NUGGETS OF WISDOM

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BELIEVING WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

David recollected that as a young lad, with long unruly hair and a ruddy complexion, sleeping out in an open pasture under a starry sky after watching his father’s sheep all day long; how he would take his little harp and sing to the God above all gods. Looking up, he saw the sky as a huge tent with the sparkling stars as lights that lit up the night. He may have even tried to count them once or twice. But what really impressed him was that each night every star was in exactly the same place, not one of them was missing. He was so overcome with awe that he penned a hymn to the creator of that starry universe.

O my LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius, as You display Your grandeur all over the heavens for all the world to see. For through these small and tiny dots of light You communicate as a way of countering those who don’t take You seriously; yes, You do this to silence the doubter and unbeliever. When I look up into the sky and see the galaxies Your hands created, the stars and the moon You put into orbit I ask, “What role do humans play in this vast universe; why do You care and fuss over them?” Then I realized, You created them a little short of being angels; endowing them with attributes of honor and dignity; making them the smartest and most influential creatures on earth; putting them in charge to being stewards of Your handiwork, even taking care of the animals, both domestic and wild, including the birds that fill the sky and the fish that fill the sea. O LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius for all the world to see.” Psalm 8:1-9

Reflection: Back in the days of the hippy movement I sat in a coffee house in Stuttgart, Germany talking with a long-haired flower-child about God. The young man was respectful but adamant about his doubts concerning God’s existence because he couldn’t see Him or talk to Him. At that moment the Holy Spirit gave me an inspiration, so I pointed to a picture hanging on the wall beside our table and asked the young man if he believed that picture came into being due to an accidental collision of paint and paper. He laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous; that picture was painted by an artist.” I responded that I wasn’t convinced because I couldn’t see the artist in the picture; how did I know that maybe one day it just appeared on the wall by accident. The young fellow looked at me for a moment and then admitted that even though I couldn’t see the artist in the painting, I had to accept the fact that an artist painted the picture because it just makes sense. I told him that in the same way, one must exercise faith to believe an unseen talented artist created such a beautiful portrait, we can also believe an unseen God created the beauty of the universe. The magnificence of God’s creation shows His responsibility for man’s existence, and man’s responsibility to acknowledge God’s handiwork. The young man smiled somewhat embarrassingly as he bowed his head and said, “Okay, you got me on that one.” I asked him if we could have prayer for him to have faith, but he wasn’t sure. As he went away I asked the Holy Spirit to go with him and open his eyes to the truth.

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIX)

There is an interesting story of an incident that happened during the time Paul was ministering throughout Galatia, which sheds light on the debate concerning the Gentiles’ submission to circumcision once they accepted the Jewish religion. It concerns Izates, king of Adiabene, a territory near the Persian Gulf, where he ruled from 36-60 AD. Here is the story, look and see the dilemma this king found himself facing.

During the time of Izates, the son of Helena, Queen of Adiabene in the Parthian Empire, was king over a substate and lived at Charax (Fort) Spasini.[1] A particular Jewish merchant named Ananias introduced himself to the harem belonging to the king and taught them to worship God according to the Jewish religion. Through their influence, he became acquainted with King Izates and persuaded him, in like manner, to embrace the Jewish religion. He also was permitted, after quite a lot of pleading, to accompany King Izates when he was sent for by his father to come to Adiabene. It also happened that about this same time, his mother Helena was instructed by another Jew and became a Jewish convert. But when King Izates arrived in Adiabene and saw some Jews and other kin in bonds, he was immensely displeased. Although he thought it would be wrong to execute or imprison them, he still thought it is a risk to allow them to go free. So, seeing the injuries they already suffered, he sent some of them and their children as hostages to Rome, to Claudius Caesar, and sent the others to King Artabanus of Parthia, for the same purpose.

Now, when he sensed that his mother was highly pleased with the Jewish customs, he quickly converted and embraced Judaism entirely. As he expected that he could not be thoroughly a Jew unless circumcised, he was ready to have it done. As soon as his mother heard, she stopped him. She did not want him exposed to unnecessary danger. As king, he’d be a disgrace in the eyes of his subjects. They’d realize how fond he became of rites that to them were strange and foreign. They’d refuse to be ruled over by a Jew. She persuaded him to hold back for a little while.

When he related what she had said to the merchant Ananias, Ananias threatened to leave him unless he complied with, he told him to do. So, Ananias departed, saying that he was afraid lest when all of this became public, he too would be in danger of punishment for having been involved as the king’s instructor in actions that were of ill repute. Therefore, he then told the king he might worship God without being circumcised, even though he did resolve to follow the Jewish Law entirely, which worship of God was superior to circumcision.  He added that God would forgive him, though he did not perform the surgery, while it was omitted out of necessity, and for fear of his subjects.[2]  

As one commentator, Dr. Ann Nyland, notes on this subject: “In the anointing of Jesus, circumcision doesn’t count for anything! Non-circumcision doesn’t count for anything! What does count is faith, which is active and supported by love.”[3] Why then are so many people attempting to add to what our Anointed One did on the cross?  Why do they feel it still needs improvement? Again, it’s all a matter of faith, the type of faith spoken of by Theologian Søren Kierkegaard, which he called a “leap to faith.” For Kierkegaard, this leap is the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without visible evidence as being real.[4]

Early church preacher Chrysostom explained it in his sermon that anyone who is circumcised does so out of fear of the Law. They who fear the Law distrust the power of grace and they who distrust the power of forgiveness cannot receive any benefit from that which they doubt. He goes on to explain that those who submit to circumcision make the Law a force to obey. However, by agreeing that it is a force to be reckoned with, they must realize by transgressing even the least of its rules, they were putting themselves under the curse again. But how can those be saved who submit themselves to the curse while pushing away the freedom that comes through Faith? Such is a paradox. You must be on one side or the other; you cannot stand in-between thinking they can benefit from both. There is such a wide gap between the two they cannot enjoy the fruit from either tree.[5] I’m sure the apostle Paul was wondering why the Galatians believers didn’t see this all along.

Today we find the same phenomenon taking place in many of our churches. However, instead of trying to harmonize circumcision with grace, it’s a matter of teaching that church rites and rituals are of one accord with grace.  More wars and conflicts have been fought among believers over creeds, sacraments, and ceremonies than over fundamental doctrines of the Bible.  Not only do the various views among different church groups on living a holy life fail to promote ecumenical bonds, but bring discord even among members within the same organization.  Maybe it’s time for everyone to gather again at the foot of the cross and share in the joy of what we all hold in common so that we can place these differences where they need to be and stop using them like fiery darts against one another.

So for the Jewish people, circumcision was a sign that they ascribed to the covenant God made with Abraham, which says, “This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”[6]  However, Paul saw what Moses saw when he spoke to the Israelites after they came out of Egypt and told them to circumcise their hearts.[7]  Like Paul, Moses understood that this token spoke of commitment and allegiance to remain faithful and obedient to God’s will and purpose for their lives.  When they did, God promised never to leave them or forsake them.

