An Everyday Example

Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.  What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Galatians 3:15-18

Paul continues his discussion of covenants; I’m sure that you will recall that misunderstanding covenants was at the heart of the issue Paul is writing this letter to correct.

Paul’s “everyday” example is that of a covenant.  When two or more parties enter into a covenant, you can’t just ignore it or make unilateral changes, once it is in effect.  Now, he zeros in on the Abrahamic Covenant, pointing out that the parties are God and Abraham and Abraham’s “seed.”  What was the promise?  There were two actually, the land promise and the promise of descendants, through whom the entire world would be blessed, and that was fulfilled in Christ.  It is not to be fulfilled by Israel, and it is not affected by the Law…

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

Galatians 3:19-20

So, the Law was given because of the transgressions of the people; easy enough.  Now Paul throws us a curve… this mediator business.  The Law came through angels, OK, that isn’t hard to follow, angels are the messengers of God. A mediator is a go-between; who was the go-between in the Law?  A priest is a mediator between Man and God, and the Law established a priesthood, the Levites.  The Levitical priesthood, with its system of sacrifices and atonement served as the mediators of the Old Covenant (Law).

SIDEBAR: OK dear reader, this is a little bit tricky; hang with me and you’ll see in a minute.

OK, A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. That’s the curve!  Paul isn’t referring to the Law, he’s referring to God’s Covenant with Abraham; the Abrahamic Covenant and the Law of Moses are two different covenants. The context for this passage is set in 3:15-16, and it’s Abraham, not Moses under discussion.  Thus, in verse 20 just repeated, Paul is making reference to Abraham’s covenant, and pointing out there aren’t multiple parties because God is one.  This refers back to Jesus being the promise, and Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, having brought a better sacrifice, His own blood as opposed to the blood of animals, and is thus the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant and the Law of Moses. (see Hebrews 4-8) Now, if you see that, then you can also see that this is simple!  Jesus is the fulfillment of both covenants by having established the New Covenant, thus we go back to Paul’s original purpose for this letter: No, you cannot force someone to be circumcised a Jew before they can have faith in Christ.  The old ways are over and done with!

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Galatians 3:21-22

Now, a little ‘housecleaning’: Keep in mind that when he says “promises of God” Paul is talking about the promises God gave to Abraham.   Look at what Paul says about this: The Law is not in opposition to God’s earlier promises because the Law cannot bring about either life or righteousness. Those things, promised through Abraham’s “seed” came only through Christ, and God’s promise was kept by Christ, and since the Father and the Son are one, the promise was kept by God.

Some people might be confused at this point and asking “What about the promises God gave to Moses?”  God’s promises to Moses were fairly simple: If you keep the Law, you will have long life, many children, good crops and you’ll live in the Land God gave to Abraham.  If you break the Law, you will lose all of that and be cursed.  Obviously, God kept His end of the deal. Israel on the other hand, struggled, but even though their compliance record wasn’t the best, they are blessed in Christ also, for they can have faith in Him just as the Gentiles can.

We’ve reached the end of this passage. If you’ve followed it, pat yourself on the back; this is graduate level theology. If you haven’t quite gotten it, don’t worry!  Paul isn’t done just yet, and I’m quite certain that you will have it completely before we are finished; this stuff is much easier to grasp than most people think it is.

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Paul Applies his Story

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Galatians 3:1-6

This is the beginning of Paul’s explanation of the story he related in chapter 2.  Notice his tone; he still isn’t happy with the Galatians.  I must admit that I feel his frustration; no, I’m not quite old enough to have met those first century Galatians, but I have met hundreds of Christians who make the same kinds of mistakes today, in fact, a great many do because they adhere to theological systems that make a very similar error, which involves the mixing of the two covenants.  To go slightly academic on you, Paul is teaching what is referred to as the “Apostolic Doctrine of Two Covenants”. It means that the Old Covenant law of Moses is over; it will never again come back… that is why Jesus, in His only prophetic passage (prophetic in form and structure) told of how Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed.  It was, and there hasn’t been Old Covenant worship since then. Yes, dear reader, this is a big deal.

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Galatians 3:7-9

In 3:1-6, Paul demonstrated that the Law of Moses was over. Now, he is taking on the Abrahamic Covenant.  When God made His covenant with Abraham, He established a people. These were His chosen people, the Hebrews, later known as the Israelites.  When God made His covenant with Moses, He established Israel as a Nation and gave it Law.  Not only is the Law gone, but now, in Christ, God has a new people. The Hebrews were the physical descendants of Abraham.  This is how you became one of God’s chosen; it was by birth. Simple, right?  The Gentiles had different parentage; they would never be Hebrews, they would never be God’s chosen, except by a process that took four generations to complete− Jesus changed all that. Now, anybody could become God’s chosen by faith in Jesus Christ… see it in the text?  Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.  The old way was over, for just as God promised to Abraham, now all Nations would be blessed.

