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 FOUR (Lesson XX)

Pastor of the Congregationalist Church in Northampton, Massachusetts Bay Colony, Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), wrote about the resemblance between common grace and saving grace. For instance, Pharaoh justifies God’s existence; Saul weeps over his disobedience to God’s orders, David wept over his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, and the Israelites sang Gods praises, but soon forgot His works. Even though they experienced such pangs of affection for God and His patience with them, Stoddard says it was very hard for them to see their hypocrisy. Their fear of damnation made them reach into their hearts for any appearance of sincerity. It is a dangerous thing for them to think they were being sincere when they were not. All the time they were blessing themselves, God’s curse was hanging over their heads. These were cases of common grace, not saving grace. This, no doubt, may be the case between Paul and the Galatians.[1]

Also, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote that there is no evidence that affections for Christianity or the Church will bring salvation or that there is any appearance of love in such affections. In fact, Edwards points to what the Anointed One said about the last days. He told His disciples that because of the rise in immorality, the love of many will grow cold.[2] If their affections for the Anointed One, Christianity, and the Church was true love, it would become hotter, not colder. That’s what happened to the Jews’ affection for Moses and the Law. But the Apostle Paul prayed that the same would not happen to believers who were sincere in their love for the Lord.[3] So it’s no wonder that there are those who profess Christian love yet, in fact, are possessors of counterfeit love. Any love for the Anointed One and the Church that is not rooted in God’s saving grace is mere infatuation. That makes it no surprise that the Apostle Paul indicates here in verse eleven that all the love the Galatians showed for him, and his Gospel now appears to be counterfeit.[4]

There is mentioned in the Scripture about the “Godhead,[5], and His supernatural existence. These can never become man-made objects of worship. That’s because Paul says here in verse eight that such idols are “by nature are not gods.” Now, this supernatural “godhead” of God is His essence, with all the holy, divine excellencies which are supernaturally and necessarily included. Such as words like eternity, universal, omnipotence, infinite holiness, everlasting goodness, and the like. This one essence is the divine nature of God, the substance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, absolutely the same in and through each of them. That means, no carved icons can be a god as they are perceived to be, but by virtue of this divine essence and being.[6] So it is plain to see that even though an object made by man’s hands or worshiped in nature such as the Sun or Moon cannot be a god unless the same essence of the One True God is resident within them.

Joseph Beet (1840-1924) in examining the subject here in verse eight of being in bondage to the ABC’s of worldly philosophy and Jewish Law, that Paul assumes that both himself[7] and his Gentile readers[8] were formerly under the same rudiments, and in bondage to them. In other words, they committed themselves to follow these rudimentary principles no matter what, in order to find salvation. It’s another way of saying that they sold their souls to the Law and Heathenism. This also implies that not only was Judaism powerless to save and to enrich, but heathenism as well. What made the situation worse was that the Law and heathenism condemned them to die if they disobeyed, but offered no forgiveness.

Beet feels that heathenism, as well as Judaism, were in some way a preparation for the coming Gospel of the Messiah. Heathen Wisemen taught the great principles of right and wrong, and that God’s favor was to be obtained only by doing right: and even the rites and rituals of heathenism, as deeply corrupt as many of them were, contained elements expressive of man’s desired need for salvation from God. In other words, the First Covenant did reveal, with greater distinctness and depth and certainty, than the truths already revealed in Nature and in the law written on their hearts that there was such a thing as future salvation to the Jew but only the faintest offer to the heathen world.

Consequently, says Beet, for the Galatians to seek salvation by the Mosaic Covenant of works, was to go back, ignoring the noblest element in earlier revelations,[9] to the fact that heathenism possessed, in a lower degree, what they shared in common with Judaism, namely, that none of this they examined offered any hope of it saving them from God’s wrath. That’s why the Law is called here weak and poor,[10] although it does not deny its infinite worth as a means[11] of leading people to the Anointed One.[12] It is good as a stepping stone to the Gospel but is utterly ruinous when chosen as a permanent rock of deliverance in preference to the salvation proclaimed in the Gospel.[13]

Don Garlington gives us a clear view of what Paul says here in verse eight about the time when the Gentiles did not know God. But then, in becoming the children of God and possessing the “Spirit of His Son,” Paul’s readers came to experience God in the intimacy of a father-child relationship. In their new knowledge of God, these former pagan idolaters assumed the identity of a spiritual Israel. Their former ignorance of the true God and their service of man-made deities were no less than slavery, because far from delivering them from their sins and giving them an authentic reason for existence, their “gods” simply reinforced the sinful tendencies of their own hearts, thereby enslaving them to a lifestyle solely meant for self-gratification and self-aggrandizement. Added to this is the fact that Paul conceives of pagan religions as under the dominance of demonic powers,[14] making life outside the Anointed One a regular service to Satan as his slaves.[15]

