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 XXVI)

Augustine was no doubt very serious about this problem with people who are saved so easily going back into the cesspool of sin and immorality. He then mourns that even in his own time: many forms of sin, though not just the same as those of Sodom and Gomorrah, are now so openly and habitually practiced. They not only dare we do not excommunicate a layman but challenge us not to degrade a clergyman for the commission of these sins. A few years ago, says Augustine, I was expounding on the Epistle to the Galatians and commenting on that very place where the Apostle talks about wasting his time on the Galatians, I was compelled to exclaim, “Woe to the sins of mankind! for it is only when we are not accustomed to them that they shrink from them, but once they are accustomed to, although the blood of the Son of God was poured out to wash them away; and although they are so far spread that the kingdom of God is wholly shut up against them, yet, constant familiarity leads to the toleration of them all, and habitual toleration leads to the practice of many of them.’’ So, grant, O Lord, prays Augustine, that we may not come to practice all that we lack the power to hinder.[1]

Augustine continues on this theme when he responds to a letter from Jerome in response to Jerome’s commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. He tells Jerome that he found one thing that caused him great concern. That involved taking some statements which were untrue in themselves but made, as it were, out of a sense of duty in the interest of the Catholic religion to include them in his commentary as if they were Holy Scripture. If this is done, then what authority remains for us said in the whole commentary itself? When this is allowed to be done, what part of these misinterpreted Scriptures is to be taken seriously when such vicious stubbornness of error is easily exposed? For as soon as it’s produced, any opponent will quickly point out that in the passage being used, those misinterpretations are easily found. The opponent then can turn around and accuse the writer of including such falsifications under the pressure of some assumed honorable sense of duty.[2]

We see this clearly practiced by Pope Gregory (540-604 AD), who claims that in the story of Job,[3] this wise man of Uz represents the Anointed One. He writes that since Job is an inhabitant of the land of Uz, because Wisdom (a personification of the Anointed One), which underwent the pain of the Passion on our behalf, made a habitation for Herself in those hearts, which are natural with the lessons of life. Then Gregory writes: Job’s “seven sons” represent the order of the Preacher, and by his “three daughters,” they represent the weaker multitudes of the faithful, who, though they never adhere with an honorable resolution to perfection of life, yet cling to their belief of the Trinity as taught to them with consistency. These three daughters also signified the three orders of the faithful – Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. He goes on to note that in the Scripture, the title of “oxen” sometimes represents the dullness of the foolish sort, and sometimes the life of those with good intentions. This is an apparent reference to Job’s three friends who at once spoke wise things and then foolish things to Job. And finally, Gregory writes that we are told of five hundred she asses, inasmuch as the Gentiles are called such names. [4]

We can clearly see now why it is no mystery that other Roman Catholic teachers and interpreters of Scripture, like Pope Gregory, saw no limit in taking a verse from the Holy Word and giving it their own allegorical interpretation. This would include turning the wine in the communion cup and the bread on the tray into the actual blood and body of Jesus and being baptized into being born again, to say nothing of Peter being the first Pope. And Mary, the mother of Jesus, as also being the product of an immaculate conception and her ascension into heaven, along with praying to the saints.

John Calvin also sees the relevance in Paul’s concern here for the church as well. So, he asks if we may wonder why Paul should be so afraid that he labored in vain that from now on, the Gospel will be of no help to them? And since, Calvin wonders, if this same observance of special holidays, holy months, sacred seasons, and anniversaries is now supported by the Vatican, what sort of the Anointed One or what sort of Gospel does it preach? As far as those things that weigh heavily on people’s consciences, they enforce the observance of days with the same severity as done by Moses. They consider holidays, not less than the false apostles in Galatia did, to be a part of worshiping God, and even add to that the devilish notion of earning merit with God. In fact, the only merit they earn is with the church. The Vatican must, therefore, be held as equally responsible as false apostles, misleading God’s children. Furthermore, with this additional aggravation to find out that these Judaizers proposed keeping those days appointed by the Torah, while the Vatican recognizes only those days stamped with their own seal of approval to be observed as most holy.[5]

Why trade the freedom found in the Anointed One for religious legalism?  Why throw away the riches of the King of kings, and become beggars once again, pleading with God for mercy based on one’s own merits. That’s the question that haunts the Apostle Paul. He finally shows his exasperation and disappointment by wondering whether or not he wasted his time going to Galatia while he was so physically ill, telling them about Jesus so they might find the joy of true salvation in the Anointed One, all of which left him tired, weary, and exhausted.

