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 XXXVI)

Paul’s ultimate goal in all of this is that the characteristics and virtues of the Messiah may yet be formed in the Galatians. Perhaps he wrote too harshly at first. So, he halfway repents of his severity.[1] He would gladly change his voice and tone if he could only be with them in person and see them face to face. Perhaps his tears, his pleas, would win them back. A rush of tender emotion wells up in Paul’s soul. He is no longer the master in union with the Anointed One rebuking unfaithful disciples; he is now the grieving father weeping over his misguided children.[2]

Current Bible commentator Ronald Y. K. Fung addresses the phrase “Until you take the shape of the Anointed One,” and states that this is the time when Paul’s labor pangs will cease, and the purpose for which he is enduring them will end. In the original Greek, the thought is more strikingly expressed as “until the Anointed One is formed in you” (NASB, NIV). The Greek verb morphousthai refers to the process whereby the fetus develops into an infant; Paul’s desire is to see the Anointed One thus “formed” in his converts. Although the imagery suggested by the language is unusual, its intended meaning is not in doubt: to say that the image of the Anointed One should take shape in the believers is just a more effective way of saying that “the Anointed One should fashion them according to His own image.” In that way, their submission to Him will reflect His image and glory in their lives. It is worth noting that the noun implied by the verb denotes “essential formmorphē rather than outward “shapeschēma; it is here synonymous with “imageeikōn, which is the word used in Colossians 3:10, a verse concerned with the same process.[3]

Jewish writer W. A. Liebenberg gives us a chart so that we can have an ocular view of what was trying to say here in his allegory about Hagar and Sarah:

“BAD” News of the false apostles “GOOD” News of the true Apostles
•    Repent and accept Yeshua

THEN

•    Learn all the Torah and obey it   faithfully for three years

THEN

•    Get circumcised

THEN

  • You are Abraham’s seed and are declared righteous
  • Repent and accept Yeshua (Acts of the Apostles 2:39

THEN

·         You are not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power unto salvation

·         You are now a child of God who was baptized as evidence

·         You are Abraham’s seed and are declared righteous

 

     Vain attempt to be “justified by the Law”      “Justification by faith” in Yeshua
     Still “Under the Law”      Now “Under grace”

Liebenberg goes on to say that once again, Paul appeals to Genesis to demonstrate an eternal truth. Remember that Yahweh promised Abraham he would have a son in his old age even though he was without any children up to this point. After this promise, both Abraham and Sarah thought that the promised son would not literally come through Sarah’s womb, but through her girl-slave Hagar on behalf of Sarah. The son born through Hagar was Ishmael. Ishmael is called one who was “born of human procreation” because he was brought about in a way that was contrary to Yahweh’s promise, being the son of a girl-slave. Yahweh was actually going to fulfill His promise by miraculously allowing Sarah to have a son, Isaac, well past childbearing years. Thus, the promise was going to be fulfilled by a miracle of Yahweh rather than by the work of humankind.[4]

Don Garlington opens the door for us to get a wider and deeper view of what Paul meant here in verse nineteen by the image of the Messiah being formed in them; For the Anointed One to be “formed” within the Galatians, says Garlington, is not a simple case of them developing spiritually or morally. He then quotes from Beverly R. Gaventa’s work saying that “the formation of the Anointed One among the Galatians is simultaneously their crucifixion with the Anointed One.” It means that the old has passed away and the new has come to them. In his letter, Paul’s convictions that the Galatians were called, that they heard the Gospel and that they responded in faith, is clearly seen. But he also believes that they are in danger of turning around again, of converting back to their earlier views. For that reason, he speaks of his own labor with them and the need of the Anointed One to be formed in them.[5] In other words, one does not get to know about the Messiah and then agrees to follow His teachings and even submitting to baptism and thereby have the Anointed One form in them unless they are crucified with the Messiah so they can be raised to a new life with and for the Messiah.

4:21-22 I’d like to ask those of you who want to go back and live your life under Mosaic Law, do you understand what Mosaic Law is really saying? Remember, the Scriptures point out that Abraham fathered two sons, one through his slave-mistress, and one through his legitimate wife. 

What Paul says here to the Galatians he already said to the Romans about sin. He told them that they must never allow their sinful tendencies to gain power over them. They no longer live according to the dictates of the Law; they now have a new life because of God’s loving-favor.[6] To put this another way, the Law can only condemn those who break the rules but was given no provision or power to forgive. Breaking the Law results in making a person a sinner. And they became sinners because their tendency to do wrong was greater than their tendency to do right. So, if they reject God’s grace to forgive them of their sin in breaking the Law, they will never be free to live as God wants them to live in union with the Anointed One – to His honor, praise, and glory. They’d end up going around in a circle because there’s no exit from the prison yard of the Law.

