven by your old, fallen, corrupt and selfish nature.” Paul is talking (as he does in Romans 8:5-8:8) about 2 mutually exclusive realms, governing powers, or authorities here. We live, either apart from God, in rebellion and attempting to make our own way, or we live under His gracious rule and reign. We are at any time living in one realm or the other. We are either living under God’s rule and reign, or we are going our own rebellious way. These realms are in conflict, and the fact is that on occasion we choose wrongly and find ourselves doing what we really hate. At those points we’ve pulled ourselves out from under the rule of God.

The last sentence of verse 17 is the Galatians version of last part of Romans 7.

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul says, “Look Galatians, living a life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is a much different matter than trying to keep a set of rules. A life led by God’s Spirit is not one where you are attempting to approve yourself to God or maintain your salvation by your own righteous rule-keeping.”

Paul now proceed to get very concrete. What he’s talking about is not some mystical, intangible kind of thing that has no consequences that can be seen. The fruit of living according to our sinful natures, outside of the rule and reign of God can be seen and identified. So also can the fruit of living according to the leading of God’s Spirit. Paul makes these plain for us. First the former.

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

Our rebellious human natures tend, for one thing, to sexual immorality. Judaism and Christianity brought into the world the virtue of chastity. That was foreign to the pagan ancient world. “impurity” connotes that which soils our lives and makes us unfit to come before God.

“sensuality” is translated “wantonness” in some versions. The idea is that one is so far gone in desire that he or she no longer cares about what anyone thinks or about the consequences.

20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,

“idolatry and sorcery” are sin where something else has taken the place of God and the playing around with powers of darkness, supposedly manipulating them so as to get what one wants.

“hatred/enmity” concerns being characteristically hostile to people.

“discord/strife” is rivalry which leads to quarreling and wrangling.

“jealousy” is the desire to have what is not ours. It is the desire for someone else’s XXX.

“fits of anger/bursts of temper” can literally make life hell on earth in a family.

“rivalries/selfish ambition/self seeking” is wanting an office not to serve, but for what can be gotten out of it.

“dissensions” is literally “a standing apart.” This is the opposite of brethren working together in harmony and cooperation. This is descriptive of a society like 21st century America, that is coming apart rather than coming together. This too is the work of our unrestrained fallen natures.

“divisions/factions’ are crystallized dissensions. This is drawing up sides on an issue and then turning it into a permanent contempt for people on the other side.

21 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.

“envy” is truly a base/mean word. It is grief at a neighbor’s good fortune. It is a bitterness that doesn’t necessarily want what the other has, but doesn’t want the neighbor to have it.

“drunkenness” is a work of the flesh. This was not a common vice in the ancient world, in spite of the fact that they drank much wine. Christians and pagans alike recognized this as a vice.

“orgies/carousing” is unrestrained revelry, enjoyment that has degenerated into license.

These are all things that come from our old man, our selfish nature. They are incompatible with a life that is led by the Spirit of God.

Liberty is not license. License is this kind of stuff in verses 19-21. It is contrary to sane life. It is contrary to the character of the one true and living God. It is the stuff of hell on earth. How could we possibly think that God would save us to abandon us to license? This is life in slavery to the old man, slavery to fallen human nature! In contrast, Paul now goes on to say what life is like in the true freedom of the Spirit of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Paul speaks of “the fruit.” This is the mutli-faceted wonderful harvest of life led by God’s Spirit. Recall Jesus’s words

Matthew 7:16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

True spirituality has visible consequences.

“love” is agape/unconquerable benevolence. This is deliberate effort to never seek anything but the best even for those that seek the worst for us. Truly, this is possible only through the power of God’s Spirit.

The Spirit gives “joy.” Indeed. With real forgiveness, relationship, and freedom from bondage to sin comes great joy.

“peace” is tranquility of heart, but more than that. It is all-pervading awareness that our times and situation are in the hands of God. This is all that makes for the highest good of mankind, good order, wholeness, well-being, shalom.

“patience” is a word that concerns not things, but people. It is “long-temperedness.” This is a kind of conquering patience. It is the grace of the person who could revenge himself or herself, but does not. It is often used in the New Testament of God with regard to man. (Indeed, if God was a man, we’d have all been history long ago!)

“kindness” has a mellowness about it. It is a goodness that doesn’t chafe. It’s sweetness.

“goodness” is virtue equipped at every point. This quality might rebuke and discipline. Kindness could only help. There are times for both kindness and goodness.

“faithfulness” is fidelity. It is the characteristic of a person who is reliable.

23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

“gentleness/meekness” is apparently nearly untranslatable. It was used by the Greeks to describe a powerful horse that had been trained for riding. It carries the ideas of 1) being submissive to the will of God, 2) being teachable/not too proud to learn, and most of all 3) being considerate.

“self-control/self-mastery” is the Spirit’s work in a Christian person’s life will make that person anything but erratic and capricious.

All of these things are products of God’s Spirit in us. Obviously, if the function of the law is to restrain wrong behavior, there is no law against these works of God’s Spirit (in keeping with the freedom we have in Christ). This comment makes sense when we remember that earlier Paul answered the suggestion that freedom would lead to law-breaking. No, freedom and the work of the Spirit lead to these wonderful things, against which there clearly is no law.

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

If we are to avoid the works of the sinful nature and allow the Spirit to produce His fruit in us, we must maintain the correct attitudes toward both. Verse 24 prescribes our attitude toward the sinful nature, verse 25, our attitude toward the Spirit of God.

