Friday, July 24, 2009

Galatians 3:26-29

V26-29 – 26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Paul has shown that circumcision is irrelevant regarding whether or not one is a child of Abraham. Here, he now refers to adoption; we are not only children of Abraham by sharing in the faith of Abraham, but we are also children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, and we have therefore obtained freedom from the law. This truth is revealed by baptism, which depicts our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. Calvin says that Paul “employs the metaphor of a garment, when he says that the Galatians have put on Christ [or, “clothed yourselves with Christ”], but he means that they are so closely united to Him, that, in the presence of God, they bear the name and character of Christ, and are viewed in Him rather than in themselves.” This union is literally vital (He lives in us) and representative (He died and lives for us); His righteousness is our covering, and we are new creations in Him. Quite uniquely, there is no human distinction when it comes to the salvific union with Christ. No matter who or what you are, as v29 amazingly states, “If you belong to Christ (as His slave, bought with a price), then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according (not to the law, but) to the promise.” Amen!

We must note here that Paul has not been stressing justification by faith alone only to contradict himself here by making water baptism (v27) a requirement to justification. It is certainly possible to be saved apart from baptism, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus; and it is certainly possible to be baptized yet unsaved (Acts 8:16). What matters is faith. Nevertheless, baptism is a source of contention in the church, primarily due not to whether or not it is important and even essential, but rather to differences regarding the theology behind preferred methods (sprinkling or immersion) and age at which the rite is performed (infant or believer). Paul does not get into that here, and so we won’t either; but before moving on, notice what Calvin says: “The argument that, because they have been baptized, they have put on Christ, appears weak; for how far is baptism from being efficacious in all? Is it reasonable that the grace of the Holy Spirit should be so closely linked to an external symbol? Does not the uniform doctrine of Scripture, as well as experience, appear to confute this statement? I answer, it is customary with Paul to treat of the sacraments in two points of view. When he is dealing with hypocrites, in whom the mere symbol awakens pride, he then proclaims loudly the emptiness and worthlessness of the outward symbol, and denounces, in strong terms, their foolish confidence. In such cases he contemplates not the ordinance of God, but the corruption of wicked men. When, on the other hand, he addresses believers, who make a proper use of the symbols, he then views them in connection with the truth – which they represent. In this case, he makes no boast of any false splendor as belonging to the sacraments, but calls our attention to the actual fact represented by the outward ceremony. Thus, agreeably to the Divine appointment, the truth comes to be associated with the symbols.”

Vincent Cheung paraphrases this passage, saying, “When it comes to justification, and when it comes to being the children of Abraham and the sons of God, it does not matter whether you are Jew or non-Jew, slave or free, male or female. Before you come to Christ, one is not more disadvantaged than the other, for all are condemned according to the divine standard. When you come to Christ, one is not more welcomed than the other, for all must come through the faith that God gives. After you have come to Christ, one is not more privileged than the other, for all are sons of God in Him.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Galatians 3:19-25

V19-25 – 19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is One. 21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ [or until Christ came] that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Vincent Cheung begins his comments on this passage by saying, “
There is no entirely comfortable way of dividing Galatians 3:19-4:7 into manageable sections for study. This is because although a progression of thought is noticeable, one point blends into the next as each transition occurs, so that each section that is taken out from the larger passage still heavily depends on the context.” His summary continues:

