Thursday, July 16, 2009

Galatians 3:1-5

V1-5 – 1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? 5Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Paul (rightly, if not surprisingly) harshly criticizes the Galatians for their slide – or rather, nosedive – into legalism. He has just finished his summary, acknowledging that Christ died for nothing if righteousness could be gained by obeying the law. But he is so certain that righteousness cannot be gained by obeying the law, so certain that Christ’s death was not in vain, that he is almost enraged at the idea that some would teach a doctrine that leads to this conclusion. And Paul is passionate about the Galatians, not wanting them to fall victim to this heretical false gospel. Calvin asks, “When we hear that the Son of God, with all His benefits, is rejected, that His death is esteemed as nothing, what pious mind would not break out into indignation?”

The word translated “foolish” here (anoetos, which commentators say often suggests intellectual foolishness, rather than moros, which commentators say suggests a moral foolishness; others say there is no difference, that the two words describe the same flaw) essentially means “mindless, easily duped, exhibiting sheer stupidity, idiotic, illogical, inconsistent, contradictory, undiscerning, and nonsensical.” Calvin says that Paul “insinuates that their fall partook more of madness than of folly.” Harsh criticism may be employed to defend Biblical doctrine, as Paul exhibits here. But dare we say that harsh criticism must be employed to defend Biblical doctrine, as Paul exhibits here? Paul might dare to say so, for he also says, “If I were still trying to please men (through the use of ‘humble’ language and non-rebuke out of ‘patience’), I would not be a servant of Christ (through the use of harsh criticism to rebuke and snatch those in danger from the fire (Jude 23) out of love)” (Galatians 1:10).

The rest of this passage is made up of rhetorical questions. Vincent Cheung says, “The questions are harsh and direct. As a rhetorical strategy, they rebuke the Galatians for their foolishness, and require them to rationally think through their present disposition against the background of what they have learned before. Whereas Paul has shown that the Judaizers’ doctrine cannot be true in light of the apostle’s knowledge and history, now he shows that the heresy in question is inconsistent with the Galatians’ own knowledge and history. The effect is to accentuate the irrational and erroneous nature of the doctrine, and the foolishness for accepting it.” Let’s break them down.

First, Paul critically asks “Who has bewitched you?” They Galatians have been so irrational that it appears they must be under a spell, for no right-minded person – after either seeing the crucified and risen Lord or hearing Paul preach on the truth of those historic events – could miss the clear reality and importance of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion (Paul will elaborate throughout this letter on the significance of the crucifixion for the satisfaction of divine wrath and justice, though here, as in 1 Corinthians 2:2, he uses the crucifixion as a summary of the entire gospel). Yet they had, and so Paul has another question since that was the case.

Second, he asks in v2 if they received the Holy Spirit by obeying the law or by faith. This is a no-brainer question for his imbecilic audience. His point is that Gentiles had the Spirit of God, proving that circumcision was not necessary to be a Christian. What matters is the possession of the Holy Spirit.

Third, in v3, he again asks if they are so foolish as to try to live so inconsistently. Vincent Cheung points out regarding the next question in v3, “
The word translated ‘human effort’ here is ‘flesh.’ Thus Paul is presenting two contrasts in these verses: faith versus work, and spirit versus flesh. Faith corresponds to the spirit, that which is of God and spiritual. Work corresponds to the flesh, that which is of man and carnal, and unable to attain righteousness or to sustain righteousness to perfection. Faith, then, is needed not only at conversion, but it is to be a way of life, so that it is also by faith that we shall continue in sanctification and attain perfection by the Spirit. It is foolish to think otherwise.”

In v3-5, Paul is showing disdain and impatience with the Galatians, wondering if they plan to keep the law in their flesh and remain under its condemnation without the Holy Spirit, or if they would rather try to earn God’s favor by work apart from faith. Either way, it’s no good. God works through His Spirit by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone and to the glory of God alone. John Piper says, “What is it practically that converts the love of Christ for us into our love for others? There are two answers in the book of Galatians. One answer is the Holy Spirit. The other answer is FAITH.” Piper elaborates on this in his comments on Galatians 5.

The next question, in v4, is meant to show the Galatians that their experience with the Holy Spirit, along with any persecution that might have come to them upon their genuine conversion, was not in vain. Paul adds, “If it really was for nothing,” to show that he doesn’t believe their conversion was false. Finally, v5 ties back to v2, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit through faith – as opposed to the role of the flesh through the law – in justification (receiving the Spirit from v2) and in sanctification (God’s giving the Spirit and working miracles from v5).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Galatians 2:15-21

V15-21 –15We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16know 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.’ 17If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’ [Some interpreters end Paul’s quote to Peter after v14; others, after v16, or even v21.]

