Tag: Galatians

The Sinner, the Spirit and the Saviour (Gal. 5:16-25)

by on Feb.02, 2017, under Sermon

As we look around the world today, there is much to be concerned about: fighting, executions, domestic violence and sexual assault, to name a few. People are addicted to gambling, alcohol, pornography and drugs, often bringing great hardship on themselves and their families in the process. Locally, some of you will have been impacted by two young men walking into Eagle Vale High School, setting fire to a stage curtain and causing $50,000 of damage1. Or maybe you own or work in one of several local stores robbed at knife-point.2

Why do these things happen? What can we do to fix these problems?

According to the Apostle Paul, the problem is not that we are not doing the right things or that we are not trying hard enough. Rather, the problem stems from not having the right nature. On the one hand, there is a sinful nature; on the other, a nature that grows out of the work of God’s Holy Spirit.

Paul describes the sinful nature according to its acts:

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
– Galatians 5:19–21

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it helps us to get the picture. Our sinful nature pervades our sexuality and spirituality. It is the ever-present but never-welcome shadow across our relationships. Its siren-like call draws us onto the rocks of substance abuse and addiction. When you snap at your kids over breakfast or talk about your colleague behind their back or blow your savings on the pokies that is your sinful nature at work.

And yet you are still responsible – for it is you doing those things. You cannot disavow your sinful nature, for it is part of you. More than responsible; you are culpable. Every single one of those acts carries a death sentence – ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23) – and you and I have earned that wage over and over and over again. The ‘problem’ is not ‘out there’ but rather ‘in here’.

When a newspaper posed the question, “What’s Wrong with the World?” the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response: “Dear Sirs: I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton3

When I read the Bible I am confronted with an awful reality: I am part of the problem, not part of the solution. What is wrong with the world? I am. You are. We are.

The sinful nature also encompasses the effects of the sins of others against us. According to some Australian statistics 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 16.4 In other words, in a room of 50 adults, we might estimate 12 people to have been victims of sexual abuse. We could cite similarly disturbing figures in relation to domestic violence,5 robbery6 and so on. Though each survivor will have their own unique response to both the sin and the sinner, there are common themes: anger; sorrow; anxiety; depression; shame. Though they are not the ones to have sinned, nevertheless the sins of someone else have brought brokenness to their life.

The sinful nature has a lot to answer for.

In stark contrast is what Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
– Galatians 5:22–23

Fruit grows according to the species of the plant. Apple trees produce apples. Grape vines produce grapes. Do you think my son will have to work hard in order to grow tall like me? Or will my daughters have to strive to grow as beautiful as their mother? Of course not. These things will happen naturally, for they are part of their genetic makeup.

Where the Spirit of God is, this fruit will grow. It may start small at first, but it will keep growing. And it will encompass all of the items in the list to some extent or another. The sinful nature is sometimes able to imitate one or two of these fruit, but rarely in any kind of balance.
For example, some people are temperamentally gentle and diplomatic (gentleness). But the sign that this is not due to the work of the Holy Spirit is that such people are usually not bold or courageous (faithfulness). Because of what Paul says about the city of the fruit, this means that this sort of gentleness is not real spiritual humility, but just temperamental sweetness… Some folks seem happy and bubbly (joy) and are good at meeting new people, but are very unreliable and cannot keep friends (faithfulness). This is not real joy but just being an extrovert by nature. Some people seem very unflappable and unbothered (peaceful) but they are not kind or gentle. That is not real peace, but indifference and perhaps cynicism. It enables you to get through the difficulties of life without always being hurt, but it desensitizes you and makes you much less approachable.7

But it would be a mistake to think that we are entirely passive in this process, for Paul also talks of ‘walking in step’ with the Spirit.8 The image is a military one – marching with the Spirit, following the Spirit’s leading and orders.

I think most of us would agree that this is a much more attractive list than the last one! That is the kind of world we wish we lived in, the kind of life we wish we lived. And we are meant to think so. It is like one of those Jenny Craig posters that show before and after photos with the caption ‘I lost 30kg in 16 weeks’. We are meant to be amazed at the difference and – crucially – to ask the question, ‘How can I do the same?’

So, how do we move ourselves and our world from perpetrating the acts of the sinful nature to exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit? I want to share with you two plans that don’t work, and one that does.

Some visitors to Galatia, the place this letter was written to, had come with a plan for dealing with the sinful nature. They argued that God had given a plan long ago, when he gave the law to Moses. If only the Galatians would follow this law, they could be saved from their sinful nature and live a life pleasing to God.

That might work if the problem was simply our actions that need changing. But Paul says it’s bigger than that; it is a question of desires.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
– Galatians 5:17

Desires by themselves are not bad. C. S. Lewis wrote that,

[I]t would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.9

One of the tragic ironies of the sinful nature is that it longs for the fruit of the Spirit, but it settles for counterfeit versions instead. We seek love and accept lust; we pursue peace and find apathy; merriment and drunkenness substitute for joy; and so on.

Why is this? I think part of the problem is that, though we want love, and joy, and peace etc., we want them on our terms. We want to be in control. So we ‘agree to disagree’ instead of seeking reconciliation, otherwise we might have to admit we’re wrong. We invert our hierarchy of needs and wants such that we prioritise smoking and alcohol over food to eat. We choose ‘gods’ we can control – work, family, hobbies – to offer our ‘sacrifices’ of time and money, rather than submitting to a God who might ask more of us than we are ready to give. Today we commemorate Mothers’ Day, and in so doing we celebrate the ideals of motherhood: women who love and nurture their families. Yet we know that even such noble ideals can turn nasty when mum lives vicariously through her child, or becomes overly protective or controlling.

Paul says our desires are in conflict, ‘so that [we] do not do what [we] want’ (Gal. 5:17b).
Law is not very good at dealing with desire. The best it can do is to invoke some deeper desire, usually either a desire for respect or to avoid punishment. It cannot by itself eliminate the sinful nature, but only contain its symptoms. In fact, Paul says that by itself the law is another form of slavery, no better than having an unrestrained sinful nature.10

Another popular plan – now as then – involves the will. You need to resolve to control your temper, speak kindly, go to the gym, give up alcohol, stop looking at pornography and so on. And then discipline yourself to follow through on these resolutions come what may. You must be like Boxer, the cart horse from Orwell’s Animal Farm, whose solution to every adversity was, ‘I will work harder.’ And so we enrol in twelve-step programs, seek counselling, change our diet, read the latest research and generally invest all our efforts towards improving ourselves.

Yet, like the legal plan, this wilful plan suffers from the fatal flaw that it does not address our desires but only our actions. Worse than that, both plans rely on us for fulfilment, and that is bad for two reasons. First, anything that we can do we can also undo. I’m sure that many of us have gone on a diet, only to find ourselves drifting back into old eating habits and gaining weight again. If my deliverance from the sinful nature relies on the continued application of my will then what happens when I inevitably screw up?

The second reason a plan that relies on us is deficient is that anything we do is tainted by our sinful nature. A friend of mine carefully prepared a baking tray ready for baking. Upon completion of this task, his wife decided to take out the trash and, in the process of removing the garbage managed to drip ‘bin juice’ into the baking tray. I can’t imagine there was a vast quantity of ‘bin juice’; yet just a little was enough to spoil the effort!11 Would you drink a glass of water with just one drop of poison in it? Would you wash your dishes in a muddy puddle? So it is when we try to cleanse ourselves of our sinful nature by the exercise of our sinful nature.

Are you doomed, then, to a life where ‘you do not do what you want’ (Gal. 5:17b)? Not at all! For though any plan that depends on us is doomed to failure, there is a plan which is completely dependable. You see God was not surprised by the sinful nature. It is not as though he saw Eve committing the first sin and thought, ‘Whoops, didn’t see that coming.’ Rather, even before the creation of the world, God had a plan ready,12 and that plan was to send his Son, Jesus.
Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God, meaning that there was no sinful nature within him. Yet the world rejected and killed him. They crucified him, killing him in the most painful, shameful way they knew how. And, though he could have set himself free, Jesus endured the mocking, the beating, the agony and, ultimately, ‘became obedient to death – even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). Because he knew what they did not: that cross was the only way that we might be delivered from our sinful nature. Paul puts it like this: ‘Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24), and it is on the cross of Christ that it has been crucified.

Do you belong to Christ? You can, you know. He invites you to come to him, to give up the pretence of being able to deal with your own sinful nature and instead trust him to deal with it. Remember, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23), and so your sinful nature must die; if it is not crucified on the cross of Christ then you will die with it. The apostle wrote in another of his letters,

For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
– Rom. 8:13-14

Or, to put it another way, if you are not crucifying sin, sin is crucifying you!13

This means that we have a responsibility to act when we recognise the acts of the sinful nature in our lives. We must confess and repent of our sin, both before God and before those we have sinned against. The trouble is that crucifixion, whilst a certain death, is also a lingering death.14 Too often, we hang around at the foot of the cross, to pity it, to long for its release. We need to learn to leave those sins there. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.15

If that were the entire story, it would be more than enough to qualify as great news indeed. But God loves to give us ‘immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine’ (Eph. 3:20). And so he offers us new life, life in the Spirit after the death of the sinful nature. Picture a man with a broken spine. He needs a surgeon to deal with the brokenness within him; but he also needs someone to teach him to walk again, to walk with him as he mends, to push him when he needs encouragement and stop him when he needs to rest. Jesus Christ has granted us the freedom to walk the way we were always intended to walk. He has provided the means by which the sinful nature may be crucified. But he has also sent the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live in the light of that freedom and actually walk!

And as we walk, the fruit of the Spirit will manifest in our lives. That is to say, we will grow more and more like Jesus, the one who displayed the same fruit in his own perfect obedience to his Father.

Living by the Spirit is the root; walking by the Spirit is the fruit, and that fruit is nothing less than the practical reproduction of the character (and therefore the conduct) of Christ in the lives of his people.16

Though showered with hate, he demonstrated his love. His joy was such that he could ‘endure the cross, scorning its shame’ (Heb. 12:2). He brought peace to the storm, was patient with wayward disciples, and kind and gentle to outcasts. His goodness, faithfulness and self-control saw him walk all the way to the cross for our sake. Praise be to God for his willing obedience!

So, what is the problem with the world today? Men and women continue to ‘live’ in their sinful nature. The only solution is to belong to Christ and thereby crucify their sinful nature and live instead by the Spirit.

Will you choose a ‘life’ that leads to death? Or a death that leads to life?

Bibliography

  • Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.
  • Keller, Timothy J. The Prodigal God : Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith. New York: Dutton, 2008.
  • Keller, Timothy J. Galatians for You. Epsom, Surrey: Good Book Company, 2013.
  • Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Owen, John, Kelly M. Kapic, and Justin Taylor. Overcoming Sin&Temptation. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006.
  • Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984.


Endnotes

  1. http://www.macarthuradvertiser.com.au/story/3039318/campbelltown-police-news/
  2. http://www.macarthuradvertiser.com.au/story/3054051/campbelltown-police-news/
  3. Timothy J. Keller, The Prodigal God : Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York: Dutton, 2008), 46.
  4. http://www.casa.org.au/casa_pdf.php?document=statistics
  5. e.g. http://www.domesticviolence.com.au/pages/domestic-violence-statistics.php
  6. e.g. http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/facts/1-20/2013/2_profiles.html
  7. Timothy J. Keller, Galatians for You (Epsom, Surrey: Good Book Company, 2013), 141.
  8. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984).
  9. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 26.
  10. To a group of people with a pagan background now considering submitting to the law, he writes, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ (Gal. 5:1)
  11. cf. ‘“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Gal. 5:9).
  12. 1 Pet. 1:20.
  13. cf. John Owen: ‘[B]e killing sin or it will be killing you.’ John Owen, Kelly M. Kapic, and Justin Taylor, Overcoming Sin&Temptation (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006).
  14. Stott, The Message of Galatians, 151.
  15. Stott, The Message of Galatians, 152.
  16. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).
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Freedom to fulfil the law by the Spirit (Gal. 5)

by on Feb.02, 2017, under Sermon

Last week, Tim challenged that if we want to see the lost saved we must first commit to being a church where Jesus rules. Together we stood with him and affirmed, ‘Jesus reigns’.

But what does that look like? Should our church look more like the early church or the church down the road? How do we balance the elements of the Great Commission – going, making disciples, baptising, teaching – in the life of our church? Where should we invest our resources? And what about your life and my life? Should I be a mechanic or a missionary, a teacher or a typist, a barista or a barrister? If we want to be a church who can truthfully say that ‘Jesus reigns’, we have so many areas of our individual and corporate lives that we must give over to him. Each of us must be able to say ‘Jesus reigns’ over my finances, my relationships, my work, my pets, my ministry, my commute, my body, my family, my house, my car, my hobbies.

This is a daunting challenge. But it is not a new one. Rather, it is a challenge the church has been facing since its very earliest days. Take the church in Galatia, for example. During his two visits to their area (Acts 16:6; 18:23), the Apostle Paul had taught them about Christ crucified (Gal. 3:1) and called them to acknowledge that Jesus reigns; but now, in Paul’s absence, they were trying to apply his teaching to their individual and corporate life… with mixed results.

As so often happens, some well-meaning people had showed up offering a plan to solve all their problems. The best thing to do, they said, was to adopt the the Jewish law, the Torah, known to us today as the Old Testament. The first step would be for the males to be circumcised, the sign of the covenant given to Abraham. Then they ought to obey the 613 commandments prescribed in the law. In so doing, they would secure the blessings promised in that covenant to Abraham and would be able to live righteous lives in the favour of God.

I can understand the attraction. Though difficult, here was a concrete plan that could be followed, with an ironclad promise of blessing and righteousness to follow, a plan with more than a thousand years’ track record! For those of us trained to set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bounded – this seems like just the ticket. Is this what West Penno needs in order to follow through on our commitment to be a church where Jesus rules, made up of people in whom Jesus reigns?

Well, the Apostle Paul would shout an unequivocal, ‘No!’ In fact, when he heard that the Galatians were seriously considering this, he was all but apoplectic. Though chapter 5 is the first time the specific issue of circumcision comes into focus, it is clear that he has been building a case against reliance upon law observance (including circumcision) since the beginning of the epistle, calling it a ‘different gospel':

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by 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. (Gal. 1:6–7)
In chapters 1 and 2 he defends his credentials as a teacher of the definitive gospel, tracing its origins to the risen Christ himself and commending it as consistent with the teaching of the other apostles. In chapters 3 and 4 he argues that the blessings promised to Abraham are not contingent upon observance of the law, but rather upon faith in the one who made the promises. In fact, by the end of chapter 4 he is comparing law observance (represented by Mount Sinai, where the law was given to Moses) to slavery (Gal. 4:21-5:1).

As Christians, he says, we are not meant for slavery but for freedom (Gal. 5:1).

What was the problem? Wasn’t the law God’s word? Isn’t the law a good thing?

The key problem in Paul’s eyes is not with the law itself but with way the Galatians were intending to use it. They were trying to be ‘justified by law’, to make themselves righteous before God by their own actions and thereby achieve some sort of leverage over God. They were like my son, Aedan, when I ask him to help with tidying the house. He wants an itemised list of things he needs to clean up and a definite description of the reward to be gained when he does before he will sign on to do the work. That way, he can point to the list with neat ticks next to each item and demand his reward… and he can exclude any tasks that he really doesn’t want to do, or at least negotiate for better rates up front!

Listen to Paul’s description of the consequences of this kind of attitude:

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:2–4)

Christ died in a free act of grace in order to secure their adoption – and ours! – as sons and daughters of God. Trying to ‘earn’ their way into the family of Abraham by observing the law was redundant. Why work to become a child of the servant, when you are already a child of the master?

Worse than just being pointless, though, this behaviour nullified Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf. It was like they were saying, ‘Thanks, but we don’t really need you after all; we can do it ourselves’. They became ‘alienated from Christ’ and ‘fallen away from grace’ (v. 4). You want to be pretty sure of yourself before you do that. If you are swept out to sea when swimming at the beach, you don’t tell the lifesaver, ‘It’s OK, I can swim back.’ You get in that boat and stay in it until you are back at shore. Similarly, if you’re going to count on your obedience to the law for salvation, you’d better be sure you can obey the entire law else it will not go well for you. And I have to tell you that the odds are not good: in all of history, only one man has achieved this feat, and that is Jesus himself.

Circumcision is not a popular sales pitch these days. But there are plenty of people who hold up their adherence to some portion of scripture as evidence of their right to be respected as ‘good, moral people’. For some, it is the Ten Commandments, commands towards social justice, the so-called Golden Rule, or even Jesus’ ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). This last one is particularly ironic, because it misses the key point of Jesus’ teaching, which is that what is required transcends what is written down in the law.

“You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.” (Matt 5:38–39)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:43–45)

Bare law observance would have us avoiding adultery, limiting ourselves to proportionate retribution when we are wronged and loving our neighbours; but Jesus demands much more than that. The law’s requirements fall short of Jesus’ expectations. Keeping the law may make you righteous in your own eyes, but not in God’s eyes. The law by itself is not enough.

So what alternative does Paul propose then? What does ‘freedom’ look like to him?

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Gal. 5:5–6, emphasis added)

There is a righteousness for us, for which we hope; a true righteousness in God’s eyes, not just our own. But it does not come to us by our efforts; rather, it is the free gift of God. And that righteousness is intimately bound up with the work of the Holy Spirit, for it is through his agency that this hope is realised.

So what is the relationship between the Christian, the Spirit and the Law?

