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 XLII)

Paul shows clearly that the Promise given to Abraham and the Law given to Moses are not competing for attention, they are mutually exclusive because they were meant to accomplish two different things.  He now proceeds to explain how the Promise to Abraham alone does what Mosaic Law could not do.  When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command, they led all humanity from the Garden of Eden to the Garrison of Evil. But God already possessed a plan to set mankind free, and He chose Abraham to be the one through whom the Deliverer would come. That’s why we must never mix the Promise and the Law together as one commandment, especially for Christians.

It appears that there were some in the Church during the time of Origen of Alexandria (184-253 AD), that took what Paul said here in verse twenty-two about all people are slaves in the bondage of sin to mean that people’s souls descended to such a degree of degradation that they forget their rational nature and dignity, and sank to the same level as irrational animals. To justify their assertions, they generally misused Scriptures to validate their points. For instance, they exploited laws against having sex with animals in Scripture,[1] and gave Balaam’s donkey speaking with a human voice as an example.[2] Origen says that all of these assertions are not acceptable but go contrary to his belief.[3]

Never, from the time sin entered the world through Adam and was exaggerated by the giving of the Law to Moses, did the soul of mankind deteriorate to that of animals. To use a modern example, the poison of sin caused the soul to become comatose, where it no longer responded to the voice of God. The only response came when God awakened the soul to hear Him speak, for example, Methuselah, Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. But only when the Word came in the flesh and made it possible for believers to live in Him and He in them was the soul completely awakened for eternity. Sinners today cannot respond to God’s voice through His Word or the preaching of His Word until the Holy Spirit awakens it to hear, understand, and respond.

Thomas Aquinas gives his view on this subject of the Law versus the Promise. For him, Paul is saying that although the Law was put in place because of wrongdoing, nevertheless, just because the Law could not remove our guilt for those wrong-doing does not negate the Promise God made to Abraham. If the Law were able to remove sin’s guilt, then it would be in violation of the conditions laid down in God’s promise. In such a case, justice would be obtained by some other means than what God promised. That means Justice would be through the Law and not through Faith. That’s why it is said, The just will live based on their faith.[4] The justice of God is by faith in Jesus the Anointed One.[5] That’s why Paul said, if Law were to be given the power to forgive and bring eternal life, then justice would be obtained by the Law and faith will play no role. But the Law does not give life because the letter of the Law kills.[6] [7]

All this time, the Jews existed in a state of spiritual imprisonment, unable to attain their freedom by having their sentence annulled by the same Mosaic Law that imprisoned them. They were found guilty and remained guilty with all the evidence clearly against them. Even though Mosaic Law was sympathetic by revealing what they did wrong and convicting them of their sinful ways, it could not offer them a reprieve. Mosaic Law provided ways for mankind to be remorseful and to show how apologetic they were through the appointed sacrifices and ceremonial purifications. Still, it was only trying to help the sinner make up for their sin and give them some sense of personal pride, knowing they obeyed God.  But it could not wash the sin away and cleanse the sinner white as snow so they could begin life anew in freedom. Model prisoners are still prisoners; they are not free with a clean record.

It took a Deliverer, a Savior, to make a radical change, but not through jailbreak or introducing new evidence that might bring an acquittal, but by that Savior trading places with the prisoner, then serving out the whole sentence by accepting the death penalty. But God in His mercy brought Him back to life again, so the prisoner for whom He died could start all over on the outside with a clean slate; furthermore, not just a new life here on earth, but a new life that will go on into eternity. How wonderful is that!

So, says Paul, the fulfillment of the promise did not come through any work on sinful man’s part, but through the work of a sinless the Anointed One. By putting one’s faith in the Anointed One, the believer’s faith that the faithfulness of the Anointed One met all of God’s demands is confirmed. Whenever I pray with sinners who come forward for salvation, I always make sure I included the phrase, “I now accept Jesus the Anointed One as my Lord and Savior.” Too often, the sinner’s prayer leads convert to believe that by simply repeating the prayer, salvation is automatically granted them. Being sorry for one’s sins is not enough. The new believer must never walk away from the altar, thinking, “I just got saved!” It’s too easy then to lose it, to fall short, to backslide. Rather, to walk away from the altar believing “Jesus the Anointed One just saved me,” and it’s impossible for Him to fail, to fall short, thereby annulling my salvation.

The Apostle Paul knew from his own experience that if the Israelites really knew that Mosaic Law was incapable of saving them unless it was kept to perfection, their souls might cry out for a permanent redemption from sin. However, they exhibited a far different attitude when the true Messiah came. But by thinking they were given the sacrifices and ceremonies in order to make them holy by going through the motions, they missed the whole purpose of Mosaic Law in preparing them for the Anointed One.

