CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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[SPECIAL NOTICE: Due to several computer freezes on my word processor, each time I rebooted, it would save my work to a new file. Apparently, when I opened our lessons on Galatians, I opened an older file and began posting from there. Thanks to those of you who alerted us. My wife and I have attempted to get things back in order. I hope you enjoyed reading some of the lessons twice!]

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LIX)

Luther’s trustworthy and faithful coworker and translator of the Final Covenant into German and the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), backed up Luther’s testimony. He noted that in the Church during those days, that the monks taught that deeds and services of man’s own making satisfy the debt for sins and merited grace and justification. No sufficient explanation will do except to call it a distraction from the glory of the Anointed One and to obscure and deny the righteousness that comes by faith in His work.  It follows, therefore, he said, that the vows commonly are taken have involved services unworthy of justification and, consequently, are void. For such an oath opposes what Jesus taught and is, therefore, not valid. Even in Church teachings, it says that no vow ought to obligate people to do ungodly things.

Melanchthon points out that Paul says here in verse four: If you try to be made right with God through the Law, your life with the Anointed One is finished – you have forsaken God’s grace. To those, therefore, who wants to be justified in not facing death by their vows, our Redeemer is made of no effect, and they fall from grace. Anyone assigning justification to their vows is crediting to good works that rightly belongs to the glory of the Anointed One.

Melanchthon describes more of what he and Luther saw as grave errors in the Medieval Church. Allowing the monks to teach by their vows and observances, that they were justified in not being put to death for sin, and merited forgiveness of sins, led to the invention of still greater absurdities. They even claimed that they could give others a share of the merits they earned through their good deeds. If anyone should be inclined to enlarge on these things with ulterior motives, many things could be written that even the monks would be ashamed of!

Over and above this, however, they persuaded people that the services of humanity’s making were a state of Christian perfection. Is this not assigning justification to works? It is no small matter that the Church declared to everyone that such good deeds devised by men, without the commandment of God, will lead them to a right standing before God. For the righteousness of faith, which needs teaching in the Church, is obscured when these unusual angelic forms of worship, with their show of poverty, humility, and celibacy. They perform them for the applause of others.[1] Perhaps this will help us see why a Reformation was so necessary to get the Church back on the right path, which is the Highway of Holiness.

A fellow Reformer, John Calvin, also gives his view. He sees the Apostle Paul contending that our Anointed One cannot be divided, with Law on the one side, and He on the other. The person who does this not only profits nothing but loses everything; the Anointed One is not served by following the dictates of the Law, and the Law cannot be served unless it is performed to perfection. They cannot go together, you must totally embrace one or the other. Calvin wondered why the Roman Catholic Church decided to replace obligatory circumcision with mandatory baptism.

And even that does not seem to be enough. Added details of their inventions were forthcoming; their whole doctrine tends to blend the grace of our Anointed One with the merit of works, which is impossible. Whoever wishes to have only half of the Anointed One, loses the whole. And yet these unfortunate brethren think themselves exceedingly keen when they tell us that they ascribe nothing to works, except through the influence of the grace of the Anointed One. But they are making the same mistake as the Galatians. By combining works with grace is another way of saying that all the Anointed One did on the cross was insufficient to provide redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life. In other words, Jesus wasn’t strong enough to finish the job – even though He did declare, “It is finished!” What they don’t realize was that they departed from the Anointed One as their only Lord and Savior. And by relinquishing the full power of His grace, they lost the benefits of His work on the cross entirely. We could call this a case of religious bigamy. They are married to two Saviors – the Law and the Anointed One. It doesn’t work under the laws of this world; likewise, it does not work under the Laws of God’s Kingdom.[2]

Jesuit priest and interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures Cornelius à Lápide (1567-1637) remarks on who the Anointed One’s sacrifice becomes of no effect who seek justification in the Law; he addresses those who try to be justified in bypassing sin’s death sentence by doing the works of the Law. He goes on to say that those who seek righteousness from circumcision and other legal rites are distrusting the Grace of the Anointed One and preferring to put their trust in the Law. By doing so, they are treating the Anointed One with ingratitude, and as a consequence, He withdrew His grace from them.