Paul says as much when he told them that in the past their sinful-self ruled and reigned in their lives. The Law dared us to do sinful things. And since our sinful desires controlled our bodies, these desires took the Law’s dare to see if they could get away with it. But all it did was make them prisoners of sin with a spiritual death sentence hanging over our heads. But then they heard of God’s salvation through grace and no longer responded to their sinful tendencies as though they must do so. Therefore, the Law no longer finds anything within them to tempt. In fact, they were liberated from the Law’s power. So now they serve God in a new way, not in the old way, with the rules that are written on their hearts. This new way of serving God is with the spirit, not with physical intentions through good works and charity.[7]

So, what are we to say about all this? The people who never were Jews were not made right with God by obeying the Law of Moses. They were made right with God because they put their trust in God and the Anointed One. The Jews tried to be right with God by obeying the Law, but they did not become right with God that way. Why? Because they did not put their trust in God, and the Law offered them no help. They tried to be right with God by working for it. In doing so, they tripped over God’s offer of salvation through the Anointed One like a person whose foot hits a rock they are trying to avoid and stumbles and falls.[8]

So why did this happen? Because they refused to believe that the Anointed One fulfilled the Law’s purpose so that everyone who puts their trust in Him is made right with God because of His sacrifice to pay the ransom for their souls. Moses told them if anyone wants to live right before God, they must obey each and every law to the letter. But that’s not how it works with grace. When a person puts their trust in the Anointed One, they are made right with God because the Anointed One is right and He is now abiding in them.

You don’t need to ask, “Who will go up to heaven to bring the Anointed One down?” And you need not inquire, “Who will go below and bring the Anointed One up from the dead?” This is what God says, “The Good News is near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart.” This Good News tells about putting your trust in the Anointed One. This is what we preached to you, says Paul. If you say with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved from the punishment of sin. When we believe in our hearts, we are made right with God. We will be able to testify how we were saved by God through His Son from the death sentence pronounced on those who sin.[9]

But there’s one more thing Paul want’s the Galatians to know, now that they are considering returning to life under the Law instead of remaining under Grace. Here is the message the Law brings for those who submit to its authority to control their lives: If they fail to live up the strict rules of obedience to its commands, they cannot use it as an excuse. No matter how much they claimed they did, they are still on the list of the condemned.[10] In that case, the whole world is subject to God’s final judgment. It’s impossible to be right with God using the Law as a guide. In fact, the more of the Law that a person tries to fulfill the more it will show just what kind of sinner they really are.[11]

Socrates of Constantinople (380-450 AD), also known as “Socrates Scholasticus,” a legal consultant and well-known church historian for the Greek Orthodox Church was the first known layman to write church history covering the years from 305-439 AD. He is discussing the Church’s obligation to celebrate Jewish holidays, feasts, festivals, and ceremonial law. He was just dealing with how they view the observance of Easter and said that it seems to him that neither the early church scholars nor the scholars in the fourth century offered any rational foundation for insisting on observing such practices so stubbornly. Says Socrates, they did not take into consideration that when Judaism gave way to Christianity, the obligation to observe the Mosaic law and the ceremonial types ceased. And the proof of the matter is plain; for no law of the Anointed One requires Christians to imitate the Jews.

[1] Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:4; 7:8

[2] Expositor’s Bible Commentary: On Galatians by G. G. Findlay, op. cit., Ch. 18, pp. 273-274

[3] Ronald Y. K. Fung: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., pp. 202-203

[4] W. A. Liebenberg: On Galatians: op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 81-82

[5] Beverly R. Gaventa: The Maternity of Paul: An Exegetical Study of Galatians 4:19 in The Conversation Continues: Studies in Paul and John in Honor of J. Louis Martyn, ed. R. T. Fortna and B. R. Gaventa (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990) pp. 189-201

[6] Romans 6:14

[7] Ibid. 7:5-6

[8] Ibid. 9:30-32

[9] Romans 3:10

[10] There are two Greek words translated as “condemn, condemned, condemnation,” One is katakrima which means removal for legal refractions or sentenced to death or death sentence. This is found in Romans 5:16, 18; 8:1; Galatians 5:10. Another is katakrisis which means remorse for moral failures. See 2 Corinthians 3:9; 7:3

[11] Ibid. 3:19-20

About drbob76

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