This is a series of lessons designed for the classroom, so I’ve got to limit myself somewhat. I promised myself I’d do only 2 posts on Galatians, because I only want to do 2 classes on Galatians, and so I just can’t fit it all in. For the full argument, read Do We Teach Another Gospel?.
Conclusions from Galatians
The conclusions we are to draw from Galatians are laid out plainly enough in Galatians 5.
(Gal. 5:4) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Conclusion: You’d have to be crazy to try to be justified by law! Remember, that Paul often uses “law” as shorthand for “works of law,” which is what he means here. Don’t try to earn your salvation!
Now, I understand that this can be hard to understand. But this much is clear: don’t do it! But some of us think we’re so smart that we can disagree with Paul. Since we don’t understand it, we can ignore it. And that’s a serious, serious mistake.
(Gal. 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
We just refuse to take the second sentence of this verse seriously. We think LOTS of other things matter. But Paul says, at the height of his argument, that the reason circumcision doesn’t matter is because it’s neither faith in Jesus nor love, and these are all that matter! He means it.
Now, we immediately object: What about the Bible’s plain teachings on baptism? And the answer is simply this: Paul is writing to Christians, not non-Christians. The question is what matters to a Christian. Baptism is for the lost.
Conclusion: Paul means what he says. If it’s not faith in Jesus or love, it doesn’t matter.
Now, “matter” is an interesting word. The KJV says “availeth,” which is actually a better translation. Literally, the word means “to have force” or “to have effect.” In other words, the only things that keep us saved are our continuing in our faith in Jesus and the commitment to love that brought us to salvation in the first place. This should remind you of this earlier lesson in the series.
There we spoke of the two requirements for remaining saved as faith and penitence. Here, Paul speaks of faith and love. But as love is the only command, to repent and to love are much the same thing. Paul explains this just a few verses later–
(Gal. 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
In other words, to repent is to commit to honor God’s commands, but for a Christian, these commands are but one command: love your neighbor. This is what it means to live a penitent life.
Conclusion: There are actually three elements of what it takes to remain saved: faith, love, and adding nothing to faith and love. You see, in Paul’s vocabulary, anything else is a work of law and an effort to seek justification by law — which damns.
Now, as we covered in the preceding lesson, this doesn’t mean we can’t insist on a cappella singing or weekly communion. But it does mean that we can’t insist on these as salvation issues. They are neither faith in Jesus nor love. Therefore, they are works.
The clever debater will object. Weekly communion is taught in the Bible and therefore is a matter of faith! But he’ll be dead wrong. “Faith” means faith in Jesus, not faith in the Bible.
(Gal 2:15-16) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
Plainly, Paul contrasts faith in Jesus with justification by law, not faith in the Bible or its teachings. “Faith” is what we confess before we’re baptized. And we don’t confess faith in weekly communion.
Ah, but the debater will say, “love” includes love of God, and if we love God, we’ll keep his commandments! How can we refuse weekly communion and still love God?
Our clever debater is wrong again. If I love God, I’ll keep his commandments. That’s true enough. But I’ll only do so to the extent I understand them. If I’ve been taught quarterly communion and believe that to be God’s will, then that’s what I’ll do. My love will be genuine — and accepted — even if ill-informed. Otherwise, we make love into a work.
See also our earlier lesson on 1 John, which discusses this concept in more depth. As we point out there, the “commandments” those passages refer to are just one: the command to love our neighbors!
The lesson on Romans 16-14 also bears closely on this subject.
Now, all this points up the great danger of defining who is saved and who is lost by reference to “marks of the church,” such as frequency of communion and acts of worship. We should teach what the Bible says on these subjects, but don’t dare make them tests of salvation. They are not. They do not avail.
We skipped this verse and need to come back to it–
(Gal. 5:1) 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.
This may well be the passage that first showed me grace. The first few times I read it, I scoffed. “Freedom”? Freedom to obey countless arbitrary rules and regulations hidden among the silences between the verses, I thought. I thought Paul was being ironic if not sarcastic.
But I knew better. My respect for inspiration is such that if Paul says we’re free, then we’re just free. And if my understanding of the Bible says we’re hogtied and bound by rules upon rules, then I’m wrong and Paul is right!