We have crucified the flesh/sinful nature/original nature. In this passage the emphasis is not on what has been done to or for us, but on what we do. We, if we have repented, have nailed the old man to a cross. Our subsequent business is to leave him there. We are to willfully see that he finishes dying. We are to see to it that our willful, wayward, selfish self is put completely to death. We are to be merciless about it. Only the foulest of Roman criminals were crucified, the lowest of the low, that no one would have thought of sparing. We ought to be merciless with our foul and selfish self. Doing so will be painful. Crucifixion was the worst of all deaths, and the old man is going to scream and beg to be let down. But crucifixion was also decisive. Once the Romans nailed someone up, the person was as good as dead. Guards were posted and no one dared help the person survive. Our job is to ruthlessly and decisively determine to keep the old man on the cross till he’s not kicking at all. That’s how we should view the wishes and desires of the old nature. They are not something to be played with, fondled, or given brief reprieves.

On the other hand

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

It is the Spirit of God that gives us life. That being the case, we should keep in step with the Spirit. The phrase translated here “walk by the Spirit” has a somewhat different color to it than the phrase in verse 18 translated “be led by the Spirit.” Being led by the Spirit sounds passive. It could sound like a farmer herding cattle or a shepherd herding sheep. This phrase is more active, and puts much more responsibility on our heads. (For Example, the NIV renders it “keep in step with the Spirit.”) We are to keep in step actively and purposely. We are to “walk in line with” or “be in line with” the Holy Spirit. We are to “walk the line He lays down.” We crucify the flesh, repudiating what is wrong and set ourselves to follow what we know is right. We must be ruthless in turning away from the old nature and disciplined in turning towards the things of God. This must be our whole life.

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

The practical results of our keeping in step with the Spirit will (for one thing) be seen in our relationships with people. When the Spirit leads, we will not be conceited. We will not have a wrong opinion of ourselves. Stott’s commentary points out very effectively how the provoking and envying follow naturally from conceit. If we are controlled by our fallen nature and think wrongly about ourselves, thinking too highly, we naturally “provoke” others. The thought behind “provoking” is to challenge with the expectation of showing someone up. On the other hand, if we are driven by our selfish selves and think too little of who God has made us, we envy. We want someone else’s place or situation. Rather than either, let us walk by the Spirit.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Galatians 4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Galatians 4:1 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,

2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

In the first part of Galatians 4 Paul continues his explanation of the place of the law, making further use of the two figures introduced in verses 23 and 24 of Chapter 3. In Chapter 3 he described the law as functioning as a warden, keeping humanity restrained or confined, and as a caretaker and guardian/male nanny, an ethical teacher. Now he brings these figures together.

Humanity’s condition before the coming of Christ was like that of a kid a rich man, who has the promise of an inheritance, but until reaching legal age is under the supervision of others. The kid is a kid and has to be instructed and taught the nature of life/being more or less by rote, and is not an adult who can enjoy the reality of his or her position. In some sense, the kid has no more privilege than a slave in the household, even though he is destined for more.

Paul uses the phrase “to/under the basic/elementary principles of the world.” These are the elementary things, the ABC’s. This same word is used in Hebrews 5:12 and 6:1. The reference both here and there is probably to the basics taught in the Old Testament. These are true and fundamental things, but things that have their fulfillment and completion in Christ. This includes the law, and before Christ, man was constrained by and under the discipline of the law. But, as Paul has argued, good and true as it was, it was no means of justifying people before God, no means of giving one a place as a grownup in the family of God.

God’s action was

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

It was when “the fullness of time had come,” when indeed the time was ripe and everything was in place for it to make sense to us, that God’s Son was born of a woman. He was “born under the law.” He was born in the period of the law, as a Jew, the people to whom the law had been given. But far more than this, He was born as a being to whom the law applied, a being for whom the law was a teacher and restraint. Jesus is God’s Son, born of a woman, both fully human and fully divine.

5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Christ, who was one of us, and yet was the true Son of God, truly good, wholly pleasing to the Father, redeemed us. And our redemption in Christ provides our adoption into the family of God. It gives us the status of full grown people, by whom the law isn’t taken for what it was never was (a means to salvation), but rather an expression of some of how God’s nature will be seen in our actions.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

There is intimate relationship with God for those who are truly redeemed and saved by faith. In this, God dwelling in us calls out to the Father in the most intimate of terms. The Holy Spirit in us calls out “Father dear Father.”

7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Make no mistake, this is a change of status. Instead of being ones who need rote instruction, who have to be shown very basic things like the wrongness of murder and adultery, by the work of Christ, those who wholly trust Him become ones who can be called “sons”/ones who not only have an inheritance, but share His essential concerns and outlook, who partake of His nature.

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

Every purely human attempt to be right with God is a system of moralism, of being good enough, of following the rules. That makes one a slave of the rules. That makes the rules a substitute for a real and living God. But such is not the nature of Christianity. Our faith in Christ to save, our dependence upon the mercy of God, makes God God, and gives us real relationship with Him. We genuinely “know” Him, a real person, not a set of rules.

9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

So, seriously now … the law can’t save. We can’t keep it, and even if we could keep all the external rules, Jesus shows us plainly in the Sermon on the Mount that the external is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s needed is real goodness. That is Christ’s, and we have been given it as a gift through faith alone. So how in the world could one come to the position that it’s faith plus scrupulous attention to the details of the Old Testament law that saves? That’s just foolish.

10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!

