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 XL)

Here Paul is trying his best to point out to the Judaizers and the Galatian church the impossibility of the Mosaic Law, making anyone completely righteous, not because the Law is so flawed but because of the weakness and frailty of human flesh. The centuries leading up to the coming of the Anointed One provide ample evidence that mankind is helpless in saving themselves. Alone, man cannot adequately measure up to God’s perfect and holy standard. But thanks to God, Jesus the Anointed One did it for all people who will receive it by faith and obey Him. The Anointed One fulfilled all of the Laws God gave Moses, to perfection. This allowed Him then to invite anyone who believed in His perfect work to become part of Him; to be in the “body of the Anointed One.”  Thereby they become, in a true sense, “Part of the Anointed One;” and, therefore, by “being in Him,” they benefit from saving righteousness they were incapable of producing on their own.

It is so important to understand that the righteousness of the Anointed One is not imputed, that is, not credited to the believer based on their good works. Rather, when a believer is born again in the Anointed One, they are then as righteous before God as the Anointed One is because they are in Him and He in them. Therefore, when God looks around to find those who measure up to His perfect will and those who fulfill His perfect Law, He doesn’t see you and me; He sees the Anointed One and accepts the Anointed One as the perfect sacrifice. And, by being in the Anointed One, we are simultaneously accepted too. Anyone who thinks they can please and honor and obey God’s perfect will outside of the Anointed One is horribly misled and terribly mistaken. It can only be done in the Anointed One and through the Anointed One. So, no matter how holy a person thinks they are by what they do or say or think, it can never exceed the holiness of the Anointed One. We are, therefore, holy because He is holy.

I can imagine Paul getting all excited as he contemplates the Galatian believers reading this portion of his letter. I choose to believe; he’s also hoping that they will confront the Judaizers with this truth to see what their response will be. I can envision one of the Gentile believers quoting Paul’s letter to a snooty Judaizer and saying, “I’ve just learned that one needs extra strength to abide by Mosaic Law, but the problem with Mosaic Law is its inability to give me enough strength to keep on going once I start.  Consequently, even if I could find new life through Mosaic Law, it would be incapable of helping me maintain my new life. But Mosaic Law brings no life; it simply states the command, tells me to keep it, and gives me the penalties if I break it. However, not only does Jesus give me life, but it gives me the strength to live right in His way. So there! Keep your salvation through Mosaic Law, and take a long walk on a short pier!”

Marius Victorinus says that since God gave the Law, it is not conceivable that the same Law should be seen as having been given in spite of the promises. It is undoubtedly against the promises if it embroils us in other things, namely, that we should fulfill the works required by the law, rather than receiving what was promised through faith and be an heir to an inheritance from God. But let us see what Paul’s answer to this is. He first denies it unequivocally: “Certainly not!” That is, it is not right that God should give the Law in competition to the promise.[1]

Dutch theologian Jakob Arminius explores the many uses of the moral law and how it affects mankind. He notes that from all the ways it is used, we can easily understand how the moral law relates to believers when it is compared to the grace of the Anointed One, and how far it is repealed from having any effect. As Arminius sees it, the moral law is rescinded because it cannot use its power in justifying. As Paul says here in verse twenty-one if such power existed in the moral code that it could give spiritual life and bring the repentant sinner into union with God through the Anointed One, then being right with God could have been obtained through the moral law.

Arminius goes on to point out that the reason the moral law cannot give spiritual life is that it is weak when trying to accomplish such life through the works of the flesh.[2] Therefore, God was willing to deal graciously with mankind and gave the promise of everlasting life through the Anointed One Himself. So, the believer’s inheritance through the promise comes through Jesus the Anointed One to them that believe. Furthermore, the Law came after the promise God made to Abraham. Therefore, faith in the Anointed One for justification is not canceled. So, no more should anyone believe that they can have a timeless life through being in union with the Law when eternal life only comes by being in union with the Anointed One, God’s Son.[3] [4]

German Lutheran scholar Johann Bengel says that here in verse twenty-one about whether or not the Torah and its laws stand in opposition to God’s promises. Bengel believes we must look at this as a twofold mediation with angels as God’s representatives,[5] on God’s behalf, and the peoples’ behalf. God delegated the Law to His angels as something of external and strict in character. He reserved the promises for Himself to dispense. This He accomplished according to His own goodness and kindness. The mediator was Moses, that’s why we often find the expression of “by the hand of Moses.” A mediator is defined in the Torah.[6] There is a wide difference between Moses, the mediator, and the Anointed One as an Intercessor. The Law of Moses that was given to the Israelites was one that pushes away. The Law of Love that was given by Jesus the Anointed One pull towards.[7] [8]

