Thru the Bible – Day 316

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Day 316 – Thru the Bible

Today we continue Galatians.

Galatians 3The Galatians are in danger of making the same mistake of reverting to Jewish rites as Peter did in Antioch (Galatians 2:11–14). False teachers were teaching that circumcision and adherence to the works of the law were necessary for membership in the people of God. Within Judaism, many Gentile God-fearers attended the synagogue but were not circumcised, probably due to the pain and medical risks associated with the operation. These people were seen as non-Jews, and the false teachers now applied the same principle to Gentile Christians.

Paul and Barnabas had taught the message of the crucifixion on their first missionary journey, and the Galatians had responded by “hearing with faith.” This response resulted both in suffering, which may have come from synagogues (see Acts 14:22), and in the gift of the Spirit, whose presence had resulted in miracle. This mention of the Spirit shows that Paul is referring not just to membership in the local church but to acceptance before God (Romans 5:5; 8:9; 1 Corinthians 2:14). If God has accepted people by faith alone, apart from circumcision, so too must the local church.

Faith is what fuels the Believer’s life. We “receive the Spirit” not “by works of the law” but rather “by hearing with faith”—and it is this faith that then not only begins but continues the Christian life.

Paul cites Genesis 15:6 in Galatians 3:6 as an example of Abraham being counted as righteous through faith. As Abraham was not circumcised until Genesis 17:24, this declaration is doubly significant: the physical ritual did not determine his spiritual status. Faith is the conduit by which grace flows to Abraham. This faith is mentioned three times in Galatians 3:8–9 as the sole determiner of present membership in God’s new covenant.

Furthermore, Paul alludes to Genesis 12:3 as an expression of God’s intention from the beginning to bless the Gentiles who believe as Abraham did. Old Testament Believers looked forward on the basis of the work of the promised Messiah; New Testament Believers look back to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Each are included by faith in the promises of God’s covenant with Abraham.

Paul cites several Old Testament passages to show that believing Gentiles receive the blessing of Abraham in Jesus. Deuteronomy 27:26 shows the universality of the curse for disobedience to the law. As people fail to live by the works of the law, they do not find life in the law but curse. Paul then cites Habakkuk 2:4 to show that the righteous will live by faith, and this faith is now directed toward the One who took the curse of the law through crucifixion.

Paul had previously persecuted the church because he could not conceive of a cursed Messiah (Deuteronomy 21:23); the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). Through this curse of crucifixion Jesus took on Himself—even though He did not deserve it—the curse for disobedience. He substituted His life for ours, ensuring that life, righteousness, and the Spirit would be received by all who believe in Him.

The false teachers appear to be elevating the Mosaic law above the Abrahamic promise. Paul asserts that the Christians’ inheritance comes by promise, not by the law. The Abrahamic promise looks at what God will do; the Mosaic laws look at human response. The promise concerns Abraham’s “offspring” (singular) in whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. All who are united to the offspring, Jesus the Messiah, are heirs of Abraham through faith—whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.

But if the law was subsequent to the Abrahamic promise, and if law does not lead to life, what was its purpose? It served particular purposes for a limited time. One purpose was to “imprison” God’s people in the reality of their inability and sin, so that they would yearn for freedom by faith. The second purpose was to provide a “guardian” for God’s people; i.e., one who would guard and guide the children of God in righteousness until they reached maturity. The image is of a guard who accompanies school children. Israel certainly needed guarding and guiding in its centuries-long journey toward rightly honoring God. But both a prison and a guardian are only required or desired for a limited time.

Paul wants the Galatians to understand that the requirements of the law that imprisoned past generations in guilt and guided them away from self-trust were also leading them to faith in Jesus. Faith in Jesus would not eliminate the moral requirements of the law, but would grant freedom from its condemnation and give hope of new life to those who had become aware of their inability to keep its holy standards.

Paul’s references to being “in Christ Jesus” in verses 26 and 28 serve as bookends surrounding those identified in between: those who have been baptized into Jesus. Baptized Believers are incorporated into a community in which each member has put on a kind of clothing that covers differences that normally divide people, such as gender, ethnicity, and social status. On the basis of faith, by which anyone can be united to Jesus, all Believers are included regardless of such apparent differences.