Apparently there was emphasis on keeping of the Jewish calendar as supposedly an integral part of Christianity. “Oh my!” says Paul …

11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

This is pretty much “If you don’t see that this is not just wrong logic and theology, but is an attack on the very nature of how God has worked to make us right with Him, I may have been wrong in believing that you have real salvation.” This possibility is painful to Paul and he makes a personal plea to the Galatians to come to their senses.

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

13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first,

14 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.

5 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.

16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

This is sad commentary. Paul, apostle of Christ, the epitome of pastoral care, has loved and taught these Galatians the truth about Jesus. Somehow, in his absence, heretics have gotten an audience and led the Galatians astray. Now, when he tries to correct error, it seems that human pride gets in the way, and rather than submit to his correction the Galatians would rather continue in error. Apparently they have been flattered and enjoy the attention of the heretics. They would rather be in basic error than change their relationship to the false teachers.

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

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

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

This is the quintessential heart of the loyal Christian pastor. There is agony when believers under his care go off the rails. Paul knows that this is life and death, heaven and hell for these Galatians. It’s always misery for a godly pastor to try to help keep his flock on the narrow way.

20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul now makes a rabbinical argument. (This is perhaps especially appropriate because the Galatians are enamored by Judaizers. So now he argues like a rabbi might argue.) He says that true faith in God/ trusting in His promise of a Redeemer, is to reliance upon law-keeping as a means of salvation as Isaac’s birth to Sarah was to Ishmael’s birth to Hagar.

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

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.

23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.

God promised a son to Abraham and ultimately made good on that promise in a miraculous way. Abraham in the meantime had forgotten faith and concocted his own way of getting a son. He had Ishmael through a servant woman. Ishmael was not God’s way and was not how He kept His promise. Paul argues that it’s not just coincidence that this first son was the son of a slave, while Isaac was the son of a free woman. That difference points to the difference between law-keeping and promise as means of making one right with God. The first is ineffectual and not God’s way. The second is effectual and miraculous in accord with God’s promise. The first doesn’t give real freedom/adult relationship with God. The second does.

Paul carries the rabbinical argument further, referring to Old Testament covenants. The covenant with Abraham preceded the covenant made at the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The first was a promise of descendants (in faith). The second promised blessing and curses following from obedience to and transgression of the will of God encoded in the law.

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

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

Paul says that Judaism is stuck depending upon the Sinai covenant of law, symbolized by Hagar and Ishmael, amounting to a human attempt to establish righteousness by keeping the rules … something that can’t be done and misses the point of the law entirely … and would annul the promise to Abraham.

26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Paul identifies Christians as ones depending upon a new covenant, connected to the promises to Abraham and the Old Testament prophets.

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 is a quote of Isaiah 54:1, promising the future glory of a true and righteous “Jerusalem”/people of God.

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

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.

Humans love their works religions. Never mind that they cannot save. It is a ditch that we are prone to continually fall into. Only faith in Christ saves. But that truth will always be under pressure from both champions of “don’t do this” and champions of “do that” religions. Paul sees in the sending away of Hagar and Ishmael an Old Testament type of what must be done to protect the truth.

30 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.”

The Galatians evidently liked the Judaizers. But as long as they continued to teach salvation by Jesus-plus-works they simply had to be avoided/sent away. It is not unkindness or rude to protect the flock of God by expelling those who teach doctrines that will damn.

31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Galatians 3

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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

Paul calls the Galatians “foolish.” These are not people without mental firepower, but people who have allowed themselves to be led astray by bad doctrine. In verse 6 of Chapter 1, Paul calls the Galatians “traitors.”  Here he calls them fools. He loves them, but mincing words would be of no lasting help to them.

The doctrine spoken of here was doctrine for which the Judaizers could probably even have come up with proof texts. But because someone can isolate a few texts for you, take some things out of context, and build a case for some teaching does not make it true. The question is whether teaching fits with the whole of Scripture, whether it is consistent with the Biblical picture of who God is and what He has done in history in Christ Jesus. And the end result was not some small error, but serious heresy.

“Who has bewitched you?” asks Paul. Who has put the evil eye on you, you, before whose eyes the Lord Jesus was publicly placarded as crucified? Who indeed but the evil one working through the Judaizers? This is serious business and the Galatians should know better. In verses 2-5 Paul demonstrates that their own experience should tell them differently and in verses 6-9 he shows that the plain reading of Scripture should tell them differently.

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

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

Paul asks them a rhetorical question. Remember that these are specific real people that Paul loves that are getting this letter. Strong medicine is better than death, and Paul is giving them just that. Paul challenges the Galatians, and demands that they apply logic to their experience. They received the Spirit of God, not after they had kept some rules, but after hearing and believing the Gospel, the good news that God offers pardon to those who will trust in the work of the Lord Jesus. Now having started that way, does it make any sense that rule-keeping ought to be the means of finishing their salvation? Such would be absurd.

Luther said, “…the law says ‘do this’; the gospel says ‘Christ has done it all.’ The law requires works of human achievement; the gospel requires us to trust in Christ’s achievement.”

4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?

These were apparently people who had experienced persecution on account of their faith in Christ. Paul suggests that if they persist in pursuing the keeping of the Jewish law as a means of salvation, their suffering will have been for nothing. The possibility exists of falling from grace, but Paul holds out hope that they will come to their senses.

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—

These people have had an authentic Christian experience on the basis of faith (as is all real Christian experience). But now they’re listening to heretics who are telling them that there is MORE that needs doing. Paul asks that they examine how they got to where they are, that they use their heads a little bit.

