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 FIVE (Lesson LXI)

Catholic writer George Haydock (1774-1849) offers his view of the church’s stance on this subject. It is evident that in Galatia, false teachers insisted on the observance of circumcision and a few other rites only as necessary for salvation. Paul warns those receiving circumcisions are openly professing faith in Judaism to save them. They are binding themselves to the observance of every part of the Law. Furthermore, a curse awaits those that do not keep it in all its parts. If then circumcision is necessary for salvation, the whole Law is also required. If you think that justice can be obtained only through the Law, you renounced the justice of the Anointed One: His mediation becomes of no use to you.[1]

As a courtesy to Haydock, it would be nice to hear how this interpretation affects the good work’s policy of the Church. Ask any Roman Catholic today, do you think you will be saved by submitting to baptism as an infant, confession, and penance, receiving the Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, anointing of the sick, and Holy Orders by becoming a priest. There is also saying the Rosary, reading the missal, participating in a novena, and devotion to Mother Mary and the other saints through prayer. Their answer will inevitably be, “Yes.” That’s how we attempt to merit salvation through these sacraments. But that makes Grace a reward, not a gift.

Heinrich A. Meyer (1800-1873), German protestant theologian, in commenting on what Paul says here in verse four about Justification, points out that Justification by the Law and Justification by Grace in Latin is called a contrarium, meaning “exact opposites.” The one excludes the other; they cannot exist or work together. So, it comes down to choosing one over the other. No one can claim that they are justified to be free of sin’s death penalty by faith and then depend on their observance of certain rites, rituals, and ceremonies to add to that justification. Predictably, said the Apostle Paul, when a person chooses justification by the Law, they are rejecting Jesus the Anointed One.[2]

Johann P. Lange (1802-1884) writes about how seeking salvation through works of the Law ends up causes a fatal separation between them and the Anointed One. How could anyone speak more powerfully against the Law, asks Lange? What can or will anyone bring up against this mighty clap of thunder? The Gospel and the Law cannot dwell and rule in a person’s heart simultaneously. Out of need and necessity, either the Anointed One must yield to the Law or the Law must yield to the Anointed One.

Therefore, says Lange, no one should accept the illusion that trust in the Law and faith in the Anointed One might dwell together in collaborative harmony in their heart. They need to know for sure that the spirit behind this is not the Spirit of the Anointed One but the spirit of the Evil One who has taken up residence in what was once the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Soon it will erect idols to worship and establishes its rule as the power to appease. Not only that, but this evil spirit will terrify that person with demands that through the Law and their good works, they make themselves righteous. Even if someone who cannot swim falls overboard from a ship, says Lange, they will certainly drown in the sea unless they are rescued. Whosoever falls away from Grace is condemned and lost unless saved by the Love, Grace, and Mercy of a compassionate God.[3]

Englishman William Anderson O’Conor (1820-1894), a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and St. Andrew’s Theological College in Birkenhead, Scotland, makes it understandable that we cannot be justified by the Anointed One and Law at the same time. To seek justification through Law is to cut oneself off from the Savior. Our justification with God through the Anointed One is the Father’s merciful acceptance of our living faith because of what His Son did on the cross on our behalf. Having found justification in this way as a gift, we fall from this favored status if we seek to justify ourselves by perfect obedience to the Law. Attempts to conquer life’s endless battle with sin through perfect obedience to the Law remains a delusion. Unavoidable defects and failures are already atoned for. Faith that strives in our minds is counted as righteousness. To fall from grace is to refuse the atonement, which covers the shortcomings of faith.[4]

Professor Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) stresses that being separated from the Anointed One should be given more emphasis. He admits that it is difficult to make a satisfactory translation of the first clause here in verse four. The English Revised Version[5] reads: “Ye are severed from Christ.” The Bible Union Version:[6]Ye are separated from Christ.” It is better, says Hovey, to render the Greek verb in this clause in the perfect tense: “Ye have been separated from Christ,” – that is, your separation from the Anointed One is a completed act in the case of those who seek to be justified by the Law.

That’s why Paul employs the completed action tense in the next clause: “Ye are fallen from grace.” And this constitutes your first movement toward the religious legal system, toward reliance upon works of the Law for acceptance with God. You have, in principle, surrendered your confidence in the Anointed One as a basis for hope. The Apostle has in view their standing before God as fixed by a logical assessment of their conduct. Behavior like that will turn a person away from salvation through Grace.  They then sink back into the condition of sinners who are seeking to work out righteousness on their own. What the Anointed One Himself may yet do for them in His great mercy is not revealed, but the attitude which they are taking toward His work for them is brilliantly shown. Hence, the Apostle is not teaching in this passage, the modern doctrine of “falling from grace.” [7]

