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 CXVI)

Paul wrote earlier about his struggle with the Law: “For when I tried to do what the Law of Moses told me to do, it kept telling me I missed the mark. So, I cut off my relationship with the Mosaic Law – I stopped trying to meet all its requirements – so that I might live for God. Besides, I crucified my old self with The Anointed One. It is no longer alive; now, The Anointed One lives in me. So, I now dwell in this earthly body trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” [1]

To put it another way, Paul is declaring that after he received The Anointed One as his Savior, he decided with all his heart, soul, and mind to ignore the pleas of the sinful-self and listen only to the voice of the spiritual oneness with The Anointed One. Paul wanted to convince the Galatians that this is not something the Holy Spirit does without their permission; they must commit to it themselves. They must also be ready to accept responsibility for remaining faithful to the commitment to The Anointed One and resisting with all their might and willpower any temptation coming from our old fallen human nature.

Even though the Spirit won’t do it for us, He will surely give us the motivation, guidance, and power needed to help us do it. Too often, some Christians depend on the pastor or elders or other believers to rebuke them and correct them and keep them in line. Some Christians resent such admonitions and warnings because they don’t want to be talked down to or seen as incompetent.

If, however, you’ve made up your mind and are determined to remain faithful, this opens your thought process for input from your pastor and elders and other believers. You are willing to interact with those who love you and offer words of caution and counsel because they want to see you succeed. Never look at your commitment to obey the Spirit and resist the flesh as a temporary measure, or something you’ll try until you can decide if it works or not. Make it an absolute and irreversible rejection of sin’s influence in your life.  No doubt that’s why Paul likens it to a crucifixion. It is a decisive act of the will that is made part of one’s day to day discipline.

I remember my first visit to Madrid, Spain, to meet with the overseer of the mission work there. After I parked my car and walked toward the apartment building where he lived, I saw a young lady emerging from the doorway. She stopped, and made the sign of the cross, uttered a short prayer, and then went on her way. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I was, a born-again preacher of the Gospel who got up that morning, cleaned up, got dressed, and headed out to meet this pastor without so much as stopping to ask God’s guidance and protection before I left the hotel. It changed my life at that moment. From then on, I tried my best to start every day, asking my Lord for His blessings and direction before going on my way. Since the Lord can see my heart and read my mind, I knew that my sincerity was more important to Him than any ritual I might follow.

That gives one so much more strength during the day, in case the old sinful-self suggests looking at immoral trash, or listening to suggestive filth, or giving in to something spiritually unhealthy and even degrading. It gives you the strength to take a deep breath and defiantly shout “No!” to the old sinful-self. There should be no negotiation with the old sinful-self.  Treat it like a terrorist out to destroy your redeemed soul. You cannot afford to make any agreement with the old sinful-self on a little bit of this or a small piece of that, just to satisfy its longing. You are at war with the old sinful-self; you are not looking for a peace treaty or a ceasefire; you are aiming for victory and conquering the enemy. Remember, it won’t be over until the day you lay down your cross and handed your crown.

Chrysostom concluded that we see this battle between the old self and the new-self by comparing the sinful tendencies of our fallen human nature and the fruit of our reborn spirit. In the end, says Chrysostom, although these desires are troublesome, they call out in vain. That’s because the power of the Holy Spirit lives within us and gives us the peace we need.[2] In other words, inner conflicts are going to be with us throughout our Christian life to one degree or another. So, accept the fact that with the Holy Spirit’s help, you can easily overcome and neutralize them. This way, you can go on living for God and doing His will. There is no reason to trouble yourself needlessly since you have them under control.

Augustine of Hippo illustrates for us how believers in union with Jesus The Anointed One crucified their passions and lusts that go with it. So, he asks, in what manner did the Galatians crucify their sinful tendencies of the fallen human nature? It proceeded from their reverence for Him whom they love with all their heart, soul, and mind.[3] Augustine goes on to say that an adulteress woman fears discovery by her husband. But it is not the same fear a pure woman has being left by the man she’s been faithful to all their marriage. The adulteress finds the presence of her husband at that moment depressing. In contrast, the refined woman is depressed by her husband’s absence. Therefore, we see that one fear is corrupt and lasts for a short time, while the other is pure and endures forever.[4]

To explain this, Augustine goes on to note that if the two passions of righteousness and sinful tendencies, which we are attracted to, prove to be in opposition to each other, we will follow the one we love most. However, adoring each to the same degree, although we follow neither one willingly, either by reluctance or fear, we are drawn towards one or the other. Or, if we also fear both equally as real dangers, we will no doubt remain tossed about by alternating waves of love and fear. To simplify Augustine’s point, he admits that there are some believers who despise their sinful tendencies but, at the same time, are not all that fond of pursuing righteousness. You must choose one or the other. Otherwise, you’ll be switching back and forth and never many any progress in your spiritual life.

