Archive for June, 2020

Galatians 3:4-7

In Galatians 3:4-7 Paul continues to press the Galatians about what they are believing. They have fallen for untruth much like other churches in that day. Apparently, the Galatians had suffered for their belief and faith probably at the hands of legalistic Christians. Paul wants to make sure that what they have endured was not in vain. “Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” Paul wondered if all the gifts of the Spirit they had received would amount to no lasting value because they tried to walk by law, not by faith. The fact they were waffling about their faith as the source of salvation was troubling.

So Paul challenges them to examine what and how the Spirit has been working. “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— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?” He reminds them first that God provides the Holy Spirit to us – it is not something we can go earn on our own. Paul asks if they believe they will earn and deserve your blessing from God, or will you believe and receive it? He speaks to those who see lack of blessing. Why? Not from a lack of devotion, not because they haven’t earned enough; but because they are not putting their faith, their joyful and confident expectation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

He pulls out Abraham as an example of one justified and walking by faith. Among the Galatian Christians, the push towards a works-based relationship with God came from certain other Christians who were born as Jews and who claimed Abraham as their spiritual ancestor. So Paul used Abraham as an example of being right before God by faith and not by faith plus works. Morris wrote “It mattered a great deal to the apostle that God saves people by grace, not on the grounds of their human achievement, and he found Abraham an excellent example of that truth.”

Paul quoted from Genesis 15:6. It simply shows that righteousness was accounted to Abraham because he believed God. It was not because he performed some work and certainly not because he was circumcised, because the covenant of circumcision had not yet been given. There are essentially two types of righteousness: righteousness we accomplish by our own efforts and righteousness accounted to us by the work of God when we believe. Since none of us can be good enough to accomplish perfect righteousness, we must have God’s righteousness accounted to us by doing just what Abram did: Abraham believed God. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Abraham shows all of us the way to God is through faith!

Galatians 3:1-3

In Galatians 3:1-3 Paul begins with some strong words for them. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”  Phillips translated it this way, “O you dear idiots of Galatia.” Paul doesn’t think they are morally or mentally deficient. Instead, Paul used the ancient Greek word anoetos, which had the idea of someone who can think but fails to use their power of perception. Paul knows they have been taught better than they are acting. Their thinking was so clouded and unbiblical that it seemed like some sort of spell had come over them. That wasn’t the case – they simply were not applying the knowledge and understanding that had been poured into them.

Barclay translates bewitched as ‘put the evil eye on’. The ancient Greeks were accustomed to and afraid of the idea that a spell could be cast upon them by an evil eye. They believed that once a person looked into the evil eye, a spell could be cast. The way you overcome that evil eye is not look at it. Paul encouraged the Galatians to fix their gaze upon Jesus. They need to avoid looking anywhere else – just keep their eyes steadfastly on Christ. “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” Paul is clear that he has made the message about Jesus clear as it could be – and can’t understand how the Galatians have misplaced their understanding.

Paul gets personal with a question. “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” The obvious answer and the one Paul had taught them was that they received the Holy Spirit through a simple act of faith. The Spirit is not something you earn by doing good works. It is part of the gift of grace that God offers us through the shed blood of Christ on the Cross. There were some in the church telling people that as a Gentile, they had to come under the Law of Moses or God would not bless him. This meant he must be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.

This was the same challenge Paul faced in the Corinthian church. But this teaching was not of God or His Word, and certainly not what Paul had taught them. We receive the Holy Spirit by faith and not by coming under the works of the law. “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The Galatians were deceived into thinking that spiritual growth or maturity could be achieved through the works of the flesh, instead of a continued simple faith and abiding in Jesus.

Guzik explains “This lays out one of the fundamental differences between the principle of law and the principle of grace. Under law, we are blessed and grow spiritually by earning and deserving. Under grace, we are blessed and grow spiritually by believing and receiving. God deals with you under the covenant of grace; we should not respond on the principle of law.” The law has passed away and grace is now the opportunity we have to be made right with God.