Next Paul argues from the plain reading of Scripture.

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

Abraham was an old man without an heir and God took him out to see the nighttime sky and promised he’d have as many descendants as there are stars and that through him the whole world would be blessed. Abraham believed and was counted in right standing with God. He had no lifetime record of keeping the Law that had not yet been given, and no circumcision that had also not been instituted.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

As it was with Abraham, so it is with all people.

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.”

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

The blessing Abraham received by faith is that of justification. That same precious right standing with God comes to everyone who takes God at His word and receives mercy in Christ. And Paul now goes on to say that not only right standing, but life itself can come only through faith, not law-keeping.

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.”

11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

For you and me, only a curse and death can come on us by relying on our own keeping of God’s law, while real life comes through faith. The giving of the Law came with the promise of blessing for its keeping, but pronouncement of a curse for failing to keep it, ALL of it.

Deuteronomy 27:26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Deuteronomy 28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.

It is obvious from both Scripture and experience that no human is capable of perfectly obeying God’s law. Those who are righteous have life with God, but that must come not by law-keeping, but rather by faith. Paul quotes Habbakuk 2:4b in this regard when he says “The righteous shall live by faith.” Counting on law-keeping as a means of being righteous is not faith. It is rather counting on

Leviticus 18:5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

Galatians 3:12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

Again, a route to life and righteousness that involves our personally perfectly keeping of God’s law is simply closed to us. We don’t keep it. In our natural state we hate it. It is a source of curse and condemnation for us. Leviticus 18:5 is true, but of no help to us if we must produce that obedience ourselves. We haven’t kept and won’t keep it all perfectly. In fact, we are under its curse. So how can there be any righteousness or life? Only through the great exchange of Christ bearing our curse and us receiving His righteousness by faith.

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”—

The perfect innocent Son of God hanging on the cross for us is evidence/confirmation of His assuming our curse for failing to be fully obedient to God. Instead there is

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.

We who were under the curse of failing to fully obey God, receive real life through God’s Spirit as we believe in, cast ourselves upon, trust in, Christ alone. Stott put it this way, “Faith is laying hold of Jesus Christ personally. There is no merit in it. It is not another ‘work.’ Its value is not in itself, but entirely in its object, Jesus Christ.”

In Christ, we are blessed with justification/righteousness, eternal life/fellowship with God, and the regenerating and infilling work of God’s Spirit. This is all by faith, not by law-keeping (our failure at which would–outside of Christ–have eternally cursed us).

Paul now must bring together the facts that the God who gave the law to Moses is the same God who earlier gave the promise to Abraham. How do the two fit together? First he makes the point that God doesn’t go back on His promises, and the law can’t possibly cancel the promise of blessing made to Abraham because of his faith. Faith preceded law and can’t be made obsolete by it. (The Passover and deliverance of the Exodus also preceded the giving of the law!)

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

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.

17 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.

18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

There are human contracts and promises that cannot be altered. How much more a promise given by the Creator of all? If He makes a promise to Abraham and Christ to bless us through them, how in the world could it be that somehow the basis of inheritance of eternal life could become law-keeping? That would make no sense.

But then a natural question is “What then was and is the purpose of the Law?” Paul makes a partial answer to that question in the last part of Chapter 3. He concentrates here on its place in God’s plan of salvation.

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.

It was “added because of transgressions.” Perhaps the meaning is “to restrain fallen human nature”? Or perhaps the intent is “to make wrong doing a legal offense” (NEB). The idea would be that it shows us the bankruptcy of our fallen nature. Our natural rebellion against God has always been sin. But when measured against the law of God, we can see our sin for what it is. It was given until “the offspring” should come.   It was given before Christ, “the” true offspring of Abraham, the true heir of the promise of God.

Paul is willing to grant the orthodox Jewish belief that angels were involved in the giving of the law at Sinai and that Moses acted as an intermediary. But it seems that he is saying here that rather than that somehow being a selling point or strength of the law, or reason to hold it up as superior to faith, that is instead a weakness. In dealing with Abraham, the father of all who have faith, God dealt directly.

20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

An intermediary or mediator stands between two parties. A law given through Moses and administered through priests puts a human between each of us and God. That is fundamentally weaker and less wonderful than a Gospel of faith that relates us individually to our Creator. It’s true that we have one Mediator/Intermediary, Christ Jesus. But that Mediator is Himself God. God is one.

It may also be that Paul here is thinking that any system of rule-keeping would depend upon two parties, the giver and the keeper. And we fail miserably in the part of a keeper. On the other hand, the gracious Gospel depends only on One, the Promiser.

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.

So then, what is the place of the law? By it, none can possibly gain right standing with God. Paul’s just pointed out that it was mediated by a mere human. Is it therefore unimportant? Is it even somehow a mistake? Is God somehow confused, giving the law in opposition to His main plan? How stupid, how close to blasphemy! Of course not! IF the law represented a possible second path to justification before God, then there might be some reason to ask such a thing, but it doesn’t have any such function. If we see a contradiction here, it’s because we’re not seeing right. The proper place of God’s law is something else. God’s promise and God’s law are not at war. We set up a fundamentally false dichotomy when we put law in opposition to grace.

22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

The Scripture, in particular the Old Testament law, “imprisoned” or “grouped” everything under sin. It gave definition. It made clear that there is real moral guilt, that you and I are justly under the wrath of God. It opened our eyes so that we could see our desperate condition. Gut level, every person that is honest and paying attention knows there is trouble at the core of our beings. God’s law graciously gave us definition.