Here is freedom. Love is commanded. But if we love out of a command, it’s not really love, is it? If the only reason my children “love” me is because I’ll whip them if they don’t, they’ll just act like they love me. It’s hypocrisy and nothing but.
If I only “love” my wife for fear that she’ll divorce me and take my computer, well, I don’t really love her at all — I just love me and my computer.
As a result, love is a command that can only be fulfilled outside and beyond the command. Which means, in a very real sense, there’s no command at all. Rather, the command is simply a teacher to help us learn to be the kind of people God wants us to be.
True freedom comes when our hearts are so re-shaped that it’s our nature to love, and so we take delight in loving God and others. At this point, we’ve left the command behind and become free indeed.
The same principle holds true as to worship. To quote Cecil Hook,
Because of their very nature praise, adoration, and devotion cannot be demanded. “You praise me and give me gifts, or I will consign you to eternal hell!” — is that the threat of our loving Father? Can threats bring forth praise? If God had demanded the last penny of the poor widow (Luke 21:1-4), we would see her appeasing a demanding God rather than offering an expression of devotion and love. If Mary had anointed Jesus with expensive nard to keep a law which demanded it, the beautiful example of undemanded and extravagant love and praise would have been lost (John 12:1-11). The sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50) might kiss Jesus’ feet to keep a command, but tears do not come by command. Our praise, adoration, devotion, and worship is most appropriate when it is overflowing, spontaneous, and extravagant like that of those three women.
True worship, therefore, must also be beyond mere commands. It must be from the heart — which simply cannot be commanded.
Conclusion: It’s for freedom we’ve been freed. Freedom means, among other things, living a life of love and worshiping from the heart because we want to, not because we have to. Such freedom cannot be commanded or bought. Rather, it comes only from a changed heart.
(Gal. 5:15) If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Surely, this verse was written with the modern Churches of Christ in mind! This is precisely what we’re doing — and we are very much at risk of being destroyed.
The nature of legalism is to always find another law, another inference, another silence by which we may prove our intellectual superiority and damn our brothers. I never thought we’d be damning each other over elder re-affirmation! But here we are. Plainly, the theology that leads to such hellish results must be false.
Conclusion: One reason God so detests justification by works is that it divides and even destroys his people, people he loves so much he gave his Son up for them! Jesus came to unite us, and we rejected the gift, preferring to split and divide.
(Gal. 5:16-18) So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
We discussed the Spirit earlier here and here. The Spirit works within us to help us resist our fleshly desires to sin. But when the Spirit is successful, we are no longer under law.
Well, this is the freedom discussed above! There’s no need for a law commanding me to love or else go to hell — if I already love because the Spirit has worked in me to change me. There’s no need for a law commanding me to worship or else go to hell — if I already love to worship — indeed, crave worship — because the Spirit has worked in me to change me.
Conclusion: It’s true. Those led by the Spirit are not under law. We therefore err greatly when we insist on imposing laws on Spirit-led Christians as conditions of salvation. They are manifestly already saved. The evidence is in their love. Isn’t that what John taught in 1 John?
(Gal. 5:22-25) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
The “fruit of the Spirit” is a popular Sunday school class topic. We take one fruit a week. And we often teach it as though each fruit is work required to earn our way into heaven. And that completely misses the point.
Rather, the Spirit changes us so these things become our new nature. Now, the teachings of the word help us keep in step with the Spirit, but the teachings are not the Spirit, and so we count on the Spirit to ultimately bear fruit, not merely our study.
Paul’s point is that if we’ll let the Spirit lead us and change us, we’ll be the kinds of people who don’t need law because our hearts will want only to do good things.
Now, notice this: Paul does not press us into a particular order of worship or church organizational structure as the path to salvation! Rather, the conclusion of it all is to be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of heart.
Conclusion: The opposite of seeking justification by works is letting the indwelling Spirit live within us to change us into good, Godly people who, by nature, do the things that please God.
(Gal. 5:26) Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
We are now getting near the end. Again, here’s another passage written for the modern Churches of Christ. You see, if you try to be saved by getting all the issues right, either of two things happen. Either you realize that it’s impossible, and so you feel hopelessly lost. Or you believe you’ve actually gotten them all right, meaning you’ve become unspeakably arrogant.