I ask this question, what might some of you men think if you bought an old car and spent months and months in junkyards looking for parts to restore it; putting in a new motor, new rims, and tires, repainting it, then polishing it until it shined like a classic roadster in a showroom then giving it to one of your sons, only then to find out he was planning to drive it in a demolition derby? Or what any of you ladies might think if you bought expensive silk material and spent months and months making a beautiful evening gown with lace and painstakingly woven hand-embroidery, and after presenting it to your daughter, you find out she was planning to wear it to go to a mud-wrestling contest?  Paul, no doubt, experienced similar shock and heartbreak over what the Galatians did with the months and months of teaching and preaching he gave them, while tired and worn out with some debilitating impairment he referred to as a “thorn in the flesh.”[6]

Walter F. Adeney (1849-1920) shares a sermon from R. M. Edgar on the subject of the danger of the legal spirit.[7] Edgar says that if Paul’s preaching only resulted in such an outbreak of legalism, then he would regard his mission among the Galatians would be considered a labor of love lost. There is no difference between the legalism of Judaism and the legalism of idolatry. Both are mere phases of self-righteousness. The Gospel missed its aim altogether if it leaves people still bound in legal bondage. The Gospel is the great force for overthrowing self-righteousness. It liberates the soul from the unrealistic hope of establishing any claim before God on one’s own efforts. It shuts us out, accepting salvation as God’s free gift. It reduces the standing of self-righteousness and elevates righteousness through free grace, a supreme position. That’s why Paul was anxious to see the Galatians brought back from legal bondage to Gospel liberty. Unless they were willing to give up their leadership in conducting rites, rituals, and ceremonies, and decided and committed themselves to place their faith and hope in the Savior alone, then they will be lost without any way of finding salvation. It is most important that the exceeding danger of the legal spirit be constantly kept in view, in order to maintain our firm standing on the solid footing of God’s grace.[8]

Dr. Nicholas Wright sums it up, noting that the heart of this passage, and perhaps its central theme for the Christian today, is their being called to find true freedom in knowing and being known by the True and Living God. The life of devotion and worship, gazing in adoration at the true God whose character and actions we can never study enough, sets us free from the rule of worldly gods – other gods who continually whisper in our ear that we might actually prefer giving all our time and adoration to them instead. We must ask ourselves, is it easier for our lives to be ruled by the same old line-up of options we chose from before, including our racial or ethnic identity, loyalty to a particular country with its customs and manners, the demands of money, gender identity, and power. Can it be any harder to follow the God revealed in Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and learn what true freedom, true humanness, in the fellowship of other followers is all about? But, as Paul goes on to say, there really is no alternative. God acted in grace, and we’ve tasted the blessings of that action. If we go back now, we are denying not only ourselves and our Christian experience, but God himself as being unworthy of our love, attention, and worship.[9]

In the Contextual Bible, the paraphrase of verses eight to nine fills in some of the meaning that Jewish scholars see missing in the Authorized English Version. It reads: “In the past, before you non-Jews came to know God, you were in bondage to the so-called “gods,” the demon rulers who exercised their power through the framework of religious, legal, and moral systems, keeping all mankind enslaved under this universal framework, to high moral standards and ethics, to all kinds of rules of good and bad conduct, and to social taboos and superstitions, all of which are useless and ineffective in making a person acceptable to the true God. But now that you found the true God (or should I say, now that God found you), and you became free, how can it be that you want to become slaves once again, this time to the Jewish religious, legal and moral system, which is no different from the systems under the demon rulers, from which you were freed, all of them ineffective and useless in making you guiltless and righteous before God, incapable of giving you the rich inheritance that God promised?[10]

While we don’t have the legalism of Judaism to wrestle with in our Churches today, we have a similar antagonist to deal with. That is the growing tendency of living more and more like the world and accepting it as the new standard for the Christian Church. For instance, excusing the watching of R-rated movies with profanity and nudity; the drinking of alcoholic beverages as a sign of being part of the in-crowd at the party; excusing couples or cohabitating without any intention of marrying because it’s the best way for them to get to know each other – and besides, it’s a natural tendency; and the experimentation with narcotics just as long as it doesn’t develop in an addiction. God forbid that the day will come when the courage, challenges, and commitment of Martin Luther; John Calvin; John Wesley; Charles Spurgeon; Charles Finney; Billy Sunday; William J. Seymour, Billy Graham; Oral Roberts et al. is lost and is no longer counted as worthy of the time, effort, and sacrifice.

[1] Chap. 80, p. 514

[2] The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1, Letters of St. Augustine, Letter 40 (397 AD), Ch. 3, p. 511

[3] Job 1:1-3

[4] The Books of the Morals of St. Gregory the Pope: An Exposition on the Book of Blessed Job, Allegorical Interpretation, paras. 15, 20, 19, 23; 24

[5] John Calvin, op. cit., loc. cit

[6] Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9

[7] R. M. Edgar: The Return of the Legal Spirit, Text: Galatians 4:8-11, Biblehub.com

[8] Walter F. Adeney: The Century Bible, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.,

[9] Wright, Nicholas T., op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] The Contextual Bible, op. cit., Location 337-393, Kindle Edition

About drbob76

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