We have a wrong idea that “law” (even God’s law) is somehow arbitrary, probably because it seems that too often our human governments treat it that way. From that perspective, we think that anything would go, all would be the same, if God just wouldn’t forbid it. But that is not the way things are. This is a moral universe because God its Creator is a moral being. Whether the 10 Commandments are ever read to us or not, murder is wrong at the very essence of things. It is thus mercy, it is grace, that God gives us definition, gives us the opportunity/the tools to see clearly, to know right from wrong.

If I only have a vague/dull/uninformed understanding of what really is in the moral realm, I may be able to fool myself into thinking that perhaps I’m doing OK, that perhaps I’m not in such bad shape. But when the gracious merciful law of God comes and tells me “Thou shalt not covet!” I’m undone. I see my real condition and become a candidate for mercy, for promise, for faith in God.

Luther (as quoted by Stott) said, “The principal point … of the law … is to make men not better but worse; that is to say, it sheweth unto them their sin, that by the knowledge thereof they may be humbled, terrified, bruised and broken, and by this means may be driven to seek grace, and so to come to that blessed Seed (sc. Christ).”

In verses 23 and 24 Paul uses two different pictures to tell us about the law.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

The first picture is one of the law acting as a warden or keeping us confined. It is there, restraining us, keeping us not only from doing evil, but also from life as free people. As R. Alan Cole put it, we were in protective custody awaiting a pardon. Who Paul means by “we” is not absolutely clear. Perhaps it is Paul and the Galatians. Perhaps it is Paul and his brethren, the Jews.

24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

The KJV says that the law was our “schoolmaster.” Apparently that translation is not such a good one. The word really refers to a trusted slave that was given the responsibility of conducting the son of a person of wealth to school and having general charge of him until he came of age. Stott uses the description of a sort of “male nanny.” This person apparently had some responsibility for the disciplining of the boy. He was usually pictured in ancient drawings with a rod of correction in his hand. So overall, the notion is one of a caretaker, and perhaps an ethical teacher.

But the law was never intended as the means of bringing sinful man into right relationship to God. It was meant to show man his need for a Savior and to some degree restrain him until the coming of Christ.

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,

Paul cannot mean by this sentence that faith was not present before the death of Christ. He’s already argued in Galatians (as well as in Romans) that even the Old Testament figures were made right with God by faith and faith alone. “faith has come” must instead mean that the true object of our faith, our Redeemer, has come. Since this is the case, the law is no longer our custodian. It has done its job, the situation has changed.

“we” may again be referring first to Paul and the Jews. Or he may be talking more broadly and including the Galatians. Regardless of which is meant, the next verse is clearly speaking of the Galatians.

26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Right standing with God that comes through faith in the person and work of Christ makes us all members of the family of God.

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

You have “put on” or clothed yourselves in Christ. Paul may be thinking here of the toga of an adult male, that a Roman male was given and put on when he “came of age.” Kids, ones who would have been under the supervision of the “guide and guardian of the boys” wore a different toga than an adult male.

Note that in both verses 26 and 27, Paul uses the word “all.” He expands on the inclusiveness of God’s work in Christ. It extends to Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

It is significant that the typical morning prayer of a Jew of the day, one that Paul had no doubt prayed many times before his conversion, thanked God that “thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Christ has turned that system on its ear. You are all one in Christ is literally “you are all one person in Christ.” It is not that those distinctions no longer exist, but that they no longer matter.

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

In verses 10-18, Paul reviewed 2000 years of Jewish history and showed that in that history, the progression was promise->law->fulfillment of promise. He now is saying that such is the experience of every true Christian. He is saying that every believer has a part in the promise that was originally made to Abraham. You and I stand, not only reconciled to God and in unity with those Christian brethren alive today, but we stand in the long line of those through history who have placed their trust in God. We are properly related to the saints of all time. Christians are not misfits. We are presently related to both God and those believers alive at this moment and stand with those who have gone before.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Galatians 2

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

In the first part of Galatians 2 Paul finishes a defense of his apostleship, for the purpose of defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He understands that at stake is the integrity of the Gospel and the salvation of these peoples’ souls. So he rehearses his acceptance by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem.

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

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.

3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.

4 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—

5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

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.

7 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

8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),

9 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.

10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

The fundamental here is what Paul is preaching. The Damascus road story/testimony is a good one, but that isn’t the issue. It is, rather, the content of the message. This is 14 years after his conversion and there is a track record of Paul’s preaching, and that and a holy life is what validates his call. Indeed grace had been given him, and there was unity in a single Gospel. Verse 6 says that they had nothing to add to what Paul was preaching. There was no need for the Apostles in Jerusalem to say “Good, Paul, as far as it goes, but you need to add the requirement of keeping the ceremonial law to what you have been saying.” Instead, they only asked for participation in relief efforts.

Now Paul flashes back to some incident in Antioch. Exactly when this took place, in particular in relation to the Council in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, we don’t know. Perhaps it was before, perhaps it was after. It would possibly leave Peter in a somewhat better light if this took place before Acts 15, but we don’t know one way or the other. Being placed next to the account of acceptance by the Jerusalem elders, we see that so far from needing correction from Jerusalem, for the sake of the Gospel Paul must correct Jerusalem.