Later medieval commentator, Haimo of Auxerre (820-865 AD), suggests that those who are followers of Jesus The Anointed One, and who endeavor to keep His inspired teachings will be able to do so once they put their vices and sinful tendencies to death with His help. For no matter how many sinful tendencies we manage to get rid of, we still end up trying to choke the many vices within ourselves. The key is that we do put to death and stifle those unwanted sinful tendencies when we refuse to consent to their depraved pleasures of a perverse will.[5]

Later medieval scholar Bruno the Carthusian proposes that a person deals with their vices by exercising their will. Not only should the sinful tendencies be put to death so that an individual may stay away from evil, but to do so while being led by the Holy Spirit. That is to say, let them only do those things that both their spirit and their conscience recommend as being in harmony.[6]  It appears that Bruno is speaking here of the human spirit having interplay with the Holy Spirit in deciding what it means to live honestly according to one’s rational nature by giving full control to the Spirit of God.

Thomas Aquinas gives us the scholarly view of this crucifixion of the sinful tendencies and putting it under the control of the Spirit. He does not say that they, therefore, avoid vices and physical attraction because you expect an excellent physician to bring a cure by prescribing the right remedies to combat the cause, not the symptoms, of the disease. But since the sinful tendencies of the flesh are the root cause of vices, by staying away from vices, passions can be tamed. While cultivating the fallen human nature through rites, fasts, and good works, a person should remember that torture and chains are for spiteful, disobedient slaves. Aquinas clearly points to salvation by works instead of faith even though Paul has been talking about crucifying the sinful nature on the cross. Here is suggested baptism in good works.

So, they should go out and do the good works assigned them and not be.[7] Furthermore, such good works are out of devotion to Jesus, The Anointed One, crucified on our behalf. Therefore, Paul says they crucified, namely, conformed themselves to Jesus, our Anointed One. They did the same to the sinful tendencies of their flesh: “Our old man is crucified with Him that the body of sin may be destroyed;[8] that I may live for God: I have been nailed with The Anointed One to the cross.” [9] [10]

An Eleventh Century Greek clergyman and deacon at the St. Sophia Church in Constantinople, Nicetas of Heraclea, noted that Paul says, those who belong to The Anointed One are the ones who have “crucified the flesh.” He wonders why Paul has to say “belong to The Anointed One” and “crucified the flesh” in the same sentence? In Nicetas’ version of the Bible, the sentence begins with “And they who…” There are some who say they belong to The Anointed One, but have they crucified themselves as far as the passions are concerned? According to this interpretation, the “and” is not pointless. “And they are ‘the anointed ones’” — that is, those striving after Him — “have crucified their flesh.” [11]

Walter Hilton (1340-1396) an English Augustinian mystic, whose works became influential in the 15th century, was writing on all that Paul said so far here as it relates to the dark image of sin. He then goes on to compare this image with the bright image of Jesus and how to deal with it. Hilton suggests that the words the Jews said to Pilate of The Anointed One – crucify Him, are the ones we should use for our sinful self. Take this body full of sinful tendencies and nail it to the Cross of Sanctification; that is to say, break down this detestable image, and put to death the imitation love of sin.

Hilton goes on to say that just as The Anointed One sacrificed His body for our trespasses and sins, we should follow His example and slay the dragon of bodily lusts in ourselves. That’s what Paul meant here in verse twenty-four when he wrote: Those that are The Anointed One’s followers have crucified and slain their flesh (that is, the image of sin) with all its lusts and the unreasonable desires and appetites. Taking the effects of our sinful tendencies and imagining them as images the body worships, Hilton says, slay them and break down Pride, and set up Humility; also break down Anger and Envy, and raise Love and Gentleness to your neighbor. Furthermore, replace greed with the Humbleness of spirit. Get rid of laziness and make Fervor and Devotion part of your cheerful readiness to serve Him. Not only that, but dispense with gluttony and immorality and pick up Sobriety and Charity in body and soul. But we must remember that Paul says anything we do without love is worthless and a waste of time.

[1] Galatians 2:19-20

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

[3] Psalms 18:10

[4] Augustine, op. cit.

[5] Haimo of Auxerre: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Bruno the Carthusian: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Book of Sirach 33:28

[8] Romans 6:6

[9] Galatians 2:19

[10] Aquinas, Thomas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[11] The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, op. cit., From the Books of the Hypotyposses, From the Catena on Luke, Edited by Corderius, On Galatians 5:24, p. 1170

About drbob76

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