CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XXXV)

Wake up, you dunderhead Galatians! says Paul, nothing is more certain than this, salvation is a gift; God gave it freely, how can you now say it must be earned?  How can you make an altar call inviting sinners to come forward to receive the free gift of salvation through God’s generosity called “grace,” and then tell them they must prove themselves worthy of keeping such a gift by working for it to pay God back?  Believe it or not, just like the Judaizers in Paul’s day who demanded that the Gentile believers adopt the Jewish ceremonial laws and observe their religious rituals in order to qualify as members God’s spiritual family, there are cults and denominations today that require membership and obedience in order for them to guarantee God’s promise of eternal life.

I remember reading this illustration some years ago in a book by Stephen Covey: A wife found out that her husband was seeing another woman and confronted him. He confessed his unfaithfulness and asked her forgiveness. She wrote down a list of things she wanted him to do and promised that after he finished all of them, she would forgive him. The husband took the list and worked diligently to complete every task to perfection. When he finished the last required chore, he took the list to his wife and asked her to check everything out. She went over the list and inspected the evidence and handed the list back to him and said, “Okay, you’re forgiven.” The husband immediately tore up the list, and as he walked toward the front door said, “I don’t need for you to give me your forgiveness, I earned it!”

God created mankind in His image, but mankind became unfaithful. God does not say to people when they came to ask forgiveness, here’s a list of things I want you to do to prove yourself worthy of my forgiveness. Go do this and then come back and maybe I’ll forgive you. No, God loved the world so much that He gave His Son in order to freely offer forgiveness. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, He did not give her a list of things to do in order to be forgiven. No, He told her she was already forgiven; now go with that assurance and don’t do this anymore.

So, it perplexes Paul as to why the Judaizers insist on earned forgiveness. If the Judaizers quote Moses; Paul quotes Abraham. If they quote Mosaic Law; he quotes God’s promise to Abraham. If they appeal to centuries of tradition and the proud history of Mosaic Law, he will appeal to the greater covenant with Abraham that’s centuries older. Mosaic Law appeals to human righteousness, the covenant appeals to God’s righteousness. Mosaic Law thunders “Do this! Do that!” God’s Grace pleads, “Receive this!  Receive that!”

Early church scholar Ambrosiaster gives an interesting insight into this dichotomy between Grace and Law when it came justification in standing right before God. He says that the Jews maintain two opposing doctrines. They insisted that in no way and by no argument can they be persuaded that the promise to Abraham was rendered void by the Law, and they are right. But in their shortsightedness, they maintain another contrary principle, thinking that justification could not come by Grace without the practice of the Law. They knew that Abraham, who is a type of justification, was justified through faith alone, without the practice of the Law. The heirs to the promise of Abraham are, therefore, those who are his successors in the adoption of the faith by which Abraham was blessed and justified. The testimony of the promise to Abraham is, therefore, called a covenant to signify that after His death there would be heirs to the promise who were made children of Abraham by Grace through faith.[1]

Matthew Henry follows up what he said about Paul’s intentions in verse one where he admonished the Galatians for not obeying the truth and endeavored to impress upon them how foolish they were being in turning to the rites, rituals, and regulations of the Law. Here, beginning in verses six through eighteen, he explains the doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the Law. This he does several ways.

Paul begins by using Abraham as an example of being found right in God’s eyes because of his faith, not his works. Yes, there were works, but works of faith not obligations to any law. Then Paul shows the Galatians why faith in the Gospel needs no help from precepts of the Law. The reason they were once lost was because of the Law, and the reason they were saved is because of the Gospel. In other words, the Gospel does what the Law cannot do. So why go back to the Law? And since there was no Final Covenant yet written for Paul to use, he uses the First Covenant and the Prophets to make his point.

This proved that the Gospel was not some new philosophy, but the fulfillment of all that the Law promised but could not produce.  All of this was to prove to the Galatians that God did not abandon His promises to Abraham or annul the Law given to Moses. Rather, to complete them in Jesus the Messiah. So why in heaven’s name were they forsaking Jesus in order to go back and cling to Abraham and Moses?[2] So we might ask ourselves today, why have so many who call themselves Christians still insist on practicing the rites, rituals, regulations of the Church in place of finding all of that taken care of by Jesus the one they worship and call their Lord and Savior? The church cannot save a person any more than the Law could save. It is faith in the Messiah, not faith in the Church, that God sees as a reason for anyone to be right in His eyes and qualified for full salvation.