Galatians 2:18-21

In Galatians 2:18-21 Paul continues to make the case for the truth of the Gospel for the Gentiles that he has been preaching. He makes the point that if he were to build again a way to God through keeping the Law of Moses, then he would make himself a transgressor. “For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.” Essentially Paul said, “There is more sin in trying to find acceptance before God by our law-keeping than there is sin in everyday life as a Christian.” Paul shows is that by putting themselves under the law again they were sinning worse than ever. We can’t get salvation on our own efforts. It requires Jesus!

Paul makes a bold statement next. “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.” Guzik explains how Paul died to the law. “The law itself “killed” Paul. It showed him that he never could live up to the law and fulfill its holy standard. For a long time before Paul knew Jesus, he thought God would accept him because of his law-keeping. But he came to the point where he really understood the law – understanding it in the way Jesus explained it in the Sermon on the Mount – and then Paul realized that the law made him guilty before God, not justified before God. This sense of guilt before God “killed” Paul, and made him see that keeping the law wasn’t the answer.”

Paul then makes one of the most famous quotes in all of scripture. “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.” Here is the picture of how we are to live with Jesus – He is to be alive in us. Paul realized that on the cross, a great exchange occurred. He gave Jesus his old, try-to-be-right-before-God-by-the-law life, and it was crucified on the cross. Then Jesus gave Paul His life – Christ came to live in him. So Paul’s life wasn’t his own anymore, it belonged to Jesus Christ! Paul didn’t own his own life (that life died); he simply managed the new life Jesus gave him.

Luther explains “Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person. As such you may boldly say: ‘I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.’ On the other hand, Christ may say: ‘I am that big sinner. His sins and death are mine, because he is joined to me, and I to him.’ ” “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Guzik explains how God used this awkward encounter in Antioch for everyone’s good.

  • It was good for Paul, because he stayed true and proclaimed the gospel.
  • It was good for Peter, because he was corrected, and as a result became even more convinced in the truth than before.
  • It was good for Barnabas, because he came to the correct belief on this matter.
  • It was good for the men who came from James and started the whole mess, because a line was drawn at the true gospel, and they had to decide.
  • It was good for the Jewish believers in Antioch, because they had the truth spelled out clearly before them.
  • It was good for the Gentile believers in Antioch, because their faith and liberty in Jesus was strengthened.
  • It was good for us because the truth still lives today.

All this happened because Paul was willing to defend something that he knew was totally right even though it was extremely uncomfortable. He was willing to defend the Gospel even if Peter, the premier apostle of the day, was swayed into believing it was not so. That faith and action created waves that continue to this day – waves of the truth of the Gospel for all us Gentiles who receive it!

Galatians 2:15-17

In Galatians 2:15-17 Paul continues his direct confrontation with Peter. He reminds Peter that they all grew up as observant Jews but that alone did not make them right in God’s eyes. They were not justified by works or how they lived. No one will be saved by what they do. The only way to get right with God is through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a very simple test – do you have faith in Christ? If the answer is yes, we will be justified when we stand before God. If the answer is no, we’ll stand before Him accused and falling short of what is required no matter how we have lived our lives to that point.

Paul is clear that while both he and Peter were Jews from birth – that didn’t cut it. “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile 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 knew and preached that even a strictly observant Jew such as he was could never be considered right before God by what he did under the Law of Moses. It was Christ alone that could deliver salvation.

Stott explains “It would be hard to find a more forceful statement of the doctrine of justification than this. It is insisted upon by the two leading apostles (‘we know’), confirmed from their own experience (‘we have believed’), and endorsed by the sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament (‘by works of the law shall no one be justified’). With this threefold guarantee we should accept the biblical doctrine of justification and not let our natural self-righteousness keep us from faith in Christ.”  Peter’s refusal to accept the Gentile salvation based on faith in Christ alone was plain wrong, and Paul calls him on it.

Paul makes it real personal to all those who were sitting on the side of the room apart from the Gentile believers. “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!” As Peter and others made the case that it took more than Jesus to be saved, Paul winds up and says “NO”. Paul’s answer was brilliant.

