CALLED TO LIVE FROM FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LXV)

Another current British commentator, Nicholas T. Wright, sums it up by saying that for Paul, there’s no other choice. You cannot have it both ways. If you want to walk with the Redeemer, you cannot drag the Law behind you. By clinging to it, you are declaring that you don’t want to belong to the Messiah’s people. Two great sentences sum up what Christianity is all about.  First, in verse five: we are waiting eagerly, by the spirit, for the hope of righteousness. Second, in verse six: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any power for those with the Messiah because what matters is faith working through love.

The initial sentence establishes the emphasis on the future. Paul speaks of the time when God declares publicly and entirely that all those in union with the Anointed One are His people. That is “the hope of righteousness.” It means they long for the time when God’s pardon and justification of all His faithful people will be made manifest to all the world.  And, Paul says, we await this great event, the conferring of this public status, “by the spirit” – in other words, not by the mark made on the human body by circumcision. So, if you want evidence here and now that your future hope is not in vain, you should find such evidence, not in the status you attain through having a minor physical operation, but in the new life gained in the Spirit. Look at it this way; the Spirit is the ticket that guarantees us a place on the boat which, unlike the Law which cannot offer a boarding pass, will carry us across the river into the heavenly Promised Land.[1]

Don Garlington, Pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California, notes that in verse six, we read that one day our righteousness is going to be completed and fully realized in the Anointed One and the Spirit (apart from the Law). However, for now, it is confirmed using slightly different words: it is not circumcision or uncircumcision that matter, but “faith working through love.” The operative principle of God’s ultimate vindication of His people is not the boundary markers of Jewish identity but faith in the Anointed One motivated by love. Paul’s statement here invites comparison with what Paul told the Thessalonians: We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus the Anointed One.” [2] [3] So it is not circumcision, but character, that identifies a believer as being in union with the Anointed One.

Ronald Y. K. Fung helps explain how the word “hope” should be understood here in verse five. What believers are waiting for is “righteousness” (a right standing before God here and in eternity). This deceptively simple phrase lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. When we regard “hope” to be a figure of speech, meaning “expectant hope” and firm possession “of righteousness,” we can consider it as an objective or maturation process. In that case, the phrase will mean “hoped-for righteousness” or “righteousness hoped for.” Of the more exact meaning of the words, however, there are at least four views.

First: Using “hope” and “eagerly await” on the one hand and “justified” in verse four requires that “righteousness” here refers to that future justification spoken of in Romans 2:13, 16. Thereby, our anticipated righteousness is “ethically-connected.” That means our ultimate right standing before God depends on our current standing with God. You cannot have one without the other.

Secondly: Very similar, but without reference to the ethical aspect, is the view that takes the phrase to denote the hope of final acquittal in the last judgment when God publicly pronounces His verdict. Against both these views remains the truth that there is no futuristic justification mentioned. Instead, a person’s justification in the present comes through faith in the Anointed One. Some doubt Paul intended to say there is justification at the last judgment; in his letters, Paul consistently speaks of the believer’s justification as something that has taken place in the here and now.[4] He does so without implying that this justification will be disclosed publicly at the last judgment. Indeed, Paul’s conviction that God imparts His righteousness now is “the new point in comparison with Judaism.”

Thirdly: Hoped-for righteousness in the subjective sense of “inward personal righteousness,” which is synonymous with “Christian holiness, conformity to the moral ideal.” But to understand “righteousness” here in this ethical sense does not blend well with verse four, where justification appears to be a matter, not of the quality of life but of standing in grace related to the Anointed One. Since verse five supports verse four, it is reasonable to expect “righteousness” in verse five to bear a similar sense to that which is involved in “being justified” in verse four. And that sense is distinctly legal, not ethical.

Fourth: Another suggestion regards “righteousness” here as a synonym for “the awaited future blessing of salvation.” But while it is true that righteousness and salvation are closely associated with Paul’s thought,[5] they are nevertheless differentiated from each other. As Paul told the Romans, it clearly shows that for the Christian, justification belongs to the past (“we are justified,”) but salvation is to occur in the future (“we shall… be saved.”)

Again, although “righteousness” and “salvation” stand in formal parallelism to each other, they are not identical in content: whereas “righteousness” is a reference to present justification, “salvation,” which resumes the thought of “you will find salvation,” refers to salvation at the last day.