Nevertheless, by the time Jesus came, the Jews viewed circumcision not only as a physical sign but also as an exclusive symbol that they were God’s choice out of all nations and referred to them as His children.  So, when Joseph and Mary took Jesus to be circumcised, it was their way of not only abiding by the command God gave Abraham but also to identify their child as Jewish in faith.  Paul opposed the Judaizers taking the circumcision of the heart – salvation, and adding to it the demand that they also keep of all religious rituals and regulations to qualify as children of God.

No wonder Jesus felt such anger when He entered the temple and saw people forced to pay exorbitant prices for their rites and ritual sacrifices, offered to merit God’s forgiveness and favor.  Failure on their part to obtain the necessary finances to have these sacrifices and offerings carried out brought reprimand and punishment from man, not from God.  No wonder Paul viewed this whole system as corrupt and out of sync with God’s design for salvation through the Messiah, whom they unceremoniously rejected.  And this is what the Judaizers were tempting the Galatians believers to accept?

If they sang the following song during Apostolic times, I have little doubt that Paul would have sung it to them: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”[8]  What would have happened if when God sent Moses back into Egypt to lead His children out of bondage and slavery, they responded by saying to Moses, you’re not our idea of a Messiah?  After all, you were born here and raised here.  How can we trust you?  When Moses received word to have the lamb slain and the blood put on the doorposts, the elders replied that wasting the life of a lamb for such an unproven idea was not acceptable. They would rather be good slaves and non-citizens of Egypt, so God would see their good deeds and change Pharaoh’s heart to let them leave peacefully and on their merit. Had this happened, they would still be there to this day!

My goodness, says Paul, can’t you Galatians see that God designed a plan for your salvation to come by way of faith in His grace? Therefore, He sent His Son Jesus to free you and lead you out of Egyptian style slavery, and now you are rejecting it. He sent the Jews down into Egypt for a purpose. They would forever owe their freedom to Him and acknowledge that their inclusion in His covenant with Abraham depended on God keeping His word that He would always be their God, and they would forever be His people?  How else could God prove that anymore dramatically and forcefully?  Now you’re acting like the children of Israel after God freed them by His power when they turned back to the gods of Egypt and raised their voices in protest against Moses and Aaron.  “Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place?  This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!”[9]

One of the most divisive points between many Christian denominations today hangs on what Paul meant when he accused the Galatian believers of treason. They became adherents to the Judaizers’ form of salvation by man’s efforts, of becoming alienated from the Anointed One and falling away from grace (v.4).  No doubt, the Judaizers assured them that keeping Mosaic Law was not abandoning their faith in the Anointed One; it was just another way to reach perfection in Christian living.

Consequently, Paul indicates that regulating their lives by Mosaic Law, they remove the Anointed One as Lord and King over their lives, and by trusting in their efforts to keep Mosaic Law, they no longer believed in God’s grace.  Circumcision or the Anointed One, Mosaic Law or grace: these are exclusive alternatives. You cannot have it both ways. You must choose. Therefore, the danger of falling away from grace must have been genuine or Paul would not use such strong language. If we use the doctrine of eternal security to deny the possibility of falling from grace, are we in danger because we brush aside Paul’s warning?  Whoever promotes the principle of eternal security is often associated with the saying, “Once in grace, always in grace.”  One commentator said that these words of Paul in verse four do not make void the doctrine of eternal security. He believes that Paul is merely warning the Galatians that they had slipped, not fallen, from the gospel of grace.

[1] The Parthian Empire stretched from central-eastern Turkey to eastern Iran today. Charax Spasini was a commercial port at the head of the Persian Gulf. It contained a fortified palace for the king.

[2] Josephus, Flavius: Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20; Ch. 2:3-4

[3] Nyland, A., Galatians: The Source New Testament With Extensive Notes On Greek Word Meaning, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Kierkegaard, Søren: Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments.

[5] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Ibid. 17:7

[7] Deuteronomy 10:16 – Abraham Saba in his Tzror Hamor says: “Moses reminds the people that God is the Supreme God and will find ways to penetrate any insulating walls the people might want to build around themselves, that they would be well advised to serve Him under the most auspicious conditions instead of being coerced through having experienced retributions for resisting Him.” op. cit., loc. cit. (pp. 1862-1863

[8] Amazing Grace, written by John Newton between 1760-1770.

[9] Numbers 20:5 – Rabbi Abraham Saba, author of Tzror Hamor commented on his Hebrew version of this verse, which read: “And why did you lead us up to this vile place, a place unfit to plant a seed, and certainly not a place where one can expect fig-trees, grapevines or pomegranates to grow.”  He goes on to explain that this did not mean that they demanded these luxuries.  They knew full well that in summertime excessive amounts of water are actually harmful.  They made it plain that all they desired was enough water for drinking purposes, and this is why the Torah quoted them as adding that there was not enough water for drinking.  Surely this was a real crisis. op. cit., pp. 1660-1661

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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[SPECIAL NOTICE: Due to several computer freezes on my word processor, each time I rebooted, it would save my work to a new file. Apparently, when I opened our lessons on Galatians, I opened an older file and began posting from there. Thanks to those of you who alerted us. My wife and I have attempted to get things back in order. I hope you enjoyed reading some of the lessons twice!]

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIX)

Luther’s trustworthy and faithful coworker and translator of the Final Covenant into German and the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), backed up Luther’s testimony. He noted that in the Church during those days, that the monks taught that deeds and services of man’s own making satisfy the debt for sins and merited grace and justification. No sufficient explanation will do except to call it a distraction from the glory of the Anointed One and to obscure and deny the righteousness that comes by faith in His work.  It follows, therefore, he said, that the vows commonly are taken have involved services unworthy of justification and, consequently, are void. For such an oath opposes what Jesus taught and is, therefore, not valid. Even in Church teachings, it says that no vow ought to obligate people to do ungodly things.

Melanchthon points out that Paul says here in verse four: If you try to be made right with God through the Law, your life with the Anointed One is finished – you have forsaken God’s grace. To those, therefore, who wants to be justified in not facing death by their vows, our Redeemer is made of no effect, and they fall from grace. Anyone assigning justification to their vows is crediting to good works that rightly belongs to the glory of the Anointed One.

Melanchthon describes more of what he and Luther saw as grave errors in the Medieval Church. Allowing the monks to teach by their vows and observances, that they were justified in not being put to death for sin, and merited forgiveness of sins, led to the invention of still greater absurdities. They even claimed that they could give others a share of the merits they earned through their good deeds. If anyone should be inclined to enlarge on these things with ulterior motives, many things could be written that even the monks would be ashamed of!

Over and above this, however, they persuaded people that the services of humanity’s making were a state of Christian perfection. Is this not assigning justification to works? It is no small matter that the Church declared to everyone that such good deeds devised by men, without the commandment of God, will lead them to a right standing before God. For the righteousness of faith, which needs teaching in the Church, is obscured when these unusual angelic forms of worship, with their show of poverty, humility, and celibacy. They perform them for the applause of others.[1] Perhaps this will help us see why a Reformation was so necessary to get the Church back on the right path, which is the Highway of Holiness.