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

Paul publicly rebukes a public error by even one of Christ’s other Apostles. This is serious business. If Peter, by his actions, gives credence to the false teaching of the Judaizers, the Gospel is put in jeopardy, and so are the souls of ones who learn from Peter’s actions. Notice that there is no suggestion here that Peter was saying, or even believed wrong things. After his Acts 10 experience, Peter certainly knew better than he acted. But private words alone are not enough. What Peter has done he has done in public, so the rebuke had to be public.

Post-moderns are completely mushy when it comes to dealing with doctrinal error. We find ourselves paralyzed by the worries that we ourselves are not doctrinally perfect and that we ought not disturb the peace over things that are not essential. And as a result we fail to openly rebuke damnable error. This has not been the way of the church in history.

Luther wrote, “Let this be then the conclusion of all together, that we will suffer our goods to be taken away, our name, our life, and all that we have; but the Gospel, our faith, Jesus Christ, we will never suffer to be wrested from us. And cursed be that humility which here abaseth and submitteth itself. Nay rather, let every Christian man here be proud and spare not, except he will deny Christ.

Wherefore, God assisting me, my forehead shall be more hard than all men’s foreheads. Here I take upon me this title, according to the proverb: cedo nulli, I give place to none. Yea, I am glad even with all my heart, in this point to seem rebellious and obstinate. And here I confess that I am and ever will be stout and stern, and will not one inch give place to any creature. Charity giveth place, for it ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things’ (1 Cor. 13:7), but faith giveth no place… Now, as concerning faith we ought to be invincible, and more hard, if it might be, than the adamant stone; but as touching charity, we ought to be soft, and more flexible than the reed or leaf that is shaken with the wind, and ready to yield to everything.”

This is not unkindness or rudeness on the part of Paul. Unkindness would rather be to know the truth and let others slip away into damnation by silence, by just “going along.”

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.

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

Paul speaks of “men from James.” There is no reason to think that these men really had the blessing or authority of James. They simply came, claiming to be from his school of theology.

Before their coming, Peter had rightly ignored the Jewish ban on eating with unclean Gentiles. Recall Peter’s own words in Acts 11:1-17 when he is accused of doing exactly this at the house of Cornelius. He knows that the old prohibition against doing this has been ended. But when the Judaizers arrive, he finds himself ashamed of his Gentile brethren and separates from them, going back to the old Jewish way of looking at the Gentiles. And his example drags along even faithful Barnabas.

Cole said, ” … this withdrawal from fellowship with Gentile Christians was tantamount to saying that they were not as good as Jewish Christians, and that in some way they lacked something of the fullness of the Gospel. Otherwise, why would they separate from them?”

“hypocrisy” comes from a Greek word having to do with “play acting.” It is putting on a false face. Peter knew better, but for fear of what others might say, was willing to treat his Christian brethren badly and go against what he knew to be true. He was flat wrong in public, and Paul publicly rebuked him.

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 like Jews?”

Peter knew perfectly well that the ceremonial parts of the law were cancelled and that the scrupulous keeping of rules was not the means to right standing with God.  Nevertheless, he was willing to go along with letting the Judaizers dictate that salvation came through faith PLUS something … faith PLUS keeping of rules (of diet, of washing, of circumcision, of ????) .

Paul now makes a logical/theological defense of the true Gospel of salvation by grace through faith plus nothing. He leaves the particulars of the incident with Peter and goes on to the general principles.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;

Paul says, “We.” For sake of argument, Paul speaks putting himself and Peter and all Jewish Christians in the same boat, including the Judaizers. All of them have looked to Christ for salvation. If the law was adequate to salvation they wouldn’t have started down this path.

“Gentile sinners” is not “sinners” in the general sense that we are all rebels who have willfully disobeyed what we know about God’s wishes for us. It is instead in the narrower sense of being people that have flagrantly failed to keep the rules given to the Jews.

16 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.

Every Jewish Christian should know (and in fact by turning to Christ has initially admitted) that a person is not made right with God through the keeping of the law. Paul says 3 times in this verse that it is faith and faith alone (relying upon, trusting in, cleaving to, casting oneself upon God) that makes a person right with God. Keeping rules doesn’t do it for any person and it never has. There was the Passover and Exodus before there was the giving of the Law!

Psalm 143:2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

It’s not just Peter who is being inconsistent. If the Judaizers would see clearly and admit it, they are doubling back on their first commitment to Christ.

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!

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

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ.

This is hard to understand. The sense of it may be this. Paul, denying that right standing with God comes through rule-keeping, and even failing to continue with the ceremonial law, could be charged with leading people into “sin,” if “sin” means rule-breaking. This is the same charge that he had to answer in Romans. Doesn’t justification by faith alone lead to contempt for the law? His answer here is the same as in Romans. “ARGHHH!! May it never be. You’re missing the point, those of you who argue in this way. I’ve been set right with God by His grace and faith in the finished work of Jesus. To turn back to a position that says I get right with Him through rule-following is to show again my basic sinfulness. It shows that I really desire to do things my own way, to take credit for my own salvation. It downgrades the importance of the supreme sacrifice of Christ on my behalf. That’s real sin. Simply eating the wrong thing, failing to wash in a certain way, or eating with a Gentile isn’t the real problem. No, Judaizer, the law taught me the impossibility of gaining right standing with God through keeping rules. It’s the Romans 7 situation. I see the rule and naturally find myself drawn to breaking it. There had to be another way if I was going to be saved. God has provided such a way. Thanks be to Christ, I’m done with rule-keeping as a means of attempting to gain right standing with God. I’ve died to that mindset and am alive to God. I’ve been crucified with Christ.”