John Wesley has an interesting view of the work of a mediator. He says that the mediator is not a mediator of one – there must be two parties, or there can be no mediator between them, but God who made the free promise to Abraham is only one of the parties. The other, Abraham, who was not present during the time of Moses. Therefore, Moses had nothing to do with the promise. The Law, over which he was concerned, was an entirely different matter. So, if Abraham was justified by faith, then the Messiah came to promote the promise, not the Law. Today, there are so many who are worried about the moral law that they’ve completely forgotten about the promise God made to Abraham.[9]

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards also addresses the controversies that include whether the Law in God’s plan of salvation improves, enhances, or even replaces some things provided by Grace. Edwards believes that Paul rejects this idea because the Law is not administrated by the Holy Spirit.[10] The Spirit will not promote that which brings sin. As Paul says here in verse twenty-one, there is no law that can give life, and that’s why many people who have a strong spiritual tenacity still surrender to their sinful tendencies. But this leads to people falling short of God’s expectations, to pray, repent, and then somehow are able to sin with greater ease. So, examine yourself, says Edwards, see if there is any lust mixed in with your righteousness. Could it be that while you say that you’ve yielded to the Anointed One as your Lord and Savior, you still have not surrendered to be in union with Him?[11]

Canadian evangelist Dyson Hague (1857-1935), makes a good point on what Paul says here in verse twenty-one about rules, rituals, and regulations replacing redemption, rebirth, and regeneration. He points back to the third chapter of Genesis as the basis of our Doctrine of Salvation. If there was no fall, there was no condemnation, no separation, and no need for reconciliation. If there was no need for reconciliation, there was no need for redemption; and if there was no need for redemption, the Incarnation was a frill and the crucifixion folly. So closely does the Apostle link the downfall of Adam and the death of Christ, that without Adam’s fall, the science of theology is emptied of its most salient feature, the atonement. If the first Adam was not made a living soul and fell, there was no reason for the work of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven. The rejection of the Genesis story as a myth tends to reject the Gospel of salvation. One of the chief cornerstones of the Christian doctrine is then removed if the historical reality of Adam and Eve is abandoned if the fall does not forever remain the starting point of God’s special revelation of salvation by grace, and of the need of personal regeneration. Then the seed of the entire apostolic Gospel is made dormant.[12]

Alvah Hovey proposes that the connection between verse twenty-one and the preceding verse may be thus stated: Having shown that the Law is inferior to the Promise, should we go a step further and conclude that it works against those who include it in their sanctified life? In fact, does it do anything to prevent the fulfillment of the Promise or to render it less necessary to human salvation? Let such a thought never enter the mind, says Hovey, it is incredulous! In the first place, the Law does not supersede the Promise and render its fulfillment useless, for it cannot give spiritual life, justification, or peace with God. And, in the second place, it prepares a person for Grace, which was promised through the Anointed One by awakening their hearts a sense of sin and leading them to the Savior. For if there had been a law given which could have offered life (make spiritually alive), then certainly righteousness would come by way of the Law. In this way, and in this alone, could the Law work against the fulfillment of the Promises. But, as proven before, it has no power to deliver a person from sin and death. Its purpose is far humbler, though exceedingly important.[13]

 While Paul’s teaching here may be considered no longer important or useful because many Christians have come to depend solely upon the Anointed One for their justification in being called one of God’s children, it is also quite clear that from the beginning of the early church, rites, rituals, and regulations have taken the Law’s place. In some churches they went so far as to tell a converted sinner that if they didn’t read their Bible every day, pray every day, attend every church service, be baptized in the manner the church has adopted, receive communion a specific number of times during the month, etc., their entrance into heaven has been jeopardized and they are on their way to eternal punishment. If the Law could not save back in Paul’s day, these church ceremonies cannot save today.

[1] Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, op. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.)., p. 48

[2] See Romans 8:3

[3] See Galatians 16-18, 22

[4] Jakob Arminius, Vol. 1, op. cit., Disputation 12. The Law of God, pp. 477-478 (Also see p. 336)

[5] Hebrews 2:2

[6] Deuteronomy 5:5.

[7] John 12:32

[8] Johann Bengel: The Critical English Testament, op. cit., p. 598

[9] John Wesley, Galatians: op. cit., pp. 32-33.

[10] 2 Corinthians 3:8-9

[11] Jonathan Edwards: Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, op. cit., Part III, Sect. XXII, (Kindle Location 16359)

[12] The Fundamentals – A Testimony to the Truth, R. A. Torrey, Ed., op. cit., Vol. 1, Ch. 14, pp. 238-239

[13] Alvah Hovey: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 48

About drbob76

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