The first thing to understand is how Christians come to be in possession of the Holy Spirit, and to do this we must turn to Galatians 3:

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man 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 tree.” 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. (Gal 3:10–14, emphasis added)

The logic is clear. Jesus died on the Cross (i.e. was hung on a tree) to redeem us from the cursed necessity of continual perfect obedience to the law. And he did so for a purpose: that we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Paul puts the same thought in different words in chapter 4:

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Gal 4:4–7, emphasis added)

Once again, it is the work of Jesus Christ in redeeming us that is decisive. It is by this redemption that we become sons of God. Paul uses ‘sons’ here not to exclude women but to emphasise inheritance, for it was sons and not daughters who inherited in his culture. Male and female, if we belong to Christ we are sons of God in the sense that we are heirs. And because we are heirs we receive the Spirit. This means we are no longer slaves but free.

We who are in Christ are heirs of God, we have the Holy Spirit and we are free. And it is all because of the completed work of Christ. His sacrifice on our behalf is what makes it all possible.

So we receive the Holy Spirit because of Christ, but how does that help us?

Think of an athlete who has broken his back. He needs a surgeon to address the brokenness within him, or else any attempt to exercise will make things worse rather than better. This is the work of Christ in redeeming us from our sinfulness. If you are not a Christian, this is where you must start: call upon Jesus, put your trust in him, and he will redeem you from your brokenness and receive you into the family of God.

But once the surgery is done, the athlete will also need someone to coach him on how to walk again, let alone run, and this is the role of the Holy Spirit.

Some of you have noticed that I have been trying to lose some weight. Part of that effort has involved me taking up running. Never having been a runner, I decided to follow the so-called ‘couch to 5k’ plan to get me started, and that has been really helpful. I will never be an olympic athlete – unless they finally get around to making procrastination an olympic sport! – but the plan has helped me to improve. However it can’t tell me everything. It can’t tell me how to adapt to wet weather, or illness, or family travel commitments, or injury. Nor can it help me identify or address my specific weaknesses in gait or posture etc. It is a basic plan, general enough to be useful to a majority of people. Much like the law.

The law, used for its intended purposes, is good. But there are some things it is just not designed to do. Though it may set out relevant principles, the law cannot tell us how to serve our community here in West Pennant Hills; or whether we ought to pursue IVF; or when to seek specialised care for our ageing parents. It cannot produce in us the kind of life that Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount. Much as we would like a black and white response plan, that is not the way God works. Instead, he wants us to rely on our coach; for it is the coach who sees most clearly and can come up with the right plan at the right time.

That coach is the Holy Spirit.

To be sure, the Spirit uses the law as one of his key training methods. As Christians, we need to be familiar with scripture, both Old and New Testaments, for the Spirit will show us there many things such as the nature and character of God; the sinfulness of men and women; and the awesome grace found in Jesus Christ alone. But the Spirit will also help us to grow by sending us challenges in the form of contentious coworkers, the loss of a loved one, financial crisis or illness. These things are to the Spirit what hill running and interval training are to a running coach. They help to build speed and stamina for the marathon that is the Christian life (Rom. 5:3-5). They serve to grow in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… among other things.

In other words, by his work the Holy Spirit remakes us in the image of Christ. Christ himself was all of these things, and we need look no further than the cross for evidence. His love, kindness and goodness were proved on the cross where he died for his enemies (Rom. 5:8). Hebrews tells us it was ‘for the joy set before him,’ that he, ‘endured the cross’ (Heb. 12:2). In the garden of Gethsemane he disciplined himself to obedience to God’s will rather than his own (Luke 22:42), demonstration of his faithfulness and self-control. In gentleness and peace he made arrangements for the care of his mother even as he died (John 19:26-27), and sought forgiveness for those who were crucifying him (Luke 23:34).

And he did all this by the power of the Holy Spirit, who came down and remained on him (John 1:32-33).

John the Baptist makes a special point of the fact that the Holy Spirit remained on Jesus, for this was unheard of. In the Old Testament accounts of the Holy Spirit coming upon someone – Moses, Saul, David, and many of the prophets and judges – it was usually for a specific time or purpose. But with Jesus, the Holy Spirit came down and remained. He was different from everyone who went before… but not after. For as we already saw, by his obedience and sacrifice Christ ensured that the same Spirit would come upon us when we put our trust in him (Gal. 3:14; 4:6).

The Spirit who remained on and empowered Christ is the same Spirit who now lives in our hearts; our coach has serious credibility!

This is not to say that there is nothing required on your part. An athlete can have the best coach in the world, but if he doesn’t run when the coach says, ‘run,’ and rest when he says, ‘rest,’ the coach will do him no good. The point of the fruit metaphor is not that we sit back and relax whilst the fruit magically grows; rather it highlights our dependence on the Spirit. The type and quantity of fruit is determined by the nature of the tree and the quality of its roots, rather than by any special effort on the part of the tree. If we want to live a life that is pleasing to God we must depend on the Spirit to teach us how (Rom. 14:17-18). Paul describes this as ‘walk[ing] in step with the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:25), and the image is of walking in a line, following the Spirit. He leads, and we follow.

So, brothers and sisters, let me ask you: Is the fruit of the Spirit growing in your life? Do you see growing evidence of love, joy and peace? Is your day-to-day characterised by peace, patience and kindness? Is the Holy Spirit prompting you in the areas of goodness, gentleness and self-control? If not, the answer is not some new regime of law-observance but to once again cast yourself on the Holy Spirit, depending on him to lead you. When he leads you in the direction of reconciliation with that co-worker you can’t stand or prompts you to spend more time with your family; when he convicts you of your lustful or envious thoughts or calls you to step out in faith as a missionary; when he brings you into a time of suffering or grief; when he does those things you have a choice. You can choose to go your own way and follow your own plan; or you can choose to follow him and in so doing grow more like Christ. You can walk away from the Spirit, or you can walk in step with him.

And as we choose to walk in step with the Spirit, we will find that we naturally do the things that the law commands. We will do more! We will leave lust not just avoid adultery. We will seek reconciliation rather than revenge. As the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control of Christ grows in your life, you will find that you naturally, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Gal 5:14)… and your enemy as well! In chapter 6, Paul calls this ‘fulfill[ing] the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2).

It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can do this.

Throughout the month of June, then, we will look more specifically at the ways in which the Holy Spirit leads us to fulfil the law. We will explore his role in overcoming the sinful nature (week 2); in growing in our knowledge of and love for God (week 3); and in serving one another in love (week 4).

And as we do, may he teach us to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ so we can truly say, ‘Jesus reigns in my life and our church by his Spirit’.

Let’s pray:

Father God, of the many wonderful gifts brought to us through the death and resurrection of your son, none are as precious to us as your Holy Spirit. We rejoice that we have a counsellor to coach us in living a life that is full of righteousness, peace and joy, and pleasing to God and approved by men. Thank you that he guides us into all truth, speaking to us what he hears from you. May he continue to bring glory to you by his work in and through us (John 16:7-15; Rom 14:17-18).

For our church here in West Pennant Hills, I pray that you would grant us a spirit of unity among ourselves as we follow Jesus Christ, so that with one heart and mouth we may glorify you, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And may you, the God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in you, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:5, 13).

Finally, for any here this morning who are depending on their own righteousness, I pray that you would convict them of their folly. Show them that, no matter how good or moral they may consider themselves, such righteousness is as filthy rags when compared to that which is freely available in Christ Jesus (Is. 64:6). Convict them of their guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). And draw them to yourself, so that they too may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit promised to Abraham but now available to all because of the finished work of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:14; 4:4-7).

Amen.

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Freedom to crucify the sinful nature by the Spirit (Gal. 5)

by on Feb.02, 2017, under Sermon

Last week we started a new sermon series looking at the ways the Holy Spirit enables us to live a life that not only observes but fulfils the law. He describes this kind of life in terms of ‘freedom':

‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’ (Gal 5:1)

Christians are set free from the need for continual perfect obedience to the law of God because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, which in turn brings about the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who put their trust in him. Christians are free in the truest sense.

But ‘free’ is probably not the word that springs to mind when the world thinks about Christianity, probably because they have different expectations about what ‘freedom’ means. Consider these common definitions:

  • President Roosevelt spoke in 1941 of ‘freedom of speech everywhere, freedom of worship everywhere, freedom from want everywhere and freedom from fear everywhere’;1
  • Rolling Stones sang: “I’m free to do what I want any old time / I’m free to do what I want any old time / So love me hold me love me hold me / I’m free any old time to get what I want”;
  • Every year, thousands of teenagers complete their HSC and go off on ‘Schoolies’ vacations to celebrate their newfound ‘freedom’.

Although this was probably one of his earliest letters, Paul was already a seasoned pastor by the time he wrote Galatians. He knew that when you tell people they are ‘free from law’ some just want to go out and break all the laws that previously bound them… just because they can! But what if there is no law to start with? For gentiles such as the Galatians, the limitations on morality prescribed by the laws of the Roman Empire were minimal. Blood and brutality in the circus, paedophilia, homosexuality, slavery, orgies… pretty much anything went. Were the Galatians ‘free’, then, to continue life as they had before?

According to the Apostle Paul, we must understand that freedom is either good or bad depending on the nature of the one set free. He describes two very different natures, the sinful nature and the spiritual nature. And each nature has its own set of desires that are completely opposite to one another and therefore in conflict (Gal. 5:17).

On the one hand, we have what Paul calls the ‘sinful nature’. He does not spell out the desires that emanate from the sinful nature, but let’s see if we can infer them from the acts and behaviours that Paul lists as characteristic of the sinful nature:

‘The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.’ (Gal 5:19–21)

These acts fall into a couple of broad categories. ‘Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery’ are all acts of sexual self-gratification. Pornography, adultery, masturbation, sexual fantasies, prostitution, molestation – all of these things are about how it feels for me, my needs and desires, what I can get out of it.

Idolatry and witchcraft, on the other hand, are about spiritual self-determination. Idolatry is the worship as ‘god’ of anyone or anything other than the triune God revealed in Scripture. I may call it ‘god': such as Allah, Mother Nature or Buddha. Or it may simply take the place of a god in my life, as I offer it my time, energy and money in worship: work, family, wealth, sport, health, beauty or whatever. I choose a ‘god’ that serves my needs and desires. Similarly, witchcraft is an attempt to coerce the spirit world into doing my bidding, so that I get what I want.

Next comes ‘hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy’. Here the goal is self-exaltation. In any group, what I want to be first and most important. It’s my opinion that matters and you’d better listen to me and join my side or else.

Finally, ‘drunkenness’ and ‘orgies’ are about self-indulgence. In this category we might put addictions of all kinds: drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, entertainment, sport, fitness or whatever. It’s all about the rush as your horse crosses the line first or the guilty pleasure of that block of chocolate after a bad day or the euphoria as you get high. It’s about the way it makes you feel.

Self-gratification, self-determination, self-exaltation, self-indulgence; do you see the pattern? Where the sinful nature is dominant, everything flows towards the self. It is about what I can get, what is due to me, my needs, my desires. And the worst of it is that we are all born with a sinful nature. It pervades our sexuality and spirituality. It is the ever-present but never-welcome shadow across our relationships. Its siren-like call draws us onto the rocks of substance abuse and addiction. When you snap at your kids over breakfast or talk about your colleague behind their back or blow your savings on the pokies that is your sinful nature at work.

And yet you are still responsible – for it is you doing those things. You cannot disavow your sinful nature, for it is part of you. More than responsible; you are culpable. Every single one of those acts carries a death sentence – as Paul wrote to the Romans, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23) – and you and I have earned that wage over and over and over again.

The sinful nature also encompasses the effects of the sins of others against us. According to some Australian statistics 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 16.2 In other words, in a room of 50 adults, we might estimate 12 people to have been victims of sexual abuse. We could cite similarly disturbing figures in relation to domestic violence,3 robbery4 and so on. Though each survivor will have their own unique response to both the sin and the sinner, there are common themes: anger; sorrow; anxiety; depression; shame. Though they are not the ones to have sinned, nevertheless the sins of someone else have brought brokenness to their life.

The sinful nature has a lot to answer for.

In stark contrast is what Paul calls the ‘fruit of the Spirit’:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22–23)

The desires of the sinful nature focus exclusively on the self, but the fruit of the Spirit embraces God and others. The love grown by the Holy Spirit is love for God and love for others. The joy grown by the Spirit is joy in God that overflows toward others. We serve a patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, merciful, and self-controlled God, and so we manifest those qualities to everyone around us as witnesses of his work in us.

We will look at the fruit in more detail over the next two weeks. But for now, it is enough to note that this is a much more attractive list than the last one! That is the kind of world we wish we lived in, the kind of life we wish we lived. And we are meant to think so. It is like one of those Jenny Craig posters that show before and after photos with the caption ‘I lost 30kg in 16 weeks’. We are meant to be amazed at the difference and – crucially – to ask the question, ‘How can I do the same?’

So, how do we move ourselves and our world from perpetrating the acts of the sinful nature to exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit? I want to share with you two plans that don’t work, and one that does.

The first plan is the one put forward by the advocates for the Jewish law. ‘Even if Paul is right and the law can’t help you become a Christian,’ they would say, ‘you still need the law to avoid immoral behaviour and live a life pleasing to God once you are a Christian.’

This is a pretty common response in modern-day Australia as well. We look at issues like global poverty, sex trafficking, domestic violence, drunkenness, welfare cheating and drugs and we say, ‘We need better laws; our government should do something.’

Another popular plan – now as then – involves the will. You need to resolve to control your temper, speak kindly, go to the gym, give up alcohol, stop looking at pornography and so on. And then discipline yourself to follow through on these resolutions come what may. You must be like Boxer, the cart horse from Orwell’s Animal Farm, whose solution to every adversity was, ‘I will work harder.’ And so we enrol in twelve-step programs, seek counselling, change our diet, read the latest research and generally invest all our efforts towards improving ourselves.

These plans might work if the problem was simply our actions that need changing. But Paul says it’s bigger than that; it is a question of desires.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Gal. 5:17)

Desires by themselves are not bad. C. S. Lewis wrote that,

[I]t would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.5

One of the tragic ironies of the sinful nature is that it longs for the fruit of the Spirit, but it settles for counterfeit versions instead. We seek love and find lust; we desire peace and settle for apathy; merriment and drunkenness substitute for joy; and so on. We want the fruit but we want it on our terms. We want to be in control. So we ‘agree to disagree’ instead of seeking reconciliation, otherwise we might have to admit we’re wrong. We choose ‘gods’ we can control – work, family, hobbies – to offer our ‘sacrifices’ of time and money, rather than submitting to a God who might ask more of us than we are ready to give.

Law and will are not very good at dealing with desire. The best they can do is to invoke some deeper desire, usually either a desire for respect or to avoid punishment. They cannot by themselves eliminate the sinful nature, only contain its symptoms. A study done some years ago found that nearly 60% of smokers undergoing surgery for heart disease continue to smoke after their procedure.6 Their symptoms were dealt with, but not their nature or desires. And its the same when we try to treat the sinful nature by applying law.

Further, both plans rely on us for fulfilment, and that is bad for two reasons. First, anything that we can do we can also undo. I’m sure that many of us have gone on a diet, only to find ourselves drifting back into old eating habits and gaining weight again. If my deliverance from the sinful nature relies on the continued application of my will then what happens when I inevitably screw up?
Second, anything we do is tainted by our sinful nature. A friend of mine carefully prepared a baking tray ready for baking. However, in the process of taking out the garbage his wife managed to drip ‘bin juice’ into the baking tray. I can’t imagine there was a vast quantity of ‘bin juice’; yet just a little was enough to spoil the effort!7 Would you drink a glass of water with just one drop of poison in it? Would you wash your dishes in a muddy puddle? So it is when we try to cleanse ourselves of our sinful nature by the exercise of our sinful nature.

Are you doomed, then, to a life where ‘you do not do what you want’ (Gal. 5:17b)? Not at all! For though any plan that depends on us is doomed to failure, there is a plan which is completely dependable. You see God was not surprised by the sinful nature. It is not as though he saw Eve committing the first sin and thought, ‘Whoops, didn’t see that coming.’ Rather, even before the creation of the world,8 God had a plan ready, and that plan was to send his Son, Jesus.

Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God; there was no sinful nature within him. Yet the world rejected and killed him. They crucified him, killing him in the most painful, shameful way they knew how. And, though he could have set himself free,9 Jesus endured the mocking, the beating, the agony and, ultimately, ‘became obedient to death – even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). Because he knew what they did not: that cross was the only way that we might be delivered from our sinful nature.

Paul puts it like this: ‘Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24), and it is on the cross of Christ that it has been crucified.

Do you ‘belong to Christ’? You can, you know. He invites you to come to him, to give up the pretence of being able to deal with your own sinful nature and instead trust him to deal with it. Remember, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23), and so your sinful nature must die; if it is not crucified on the cross of Christ then you will die with it.

Unfortunately crucifixion, whilst a certain death, is also a lingering death.10 Sadly, we do not immediately achieve sinless perfection when we turn to Christ; in fact, we will not be perfect until Jesus makes us so at his return. Too often, we hang around at the foot of the cross, to pity our sin, to long for its release. We need to learn to leave those sins there. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.11 The apostle wrote in another of his letters,

For if you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom. 8:13-14)

Or, to put it another way, if you are not crucifying sin, sin is crucifying you!12 As Christians, we must not tolerate the acts of the sinful nature in our lives – whether or not they are included in the list Paul gives here. The desires of the sinful nature are in fierce, pitched battle with the desires of the Spirit. Just as we are reliant upon Christ for our salvation, we depend upon the Spirit in the fight against the sinful nature.