  • First, yes, we seek to be justified by Christ and not by Jesus plus our own works.
  • Second, yes, we ourselves also are found sinners, that is, we acknowledge that we still sin even though we stand justified by Christ.
  • But no, this certainly does not make Jesus the author or approver of sin in our life. He is not a minister of sin.

Luther explains “To give a short definition of a Christian: A Christian is not somebody who has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks sin, because of his faith in Christ. This doctrine brings comfort to consciences in serious trouble.”

Galatians 2:14

In Galatians 2:14 Paul directly confronts Peter. This wasn’t about the surface issues that Peter had created – who was sitting with who at the table or being a good host to the Galatian believers. It wasn’t about being sensitive to these ‘outsiders’ to the Jews. Paul boils it down to one thing – Peter was not acknowledging the truth of the Gospel. “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 was off base and even though a leader of the church in Jerusalem, Paul can’t let this slide. It is core the the meaning of the Gospel.

Luther explained “Peter did not say so, but his example said quite plainly that the observance of the Law must be added to faith in Christ, if men are to be saved. From Peter’s example the Gentiles could not help but draw the conclusion that the Law was necessary unto salvation.” That is just wrong as there is nothing needed beyond faith in Jesus Christ to receive salvation. Paul doesn’t take Peter aside our away from the group to have this conversation. Paul confronts him in front of everyone. It had to be a hard thing to do given who Peter was and his authority in the church. He was probably the most prominent apostle of that day, yet Paul is unwavering in his defense of the Gospel.

Guzik described what happens this way. “What a scene this must have been! There they were, at the Antioch Christian potluck. The Gentile Christians had just been asked to leave, or were told to sit in their own section away from the real Christians. They also weren’t allowed to share the same food that the real Christians ate. Peter – the honored guest – went along with all this. Barnabas – the man who led many of the Gentiles to Jesus – went along with all this. The rest of the Jews in the church at Antioch went along with all this. But Paul would not stand for it. Because this was a public affront to the Gentile Christians and because it was a public denial of the truth of the gospel, Paul confronted Peter in a public way.”

Paul reminds Peter that he lives like a Gentile in that he didn’t obey the strict Law of Moses. He ate things that weren’t allowed and socialized with people that weren’t in his circle. Peter was born a Jew but had somewhat discarded those traditions, at least in a strict sense of being Jewish. But now he is allowing the pressure of some to try and force Gentiles to live under the Law of Moses that he himself has somewhat abandoned. Paul calls him hypocritical in front of the entire group, separated as they may have been. Peter was born a Jew and had thrown off some of the law, yet now because of pressure from some, he is telling Paul and the Gentiles that they cannot be saved without coming under the law. That’s not true – salvation depends on faith in Jesus Christ alone – not some act we need to do to fulfill anything else.

Galatians 2:12-13

In Galatians 2:12-13 Paul is dealing with Peter who has waffled on the agreement to allow Gentiles to become part of the church without being circumcised under the Law of Moses. Earlier he and the Jerusalem church leadership had given their approval to Paul and his team to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles with no requirement for circumcision. But now “….but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” Peter turned his back on all that he had known about the place of Gentiles in the church, and he treated uncircumcised Gentiles as if they were not saved at all.

And worse yet, he was cowering to the other Jews who were against the Gentiles being saved. “And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” The impact of leadership gone bad can be seen fully here as Barnabas, one of Paul’s closest co-laborers, is led away from the work they had been doing together to reach the Gentiles. He too was backpeddaling and returning to the former ways.  Stott wrote “Their withdrawal from table-fellowship with Gentile believers was not prompted by any theological principle, but by craven fear of a small pressure group… He still believed the gospel, but he failed to practice it.”