A fellow Reformer, John Calvin, also gives his view. He sees the Apostle Paul contending that our Anointed One cannot be divided, with Law on the one side, and He on the other. The person who does this not only profits nothing but loses everything; the Anointed One is not served by following the dictates of the Law, and the Law cannot be served unless it is performed to perfection. They cannot go together, you must totally embrace one or the other. Calvin wondered why the Roman Catholic Church decided to replace obligatory circumcision with mandatory baptism.

And even that does not seem to be enough. Added details of their inventions were forthcoming; their whole doctrine tends to blend the grace of our Anointed One with the merit of works, which is impossible. Whoever wishes to have only half of the Anointed One, loses the whole. And yet these unfortunate brethren think themselves exceedingly keen when they tell us that they ascribe nothing to works, except through the influence of the grace of the Anointed One. But they are making the same mistake as the Galatians. By combining works with grace is another way of saying that all the Anointed One did on the cross was insufficient to provide redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life. In other words, Jesus wasn’t strong enough to finish the job – even though He did declare, “It is finished!” What they don’t realize was that they departed from the Anointed One as their only Lord and Savior. And by relinquishing the full power of His grace, they lost the benefits of His work on the cross entirely. We could call this a case of religious bigamy. They are married to two Saviors – the Law and the Anointed One. It doesn’t work under the laws of this world; likewise, it does not work under the Laws of God’s Kingdom.[2]

Jesuit priest and interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures Cornelius à Lápide (1567-1637) remarks on who the Anointed One’s sacrifice becomes of no effect who seek justification in the Law; he addresses those who try to be justified in bypassing sin’s death sentence by doing the works of the Law. He goes on to say that those who seek righteousness from circumcision and other legal rites are distrusting the Grace of the Anointed One and preferring to put their trust in the Law. By doing so, they are treating the Anointed One with ingratitude, and as a consequence, He withdrew His grace from them.

Galatians believers, says Paul, were once filled with the Grace of the Anointed One, like a well with water; but they emptied it and so lost the fruits of His work on the cross. To put it in another way, the Anointed One drained His Church of them, because of their lack of faith.[3] We can see where the Roman Catholic Church was in the Middle Ages in their theology of justification by grace alone. I disagree with Lápide in that God never withdraws His Grace from us; it is we who push it away. But the mindset by that time was that the Roman Church was the deciding factor in such issues. So, when excommunicated from the Church, you were banished from God’s Grace.

Adam Clarke offers his exegesis on what Paul is saying to the Galatians here about circumcision. Didn’t they realize that by approving circumcision, they were taking on carrying the whole burden of the Law, and consequently professing that they are seeking salvation by means of its observances. But they were unaware that all our Anointed One did on the cross and rising out of the grave would not benefit them in any way. By seeking justification by the works of the Law, they were renouncing justification by faith in our Anointed One.

Clarke goes on to add that the Galatians seemed oblivious to the fact that they were trying to unite two opposing systems. They must either give their unconditional allegiance to the Law or to our Anointed One. They were brought into the grace of the Gospel but now decided to readopt the Mosaic ordinances instead. They were renouncing the power of the Gospel for salvation. Didn’t they know they were losing all the benefits of grace communicated to their souls, by which they were preserved in a state of salvation? The peace and love of God received through Jesus the Anointed One could not remain in the hearts of those who rejected Him. To put it mildly, they fell from grace. If some recovered, is not recorded in the Scriptures.[4]

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) takes the phrase “The Anointed One will profit you nothing” and says it should be limited in scope because we cannot suppose that the circumcision of the Jewish believers incapacitated them for being profited by the Anointed One’s work on the cross. It also shows that the Apostle’s declaration is not to be considered as a prohibition of circumcision to the Jews as a national rite, but only as a rite necessary for salvation. And therefore, while the Jews practiced this rite, according to its original intention, they did what was right. But the Gentiles, not being of Abraham’s race, were under no lawful obligation to circumcise themselves; consequently, if they received that rite, it must have been because they thought it necessary to their salvation; for which reason the Apostle absolutely prohibited it to all the Gentiles. That is, those who seek to be justified by the Law will fall from grace. When you renounce the covenant of grace in this last and most perfect manifestation of it: you disclaim the benefit of the Anointed One’s gracious dispensation. The Apostle’s meaning is this: that whosoever sought to be justified meritoriously by the Law of Moses, and for that purpose received circumcision, dissolved their connection with the Anointed One, and renounced relationship to, and dependence on Him as Lord and Savior.[5]

George S. Bishop (1880-1910) informs us that the question of the timelessness of Grace is the question of a genuine Gospel. In other words, if Grace is real, then is the Gospel a reality? If Grace is temporary, then is the Gospel temporary? Wouldn’t that make a dream of blessed assurance something from which someone wakes to find themselves empty of all that enraptured them – that spoke its promises into the ear but was devoid of hope. So now we must ask, says Bishop, can a person who has real Grace lose it? The answer to this question decides the validity of our faith. The permanence of Grace is the forward stronghold guarding the fortress of Truth, the first point of attack which establishes, commits, secures, and rivets God’s eternal, unchanging plan of salvation to the Gospel.[6] In other words, if God’s Grace is genuine, then the Gospel is authentic. And God’s unending Grace is what makes the Gospel’s plan of salvation a permanent fixture for eternity.

[1] Philip Melanchthon: The Augsburg Confession, Article 27, pp. 29-30

[2] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Cornelius à Lápide: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit.

[4] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Joseph Benson: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] George Sayles Bishop: The Doctrines of Grace: and Kindred Themes, Gospel Publishing House, New York, 1910, p. 306

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LVIII)

Kenneth Wuest (1893-1961) notes that the liberty spoken of here in verse one does not refer to the kind of life a person lives; neither does it have reference to their words and actions, but it has to do with the method by which they conduct their life. The Judaizer’s spiritual existence depended on self-effort in a continuous, failed attempt to obey the Law. The Galatian Christians were spiritually active in their dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit. With hearts focused on the Lord Jesus, the details of their conscience were guided by ethics emerging from the teaching of the apostles, both doctrinal and practical. Now, however, in swinging back to the side of the Law, they were losing that freedom of action and that flexibility of self-determination which one exercises in doing what is right in God’s eyes. And when one does right, not because the Law forbids wrong and commands right, but since it is right by pleasing the Lord Jesus, and of their love for Him. Paul urges them to keep on standing fast in that freedom from the oppressiveness of the Law.[1]

When speaking about the yoke as a burden, Paul knew from personal experience what he meant. Starting when Moses received the Ten Commandments until Paul’s day, Jewish Rabbis added 603 more laws for a total of 613 – 248 do’s and 365 don’ts. Their desire to please and impress God with slave-like obedience led them to cover every area of life from how far they could walk on the Sabbath; not mingling olive oil with the meal-offering of a suspected adulteress; keeping priests with disheveled hair from entering the Sanctuary, or eating bread made from the grain of a crop grown in a new field. These may sound trivial to us, but when you grow up believing God requires obedience to these restrictions for you to receive His favor and everlasting life, you can understand why they become so domineering.