“The previous passages have established three major points. First, Abraham was himself justified by faith and not works, the law, or circumcision (Galatians 3:6-9). Second, the law itself teaches the impossibility of justification by the works of law, but rather points to faith as the only way (Galatians 3:10-14). Third, the law, which came after God’s promise to Abraham, does not set aside or add to the promise, which amounts to a declaration of God’s intention to save multitudes of people from all over the world and in all periods of history through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:15-18). Now that these three points are established, two questions arise concerning the law. First, if the law cannot justify, and if it does not affect the promise, then what is its purpose? Second, if God’s blessing comes through faith, and if faith and works exclude each other as the means of justification, then does this mean that the law is in fact opposed to the promises of God, working against them? Whether these are anticipated or actual questions, Paul now proceeds to answer them.”
To answer the first question, Paul says in v19 that the law “was added because of transgressions until” Christ “had come.” We can understand Paul’s answer subjectively, as Paul later says, “Through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20), perceiving that, by measuring our motives and actions with the law, we fall short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23). But we can also see Paul’s answer more objectively. The law not only convicts individuals of sinfulness, but it demonstrates objectively the failure of mankind to obey God (Romans 5:20). Kim Riddlebarger notes, “The NIV misses the point in v19, that Paul is not giving us the cause as to why God gave the Law, ‘because of transgressions,’ but instead, Paul is revealing to us the effect of God’s giving to us the law, literally ‘to make wrongdoing a legal offense.’ This means that the law was not given to us to correct our sinfulness. Instead the law was given to us to demonstrate our sinfulness. This is a frequent theme throughout Paul’s writings.” And as we’ve seen before, Paul uses the word “Seed,” which is also “offspring,” referring to Christ (Romans 5:13,20).

Paul notes that Moses served as mediator (an ambassador) for the law between God and Israel, but the covenant promise between God and Abraham (and his offspring) had neither angelic supporters nor a merely human mediator and was therefore superior (Christ Himself was and is the Mediator). (Regarding his mention of angels, see Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 68:17; Acts 7:53; Hebrews 2:2.) We see that when Paul adds, “God is One;” he’s basically saying that God was and is the Mediator between Himself and man, in the Person of Jesus Christ, between the Father and His people. Christ, God Incarnate, fills that role, making the covenant promise superior to the Mosaic Law.

To answer the second question, Paul announces boldly that the law is not “opposed to the promises of God” (v21). Riddlebarger reminds us, “In Paul’s argument here, as elsewhere in Galatians, law has both a positive and a negative function. Negatively, the law cannot impart life, because the law is contrary to faith and brings the full weight of God’s curse down upon every violator of any one of its stipulations. Thus the law is not contrary to the promise because the true purpose of the law is not to bring life but death. The problem in the Galatian church has arisen because the Judaizers were misrepresenting the law’s true purpose. The Judaizers saw law as consistent with faith and as a means of justification and the reception of the promise. In their view, the Covenant with Moses was superior to the covenant with Abraham, when, in fact, the opposite was true. When the Judaizers affirm the priority and superiority of the law, ironically, they not only end up denying the promise, but they end up denying the true purpose of the law. Hence the purpose of both law and gospel are misrepresented by the Judaizers. The positive purpose for the law is spelled out in v22. In this case, the law serves to ‘declare that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.’ God, who speaks through the Scriptures, ‘locks up all men under the condemnation of sin, providing them with no possibility of escape.’ The reason that God gave the law is to show that all men and women are the children of Adam, who constantly and consistently, whether in thought, word and deed, willfully, rebelliously and continuously, violate the revealed will of God, and in effect taking them captive to the bondage of sin. The law renders all of us ‘prisoners’ of sin, when there is no redemption from its curse.”

The law doesn’t compete with the gospel because it can’t save; the law cannot impart life. The law is good and reveals God’s character (Leviticus 18:5; Romans 7:10; 2 Corinthians 3:6) and leads us to Christ who saves (v24) in order to receive the promise as a free gift. The law accomplishes that by revealing the hopelessness of earning the promise; and it reveals that hopelessness by keeping the whole world prisoners to itself. We were prisoners of the law, “locked up until faith should be revealed” (v23). Paul compares the law to a prison warden (v23) and a guardian (v24), a slave whose purpose was to escort children to school and discipline them but not teach them, in order to show that the law points out sin and issues punishment (or discipline), as well as protects and separates Israel from pagan Gentiles while she grows to maturity in faith, at which point, claims v25, we no longer are under the law’s supervision. In other words, obedience to the works of the law was never meant to compete with God’s covenant promises – namely life in the Spirit – obtained through faith; but the law did and still does have a good purpose, that of bringing the chosen ones to the promises through faith in Christ, at which time the Spirit governs through the law of love. Calvin concludes, “Under the reign of Christ, there is no longer any childhood which needs to be placed under a schoolmaster, and consequently, the law has resigned its office.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Galatians 3:15-18