Guzik wrote “This was the kind of behavior that dominated Peter’s life before he was transformed by the power of God. This was like Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross, or Peter taking his eyes off of Jesus and sinking when walking on the water, or like Peter cutting off the ear of the servant of the High Priest when soldiers came to arrest Jesus. We see that the flesh was still present in Peter. Salvation and the filling of the Holy Spirit did not made Peter perfect; the old Peter was still there, just seen less often.” Put simply, Peter was afraid and his actions were followed by others leading them to also resist the Gentiles entering the church.

We don’t know what it was about the leaders who were causing Peter to fumble. Perhaps they were men of strong personality. Perhaps they were men of great prestige and influence. Perhaps they made threats of one kind or another. Whatever it was, the desire to cater to these legalistic Jewish Christians was so strong that not only Peter fell to their desires, but the rest of the Jews and even Barnabas did too. Luther wrote “No man’s standing is so secure that he may not fall. If Peter fell, I may fall. If he rose again, I may rise again. We have the same gifts that they had, the same Christ, the same baptism and the same Gospel, the same forgiveness of sins.” None of us is immune from falling.

Galatians 2:7-11

In Galatians 2:7-11 Paul talks about the leaders of the church in Jerusalem approving of his preaching of the Gospel. Specifically those leaders were James, the brother of Jesus; Peter, and John. They accepted the fact that Paul had been called to take the Gospel to the Gentiles like they were taking it to the Jews. “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)”

Paul knew his calling was from God. He’d had a direct interaction with Jesus and knew the Gospel that had been given to him to spread to the Gentiles. So he didn’t need the blessing of these leaders, but wanted it so all would know of his calling “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.” The Jerusalem leaders blessed Paul and Barnabas and the ministry they were called to go do and made it clear to all of Paul’s calling and the Gospel he was preaching as being of God.

The Jerusalem leaders only asked Paul and his team to do one thing: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” There were many poor believers in Jerusalem that the leaders asked Paul to keep in mind. They were asking that he gather money from the churches along his journey that could be used for the sake of those in Jerusalem in dire need. And Paul certainly did that over and over on his missionary journeys. A bit later though, there was a showdown between Paul and Peter at the church in Antioch. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”

Peter had previously been in agreement with Paul that they could welcome Gentiles into the church without bringing them under the Law of Moses. But when Peter came to Antioch (Paul’s home church), it was another story. He refused to associate with Gentile Christians once certain Jewish believers from Jerusalem came. “For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles…”. Peter waffles on his early acceptance of Gentile believers as he deals with other Jewish believers who did not agree with this stance. Knowing their background, Peter knew they would be offended at his fellowship with Gentiles who had not come under the Law of Moses. In their eyes, these uncircumcised Gentiles were not really Christians at all. Therefore, to please them and to avoid a conflict, Peter treated these Gentile Christians as if they were not Christians at all.

Galatians 2:3-6

In Galatians 2:3-6 Paul makes the point that Titus had been accepted by the Jerusalem leadership as a brother in Christ even though he was a Greek and Gentile convert to faith. Titus had not been circumcised, which was a sign of initiation into the Jewish faith and the Mosaic Covenant. “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” Luther explains “Paul did not condemn circumcision as if it were a sin to receive it. But he insisted, and the conference upheld him, that circumcision had no bearing upon salvation and was therefore not to be forced upon the Gentiles.”

The issue of circumcision became an issue because false teachers tried to use it against Paul. They opposed and contradicted the Gospel preached by Paul and did all they could to derail his ministry and stir up the churches against him. “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.” They did their work secretly and were working to undermine the true Gospel of Christ.

This false gospel was all about control and Paul was concerned that it might bring people back into bondage, particularly the Gentile believers. Paul didn’t have this issue since he was a Jew and had been circumcised under the Law. But he didn’t take a pass here and leave it up to Titus or other Gentile believers to deal with this false teaching around circumcision. Paul knew that if the true message of the Gospel – that Jesus died on the Cross to offer salvation to anyone who believed – if that message of grace was compromised it would mean that the truth of the Gospel would not be preserved for any believer. False words must be addressed, and Paul is dealing with these lies head on.