As a boy growing up in Germany, we lived in a village where only one farmer owned a horse. I remember one day I saw him beating his horse severely because it wouldn’t pull his heavily loaded wagon. I overheard one of the villagers say that the horse used to be a racehorse and not strong enough for work like that. Everyone else in the village pulled their plows and wagons with milk cows. Paul tried to get the Galatian believers to see they weren’t oxen anymore (like they did back in his day), yoked together trying to pull the heavy load of Mosaic Law. Now they were freed thoroughbreds, ready to run the race before them. So, if they get hooked up again to the heavy weight of Mosaic Law, they’ll be unable to pull it.

In one of his sermons, the great German reformer Martin Luther used oxen in an illustration. He pointed out that after oxen toil in the yoke all day, they are turned out in the evening to graze. However, when they can no longer pull a wagon, they are marked for slaughter. He goes on to compare these oxen with those who seek to be justified by Mosaic Law and become “entangled with the yoke of bondage.” Once they grow old and broken-down in the service of Mosaic Law, they are then marked for judgment to receive God’s wrath of everlasting torment.

In one of his sermons on Romans, chapter six, Dr. David Martin Lloyd-Jones used an illustration drawn from the days of slavery in the Southern United States. Before the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln, slaves had no rights. Any white person could attack them and even kill them without penalty. When a slave went into town to shop for the plantation owner’s wife, if a white person told them to do this or that and was abusive to them, they had to drop everything and do what they were ordered to do. Slaves were always frightened and obeyed without question.

But after the Emancipation Proclamation was published, they now had rights. They didn’t have to obey every white person’s ridiculous demands. However, when many of them walked into town and a white person started yelling at them, even though they knew they were free and had all the rights this white person had; nevertheless, they were still scared and acted like a slave anyhow. Being a child of the 1930s, I saw this myself many times.

Lloyd-Jones then points out that this is exactly how many Christians still act. They know one thing, but don’t know the other. They know they are redeemed from sin’s slavery and are free in union with the Anointed One. If they believed in their hearts what they knew in their head, they wouldn’t still be a slave to their sinful heart’s desires or what others think of them. While technically, and in reality, you are not a slave to sin. God freed you from your sins. Why do you remain a slave to them? So, let go of those sins, says Lloyd-Jones, and grab hold of Jesus your Savior, He will be more than enough to help you remain free.

How many times have we seen a young Christian try to pull the heavy load of church membership requirements and just couldn’t make it? Or an elderly believer who, after years and years of faithful obedience to religious rituals and regulations, being let out to pasture because they are no longer useful to the church as an asset; they have become burdensome? Paul’s heart bled for these Galatians who didn’t see the real value of freedom in our Anointed One.  It allowed them to serve God without the taxing load of “should I or shouldn’t I; can I or can’t I; will they like it, or will they hate it?” Didn’t they realize that their freedom in the Anointed One allowed them to get closer to God than any rite or ritual could do? Didn’t he tell them that their liberty in the Anointed One gave them more excellent options to please God than any ceremony could provide? Didn’t they remember he taught them that their immunity from these things offered them more opportunity to give themselves to God for divine service than any regulation could allow?

Dutch Bible Scholar Alfred E. Bouter makes a good point on what Paul says here in verse one about “remaining steadfast in one’s faith.” This Christian liberty is a precious thing, and it is continuously under attack. Forces are seeking to move saints from the center of grace by pushing them towards strict legalism. There, they abstain from doing what pleases them or steering them towards an open license to do as they wish. We must keep our focus based on what we see in our connection with this liberty, and that is why Paul says, “Stand firm.” When it comes to the enjoyment of these precious Christian truths, there is always this challenge to stand firm, so we will not lose them, but that we will enjoy this position of liberty in true fellowship with God. In every epistle, Paul encourages this sense, to hold fast.[2] In his translation of verse one from the Aramaic Version, Andrew Roth renders it: “Therefore, you stand in the liberty of the Messiah, liberty and not subjugation, turned from the yoke of servitude.” [3]

Current Messianic Jewish writer Thomas Lancaster attempts to point out how Paul’s words were so easily misunderstood, even by early non-Jewish Christian leaders such as Ignatius of Antioch. He points to an epistle written by Ignatius to the Magnesians.[4] Ignatius told them not to become insensible to God’s kindness. For if He were to treat us for the way we are acting, we would indeed be lost and undone. Therefore, upon becoming His disciples, we should learn to live in a way befitting a Christian. Those who say they feel called to live by a specific code of conduct by any other name than Jesus the Anointed One is not of God.  So, don’t even fool around with such things. Instead of the Bread of Heaven, what they feed you is hard, stale bread given to a prisoner. Be the salt of the earth so that no one among you spoils, for, your Savior will test you. Lancaster tells us,It is outrageous to utter the name of Jesus the Anointed One and live in Judaism. A Christian cannot remain in Judaism and remain Christian, but Jews can come into Christianity remain Christian even though they are still Jewish. For it is in Christianity that people of every tongue can believe and be gathered to God.[5]

Lancaster also responds to what Ignatius wrote by saying that he misinterpreted the words of Paul because he misunderstood Judaism. Lancaster apologizes for confronting Ignatius, but this is not exactly what Paul meant. In the first place, says Lancaster, Paul spoke only to Gentile believers on this subject, not Jews. As far as Paul is concerned, it is only to the Jews that one talked about keeping the whole Torah. Paul did not speak against the Torah or Judaism; instead, as we have learned, he addressed Gentiles who were considering undergoing a legal conversion to become Jewish. Lancaster then again apologizes to Ignatius, a fellow Gentile, because Ignatius never lived under the Law to be set free from something he never experienced being under the burden of a yoke. However, in doing so, Lancaster contradicts himself.  True, Paul warned the non-Jews not to become tied to the yoke of slavery produced by the Law. By using the term “again,” he equated the Jewish Law to the pagan ways they once were enslaved. But at the same time, why should the Apostle only warn the non-Jews when the Jews themselves remained tied to the same yoke. And Paul makes that clear by what he then says in verse two about the enslavement represented by circumcision.

American theologian and Presbyterian minister Philip G. Ryken has an interesting way of explaining our freedom from the Law through union with the Anointed One. Paul is concerned that the Galatians might misinterpret this freedom as being set free from the moral laws that God gave to Moses and that Jesus reinforced.[6] After all, this is God’s eternal will for His people. The Law that the Anointed One liberated us from is the one that leads to condemnation and death. But the Gospel replaced this Law because we received forgiveness and justification by faith and grace. That way, the Law no longer has any control over our future with God. Not only that, but Jesus paid the price for our freedom so that we need not fear eternal punishment anymore. If we stay in union with the Anointed One and He stays in union with us, neither Satan nor the Law can touch us. The Anointed One kept the Law we could not satisfy. He paid the penalty we could not pay; He won the victory we could not win. Therefore, we can say with confidence that the Spirit of Life has set us free from the Law of sin and death.[7] [8]

In the Jewish Annotated New Testament, we find that the term “Yoke” was not new to Jesus or Paul. We find it referred to in several places in Jewish literature. For instance, speaking about worship in the synagogue, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha says before saying the Shema,Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One,” [9] followed by the v’hayah im shamoa, “And it shall come to pass if you surely listen to the commandments…” [10] one should first accept  the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,” and then take upon themselves the “yoke of the commandments.” [11]

[1] Wuest, Kenneth: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Bouter, Alfred E. On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 65-66

[3] Roth, Andrew G. Aramaic Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] Magnesians were residents of an area in Greece on the eastern coast of the Pagasetic Gulf in the Aegean Sea.  It is part of the broader region of Thessaly.