Paul says we must ‘walk in step with the Spirit’. The image is a military one – marching with the Spirit, following the Spirit’s leading and orders. So how do we ‘walk in step with the Spirit’ in this battle against the sinful nature?

Firstly, the Spirit helps us by convicting us of our sin. Sometimes we are too close to our sinfulness to see it for what it is. But the Spirit lives within us and is intimately aware of our sin. He shows us in the Bible how our thoughts and actions, our sins of commission and omission, fall short of what God requires. When he does, our response must be to take it back to the cross of Christ, confess it and repent of it. It is progress, rather than perfection, that characterises the life of the Christian.

What is the Holy Spirit showing you today? Is your mind flooded with the thoughts and attitudes of the sinful nature? Anger? Resentment? Envy? Cynicism? Apathy? Is he convicting of things that you ought not to have done, words you ought not to have spoken? What about things that you should have done but have not? Are there relationships where you ought to be seeking forgiveness and reconciliation?

We are granted freedom in the Spirit to continually crucify the sinful nature upon the cross of Christ. We ‘walk in step with the Spirit’ by confessing and repenting of those things which he shows us spring from the sinful nature.

Secondly, the Spirit helps us in the battle by replacing our sinful nature with a new, spiritual nature. He gives us new life, life in the Spirit after the death of the sinful nature. As I said last week, we are like a man with a broken spine. He needs a surgeon to deal with the brokenness within him; but he also needs someone to teach him to walk again, to walk with him as he mends, to push him when he needs encouragement and stop him when he needs to rest. Jesus Christ has granted us the freedom to walk the way we were always intended to walk. He has provided the means by which the sinful nature may be crucified. But he has also sent the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live in the light of that freedom and actually walk!

And as we walk, the fruit of the Spirit will manifest in our lives. Where the Spirit of God is, the fruit of the Spirit will grow. It may start small at first, but it will keep growing. And it will encompass all of the items in the list to some extent or another. The sinful nature is sometimes able to imitate one or two of these fruit, but never in any kind of balance. For example, some people seem happy and bubbly and are good at meeting new people, but are very unreliable and cannot keep friends. This is not real joy but just being an extrovert by nature. Some people seem very unflappable and unbothered but they are not kind or gentle. That is not real peace, but indifference and perhaps cynicism. It enables you to get through the difficulties of life without always being hurt, but it desensitises you and makes you much less approachable.13

But while the fruit grows naturally where the Spirit is, it would be a mistake to think that we are entirely passive in this process, for Paul also talks of walking in step with the Spirit.14 We rely upon him to provide the direction and depend upon him to sustain us as we walk, providing all that we need to do so, but in the end we must walk. We are dependent, yes, but not passive.

So, when the Spirit shows us the good work that we ought to be doing – caring for refugees, sharing the gospel with coworkers, feeding the homeless, teaching our children about Jesus, serving the church – we must act. We will have much more to say over the next two weeks about how that walk looks, particularly the ways in which it shapes our relationships with God and with other people.

In God’s grace, and by the completed work of Christ, we are granted freedom in the Spirit to turn from the sinful nature and instead walk in step with the Spirit. You have a choice: will you walk with him today?

Let’s pray:

Father God, I want to pray for all those among us struggling with the sinful nature… that is, I want to pray for all of us! Some here are captives of sin. Though they desire to do good, they find they cannot for they are held captive by their pride, anger, lust, apathy, ambition and addiction. Father, show us your mercy by delivering us from this captivity. Lead us to the foot of the cross where your Son died so that our sinful nature might be crucified with him. Proclaim to us the freedom to walk in step with your Holy Spirit, and so become more and more like Christ.

Others here are victims of sins not their own: violence, abuse, hate, neglect, bullying, conflict. Father of compassion and God of all comfort, comfort us in all our distress and brokenness. Lead us to the foot of the cross where your Son suffered all the anger, disgrace and shame that a sinful world could throw at him, so that just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so too our comfort might overflow.15 Grant us a new life, life by your Holy Spirit, life free from resentment, guilt or shame, for those things have been crucified with Christ.

Please God fill my brothers and sisters in Christ with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. May they live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of you, being strengthened with all power according to your glorious might so that they may have great endurance and patience. Let them joyfully give thanks to you, the one who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Praise you Lord God that you have rescued them from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the kingdom of the Son you love, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.16

Amen.

Bibliography

Keller, Timothy J. Galatians for You. Epsom, Surrey: Good Book Company, 2013.

Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Owen, John, Kelly M. Kapic, and Justin Taylor. Overcoming Sin & Temptation. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984.


Endnotes

  1. Cited in John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 139.
  2. http://www.casa.org.au/casa_pdf.php?document=statistics
  3. http://www.casa.org.au/casa_pdf.php?document=statistics
  4. e.g. http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current%20series/facts/1-20/2013/2_profiles.html
  5. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 26.
  6. “Most Smokers Continue to Light up after Heart Surgery,” American Heart Association, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/11/981112075613.htm.
  7. cf. ‘“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Gal. 5:9).
  8. 1 Pet. 1:20.
  9. Matt. 26:53.
  10. Stott, The Message of Galatians, 151.
  11. Stott, The Message of Galatians, 152.
  12. cf. John Owen: ‘[B]e killing sin or it will be killing you.’ John Owen, Kelly M. Kapic, and Justin Taylor, Overcoming Sin & Temptation (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 50.
  13. Timothy J. Keller, Galatians for You (Epsom, Surrey: Good Book Company, 2013), 141.
  14. Stott, The Message of Galatians.
  15. 2 Cor 1:3-5.
  16. Col. 1:9–14.
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Galatians: Summary

by on May.26, 2013, under Sermon

We have now spent 7 weeks studying this letter to the Galatians. Paul paints a very clear picture of two different ways of life and says, ‘Pick one.’ He does this by using a series of different but closely related contrasts: true and false ‘gospels’; law and faith; blessing and curse; slave and free; child and heir; spirit and flesh.

As we wrap up this week, we are going to look back over some of these major themes and images of the book, and think about what we must learn, how we should grow and what we are called to do by this letter.

True gospel vs. false ‘gospel’ (Gal 1-2)

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by 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 him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
     – Gal 1:6-9

Right from the start, the Apostle Paul sets out two choices. There is the true gospel, and there is a false ‘gospel’, which is not really a gospel at all (Gal 1:6-7). There is no middle ground, no in-between. If it is not the true gospel, the whole true gospel, and nothing but the true gospel, then it is no gospel at all. And preaching a gospel other than the true gospel results in condemnation.

The Galatians were being sold a ‘faith-plus’ gospel. They were being told that, in addition to believing in Jesus, they must also make themselves heirs of Abraham and the promises given to him by being circumcised (cf. Acts 15:1-2). In their argument, Jesus plus circumcision equals salvation and blessing. But Paul rejects this outright: no matter who they are, if someone is preaching a ‘gospel’ other than what Paul himself preached, they ought to be condemned (Gal 1:8-9). They are preaching a return to slavery in Egypt, as some of the Israelites did, they are alienating themselves from Christ (Gal 5:4) and proclaiming Christ’s sacrifice to be unnecessary and insufficient (Gal 5:2).

Sadly, faith-plus ‘gospels’ still exist in the church today. What are some of the things people add to the gospel today? Some are things of doctrine: you must believe in the authority of the church or the Pope, or subscribe to a particular view of the creation of the world. Some are things of practice: you must worship using contemporary music, or pray a certain prayer, you must read this or that translation of Scripture, go to these conferences, be baptised as an adult by full immersion and attend this church. The worst of all are those that are close to the truth, that bear a passing resemblance to the truth, but are not true. One example would be the teaching that, in order to be saved, you must continue to exercise obedient faith. On the face of it this looks OK; surely Christians should continue in faithful obedience to Christ? But it is back to front, for obedience springs from and is a result of being saved, rather than being a condition of being saved. The true gospel says that if you are a Christian, you will obey; the false gospel says when you obey you will be a Christian.

It is no exaggeration to say that Paul spends this entire letter trying to explain the difference between the true gospel and the false. More importantly, he begs and pleads with the Galatians to hold on to the truth and not to compromise. He pronounces a curse on the false teachers, saying ‘Let [them] be eternally condemned’ (Gal 1:8-9). He demonstrates the correct attitude, rebuking even one of the most respected leaders of the church for behaviour that was not in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:14).

We, too, have a responsibility to hold firm to the gospel, to act in line with its truth, and to reject those promoting a false gospel. The only way we can do this is by knowing the gospel. Take every opportunity to soak in the truth of the gospel. Read your Bible by yourself, asking God to help you understand and apply it, praying through it line by line. Study the Scriptures with your friends, learning from the insights and applications given to them and sharing your own in turn. Listen to those who preach and teach, whether it be here in this church, in your school, at uni, conferences, always referring back to the Scriptures to see if what they are teaching matches what you find there. Observe those Christians around you who you know to be godly – whether parents, friends, pastors, elders or whoever else – and see how their lives are impacted by the gospel. You can only spot a fake fifty dollar note by knowing what a real one looks like; in the same way, you must know what the true gospel is in order to spot a false one.

And, once spotted, reject it!

Faith vs. law (Gal 3-4)

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 observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing — if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
     – Gal 3:1-5

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
     – Gal 3:23-29

The false gospel in Galatia was that, in addition to the saving work of Christ, the Galatians now needed to become circumcised and, more generally, to adopt the practices required in the Jewish Law. This encompasses at least the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, but probably the whole of what we call the Old Testament is in view.
So Paul directs all of his considerable influence and effort towards helping the Galatians to understand the true place of the law in salvation history. He makes very clear that the law cannot bring justification or salvation, but only death and condemnation (Gal 2:16). Once you commit to obeying the law, you must obey all of it or else come under a curse (Gal 3:10). It declares us to be prisoners of sin, needing to be rescued (Gal 3:22). More positively, Paul says the law is an overseer and guardian its function is to lead us to Christ, at which point we are set free from its supervision (Gal 3:24-25).

Let me ask you a deeply profound theological question: Why do you brush your teeth? Perhaps you may answer with reference to dental hygiene and oral health. You may, if you’re honest, talk about avoiding the dentist and his fearsome weapons and even more fearsome bills! Or perhaps it’s just habit that keeps you doing it. My son, Aedan, is 4 years old. Why do you think he brushes his teeth? The truth is, he does it because Katrie and I tell him to. This is right and good, as obeying one’s parents is a good thing. But what if that is his only reason for doing it? What happens when he is 14? or 40? If he is still brushing his teeth just because, ‘Mummy and Daddy told me to,’ or, worse, not brushing his teeth at all, what will we think? Something has gone wrong, for by then he should be mature enough to understand the actual reasons for doing it. The action should come from within him, rather than being imposed on him by his parents.

The same is true of the law. Its purpose was and is to lead people to Christ. When we read the Old Testament today, we must always be asking, ‘How does this lead to Christ? How does it point to him?’ When we read rules about sacrifices, priests, purification, slavery and so on, we must ask how they relate to Christ. For example, the book of Hebrews teaches us that Jesus is the final and perfect sacrifice, and that no further sacrifices are required (Heb 7:27). He is also the great high priest (Heb 4:14) and no other is required. In both these cases, the law pointed towards Christ and, now that he is come, they are no longer required to do this. So too with slavery, for Christ has redeemed us once for all from our bondage. In other cases, the OT laws will find confirmation in the NT, such as the laws about murder, adultery and so on. Sometimes it is not clear how the OT command ought to be interpreted today, and in these cases I can only suggest you ask the Spirit within you to confirm the right course.

We should not, like some early church heretics, abandon the OT. It is still relevant, though not always in the same way that it was for the Israelites. For we live in the time after Christ’s revelation, and everything must be reevaluated in that light. Read your OT as well as your NT, for there is much to learn; but read it with an eye to Jesus Christ and his life and work. It is a means to wisdom, but not, of itself, to salvation.

So what is the means by which salvation comes? Paul is very clear: salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. ‘The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20). It is by believing in Christ that we have received God’s Holy Spirit (Gal 3:2-5). Believe the promises of God, Paul says, and this will be credited to you as righteousness; this is how it was for Abraham (Gal 3:6, 9). It is by faith that we become sons of God (Gal 3:26), and all stand equal in the face of God’s promises (Gal 3:28). Where those relying on the law are cursed and obligated to do all it commands (Gal 3:10), Christ redeemed us from the curse (Gal 3:13) and, in fact, became and bore that curse for us, in our place, leaving only a blessing for Jews and Gentiles alike (Gal 3:14). The law brings only curse, and no blessing; in Christ there is no curse, but only blessing.

Paul spends a great deal of time in chapters 3 and 4 talking about Abraham. This is probably a sign that the preachers of circumcision were appealing to the blessings associated with being children of Abraham. Paul takes up this argument, but redirects it by reminding the Galatians that Abraham had two children, Ishmael and Isaac, both of whom received the rite of circumcision; but only Isaac was an heir of the promises given to Abraham (Gal 4:21-5:1). So if circumcision was not the defining characteristic, what was? Two things. Firstly, one was a child born of human efforts, the other born by the gracious promise and gift of God. Secondly, Ishmael was the son of a slave, and thus himself a slave; Isaac was born to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and was so an heir. The true children of Abraham are those who believe the promises of God, and are thus born of the Spirit to true freedom.

Friends, the law, or anything else that we try and substitute as the foundation for our faith – personal piety, church attendance, becoming evangelists or missionaries or whatever – is not the way of freedom. These things are all good things, but if they are what drives us on in the Christian walk, if they are what we hold up as our defining characteristics, then they will lead only to obligation, slavery and curse. If, instead, we live our lives trusting in the promises of God, looking to him to guide us and provide for us, believing in his love and protection, then we are free and blessed heirs of Abraham.

Freedom in the Spirit (Gal 5-6)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
     – Gal 5:13-18

We are no longer subject to slavery, but are made free (Gal 5:1). But ‘freedom’ is all too easily misunderstood by the world. For them, ‘freedom’ means being able to do whatever they want when they want; it is freedom from obligation. But Christian freedom is the freedom to meet our obligations to one another. Life in the Spirit is community life, and we must use our freedom to serve one another in love (Gal 5:13-14). In this way we do not set aside but fulfil the law (Gal 5:14).
Paul is not backtracking or contradicting himself. This life of mutual love and service can only come about as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in our life, and the Spirit, as we have already mentioned, comes only by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:2-5) according to the promise of God (Gal 3:14). We do not receive the Spirit by what we do, but by believing the promises of God; so we cannot expect to live a life of love and service unless we have first been saved, and received the Spirit.

Christian freedom is also freedom to fight. Paul describes the Christian life using the vivid metaphor of a war between the sinful fleshly nature, and the nature born of the Spirit (Gal 5:17). We have been freed from the enemy camp, so we should not use our freedom to return there (Gal 5:13). For those in Christ, the sinful nature has been crucified (Gal 5:24). Though its death may be slow, it is assured, so do not return to it.

We fight alongside other Christians, under the leadership of the Spirit. So let us serve one another, bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2), shouldering our own load (Gal 6:5) and walking in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:25). In this way, we will not sow dissension in the ranks, but will fight with and for one another. The battles will be hard, but the victory is never in doubt.

Where do you see yourself in this fight? Are you on the front line, fighting daily? Have you been wounded and evacuated to receive help? Or are you caught behind enemy lines, trying to blend in with the people around you and not get noticed? Where do you want to be?

Conclusion

In closing, by way of summing up this letter to the Galatians, let me ask you what is it that you rely upon? When the chips are down, where do you turn? When you miss out on the place in uni you wanted, your aunt is diagnosed with leukaemia, your parents are fighting all the time and on the verge of splitting up, you are in financial distress, you have a fight with your best friend, your brother loses his job – what is your plan? Alternately, who or what gets the credit when things are going well? You get promoted, you have great friends, you’re getting married, your kid (or kid brother) turns to Christ – is that all you, your obedience, your character, your hard work? Or is it your friends, church, family or just plain luck?

No matter who you profess as your Saviour with your mouth, your answers to these questions will help you to see who you are actually counting on to save you. For the Galatians, they were being told to rely on their own obedience to the law; you and I are being told to rely on ourselves and our friends, our education and our initiative. Yet all of these things are false saviours, false gods, and will enslave us. If education is your saviour, you will spend all of your time and money on acquiring it, but it will enslave you not save you. If money is your saviour, you will bend all your efforts towards gaining it, but it will enslave you not save you. If friends are your saviour you will live a life trying to please others and thus gain friends, but this life will enslave you not save you.

You have a choice. On the one hand, you can choose the false ‘gospel’ that looks like good news but isn’t – ‘You can save yourself!’ The result of this choice will be that you are enslaved, cursed, following the way that leads only to death. On the other hand, you can turn to the true gospel, the only gospel, and believe in Jesus, dying to your old life (Gal 2:19-20) and rising a new creation (Gal 6:15). This way leads to life, to blessing, to freedom and heirship, to life in the Spirit and redemption from slavery.

The only Saviour who brings freedom is Jesus Christ. The only Saviour who gives you the Holy Spirit is Jesus Christ. The only Saviour who will truly save you is Jesus Christ.

Believe in him.

