August 27, 2012
(Gal 6:11 ESV) 11 See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
1. Why do you suppose Paul makes this comment here?
It appears that Paul dictated the earlier portions of Galatians. When the manuscript was finalized, he added a personal, handwritten note — to authenticate and personalize the letter.
Most commentators think the large letters resulted from Paul’s vision problems. We don’t know the details, but Gal 4:15 suggests that the disease that caused him to stay for a while in Galatian affected his eyes —
(Gal 4:15 ESV) 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.
(Gal 6:12 ESV) 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
2. Paul accuses the Judaizing teachers of wishing to avoid persecution. What sort of persecution might a teacher avoid by teaching circumcision?
Certainly, the Romans would have had no interest in the circumcision controversy. This must be a reference to persecution by Jewish authorities — perhaps the same persecution earlier begun by Paul himself.
The Romans allowed the Jews a large degree of autonomy, and so the rulers in Jerusalem had real power over the Judean Jews — limited mainly by the rule that only the Roman government could exact the death penalty.
But outside of Judea, it’s less than clear what authority the Jewish leaders might have had. Certainly, the elders of the synagogues could have banned (and often did ban) Christian Jews from the synagogue, excluding them from fellowship with their fellow Jews — essentially a form of disfellowship.
History tells us that the early church remained largely culturally Jewish for many years after the apostles. Early Christians appear to have attended both synagogue and church. After all, the synagogue had the precious scrolls of the Old Testament, which were very expensive and hard to come by, especially if you’d been excluded from the Jewish community.
And the synagogue was a community center. To be banned from the synagogue would separate a Jewish Christian from friends and family — not to mention Torah study.
3. Do we ever shade or change our teaching to avoid persecution? Criticism?
Of course. No one enjoys being criticized or judged by friends and brothers in Christ. The result, sadly, is to create a church culture in which much needed doctrinal teaching can be very hard to present because the membership feels entirely justified in responding to any unfamiliar teaching with great harshness.
(Gal 6:13 ESV) 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.
4. What does Paul mean when he says the false teachers “do not themselves keep the law”? Do they not even try? Or do they try and fail?
It’s hard to say for sure. If they were trying to avoid persecution by Jewish authorities, then it seems unlikely that they’d rejected much of the Law of Moses. And so it seems likely — but unprovable — that they tried and couldn’t keep the Law.
In fact, if a good Jews lived outside of Judea, it was impossible to keep the Law. How could you go to the Temple to offer the required sacrifices if you lived in Asia Minor? How could you present yourself to the priests to be declared “clean”?
(Gal 6:14 ESV) 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
5. Why does Paul keep bringing up boasting?
Because he understands people. One of the key indications of legalism is a tendency to boast in one’s own works and to rely on those works as bringing confidence in one’s salvation.
When we declare that we’re saved by our a cappella music and that the other church is damned for their instruments, we’re boasting of our superior obedience, right?
But to truly compare our obedience to theirs, we have to check out all God’s commands. Do we love better than they? Do we evangelize better than they? Do we serve the poor better? Do we care for widows and orphans better?
You see, legalism teaches us to privilege certain commands as more important than others — because those are the commands on which we do better than they. Our standard for what commands are important is often whether we can boast in our obedience!
But, obviously, the commands we take such pride in aren’t nearly the most central to the gospel. They aren’t the ones the Bible most emphasizes. Rather, a reason we emphasize them is because we’re so good at obeying them — and we want to feel superior.
Of course, if we were to accept that we’re saved by grace, through faith in Jesus, we’d understand the futility of such measuring and boasting.
6. How do we boast in the cross? What does Paul mean?
It’s irony. The cross in Roman times was a great shame for both Jews and Gentiles. The Jews considered a curse from God himself. The Romans recognized it as the fate of the worst criminals.
To boast in the cross is to revel in and celebrate shame — to delight in rejection by society.
We “boast” in the work of Jesus, not our own. We boast in a gift we’ve freely received. We boast in our lack of merit, our undeservedness.
7. What does it mean to say “the world has been crucified to me”?
First, it’s kind of like “the world is dead to me,” meaning that I refuse to be judged — or to judge — by the world’s standards.