[5] The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch by Rev. J. H. Srawley, Second Edition, Revised, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1910, Chapter 10, pp. 67-68

[6] Matthew 5:17-20

[7] Romans 8:2

[8] Ryken, Philip Graham. On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 3420-3429)

[9] Deuteronomy 6:4

[10] Ibid. 11:13-21

[11] Mishnah, Zeraim, Berakoth, Ch. 2:2

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LVII)

The accusers of the woman caught in adultery were stunned. The Law never raised such a question. But the Anointed One brings in power and comprehensiveness and searching of character that was never witnessed before, which can now be seen only in and through Him. The Law simply said, punish adulteresses with stoning. But it never said, “He that is without sin should throw the first stone.” The Law knew there were no sinless people? He alone who came not to condemn was without sin. The Law might denounce an act but had no power to execute it. So, the accusers retreated in hopeless confusion. That left the woman in the presence of the Son, who shines as the Word of God, as Light upon the soul.[1] Jesus did not excuse her sin, but by grace forgave her sin and told her to go and never do it again. We can only imagine the freedom she felt in her heart and soul.

James Nisbet (1823-1874), in his commentary, quotes Anglican priest James Vaughan, the Dean of the diocese of Achonry in Ireland (1662-1683), who observed what Paul says here about the freedom by which believers are set free, and the situation in England at that time. Everyone has things in their past, says Vaughan, they drag them around like chains. There are things in a person’s life which they can scarcely dare to look back on, and when they do, they see what they are chained to. They feel that so long as those things stay there, it is of little or no use to try and live a better life. They see nothing in their future can break those chains.

However, says Vaughan, just to break those chains, they must go to the Cross of the Anointed One and have Him cancel all the guilt because He paid the penalty in full. The moment a person believes and accepts His pardon, the chains are cut off from all their sinful past! These sins are placed out of God’s sight and cast into the depths of the sea. It is as though they never existed. Those who are forgiven can start life afresh and anew. No shadow, no fear of days and years gone by every need raise its ugly head. They stand as a liberated person! Now they can go as a freed slave of the Anointed One. The God of their terror is now the God of their trust! And that’s because they’ve been liberated from the past by His purchase of their freedom on the cross.[2]

Well-known English writer, translator, and theologian, J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) makes the point that Paul assumes a very severe tone in condemning the Galatians for returning to the Law. Not only because it was a useless obligation or even a weighty burden, but it was a harmful and fatal mistake. But there was another side to Paul’s tough talk. He was not speaking on behalf of a Church or Council, but he was called of God and commissioned by Jesus the Anointed One to take the Gospel to these people, and he was willing to suffer for the Gospel’s sake. So, the Galatians needed to know that the Good News was not cheap, it was bought with the blood of the Son of God and brought to them with great strain and inconvenience. Therefore, don’t throw away such a precious gift.[3]

In one of his sermons, the great evangelist D. L. Moody (1837-1899) told a story from his era that illustrates confusion over choice, when he quoted a former slave from the South right after the Civil War in America. She confessed to being very perplexed over her change in status. “Am I free, or am I not?” she asked herself. “When I go to my old slave master, he says I’m not really free, but when I ask my fellow slaves, they say I am, so am I free or not? My people tell me that President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation to free me, but my old slave master says Lincoln didn’t have the right to sign such a thing, so am I free or not?” Paul is trying to tell the Galatian believers they are indeed free; Jesus the Anointed One signed their Emancipation Proclamation with His blood. So, don’t listen to these Judaizers; they are only working for your old slave master – the Mosaic Law, who doesn’t want you to be free.

Frederic Rendall (1840-1906) looks back at verse thirty-one in the previous chapter and notes that when accurately translated, it reads: “Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of the handmaid; the Anointed One set us free with the freedom of the freewoman.” He believes that Paul made this threefold alliteration to emphasize the importance of such a Christian birthright that supports his statement in the first verse of the fifth chapter that we were born to live in freedom. Paul did this to show the stark difference between the liberty granted to Christians in contrast to the bondage which the Jews inherited.[4] So it should be easy to see how the freedom of being born again to serve God freely out of love cannot be matched by the slavery of sin in which hold every sinner hostage until they are freed by the Anointed One.

Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925), proposes that this first sentence of chapter five is “the epitome of the contention of the whole letter.” [5] Thus, Paul cautioned the converted Jews in Galatia not to become overloaded again with the dictates of the Law, including its rites, rituals, and regulations designed to earn salvation. But unfortunately, we find a parallel among some Christians today. It is a shame that so many having been set free by the Anointed One who voluntarily re-chain themselves to the prison-post of religious habits! The Anointed One broke their shackles, and yet many put them right back on out of tradition. This then leads to the resurrection of the desires of the flesh, as well as the habits of the sinful nature and its corrupt mind. This is voluntary slavery, so when the Anointed One beckons for us to follow Him in order to do His will, we cannot because we are tied to a legal, religious system of mankind’s making. Oh, that believers once set free and yet allowed themselves to go back into slavery will offer themselves as unchained servants to the Most-High God.

Not only did the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt set the Jews free from slavery under Pharaoh, but Paul reminds the believers in Galatia that the blood of the Passover Lamb on Calvary set them free from slavery under Mosaic Law. That way, their salvation will no longer be based on faith in their efforts but based on their faith in the work of the Anointed One.  As Jews, they were not born free while down in Egypt but needed to be set free by the miraculous power of God through Moses.  Likewise, as believers, they were not born free under Mosaic Law but needed to be set free by the supernatural power of God through the Messiah.

In both cases, they did not earn their freedom by merit, righteous living, or bargaining; it came as a result of an innocent lamb being slain. You see, the lamb back in Egypt involved the offspring of an animal, while the second Lamb on Calvary is the Son of the Living God. In the first sacrifice, it’s worth was calculated in the form of silver shekels, but in the second sacrifice, the value of the Lamb is priceless. After freedom through the first lamb in Egypt became the sacrifice, many more lambs died in a reenactment of the first sacrifice. However, after freedom through the Lamb of God became a reality; no more lambs are needed to be sacrificed because this Lamb Himself said, “It is finished!”

