CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL AL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XVIII)

John Calvin feels that Paul did not rebuke the Galatians strong enough. They deserved much harsher language, especially in light of the terrible mistake they are making. And to make things even worse, they turned away so quickly, without any consultation, and Paul took this as a personal insult. And why not, look how long he labored and under such conditions that his health was threatened. Furthermore, they threw away the Gospel that Jesus the Anointed One gave Paul to share with them. A greater insult of the Anointed One could not be imagined. Especially since the Anointed One called them by God’s grace. For Calvin, the fact that they were called by the Anointed One through grace, this tends to heighten the criminality of their ingratitude. To revolt from the Son of God, under any circumstances, is unworthy and disgraceful; but to revolt from Him, after being invited to partake of salvation by grace, is even more despicable. His goodness to us renders our ingratitude to Him more grievous.1

Calvin writes in another place, about how the church often tries to tolerate the imperfections of conduct in fellow believers, especially those in leadership. Some, says Calvin, exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice which stalks the Church like a pestilence. Should the Church try to deal with it like the Apostle Paul is doing here in Galatians? After all, they point out, among the Corinthians, it was not just a few that erred, but almost the whole body became tainted. What course of action did the Apostle Paul take in their case? Was by the intervention of the Holy Spirit by whose witness the Church stands or falls? Does he seek to separate himself from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of the Anointed One? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges and heralds them as God’s Church – a society of saints. Today we might call this “reverse psychology.”

Now, says Calvin, if Galatians remains tied to God’s Church under new leadership and allowed to participate the Lord’s Supper and teaching of God’s Word, who could possibly reject them when over in Corinth they are doing carnal things the Galatians would never think of doing. How, it is asked, would the Corinthians act once they learned that the Galatians abandoned the Gospel, something they would never think of doing? How much of a factor is it that the same Apostle founded both churches? Those are some of the things the Apostle Paul dealt with in what he thought was good work in both places.2 Sometimes when things go bad in a church after the pastor left, it leaves them feeling like a failure with no opportunity to correct the situation. In Paul’s case, he wrote a letter.

Dutch reformer Jakob Arminius notices that Paul did not disown the believers in Galatia as children of God just because they were being misled, nor did he suggest that they were no longer churches under God’s umbrella of Holy Spirit’s protection. Rather, he took what was happening in Galatia as a sign that churches of God and the Anointed One, even those which were instituted by other Preachers and Apostles, may decline by degrees, and sometimes do drift away from the truth of the faith, from the integrity of divine worship, and from their first love,3 either by adding to the doctrines of faith that are the foundation for that which is the object of worship, and direct their worship toward their rites, rituals, regulations, and ceremonies. It can also happen when they pervert the right meaning of faith by not using Scripture to determine that which is to be worshiped, and by changing the Biblical modes and methods of worship into another form.

In spite of this, says Arminius, they are still acknowledged, by God and the Anointed One, as God’s churches and God’s people, even as He did when they tried worshiping Him using a golden calf in the Sinai wilderness, and when they paid divine honors both to Yahweh and Baal when they offer to Moloch’s fire the children they gave birth to and raised to respect Yahweh.4 Not only that, but when they ordained certain ceremonies to be added to their faith in the Anointed One, and begin to call into question His resurrection.5 Yet even under these circumstances they are still acknowledged as the churches and the people of God in spite of their attempted communion with Him by referring to His Word to which they’ve added sacramental symbols and insignificant tokens. That’s because God does desire to remove the candlestick out of its rightful place, or send them a bill of divorcement6.7

Both Paul and Arminius see that it isn’t the church that has been corrupted, but the people who are members of that church. Arminius argues that just because a person develops cancer on their skin or in their lung, their whole body is not eliminated in order to cure the cancer. The healing source is directed toward where the cancer is located so it can be gotten rid of. The same goes for the church. There are so many healthy cells in the Body of the Anointed One that it would be unfair to get rid of all of them. The Great Physician is always ready to use His Word that can surgically remove those cells that do not belong.8

John Owen (1616-1683), English Protestant Nonconformist, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford, on the subject of the contrast between works and grace as the source of justification, does not see this as a war between grace and works with one excluding the other. It all comes down to which one precedes justification and which one follows justification. He believes that Paul penned the Romans and Galatians especially to prove this point. He sees the Apostle Paul laying down a fundamental saying that is the basis of his argument as to faith and works and their influence in justification.9