V15-18 – 15Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’ [Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 24:7], meaning one person, who is Christ. 17What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Paul has made it clear that Abraham was justified by faith and not by works of law, through the Spirit and not by the flesh. But one objection to this conceded truth might be that, since the law was given after the time of Abraham, the law may actually override the previous means of being declared righteous by God. Thus, to point out in this section that the law later given to Moses did not nullify the covenant promise God made to Abraham and his seed, Paul uses “an example from everyday life,” that of a permanently established grant or declaration (opposed to an agreement or bargain), perhaps akin to a last will and testament, through which an inheritance is left to a beneficiary. And that’s the comparison Paul makes to God’s covenant promise. And that’s the picture we see in Genesis when God ratified His covenant with Abraham. Now Paul knows that the word “seed” or “offspring” may be collective even in the singular, like our more common word, “family,” but his point is clear (v29; Romans 4:18), that Christ is the offspring to whom we must be united to receive the inherited promise made to Abraham.

In v17, Paul tries to clarify his remarks by saying that just as “no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case” (v15). It’s an argument from the lesser to the greater; if a human contract is considered binding (rendered effectual), how much more binding is a divine contract? The law, though given much later than the promise, “does not set aside” or “do away with” the covenant promise. (Paul uses 430 years, from Exodus 12:40, and this number from the Septuagint includes the stay of the patriarchs in Canaan; That he uses 430 does not mean that he used the Septuagint; Kim Riddlebarger acknowledges that “Paul here is using the standard rabbinic reckoning of the years counted between Moses and Abraham.”) Despite the fact that a long time passed between the promise and the law, works of law do not override grace through faith, according to the promise (Romans 4:14-16). Vincent Cheung says, “The inheritance was given to Abraham by promise – by God’s sovereign declaration of what He would perform – and ratified in blood. And as we have seen, the promised blessing is applied through faith to those whom God has chosen to believe. The law, which came after, does not affect this, whether we are referring to the promised inheritance or the means by which it is applied (v18). Therefore, the principle of justification by faith is preserved despite the formal institution of the law.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Galatians 3:10-14

V10-14 – 10All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ [Deuteronomy 27:26]. 11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith’ [Habakkuk 2:4]. 12The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them’ [Leviticus 18:5]. 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ [Deuteronomy 21:23]. 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Paul, not finished giving Old Testament (Scriptural) evidence that what he is teaching is true and has always been true, quotes Deuteronomy 27:26, proving that no one keeps the law perfectly in its entirety (except Jesus). Paul has given the positive illustration of Abraham, and now he gives the negative illustration of the law itself – not that the law is a problem; rather sin is the problem (see also Romans 7). Most Jews would have seen this statement as Paul rubbing it in their faces, since Deuteronomy 27 is speaking of the curses that would befall Israel for breaking the law – most of which had already happened to them, proving their sinfulness.

V11 reminds again of the point of this epistle, which we noted in Galatians 2:15-16. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, but there is an alternate translation (RSV) that seems to fit better with the message Paul is preaching, that “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” This is not a short-term solution to a temporary setback, but a life-long way of survival amidst a truly and otherwise overwhelming condition, that of sinfulness. Calvin says, “By ‘faith,’ he evidently means the exercise of a calm, steady conscience, relying on God alone.” And this faith is the means by which we persevere and overcome in this life.