Could anyone give the Jewish people any credit for coherent reasoning were they to decide to go back into Egyptian slavery and bondage? No! They’d be the laughingstock of the world. So why should the Galatian believers even consider returning to slavery and servitude under ceremonial laws? That’s why Paul almost screams at them, “Make sure you stay free and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the old Mosaic Law!” Paul uses two words in this challenge that help us understand the impact of his demand.  The first word is the Greek verb stēkō, which means to “stand firm, to be persistent, to persevere; don’t give in easily to words that criticize with the intent of lowering one’s resistance, or words of enticement with the intent on lowering one’s standards.” In other words, don’t let them intimidate you.

The second is the Greek noun zygos that refers to a yoke used to bind two animals together so that they are forced to go in the same direction. Paul uses these words to tell the Galatian believers to resist with all their might any effort to break their commitment to staying in the freedom given to them by our Anointed One. Don’t let these Judaizers yoke you together again with ceremonial laws and make slaves out of you. You are free, put on the shoulder yoke of the Anointed One so you can carry your spiritual fruit. Perhaps Paul remembered his discussion before the Council in Jerusalem when he asked them, “So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” [6]

In speaking about free will, Paul touches on a subject that’s all the rage in our world today. People all around us seem to be in a race to obtain independence, but what kind of autonomy? When you listen to them, you get the distinct impression that what they want is the freedom to do whatever pleases them without censure or wise counsel and to satisfy any desire they have no matter what the outcome. They don’t realize that this is not liberation to live above dependency and debauchery to die, but the freedom to surrender to it. How can you consider yourself free when you’ve chained yourself to powers you can’t overcome?  This is not freedom; this is a forfeiture.

J. L. Nye (1881-1965) tells us about the great English writer John Milton (1608-1674), who was the chief of poets and held the post of Latin Secretary under Oliver Cromwell, who was Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. After the English Civil War (1642-1646) and peace was restored, he was dismissed from his office by King Charles II for his political views on freedom. By that time, he was blind and fell into poverty. King Charles, nevertheless, fined him and ordered his writings on liberty to be burned in public. This great poet then withdrew from public life and retired to the countryside. Not being discouraged by all the fierce and multiplied trials he was forced to go through, he ended up writing his masterpiece, “Paradise Lost.”

King Charles then had a change of heart and offered Milton the opportunity to resume his former post with all its honors, compensation, and court favors. But Milton knew that the price of accepting this honor would require that he remain silent on the great question of human liberty. So, without hesitation, he decided to graciously refuse the offer despite it being a strong temptation and excellent bribe. For him to remain silent on liberty, he was guaranteed honor, an abundant compensation, and a high position instead of remaining in poverty, persecution, and neglect.

But this venerated poet loved truth too much. His soul was too noble, too sincere, too firm in its allegiance to God and liberty that he was not willing to exchange it for membership in King Charles’s court of tyranny and the promise of gold that could be rightly called fool’s gold. So, he turned down the royal offer and clung to his principles and his poverty up until his death. That’s when his freed soul was called to enter his welcoming place of rest.[7]

[1] Kelly, William: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 119-120

[2] Nisbet, James: Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Lightfoot, J. B. On Galatians, p. 284

[4] Rendall, Frederic:: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 183

[5] Burton, Ernest DeWitt: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 270

[6] Acts of the Apostles 15:10

[7] Nye, J. L. Anecdotes, p.117

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Whenever you search the internet for articles about Joy, more than likely, it will bring up everything they want you to know about “happiness.” But a distinct difference exists between the two, and that involves the source that inspires such an emotional feeling.

For one thing, happiness is rooted in circumstances. It also depends on external factors to exist. In other words, happiness is not a choice a person makes, it’s what comes to you. It is possible to be happy all by yourself. On the other hand, Joy is not swayed by circumstances. It is an internal attitude of the heart, mind, and spirit. Furthermore, Joy is a choice we make that taps into a reservoir of potential within us.

On top of this, happiness is not present in hard times and difficulties. It is hard to buy happiness when things are not going your way. Therefore, happiness and sorrow cannot coexist. You are either happy or unhappy. But Joy never leaves. Even in times of trials and dire circumstances, Joy brings peace and contentment to our spirits. Therefore, Joy and sorrow can coexist. That’s because Joy involves a connection. It starts with linking to other people, but it can also be with pets, precious heirlooms, creation, creativity. Happiness comes and goes, but Joy is always present.

Another thing, happiness is built upon sand, so to speak. It can be around for weeks, but in one swift moment, it is gone. Happiness feeds the mind while Joy feeds the soul. Not only that, but happiness is often dependent on temporary circumstances that can change in a minute, while Joy is anchored in something that is always there, forever the same, and immovable. Happiness requires having what it needs immediately, but Joy exists where there are faith and hope. Happiness most often arrives when something is given. On the other hand, Joy is experienced when being able to give.

Lifestyle Mentor and Meditation teacher Rachel Fearnley shares that Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are, and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events.

Fearnley tells us that through her personal experience and lifelong studies, she came to realize this profound difference between Joy and happiness. Aiming for Joy is more beneficial, as it is less transitory than happiness and is not tied to external circumstances. Some people have lost touch with that feeling, not knowing how to cultivate Joy anymore, so they resort to quick fixes like alcohol, drugs and addictive foods, or find fleeting moments of happiness from other places without truly experiencing it and cultivating it for themselves.

So, she recommends that a person who wants to experience and hold on to Joy can start by quieting their minds with meditation. Prayer is said to be one of the most calming practice to bring Joy to the heart and soul. Another thing is to shut many of the doors to what other people are complaining about, especially on social media. If you really want to hear some good news, read the Bible. It is like a fountain that never stops flowing with the living water of blessed assurance. Also, keep track of the things that refresh your Joy. Think of it as a garden that you cultivate with gratitude so that these things grow and help build strength, such as Church ministries, Bible Studies, helping the underprivileged, worshipping with fellow believers, and being a blessing to your extended family.

The Bible is a source of encouragement and helps maintain one’s Joy. As King David said with emotion: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence, there is fullness of Joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[1] Then King Solomon followed with these words: “A Joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.[2] And the prophet Isaiah issued this promise from the Lord: “For you will go out in Joy and be led forth in peace.[3]

And our Lord and Savior quieted the troubled spirits of His disciples who learned of His leaving to return to the Father in heaven by telling them: Although you have sorrow now, I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your Joy from you.[4] The Apostle Peter, who was there to hear those words stated to his fellow believers: Even though you don’t see Him, yet you love Him. And though you don’t now see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with Joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.[5] And to this, the Apostle Paul added: Let your Joy be in the Lord always; and again, I say, Rejoice.[6]

That’s why we can join in the jubilation of Mary, the mother of our Lord, after the angel visited her and told her of the coming event because she had been chosen to bring the Messiah into the world so that the Son of God could become the Son of Man. Mary exclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! [7] So, just like Mary, by having this Prince of Peace in our hearts as our Lord and Savior, we too can rejoice in our unchangeable source of everlasting Joy! His name is Jesus. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Psalm 16:11

[2] Proverbs 17:22

[3] Isaiah 55:12

[4] John 16:22

[5] 1 Peter 1:8

[6] Philippians 4:4

[7] Luke 1:46-47

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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SOMETIMES IT’S NOT THAT EASY BEING AN ANGEL

Here’s a story I read that happened during my teenage years, and one I participated in and is still relevant for today. A pastor and his eleven-year-old son would go out every Sunday afternoon, after the morning service at their church, into various neighborhoods and hand-out Gospel Tracts.