Conclusion: Sound doctrine leads to humility. If you really understand what Paul is saying, you realize that you don’t and can’t understand everything. God is vastly superior and deeper than we can hope to comprehend! But we are comfortable in our humility because we look to God to save by the merits of Jesus’ work, not ours. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to let God work in us through his Spirit.
I’m in the mood for another chart.
|To become saved||Baptism||To stay saved|
|Hear, believe, confess the gospel||Faith||Accept Jesus as Son of God||Faith||Accept Jesus as Son of God||Faith||Faith|
|Repent||Penitence||Accept Jesus as Lord||Penitence||Accept Jesus as Lord||Love||Love|
|Accept Jesus as Savior||Accept Jesus as Savior||Only||Hope|
Now, I just think this is coolest thing ever! It all fits together nice and neat and parallel.
But there’s a problem. In the first column, we never mention anything in the “plan of salvation” about looking to Jesus as our Savior, and this is a mistake. Now, it’s implicit in our pre-baptismal teaching. We really do teach salvation by faith and not works before baptism! We just don’t list it in our 5 steps.
The problem is that after we’re baptized, we no longer consider faith, hope, and love good enough. Rather, we find our hope not only in Jesus but also in our ability to divine implications from the scripture that are — to say the least — less than obvious!
And while we don’t add circumcision to the plan of salvation, we often add lots and lots of other things. Some even add refusing to fellowship those who think elder re-affirmation is permissible! (It’s so peculiar it’s even hard to say!)
But this is just one example among hundreds. We skip the “only” part of Galatians 5:6 and so we skip the “hope” and “Savior” parts as well. We say the words but we contradict them in countless ways.
And it’s tearing the Churches of Christ to shreds — and costing the souls of many.
Therefore, it’s imperative for everyone who understands to teach everyone who will listen. The times do not permit silence. We cannot run from controversy. We cannot fear loss of reputation or friends. I mean, would you rather lose your friend for your few remaining years on this planet — or for eternity?
Neither can we put the institutions we work for ahead of sound theology. There is no wisdom or courage or love in remaining silent just so the contributions will keep flowing in. Indeed, this is to worship Mammon rather than God. No, to follow in the steps of Jesus, we must be willing to pay the price of telling the truth.
I hope and pray that your surgery has gone well.
This is an outstanding paper. I've forwarded the link the pdf to several others.
I would be interested in your comment on one item from Part III. Matthew 18 is often used as a basis for congregational disfellowship. However, if you look in the KJV, where you can distinguish singular "you" (thee) from plural "you" (ye), you might get a different understanding:
Matt 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Jesus actually gave the final instruction to the offended individual (singular pronoun), not to the church. So perhaps this is not justification for public disfellowship.
It just so happens that the next few lessons will be on church discipline and related topics. I'll be pondering these thoughts as I work on them.
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Fear & Trembling,
I'll be in prayer for you.
How'd it go?
Pretty well! Our congregation began as a movement towards unity in Frankfort, although more out of convenience than intentionality. While I've only been gathering with the saints at Holly Hill for about a year and a half, the Louisville Rd and Boone Plaza congregations unified about 8 years ago. They've been through all the problems – selling 2 buildings and buying one, elder changes, deacon changes, preacher changes. Now we're remodeling the building we bought (which we probably should have pushed over and started from scratch, since we're dead set on having a great building).
Thanks for your concern, and your honesty about the dangers of the Galatian heresy. If you read my lesson, you might have noticed that I think 1 Cor 3:11-17 strongly reinforces that message.
in HIS love,
I entirely concur on 1 Cor 3
I'm glad it went well. My class was in prayer for you tonight.
By the way, you might be interested in On Building a Church Building
I don't know that I can put into words the difference I felt between teaching last night and how I've taught at other times. Probably it is hard to verbalize because I'm a child of my times – still uncomfortable with attributing emotion or tangibility to the Presence.
What I can say is this: Nothing in my Christian life so far really prepared me for how it felt to teach that lesson; teaching freedom and grace seems actually to free you to experience grace.
Please let my brothers and sisters in your class know how precious is the knowledge that the community of faith was interceding for me. Thank you!
I was in Jay's class last night when we prayed for you. It's great to hear of your excitement about sharing the gospel of God's grace and the sense of freedom that you are receiving from the Spirit working in your heart. It's almost like a "joy unspeakable." I remember similar feelings when I first learned of God's grace and was able to share it others. Praise God for your courage!
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