August 6, 2012
(Gal 5:2 ESV) 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
1. Is Paul saying that circumcision is a sin? (Gal 6:15)
Not at all. He says that circumcision does not matter. The sin is insisting that circumcision is a requirement to be saved.
If you practice circumcision for cultural or health reasons, Paul has no complaint with you.
2. What does “Christ will be of no advantage to you” mean?
It means you will be damned, because Jesus is our only hope of salvation. There is no other way, and Jesus is only for those those with faith in Jesus.
3. How can insisting on something that is, at worst, morally neutral and, at best, God-honoring, make Christ of no advantage?
You can be circumcised to honor God and not sin. But if you declare that only the circumcised are saved, then you’ve declared that the uncircumcised who believe in Jesus are damned. And that means you’ve divided the body of Christ — and dividing the body of Christ is a great, great sin.
And if you insist on circumcision to be saved, then you’ve said that faith in Jesus is not enough. You’ve diminished the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace of God! You’ve insisted that man must earn some portion of his salvation to make it.
Of course, once we add circumcision as essential, why not add honoring the Sabbath? Why not add the food laws? Why not … well, where do we stop? It’s the nature of legalism to add more and more rules.
(Gal 5:3 ESV) 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
4. Circumcision is only one command. Why would Paul say that accepting circumcision obligates someone to keep the whole law?
There are two possible salvation systems: a faith system and a works system. Either salvation is a gift or it’s earned.
We want to find an in-between possibility — a system in which we earn part of our way to salvation and God gets us the rest of the way by grace. But Paul refuses to consider such a possibility.
You see, there is no way to define what is a sufficient “part of out way” that makes us holy enough to be reached by God’s grace. And so when we insist that only those who do X and Y and Z are good enough to receive grace, we make up rules. We add to the Bible. We make ourselves judges of our brothers.
Indeed, if we figure that our X, Y, and Z are the right X, Y, and Z, we’re going to boast of our brilliant theology compared to the church down the road where people only do X and Y or do Y, Z, and A. We’ll feel superior and deserving of our salvation — and we’ll soon forget that we’re saved by grace — and not by our wonderful intellects.
But grace allows us to be honest and real. We can confess our sinfulness, and rather than claiming to be better than others, we can admit that we’re all sinners saved by grace or not saved at all.
Our hearts change. We become humble. We learn to love people as God loves us — despite our failings and sins but nonetheless seeing that Jesus lives in us.
Our attitude toward God changes. Rather than seeing him as a judge desperately looking to damn us for every foot fault, we see him as a father who deeply loves us and wants us to spend eternity with him.
In short, all of Christianity hinges on this question.
5. What’s the problem with having to keep the whole law? Don’t we have to obey all of God’s commands?
We’re all sinners, saved by grace. No one other than Jesus has kept the entire law or lived perfectly. It’s an impossible standard.
That hardly justifies rebellion or intentional disobedience. We can’t sin in reliance on grace! But when we are truly intending to obey, our sins are washed by the blood of Christ.
(Gal 5:4 ESV) 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
6. What does “justified” mean in this context? It helps to know that “justified” (found in Gal 2:16-17; 3:8, 11, 24) has the same root as “righteousness” (which is sometimes translated “justice”) (found in Gal 2:21; 3:6, 21; 5:5). Therefore, to be justified is to become righteous. For example, compare —
(Gal 3:6 ESV) just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness“?
(Gal 3:8 ESV) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
To be “justified” is be found “righteous” by God. It’s a term found in Roman law, meaning something like “receives a verdict of innocent.”
Paul is saying that the law cannot declare us innocent. After all, we all disobey God’s will at times. None of us is perfect. The law doesn’t justify; it damns.
7. It’s been often argued that “justify” speaks of our original salvation at the moment of baptism. Therefore, the argument is made, Paul is only speaking of becoming saved by faith, and once we’ve been justified, the rules for how we stay saved are different. Is that argument consistent with Paul’s teaching in Galatians?
It should be obvious that Paul isn’t speaking merely of the moment after we arise from the baptistry. He is concerned that his readers remain justified all the way until they die. But the argument is so often made that Paul is only speaking of adding circumcision to the Plan of Salvation, and so says nothing of how we’re saved later.
I apologize for the lesson on Greek, but this is so very important that, well, we just need to be sure to get this one right.
(Gal 5:4-5) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
“Justified” is present, indicative middle — indicating action taking place right now. And “await” is the same tense. Those who are seeking a works justification are presently lost, while we are presently awaiting righteousness by faith. Neither looks to a past saving event but both speak to how we expect to make it to be with God right now.
(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.
Not surprisingly, the first “justified” is also present, indicative middle, showing how the brilliant Paul brings his argument full circle from the first to last mention of “justify” in Galatians. A man is “not being justified right now by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Again, he’s not looking to a past saving event.
(Gal 3:11) Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
“Justified” is present, indicative passive, meaning action taking place right now: presently justified.