Now consider this: Once upon a time, a Canaanite named Reprobus, who lived from (249-313 AD), converted to Christianity and chose the name, Christopher. One day he went to wade across a river and saw a little child wanting to get to the other side, but the water was too deep. So, Christopher put the child on his shoulders and carried him across. As word of his act of kindness spread, it made him very popular as a man of compassion. Later on, Christopher died as a martyr under the rule of Emperor Decius of Rome.  As his legend grew, he was canonized by the Church as the patron saint of travelers in 251 AD. His feast day was held on July 25th by the Roman Catholic Church, and May 9th by the Greek Orthodox Church and his medal hung from necks, car mirrors, and other transportation vehicles for centuries.

But in 1969, under the rule of Pope Paul VI, the Roman Catholic Church removed ninety-three saints from its list, including St. Christopher, since his story was impossible to document as being anything other than a rumor. This news came to both Catholic and Protestant believers as a shock. I heard one Catholic friend vow; they didn’t care what the Catholic Church said; they were going to pray to St. Christopher and display his medal no matter what. In addition, the Catholic Church no longer gave them credit for praying to St. Christopher to earn an early exit out of purgatory. Can you imagine the terrible disappointment of those who offered up thousands of prayers to get a loved one out of purgatory learning their prays were all vetoed by the Church! In a way, this is what Paul was trying to point out to the Gentile believers in Galatia.  Instead of the Anointed One being the only One they now trusted and believed in for every aspect of their lives, they went back to focusing their faith on meaningless figurines, medals, statues, and icons for safety and security.

I saw something similar while living the minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in the Quiapo district of Manila, Philippines. I heard quite a bit about the “Black Nazarene” who lay enshrined there. It was brought to the Philippines from Spain in 1606 by Augustinian Friars and enshrined in Quiapo in 1787. One day I decided to visit this Church so I could speak about it with firsthand knowledge. The church doors were all open as vendors selling religious icons and trinkets surrounded the cathedral. People flowed in and out of the sanctuary on a continuous basis.

The “Black Nazarene” lay on an elevated pedestal looking somewhat like he was lying in state, it was painted black and covered with a purple cloth. As people streamed by, they reached out and touched the feet with their hands or cloths. I was told they believed there was healing in the Black Nazarene’s figure, so they wiped cloths on themselves or took them home to sick family members. I also saw people crawling down the aisles toward the altar on their knees as they prayed using the Rosary. I left with a heavy heart, wondering that if the Apostle Paul was with me, might he ask that since this was a Christian church, did they know that the living Nazarene was standing at the right hand of God on high ready to make intercession for them, and by His stripes, they were healed. I also pondered: what might Paul think because these brothers and sisters in Manila became like-minded with the Galatians by depending on such rituals to meet their spiritual needs?

4:9-10:  But now that you know the one true God and He knows you, why would you want to go back again to those weak and miserable religious elements of this world? Why would you want to idolize them again? Are you trying to impress God by observing special holidays, holy months, sacred seasons, and anniversaries?

No wonder Paul seemed puzzled by the Galatians’ turnabout. Why did they go from something so alive to something so dead? Why did they turn around after becoming personally acquainted with the living God who called them and accepted them, and return to their old ineffective attempts to accomplish on their own what the Anointed One did for them on the cross? Did Paul now see them stumbling around in the darkness of legalistic religion after leaving the freedom of grace in His Light? Could it be that they who were saved from certain death under the condemnation of Mosaic Law and given eternal life through the grace of God in the Anointed One now live back under condemnation? Didn’t the Psalmist say that those who worship idols took on the personality of those idols? Maybe this explains why some people are considered perfect church members because they strictly adhere to every ceremonial law, but when it comes to sharing the Gospel and the love of the Anointed One to a fallen world, they are as inexpressive, inarticulate, and inanimate as their idols.

[1] Solomon Stoddard: Guide to The Anointed One, Published by William D’Hart, Princeton, N. J., 1827, pp. 60-61

[2] Matthew 24:12,13

[3] Ephesians 6:24

[4] The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards: op. cit., (Kindle Location 11492-11521)

[5] Romans 1:20

[6] John Owen: op. cit., A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, p. 56

[7] Galatians 4:3

[8] Ibid. 4:8-9

[9] e.g. Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; Jeremiah 31:31ff; Ezekiel 36:25ff

[10] Cf. Romans 8:3

[11] Galatians 3:24

[12] Cf. Romans 7:12

[13] Joseph Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 110-111

[14] 1 Corinthians 10:20-21

[15] Don Garlington: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 122

About drbob76

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