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Galatians 6: Serve one another in love

by on May.22, 2013, under Notes, Sermon

Have you ever heard a really good musician play or sing? I mean reaallly good. We marvel at the freedom they have to pick up their instrument and play whatever music they like. Do they feel like playing classical music? Well, OK then! Jazz? No worries. Rock? Pop? Easy. Fast, slow, high, low… doesn’t matter, they’re up for it. And it’s like they don’t even have to think about it, like they could, if they felt so inclined, be playing a game of chess and reading a book on the side! What wouldn’t you give to have that kind of freedom?

What did they give for that freedom? In most cases, that freedom has come at the cost of long hours of practice, tuition, practice, performance, practice, theory, practice and study. Oh, and did I mention practice? Many of us will have started down the path of learning an instrument, a language, a sport, or some other skill. Sometimes this is at the prompting of our parents, part of our schooling, or simply following a fad (yo-yos anyone?). But unless that skill finds a resonance within us, unless we come to a place where the discipline to continue flows from within us, we will never be truly free.

In the same way, the freedom of the Christian life must spring from the Holy Spirit within us; it cannot be imposed from without by the law, or by anything else. Yet that does not mean that we will not do what the law commands. Both the musician who enjoys her music and the one learning at the behest of her parents go through the same routines – practising and performing – but for the one this is freedom and for the other a kind of bondage. So, too, Christians will naturally do the things that the law requires; but for them it is an exercise of freedom rather than bondage. They are not freed from the law, but freed to fulfil the law.1

But what does that look like? In Galatians 5:13, which we looked at last week, the Apostle Paul wrote:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

In these two sentences, Paul describes the Christian life both negatively and positively: do not indulge the sinful nature, but do serve one another in love. We looked at the first part of this last week, from Galatians 5. This week, in chapter 6, we return to the idea of serving one another in love.

Serving one another in love (Gal 5:14; 6:1-6)

When Paul says ‘serve one another in love’, the verb means ‘to perform the duties of a slave’.2 What a paradox: we Christians are called to be free… to be slaves to one another.3 This doesn’t seem to fit easily into our category of ‘freedom’; but, then, neither would practising scales, or kicking goals, or memorising verbs. Yet all of these contribute to freedom in their own way.

In Galatians 6, Paul gives us examples of serving one another in love. In verse 1 he describes a Christian being ‘caught in a sin’. Sad to say, Christians do fall into temptation and sin. But we, as a loving Christian community, are called to ‘restore’ them, a word used for setting a fractured bone,4 or mending broken nets (Matt 4:21 // Mark 1:19). This action is both positive and active.5 Our response should not be to condemn them, saying, ‘It serves them right.’ Nor should we stand aside with the excuse, ‘It’s none of my business.’ We should not gossip to others, ‘Did you hear what Frank did?’ We are not even called to report them to the pastors or elders.6 No, we are instructed to ‘restore’ him or her, to assist them in getting back on the right path. When a bone is broken, it must be set, bound up and reinforced with splints and casts; so too when a Christian is engulfed in the brokenness that sin brings, they will need to be set right and offered support.

Who is responsible for this restoration? Paul addresses the command to ‘you who are spiritual’ (Gal 6:1). Given that Paul has just finished instructing the Galatians to ‘keep in step with the [Holy] Spirit’ (Gal 5:25), the ones who are ‘spiritual’ are the Galatian Christians and, by extension, all Christians.7 That means you and me. And we are to do this ‘gently’; in fact, only Christians are characteristically gentle, for gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit described in the previous chapter.8

We are also instructed to do this watchfully, lest we also be tempted (Gal 6:1). I do not think Paul is only referring to us being tempted to sin in the same way as the one we are restoring, though this is also possible. If we are helping someone to repent of unfaithfulness, or greed, or violence, or pornography then the folly of these things is clearly before us in the brokenness of the one we are helping. More insidious is the temptation to be judgmental, or self-congratulatory that you have not failed in the same way (or, perhaps, you’ve just hidden it better?). Paul jumps on these things straight away:

If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. Gal 6:2-5.

Christians can be self-deceived about their own work and worth in two ways. The first is comparison, where we find someone who is ‘worse’ than us, and say, ‘Gee, aren’t I doing well by comparison – I must be a wonderful Christian’; or we find someone doing ‘better’, and say, ‘They’re doing so much better than me – I must be a terrible Christian.’ Either way, we deceive ourselves, because God does not assign worth in such ways.

The second way Christians deceive themselves is by failing to test their own work. I am a software engineer, and it is a well known maxim amongst engineers that, ‘If it’s not tested, it’s broken.’ Testing is how we find out when something is defective or broken. This is not a new concept. In fact, the Greek word used here for ‘test’ was often applied to the purification of gold. The gold is melted, and any impurities within it simply burn away. Thus the testing is both the means and the proof of quality and purification.

But what is the standard for such testing, if not comparison with others? Paul offered us a number of useful markers of a high-quality Christian life – that is, a spiritual life – in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Ask yourself honestly, do you see these things in your life? Are you growing in them? Do they characterise your relationships with others? Test your life and works against this standard, and see how they fare.

It is vital that we do this testing, otherwise we will either neglect to bear one another’s burdens or to bear our own load.9 Note that there is no contradiction here, for two different words are used, translated ‘burden’ and ‘load’ respectively. The context here suggests that the first is a load too big to be borne alone, whereas the second is rightfully the responsibility of the person who carries it. In fact, the latter is often used of a soldier’s pack or knapsack. We are to bear one another’s ‘burdens’, which are too heavy to be carried by one person alone, but there is one burden that we cannot share, and that is responsibility for our own actions.10 Even when we are receiving help from the believing community, we are still responsible for what we do or don’t do. We cannot rely upon other members of the church to read the Bible for us, to pray for our families, to teach our children, or to steward our resources. Though we may receive help in all of these areas, the responsibility is upon us to do it.

The same may be said of the church as a community. If we spend our time comparing ourselves to other churches (‘They have more people,’ or ‘We are more involved in mission,’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have their resources,’ or ‘They teach some rubbish there,’ or whatever) then we may fail to partner with them in burdens that should be borne together, or fail in carrying the load we ought to be responsible for. We cannot leave the work of global or local mission to other churches, just because they have more people, or more money. We must contribute to the work of Scripture teachers in our schools, we must participate in things like Operation Christmas Child, Live Below the Line, 40 Hour Famine and so on. These are burdens that are too big for one church to bear alone. But we must also meet our own responsibilities. We cannot sit back and wait for someone else to disciple and teach us, or to care for the needs of our congregation. If our ministry depends on us employing pastoral staff (Gal 6:6), having a church building, and sending out missionaries, then we must take ownership of those things. When someone in our church is sick, or grieving, or suffering, we as a church are to be at the forefront of meeting that need for it is our responsibility. These things are our ‘load’ to carry as a church.

Life in the Spirit is community life: we are called to care for others, to serve one another in love, to bear one another’s burdens. But we are also instructed to carry our own loads.

Growing in service: sowing and reaping (Gal 6:7-10)

But how do we become individuals and a community that does these things? Paul says that what you sow determines what you reap. ‘It is not the reapers who decide what the harvest is going to be like, but the sowers.’11 If we want to become people who are spiritual, who live life in the Spirit, we must sow the things that are of the Spirit. If, however, we sow the things of the sinful nature, we should expect to reap a life and a community of the same kind, one where people are ‘conceited, provoking and envying each other’ (Gal 5:26).
How do we know which are which? Back in chapter 5, Paul gave us some examples of both acts of the sinful nature and fruits of the Spirit. Every time we wallow in self-pity, or nurse a grudge, indulge in impure fantasies, envy our neighbour, lash out in anger or snipe about someone behind their back we are sowing to the flesh. Rather than a good harvest, such a farmer should expect only a harvest of weeds, good only for the fire (Matt 13:24-30).12

This lines up with our own experience doesn’t it? When we think and act in sinful ways, the consequences tend to be sinful as well. Speaking harsh words produces enmities. Gossiping results in ill will. Lust grows sexual impurities. Worse still, ancient farmers would use a portion of their crop as seed for the next year’s crop. But if we keep planting weeds, pretty soon we will have nothing but weeds to plant!

I read a book some years ago that describes the same problem from a different angle. Speaking of doing battle with sexual temptation, this book describes our sex drive as a sumo wrestler. In one corner is Mr Sex Drive – fed up on ‘a billion meals of lust and fantasy’.13 In the other corner… you. Things don’t look good – he’s many times bigger than you, and consistently, effortlessly, sends you flying out of the ring. The book goes on to explain that the only way to overcome is to ‘Starve the sumo’. By cutting out the sumo’s food – sexy movies, TV, music, websites etc. – you can reduce his power over you, and even the odds in those contests in the ring.14

What is true of one appetite is true of others as well. The more you ‘feed’ them, the stronger they become; you must learn to deny them their desires. Starve that sumo! Work out what it is feeding on, and do whatever you need to to eliminate or avoid those things. Is it drunkenness? Don’t hang out in pubs. Is it pornography? Don’t use the computer in your bedroom, or leave the door open. Do you struggle with negativity or gossip? Choose carefully who you spend your time with. Remember from last week Paul’s declaration and promise: ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.’ Crucifixion may be a slow death, but it is a certain one. Stop sowing thoughts and acts of the sinful nature into your life, because what you sow controls what you reap.

But it is not enough just to stop sowing bad things. We must also start to sow the good things, the things that please the Spirit. Again, Paul gave us a list of examples in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Sow these things into your life. Do you have the opportunity to make peace with someone you’ve quarrelled with? Do it! Is your neighbour struggling with their children, groceries or housework? Give them a hand! Forgive those who have wronged you, and seek forgiveness from those you have wronged. When you sow the things of the Spirit, you can expect a harvest in kind. And just as farmers use one harvest as seed for the next crop, so you will be able to replant this harvest. It has been truly 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’.15

For these reasons, Paul’s command is to sow, and keep on sowing. The only thing that can threaten the one who sows Spiritual things is ‘weariness’ that causes us to lose hope and ‘give up’ (Gal 6:9).16 Crops do not spring up overnight, sumos are not starved in a day; and an instrument is not mastered in an instant; neither does Christian character magically appear straight away. But if you are tired of sowing, and leave half your field unsown you will only reap half a crop.17 We must be patient, knowing that the fruit of our harvest lies in the future rather than immediate gratification, yet is no less valuable for that. Sow the word of God (Gal 6:6). Sow into your own life, sowing to please the Spirit (Gal 6:7-8). Sow into the lives of all people, and particularly fellow believers (Gal 6:10).

Friends, ‘as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people’ (Gal 6:10), not as a way of earning salvation but in response to the salvation and promise already received, the hope of a ‘harvest if we do not give up’ (Gal 6:9).

Boast in Christ (Gal 6:11-18)

As he comes to the conclusion of this Epistle, Paul leaves off dictation and takes up the pen to write the final paragraphs in his own hand (Gal 6:11). In so doing, he returns to the topic of circumcision, exposing the motives of those who are promoting it. These motives are: (1) making a good impression; (2) avoiding persecution; and (3) having grounds for boasting. Let’s examine these in turn.

As already noted, the desire to compare ourselves to others stops us from loving one another and bearing one another’s burdens. Well, so does the need to ‘make a good impression’. When caught up in this way of life, we get so focused on how we can impress our ‘audience’ that we don’t stop to consider whether our actions are loving or not. We may bear someone else’s burdens, but only if it makes us look good, if we think we might get credit for it. In the case of the Galatians, the circumcision party were clearly looking to impress other Jews: ‘Look how many have converted to Judaism because of our preaching.’ Possibly the ones tempted to agree to being circumcised wanted to show off their devotion and piety. In both cases, the result was alienation from Christ (Gal 5:4) and slavery imposed and received respectively. Modern day equivalents might be those who exult in the number of baptisms or church members they have, their association with other famous Christians or churches, participation in certain conferences or singing certain music.

Who are you trying to impress? Do you want your Christian friends to notice how you’re always talking about Jesus, how you go to church twice on Sundays, you know all the words to all the songs, how well you know your Bible and so on? Or perhaps it is your non-Christian friends who are on your radar. Is it important that they know you give to charity and that you care about the environment? To my shame, when I was in uni, I used to try and distinguish myself from the ‘super-Christians’ on campus by being almost aggressively non-evangelistic, in order to convince my non-Christian friends that though I was a Christian I was alright to hang out with. I invite you to stop and think about the way you relate to others: what is it that drives your behaviour? Is it the fruit of the Spirit growing within your life? Or is it just you trying to make a good impression?

The circumcisers were also trying to avoid persecution. Paul himself had been an avid persecutor of the church, as he relates in Galatians 1:13-14, 24, and there were doubtless many other Jews out doing the same. Perhaps there was also security in being part of a recognised religion, protected under Roman law. Whatever the case, Paul himself was evidence that persecution was a normal part of the Christian life (Gal 6:17). It is to be expected. As we learned last week, the Christian life is one of conflict between the forces of the sinful nature and those of the Spirit.

It also seems likely the circumcision party were attempting to minimise or make up for the ‘offense of the cross’ (Gal 5:11). The cross is the ultimate symbol of human failure, man’s inability to meet God’s requirements on his own. This is still an unpopular message today, and proclaiming it is likely to result in both offense and persecution. Try telling a non-Christian that they do not, indeed cannot, match up to God’s standards. Try explaining to them that any attempts on their own part at closing the gap actually make it worse. In most cases, the initial reaction is one of offense, often followed by persecution. Yet we must not try to ‘tone down’ the cross in an effort to make it more palatable and less offensive. We cannot afford to compromise, for to compromise is to be alienated from Christ (Gal 5:4).

The third motive for law-keeping is a desire to boast. Not all boasting is bad. In fact, Paul contrasts two different types of boasting in these closing verses. ‘Once more, at the end of his letter, he returns to the antithesis of cross and circumcision, setting them forth this time as representing respectively the true and false ground of boasting’.18 Negatively, Paul says that the circumcisers are looking to boast about the Galatians’ flesh, much as David offered up 100 Philistine foreskins in order to become King Saul’s son-in-law (1 Sam 18:25-27).19 Yet they are hypocrites, who for all their enthusiasm about others obeying the law, fail to keep it themselves!

Over against this example, Paul set himself. Where the Judaisers boasted about the law and the benefits of circumcision, Paul boasts about the cross of Christ. The circumcisers claim a wound in their flesh as their badge of honour; Paul, though he bore that same wound, boasts in the far more profound wounds of crucifixion (Gal 6:17).20 Back in chapter 5 Paul said:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Gal 5:6

Here he reiterates:

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is new creation. Gal 6:15

The cross of Jesus Christ was the means by which God has brought about new creation.21 The cross marks an absolute break between the old and the new world, and the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision belongs to the old world. What matters is that you belong to the new creation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you are looking for something to boast about, make sure it is this:

  • Jesus Christ lived the life we could not live, in complete fulfilment of the law, and nothing we can do can compare to that.
  • Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for our sins we could not pay, and nothing we can do can add to that.
  • Jesus Christ rose from death, bringing new creation and new life to all who believe in him, and nothing we or anyone else can do will take away from that.

The Christian life is not about boasting in what we have, can or will do; it is boasting about what Jesus has done!

Bibliography

Arterburn, Stephen, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey. Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation. 1st ed, The Every Man Series. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2002.

Boice, James Montgomery. Galatians. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas. Accordance electronic ed, Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Accordance electronic ed, New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Cole, R. A. The Letter of Paul to the Galatians : An Introduction and Commentary. 2nd ed, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988.

Keener, Craig S. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians. Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed, Word Biblical Commentary. Waco: Word Books, 1990.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ : A Pauline Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2001.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. Accordance electronic ed, The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984.


Endnotes

  1. ‘Freedom in Christ does not entail freedom from ought (Gal 5:1, 13); it provides freedom to carry out what ought to be done.’ Thomas R. Schreiner, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ : A Pauline Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2001), 231.
  2. BDAG, s.v. δουλεύω.
  3. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, Accordance electronic ed., The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 142. R. A. Cole, The Letter of Paul to the Galatians : An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed., The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), 206.
  4. James Montgomery Boice, Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas, Accordance electronic ed., Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), n. p.
  5. Stott, Galatians, 160.
  6. Though this would clearly be appropriate in the event of criminal wrongdoing, as would notifying the relevant secular authorities.
  7. Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1990), 273.
  8. Stott, Galatians, 161-2.
  9. Boice, Galatians, n. p.
  10. Stott, Galatians, 159-60.
  11. Ibid., 166.
  12. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Accordance electronic ed., New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 265.
  13. Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey, Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation, 1st ed., The Every Man Series (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2002), 132.
  14. Ibid., 132-4.
  15. We should also note in passing that it is also true that the more you sow, the more you reap. If you sow generously, you will get a large crop; if you sow sparingly, your crop will be small (2 Cor 9:6).
  16. Cole, Galatians, 230.
  17. Stott, Galatians, 171-2.
  18. Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 300.
  19. Boice, Galatians, ad loc.
  20. Craig S. Keener, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), ad loc.
  21. Fung, Galatians, 308-9.
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Galatians 5: Live in the Freedom of the Spirit

by on May.14, 2013, under Notes, Sermon

On the first of January, 1863, the American Emancipation Proclamation came into effect. By it, all of the black slaves in the United States were set free. Yet a strange thing happened, for many continued to live in slavery. When an Alabama slave was asked what he thought of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator he replied, ‘I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Abraham Lincoln cep they say he sot us free. And I don’t know nothin’ ’bout that neither’.1

It is not enough to declare someone as being free if they ‘don’t know nothin’ ’bout it’ – instead, they must be taught and shown what it means to be free. And, as we shall see, this is very close to the Apostle Paul’s heart, for he spends the final two chapters laying out his vision for the freedom a Christian is to enjoy. It is a freedom bought at great price, and not to be squandered. It is a freedom to pursue a different kind of service: not the forced servitude of slavery, but the willing service of love for one another. It is not a freedom characterised by the indulgence of the sinful nature, but of growth and health and goodness. Above all, this freedom that Paul speaks of is a spiritual freedom, of walking in step with the Holy Spirit, of standing firm in the midst of conflict and cooperating with the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Tonight we will survey spiritual freedom under the following headings: purpose, origin, interruption, nature and battle.