Therefore, not only are we saved by faith in Jesus when we are first converted, the standard doesn’t change. We don’t go from “believe and be baptized” to be saved, to “believe and get every single doctrine exactly right” to remain saved. As Paul wrote later —
(Rom 1:17 NIV) For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
8. What does “severed from Christ” mean? Compare Gal 3:26-27.
Removed from the body of Christ, no longer clothed with Christ, no longer in Christ, damned in our sins.
9. What does “fallen away from grace” mean?
The same thing. Compare —
(Isa 14:12-15 ESV) 12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol [the grave], to the far reaches of the pit [among the dead].”
(Gal 5:5 ESV) For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
10. What is “the hope of righteousness”?
Well, we are declared righteous immediately when we’re saved. Therefore, he’s not saying that we hope to be found righteous. Rather, the idea is that, having been declared righteous by God, God’s free gift of righteousness gives us hope.
11. In English, “hope” can refer to something we want but have no realistic chance of receiving (“I hope someone dies and leaves me a fortune!”). Is this how Paul uses “hope”?
Not at all. In fact, the word translated “hope” means something more like “to confidently expect.”
12. What role does the Spirit play in our hope as Christians?
The Spirit is our Helper, as Jesus explained in John 13-17. The Spirit encourages us to hope with greater confidence in God’s promises, and the Spirit helps us avoid falling away.
(Gal 5:6 ESV) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor circumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
13. If only faith working through love “counts for anything” (NIV: “has value”; NASB: “means anything”), what doesn’t count for anything?
Everything else. Paul’s teaching isn’t limited to circumcision. Notice that Paul says two things.
First, he says that circumcision counts for nothing.
Second, he says that only faith in Jesus expressing itself through love counts.
Some want to insist on the first and ignore the second. But Paul is using the second to explain the first. The reason circumcision counts for nothing is that it’s neither faith nor love.
14. This seems to be the climax of all that Paul has said before. Is he serious?
Of course. Remember, Paul began the letter by declaring those who teach a different gospel anathema — damned. To add works to faith as a requirement to be saved is to risk damnation.
15. What is “faith”? (Gal 2:16; 2:20)
In the New Testament, “faith” never refers to system of doctrines or rules. It’s faith in Jesus as the Christ (or Messiah or Lord). It’s the Great Confession that “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
But the New Testament’s use of “faith” — especially in Paul — is deeper and richer than mere believism. It isn’t merely about being right on the Jesus issue.
Think of it this way. If I say, “I have faith in my son,” I’m certainly saying that I believe he exists and is my son! But that’s not really the thought those words express. Rather, for me to have faith in my son, I must be confident in him. I must trust him to keep his promises to me. I must be loyal to him.
The whole world may be jeering as he stands in the batter’s box, awaiting the pitch. But if I have faith in him, I not only don’t deny him, I stand up for him. I claim his my own. I’m loyal to him — and don’t doubt for a minute that he’ll perform in the clutch. I believe in him!
The notion that Paul’s use of “faith” means merely that we think Jesus is divine is an Reformation era mistake that has greatly confused our reading of the scriptures.
For example, when Peter declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” he was using words that meant “You are my king.”
“Christ” means “Messiah” means “anointed one” means king — particularly the king promised by the prophets who would rule the universe for God.
“Son of God” refers to Psalm 2 —
(Psa 2:1 ESV) 7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
The Son of God is not just the second member of the Godhead; he’s the ruler of the universe. To have faith in Jesus requires that we submit to him as king.
Hence, when James declares that the demons “believe” and tremble, he is speaking of a false, imitation faith — a supposed faith that involves no commitment, no loyalty, and no submission — a false faith.
16. What does it mean for faith to work through love?
If we submit to Jesus as king and trust his promises, then two things happen —
* First, we are commanded by Jesus to love God and love our neighbors. (Paul will say more on this later in Galatians.)
* Second, we receive the Spirit, who dwells within our hearts to transform us to become more and more like Jesus — and that means we love God and our neighbors.
Faith is not easy believism. Faith transforms us so that we become people who love others. And love compels us to do works — but only certain kinds of works. Circumcision is not an act of love, and so it is foreign to Christianity.
(Gal 5:7 ESV) 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
17. What is “the truth”? (Gal 2:5; 2:14)
In the New Testament, “truth” generally refers to the truth revealed by Jesus — how the world really is as shown by Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. It’d be fair to say that “truth” means the gospel — but it’s a deeper truth than the Plan of Salvation.
(John 8:32 ESV) 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 15:26 ESV) 26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
(Eph 1:13-14 ESV) 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
18. What does it mean to “obey” the truth?
If we take “the truth” to be the gospel, then obedience to the truth is faith — and counting on God’s grace through our faith.
He is not saying that the Galatians weren’t baptized or that they’d not received the Spirit. They plainly had been baptized and received the Spirit. Their error was in relying on their own works rather than God’s grace.
Although the translators generally prefer “obey,” the Greek word could just as well be translated “be persuaded” — which the word also means. James D. G. Dunn prefers this translation in his commentary on Galatians, and it makes a lost of sense.
Better yet, if you check out Paul’s other uses of the verb, he normally uses it in the sense of “being confident in.” And that might be the best translation: “Who hindered you from being confident in the truth?” After all, that’s the real issue here: whether the Galatians will place their confidence in the true gospel of grace rather than the false gospel of grace + works.