As we know, some forty years after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Temple in Jerusalem was razed, along with the altar and Holy of Holies, never to be rebuilt to this day. So gone was their opportunity to lay their sins on the heads of animals to make restitution for their sins. And since then, no human high priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to splash the blood on the Mercy Seat for the forgiveness of sins. It is still practiced, but only as a ceremony. Paul’s message in Galatia brought believers freedom through the Anointed One, but now these Judaizers wanted to take them back to the old way of doing things. No wonder Paul felt so disappointed with these people.

Believers must realize that church rituals and regulations are only there to guide, not to save. To depend on them for salvation is to throw away the suffering and death, Jesus went through on our behalf. If we decide to throw anything away, let it be our dependence on religious rituals and regulations designed to govern our lives, which may end up driving us away from God. This, no doubt, led Martin Luther to expound on this subject of works.[8]

In one of his instructional courses for personal study, Adam Clarke (1760-1851), starts out by saying that people, by their individual transgressions, open themselves to eternal punishment. And as a consequence of the impurity or infection of their nature, they are incapable of enjoying eternal glory; and, therefore, to be saved. Consequently, they must be able to testify that they were delivered from the guilt of all their sins and from its impurities so that their soul can take its place in God’s presence through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Only then will they be qualified to enjoy an eternal union with Him in the realms of glory.

So, asks Clarke, how, therefore, are these purposes proven to be accurate by believing on the Lord Jesus the Anointed One? The Apostle Paul tells us here in verse twenty-two that the Holy Scriptures say that all people are guilty of sin. Then that which was promised might be given to those who put their trust in the Anointed One. It will be because their faith is in Him. Now, the promise not only focuses on the incarnation of the Anointed One but also the blessings to be communicated through that incarnation. These blessings may be all summed up in these three particulars: Pardon of sin; Gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit for the purification and sanctification of the heart; and Eternal Life as a result of that pardon, purification, and sanctification.[9]

Theologian Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) focuses on the striking and solemn figure of a person who is locked up in the literal sense of being confined. So, then, we are to conceive of a vast prison-house in which mankind is imprisoned. And then, very characteristically, the Apostle passes at once to another metaphor when he goes on to say “loaded down with sin.” What a sight to see, a person carrying a weight almost too much for them is found guilty of violating the Law and is locked up and forced to stand in a dungeon with this enormous weight still on their shoulders. Who in such a condition would not dream of having someone come to pay their fine and set them free, both from the prison and the heavy weight on their shoulders? This sure does make the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened down, and I will give you complete relief,”[10] sound even more comforting.

MacLaren also believes that many sinners are surprised when we tell them that sin is incarceration because it is contrary to the notion that many unconverted people hold. As they see it, why should they be chained to antiquated restrictions of the Bible and Church? Why can’t they just break those chains and live like they want to? And they laugh at Christian people who willingly submit to the moral limitations under which God’s law placed them. This causes them to poke fun at such old-fashioned, strait-laced, stern-looking people who never enjoy fun as they walk down a dark narrow pathway. They contrast it with their own brightly lit broadway with so many opportunities to satisfy whatever passion they feel at the moment.

But they got it all wrong, says MacLaren! The person who is constantly doing what’s wrong is a slave to sin to the level they sinned. That’s why Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin… So, if the Son sets you free, you surely will be free.”[11] Sinners are the slaves to their own passions, and no one is free who is still hindered by immoral desires that go against what their conscience is telling them is wrong. The tempter comes to you and says, come on, do it only once. Now you can quit anytime you want to. If you don’t like it, then you don’t need to do it again. Unfortunately, when you do it again just for fun before you know it, you are addicted and can’t quit. On the other hand, all the things that bring Christians joy, peace, and hope they are encouraged to do it again and again.[12]

[1] Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 18:23

[2] Numbers 22:28

[3] Works of Origen, Origen de Principiis, Bk. 1, Ch. 8, p. 513

[4] Habakkuk 2:4

[5] Romans 3:22

[6] 2 Corinthians 3:6

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[8] Martin Luther: A Treatise on Good Works, The Importance of the Work, p.18

[9] Adam Clarke: Salvation by Faith Proved, A Discourse, Text: Acts of the Apostles 16:30, pp. 34-35

[10] Matthew 11:28

[11] John 8:34, 36

[12] Alexander MacLaren: Exposition of Scripture, op. cit., On Galatians, loc. cit., pp. 117-118

About drbob76

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