Thus, the linking of “righteousness” and “salvation” unifies present and future – which are distinct. The Final Covenant emphasizes both to “save” and “salvation” in the future, keeping it in harmony with its general usage, although the present aspect remains visible in Paul’s teachings.[6] This clear distinction between “righteousness” as present and “salvation” as future renders it unlikely that in our passage, “righteousness” is intended as a synonym for “salvation.” [7]

David A. Brondos notes that according to the Apostle Paul, God’s gift of right standing and His justification sparing us of sin’s death sentence is obtainable only by faith. That doesn’t mean that faith replaces obedience to God’s will as a condition necessary for salvation. Instead, it is understood as faith saves because, through faith, one receives the gracious gift of God, the life of being right with Him by faith, through faith.[8] This new life flows out of belief, just as love is produced by faith, as Paul says here in verse six. So that means, by being obedient to God by faith, this is a result of unwavering trust. It isn’t that faith itself produces love or obedience, but that through faith, a person receives from God through the Anointed One and the Holy Spirit the ability to love and obey. Now believers are right with God, but not of their own making, especially by following the Law. Instead, being right with God is theirs through faith in His ability to forgive[9].[10]

5:7-9a You were doing so well. Who caused you to stop paying attention to the truth? It certainly wasn’t the One who chose you in the beginning. So be careful! Just a little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise.[11]

 Paul expressed this same concern to the Corinthians about people following a specific way to a selected goal but diverted off that path into failure. He asked them that since they knew that in a race all the runners run, but only one runner gets the prize. So, run this way. Run to win![12] So, says the writer of the Book of Hebrews, seeing all those great people around us who set an example, look at what their lives tell us about putting faith to work. In the same way, we, too, should run the course that is set before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would slow us down and the sinful tendencies that so often make us stumble and fall.[13]

We accomplish this, Paul tells the Galatians, by staying on the track that leads to the finish line. Just look at others who were selfish and refuse to follow the trail of truth. Instead, they tried to take a shortcut and get there on their own. God will let them know He is not pleased with their choice, and they will end up suffering the consequences.[14] Just remember the Israelites and their failure to listen to the testimony of Joshua and Caleb that the Promised Land was ready for them to move in. So, they ended up spending forty years in the wilderness, and anyone over the age of twenty-one never made it in.[15]

That’s why Paul spent no time in telling the Romans about all he accomplished in trying to impress them with his exploits. No! He spent time telling them about what the Anointed One did with him in sending him to the Gentiles to help them to obey what God said. It was the Good News that would persuade them to follow Yeshua, the Messiah, not merely Paul’s recommendation.[16] God’s way of doing things goes as far back to the time of the Prophets in Israel. Obeying what God says will never lead anyone astray from the trail of truth.[17]

Paul composed the same message for the Corinthians that they, too, must knock down every proud idea that raises itself against the knowledge of God. Also, that they capture every thought they think and make it surrender to obeying the Anointed One, Jesus.[18] When he wrote the Thessalonians, who were always looking to the future and the return of the Messiah, he warned them that He would come with a burning fire to punish those who don’t know God – those who refuse to accept the Good News about our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One.[19] Until then, He was made our perfect high priest to ensure that everyone who obeys Him will receive eternal life.[20] Just look at Abraham, who did not have the Gospel nor was sent an ambassador to explain why God told him to leave his homeland and go to a foreign place where he would be blessed. He did it all by faith in what God told him to do.[21]

[1] Wright, Nicholas T., Paul for Everyone: Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13

[3] Garlington, Don: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 144-145.

[4] See Romans 3:24; 5:1, 9-10; 1 Cor. 6:11

[5] Cf. Romans 5:9ff; 10:9ff

[6] Cf. Romans 8:24; 2 Corinthians 6:2

[7] Fung, Ronald Y. K., On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 224-226

[8] See Romans 1:17; 3:22, 26, 30; 4:13; 9:30; 10:6; 14:23; Galatians 2:16; 3:7; Philippians 3:9

[9] Philippians 3:9

[10] Brondos, David A., Paul on the Cross: op. cit., p. 91

[11] Paul makes the same reference in 1 Corinthians 5:6 (Cf. Matthew 16:6, 12)

[12] 1 Corinthians 9:24

[13] Hebrews 12:1

[14] Romans 2:8

[15] Ibid. 10:16

[16] Ibid. 15:18

[17] Ibid. 16:26

[18] 2 Corinthians 10:5

[19] 2 Thessalonians 1:8

[20] Hebrews 5:9

[21] Ibid. 11:8

About drbob76

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