The purpose of spiritual freedom (Gal 5:1)

A study done some years ago found that nearly 60% of smokers undergoing surgery for heart disease continue to smoke after their procedure.2 Even though this was exactly the action that led to them requiring surgery in the first place, they have somehow failed to understand the purpose of their newly restored health. Why were they cured? So they could be healthy, of course; not so they could destroy their health all over again.

We sense some measure of frustration in Paul, akin to a cardiologist doing a follow up with a patient who smells of nicotine. ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’ (Gal 5:1 NIV, emphasis added). In ancient times, one of the ways a slave might be freed would be that his master sold him to one of the pagan gods; in such a case, the former slave would be presented with a document stating he had been freed ’for freedom’, and ‘let no man henceforth enslave him’. Technically he remained the slave of the god, but in the eyes of men he was a free man.3

It seems strange to our ears to hear of smokers returning to smoking, or of slaves returning to slavery. Why do they do it? Perhaps, like the Israelites in the wilderness it is a question of comfort: they remember the familiar things, the things they enjoyed, and block out the negatives. ‘Better the devil you know’, they say or, ‘We may have been slaves, but at least we knew where our next meal was coming from.’ And in so saying, they forget that they were slaves, subject to oppression by cruel masters. Or maybe it is just old habits, like an alcoholic ordering a beer or a gambling addict turning to the form guide, forgetting for the moment that they have left those things behind.

Friends, if you belong to Jesus Christ, you have been redeemed from slavery. I don’t know the specifics of the slavery that you have been redeemed from. Perhaps your life was characterised by pride, envy or bitterness; maybe you lived for the approval of others, or your own ambitions; or was it greed? anger? lust? Or, perhaps worst of all, maybe you were saved from your own religiosity, your attempts to prove yourself a Christian by church attendance, giving an outward appearance of Christian character and behaviour. Whatever it was, there will be times when those things seem pretty attractive, or when you act out of habit. The Apostle’s instruction is clear: don’t forget that they are slavery, that you have been set free, so stand firm.

The origin of spiritual freedom (Gal 5:2-6)

In the case of the Galatians, they were not actually returning to the same slavery they had been redeemed from, but were being sold a new kind of ‘freedom’.4 Jewish boys were circumcised in order to show their obedience to the law of God, hence claiming for themselves the covenant promises God made to Abraham (Gen 17:10-14). Perhaps the argument went that the Galatians could not be granted the ‘freedom’ as sons of Abraham unless they were first circumcised, as Abraham’s sons were.

But Paul is intent to show that this ‘freedom’ is not really freedom at all, if it is founded on this rite and the law that goes with it. To this end, he mobilises every scrap of his authority as an apostle:5 ‘I, Paul,’ the circumcised Jew and expert in the law, proud of my heritage as a Jew;6 ‘I, Paul,’ the apostle who brought the Gospel to Galatia, who has undergone the pains of giving birth to you not once but now a second time (Gal 4:19); ‘I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.’ And, in case you missed it back in chapter 3, when I said that ‘All who rely on observing the law are under a curse’ (Gal 3:10),7 ‘Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.’ In the original language here, the words translated ‘value’ and ‘obliged’ sound similar; we might get something of the contrast by translating, ‘You will not profit from Christ but will be in debt to the law.’8 Obligation and debt is not the way of freedom!

Paul continues, arguing that those seeking to be justified by law have driven a wedge between themselves and Christ. Jesus provides unlimited help to those who trust in him; those who seek to bypass his saving work and make themselves acceptable by other means receive no help at all from him, for they have fallen away from grace.9

This is a warning for us. It is true that, if you belong to Christ, he has promised to keep you by his grace. But just like road signs and guard rails that help keep us safely on the road, warnings like this remind us to keep putting our trust in Christ.10

The answer, Paul says, is not what you do, but what you hope for. ‘But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope’ (Gal 5:5). Note the vicious circle: lack of faith or lack of hope makes us want to ensure our own salvation now; but such attempts are ever uncertain or, rather, certain to fail, so faith and hope are destroyed.11 Turning this around, however, when we put our faith in Jesus our hope is certain and secure, for there is nothing uncertain about hope in the New Testament.12 If you belong to Christ Jesus, his obedience to God in his life and in his death have won for you the title ‘child of God’ (Gal 3:26), and if you are a child then you will share in the inheritance (Gal 3:29; 4:7). Because you are a child of God, he has sent his Holy Spirit into your heart (Gal 4:6) and it is through this same Spirit that we await the future proclamation of our righteousness.

Friends, there is a clear choice before you: on the one hand, you can choose to try and achieve your own righteousness, in which case Christ is of no value to you, and you have no hope; or you can put your faith in Christ, in which case neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. True freedom comes from faith in Jesus Christ.

The interruption of the Galatians’ spiritual freedom (Gal 5:7-12)

At some point, the Galatians must have understood this. For Paul, taking up again one of his favourite metaphor of the Christian life,13 says, ‘You were running a good race’ (Gal 5:7). This image, taken from the ancient athletic track, illustrates Paul’s image of freedom well. There is a clear goal (the finish line), and we must keep moving towards that goal. Yet there are also lanes that mark out the direction, and failure to keep within these lines results in disqualification. Paul suggests someone has left their lane, disqualifying themselves in the process, and ‘cut in’ on the Galatians preventing them from running towards the goal.

Who were these navigationally challenged competitors? The people who had come to Galatia trying to convince the Galatians to accept circumcision. In fact, ‘cut in’ here may well be double entendre, referring to both the race metaphor and to circumcision itself.
A question arises, though: If, as Paul has said, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any value (Gal 5:6), why not be on the safe side in case circumcision really does matter to God in the end? This is what some people want to do today, deliberately speaking in language of ‘spirituality’ or of ‘god’ in such vague terms that it might include the God of the Bible, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Mother Nature, the Divine Self or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Kind of an each-way bet.

Paul has already offered a number of arguments against this line of thinking: circumcision means abandoning Christ (Gal 5:2), and being obligated to obey the whole law (Gal 5:3). Here he offers another two arguments. Firstly, the persuasion does not come from the one who called them (Gal 5:8). This may refer to Paul himself, but in view of what he says in chapter 1 about the Gospel originating with Jesus, I believe he probably means Christ here. ‘Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!’ (Gal 1:8) Indeed, here he says ‘The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty’ (Gal 5:10).

The second argument offered again circumcision is that ‘a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough’ (Gal 5:9). Yeast was a common image for sin in the Old Testament: hence in preparation for OT feasts such as passover, the Israelites were instructed to eat only bread baked without yeast. Here the point is that allowing even a little sinful thinking or action into our life and the life of our church results in the whole thing being contaminated. A friend of mine told me recently about having spent some time preparing a baking tray ready for baking. Having completed this, however, his wife decided to take out the trash and, in the process of removing the garbage managed to drip ‘bin juice’ into the baking tray. I can’t imagine there was a vast quantity of ‘bin juice’; yet a little bin juice would spoil the effort! And sin spreads. We treat cancer as soon as it is detected, even if it is very small and inconsequential at the time, because it is the nature of cancer to grow and to spread.

There is an important lesson here: when it comes to sin, do not compromise. Do not allow it a foot in the door. Do not tell yourself that it is ‘harmless’ because it doesn’t directly impact anyone else, and no-one else needs to know. Examine what you are taught carefully: is it consistent with the Gospel? does it come from the one who called you, that is, Jesus Christ? If not, don’t mess around, don’t dip your toe in. Don’t even settle for ‘I guess he or she is entitled to their opinion’; Paul certainly doesn’t. In verse 12 he says, in effect, ‘So cutting a little bit off makes you holy? Why not go for the big-time and cut it all off!’ Some scholars have suggested that Paul is also inviting the consequence pronounced on the emasculated: removal from the community (Deut. 23:1).14 If this is so, it is an echo of the curse pronounced upon anybody promoting a different ‘gospel’ (Gal 1:8-9).

The nature of spiritual freedom (Gal 5:13-15)

In strong contrast to the circumcisers, upon whom Paul has pronounced a curse, he continues, ‘You, my brothers, were called to be free’ (Gal 5:13).15 Disappointed and astonished as he is with their behaviour, the Apostle expresses his confidence that they will return to their calling: freedom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, you are called to freedom! This is what it means to be a Christian, and it is a glorious truth. The tragedy is that so many don’t understand this. The common image people have of Christianity today is not freedom, but a cruel bondage. This is, I suggest, because the world has a vastly different definition of freedom.

Here are some common, worldly definitions of ‘freedom’:

  • President Roosevelt spoke in 1941 of ‘freedom of speech everywhere, freedom of worship everywhere, freedom from want everywhere and freedom from fear everywhere’;16
  • The Rolling Stones sang:

    I’m free to do what I want any old time
    I’m free to do what I want any old time
    So love me hold me love me hold me
    I’m free any old time to get what I want

  • We pester our governments for freedom of information;
  • We claim our ‘free will’ as the highest authority over our actions.

So what kind of freedom is the Christian called to? Paul offers an answer in two parts: it is not for indulging the sinful nature; it is for serving one another in love. He then goes on to expand on these, describing the battle with the sinful nature for the rest of this chapter, and then describing how we can serve one another in love in chapter 6. Since we will look at chapter 6 next week, for now I will just note how strange it is that freedom should be defined in terms of service (or, literally, slavery)!

The battle of spiritual freedom (Gal 5:16-26)

The phrase ‘indulge the sinful nature’ in verse 13 might more literally be translated, ‘offer an opportunity to the flesh’.17 The word ‘opportunity’ is used in military contexts for a place from which an offensive is launched, or a base of operations. The point being made is similar to the one about the yeast in the bread, above, but transposed into the language of battle rather than the language of the home.

Make no mistake: the Christian life is a battle. But, unlike other battles, the outcome is never in doubt. Paul promises straight away that if you ‘walk by the Spirit… you will not gratify the desires of the flesh’ (Gal 5:16, emphasis added).

Picture the image of two armies at war: on the one side are arrayed the forces of the flesh, and their desire is destruction; on the other side are those who walk by the Spirit, following his leadership. Once, you fought on the side of the flesh. Perhaps you were a volunteer, or perhaps you were simply drafted, but the fact was you fought and lived for the flesh. And the following the way of the flesh is the road to destruction. But now, in Christ, you have been rescued from that, set free to fight alongside the one who freed you, to ‘walk in step’ with him. ‘Follow the orders of your general’, Paul says, ‘and the enemy will not, can not, accomplish his goal of destroying you.’ You are no longer ‘under law’,18 but you are under orders, and those orders emanate from the Spirit.

Yet sometimes soldiers offer an ‘opportunity’ to the enemy, whether by negligence, incompetence or disobedience to orders. Paul offers us a means for keeping tabs on our actions and constantly assessing whether we are acting according to the Spirit’s orders.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Gal 5:19-21)

These are the acts of enemy agents, seeking to sabotage the army of the Spirit. And what do we do with enemy agents? Paul’s instruction is blunt: crucify them! No slap on the wrist; no, ‘you seem like a nice bloke so I’ll let you go’; no mercy; no pity; no opportunity for rationalisation or justification. Clear and simple: crucify them, put them to death, nail them to a cross and make sure they don’t come down until dead. A theologian once wrote, ‘be killing sin or it will be killing you’.19

This means that we have a responsibility to act when we recognise the acts of the sinful nature in our lives. We must confess and repent of our sin, both before God and before those we have sinned against. The trouble is that crucifixion, whilst a certain death, is also a lingering death.20 Too often, we hang around at the foot of the cross, to pity it, to long for its release. We need to learn to leave those sins there.

When some jealous, proud, malicious or impure thought invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in to it or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we are never going to draw the nails.21

Being in an army means fighting alongside others. We are not lone warriors, but are joined together in support of one another. But how do we know who is on our side? How do we tell which orders are coming from our general, and which are planted by the enemy?

Changing metaphors, Paul speaks of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-3). The thing about fruit is that it grows according to the species of the tree. Apple trees produce apples. Grape vines produce grapes. And so on. Do you think my son will have to work hard in order to grow tall like me? Or will my daughter have to strive to grow as beautiful as her mother? Of course not. These things will happen naturally, for they are part of their genetic makeup.

These fruits or, rather, this fruit (for it is singular), is the means by which we can recognise our allies in the fight. They are the uniform, the passwords that authenticate the orders we receive. We must learn to recognise friend from foe. And we must learn to trust one another. As one author writes:

Since the ultimate goal of salvation is for us individually to belong as a growing, contributing, edifying member of the people of God, others in the body exist for the same purpose, and thus should serve you in the same way. Don’t try to be a lone ranger Christian, slugging it out on your own. Seek out those in the community to whom you can be accountable and let them join you in your desire to grow into Christ’s likeness.22

When Paul writes, ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’ (Gal 5:25), he is speaking of soldiers marching in formation, of drawing up in battle lines together to face the enemy.

Friends, take advantage of the resources of this army of God. Join with other Christians to learn from God’s word, to sing praises to our God, to offer prayers for one another and to carry out the mission assigned to us. This can be in large groups (like coming to church) but I recommend getting together with a small group as well, because this is where the rubber really hits the road, in all of these areas.

I believe this message is a really practical one for us. War, rather than perfection, characterises the normal Christian life; if we are engaged in the conflict then we should not become downcast. Instead, we should look to the Spirit who leads us, trusting that he is in control, and that his strategy will ultimately prevail. We are called to march in step with him.

Conclusion

In closing, I can do no better than to offer again the words of the Apostle Paul:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13)

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal 5:24-5)

Bibliography

Boice, James Montgomery. Galatians. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas. Accordance electronic ed, Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Accordance electronic ed, New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Cole, R. A. The Letter of Paul to the Galatians : An Introduction and Commentary. 2nd ed, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989.

Dunn, James D. G. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1993.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit and the People of God. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988.

Martin, Ralph P. Reconciliation : A Study of Paul’s Theology, New Foundations Theological Library. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981.

McWilliams, David B. Galatians, Mentor Commentary. Tain, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2009.

Morris, Leon. The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. 3rd Revised ed. Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1965.

“Most Smokers Continue to Light up after Heart Surgery.” American Heart Association, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/11/981112075613.htm.

Owen, John. Overcoming Sin&Temptation. Edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Galatians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. Accordance electronic ed, The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984.

Swindoll, Charles R. Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations&Quotes (Formerly Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories: A Collection of Stories, Anecdotes, Illustrations, and Quotes), Swindoll Leadership Library. Nashville: Word Pub., 1998.


Endnotes

  1. Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations&Quotes (Formerly Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1501 Other Stories: A Collection of Stories, Anecdotes, Illustrations, and Quotes), Swindoll Leadership Library (Nashville: Word Pub., 1998), 524-5.
  2. “Most Smokers Continue to Light up after Heart Surgery,” American Heart Association, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/11/981112075613.htm.
  3. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 3rd Revised ed. (Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1965), 14. cf. Deissman, cited in R. A. Cole, The Letter of Paul to the Galatians : An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed., The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), 185. Note, however, Martin, who claims this has failed as a satisfactory explanation of the verse, Ralph P. Martin, Reconciliation : A Study of Paul’s Theology, New Foundations Theological Library (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), 39.
  4. This verse is the first clear indication that the issue at stake was circumcision. Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010), 312.
  5. Betz, cited in Ibid., 313.
  6. 2 Cor 11:22 ; Phil 3:5-6
  7. Ibid., 311.
  8. James D. G. Dunn, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1993), 265.
  9. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Accordance electronic ed., New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 229.
  10. Schreiner, Galatians, 319.
  11. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, 283.; David B. McWilliams, Galatians, Mentor Commentary (Tain, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2009), 188.
  12. Cole, Galatians, 192.; Dunn, Galatians, 270.
  13. 1 Cor 9:24-26; Gal 2:2; Phil 2:16; 2 Tim 4:7.
  14. Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 242.
  15. Note the emphatic position of Υμεῖς at the beginning of the sentence. James Montgomery Boice, Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas, Accordance electronic ed., Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), ad loc. and Fung, Galatians, 244.
  16. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, Accordance electronic ed., The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 139.
  17. So ESV. cf. Ibid., 140.; Cole, Galatians, 204.
  18. Paul uses ‘under’ elsewhere in Galatians (Gal 3:10, 22, 25; 4:3, 4, 5, 21) always negatively. cf. Schreiner, Galatians, 345.
  19. John Owen, Overcoming Sin&Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2006), 50.
  20. Stott, Galatians, 151.
  21. Ibid., 152.
  22. Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 138.
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The Allegory of Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4:21-31): A Response to Galatian Opponents?

by on Mar.04, 2011, under Essay

Question

Discuss the view that Galatians 4:21-31 represents a response to the Galatian opponents.