On one particular Sunday afternoon after dinner, it came time for the Pastor and his son to go. But it was very cold outside as well as pouring down rain. The boy bundled up in his warmest and driest clothes and said, “OK, Dad, I’m ready.” His dad asked, “Ready for what?” “Dad, it’s time to go pass out some tracts.” His dad responded, “Son, it’s very cold outside, and it’s pouring down rain.” The boy gives his dad a surprised look, asking, “But Dad, aren’t still people who need to hear the Gospel even though it’s raining?”

Son, the Pastor, said with some consternation, I am not going out in this kind of weather.” His son’s head dropped for a moment, then he said, “Dad, can I go, Please? “His father hesitated for a moment (thinking that once his son went out in the cold rain, he’d back very soon) then said, “Son, you can go, but only in our neighborhood. As he handed his son some tracts, he told him, be careful, son.” With a smile on his face, the boy said, “Thanks, Dad!!! “And with that, he was off and out into the rain.

The boy walked the empty streets going from door to door looking for anyone he met to give them one of his Gospel Tracts. After two hours of walking in the rain, he was soaking bone chilled wet and down to his very last tract. He stopped on a corner and looked for someone to hand a tract to, but the streets were totally deserted. Then, as he turned to go home, he stopped at one more home. Going up the sidewalk to the front door, he rang the doorbell. No one came to open the door. So, he rang the bell again, but nobody answered. He rang it again and again, but still, no one came. He waited a few more minutes, but still, there was no answer. Finally, this eleven-year-old trooper turned to leave.

But something stopped him. He whirled around and rang the bell and knocked loudly on the door with his fist. He waited, something seemed to be holding him there on the front porch. He rang one more time, and the door slowly opened. Standing in the doorway was a very sad-looking elderly lady. She softly asked, “What can I do for you, son?”

With radiant eyes and a smile that lit up her world, this little boy said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry if I disturbed you, but I just want to tell you that Jesus really does love you, and I came to give you my very last Gospel tract which will tell you all about JESUS and His great love.” With that, he handed her his last tract and turned to leave. She called out to him as he departed, “Thank you, son! And God Bless You!”

The following Sunday morning in church, Pastor Dad was in the Pulpit, and as the service began, he suddenly felt led to ask, “Does anyone have a testimony or want to say anything?” Slowly, in the back row of the Church, an elderly lady stood to her feet. As she began to speak, a look of glorious radiance came from her face as she said, “None of you in this church know me. I’ve never been here before. You see, before last Sunday, I was not a Christian. My husband passed-on, some time ago, leaving me totally alone in this world.

But last Sunday afternoon, was an unusually cold and rainy day, it was even more so in my heart as I came to the point where I no longer had any hope or will to live. So, I took a rope and a chair and ascended the stairway into the attic of my home. I fastened the rope securely to a rafter in the roof, then stood on the chair and fastened the other end of the rope around my neck.

Standing on that chair, so lonely and brokenhearted, I was about to leap off when suddenly the loud ringing of my doorbell downstairs startled me. I thought I’ll wait a minute, and whoever it is will go away.’ I waited and waited. But the ringing doorbell seemed to get louder and more insistent, and then the person ringing also started knocking loudly.

I thought to myself again, “Who on earth could this be?! Nobody ever rings my bell or comes to see me anymore.” I loosened the rope from my neck and started down the stairs for the front door, all the while the bell rang louder and louder. When I opened the door and looked, I could hardly believe my eyes, for there on my front porch was the most radiant and angelic little boy I never saw before in my life.

His smile, Oh, I could never describe it to you!!! And the Words that came from his mouth caused my heart, that had long been dead, to leap to life as he exclaimed with a cherub-like voice, “Ma’am, I just came to tell you that Jesus really does love you.” then he gave me this Gospel Tract that I now hold in my hand. As I saw this angel disappeared back out, into the cold and rain, I closed my door and read slowly every word of this Gospel Tract. Then I went up to my attic to get my rope and chair. I wouldn’t need them anymore.

You see, I am now a happy child of the King, and since the address of your Church was on the back of this Gospel Tract, I have come here to personally say Thank You to God’s little angel, who came just in the nick of time, sparing my soul from an eternity in hell.

As she sat down, there were no dry eyes in the church. And as shouts of praise, and honor to the King, resounded off the very rafters of the building, the Pastor and Dad descended from the pulpit to the front pew where his son was seated. He took this little angel in his arms and sobbed uncontrollably.

Probably no church has had a more glorious moment. And no Dad was more filled with love & honor for his son—except for one—this Father also allowed His Son to go out into a Cold & Dark World. He received His Son back with Joy unspeakable, and as all of heaven shouted praises and honor to the King. His son was no angel, He was more, He was the Son of God. We don’t see people handing out tracts that much anymore, but sharing the Gospel with strangers is still going on – in airports, taxis, restaurants, at work, on the internet, etc.

So, if the Holy Spirit suddenly moves you to call someone, don’t brush it off, don’t even delay, you are on God’s timetable, not your own. Listen to what our Lord and Savior Jesus said: “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14). And He also declared: “If anyone is ashamed of Me and My message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory and in the beauty of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:26). And when all the books are opened, there may be someone’s testimony read of how you became an angel to deliver God’s message of love and salvation. Then perhaps God will take you up in His arms and weep for joy because of your dedication and faithfulness. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LVI)

5:4 Furthermore, by trying to get right with God through these religious rituals and regulations, you dissolved your relationship with the Anointed One! As a result, you will no longer be covered by God’s grace!

Now Paul delivers the other side of this travesty in accepting the Law of Moses over the Grace of God. While ministering in India, I was visiting one of the Pastors whose daughter was engaged to be married to a young man that he and his wife picked out for her. The family of the groom sent over the dowry that they expected would show proof of their son’s good intentions to love and take care of their daughter. But the pastor and his wife sent the dowry back saying it wasn’t enough to convince them. In the same way, the believers in Galatia received the dowry of the groom, which was the gift of grace that provided redemption and salvation to everlasting life. But they were sending it back saying it wasn’t enough. They felt that obeying the Law added much more of an assurance than faith.