 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 3:10-14

As you can see, Paul is still making the point that the Old Covenant is over.  We live by grace, and we will continue to live by grace right up to the day that Jesus returns.  You see, dear reader, this is only complicated when someone tries to force it into a theology that doesn’t work.  If we simply go with Paul’s clear teaching, there is little to be confused about.  Again, remember why he is writing to the Galatian churches; they had listened to false teaching… If we also listen to false teaching, this stuff will confuse us too.

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Paul and Peter

 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Galatians 2:11-13

Oh, my!  What a text, quite unique in the New Testament, for this one text gives us a view into the interaction among the Apostles, a view that shows one apostle (Paul) bringing another Apostle (Peter) up short in front of witnesses.  This may dispel the notions of some that everything in the early church was wonderful and harmonious, it wasn’t, and it also shows us a much deeper view that I would call “covenant priorities.”

Imagine Peter in harmony with and among the Gentiles, and then drawing away from them when a high-level group of Jewish Christians come from Jerusalem.  Remember that under the Law of Moses, Jews did not eat with Gentiles, so in front of these Jewish brothers, Peter now treats Gentile brothers as mere Gentiles with all of the disdain of the Law, with the result that the New Covenant is not given priority over the Old… even Barnabas was “led astray.”

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

Galatians 2:14

The confrontation begins; Paul threw down the gauntlet in verse 14. You don’t live like a Jew, and then when your Jewish friends come by, you revert to Jewish customs wanting to force Gentiles to follow them too.  In the New Covenant, those “customs” are over.

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:15-16

Consider this statement of Paul’s for a moment: He is making the assertion that the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant.  Even a Jew must be justified by faith in Christ, for the Old Covenant could never bring about forgiveness of sins. Under the old system, being born a Jew meant that you had been born as one of God’s chosen… the dirty nasty Gentiles were the sinners, the Jew was God’s own, but the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ had changed the entire dynamic of relations between Man and God.

 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners; doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

Galatians 2:17-18

Anticipating an obvious question, Paul provides the answer.  For most of us, this question and answer might be a bit of a puzzle, so let’s look more closely.  When Paul said “…we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners…” he means that if a Jew goes from God’s chosen to being just another saved sinner by their faith in Christ.  Thus, clearly this whole concept of the New vs. the Old Covenant was earth-shattering for the Jewish psyche of the time.  The very idea of equality with Gentile dogs was unthinkable for them; it ran against everything they had ever been taught or believed. Even now, it surprises not only Jews, but also many Christians, who still seek to hold onto certain aspects of the Law of Moses.  Paul, being the most educated of the Apostles was able to grasp the one fact that most others, then and now miss… There is no concept of eternal life in the Old Covenant. It isn’t mentioned, it isn’t promised. Forgiveness and justification are also not present, for the Law could only promise atonement; never forgiveness or justification.  These require that sin be entirely “taken away” and atonement neither does that, nor does it promise that.  Therefore, Pau makes his answer:  If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. In other words, if he were to rebuild the Old Covenant Law, after having torn it down in favor of New Covenant justification, he would be a serious lawbreaker indeed.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Galatians 2:19-21

And with these memorable and often quoted words, Paul closes his case… and his story.  Christ’s death on the cross was the fulfillment of the Law, and we also, by our faith in Christ died with Him on the cross. We are dead to sin, dead to the Law and alive in Christ, by the power of His resurrection from the dead. Never again will we place our trust in our ability to follow the law or the old traditions, for if they could save anybody, then Jesus died for nothing. We know from Peter’s letters, that this made an impression on him, and in chapter 3, we will see how Paul uses this story to teach the Galatians.

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Paul’s Story Continues

Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

Galatians 2:1-5

Paul continues with his story, a story of his own Christian experience that he is sharing with the Galatians so that they will understand that those who were among them at the time teaching that a Gentile must become a Jew and be circumcised, before they can receive Christ, were wrong.  In this little chunk of his text, Paul recounts his visit to Jerusalem to consult with the other Apostles on this very subject.  Quite clearly, they all understood that the only way to salvation, for either Jew or Gentile, was faith in Jesus Christ. Circumcision was useless in matters pertaining to salvation, and was not to be taught.  There is an even larger principle in play here, and that is that we cannot add anything to the gospel. Thus, when people today want to add to the gospel, whatever they are pushing is invalid.  Salvation is by faith alone.

As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

Galatians 2:6-10

This is a really interesting little paragraph. Paul is really driving home the point that the leaders in Jerusalem were having no part in this business of requiring Gentiles to become Jews to receive Christ.  It is conjecture on my part, for the text doesn’t actually say it, but it appears to me that the false teachers among the Galatians must have been claiming that they had been sent from Jerusalem to teach “correctly.” This would certainly explain why Paul opened his letter without the usual formalities, and went directly to a condemnation of the false teachers.