Abstract

This study examines the proposition that Paul’s argumentation and, in particular, his choice of texts for exposition in Gal 4:21-31 are in response to similar argumentation on the part of the Galatian agitators. After examining the case put forward by C. K. Barrett and others, several difficulties in this position are noted which prompt the reconsideration of the idea that the initiative is Paul’s own. Several possibilities are critically appraised, including recent studies by Susan Elliott and Karen Jobes. As a result, a proposal is offered, building on Jobes’ work, to the effect that Paul in fact chose Isa 54:1 as his text for exposition. On this reading, the choice of the Genesis narrative was conditional upon his choice of Isaiah, and not a response to exegesis of Gen 16-17 by the Galatian opponents. Finally, this proposal is subjected to critical evaluation, with the result that it is found to be compatible with Barrett’s reconstruction, but that it also renders the latter unnecessary in understanding Gal 4:21-31.

Essay

Galatians 4:21-31 represents a significant challenge for exegetes of the New Testament. The sources of difficulty are many. In particular, modern exegetes struggle to comprehend Paul’s hermeneutical method in applying the OT narrative of Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac to the Galatian context, or to appreciate its rhetorical and argumentative force. Further, two semantically important words in the passage – ἀλληγορούμενα (v. 24) and συστοιχεῖ (v. 25) – are hapax legomena in the NT. Indeed, confusion about this passage is not limited to the modern reader, as evidenced by the 11 textual variants exhibited in this short passage. Yet even more basic to the understanding of this passage than Paul’s hermeneutic is the reason he selected the narrative of Sarah and Hagar as the basis for his exegesis. Two main answers to this question have been put forward: (1) Paul adopts texts in use by his Galatian opponents; or (2) Paul selects this narrative of his own accord. It is the aim of this study to examine these two options.1

In 1976 C. K. Barrett wrote an influential essay proposing that Paul’s choice of texts for exposition in Gal 3-4 was actually determined by the texts in use by the Galatian agitators.2 On this reading, Paul takes up the texts presented by the opponents, and corrects their exegesis, demonstrating in the process that these same texts support his own position.3 In relation to Gal 4:21-31, Barrett argues that,

(1) This is a part of the Old Testament that Paul would have been unlikely to introduce of his own accord; its value from his point of view is anything but obvious, and the method of interpretation is unusual with him… It stands in the epistle because his opponents had used it and he could not escape it. (2) Its plain, surface meaning supports not Paul but the Judaizers: the Jews, who live by the law of Moses, are the heirs of Abraham and it is to Jews that the promise applies.4

In response to the argument put by the agitators, then, Paul argues that Hagar is to be identified not with Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles, but with the agitators’ nomistic teaching. Then, having turned his opponents’ arguments against them, he turns to his more positive exposition at 5:2, indicated by his words ‘Look! I Paul…’.5

Many have followed Barrett in this reading. Fung points out that since the manner of OT exegesis found in this passage is not characteristic of Paul, some explanation for its use here is necessary, with the implication that allegory6 was the only way Paul could convert the text to his own use.7 More plausibly, Longenecker points to the present participle ἀλληγορούμενα (4:24) and suggests that the agitators were the innovators in using allegory and Paul is simply correcting their system of tropes.8 He also adds that it explains the use of affirmative particle μέν (‘indeed’) in vv. 23, 24, which signals points of agreement with the opponents’ interpretation. Drane comments that this text would have been one familiar to Jewish controversialists as demonstrating the superiority of the Jewish nation to those outside the covenant.9

Barrett’s proposal has great merit, although some qualification is needed. For instance, Bruce argues that the customary interpretation of Gen 16-17 in rabbinical schools would have been to identify Ishmael as the ancestor of the Gentile nations, but no evidence is adduced in support of this.10 Neither is it clear how this would advance the push for circumcision, since both Isaac and Ishmael were circumcised. More attractive is the proposal that the agitator’s polemical target was Paul himself; thus Ishmael, the son who did not have the law, is identified as Paul, and the Galatian Christians are his progeny.11

Yet even in its strongest form, Barrett’s hypothesis is not without problems. The most obvious is that it fails to account for why this passage is not treated before the shift of direction signalled in 4:12-20.12 That the Hagar/Sarah narrative should be an ‘afterthought’ is hardly plausible if it was one of the key texts in the agitators’ argument;13 that it should occupy such a significant position, as the climax of Paul’s exegetical argument, less plausible still. Are we to believe that Paul did not bring any Scripture of his own to the debate, except in an effort to ‘commute’ his opponents’ exegesis? Even then, the strongest basis Barrett and those who follow him can suggest for Paul’s introduction of Isa 54:1 is a thematic link with the idea of barenness.14 Barrett’s conclusions, whilst possibly apt for Paul’s use of Scripture in Gal 3, seem less appropriate for Gal 4:21-31. Thus it is necessary to reexamine the possibility that the choice of the narrative of Gen 16-7 is Paul’s own initiative.

Several suggestions have been made. Bligh proposes that Paul’s speech to Peter carries through to 5:13a, and thus 4:21-31 constitutes a rhetorical flourish more appropriate to a Jewish audience than a Gentile one.15 Barrett notes this hypothesis as his point of departure, agreeing that it gives a concrete setting to the pericope and would have been an impressive conclusion to a speech.16 However, he also rightly points out that it ‘fails to carry conviction’, since Paul did not call it a speech and it fails to account for the direct address (‘O foolish Galatians…’) in 3:1. One might add that it relegates the function of this passage to being a mere adornment,17 rather than a part of the argument proper, surely insufficient cause for Paul to depart from his usual methods of exegesis in favour of allegory.18

Elliott suggests that Paul is constructing an argument targeted at the Galatians themselves, and rooted in their own context.19 Her proposal is that the Galatians would have understood Paul to mean that Mount Sinai was an incarnation of the mother of the Gods, who was often identified with a mountain overlooking the cities and villages she was held to protect and who would then be known by the name of her mountain e.g. Meter Dindymenē, Meter Sipylenē, Meter Zingotenē, Meter Kotianē etc.20 This ‘Mountain Mother’ held a role in Anatolian culture as an ‘enforcer deity,’ upholding the laws of men and gods,21 and so would have been readily identified with the Jewish law and nomism. Further, this goddess was often served by ‘sacred slaves’ (ἱερόδουλοι), including the galli, young men who would castrate themselves during orgiastic rituals in her honour.22 Thus, according to Elliott, we see why the Galatians may have been willing to undergo the rite of circumcision (5:2) and providing context for Paul’s outburst in response (5:12). To be the slave of the Mother of the Gods would have been a real attraction, so the argument based on freedom/slavery in chapter 3 would not, of itself, have been sufficient.23 Paul’s rhetorical purpose, then, is to show that she is herself a slave, for being the slave of a slave would not have been attractive.24

Elliott’s thesis has strength in explaining some of the distinctive aspects of this passage. It eases somewhat the notorious difficulty of the otherwise bare geographical fact in v. 25 (τὸ δὲ Ἁγὰρ Σινᾶ ὄρος ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ Ἀραβίᾳ), which would thus be translated as ‘now Hagar-Sinai is a mountain [mother] in Arabia’. It explains why Sarah and ‘her’ mountain are not named, since this would make ‘our mother’ just another Mountain Mother.25 It may also offer entry points for understanding Paul’s use of στοιχεῖα (4:9; cf. 4:3; 5:25; 6:16) and ‘Jerusalem above… is our mother’ (4:26). Yet Elliott’s proposal has failed to find much support among NT scholars, for a number of reasons. Elliott cites a substantial body of lithographic and textual evidence to establish the basic facts of the background, yet provides no indication of dates for that evidence. Yet even supposing that her montage accurately depicts first century Anatolia, there are numerous problems with her application to Paul’s Epistle. Whilst Elliott’s interpretation brings a measure of unity to 4:21-5:11 with a sustained focus on the broader Anatolian context, it fails to find much basis in the rest of the Galatian Epistle. It also presupposes that Paul26 had sufficient knowledge of Anatolian culture to construct this elaborate allegory to refute it, and that he should be willing to do so under the guise of ‘exegeting’ OT Scripture. Finally, the association of the Mountain Mother with law (and hence nomism) seems too tenuous to bear the weight Elliott gives to it, and it is by no means clear that the Galatians would have equated castration with circumcision. Thus Elliott’s proposal fails, and must be rejected as having insufficient textual basis.

The most persuasive explanation for Paul’s use of the OT in this passage has been offered in an important study by Karen Jobes.27 Building on work by Hays, she approaches the issue by considering the ‘intertextual space’ set up by Paul’s three uses of Scripture in this passage.28 Of particular interest is the quotation of Isa 54:1 in 4:27 which ‘metaleptically evokes the whole rippling pool of promise found in the latter chapters of that prophetic book’.29 Thus, Isaiah speaks of barrenness (49:21; 54:1), inheritance (14:21; 49:8; 57:13; 58:14), seed (6:13; 59:21), the Holy Spirit (11:12; 28:6; 30:1; 32:15; 34:16; 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:21; 61:1; 63:10, 14) and Jerusalem (passim, but particularly 51:17). Indeed, Isa 51:2 is the only reference to Sarah in the OT outside of the Genesis narrative. But this correspondence is more than just verbal – Isaiah ‘provides a canonical basis for at least three points with which Paul later resonates':30 (1) Sarah is the mother, not just of Israel, but of those ‘who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD’ (Isa 51:1-2); (2) the images of matriarchal barrenness and female personification of capital cities are conjoined to produce two Jerusalems, one barren and cursing, the other rejoicing; and (3) a barren Jerusalem miraculously gives birth as demonstration of God’s power to deliver a nation of people from death (Isa 54). Thus, in Jobes’ words, ‘Paul’s argument in Gal 4:21-31 resonates, not with the Genesis narrative, but with Isaiah’s transformation of its themes of seed and inheritance’.31

Jobes’ argument shows great strength, in that it explains Paul’s juxtaposition of the texts from Genesis and Isaiah. This is made more plausible still when considered in the light of Di Mattei’s observation that synagogue reading practices sought to eschatologize the Torah by reading Genesis through its haftarah, or interpretation in the prophets.32 Thus Paul’s allegorical use of the Genesis narrative mimics how Paul may have conceived Isaiah using it.33 Jobes is also successful in explaining why Paul names only Hagar and not Sarah, since this preserves sufficient ambiguity to allow the Isaianic identifications to prevail. Jobes accounts for the unusual nexus of ideas in this passage – Sarah, Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit – as well as certain parallels between the two texts (e.g. Isa 53:1 // Gal 3:2; Isa 53:2-12 // Gal 3:1; Isa 54:1 // 4:27). In short, Jobes provides a concrete explanation for Paul’s otherwise arbitrary allegorical method, and demonstrates that it is an integral part of Paul’s argument.34

The most substantial objection to Jobes’ position is one that she notes herself: would the Galatians have been sufficiently versed in Isaiah to understand the nuances of Paul’s argument?35 Would the Galatians even have known which slave girl and which free woman Paul was referring to? Evidently, if this was part of the teaching of the opponents then they would, but is Jobes’ reading necessarily dependent upon Barrett’s? In response, Jobes conjectures that Paul is reminding the Galatians of what he taught them during his initial visit, a solution not without problems of its own. Apart from the obvious fact that Paul is not generally shy about signalling such reminders (cf. Rom 15:15; 1 Cor 15:1; 2 Tim 1:6), one may well ask, ‘If Paul has already taught them on this subject, why are they taken in by the agitators’ teaching? What makes him think simple reiteration will prevent it from happening again?’ A more likely possibility is that Paul gave such fuller instruction to the emissary with whom he sent the Galatian Epistle. In either case, it is not at all implausible that Paul’s original proclamation included teaching from Isaiah, particularly when we consider that right in between the text Paul quotes (Isa 54:1) and one of the texts Jobes sees being metaleptically invoked (Isa 51) lies Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Suffering Servant (Isa 52:13-53:13), a text very relevant in explaining how the Messiah came to die on a Roman cross.36 And Paul includes numerous quotations from these chapters in his own writings (Rom 2:24; 10:15, 16; 15:21; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 6:17; Gal 4:27; cf. Acts 13:34, 47). The quotations in his Epistle to the Romans – a church he had never visited, and thus to whom he was proclaiming the gospel for the first time – are particularly significant in suggesting that Isa 51-54 formed a key component of Paul’s kerygma.

Thus, Jobes makes a good case for metalepsis as the reason for Paul’s selection of Isa 54:1 as a text through which to interpret the Genesis narrative. But is it sufficient cause for the selection of the Genesis text in the first place? In other words, is Barrett’s reconstruction of Paul responding to opposing exegesis still necessary in explaining Gal 4:21-31? Certainly, the two readings are compatible – the opponents selected Gen 16-17 (Barrett) and Paul selected Isa 54:1 in order to correct their exegesis (Jobes) – and this renders a thoroughly consistent overall picture. But Barrett’s proposal was made in response to a number of perceived problems within Gal 4:21-31, and these same problems are independently solved by Jobes, rendering Barrett’s hypothesis unnecessary. Thus, where Barrett found that the Genesis narrative was selected by the opponents, Jobes opens up the possibility that Paul selected the Isaiah text first and then summarised the Genesis background accordingly. Both provide explanations for describing Jerusalem as ‘our mother’ (4:26) and Jobes provides the stronger explanation for Paul’s allegorical method. The weakness of Jobes’ reading (the necessity of familiarity with Isaiah) is inherent in Barrett’s as well, otherwise the Galatians will not understand Paul’s response. Perhaps the only area where Barrett’s hypothesis provides a stronger reading is in Longenecker’s point that Paul uses μέν to signal points of agreement with the opposing exegesis, but other explanations have been offered for this as well.37

In summary, then, whilst Barrett’s argument that in Gal 4:21-31 Paul is responding to and correcting exegesis of Gen 16-17 offered by the opponents is possible, it is rendered unnecessary if Jobes’ explanation is accepted. The selection of Isa 54:1 was clearly Paul’s (on either reading), and was motivated by metaleptic invocation of a nexus of themes integral to his argument, and thus apt for serving as a conclusion to his proof from Scripture and a sound basis for transitioning to paraenesis in 5:1ff. His method is therefore calculated rather than arbitrary, and is part of Paul’s positive argument from Scripture rather than an apologetic response to the exegesis of the Galatian agitators.

Bibliography

Barrett, C. K. Essays on Paul Westminster Pr, 1982.

Bligh, John. Galatians: A Discussion of St. Paul’s Epistle, Householder Commentaries. London: St. Paul Publications, 1969.

Boer, Martinus C. de. “Paul’s Quotation of Isaiah 54.1 in Galatians 4.27.” New Testament Studies 50, no. 3 (2004): 370-89.

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Accordance electronic ed, New Internation Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.

Caneday, A. B. “Covenant Lineage Allegorically Prefigured: “Which Things Are Written Allegorically” (Galatians 4:21-31).” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14, no. 3 (2010): 50-77.

Dahl, Nils A. “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: Epistolary Genre, Content, and Structure.” In The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, edited by Mark D. Nanos, 117-42. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

Davis, Anne. “Allegorically Speaking in Galatians 4:21-5:1.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 14, no. 2 (2004): 161-74.

Di Mattei, Steven. “Paul’s Allegory of the Two Covenants (Gal 4.21-31) in Light of First-Century Hellenistic Rhetoric and Jewish Hermeneutics.” New Testament Studies 52, no. 1 (2006): 102-22.

Drane, John W. Paul: Libertine or Legalist. London: SPCK, 1975.

Elliott, Susan M. “Choose Your Mother, Choose Your Master: Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the Shadow of the Anatolian Mother of the Gods.” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 4 (1999): 661-83.

Fee, Gordon D. Galatians: Pentecostal Commentary. Blandford Forum: Deo Publishing, 2007.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988.

Hansen, G. Walter. Abraham in Galatians: Epistolary and Rhetorical Contexts. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989.

Jobes, Karen H. “Jerusalem, Our Mother: Metalepsis and Intertextuality in Galatians 4:21-31.” Westminster Theological Journal 55, no. 2 (1993): 299-320.

Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians. Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed, Word Biblical Commentary. Waco: Word Books, 1990.

Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: Based on Lectures Delivered at the University of Wittenberg in the Year 1531 and First Published in 1535. London: James Clarke & Co, 1953.

Martyn, J. Louis. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. 1st ed, The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Silva, Moisés. Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. Accordance electronic ed, The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984.

Tamez, Elsa. “Hagar and Sarah in Galatians: A Case Study in Freedom.” Word & World 20, no. 3 (2000): 265-71.