For Owen, it all started with Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Antioch. This was the turning point that caused Paul and the others to forsake their Judaism, and grab hold of the mercy of God as promised in the Gospel. This, therefore, may have been the main instance for the Holy Spirit to have this doctrine debated. No doubt that’s why Paul begins here in verse fifteen talking about how he and Peter were Jews by nature, and not foreigners to God’s Law like the Gentiles. So they took a different road in learning that no one is justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus the Anointed One. The Gentiles practiced no good works to depend on for justification. So it was the Jews who believed in Jesus the Anointed One that they might be justified by their faith in Him and not by their works in obedience to the Law.10

But there is some confusion as to what Paul meant when he said in Romans “from faith to faith.” Some have suggested that it means going from faith in the Law to faith in Jesus the Anointed One. Others have stated that it means going from faith in one’s ability to gain justification on their own, to faith that only God can establish justification through Jesus the Anointed One. That was Paul message to the Corinthians,11 and he repeats it here in Galatians verse sixteen. Paul says it is clear, we know we cannot become right with God just by obeying the Law. A person is made right with God by putting their trust in Jesus the Anointed One. For that same reason, we all have put our trust in Jesus the Anointed One. We have been made right with God because of our faith in the Anointed One and not by obeying the Law. No man can be made right with God by obeying the Law alone.12

But Owen also saw this in another way. For him, no one would want to stand in a trial before God based solely upon their own behavior and conduct so He would be justified in granting them a right standing with Him. There would be too many personal faults, failures, and shortcomings. So our only plea for mercy would be for God to accept what Jesus did instead of what we did to cover our sins. There is no personal, inherent righteousness in the works of any believers that they can substitute for the work of the Anointed One on the cross. Our works would not stand God’s examination for purity. Even David knew this truth.13 So we can see that this testimony is from the Law,14 and transferred into the Gospel and urged twice by the Apostle Paul here in Galatians with the same purpose and principle. The Law came first, but only to make way for the Gospel.15

John Bunyan (1628-1688) talks about our justification through the Anointed One and how it is not bought by us or worked for by us but is imputed to us by the grace of God. That’s why it makes no sense to seek a right standing with God through the Law. Furthermore, do not make your conscience obligated to the Law thinking it will increase your chances to obtain eternal life. Not only that, but don’t try to make sense out of God’s plan of salvation using of human logic. When you get into reasoning you loose your freedom of faith believing. The more you put your faith in understanding the Law in order to help you gain an advantage in achieving a right standing with God, the more you lessen the power of the Gospel which is the power of God to bring salvation. And finally, don’t be misled by those who offer a different gospel or a modified gospel that removes the burden of pleading guilty to being a sinner, throwing oneself on the mercy of God, being repentant and asking forgiveness for one’s sins.

Bunyan then warns that by letting the Law take the place of the Gospel; conscience replaces the leading of the Holy Spirit; good works as a substitute for faith and the like. Those who are not yet firmly planted in faith have been pestered by these things for centuries. In fact, thousands saw their faith damaged, and for some, it was broken beyond repair. This is the way Satan ruined Adam and Eve’s life in the Garden of Eden, and his attempts to overthrow the God’s Church through the ages. Truth is, the Galatians were quickly misled by such attempts at amending the Gospel. The serpent actually used some who called themselves apostles and ministers of Jesus the Anointed One. But where the Lord Jesus is preached in truth, and even a small portion of His Gospel becomes known, it has proved much harder for the devil to lead them astray from the highway of holiness. Here in Galatians Paul called it “another gospel.” Not that they came with new books to be added to the Final Covenant and with greater enlightenment on who Jesus the Anointed One really was, but they took what was said in the Gospel and twisted it to fit their legal philosophy. No wonder Paul was so confused by the sudden abandonment by the Galatians of the Gospel he brought to them, for another gospel Paul would never approve of.16

1 John Calvin: Bible Cabinet, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 44-49

2 John Calvin: Institutes op. cit., Vol. 4, Ch. 1, p. 1060-1061

3 2 Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 1:6; Revelation 2:4

4 1 Kings 18:21; 2 Kings 16:3; Jeremiah 2:11-13; Ezekiel 16:20

5 1 Corinthians 15; Galatians 3:1-3

6 Isaiah 1:; 1Revelation 2:5

7 Jakob Arminius: op, cit., Vol. 1, Disputation 22, The Case of All the Protestant or Reformed Churches With Respect to Their Alleged Secession, para. 8, p. 564

8 Hebrews 4:12

9 Romans 1:17

10 John Owen: The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, Vol. 1, p. 505

11 2 Corinthians 5:21

12 Ibid. pp. 63-64

13 Psalm 143:2

14 Exodus 34:7

15 Ibid. John Owen: pp. 63-64

16 John Bunyan: Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, Vol. 7, Ch. 5, p. 131

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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