Paul also reminded the Roman believers of this same attitude among the people of Israel and told them that the people of Israel tried to make themselves right with God by following the Law, but did not succeed. They failed because they wanted to make themselves right by the things they did. They did not trust in God to make them right.[1] All that the Law did was show the Israelites what great sinners they were and that no one is made right with God by what they do in abiding by the Law unless they do it to perfection.[2] Furthermore, God called and chose them by His gift of grace, not by anything they did to deserve it. If they were allowed to add works of the Law, then God’s grace could no longer be considered necessary yet undeserved.[3]

Paul was not some lone prophet crying out in the wilderness. In the book of Hebrews, we read that after people leave the way of the Anointed One, they can never change their lives again on their own. The writer was talking about people who once learned the truth, received God’s gift, and shared in the Holy Spirit. They were blessed to hear God’s good news and see the great power of His new world. But then they left it all behind, and they can’t seem to turn themselves around. As a consequence, those who forsake the Anointed One are nailing Him to the cross again, shaming Him before everyone.[4]

The Apostle Peter was no less stringent. He told the readers of his second letter that people can be liberated from the evil in the world. They are freed by surrendering to the Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One. But if they go back into those evil things and are controlled by them, then it is worse for them than it was before. In fact, it would be better for them if they never heard about the way, the truth, and the life, than to know and then to turn away from the Gospel that was given to save them. What they are doing, says Peter, is like one of our sayings: “A dog vomits and goes back to eat what it threw up.” And another one that says, “After a pig is washed, it goes back and rolls in the mud again.” [5] The warning that the Apostle John sent to the church at Ephesus is very clear, “Remember where you were before you fell. Change your hearts and do what you did at first. If you don’t change, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” [6] [7]

Earlier in his discourse, the Apostle Paul made it clear that the most identifiable sign that a man belonged to the Jewish faith was circumcision. It all began when God told Abraham to have every male born to him and his descendants circumcised as evidence of their covenant with Him.[8] Giving tokens to back up our promises is still something we use today.  For instance, when a bride and groom are asked, “What token do you have to offer each other as a sign of your vows?” they reply, “With this ring.”

Paul’s emphasis on the avoidance of circumcision here has little to do with the physical surgery involved, but rather its implications concerning the Law of Moses.  It suggests that the one being circumcised is fully committed and dedicated to the dictates of the Law in working out one’s salvation. To the Jewish believers, this warning had the same impact as it does today when a Buddhist, Muslim or Jew is warned not to submit themselves to Christian baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because all who do so are testifying to their belief in Jesus our Anointed One as being the Son of God and Savior of the world. Paul saw the potential of great discord and disharmony if the Jewish and Gentile believers added allegiance to the Law to boost their faith in the Anointed One. The Apostle tried to get them to see that circumcision added nothing to the work the Anointed One did on the cross.

One early medieval Christian scholar, Marius Victorinus (280-355 AD), feels that Paul was driven to make this point because adding the rite of circumcision of the flesh to the crucifixion of the Anointed One would not benefit our Lord’s work one iota. In so doing, the Galatians would be dividing their hope of salvation between faith in the Anointed One and faith in their circumcision. This came about because the false teachers were telling them that they were not getting enough from the Anointed One to guarantee their salvation. So, by adding circumcision, they were making their salvation permanent. Victorinus concludes that if this was, in fact, their situation, then their faith in the Anointed One was non-existent. That’s because if there is even a small amount of faith, then they might receive the blessings God promised to those who believe. But, says Victorinus, “Rightly, Paul declares that without faith, the Anointed One will offer you nothing.” [9]

Early church scholar Jerome (347-420 AD) says that the Apostle Paul is refuting those who believed that they were justified in not being punished through the Law. But he was not renouncing those who observed the Law’s legitimate provisions in honor of God who commanded them, understanding both that they were commanded in preparation of receiving the Truth, the Way, and the Life who was coming to enforce them.[10] Now Paul could tell them that the Light and the Word had already arrived!

Early Church writer Ambrosiaster (366-384 AD) leaves no doubt concerning what he hears Paul saying here. He notes that before Paul came preaching the Gospel of the Anointed One to the Galatians, all Gentiles who converted to Judaism needed to be circumcised to become authentic children of Abraham. But Paul let those ethnic Jews and converted Gentiles who turned to the Anointed One know that their faith in the Messiah replaced such requirements. For Ambrosiaster, Paul was reiterating what our Lord said about taking a piece of new cloth and sewing it onto an old garment or pouring new wine into an old wineskin.[11] Thus, not only will circumcision not be of any advantage to a believer, but it will also actually stand in their way. It is worse to become a slave after having been free than to be born into slavery.[12]

Church theologian Thomas Aquinas sees a parallel between the requirement of circumcision under the Jewish Law, with the obligation of water baptism under Church law. In Aquinas’ mind, there has never been a religion without some visible rite or ritual to follow for those who adhere to that religion. He mentions that for the Christian religion, the visible sign is Baptism, which all Christians should submit to. Furthermore, they are obligated to follow everything that the Christian religion teaches.[13] Aquinas does acknowledge that circumcision would certainly be a yoke for the Galatians to obey every aspect of the Jewish Law, which for a Christian would be a useless exercise. However, Aquinas does not go on and point out how those obligations required under Church Law, were they not followed to the letter of those laws, would be met with the threat of ex-communication.

However, it certainly was clear to former Catholic monk Martin Luther who looking back on his involvement in the church notes that this passage here in verse four is an indictment of church authority. All priests, monks, and nuns – speaking about the best of them – who rested their hope for salvation in their works, and not in our Anointed One were envisioning Him to be nothing more than an angry Judge. For Luther, they should read this sentence pronounced against them that, under those circumstances, the Anointed One can do them no good. If one earns the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through one’s efforts, then for what purpose was the Anointed One born? What was the purpose of His suffering, His death, His resurrection, and His victory over sin, death, and the devil if people can overcome these evils by their efforts? Says Luther, “Tongue cannot express, nor heart conceive what a terrible thing it is to make the Anointed One worthless.” [14]

There is no reason to believe that Luther made this statement out of anger, but out of compassion to those, he saw who did not understand that nothing we can do in the way of rites, rituals, ceremonies, good works or sacraments can replace the need for what our Anointed One did for all mankind on the cross. What our Lord did cannot be substituted for or replaced. To this, Luther adds his testimony of how, when he was a Benedictine monk, he always tried so hard to live up to the strict rules of his order. He used to make a list of his sins and was always on the way to confession, and whatever penances were required of him, he performed religiously. Despite it all, his conscience was always in doubt. The more he sought to help the poor, his stricken conscience got worse. The more he paid attention to the regulations, the more he transgressed them. That’s why those that seek to be justified in not having to face the death penalty under the Law are much further away from being right with God than the tax collectors, sinners, and harlots. They know better than to trust in their works. They know that by doing such things, they cannot ever hope to obtain satisfactory forgiveness for their sins.[15]

[1] Romans 9:31; 10:3-5

[2] Ibid. 3:20; 4:4-5

[3] Ibid. 11:6

[4] Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:38-39; 12:16

[5] 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17-18

[6] For an explanation of what the lampstand represents read Revelation 11:3-4

[7] Revelation 2:5

[8] Genesis 17:11 – Rabbi Abraham Saba points out in his Tzror Hamor that the circumcision is delayed until the infant has experienced his first Sabbath.  The Sabbath is also defined as a profoundly significant symbol.  Having been part of the Sabbath experience lends additional strength to the infant to survive the invasive procedure. op. cit., loc. cit., p. 234; cf. Luke 2:21-24

[9] Marius Victorinus: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] Jerome: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.) op. cit., p. 75, from Letters 116.19.3

[11] See Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21

[12] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 27

[13] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] Martin Luther: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[15] Ibid, verse 3

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