3:19 So I ask you then, why was Mosaic Law given at all? I’ll tell you; it was given to help people learn what sin was. However, it was only destined to last until the child was born for whom the promise was given. Meanwhile, since Moses was the appointed mediator between God and His people, God arranged for angels to deliver His Law to Moses.

As Paul dictates this letter, he may be thinking they will certainly ask, does accepting God’s promise to Abraham eliminate any need of their obedience to the Law given to Moses? In other words, are believers in the Anointed One now lawless Christians? And, once you accept Jesus the Anointed One as your Savior, you need not worry about doing anything wrong because there are no laws to break; does that mean that once you’re saved you’re always saved; once in grace, always in grace; do you go from eternal insecurity under Mosaic Law, to eternal security under grace? Those are good questions that need to be answered.

The whole point the Apostle Paul is trying to get the Galatians to see is that while the Law was given to point the way to get to heaven, it could not get you to heaven. In the same manner, just listening to Jesus would not get you to heaven unless you begin to follow Him. When Jesus told the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man, both ended up in Hades but on opposite sides of a great divide. Since the rich man could get no relief from the tormenting flames, he begged Abraham to send someone to tell his brothers to change their ways so they would not wind up on his side of Hades but on the side where Lazarus was. But Abraham told him, if they are not willing to listen to what Moses and the early prophets said, they won’t listen to what anyone else says, even if that someone comes back from the dead to tell them.[3] It was Abraham’s way of saying that his brothers already received all the information they needed to get to the right place in paradise. But they haven’t listened so far, so what made the rich man think they would listen to anyone else.

Jesus certainly knew what He was talking about. After healing the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda near one of Jerusalem’s gates, all He got was criticism from religious leaders because He healed the man on the Sabbath. But they would not listen to the healed man’s testimony nor Jesus’ explanation. When they wanted to know who gave Him the authority to do these things, they were shocked when He pointed toward heaven and said, “My Father sent me to do this.” And since they wouldn’t listen to Him, He was not surprised they didn’t listen to John the Baptizer either. John the Baptist was a burning and shining light. For a while they tolerated him, but his light was extinguished by King Herod. They were willing for a short while to be glad in this light.

Now, says Jesus, I’m giving you something greater than what John the Baptizer preached. I am doing the works my Father gave Me to do and they prove that the Father sent Me. But what did they know about His coming? They never heard His voice. But, says Paul, they didn’t recognize Him. They didn’t allow His Word to live in their hearts because they did not put your trust in the One who sent Him. In fact, Jesus said: You read the Holy Scriptures and that’s fine, but you mistakenly think that just by reading them you will receive eternal life. Those very same Scriptures tell about Me, said, Jesus. But you do not want to come to Me so you might enjoy life. No! I know all about you and there is no love of God in your hearts. I came in the name of My Father. You do not receive Me. But if another person were to come claiming to be the Messiah, will you receive him?

As a matter of fact, since Jesus came as the Messiah, whom all the Jews did not accept His claim, there have been over a dozen Messiahs they did accept. For instance, Simon bar Kokhba (died circa 135 AD), founded a short-lived Jewish state before being defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War. Moses of Crete, who in about 440–470 persuaded the Jews of Crete to walk into the sea, as Moses had done, to return to Israel. The results were disastrous and he soon disappeared. Ishak ben Ya’kub Obadiah Abu ‘Isa al-Isfahani (684–705), who led a revolt in Persia against the Umayyad Caliphate of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. And more recently, Jacob Joseph Frank (1726–1791), who claimed to be the reincarnation of King David and preached a synthesis of Christianity and Judaism. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (reigned 1920-1950), sixth rebbe (spiritual leader) of Chabad Lubavitch, claimed to be the Essence and Existence [of God] which had placed itself in a human body“), to be the Messiah. And Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (1902–1994), seventh rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, was claimed to be the Messiah by his followers.

Then Jesus goes on to tell them that they were too busy trying to build a reputation that will cause others to look at you as being someone great. In fact, you love patting each other on the back and giving each other awards. You show no interest in receiving the honor that comes from the only true God. Do not think that I like telling My Father you are guilty? No! Moses already declared that you are guilty through the Law, the very one you trusted in to get you God’s approval. If you believed what Moses told you, you would believe Me. For Moses wrote about Me. So, if you don’t believe what he said, how could I expect you to believe what I say?[4]

[1] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 45

[2] Matthew Henry: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Luke 16;31

[4] John 5:1-47

About drbob76

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