Frederic Rendall (1840-1906) notes that in the Greek text, the phrase “You are deprived of all effect, “translated by the NIV as “You have been alienated,” suggests that the Greek verb ekpiptō be understood as a comprehensive force meant to destroy any growth or life. In this case, it is the Galatian’s spiritual life under attack. Furthermore, it denotes the loss of some essential element of life by the severance of a previous intimate relationship. Today we might liken it to removing a 12-volt battery from an automobile. Once the battery is gone, the car has no power to operate. For believers, that would be the power of the Holy Spirit. Once that is detached by being disrespectful to God and denying Him the leadership of one’s soul, then Jesus the Anointed One is dismissed as Lord of one’s life. This produces a deadening effect on a person’s whole spiritual nature.[8]

George G. Findlay (1849-1919) does not mince words when he describes Paul’s message to the Galatians here in verse four concerning their turning traitors to the cause of the Anointed One. He finds the Greek phase [απο καταργεο Xηριστοσ] apo katargeō Christos) is hard to translate. The literal translation is: (“to destroy Christ.” This is evident when examining the various English translations of today. But the general consensus is that it implies your relationship with the Anointed One is destroyed. The force of what Paul says means, “You were eliminated from union with the Anointed One – brought to nothing by being cut-off from Him because you are seeking justification through the Law.” To put this more in today’s language: “To those of you who seek right standing with God, your union with the Anointed One is invalidated, you are reduced to being nothing.” [9] Some interpret this as aimed at the Judaizers and serves as a warning to the Galatians. It also asserts this severing occurred in the past. So, as soon as the Galatians endorse the principle of legal justification, it will happen to them.

British Bible teacher Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952), points out that the central issue raised in Paul’s letter to the Galatians is not what is the proper standard of conduct for the believer’s life, but on what grounds does a sinner based their salvation. Paul already asserted that the Judaizing troublemakers were out to pervert the Gospel of the Anointed One by adding things that didn’t belong and taking out something that should stay.[10] Furthermore, Paul was adamant about the fact that in the eyes of God, no one is justified by the Law.[11] This clearly shows where Paul is saying in his argument. And then, Paul did not hesitate to declare that every person that is circumcised in obedience to the Law is a debtor to do the whole Law.[12] It should be evident by now to everyone where the Judaizers made their biggest mistake.

So, Paul says here in verse four that the Anointed One no longer has any effect on their salvation because they are trusting the Law to justify them in the sight of God. Consequently, they are fallen from grace. To “fall from grace” does not mean Christians shouldn’t obey the Ten Commandments, but to feel required to do the works of the Law (moral and ceremonial) in order to be justified. The Law and the Gospel are irreconcilable. Every attempt to combine them strikes equally at the majesty of the Law and the Grace of the Gospel. It is like asking a one-arm man hanging onto a tree branch to clap his hands. What results is an imitation Gospel and an imitation of the Law.[13]

In any case, Paul’s teaching here conflicts with the doctrines of eternal security, eternal insecurity, or earned eternal security. The point he’s making to the Galatian believers clearly warns them that returning to earning grace by their efforts instead of receiving grace by faith is a losing proposition. Besides, who would want to try such a thing in the first place? By wholeheartedly receiving the love of God through the Anointed One and embracing His blessings through grace, we forego losing something we cannot gain by our efforts.  Nor can we merit or gain something we cannot later forfeit, because grace is not added by labor or as a reward. The believer should not concentrate on how little he or she needs to do to inherit eternal life, but how much he or she can do to show how grateful they are to be called the children of God.

David A. Brondos points out that the Gentile believers in Galatia received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit upon conversion without needing to submit to circumcision and other commandments of the Torah. This means, they were adopted into the family of the right-with-God assembly and that God’s promises came through faith, not as a merit for good works. That’s why submission to the Torah was not a condition for receiving this promise of salvation. To try and do so would end up nullifying what God did through His Son on the cross. They already were “a new creation” of the Spirit through the Anointed One. So, why return to the “old creation” of the flesh? Didn’t they realize they were just about to reject Grace’s hold on them? Instead of trusting in God’s grace to get them through, they were foolish enough to believe they could make it on their own.[14]

[1] Haydock, George: Catholic Bible Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Meyer, Heinrich A. W. On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 221-222

[3] Lange, Johann P. On Galatians, op. cit., p. 131

[4] O’Conor, W. A., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 82

[5] The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments: Translated out of the Original Tongues, being the version set forth AD 1611, The University Press, Cambridge, 1855, loc. cit.­

[6] The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments: An Improved Edition (Based in part on the Bible Union Version), American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1912, loc. cit.

[7] Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians pp. 64–65

[8] Rendall, Frederic: On Galatians p. 184

[9] Findlay, George G. On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 307-308

[10] Galatians 1:7

[11] Ibid. 3:11

[12] Ibid. 5:3

[13] Pink, Arthur W. The Law and the Saint, p. 20

[14] Brondos, David A. Paul on the Cross: op. cit., p. 80

About drbob76

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