Second, it means that, when I submit to the Spirit, the world no longer tempts me. I no longer long for the pleasures of sin but, rather, anticipate a better life with Jesus in the age to come.
8. What does it mean to say that I’ve been crucified “to the world”?
I no longer belong to this world. I belong to God. Only God has a claim on me or my passions or my service. I serve only the One True God.
9. We often speak of the cross in terms of our forgiveness, but Paul is now speaking of the cross in terms of how we live as Christians. How does the cross affect how we live?
By being co-crucified with Jesus on his cross, I take on the mission of Jesus. I choose to become like Jesus and submit to the Spirit’s work in my heart to make me more and more like Jesus.
As a result, I choose to serve, submit, sacrifice, and even suffer as Jesus did. Being crucified with Jesus means that I’m willing to die for him to be with him, and therefore submission and service are the least I can do.
(Gal 6:15 ESV) 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
10. “A new creation”? What does “creation” refer back to?
The Creation. Genesis 1. Every time Paul refers to “create” or “creation,” he’s alluding to Genesis 1.
11. What new creation is Paul speaking of? (2 Cor 5:17)
(2Co 5:17 ESV) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
In effect, Paul is saying that our baptism and receipt of the Spirit result in God’s re-creating us. We are remade new — not just forgiven but changed and transformed.
(2Co 3:17-18 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
“Image” is a reference to the image of God. Man was originally created in God’s image. But when Adam and Eve sinned, that image became broken and cracked.
But through the Spirit, God has begun to repair what was broken, to make us more and more like whom we were always meant to be.
To be in God’s image is to be like Jesus, who is the perfect image of God.
(2Co 4:4 ESV) 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
You see, it all fits together. The new creation re-creates us in God’s image, which is Jesus. And to be in Jesus’ image is to be crucified because, well, that’s the kind of god that God is. He serves, submits, sacrifices, and suffers out of love for others.
And we’ve been re-created into the image of Jesus to do the same.
(Gal 6:16 ESV) And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
12. What is the “rule” that Paul is referring to?
The rule is that the only thing that matters is a new creation. God’s central purpose in saving us wasn’t to form a church that worships according to the right rules. His purpose was to create people transformed into the image of his Son.
If we get every rule right and yet aren’t truly like his Son in our hearts, we’ve failed God’s eternal purposes in sending Jesus.
We can’t be hateful to one another and to other Christians and claim to be like Jesus. And if we’re not like Jesus, well, nothing else matters.
(Gal 6:17 ESV) From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
13. What are the “marks of Jesus”? (2 Cor 11:23-30)
It seems likely that Paul is referring to the marks of the many beatings, stonings, etc. that he suffered for Jesus. He shows his Christlike-ness by these marks, because suffering and submission are at the heart of being a servant of Christ.
(Gal 6:18 ESV) 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
And so, in conclusion …
14. Let’s reflect a bit more on —
(Gal 5:6 ESV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
(Gal 5:14 ESV) For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Imagine that these passages really mean what they say. How would things change?
Where to begin?
It would change our hermeneutic. Rather than reading the Bible through the lens of the Calvinist Regulative Principle (treating all that is not authorized as sin), we’d interpret the text in light of faith in Jesus and love for our neighbors. After all, that’s what matters!
We’d find that most of the things we fight over have nothing to do with faith or love — and so just can’t be all that important.
We’d be far more concerned about building our faith in Jesus and finding ways to express our faith in love than about patterns and doctrinal infighting.
We’d discover freedom in Christ.
We’d learn to rely on the Spirit rather than 20th Century rules invented to win debates.
We’d find that the Scriptures are so much plainer and easier to understand. Our understanding of the text would be radically changed because we’d be reading with hearts submitted to the Spirit.
Our churches would be transformed to become communities of faith and love — and we’d soon find that we aren’t the only people who believe in Jesus and express our faith in love.
We’d understand the gospel in terms that are Christ-, not law-, centered.
The Gospels would reveal to us the heart of our Savior, and we’d spend far more time in them learning about the character of God and seeking ways to conform our lives what we read there.