Paul doesn’t flinch at all, not even for a moment. He was dealing with influential leaders of that time – “famous Christians” if you will. But Paul didn’t care about their creed or title or power. He served an audience of One and was not going to be swayed from that truth. “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.” Paul wasn’t worried about his status in comparison. After all, he had a personal relationship with Jesus. Stott wrote “Paul’s words are neither a denial of, nor a mark of disrespect for, their apostolic authority. He is simply indicating that, although he accepts their office as apostles, he is not overawed by their person as it was being inflated (by the false teachers).”

Galatians 2:1-2

In Galatians 2:1-2 Paul begins by describing the second trip he made to Jerusalem. His first was three years after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus as described in the last chapter. “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.” Now he reminds the church at Galatia that it was fourteen years later that he made the trip again. Paul hadn’t been sitting there learning the Gospel but rather out in the world sharing what Jesus had revealed directly to him many years previously. Two very respected leaders, Barnabas and Titus went with him.

Paul made the trip because God directed him to do it through a revelation. “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.” Paul likely carried a gift from Christians outside Jerusalem to help them deal with the famine occurring in their city. In addition, he assured the leaders there that he was obeying God in how he ministered the Gospel to the Gentiles and that his sharing of the Gospel was having an impact and not in vain.

There was discord among Christians as to whether or not Gentiles could be saved if they didn’t become a Jew first. For some, that meant Gentiles had to be circumcised before they could be saved. Luther explains “The believing Jews, however, could not get it through their heads that circumcision was not necessary for salvation. They were encouraged in their wrong attitude by the false apostles. The result was that the people were up in arms against Paul and his doctrine.” Knowing the differences in opinion existed, the Jerusalem leaders wanted to understand the Gospel that Paul taught which he shared with them.

Paul knew he had the true gospel; but he didn’t know how leaders in Jerusalem would receive it. Paul knew there may be confrontation with some that ‘seemed influential’. Paul addressed the topic privately and did not make a spectacle of it in front of the entire church. He had no interest in embarrassing the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Paul wants to avoid public conflict and make sure his hard work of planting churches across the region was not undone by the false teachers who might leverage a public confrontation as a way to attempt and paint Paul as one who was not preaching God’s truth making all Paul’s hard work be done in vain.

Galatians 1:15-23

In Galatians 1:15-23 Paul explains exactly how he came to know Jesus. Paul did not come to Jesus because any man decided that he should. It wasn’t at the pleasure of any man, but when it pleased God. Additionally, God did not choose Paul because there was something in Paul that pleased him; God called Paul through His grace, God’s unmerited favor. “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” Before Paul knew Jesus, the focus was on what he had done. But once he came to a saving relationship with Jesus, the focus shifted to what God had done.

God does all the work when it comes to salvation. And Paul’s role as an apostle was also God’s work. Calvin explained it this way: “He wanted to show that his calling depended on the secret election of God, and that he was ordained an apostle, not because he had fitted himself for undertaking such an office by his own industry or because God had discerned that he was worthy of having it bestowed on him, but because, before he was born, he had been set apart by the secret purpose of God.” God equips those He calls. He doesn’t call those who think they are equipped on their own effort and ability.

God wants to do more than reveal Jesus to us; He wants to reveal Jesus in us. Morris wrote “What begins by being a revelation of Christ to Paul becomes a revelation of Christ in Paul as the Spirit produces his fruits in unaccustomed soil.” When Jesus comes into our life as Savior and Lord, it is so that He might be seen in and through us to the world around us. Jesus wants to be known in our patch through the way He lives through us. When Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul didn’t seek any further instruction on the Gospel. Jesus revealed it completely to him. “I did not immediately consult with anyone; 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.”

Paul did not learn the gospel from the apostles, because he had been a Christian for three years before he even met the apostles Peter and James. “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.” And he saw one other of the twelve – James. “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)” After meeting them he traveled to preach the Gospel as a rather unknown preacher. “Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.” Paul’s gospel was true, and his experience was valid, because it really came from God. “They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.” His testimony was what made his message so powerful and widely accepted. You can’t dispute what God does in someone’s life!

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