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 LXIII)

Chrysostom did not live long enough to read the Reformers’ works. But one wonders what he would have thought of Calvin’s commentary on verses five and six. He claims there would be no difficulty in understanding this passage, were it not for the dishonest manner in which it was twisted by those who uphold the righteousness of works. When they attempt to refute the doctrine that we are justified by faith alone, they use this argument: If the faith that justifies us is by works done out of love, then faith alone does not justify on its own. Calvin answers, they do not comprehend their silly talk, and even less do they comprehend our teachings.

It is not our doctrine that faith alone justifies, says Calvin. We maintain that faith leads to good works. We only contend that faith alone is sufficient for justification, which is then accompanied by good works. The Vatican itself is accustomed to ripping up faith in a perverse fashion, sometimes presenting it all out of shape and unaccompanied by love, and at other times, in its true character. We, again, refuse to admit that, in any case, we cannot separate faith from the Spirit of regeneration. However, when the question comes to be in what manner we are justified, we then set aside all works.[1] One example to prove Calvin’s point is the thief on the cross. Since he did have faith, he had no opportunity to add good works for complete justification.

John Bunyan (1638-1688) is speaking on the subject here in verse six that being a Jew or Gentile makes no difference in how one gains faith that comes by God’s Love. Take note, says Bunyan, it does not say here that faith acts lovingly, or that faith’s fruit is Love. True faith is a consequence of pure Love. So then, since faith is the offspring of Love, faith then believes and acts out of love. God’s Love is the basis for justifying one’s faith in the work of Jesus the Anointed One on the cross, which then results in justification in God’s sight as being right with Him. It starts with Love, the Love of God, who gave His Son to be our Savior and the Love of the Savior in sacrificing Himself on our behalf. Therefore, Love working in us stirs up a holy boldness in taking hold of all things that concern the Anointed One and providing all our affection for His wonderful and blessed redeeming Love.[2]

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) noted that there were some who, like the Apostle Paul, considered themselves the worst of sinners,[3] and some who are so highly moral that salvation seems to be an easy thing for them. But the truth is, salvation is simply by faith in Jesus the Anointed One. That’s why some who might think it is very presumptuous on their part to entertain any hope of receiving that they don’t even think it’s possible and push the offer away, and some who feel that they can access it at any time with little effort.

Simeon says that both high and low attitudes come based on false humility and self-pride. Who possesses any worthiness to think they would be content to receive salvation from God’s hands? And who feels they have no worthiness and so would never qualify to receive such a free blessing. But both of these views greatly dishonor God and are a grievous insult to our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Anyone should be content to receive all things freely from God, just as they receive the light from the sun, and the very air they breathe.

Remember, says Simeon, that the more unworthy you feel yourself to be, the more will His grace be exalted and magnified. There is righteousness already bought for you, and ready to be imparted to you. It is appointed to be received simply and solely by faith. It is “the hope laid up for you in heaven:” and you are to “wait for” it, in the exercise of earnest and continual prayer. O! beg the Holy Spirit to reveal it fully to your soul, prays Bunyan, and to overcome all your doubts and all your fears; and so impute faith into your heart, that you are filled with peace and joy in this world, and attain, in a better world, “the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” [4]

J. N. Darby (1800 -1882) says that this life, produced in us by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the Word, is led by the Spirit given to believers; its rule is also in the Word. Its harvest is the Fruit of the Spirit. The Christian’s new life and walk with the Anointed One manifested their relationship with Him for all the world to see. If we follow this path – the way of the Anointed One – if we walk in His steps, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. That way, sin is avoided, not by having the Law to compel a person to do what they do not like; the Law has no power to compel a person to obey, for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can it be.

The new life loves obedience, loves holiness, and the Anointed One is its strength and wisdom by the Holy Spirit. The flesh is indeed there; it envies the Spirit, and the Spirit is jealous of the flesh. Together they prevent a believer from living as they want. But if we walk in the Spirit, we are not under the Law; we are not as the person in Romans, chapter seven, compelled by the new nature to do good, but being captive to sin, they find no way of doing what they desire. The Law gives neither strength nor life. Under Law, even if life is there, there is no strength: humankind is the captive of sin.