Vincent Cheung begins his commentary on this passage by saying, “Regardless of where Paul’s speech to Peter concludes, it is v15 that marks the transition from historical narrative to theological argument. Until this point he has been defending the original and authority of his message and ministry (Galatians 1:11-12), and only now does he begin to engage the actual doctrine that is at the center of the controversy… The current passage begins the theological portion of this letter, and both summarizes and assumes several key points in Paul’s theology. The main assertion here is that no one can be saved by observing the law or depending on his own works; rather, the only way that one is saved is by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the law or works.”

The central message of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians may be seen in v15-16 – “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Kim Riddlebarger says, “The key to understanding this passage is really two-fold. Negatively speaking, we have Paul’s unequivocal assertion that we cannot be justified by our obedience to the law of Moses. Positively speaking, we have Paul’s equally unequivocal assertion that we are justified only by faith in Christ.” Paul says that Jewish Christians, such as James, John, Peter, Barnabas, and himself, who have the law know this. Simply put, works do not save; faith in Christ Jesus does. But Paul’s argument is more extensive than that, especially in light of his Gentile audience. The phrase “observing the law” is translated “works of the law” in other translations, and it specifically refers to the very thing that separated Jew from Gentile. Paul brings it up primarily to note that there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile when it comes to the gospel. He is saying that Jews, who have the very Law of God as given to Moses, know that justification is by faith. That truth necessarily excludes justification by the Law, and even more, justification by any law.

In other words, if Jews can’t be justified by their God-given Law, then neither can Gentiles be justified by law of any kind or origin. Calvin paraphrases Paul’s thoughts, as if he were saying, “We, who appear to excel others, who, by means of the covenant, have always enjoyed the privilege of being nigh to God, (Deuteronomy 4:7) have found no method of obtaining salvation, but by believing in Christ. Why, then, should we prescribe another method to the Gentiles? For, if the law were necessary or advantageous for salvation to those who observed its enactments, it must have been most of all advantageous to us to whom it was given; but if we relinquished it, and betook ourselves to Christ, much less ought compliance with it to be urged upon the Gentiles.”

This passage is often compared and contrasted with James 2:24, Romans 3:19-22, and Psalm 143:2. The Psalm seems to indicate, as Vincent Cheung says, “The law itself testifies that no one can stand righteous before God if judged according to his own effort to follow the law.” The Romans passage shows that the Law was not a failure; we just misunderstood its purpose to reveal sin, silence us accountable before God, and drive us to Christ. And the James passage, which seems to contradict Paul at first glance, is speaking not of the fact of justification, but of the evidence of justification. Therefore, James is saying that works are evidence that a person has been justified by the faith in Christ that Paul asserts as solely sufficient.

V21 ties to v15-16, and Paul shows his passion on this important issue. Vincent Cheung says, “V21 is a condemnation against, not only the attempt to attain righteousness through observing Jewish laws and customs, but any other system of law, ethic, philosophy, or religion… Either Christ’s death is insufficient or unnecessary, or it is impossible to obtain righteousness through the law. To say this another way, one who preaches righteousness through the law is compelled to deny the sufficiency and necessity of Christ’s redemptive work. And by definition, to deny the sufficiency and necessity of Christ makes one a non-Christian. Thus it follows that the Judaizers were in reality non-Christians. They preached a non-gospel, an anti-Christian message. Therefore, having already believed on the gospel of Jesus Christ as preached by Paul, the Galatians had no reason to accept the Judaizers’ message.”

Before some concluding remarks on v17-20, which deserve attention, let’s explore the doctrine of justification by faith a little further. Vincent Cheung says:

“Justification is by faith not in the sense that you can save yourself by your faith; rather, the doctrine teaches that you can do nothing to save yourself, but that you must totally depend on someone else to save you. Therefore, the doctrine is teaching justification not by faith as such or by itself, but it is teaching that justification is by Christ alone. It is Christ who saves you, and not faith itself. Faith has a role because it is Christ who saves you by means of giving you faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 12:2).

Further, the doctrine of justification by faith alone does not imply that we are justified before God because we managed to work up enough faith in and by ourselves to believe in Christ, which is impossible in the first place. Rather, the doctrine contrasts faith against works – which is why it is meaningful to speak of justification by faith in Christ rather than only justification by Christ – emphasizing that we are justified by God through faith apart from works. This faith is itself not a work – that is, not a work of man, but a work of God in man. Faith is a gift of God purchased by Christ for all those whom God has chosen for salvation. It is a gift even though it has been purchased by our Mediator because it is God who sovereignly decreed to save us through this Mediator in the first place. It is God who has sovereignly chosen those whom He would save by His grace through Christ, so that all of salvation is a gift of God – it is a sovereign gift of God, unmerited by man, that at the same time fully satisfies divine justice, since it has been merited by Christ. Thus salvation is from the grace of God alone, through the work of Christ alone, and by means of faith alone (that is, in contrast to works).