Endnotes

  1. There are 3 OT texts in view in this passage: (1) Gen 16-17, which Paul summarises in vv. 21-23 rather than quoting; (2) Isa 54.1, which is cited in v. 27; and (3) Gen 21:10, cited in v. 30. (3) Is clearly dependent upon the choice of (1), and that (2) is Paul’s own choice, being of no service to the agitators, would scarcely be contested by the majority of interpreters – so, for example, J. Louis Martyn, Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 1st ed., The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 441. Thus, the focus of this study is on the selection of the Genesis narrative as exegetical battleground.
  2. C. K. Barrett, Essays on Paul (Westminster Pr, 1982), 154-68. This essay was originally published as “Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Argument of Galatians,” in Rechtfertigung (Tübingen: J C B Mohr, 1976).
  3. Ibid., 158ff.
  4. Ibid., 162.
  5. Ibid., 165.
  6. Much controversy attaches to the translation of ἀλληγορούμενα in Gal 4:24. The points of contention are twofold: (1) should it be translated ‘is written allegorically’ or ‘is interpreted allegorically’?; and (2) is it more accurate to describe Paul’s method as ‘typological’ rather than ‘allegorical’? For recent studies on these issues, see Anne Davis, “Allegorically Speaking in Galatians 4:21-5:1,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 14, no. 2 (2004). and A. B. Caneday, “Covenant Lineage Allegorically Prefigured: “Which Things Are Written Allegorically” (Galatians 4:21-31),” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 14, no. 3 (2010). The findings of this study are not dependent on answers to either of these questions, although the findings of the study may be relevant to answering (1). Thus both questions may be left open; in particular, the traditional translations ‘allegory’ and ‘allegorical’ will be used in a non-technical sense that also encompasses ‘typology’ and ‘typological’. Overall, the important thing to remember is that, as Stott puts it, Paul’s method ‘is allegorical, although not arbitrary.’ John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians, Accordance electronic ed., The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 121.
  7. Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 219.
  8. Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1990), 210.
  9. John W. Drane, Paul: Libertine or Legalist (London: SPCK, 1975), 39.
  10. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, Accordance electronic ed., New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 218-9. cf. Longenecker, who says, ‘When one looks into the rabbinic traditions for a similar contemporization of the Hagar-Sarah story in which the interpreter’s opponents are identified with Hagar and Ishmael and so denounced or marginalized, one finds the potential but not the reality—that is, one finds all the elements being present, but not, with only rare and generally late exceptions, being brought together for polemical purposes.’ Longenecker, Galatians, 205.
  11. Ibid., 199-200, 07-8, 18.
  12. Barrett’s own explanation, that Paul is catering for a Gentile audience and supplying real world examples more familiar to them, misses the different character of argumentation from 4:12 (Barrett, Essays on Paul, 160-1.). Various theories have been suggested for this ‘interruption’ in the flow of Paul’s argument. Notably, Dahl uses epistolary analysis and concludes that 4:12 marks a transition from ‘rebuke’ to ‘request’ (Nils A. Dahl, “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: Epistolary Genre, Content, and Structure,” in The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 134.). Similarly, Hansen arrives at a compatible conclusion using rhetorical analysis, arguing for a shift from forensic to deliberative rhetoric at 4:12. His conclusion is that ‘The unity of 3.1-4.11 as a section on its own makes it difficult to see how 4.21-31 is related structurally to that section.’ (G. Walter Hansen, Abraham in Galatians: Epistolary and Rhetorical Contexts (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 143.)
  13. Caneday, “Covenant Lineage,” 56.
  14. Bruce, Galatians, 222. and Martinus C. de Boer, “Paul’s Quotation of Isaiah 54.1 in Galatians 4.27,” New Testament Studies 50, no. 3 (2004): 379.
  15. John Bligh, Galatians: A Discussion of St. Paul’s Epistle, Householder Commentaries (London: St. Paul Publications, 1969), 235-6.
  16. Barrett, Essays on Paul, 158.
  17. cf. ‘For as painting is an ornament to set forth and garnish an house already builded, so is an allegory the light of a matter which is already otherwise proved and confirmed.’ Martin Luther, A Commentary on St.Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: Based on Lectures Delivered at the University of Wittenberg in the Year 1531 and First Published in 1535 (London: James Clarke & Co, 1953), 417.
  18. cf. Elsa Tamez, “Hagar and Sarah in Galatians : A Case Study in Freedom,” Word & World 20, no. 3 (2000): 269. Tamez argues that Paul’s purpose in choosing this constellation of texts (Gen 16-17; 21:10; Isa 54.1) is to demonstrate God’s preference for excluded ones. This is not implausible, but is probably not sufficient cause to explain the distinctives of this passage. Nevertheless, it is compatible with other explanations, and is worth bearing in mind as a secondary purpose.
  19. Susan M. Elliott, “Choose Your Mother, Choose Your Master: Galatians 4:21-5:1 in the Shadow of the Anatolian Mother of the Gods,” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 4 (1999).
  20. Ibid., 672.
  21. Ibid., 674-5.
  22. Ibid., 675.
  23. Ibid., 680.
  24. Ibid., 681.
  25. Ibid., 682.
  26. Or one of his associates, perhaps whoever brought news of the Galatian situation in the first place. Yet no associate is mentioned in the epistolary greeting.
  27. Karen H. Jobes, “Jerusalem, Our Mother: Metalepsis and Intertextuality in Galatians 4:21-31,” Westminster Theological Journal 55, no. 2 (1993).
  28. Ibid., 305.
  29. Hays, quoted in Ibid.
  30. Ibid., 309.
  31. Ibid., 310.
  32. Steven Di Mattei, “Paul’s Allegory of the Two Covenants (Gal 4.21-31) in Light of First-Century Hellenistic Rhetoric and Jewish Hermeneutics,” New Testament Studies 52, no. 1 (2006): 102.
  33. Ibid., 119. This, of course, does not solve the problem of what warrants allegorical interpretation of the Genesis narrative in the first place, merely shifts the initiative from Paul to Isaiah. ‘Yet one does not usually hear complaints that the OT prophets are guilty of using allegorical exegesis; nor is it common to argue that, in their view, Scripture contained a sensus plenior (“fuller meaning”). We simply recognize that the prophets knew how to exploit their literary tradition.’ Moisés Silva, Interpreting Galatians: Explorations in Exegetical Method, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 164.
  34. Contra Gordon D. Fee, Galatians: Pentecostal Commentary (Blandford Forum: Deo Publishing, 2007), 197. Fee writes ‘[T]he most striking thing about the paragraph [sc. Gal 4:24-27] is how unnecessary it is to the present passage itself… [O]ne could very easily go from v. 23 to v. 28 without missing a beat, which suggests that nothing in this brief “interpretive” moment is actually crucial to Paul’s point.’
  35. Jobes, “Jerusalem, Our Mother,” 318.
  36. Indeed, we have at least one account of a God-fearing Gentile reading from this prophecy (Acts 8:32).
  37. Longenecker, Galatians, 208. cf. Di Mattei, who argues that it is part of a μέν… δέ construction, for which the ‘other’ apparently never eventuates, thus creating tension and provoking thought. Di Mattei, “Paul’s Allegory,” 109.
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Review: Galatians (ZECNT) by Thomas Schreiner

by on Dec.22, 2010, under Book, Review, Theology

Recently Zondervan announced a blog tour for their relatively new series of commentaries, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (ZECNT). The deal was that they would supply a review copies to those willing to post a review on their blog and their favourite retailer (Amazon etc.) during the week of the 15th-22nd December. Well, being an Australian, it seems that the international timezones worked in my favour for once, and I managed to sign up quickly enough to ‘make the list’! Sadly my copy of Thomas Schreiner’s volume on Galatians1 only arrived a couple of days before the blog tour was to begin, so my review will be slightly truncated.2

My plan, therefore, is to try and give an overview of the volume, before demonstrating how it might be used by a student to prepare an exegesis paper, or a preacher to prepare a sermon. I have chosen Galatians 4:21-5:1 as a case study for this purpose, being one of the more difficult passages to comprehend in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.

Series overview

Target audience

According to the back cover, the series is ‘Designed for the pastor and Bible teacher'; the series preface qualifies this by noting that ‘Those who will benefit the most from this commentary will have had the equivalent of two years of Greek in college or seminary’ (11). This is a fairly good fit with my own situation, and indeed I had little difficulty following Schreiner’s arguments when discussing the Greek text. Occasional reference to Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics3 should be sufficient for most.

Layout

The construction and layout of the commentary is quite pleasant and easily readable.4 Those bearing the scars of having to work through any of the volumes in the Word Bible Commentary need have no fear of suffering relapse! The text is mainly in a single column per page, though it moves to two columns per page for the explanation of individual verses and footnotes. One oddity is that a large margin is given around the single-column text (3-4cm), which will please margin-scribblers, but not around the double-column text.

Structure

The macro-structure of each volume in the series is fairly typical: an introduction covering details of authorship, provenance etc.; section-by section commentary on the text itself; and a final chapter surveying themes of the Epistle.

Each chapter of the commentary proper follows a pre-defined structure, composed of seven sections:

  • Literary Context
  • Main Idea
  • Translation and Graphical Layout
  • Structure
  • Exegetical Outline
  • Explanation
  • Theology in Application

I will defer discussion of the value of these sections until we come to the case study.

The commentary itself

Thomas Schreiner has produced a thoroughly up-to-date and lucid commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. His position may be broadly classed as conservative evangelical – indeed, he declares his intentions in his preface:

I know it is out of fashion in some circles, but it seems to me that Martin Luther and John Calvin were substantially right in their interpretation of the letter and than their pastoral application of the letter still stands today (13).

Readers of Schreiner’s more systematic works5 will find little here to surprise them, saving perhaps his facility with sustained exegesis.

Throughout the remainder of this review, I will assess the utility of this volume in regard to what I suppose to be typical ‘methods’ for exegesis and preaching. For exegesis, I will use Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis6 as my reference point; for preaching, Haddon Robinson’s Biblical Preaching. 7 Their respective ‘methods’ may be briefly stated as follows:8

Exegesis (Fee)9 Preaching (Robinson)10
  1. Survey the historical context in general
  2. Confirm the limits of the passage.
  3. Become thoroughly acquainted with your paragraph/pericope.
  4. Analyze sentence structures and syntactical relationships.
  5. Establish the text.
  6. Analyze the grammar.
  7. Analyze significant words.
  8. Research the historical-cultural background.
  9. Determine the formal character of the epistle.
  10. Examine the historical context in particular.
  11. Determine the literary context.
  12. Consider the broader biblical and theological contexts.
  13. Consult secondary literature.
  14. Provide a finished translation.
  15. Write the paper.
  1. Selecting the passage
  2. Studying the passage
  3. Discovering the Exegetical Idea
  4. Analyzing the Exegetical Idea
  5. Formulating the Homiletical Idea
  6. Determining the Sermon’s Purpose
  7. Deciding How to Accomplish This Purpose
  8. Outlining the Sermon
  9. Filling in the Sermon Outline
  10. Preparing the Introduction and Conclusion

Obviously, no commentary will be of assistance at all these points – nor should it be. Yet hopefully an analytical framework such as this will be of some assistance to those reading this review in assessing where Schreiner’s commentary might best serve them, even if not familiar with the specific ‘methods’ referred to here.11

Introduction

Useful for: Fee i, viii-xi and, arguably, Robinson ii.12

The Introduction covers the essential background of the Epistle (Author, Recipients, Date, Situation etc.). For instance, Schreiner surveys the debate about whether Paul’s intended destination is ethnic Galatians (the North Galatian theory) or those of the Roman province of Galatia (the South Galatian theory) noting both arguments and counter-arguments. He eventually settles on a South Galatian theory, though he rightly notes in conclusion that:

Identifying the recipients of Galatians is important for Pauline chronology and history, but it is not determinative for the interpretation of the letter, and the meaning of the letter does not change dramatically whether we opt for a north or a south Galatian hypothesis.

Also in the Introduction, Schreiner discusses some of the problems inherent in the process known as ‘Mirror-Reading’ (or ‘Mirror-Exegesis’). Here he largely follows an article by John Barclay,13 though he does simplify Barclay’s method – and not necessarily for the better. Barclay presents seven criteria to use when mirror-reading a polemical text; Schreiner retains some, amalgamates some, and discards the rest. The differences may be illustrated as follows:

Barclay Schreiner
(1) Explicit statements about opponents or recipients
(1) Type of utterance (assertion, denial, command, prohibitions etc.)
(2) Tone
(3) Frequency (2) Frequency and Clarity
(4) Clarity
(3) Prefer simple reconstructions
(5) Unfamiliarity
(6) Consistency
(7) Historical plausibility (4) Historical plausibility

Thus it may be seen that Schreiner’s method is less rigorous than that proposed by Barclay. Indeed, his points (1) and (3) are largely common sense, and applicable to all NT epistles, whilst points (3) and (4), lacking the discipline of Barclay’s categories, are too subjective to be of great benefit.

Schreiner also interacts with two of the more common methods for analysing Galatians, namely rhetorical and epistolary analyses, giving enough background for students to understand what is at issue.

Themes in Galatians

Useful for: Fee xii.

At the other end of his commentary, Schreiner presents a chapter on ‘Themes in Galatians’. Here he traces several topics as they are presented in Galatians, including God, christology, anthropology, the ‘Truth of the Gospel’, ‘Justification by Faith’, the pneumatology, eschatology, the relationship between law and covenant, Jews and Gentiles, ‘Freedom in Christ to Obey’ and the ‘Danger of Apostasy’. His comments in this section are insightful, which is unsurprising in light of his more systematic works already mentioned.

Having surveyed, then, the framework within which his work is presented, let us consider as an example Schreiner’s commentary upon Galatians 4:21-5:1.

Case Study: Galatians 4:21-5:1

Galatians 4:21-5:1 is, in my view, one of the most puzzling portions of Galatians for the modern exegete. Paul here utilises methods of exegesis that are strange indeed to the modern exegete trained in historical-grammatical methods. It is for this reason that I have chosen this passage as a test case; if Schreiner is able to shed light on the most difficult of passages then, presumably, he will be at least as helpful in less difficult texts.

I will address each section of Schreiner’s chapter on this text in turn.

Literary Context

Useful for: Fee ii-iii and Robinson i.

Schreiner notes that the first imperative (apart from 3:7) in the letter appeared in the previous section, leading us to expect further paraenesis here. On the other hand, he also cites Betz’ argument that this section belongs with the probatio (i.e. proofs in support of the main thesis) that commenced at 3:1. Schreiner grouping it with the former.

The principles of allegory are obviously pertinent to this passage, with Paul explicitly stating that certain elements of the narrative regarding Sarah and Hagar should be taken ‘allegorically’ (ἀλληγορούμενα). Thus Schreiner helpfully presents the distinction between technical definitions of ‘allegory’ and ‘typology’. He renders the verdict that the text is ‘typological allegory’ (293), following Betz. Specifically, he identifies vv. 24-27 as allegory, and the rest as typology. The arguments are presented in a helpful manner, including two helpful references to writings by Andrew Lincoln and Charles Cosgrove that the interested reader might follow up.14

In my view, the most helpful part of this section is the abbreviated exegetical outline presented as part of the ‘Literary Context’.

  1. Introduction: Desertion from Paul’s Gospel Is Desertion from the Gospel (1:1-2:21)
  2. Paul’s Gospel Defended from Experience and Scripture (3:1-4:11)
  3. A Call to Freedom from the Law and Freedom in the Spirit (4:12-6:10)
    1. Live in Freedom from the Law: Argument from Friendship (4:12-20)
    2. Stand in Freedom: Argument from Allegory (4:21-5:1)

Thus, one can see at a glance that we are dealing with (in Schreiner’s view) the second argument within the paraenetic section, without having to refer back to the introduction as is common in most commentaries. It is particularly helpful for those who, like me, are called upon to preach a passage in the middle of a book, without necessarily having time or opportunity to work through the entire book. In other words, it goes a long way to making each chapter of the commentary self-contained.

Main Idea

Useful for: Fee iii, Robinson iii.

Given how short it is, I quote Schreiner’s ‘Main Idea’ in full:

Paul drives to the conclusion of the argument in 4:31 and 5:1. Believers are children of the free woman, not the slave woman. And since they are now free in Christ, they must not return again to the slavery of living under the law (5:1). (294)

This is very useful for those of us who are deductive (or top-down) learners. With this skeleton of understanding in place, provided it is not accepted uncritically, the exegete will be well on the way to understanding the passage and the expository preacher to capturing the ‘big idea’ of their sermon.

Translation

Useful for: Fee v, xiv.

Here, the author’s own translation of the passage from the Greek text. Each clause is presented on its own line, with a brief description and suitably indented to indicate function. Prepositions are highlighted to show their function in the structure of the text. This last allows those unfamiliar with the Greek to observe, for example, that there is no conjunction between 4:20 and 21, signalling a possible break in train of thought. The overall result is that the text is presented graphically so as to represent clearly the logical and grammatical structure of the text. This is of great value to exegete and homiletician alike.

Structure

Useful for: Fee iv, vi, Robinson iv and possibly viii.

This section surveys the ways in which the textual unit is subdivided. Together with the previous section, this is useful in determining the logical flow and objectives of the passage. In this instance, Schreiner highlights the movement towards the conclusion in 4:31, with a restatement and transition to paraenesis in 5:1. Thus any exegetical paper or sermon that fails to deal with 4:31 will be inadequate.

Exegetical Outline

Useful for: As for the previous section, i.e. Fee iv, vi, Robinson iv and possibly viii.

Some preachers may be tempted to adopt the exegetical outline as their sermon outline also, but this will not always be appropriate. Nevertheless, like the previous section it should inform the final product and the two should at least not be inconsistent.

One thing that caught my eye in Schreiner’s exegetical outline was his description of 4:26-27 as ‘Jerusalem above: free and fertile’ (298). It is easy to lose sight of the ‘barren/fertile’ contrast in these verses given the over-riding ‘slave/free’ antithesis in the overall passage. He then develops this idea in the explanation of these verses, to which we now turn.

Explanation of the Text

Useful for: Fee iii-viii, although v may require supplementary resources as Schreiner rarely comments on textual variants. Thus, while there are textual variants in 4:21, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30, 31 and 5:1, Schreiner only comments on the most significant one (4:25).

Here Schreiner offers a number of valuable observations on individual verses. For instance, he brings out the negative connotations of ‘according to the flesh’ (κατὰ σάρκα) in 4:23, and the ‘startling’ nature of the link between Hagar and Sinai in 4:24b-c, although his explanation for the latter is a little vague. ‘Just as Hagar was Sarah’s slave and Ishmael did not receive God’s covenantal promises, so too Israel’s life under the law was marked by slavery to sin’ (301). True enough, but hardly a link the (Gentile) Galatians would have made without further prompting.