Notice how Paul describes his relationship to the law. He DIED to the law. When someone dies, there is no going back. Dead is dead. As Paul sees it, if one really trusts Christ, there is no possibility of then turning around and going back to some other way of trying to approve oneself to God. That is simply unthinkable.

20 It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

“I’ve been crucified with Christ.” This is a past action issuing in a lasting result. In Christ, I’ve died a real death. The just requirements of the law, that sin should be punished with death, have been completely fulfilled in Christ. I have been joined to Him and stand acquitted through His death. So, if I am now alive, I am alive only in Christ. I am His. He lives in and through me. I live in faith, in utter dependence upon Him and His finished work, relying upon, trusting in, cleaving to Christ. That’s how I make my way through this life, not through rule-keeping, as that would put me in the place of insisting on my own importance in producing my own salvation. It’s not through adherence to the law, as if I could add something to what Christ has done for me.

This is what Jesus was speaking about in John 15 when he used the figure of the vine and the branches. If you and I are alive, it is through our vital union with Him. By ourselves, on our own we are dead twigs.

21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Here is a central summary statement. Christ is either all, or He is nothing. There is no room for any kind of compromise, or adding anything to His finished work on Calvary. It truly is a slap in the face of God for a human to effectively append to the Gospel his or her own methods of approving himself or herself to God. Salvation comes through God’s grace and faith alone … plus nothing.

Luther said of this doctrine of justification by faith alone, “This is the truth of the Gospel. It is also the principle doctrine of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A Bible Lesson on Galatians 1

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This is the first of a series of lessons on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Exactly which cities it was originally intended for, exactly when and where it was written, and exactly where it fits into the chronology laid out by Luke in the book of Acts are not clear. There are several theories, but they do not seem to shed enough light on the text to justify the effort that would be needed to lay them out. What is plain is this. Some group of Jewish Christian heretics were teaching in some of the Gentile churches of Asia Minor that in order to be a real Christian, one must first become a Jew and follow the Jewish law, both the moral commandments of the law and the ceremonial commandments as well. They were, for example, insisting on circumcision and the following of the dietary laws of the Old Testament. Paul saw this as a fundamental attack on the truth of the Gospel and opposed their teaching. In turn, these “Judaizers” attacked Paul personally, claiming that he had no more authority than anyone else, and that his Gospel of justification by faith and faith alone was simply pandering to the masses, to those who were slack and would be attracted by an “easy” message. In this kind of a circumstance, Paul writes the letter of Galatians.

The letter opens like the other letters of Paul, pretty much in the standard form of the time. But Paul cuts the introduction short, not including the usual prayer, or praise, or commendation, or thanksgiving. Instead there is a sense of real urgency as Paul moves very quickly to his main concern and reason for writing. He is concerned for the wellbeing of the Galatians. He sees that the heresy that they are hearing is not some light thing, but has the potential to damn their souls.

Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

It is Paul an “apostle,” one specifically chosen and sent by Christ with the good news. It is one specifically ordained to first lay out the nature of the Gospel message. Paul opens with an explicit claim to authority. The history of Greek and Hebrew words represented here by the word “apostle” indicates an emissary specially authorized to act on behalf of the one sending. And Paul’s commission is not from any human ecclesiastical body, but “through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”

2 and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

Paul is an apostle, but is not alone. There are “all brothers who are with (him).” In order to defend the vital content of his preaching, Paul will say clearly that he’s not depending upon what he’s heard from others, including the other apostles, but upon the direct revelation of God. On the other hand, he is not out on his own, running the “Paul of Tarsus Ministry” with no one but “yes men” as company. He writes to the churches of Galatia/Asia Minor/modern day Turkey.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

“Grace to you and peace” He speaks grace, sheer beauty. He speaks grace, God’s undeserved generosity, His unmerited favor. Paul speaks peace, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “shalom,” all that makes for the wellbeing of humans, through the presence and favor of their Creator. Grace and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

Here is the central fact of the Christian religion. It is not a system of morality or means approving ourselves to God, but rather Christ’s gracious rescue. Christ gave Himself to rescue us from the present evil age, not in the sense of removing us from life on earth, but rather in the sense of removing us from both the tyranny of sin and from the eternal damnation of sin.

5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Amen. The facts of salvation are so wonderful as to cause Paul to spontaneously break into thanksgiving. Amen, may it come to pass!

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

Without further delay, Paul getss to his main concern. “I am astonished.” This is strong stuff, but he’s stunned. Paul says that he’s seen the Galatians begin the Christian life in what seems like brilliant fashion, and then veer off course. He’s heartsick about it. But he doesn’t allow that the Galatians bear no responsibility. Yes, there has been false teaching, but the recipients of the letter are guilty of desertion! The verb translated here “deserting” means to transfer allegiance. It is used of soldiers who revolt or desert, or of men who change side in politics or philosophy. The Galatians are acting as “turncoats.” They are turning from the only true Gospel, of dependence upon God and His unmerited favor, to a plan of trying to make themselves right before God through rule-keeping.

And it is not just some theological position they are abandoning, but a Person, “him who called you.” It is He who decisively once and for all called you. Christianity is not some abstract philosophical system. It is wholly Christ Jesus. To abandon a person, THE person, the eternal merciful and gracious God, for a plan, a set of rules, a scheme to make oneself righteous is both absurd and horrific. As Paul so eloquently argued in Romans, and had surely explained to the churches of Asia Minor, a man-oriented plan of working ourselves into God’s favor is a lie, an impossibility, a slap in the face of our gracious God, and simply no Gospel at all.