(Gal 5:8 ESV) 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you.
19. Who calls us?
God. (Compare Gal 1:6, in context, for example.)
(Gal 5:9 ESV) 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
20. What is Paul’s point in this verse?
Leaven is yeast. Only a little yeast is required to fill a large lump of flour with yeast. It spreads — and is very hard to stop from spreading once it’s present.
A little legalism soon becomes a lot of legalism. Once you accept the premise that this one law — this one rule, this one practice with ancient roots that is so tied to our identity and roots — is essential to salvation, soon, all sorts of other rules creep in to separate us from God.
(Gal 5:10 ESV) 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.
21. Who is “the one who is troubling you”?
The Judaizing teachers or, perhaps, their leader.
22. What is “the penalty” the troubler is at risk of bearing?
Indeed, as Paul has just declared those who rely on works to be saved as separated from Jesus, it’s a great comfort to realize that he saves his harshest criticisms for the false teachers rather than their victims.
I believe that when we read Galatians as a whole, Paul is plainly damning the false teachers and warning the Galatians that, at some point, they could also lose their souls. But the jeopardy is plainly the greatest for those teaching this lie.
(Gal 5:11 ESV) 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
23. Why would preaching circumcision remove “the offense of the cross”? And why would that be a bad thing?
Paul’s words do seem to defy common sense, don’t they? But recall that he earlier wrote —
(Gal 3:13-14 ESV) 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” — 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The early Christians reveled and delighted in the fact that Jesus had been accursed, even though this was tremendously offensive to conservative Jews.
You see, the Christians saw suffering, persecution, and rejection by society as inevitable — even holy — consequences of faith.
Of course, the cross is offensive! How could it be otherwise! The cross isn’t merely a symbol of a religion. The cross defeated the powers of the universe. The cross declared the demise of kings and emperors and president. The cross places Jesus on a throne above even the United States.
The cross is good reason for all powers and authorities other than Jesus to fear. The cross brings down all that stands in its way. The cross declares —
(Isa 52:7-10 ESV) 7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8 The voice of your watchmen–they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. 9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
The cross shows that God is more powerful that death — and the power of sword is the final refuge of those who compete with God for authority, rule, and power.
Therefore, quite contrary to most modern Christians, Paul would be aghast if his Christianity were to ever stop being offensive — that is, a challenge to the status quo.
One reason Paul was being persecuted is that Christianity threatened the power base of many Jewish leaders. They lived very well on the status quo. They had no interest in a religion that doesn’t require a Temple or Temple taxes! They had no interest in a religion that cares nothing about accumulating power and wealth. Nor did they care for a religion that calls for submission and even suffering.
Yes, Christianity taught right is deeply offensive to its enemies. It just doesn’t co-exist all that well with other claimants to the loyalty of its members.
(Gal 5:12 ESV) 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
24. That seems harsh. Is Paul right to express such a sentiment?
We forget that the ancients had no sense of Victorianism. Sex was not dirty to them.
Paul’s point — spoken in exasperation — is that circumcision is nothing but cutting off a piece of skin. If cutting off a little is a moral necessity, then surely cutting off even more would be all the better …
(Gal 5:13-14 ESV) 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
25. It’s easy to see how someone could misunderstand grace and choose to sin in reliance on grace. Does the command “love your neighbor” prevent that outcome?
Yes. Paul declares plainly that “the whole law” is fulfilled by loving our neighbor. He’s not speaking as rabbi, interpreting the Law of Moses. Why would he do that at this juncture?
No, he’s speaking as a gospel missionary, explaining why Christians who are saved by grace through faith — not works — must live highly moral and ethical lives. It’s because they are obligated to be people who love.
Paul soon says,
(Gal 6:2 ESV) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
What is this “law of Christ”? It’s not a new book of laws, like the Law of Moses but newer. No, it’s “love your neighbor as yourself.”
26. What does “serve one another” add to “love”?
Everything and nothing. Love in fact includes a commitment to serve. We love our children and so we serve them. We love our parents and so, when they can no longer care for themselves, we serve them.
But “serve one another” forces us to avoid the easy “I love them but will nothing for them.” Love is not merely being kindly disposed. Love isn’t love until it’s love in action through service.
(Gal 5:15 ESV) 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
27. What were the Galatians doing that could be called devouring each other?
The metaphor is a pack of wild animals, attempting to eat each other in a blood-frenzy. It’s anti-natural. Animals don’t usually eat their own species, much less their own families.
28. What does Paul mean by “consumed by one another”? Compare Eze 19:12; Luk 9:54.
To “consume” in this sense is to destroy beyond all hope of recovery. If we Christians continue to fight among ourselves, to bitterly attack each other, if we fail to be as gracious to one another as God has been to us, well, we just might destroy each other.
And the modern church is doing a very fine job of proving Paul right. You see, this is the nature of legalism — it’s an approach to Christianity that justifies tearing your brother to bits.
And it’s not just conservative legalism that does this. It can come from the left or the right — just as soon as someone declares himself better than the rest for having obeyed just the right commands.