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 SIX (Lesson CLII)

However, there is a rule we cannot brake. To continue in this new life, the believer must enjoy peace of heart that all things are right with God. Paul says this is especially true of those who are part of spiritual Israel, whether Jew or Gentile. The Psalmist shows us that this was understood back in his day: “O Lord, do good to those who are kind, whose hearts are in tune with you. But banish those who turn to crooked ways, O Lord. Take them away with those who do evil.”[1] But God was not satisfied with the First Covenant way of a person’s heart being at peace with Him; that’s why Jesus the Anointed One came He told His followers: “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot provide. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”[2] That’s why our Lord was not afraid to share with His followers everything that was going to happen to Him so they could be comforted in the future when they too face similar hardships.[3] That’s why Paul was able to reassure the Philippians that because they belong to the Anointed One – Jesus, “God’s peace will stand guard over all their thoughts and feelings. Nothing is better for our human minds than His blessed assurance.”[4]

None of these things matter, says Paul. Even if you do allow yourself to be circumcised, wash your hands the right way, and participate in all the “do good” laws and ceremonies, they mean nothing in enhancing your salvation. What matters is, you are a new creature in the Anointed One, Jesus. That’s what counts! When you consider your obedience to God in following His will and doing all the things, He asks of you, it must start from the moment you became a new child of God through the power of what Jesus did on the cross. If you follow this simple rule: “you must be born again,” then the mercy of God and the peace of our Lord Jesus will quickly identify you as a member of a unique tribe called the “New Israel.”

COMMENTARY

Marius Victorinus comments on verse twelve by saying that Paul openly lays out the very thing he is criticizing the Galatians for. They were transgressing the Gospel’s plan of salvation – they insisted on getting circumcised to make it better. All these men, Paul says, who want to make an impression on other Jews, are persuading you to be circumcised, which consists only in this fact, being circumcised offers no help toward salvation. It is all about not suffering persecution for relying totally on the Cross of the Anointed One for salvation. They were calculating, Victorinus says, that if they added circumcision to the Gospel (that is, to their confession of faith in the Anointed One), they would still not pay the penalty for persecuting the Anointed One and crucifying Him.

But they were illusional in thinking that although all their hope was in the Anointed One (more appropriately, in His Cross), they would guarantee to be part of New Israel through circumcision.[5] We must take what Victorinus says so that believers must not make the same mistake today by trying to follow all the First Covenant laws in addition to what the Gospel teaches. However, I would say to Victorinus that it wasn’t laws of the First Covenant they were adding to salvation’s plan, it was the Laws of the Church.

Chrysostom gives us his impression of what Paul is saying here in these two verses, telling us to take a good look at the power of the Cross, and to what a high position it raised Paul! Not only did it put to death for him all everyday concerns, but it set him far above the usual way Jews sought salvation. What can be comparable to this power? It was the Cross that persuaded him, the raging Pharisee, who was willing to be slain and to slay others for the sake of faith in circumcision. However, it remains on a level with those who are not circumcised to seek marvelous things above.

Paul calls this a new rule of life, “becoming a new creature.” It points to the past and what is yet to come. In the past, the soul grew old with the debilitating sickness of sin. Now it is renewed and alive after baptism as if recreated. Wherefore, says Chrysostom, we require a new and heavenly rule of life. As far as things to come are concerned, both heaven and earth, and all nature, will be translated into everlasting incorruption.[6] So it appears that even by the fourth century, Christian scholars still tied the Cross to the new creation of believers in Jesus the Anointed One.

Bishop Theodoret addresses Paul’s phrase “new creation,” as something he also mentions in his letter to the Corinthians.[7] The strict meaning of new creation is the transformation of all things which will occur after the resurrection from the dead. At that time, believers are released from sin’s burden and redeemed. Paul demonstrates that baptism is an image of things to come. In it, we put off the old nature and put on the new. And we rid ourselves of sin’s burden of receiving the grace of the Spirit. Yet neither the holiest baptism nor the coming life puts any value on circumcision and uncircumcision. And by referring to the “world,” he means the affairs of life – honor, glory, and wealth. To these, he declares himself dead.[8] It might be permissible that after immersing a person in water baptism, upon standing up, they confess: “All worldly desires are now dead to me, and I am dead to them.