Galatians believers, says Paul, were once filled with the Grace of the Anointed One, like a well with water; but they emptied it and so lost the fruits of His work on the cross. To put it in another way, the Anointed One drained His Church of them, because of their lack of faith.[3] We can see where the Roman Catholic Church was in the Middle Ages in their theology of justification by grace alone. I disagree with Lápide in that God never withdraws His Grace from us; it is we who push it away. But the mindset by that time was that the Roman Church was the deciding factor in such issues. So, when excommunicated from the Church, you were banished from God’s Grace.

Adam Clarke offers his exegesis on what Paul is saying to the Galatians here about circumcision. Didn’t they realize that by approving circumcision, they were taking on carrying the whole burden of the Law, and consequently professing that they are seeking salvation by means of its observances. But they were unaware that all our Anointed One did on the cross and rising out of the grave would not benefit them in any way. By seeking justification by the works of the Law, they were renouncing justification by faith in our Anointed One.

Clarke goes on to add that the Galatians seemed oblivious to the fact that they were trying to unite two opposing systems. They must either give their unconditional allegiance to the Law or to our Anointed One. They were brought into the grace of the Gospel but now decided to readopt the Mosaic ordinances instead. They were renouncing the power of the Gospel for salvation. Didn’t they know they were losing all the benefits of grace communicated to their souls, by which they were preserved in a state of salvation? The peace and love of God received through Jesus the Anointed One could not remain in the hearts of those who rejected Him. To put it mildly, they fell from grace. If some recovered, is not recorded in the Scriptures.[4]

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) takes the phrase “The Anointed One will profit you nothing” and says it should be limited in scope because we cannot suppose that the circumcision of the Jewish believers incapacitated them for being profited by the Anointed One’s work on the cross. It also shows that the Apostle’s declaration is not to be considered as a prohibition of circumcision to the Jews as a national rite, but only as a rite necessary for salvation. And therefore, while the Jews practiced this rite, according to its original intention, they did what was right. But the Gentiles, not being of Abraham’s race, were under no lawful obligation to circumcise themselves; consequently, if they received that rite, it must have been because they thought it necessary to their salvation; for which reason the Apostle absolutely prohibited it to all the Gentiles. That is, those who seek to be justified by the Law will fall from grace. When you renounce the covenant of grace in this last and most perfect manifestation of it: you disclaim the benefit of the Anointed One’s gracious dispensation. The Apostle’s meaning is this: that whosoever sought to be justified meritoriously by the Law of Moses, and for that purpose received circumcision, dissolved their connection with the Anointed One, and renounced relationship to, and dependence on Him as Lord and Savior.[5]

George S. Bishop (1880-1910) informs us that the question of the timelessness of Grace is the question of a genuine Gospel. In other words, if Grace is real, then is the Gospel a reality? If Grace is temporary, then is the Gospel temporary? Wouldn’t that make a dream of blessed assurance something from which someone wakes to find themselves empty of all that enraptured them – that spoke its promises into the ear but was devoid of hope. So now we must ask, says Bishop, can a person who has real Grace lose it? The answer to this question decides the validity of our faith. The permanence of Grace is the forward stronghold guarding the fortress of Truth, the first point of attack which establishes, commits, secures, and rivets God’s eternal, unchanging plan of salvation to the Gospel.[6] In other words, if God’s Grace is genuine, then the Gospel is authentic. And God’s unending Grace is what makes the Gospel’s plan of salvation a permanent fixture for eternity.

[1] Philip Melanchthon: The Augsburg Confession, Article 27, pp. 29-30

[2] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Cornelius à Lápide: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit.

[4] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Joseph Benson: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] George Sayles Bishop: The Doctrines of Grace: and Kindred Themes, Gospel Publishing House, New York, 1910, p. 306

About drbob76

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