God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven — not perfectly, of course, but to a degree we can’t even imagine.
15. Is there anything in Galatians that suggests that Paul wasn’t entirely serious about these passages?
Not at all. All efforts to diminish and minimize these teachings show a lack of respect for God’s word. We are not truly people of faith if we refuse to submit to the text of God’s word.
16. Let’s reflect a bit more on —
(Gal 2:15-16 NET) 15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.
Imagine that this passage really means what it says. How would things change?
We often err by assuming that Paul only says “we may be justified … not by works of the law,” as though the only message of Galatians is that we don’t have to obey the Law of Moses. But Paul’s rationale for his conclusion is just as true: “we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ.”
The argument on which all of Galatians is built is that we’re saved by faith in Jesus, and therefore by nothing else.
If we were to accept this as true — if our faith were that strong — we’d find ourselves in fellowship with countless other believers.
Rather than damning over fellowship halls and premillennialism, we’d celebrate our common faith in Jesus and common commitment to God’s mission.
And in so doing, we’d actually honor the principles of the Restoration Movement, such as–
* We are Christians only but not the only Christians.
* In faith, unity;
In opinions, liberty; and
In all things, charity.
You see, what the Restoration leaders meant by “faith” is, well, faith — that is, faith in Jesus, not a systematic theology or creed. It’s just plain old faith — the kind that saves.
And this is exactly what Stone and the Campbells taught. It was generations later than we re-defined “faith” to mean “every single doctrine we infer from the silences.”
All we have to do is realize that “faith” means faith, and we’ll be well on our way toward realizing the unity the Restoration leaders prayed for.
None of this rejects baptism, of course. But the proper way to teach baptism is with the same emphasis as in scripture.
We need to let Paul tell us the truth and tell us what is most important. We shouldn’t take scissors to the Bible and re-arrange the verses to change the emphasis to suit our preferences. If Paul can say we’re saved by faith in Jesus, then so can we.
But, of course, as we’ve covered before, “faith” is not mere mental assent. It’s much more than believing that Jesus existed and is the second person of the Godhead. Faith includes trust and faithfulness, that is, loyalty and commitment. True faith expresses itself in love.
17. Is there anything in Galatians that suggests that Paul wasn’t entirely serious about this passage?
Not at all. This is a centerpiece passage. It’s the premise on which chapter 3 – 5 are built. Paul was very serious indeed.
18. Let’s reflect a bit more on —
(Gal 5:2-4 NET) 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! 3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!
Imagine that these verses really mean what they say. How would things change?
Well, we should be very scared. You see, Paul’s condemnation is ultimately for anyone who argues that faith in Jesus is not good enough to save.
If adding circumcision to faith damns — if circumcision is made a test of fellowship or a salvation issue — then surely adding any other doctrine like circumcision also damns.
Insisting on circumcision as a health practice or a cultural identity marker is no sin and does not damn. But when we place circumcision between a believer and salvation, we declare faith in Jesus inadequate to save — and jeopardize our souls.
And yet it’s nearly second nature for many among us to insist that someone is damned if he has the wrong position on fellowship halls or instrumental music or whether to use grape juice or wine in communion. There are countless versions of “circumcision” where we insist that faith in Jesus is not enough and that obedience to a privileged few identity markers is required on top of faith in Jesus.
When we make such assertions, we risk damnation. When we deny fellowship over such things, we risk finding ourselves condemned as Peter was for refusing to eat with the uncircumcised.
Now, as mentioned before, Paul is much harsher in his treatment of the false teachers than their victims. Nor would Paul condemn someone for refusing to build a fellowship hall as a matter of conscience, so long as he does not make fellowship halls into salvation or fellowship issues.
Damnation doesn’t arise from disagreement over such things. It arises from dividing the body of Christ by treating those who disagree with you as damned or by refusing to associate with those who dare to disagree with you.
19. Is there anything in Galatians that suggests that Paul wasn’t entirely serious about these verses?
These are the climax of Paul’s argument. He spent most of the letter building up to this very conclusion. Yes, he is entirely serious.