Therefore, when discussing the doctrine of justification by faith, we must not portray faith as a condition for salvation that God requires from us, as if we could produce faith in and of ourselves prior to regeneration and apart from the Spirit’s power. So, although it is correct to speak of faith as our necessary response to the gospel, this ‘response’ of faith is in fact one of the very things that Christ’s atonement purchased for His elect, and that God bestows upon His chosen ones by His Spirit. In other words, God is the one who produces this response of faith in His elect. This is another reason why it is incorrect to speak of faith as an inherent power… Salvation comes from God through Christ alone. We cannot boast about our faith, since it is a sovereign gift of God, merited by Christ for the elect.”
Paul refutes hypothetical arguments as we come to the end of chapter 2. According to Kim Riddlebarger, “Paul [offers] a negative assertion of what he does not mean in v17-18 and then…a positive statement of what he does mean in v19-21.” In v18, his point is to say that “the lawbreaker is not the one who turns from the law to Christ for justification; it is the one who turns from Christ back to the law,” for they are fighting against the gospel. And likewise in v19, Paul is saying, “Death to the law does not violate the law, for Christ met the law’s demands. It is therefore ‘through the law’ (Christ’s fulfillment thereof) that believers are released from the bondage and condemnation of the law.”

Finally, v20 gives a challenging yet beautiful image of how every true Christian can be described in their union with Christ. He loved and so He gave Himself. And Paul, united to Christ in that death, now lives through Christ in him. Vincent Cheung says, “Paul is referring to ‘a complete change in his way of looking at all things, a ‘reorientation of thought’, to use modern jargon, which involves a total change of life.’
Christ has replaced the law as his reference and motivation behind all his thinking and behavior.” John Piper says, “There is a new ‘I’ – I do still live. But look who it is. It is no longer an ‘I’ who craves self-reliance or self-confidence or self-direction or self-exaltation. The new ‘I’ looks away from itself and trusts in the Son of God, whose love and power was proved at Calvary. From the moment you wake in the morning till the moment you fall asleep at night, the new ‘I’ of faith despairs of itself and looks to Christ for protection and the motivation, courage, direction, and enablement to walk in joy and peace and righteousness. What a great way to live!”

And obviously, as we noted above, we are saved by grace through faith. But it is the object of our faith that saves, as long as that object is Christ, the God-man, fully divine and fully human, the crucified Christ, the risen Christ. Any professing Christian who denies the full divinity of Christ, the full humanity of Christ, the propitiatory and substitutionary, atoning death of Christ, and the justifying resurrection of Christ is a sham-Christian, a “false brother” from v4.

Cheung concludes his commentary on this passage by saying, “One commentator remarks that if Paul had ended his letter here, he would have already made his point. Indeed, he has answered his opponents regarding his personal history, his relationship with the Jerusalem leaders and their position on the doctrine at issue, his role in the Antioch incident, and the theological reasons for the gospel of justification by divine grace through faith in Christ as opposed to a doctrine of justification by human effort through the works of the law. Relative to the arguments of the Judaizers, it is not necessary for Paul to say more – he has already won by this point. Yet God inspired the apostle to provide additional clarifications and arguments… Subsequent passages will expand on the foundation now established, reinforcing Paul’s doctrine from several perspectives.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Galatians 2:11-14

V11-14 – 11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? [Some interpreters end Paul’s quote to Peter after v14; others, after v16, or even v21.]

Notably, Antioch was the place where followers of Jesus Christ were first called Christians. The church of Antioch was the first to send missionaries to the Gentiles, namely Paul and Barnabas – most likely because it was also the first place where, under Paul’s teaching, Jew and Gentile worshipped together. We don’t know when – this event may have happened before the agreement reached by the apostles in Jerusalem – or why Peter came to Antioch, but Paul tells us clearly the reason for their confrontation. Peter was guilty of hypocrisy – living one way when “certain men” weren’t looking on, and living a different way when they were watching. Peter’s behavior did not match his doctrinal profession; and what was worse, his behavior as a leader in the church, led others – even Barnabas – astray. It appeared from their behavior that circumcision was needed for a Gentile to become a genuine follower of Christ, though they had previously professed otherwise, and even lived like Gentiles themselves (v14) before “certain men” entered the scene.