Paul neither directly condones nor condemns slavery, a common social institution of his day, but in the short book of Philemon he sets another trajectory for the Christian community as he encourages Philemon to receive back the runaway slave Onesimus and regard him not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 16).

Further, while Paul does not encourage people to deny their gender or ethnicity, he does encourage them to take their primary identity from being in Jesus. So even though differences remain, unity and spiritual equality are respected and upheld. All who belong to Jesus through faith are Abraham’s true offspring and heirs of the promise of grace.

How does this chapter help you understand the purpose of the Law and how we are now under the New Covenant of grace and not under the Law?

Side note: Gentiles (all non-Jewish people) were never under the Law. The Law was given to Israel, the Jewish nation, it was not given to Gentiles.

 

Galatians 4Paul returns to the metaphor of Israel being a child under a guardian. A son, though an heir, is no different than a slave in terms of his dependence on guardians. This slavery is seen by Israel being “under the law” and, through their sinful disobedience to this law, being under a curse and therefore needing a guardian. In the fullness of time, God redeemed His people, gave them His Spirit, and adopted them as sons, enabling them to call him “Abba! Father!” These gifts of God’s grace (redemption, adoption, and the gift of the Spirit) are for all the offspring of Abraham, meaning all those who are in Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile.

Reflecting on these truths, our hearts cannot sit still. We are moved with wonder as we consider the great lengths to which God has gone to comfort His people. He has sent forth both His Son and His Spirit—the Son to rescue us eternally from the penalty of sin, and the Spirit to apply that rescue to our attitudes and actions in daily life.

Prior to God taking the initiative to make Himself known to the Galatians, they had been enslaved to idols. The reference to days and months and seasons indicates that the Galatians had worshiped fertility gods connected to the movements of the sun and the moon. But Paul is not suggesting that the Galatians were now turning back to these idols; rather, they were turning to a new slavery expressed in Jewish annual feasts such as Passover and Booths, as well as new moon festivals and weekly Sabbaths.

It is hard to see why the Galatians would be attracted by slavery except that the perversity of the fallen human heart wants to do something itself to contribute to being justified before God. We have here in these verses not only a window into the Galatians’ thinking but also a mirror into our own heart, for we too are strongly inclined to contribute something toward our justification. The scandalous freedom of the gospel rejects all such self-generated contribution. Jesus has accomplished everything.

Paul mentions that he had first preached the Gospel in Galatia because of a bodily ailment, the exact nature of which we are not told. Paul frequently sees his suffering as God’s means for the spread of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 1:3–11; 2:14–15; 4:7–12; 11:23–29; 13:4; Colossians 1:24–29). The apostle’s ministry among the Galatians was a great blessing, but now they are turning away from the Gospel to embrace the works of the law. They are thus putting themselves at odds with the Gospel of grace.

Paul uses the metaphor of childbirth to emphasize that, having been born again by hearing the Gospel of grace (1 Peter 1:3), the Galatians are to continue in grace, walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Paul is writing this letter to them so that they will rediscover grace and not be lured by the flattery of those who are enticing them to believe that they can mature spiritually through more self-distinguishing observances of the law.

Paul compares slavery and freedom through the story of Hagar and Sarah and their respective sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The false teachers believed they were descendants of Isaac, but Paul identifies them as children of Hagar through Ishmael and thus in slavery. By contrast, Paul identifies himself with those who are of the line of Sarah, “our mother”. Sarah’s conceiving of Isaac is associated with the promise of God; the Galatian Believers are children of that promise.

There is a further comparison between the present Jerusalem, enslaved by the law, and the “Jerusalem above,” which will bear more children among the Gentiles. Paul concludes by quoting Sarah’s words to Abraham, when she urged him to cast out the slave woman who was her rival (Genesis 21:10). The harsh words indicate the seriousness of Paul’s concern for the Galatian Believers to cast out those who were advocating works of the law to strengthen their status before God.

How do you see yourself enticed to try and earn your right standing before God? How does this chapter reveal that such attempts are in direct opposition to the Gospel?

 

What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?

 

Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.

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