But sealed by the Holy Spirit, says Darby, the believer is free, they can perform the good they love. If they are in union with the Anointed One, the body no longer has control. The old self gets crucified with the Anointed One. The Spirit is life, and that Spirit, as a divine and mighty Person, works in them to bring forth good fruit. The flesh and the Spirit are in their nature opposed the one to the other. Still, if we are faithful in seeking grace, the power of the Spirit in the Anointed One enables us to treat the flesh as dead, and to walk in the footsteps of the Anointed One, bringing forth the fruit that pleases Him.[5]

Englishman Charles J. Ellicott (1819-1905) would be frustrated today if he entered into some churches, especially Messianic Jewish fellowships, to see how people, with good intentions, are trying to marry the ceremonial law of Judaism with the freedom of grace in Christianity. As far as Ellicott was concerned, there can be no compromise between Christianity and Judaism. If you accept the one, you must give up the other. Circumcision is a pledge or engagement to live by the rule of the Law. That whole rule must be observed. Out of obligation, you are committed to the practice of the entire Law, and in that way, and only that way, seek justification.

Our position is something entirely different, says Ellicott. We are accepted into a state of righteousness through the action of the Spirit on God’s side, and through faith on our own. The Christian owes any righteousness attributed to Him, not to circumcision, but to a life of which faith is the motive and love the Law.[6]

Ellicott says for the Jews, good works represented the credibility of their commitment to the Law based on their outward appearance. It awarded them with self-righteousness, something they could experience here and now. The Christian, and the genuineness of their service to God, involved their inward, future, and salvation through faith in the Anointed One. Therefore, water baptism should transpire with the same intensity and loyalty to the Kingdom of God. More than being a suggestion, it is a rule. Furthermore, it is not complied with out of obligation, but out of love for the One who took our sins to the cross and died on our behalf. The Law would not let you choose when, where, and how to carry out your responsibilities, but Grace set us free so that we could seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in fulfilling a vow to serve the Lord out of love.[7]

William A. O’Conor (1820-1874) continues what he said in verse four about the Anointed One being of no effect to those who choose to be saved through the Law and focuses on being right with God through faith. He notes that religious legalists and formalists aim at immediate and perfect obedience, either moral or sacramental. This method does not admit gradual advances through failures and victories, for they deal with a rigorous law that allows for no noncompliance. Christians live spiritual lives, in the breadth and freedom of spiritual principles, as opposed to the obligations of a compact with the Law.

They do not work and then wait for the hope of righteousness through faith. Instead, they hunger and thirst for righteousness and believe the promise that they will be satisfied. Such righteousness is not challenged and measured by the Law. It springs from faith in the work of the Anointed One, not their works. It is in Him through Him. Faith is placed in Him for His sake. Yes, He who was found perfect and whose power to forgive both their present and future imperfections is complete.

For Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), the whole tenor of the Epistle shows that the Apostle viewed the attempts of the Judaizing party with indignation. At this point, his language takes a more than usually stern and imperative tone. He speaks with the full weight of his apostolic authority and warns the Galatians that no half-measures will avail, but that they must decide, once for all, either to give up Judaism or the Anointed One. Some scholars use such passages to show direct antagonism on Paul’s part with other Apostles. Anyone who enters into the thinking of the Apostle, and follows the course of his intense reasoning, will see how unnecessary any such assumption is.

Nothing is more harmonious with human nature than that the same man should at one time agree to the amicable compromise of Acts 15, and at another, some years later, with the field all to himself, and only his converts to deal with, should allow a freer scope to his convictions. He is speaking with feelings highly roused, and with less regard to considerations of policy. Besides, the march of events had been rapid, and the principles of the system themselves changed naturally.

This will help us, says Maclaren, to graciously believe that people may love Jesus, and be fed from His living water and bread of life, whether they are on one side of this controversy or the other. Let us watch the tendencies jealously in our hearts to trust in our forms of worship or our freedom. And whenever or wherever these less important things become essentials to justification, and the ordinances of the Anointed One’s Church are elevated into the place which only belongs to loving-trust in His love, then let our voices be heard on the side of that mighty truth that “in union with Jesus, the Anointed One, being circumcised or uncircumcised does no help at all. It is faith alone which works by love.” [8]

[1] Calvin, John: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Bunyan, John: A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, op. cit., Ch. 8, pp. 253-254

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Simeon, Charles: On Galatians, op. cit., Sermon (2079), p. 201

[5] Darby, J. N. Notes on Galatians 5, loc. cit.

[6] Ellicott, Charles: On Galatians for Christian Readers, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Ibid. Critical and Grammatical Commentary, On Galatians, op. cit., p. 120

[8] See verse 6

About drbob76

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