Now Peter had dealt with this issue prior to this episode in Antioch. In Acts 10, he acknowledged that his meeting with Cornelius was against the Law (in letter) but commanded by God (in spirit). Peter said to them, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Peter was criticized for that right behavior by the Jewish believers (Acts 11:2-3), and that’s why Peter caved in (“he was afraid”) when those “certain men came from James” here. Nevertheless, he acted hypocritically, and Paul “opposed him to his face.” In Calvin’s words, “Peter was chastised and struck dumb.” We don’t know why Peter was afraid or what association these “certain men” had with James. James is named as one faithful to the gospel and in fellowship with Paul, so it appears that these “certain men” from “the circumcision group” were either in disagreement with James and Peter and Paul on this issue or acting hypocritically themselves, affirming the true gospel (orthodoxy) but, known to others, failing to live it out (orthopraxy).

It is worth mentioning here that evidence of sinful behavior does not require that we know the motive; outwardly wrong behavior is wrong no matter the motive. However, when outward behavior seems right and good, we need to know the motive in order to determine if that behavior truly is right and good.

Finally here, Paul confronts Peter publicly. Calvin declares, “This public offense must be publicly corrected.” Kim Riddlebarger says, “Paul’s very public rebuke of Peter becomes the basis for the public discipline in the church for public offenses, especially so in the case of elders (1 Timothy 5:20). Since this issue involved scandal which effected the preaching of the gospel, it could not be handled privately as in Matthew 18:15-20… The issue is content and the standard is fidelity to the gospel!” The mention of this episode wraps up Paul’s testimony that his message requires no authority from Jerusalem and opens the letter to deal with the Galatians’ legalism. Paul is right with his message, so much so that he confronts and is victorious with the most prominent apostle on the issue of hypocrisy; and Paul wants to make this the issue with the Galatians. The consequences of hypocrisy are dire, but not as dire as abandoning the true gospel, which the Galatians are, as Peter was, on the verge of doing. It is impossible to be dogmatic regarding where Paul’s statement to Peter ends and where his address to the Galatians specifically begins. But that doesn’t matter for us to understand the point.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Galatians 2:6-10

V6-10 – 6As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. 7On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles [or uncircumcised], just as Peter had been to the Jews [or circumcised]. 8For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9James, Peter [or Cephas] and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

As we come to v6, it ties in exactly as you’d expect after understanding v1-5 as expounded above. Paul had the gospel revealed from Christ; it was the truth; he was going to preach it whether or not anyone else – even if deemed “important” by the Judaizers – agreed or not. Paul is quick to point out that “those who seemed to be important…added nothing” to his message. They may have “seemed important” – for example, James was Jesus’ half-brother, Peter had been given the keys to the Kingdom, and John was the one Jesus loved – but that didn’t matter for authority to preach the gospel as far as Paul was concerned, for “God does not judge by external appearance.” Paul is by no means mocking the other apostles, for he saw himself as the least of them, not worthy to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:9); but he is downplaying his attackers claims that he is not a valid, “important” spokesman for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So with a big sigh of relief, the climactic conclusion, we read in v9 that the Christian leaders of Jerusalem extended “the right hand of fellowship,” acknowledging that Paul and Peter had both been graced by God with the task of preaching the gospel (v7-8), and that Paul’s doctrine in no way conflicted with authentic Christianity. There would be no division this day, as long as the poor (namely the Jewish Christians in poverty in Jerusalem) were remembered (v10). Paul was eager to aid them, as seen throughout his ministry (Acts 11:27-30; 24:17; Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

Vincent Cheung concludes here, “This in effect puts the Judaizers, who oppose Paul, outside of the apostolic circle and the main thrust of the Christian movement. Thus since Jerusalem agrees with Paul, and Paul disagrees with the Judaizers, this means that the Judaizers are in fact the real deceivers and false teachers, and the enemies of the gospel. By this point in the letter, Paul has provided more than sufficient refutation to all those arguments of the Judaizers that are based on personal attacks.” Nevertheless, all is not well that seems to end well, as we see in the next passage (and Acts 21:17-25). Sadly, orthodoxy – right doctrine neither always nor instantly leads to orthopraxy – right behavior. I think you can get a feel that Paul had his eyes and mind and heart set firmly on both; while perhaps the Jerusalem Christian leaders may have been lax at upholding the latter (orthopraxy), worrying more about the former (orthodoxy).

DC 301 - Week 9

Here's how the workload for this week might break down:

Monday - Work on your lesson for the Ten Commandments teaching
Tuesday - Read Joshua 1-12
Wednesday - Read Psalms 39-43
Thursday - Prepare a couple mini-lessons based on this week's Old Testament reading
Friday - Review memory verses, such as Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Peter 2:12, and Colossians 4:5-6