Theologian Aquinas offers his comments on verse fifteen, saying that the intention of the Judaizers is evident, for they glory in the flesh. But Paul is declaring that he seeks glory elsewhere, namely, in the Cross. And this is what he says: “God forbid that I glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One.”  Notice that where the secular philosophers of his day felt shame, there the Apostle found his treasure; what the Greek and Roman philosophers regarded as foolish became for the Apostle wisdom and glory. As Aquinas quotes Augustine, each person glories in that through which they are considered significant. For those who regard themselves to be excellent in nothing but Jesus, the Anointed One and the Cross alone are eternally blessed. As Paul declares: “It is not I who am alive; it’s the Anointed One who now lives in me.[9] [10]

Adam Clarke adds his exposition by noting that the phrase, In the Anointed One Jesus – means living under the guidance of the Gospel, of which the Anointed One is head and supreme. It leaves the Jews with nothing to boast about; the Gentile with nothing they can call excellent. None of these things mean anything anymore; they do not contribute to the salvation of the soul.” Then in the phrase, But a new creature – indicates newly created, not merely a different species, but a total renewal of the whole person, of all the powers and passions of the soul. And just as creation cannot be changed but by the power of human logic or ritual, so this transformation cannot be affected by that same energy. Circumcision cannot do this; only the power that made that person new can make them whole.”[11]

Philip Schaff offers a unique perspective to glorying in anything other than the Cross of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. He begins by noting that the Cross, as the material instrument of capital punishment of criminals and slaves, is the most disgraceful of torture and death instruments. It was through the Anointed One; the Cross became a symbol of His passion signifying the most glorious of reality and truths, namely, the atonement for the sins of the world. The Cross of the Anointed One then became a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the heathen. The same is true today to the unconverted individual because it puts fleshly desires to death and removes the influence of worldliness and the devil.

Not only that says Schaff, but it also destroys all self-righteousness and boasting. It is the deepest humiliation of self, the most substantial exhibition of man’s guilt, which required even the sacrifice of the Son of God, and of God’s undying love which made that sacrifice, and the strongest motivator to gratitude for such amazing grace and love. That’s why Paul was determined to know nothing other than the crucified Anointed One as the one source of salvation.[12] He died on our behalf for the forgiveness of our sins against God, who then raised Him to life for our justification to stand before God as being right with Him. The power that changed Paul’s lifestyle, in the beginning, is the same power changing sinners today.

As Schaff sees it, the Cross of the Anointed One possesses the power to redeem everyone who believes. Through the Cross, as the instrument of the Anointed One’s crucifixion, and our execution with Him is made possible.[13] The KJV translates the Greek phrase di hos as “by whom,” and there are some who render it as “through whom,” namely, “through” the Anointed One.[14] But Schaff feels that it would be better expressed by “in whom,” we crucified the world to us and us to the world. That’s when the world lost all its charm and attraction for Christians, and they lost all their appetite for worldly living. They are now dead to each other; old things passed away; Christ is now the center of it all.[15]

Fredrick Rendall mentions Paul’s use of the Greek noun kanōn (English “canon.”), which can be a rod, measuring line, fixed space within limits, rule of standard, a principle or law. As Rendall sees it, everyone needs guidelines to direct their lives, such as the surveyor or the carpenter uses to guide their work. To the Jews, The Law of Moses and Levitical code of morals outlined those rules. But for Christians, they were given the Holy Spirit to guide their new life whereby their conscience is enlightened to discern good and evil as defined in the Gospel. And since the Gospel also serves as a compass, there is no reason any believer should get lost. So, says Rendall, those who walk by the rule of the Spirit are declared to be part of the true Israel of God, not the Jews who are Jews in name only. They may fancy themselves as children of Abraham, but not the children of God.[16]

So, we can see that Paul’s use of the phrase “new creation” does not imply that any part of an individual’s body renewed to start over and thereby live longer. Instead, it speaks of an internal awakening of the person’s spirit, long dormant, and out of contact with God brought to life by the Holy Spirit for the individual to again communicate with God on a spiritual level. The new creature becomes the renewed person inside one’s flesh. That then requires a new way of looking at life and one’s conduct. We now live to serve God, not ourselves. From the moment of the new birth onward, we owe everything to the One who transformed us and made us a child of God.


[1] Psalm 125:4-5 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[2] John 14:27 – (NLT)

[3] Ibid. 16:33

[4] Philippians 4:7

[5] Victorinus, Marius: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[6] Chrysostom, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[8] Theodoret of Cry: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). op. cit., p. 103

[9] Galatians 2:20

[10] Aquinas, Thomas, op. cit.

[11] Clarke, Adam, op. cit.

[12] 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2: 2; Philippians 3:7ff

[13] See Galatians 2:20

[14] American Standard Version (SV); New American Standard Bible Revised Edition (NASBRE)

[15] Schaff, Philip: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 349-350

[16] Rendall, Frederic: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 191

About drbob76

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