In v12, we see that the law is God’s requirement for all apart from His covenant promise (Leviticus 26:14-38; 40-45). The promise is still good, despite the broken law. Vincent Cheung helps by saying, “A person who attempts to become justified by law must rely on his own works – this way is not based on faith, and it cannot be supplemented by faith. The man is ‘stuck’ with law, and the two ways of justification exclude each other. It is impossible to rely on both faith and law, that is, on both Christ and oneself… Note that faith and law in themselves do not exclude each other – God instituted both of them. Rather, we are saying that the two ways of justification exclude each other. If one relies on observing the law for justification, then there is no place for faith; if one relies on faith for justification, then there is no place for reliance on observing the law. Now since those who rely on the works of law must ‘live by them,’ and since they can never achieve perfect obedience to the law, all those who seek justification in this matter are doomed to eternal condemnation. Since the way of faith is the way of reliance on Christ for salvation, those who rely on observing the law instead are cut off from faith, and cut off from Christ (Galatians 5:4).”

In v13 Paul turns this discussion of justification by faith to the object of faith – Christ. He declares who did what and how it was done – Jesus redeemed us by bearing the law’s curse in our place, taking the condemnation from God – which we deserved for breaking our part of the covenant by violating the law of God – and giving us reconciliation and peace with God (Romans 3:21-26; 4:25; 5:1-8; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:13-15; cf. Mark 10:45; John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24). And as Vincent Cheung says, “Paul connects this understanding of the work of Christ with the manner of His death, citing Deuteronomy 21:23 as confirmation that He bore the curse as He hung on the cross. And Calvin adds, “It was not unknown to God what death His own Son would die, when He pronounced the law, ‘He that is hanged is accursed of God’ (Deuteronomy 21:23).” This leaves no question, then, as to the nature of the work of Christ, and the purpose of the crucifixion. His work was that of a substitutionary atonement – He died for sinners to save them from divine condemnation. The prophet proclaimed of the suffering servant, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). This idea is also taught in the law, for example, in the instructions regarding the scapegoat in Leviticus 16.” Calvin concludes, “This is the foolishness of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18), and the admiration of angels (1 Peter 1:12), which not only exceeds, but swallows up, all the wisdom of the world.

Lastly, and crucially, in v14, we learn that the Holy Spirit is the blessing promised to the justified, Abraham and his offspring - even the Gentiles - fulfilling the promise (Genesis 12:3) that "all peoples would be blessed." Justification and the Holy Spirit go hand in hand; you cannot have one without the other (Romans 8:9). A spiritual blessing is not received according to the flesh, but by faith. And so we can rejoice that justification by faith has come through the Holy Spirit. One scholar says, "[The] gift of the Spirit (who is the substance of the promise) is to be received 'through faith,' literally 'through the faith' - the faith spoken of in v7-9,11. In the original promise to Abraham there was no mention of the Spirit but only the blessing of justification by faith, and yet here Paul conceives of the fulfillment of that promise as constituted above all in the bestowal of the Spirit upon those who have faith. It is manifest that in Paul's thinking the blessing of justification is almost synonymous (it is certainly contemporaneous) with the reception of the Spirit." But the objection may remain that even though Abraham was justified by faith, the law came later and may therefore override justification by faith. Paul will pick up there next in Galatians 3.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Galatians 3:6-9

6Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ [Genesis 15:6]. 7Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you’ [Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18]. 9So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In v6, Paul notes that Abraham was justified by faith, just as he later elaborates in Romans 4:1-3, 9-24. It is not a requirement but certainly helps when a theological assertion is given historical narrative support from Scripture. Paul did not have to bring Abraham into this discussion, for facts related to experience are adequate in value, but it positively helps that he does. In fact, it is likely that the Judaizers – and if not them, then certainly Jewish Rabbis – used Abraham to attempt to prove works righteousness, even as if to say that his faith was the meritorious work that brought him favor with God. But Paul refutes that concept using the very text his opponents preferred. Kim Riddlebarger says, “
Abraham’s right standing before God is given to him…through the means of faith, not because of faith.” Therefore, Abraham serves as additional proof for upholding Paul’s claim that justification is by faith, through the imputed righteousness of Christ. As Paul will say in v14, “By faith we…receive the promise of the Spirit.”