This also brings up another interesting point for us to ponder. When is it OK for us to condemn someone?  In Peter’s letters, he did not advocate condemnation being heaped upon those who opposed the truth…

Recall that Peter was talking about those who denied the truth, and brought ridiculous accusations and ridicule against the truth.  They were non-believers. Yet here, Paul is dealing with false teachers who were perverting the Gospel of Jesus Christ: See the difference? Those who scoff at the gospel are different from those who pervert it, for a scoffer is easy to recognize, and one can simply consider the source and disregard their rantings.  A false teacher, on the other hand, can cause tremendous damage not only to an individual believer, but the entire Body of Christ. These guys are supposed to be followers of Christ, the scoffing unbeliever just doesn’t understand… yet.  That is a huge difference!

Finally, note also that Paul didn’t just open fire at the false teachers; he went all the way to Jerusalem, not by catching a quick flight, to make absolutely certain of his position before condemning anyone. If Paul had to be certain, I would suggest that might go double for you and I, and I’m confident that you’d agree.

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Photo of the Week: October 10, 2018

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Paul Shares His Story

Galatians 1:11-24

Here in the second part of Galatians 1, Paul shares his personal story, and in doing so, I see a twofold purpose. First, he wants to make it clear to the Galatians that he is a reliable teacher; that he knows what he is talking about.  Second, he is weaving his personal testimony into the letter as a means of adding persuasive impact to his point about the false teaching they have embraced, so that they might be edified and lifted up in their Christian walk, and I hope you will pay special attention to that as his story continues into the next chapter.

Notice how he begins his testimony by pointing out that the Gospel he preached to them was not made up by any man, but that it was revealed directly to him by none other than Jesus Christ Himself.  He goes on to remind them of the fact that he was a Jew among Jews, a Pharisee further advanced than his age would normally allow, and that he wanted nothing more than to advance the traditions of Judaism. He sought to do this by persecuting most fervently the church, and was well-known for his efforts as he moved beyond Judea in pursuit of Christians to torment. Then, he recounts his experiences after his encounter with Christ on that famous road trip.

Finally, he sets the stage for his discussion of the interaction between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ in the next chapter by reminding them of how everyone celebrated his conversion and praised God for it.

Here’s what I’d like for all of us to consider: We all have a story, even though it probably isn’t a well-known one.  How can we help others by sharing our story with them? You know, there isn’t anything quite as potent as a personal testimony, an experience, a personal recollection, when helping someone else with their walk.  Often, just the fact that you have encountered a similar challenge and gotten through it will inspire someone to keep trying.  You might be talking with a person who is struggling to understand, and when you share your experience at a similar stage in your growth it will really resonate with them.

If you are speaking with a non-Christian who is searching for truth, you will most likely have something to share about your experience in a similar position.  Understand that when we share our story, we are not the “hero” of the story: Jesus is.  Frank admission of how far we might have once strayed is powerful, and you will note that Paul didn’t hesitate to share this.

Can you see how honestly sharing from our hearts about our own experiences with others can help their journey?  Good. Can you see how this differs from making speeches or some kind of canned presentation? Can you see how much more powerful this is?

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Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:1-10

This is how Paul begins his letter to the Galatian churches, and I don’t know about you, but I find it quite interesting.  Notice how short his introduction is with its lack of a thanksgiving prayer and many of the usual formalities. In this letter, Paul is coming straight to the point, and he isn’t amused by what he has heard. It would seem that there are people in Galatia who are teaching a different gospel than Paul taught, a gospel that adds something to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As we shall see, they have added a requirement that the Gentile Galatians must first become circumcised Jews.  Aside from the obvious problems that this would cause, adding circumcision to the gospel has a greater theological implication; one that remains with us to this day, for circumcision is not only a requirement of the Jewish Law, it is the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, a covenant which Paul insists time and time again to have already been fulfilled in Christ.

Beginning in verse 6, Paul expresses his “astonishment” that the Galatians are listening to those who would “pervert” the Gospel, and tells them that such a gospel is “really no gospel at all.”  Strong words.  Then he tells them that even if Paul himself or an angel gave them a different gospel than the one he originally preached, they should not listen.  His thought is that any such person should be “eternally condemned” and says so not once, but twice. Paul’s meaning?

Nobody can mess with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

He winds up this section by pointing out that he isn’t interested in pleasing people here, for if he wanted to please men, he wouldn’t be a servant of Christ.  Doesn’t that remind you of the time that the disciples asked Jesus why more people didn’t respond to His message, and Jesus answered by saying that they prefer “the praise of men”?

You may disagree with me, but to me, this is a really important point for us to grasp.  We may do certain things to accommodate our culture in the area of style or presentation so that we might be understood more easily by those who need to hear, but under no circumstance may we ever compromise on the message of the gospel or the truth of Scripture. If there are some who don’t like us for that, I’m really sorry, but that’s too bad, for I serve Jesus Christ, not men.  How about you?

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