One of Schreiner’s most trenchant observations is on Gal 4:27:

Isaiah 54:1 is introduced to support Paul’s argument in Gal 4:26, showing that the Gentile Christians in Galatia are the children of the Jerusalem above, for [304] they are the children of the barren woman from whom no children were expected. Miraculously and supernaturally they have new life. (303)

Here, at last, we have a plausible explanation for the connection drawn between ‘the free woman’ and the Gentiles. This deserves further exposition.

Theology in Application

Useful for: Fee xii and, sometimes, Robinson iii.

This is, in my view, the weakest portion of the ZECNT format in general and Schreiner’s commentary in particular. Whilst the idea – to capture the ‘theological message of the passage’ (12) – is laudable, in practice this section does not always seem to be governed by the intent of the author. As a result, some of these reflections prove orthogonal to the text they purport to exposit, with the intersection limited to a word, phrase or concept. As a case in point, the reflections for the current passage are on ‘Liberation from Sin’ and ‘Living under Grace’. The former deals with the nature of ‘freedom’, but the exposition thereof has little to do with the text. Similarly, the latter concerns ‘signs that we are living under grace’ (309), again boasting only a tenuous connection to the text.

Conclusions

Thomas Schreiner has offered a solid exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. His comments are generally quite insightful, and his prose fluent and lucid. Those undertaking more in-depth exposition of the Greek text, exhaustive analysis of grammar and background, or cutting-edge research in the field, however, will need to look elsewhere as that is not the intent of this series. In other words, Schreiner and Zondervan have hit their target audience, but the utility of the volume falls off fairly sharply as you move to either side of that target.

Who, then, would I recommend this volume to? Seminary and Bible college students will profit by Schreiner’s diagramming of structure and his thoroughly up-to-date pointers to the secondary literature, though the value of the latter will obviously decline with time. For pastors and preachers, this volume will be a reliable guide to the exegetical portions of sermon preparation but, as noted above, your mileage may vary on hermeneutical suggestions – this is, after all, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series! Thus, if you are looking for an up-to-date exegetical commentary on Galatians from a conservative evangelical position, this volume would be a very good choice.

Bibliography

Barclay, John M. G. “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament no. 31 (1987): 73-93.

Barclay, John M. G. “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case.” In The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, edited by Mark D. Nanos, lvi, 517 p. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

Fee, Gordon D. New Testament Exegesis : A Handbook for Students and Pastors. 3rd ed. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching : The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Galatians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010.

Schreiner, Thomas R. New Testament Theology : Magnifying God in Christ. Nottingham: Apollos, 2008.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ : A Pauline Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2001.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics : An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.


Endnotes

  1. Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010). Page numbers from this work will be given in parentheses in the text.
  2. I was unable to read the entire commentary in the time allotted; the comments that follow, therefore, are based on my reading of the preface, introduction, chapters 1-3, 8, 17-18 and the chapter on ‘Themes in Galatians’.
  3. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics : An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996).
  4. A sample is available, which gives access to the introduction and first couple of chapters.
  5. See, e.g., Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology : Magnifying God in Christ (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008), 646-62. and ———, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ : A Pauline Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2001), 103-26,307-30 for some of Schreiner’s previous expositions of Pauline attitudes to the Law.
  6. Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis : A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).
  7. Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching : The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001).
  8. I will refer back to this table using a combination of the author’s name and small roman numeral e.g. Fee ii.
  9. Fee, Exegesis, 6-7 and passim. Specifically, the following steps are Fee’s method for writing an exegetical paper on an epistle.
  10. Robinson, Biblical Preaching, passim.
  11. Fee xiii may be assumed throughout, as Schreiner is a reliable and thoroughly informed guide to the secondary literature.
  12. In fact, in many ways Robinson ii = Fee i-xv!
  13. John M. G. Barclay, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 31 (1987): 84-5. = ———, “Mirror-Reading a Polemical Letter: Galatians as a Test Case,” in The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. Mark D. Nanos (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 376-8.; cf. Schreiner, Galatians, 32-3.
  14. One small detail, somewhat obscured by Schreiner’s discussion here, but picked up somewhat in the comments on individual verses, is that neither Sarah nor Ishmael are mentioned by name in this passage.
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Galatians 6

by on Mar.22, 2010, under Exegesis notes, Translation

1 Ἀδελφοί, ἐὰν καὶ προλημφθῇ ἄνθρωπος ἔν τινι παραπτώματι, ὑμεῖς οἱ πνευματικοὶ καταρτίζετε τὸν τοιοῦτον ἐν πνεύματι πραΰτητος, σκοπῶν σεαυτὸν μὴ καὶ σὺ πειρασθῇς. Brothers [and sisters], if a person is surprised [discovered? caught? sprung?] in any transgression, you the spiritual ones restore this one in a spirit of gentleness, watching yourself carefully that you are not also tempted.
2 Ἀλλήλων τὰ βάρη βαστάζετε καὶ οὕτως ἀναπληρώσετε τὸν νόμον τοῦ Χριστοῦ. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfil [indicative? imperative?] the law of Christ.
3 εἰ γὰρ δοκεῖ τις εἶναί τι μηδὲν ὤν, φρεναπατᾷ ἑαυτόν. For if anyone supposes he is someone being noone, he deceives himself.
4 τὸ δὲ ἔργον ἑαυτοῦ δοκιμαζέτω ἕκαστος, καὶ τότε εἰς ἑαυτὸν μόνον τὸ καύχημα ἕξει καὶ οὐκ εἰς τὸν ἕτερον· Let each one test his own works, and then for himself only he has a boast and not for another;
5 ἕκαστος γὰρ τὸ ἴδιον φορτίον βαστάσει. For each will bear his own load.
6 Κοινωνείτω δὲ ὁ κατηχούμενος τὸν λόγον τῷ κατηχοῦντι ἐν πᾶσιν ἀγαθοῖς. The one being taught the word must share with the one teaching in all good things.
7 Μὴ πλανᾶσθε, θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται. ὃ γὰρ ἐὰν σπείρῃ ἄνθρωπος, τοῦτο καὶ θερίσει· Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For if a man sows, this also he reaps;
8 ὅτι ὁ σπείρων εἰς τὴν σάρκα ἑαυτοῦ ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς θερίσει φθοράν, ὁ δὲ σπείρων εἰς τὸ πνεῦμα ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος θερίσει ζωὴν αἰώνιον. The one sowing into his flesh reaps from the flesh destruction, but the one sowing into the spirit from the spirit reaps eternal life.
9 τὸ δὲ καλὸν ποιοῦντες μὴ ἐγκακῶμεν, καιρῷ γὰρ ἰδίῳ θερίσομεν μὴ ἐκλυόμενοι. Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in its own season we will reap, not giving up.
10 Ἄρα οὖν ὡς καιρὸν ἔχομεν, ἐργαζώμεθα τὸ ἀγαθὸν πρὸς πάντας, μάλιστα δὲ πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους τῆς πίστεως. Therefore, then, just as we have a season [occasion, opportunity, time? cf. v. 9], let us work good to all, but especially to the household of faith.
11 Ἴδετε πηλίκοις ὑμῖν γράμμασιν ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί. Look how large are the letters I write to you by my very own hand!
12 Ὅσοι θέλουσιν εὐπροσωπῆσαι ἐν σαρκί, οὗτοι ἀναγκάζουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, μόνον ἵνα τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ Χριστοῦ μὴ διώκωνται. As many as desire to make a good showing in flesh, these are the ones compelling you to be circumcised, only in order that they might not be persecuted by [reason of] the cross of Christ.
13 οὐδὲ γὰρ οἱ περιτεμνόμενοι αὐτοὶ νόμον φυλάσσουσιν ἀλλὰ θέλουσιν ὑμᾶς περιτέμνεσθαι, ἵνα ἐν τῇ ὑμετέρᾳ σαρκὶ καυχήσωνται. For neither are the [very] ones circumcising keeping the law, but they want you to be circumcised, in order that they might boast in your flesh.
14 Ἐμοὶ δὲ μὴ γένοιτο καυχᾶσθαι εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι᾿ οὗ ἐμοὶ κόσμος ἐσταύρωται κἀγὼ κόσμῳ. But to me may it never be to boast except in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified and I to the world.
15 οὔτε γὰρ περιτομή τί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ καινὴ κτίσις. For what [is of importance] is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision but new creation.
16 καὶ ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν, εἰρήνη ἐπ᾿ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἔλεος καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ. And as many as are living to this rule, peace upon them and mercy and upon the Israel of God.
17 Τοῦ λοιποῦ κόπους μοι μηδεὶς παρεχέτω· ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω. Of the rest, let noone cause me any trouble; for I myself bear in my body the marks of Jesus.
18 Ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν, ἀδελφοί· ἀμήν. The grace of our lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit, brothers [and sisters]. Amen.

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Galatians 5

by on Mar.11, 2010, under Exegesis notes, Notes

Be Free! (Gal 5:1)

1 Τῇ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἡμᾶς Χριστὸς ἠλευθέρωσεν· στήκετε οὖν καὶ μὴ πάλιν ζυγῷ δουλείας ἐνέχεσθε. To freedom Christ has set us free; therefore stand firm and do not be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.

The Law is of no benefit (5:2-4)

2 Ἴδε ἐγὼ Παῦλος λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε, Χριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν ὠφελήσει. Look! I, Paul, say to you that if you circumcise yourselves, Christ will benefit you nothing.
3 μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ ὅτι ὀφειλέτης ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι. I testify again that every man circumcising himself is obligated to do the whole law.
4 κατηργήθητε ἀπὸ Χριστοῦ, οἵτινες ἐν νόμῳ δικαιοῦσθε, τῆς χάριτος ἐξεπέσατε. You have been separated from Christ, whoever in law is declared righteous, you have fallen from grace.

Structure:

  • Declaration:
    • Circumcision is not an asset (2)
    • Circumcision is a liability (3)
  • Relying on the law separates you from Christ (4)

Purpose: For the first time in this Epistle, Paul directly addresses the issue of circumcision, though it was no doubt clear to the Galatians that he had been building towards this all along. In particular, he has expounded the theme of freedom in chapters 3 and 4, ending in the climactic exhortation of 5:1: ‘To freedom Christ has set us free; therefore stand firm and do not be burdened again by the yoke of slavery.’ In 5:2, he turns from theory to practice by applying what he has said to the Galatian situation. This marks the commencement of the parenetic section of the Epistle.

Gal 5:2. ἴδε is common in the gospels, but is found only here in the rest of the NT. It is used to draw attention to something.1 This, along with the lack of a conjunction joining this verse to the previous, requires a pause from the reader, lending great weight to what follows. This is amplified by the solemnity of Paul’s address. In supplying the superfluous personal pronoun, ἐγὼ, and his name, Paul is mustering every ounce of his apostolic authority and pouring it into this declaration: being circumcised negates the value of being in Christ.

The form of Paul’s declaration is akin to an oath, an impression strengthened by his repetition and use of the verb μαρτύρομαι in the next verse. Clearly Paul is ‘on trial’, as has been the case throughout the Epistle, and here the forensic language is particularly strong. Thus he demands a verdict from the Galatians, which will serve as the basis of the parenesis that constitutes the remainder of the Epistle.

Gal 5:3. The Apostle goes on to provide the grounds for this statement: submitting to part of the law requires submission to all of it. He thus argues from a specific case to a more general rule, taking circumcision as representative of the requirements of the law in general.

Paul punctuates his point with rhetorical word-play. Circumcision means the Galatians do not profit (ὠφελήσει) by Christ, but are rather in debt (ὀφειλέτης) to the whole law.

Much ink has been spilled over the latter half of the verse. The key issues are: (1) what is the frame of reference when Paul speaks of τὸν νόμον? (2) Did Paul believe it was possible to do (ποιῆσαι) the entire law? On the first, we may note at once that τὸν νόμον must include at a minimum the Pentateuch, since it is circumcision that is at issue here. Gal 4:10 may also give us an indication that this extended to the OT canon at large. It seems unlikely, however, that Paul would acknowledge the Pharisaic traditions, which he refers to as παράδοσις in 1:14, as νόμος here. As for whether Paul believed ‘doing’ the ‘whole’ law possible, the direction of his argument suggests not. For he moves on to speak in verse 4 of falling away from grace as a foregone conclusion. The two verses form an enthymeme, with the unstated minor premise that it is not possible to do all the law.

Gal 5:4. This verse draws the required conclusion from the previous verse. Those who seek justification have ‘severed’ (κατηργήθητε) themselves from Christ and ‘fallen from grace’ (τῆς χάριτος ἐξεπέσατε). δικαιοῦσθε may be passive (‘be justified’), or middle (‘justify themselves’) but the emphasis is on the ineffectuality of the act, rather than the agent, and the point remains the same in either case.

This verse accounts for proponents of the NPJ who claim that Paul has here misunderstood (or at least misrepresented) Judaism as a works-religion, when it was actually based on ‘covenantal nomism’. Jews, so the argument goes, did not require absolute perfection in obedience to the law. The OT cultus was provided as a means of ‘grace’, with atonement being made for imperfections. Observance of the law was required as a means of remaining within the covenant of grace, much in the way that the Israelites were required to remain within their homes during the first Passover. Quite apart from the difficulty inherent in believing that a such an advanced student of Judaism (1:14) should have so fundamentally misunderstood the religion for which he was so zealous, it is clear from this verse that if Paul had once considered OT sacrifice as a means ‘of grace’, he did so no longer.

Parenesis

5 ἡμεῖς γὰρ πνεύματι ἐκ πίστεως ἐλπίδα δικαιοσύνης ἀπεκδεχόμεθα. For we in the Spirit by faith await hope of righteousness.
6 ἐν γὰρ Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ οὔτε περιτομή τι ἰσχύει οὔτε ἀκροβυστία ἀλλὰ πίστις δι᾿ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is in any way valid nor uncircumcision, but [only] faith working through love.
7 Ἐτρέχετε καλῶς· τίς ὑμᾶς ἐνέκοψεν [τῇ] ἀληθείᾳ μὴ πείθεσθαι; You were running well; who impeded you, to be unpersuaded by [the] truth?
8 ἡ πεισμονὴ οὐκ ἐκ τοῦ καλοῦντος ὑμᾶς. The persuasion is not from the one calling you.
9 μικρὰ ζύμη ὅλον τὸ φύραμα ζυμοῖ. A little yeast leavens the whole dough.
10 ἐγὼ πέποιθα εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι οὐδὲν ἄλλο φρονήσετε· ὁ δὲ ταράσσων ὑμᾶς βαστάσει τὸ κρίμα, ὅστις ἐὰν ᾖ. I am confident in you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise; but the one troubling you will bear the punishment, whoever he is.
11 Ἐγὼ δέ, ἀδελφοί, εἰ περιτομὴν ἔτι κηρύσσω, τί ἔτι διώκομαι; ἄρα κατήργηται τὸ σκάνδαλον τοῦ σταυροῦ. But I, brothers [and sisters], if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the scandal of the cross is nullified.
12 Ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς. I wish the ones agitating you would cut themselves off.
13 Ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπ᾿ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε, ἀδελφοί· μόνον μὴ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις. For you were called to freedom, brothers [and sisters]; only not freedom for an opportunity for flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 ὁ γὰρ πᾶς νόμος ἐν ἑνὶ λόγῳ πεπλήρωται, ἐν τῷ· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. For all the law is fulfilled in one saying, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
15 εἰ δὲ ἀλλήλους δάκνετε καὶ κατεσθίετε, βλέπετε μὴ ὑπ᾿ ἀλλήλων ἀναλωθῆτε. But if you bite and devour one another, watch that you are not consumed by one another.
16 Λέγω δέ, πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε. Now I say, live in the Spirit and you will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.
17 ἡ γὰρ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα κατὰ τῆς σαρκός, ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντίκειται, ἵνα μὴ ἃ ἐὰν θέλητε ταῦτα ποιῆτε. For the flesh desires contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit contrary to the flesh, for these things conflict with one another, so that you do not do the things you desire.
18 εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον. But if the Spirit leads you, you are not under law.
19 φανερὰ δέ ἐστιν τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός, ἅτινά ἐστιν πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια, The works of the flesh are clear: sexual immorality, uncleanness, sensuality,
20 εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακεία, ἔχθραι, ἔρις, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθεῖαι, διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις, idolatry, magic, hatred, strife, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, divisions, factions,
21 φθόνοι, μέθαι, κῶμοι καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις, ἃ προλέγω ὑμῖν, καθὼς προεῖπον ὅτι οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν. envies, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I forewarn you, just as I forewarned that people doing these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,
23 πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος. gentleness, self-control; against these things there is no law.
24 οἱ δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ] τὴν σάρκα ἐσταύρωσαν σὺν τοῖς παθήμασιν καὶ ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις. Now the ones of Christ [Jesus] have crucified the flesh with the feelings and desires.
25 Εἰ ζῶμεν πνεύματι, πνεύματι καὶ στοιχῶμεν. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
26 μὴ γινώμεθα κενόδοξοι, ἀλλήλους προκαλούμενοι, ἀλλήλοις φθονοῦντες. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.


Endnotes

  1. BDAG, “ἴδε”, 1
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