Paul also uses Abraham here to negatively reverse the charge that he was undercutting the covenant God made with Abraham, which is actually what the Judaizers were doing by trying to enforce Jewishness on Gentile converts to Christianity. Paul is saying that the true heirs of God’s covenant promise to Abraham are his offspring, not by ancestry or by works of circumcision, but by faith, those who share belief in Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides (in Christ), in hope against all hope, as Paul notes in Romans 4. It’s not that circumcision was unimportant; rather, it was to serve, as baptism now does, as a sign and a seal of the covenant promise that comes by faith. Calvin ponders faith here:

“But why does faith receive such honor as to be entitled a cause of our justification? First, we must observe, that it is merely an instrumental cause; for, strictly speaking, our righteousness is nothing else than God’s free acceptance of us, on which our salvation is founded. But as the Lord testifies his love and grace in the gospel, by offering to us that righteousness of which I have spoken, so we receive it by faith. And thus, when we ascribe to faith a man’s justification, we are not treating of the principal cause, but merely pointing out the way in which men arrive at true righteousness. For this righteousness is not a quality which exists in men, but is the mere gift of God, and is enjoyed by faith only; and not even as a reward justly due to faith, but because we receive by faith what God freely gives. All such expressions as the following are of similar import: We are “justified freely by his grace” (Romans 3:24). Christ is our righteousness. The mercy of God is the cause of our righteousness. By the death and resurrection of Christ, righteousness has been procured for us. Righteousness is bestowed on us through the gospel. We obtain righteousness by faith.”
The Judaizers certainly taught that one had to become a child of Abraham in order to be a child of God. And Paul doesn’t disagree with that assertion, but he qualifies it by explaining how one becomes a child of Abraham. It’s not through circumcision, but through faith. As Paul says in v9, “Those who have faith [in Christ, in the gospel] are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” And “In this context,” says Cheung, “The blessing relates to how God justified Abraham through faith, and that since the principle is extended through Abraham to all nations, that ‘God would justify the Gentiles by faith’ as well… Therefore, God has always intended to save the Gentiles since the beginning, and faith has always been the only way [see Hebrews 11]. Paul even calls God’s promise to Abraham ‘the gospel’ in v8.”

Lastly, and quite an amazing point to mention, in v8 we see Scripture personified as God Himself (see Romans 9:17). Vincent Cheung concludes, “This carries great significance for both the doctrine of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, and the doctrine of justification by faith. Of course, the Scripture, as in the Bible or the book, is not identified with God in the ontological sense. But when the intellectual contents of the Scripture is considered, then there is no difference between what it says and what God says, since the Scripture is what God says (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21)… The implication for the doctrine of justification by faith is straightforward. Because this doctrine is what the Scripture teaches, and because what Scripture says is what God says, it follows that God is the one who insists on the doctrine of justification by faith. It is taught and supported by God’s own authority and wisdom, and cannot be faulted. Anyone who affirms or teaches something different becomes an enemy, not only of Paul, but of God. Naturally, such a person would be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:6-9). The same verdict is pronounced against anyone who opposes the doctrine today.”

DC 301 - Week 10

We're nearing the end of the 301 Discipleship Curriculum. This week's workload might look like this:

Monday - Read Joshua 13-24
Tuesday - Read Psalms 45-48
Wednesday - Prepare a couple mini-lessons based on the Old Testament reading
Thursday - Review memory verses, such as 1 Timothy 6:10, Proverbs 3:9, and 1 Thessalonians 1:3
Friday - Continue working on your lesson for the Ten Commandments series