7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

Not that there is another or different gospel! This “different gospel” no more than comes out of Paul’s mouth than he needs to makes sure that his hearers know he’s only using a figure of speech. There IS no second/alternative/other Gospel. Anything that would be offered as such is a denial of the Genuine. The simple message of God’s offer of salvation by faith alone is not a first step to be superseded by something further. Anything that pretends to amplify it instead attacks it.

There are those who “trouble and want to distort.” In verse 3 Paul has mentioned peace. Here there is trouble. There is only one source of real peace and that is the gracious Gospel of Christ. Innovate on it, distort it, and there inevitably comes trouble. Of course there is trouble! This is strong language. Paul knew that bad doctrine is a cancer, and speaks very strongly about those promoting it. His blast is aimed primarily at those who were teaching the heresy. It is one thing to be somewhat muddled in one’s personal thinking and doctrine. We all are to some extent. It is quite another to take muddleness systematize it and pass it on. Christian preaching and teaching is an awesome responsibility. It is a dangerous act for both the preacher or teacher, and for his hearers. Preachers and teachers need to be absolutely sure and careful about what they say. It is not a matter of just sharing personal opinions and neat ideas. Sound teachers and preachers stick to the essentials of the faith, the things that are clear and that we can be sure of. Those so-called teachers and preachers whose messages are not in the center of the Gospel must necessarily end up speculating, and end in serious distortion of the truth. Notice Paul’s judgment on those that will preach heresy.

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Let him be accursed, anathema, devoted to destruction. This is terribly serious business. Paul is absolutely impartiality in the matter. The same anathema he pronounces on others, he pronounces on himself if he wanders off base. The mention of the angels may come from the important place that angels played in the popular thinking of Judaism of the day. The tradition had become that angels were involved at the giving of the Law at Sinai. Their mention here on that ground would make sense, since Paul’s contention is that it’s salvation by grace through faith alone.

9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Lest we be tempted to think this is just Paul in a fit of peevishness over some small slight of a rival teacher, look at Mark 9:42. This is also the judgment of Christ.

Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Think what it is Paul is referring to. We American post-moderns, should a Judaizer come to town, might want to simply think the he or she was rather quaint, but on the whole quite harmless. Paul understands otherwise. To maintain that salvation depends upon Christ’s work appropriated through faith PLUS something else we supply, in fact denies and nullifies the whole. It is derogatory of Christ’s work and declares the cross to be redundant. This is not just quaint or harmless. Paul surely gladly and graciously reasoned with teachable individuals influenced by such a view. But a person preaching such a view is an entirely different matter, and regarding such people, Paul does not mince words.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

The point here may be that Paul was being accused of preaching an “easy” Gospel that didn’t require anything of converts, one that would please the immoral gentiles. Paul says, “No, I’m preaching what Christ has given me to preach, a Gospel that I didn’t make up or learn in seminary, but rather received from Christ Himself.”

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

It’s possible/likely that another basis of attack on Paul was along the lines of him not being properly credentialed by the church at Jerusalem. Paul is not interested in arguing that. That is a non-issue to him. His authority derives from the truth of the Gospel message, not from a set of credentials. But we need to be careful here. Paul’s response is not license or a pattern for every rebellious yahoo who thinks he’s heard from God to set up shop independent of the orthodox Christian church. This IS, after all, the APOSTLE Paul. This is not just anybody speaking here. This is one of a kind. His teaching wasn’t simply another fellow’s opinion that we can debate without a second thought. It was and is the Word of God for the Galatians and for us. And the authentication of his message lies in its truth and its place in the record of God’s revelation, not in his personality or his credentials of ordination from some human body.

12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul isn’t saying that he learned the facts about Jesus by direct revelation. He surely knew those before the Damascus road experience. What he is saying is that the meaning of those facts, the truth that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord, that there is peace with God through His death and resurrection, those came to Him directly from Jesus Christ. Paul now goes on to state how the facts of his autobiography substantiate this claim. As John Stott said in his commentary on Galatians, Paul now points to the situation before, at, and after his conversion. These only make sense if what Paul is saying about receiving his understanding of the Gospel from Jesus Christ is true.

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.

14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

In the first place, Paul was firmly on another path before the Damascus road experience. People whose lives are invested in tracking down and imprisoning opponents, don’t typically one day suddenly do a 180 degree turn, especially prominent and zealous persecutors of the opposition motivated by a real sense of religious fervor. How many such cases can be named in history? But God …

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,

16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

In the second place, at his conversion, God intervened. Notice the change of emphasis. In verses 13 and 14, Paul speaks of what he did, of his efforts, and of his accomplishments. In verses 15 and 16, where he concerns himself with what really matters, it is what God purposed before the beginning of time, how He graciously acted in Paul’s life, and what He gave Paul to do. This wasn’t Paul’s doing at all.

And after conversion there was this.

17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.

19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)

21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

24 And they glorified God because of me.

Paul’s point is that after conversion he didn’t go to seminary in Jerusalem. In fact, he was only there for a couple of weeks, and met only a few people. How is it then that his understanding of the Gospel is in harmony with that of the other Apostles? How is it that he is found to be preaching the faith that he tried to destroy? How does he even know how it should go? It’s by the revelation of God that Paul has been able to put it all together, with the benefit of very little interaction with the disciples. This is by the hand of God! And, indeed, we glorify God for His great work in and through the Apostle Paul.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.