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Freedom in Christ March 19, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 5:1-15.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Galatians that Christ has made them free from God’s eternal wrath; thus, they need great diligence and vigilance so that they do not fall back to the law and works.

Paul – as a divinely commissioned apostle – then warns the Galatians that imputing righteousness to circumcision effectively makes Christ utterly useless to them. He swears by the living God that anyone who imputes righteousness to circumcision is bound to keep the whole law. Indeed, those who seek righteousness by the law are separated from Christ; they are no longer in the kingdom of grace. On the other hand, true believers wait in the Holy Spirit through faith for the hope of righteousness. People cannot avail themselves of their acts or worship before God; instead, they can only avail themselves of faith – that is occupied and exercised – before God.

Now Paul reminds the Galatians that they had been living the Christian life; yet the false apostles had caused them to fall away from faith and return to the law. They thought that Christ was speaking through the false apostles, yet their doctrine actually came from the devil. In fact, the issue of righteousness being imputed to circumcision was not a mere trifle; it could cause them to lose their salvation. He trusts that they will not accept any doctrine other than the one that he had taught them; regardless of how holy the false apostles appear, they will be condemned. Also, he asserts that if he had imputed righteousness to circumcision, the Jews would have ceased their persecution of him, and the doctrine of the cross – which is replete with offenses – would be lost. Again, he strongly condemns the false apostles for corrupting the majesty of God’s Word.

Paul then asserts that the Galatians have obtained freedom through Christ – yet they should not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but they should help their neighbors to the utmost of their power. Indeed, all of the laws of Moses can be summarized by his command that the Israelites help their neighbors to the utmost of their power. Paul concludes by warning the Galatians that if they accuse and condemn one another regarding this issue of righteousness being imputed to circumcision, they will perish utterly and bodily.

Thoughts: In verse 5, Paul highlights the integral role that faith and hope play in believers’ wait for their righteousness to be revealed. Luther offers some interesting thoughts on the distinction between faith and hope:

In short, faith is conceived by teaching, the mind being instructed on what the truth is. Hope is conceived by exhortation, being stirred up in afflictions, confirming those who are already justified by faith, so that they are not overcome by adversity but are able to resist them more strongly.

It seems that Luther links faith to the beginning of our life in Christ, when we initially receive the Gospel message. It also seems that according to Luther, hope plays a prominent role in our Christian life after we have received our faith – hope sustains us through the peaks and valleys of our spiritual walk. While I am still unsure of Luther’s distinction between faith and hope, perhaps he is alluding to Paul’s depiction of the Christian life as “a good race” in verse 7. In that sense, faith pushes a runner off the starting line. Hope then sustains the runner through the (long) race, especially as their muscles become sore and they experience cramps. By relying on hope, the runner can overcome these obstacles and (victoriously) cross the finish line.

In verse 9, Paul stresses the importance of holding fast to sound doctrine, as any deviation from it will lead to spiritual death. Luther offers some insights on this point:

Some others who had not yet completely abandoned his doctrine thought there was no danger in dissenting a little from him in the doctrine of justification by faith. They heard that Paul made a heinous matter out of what seemed to them something of small importance. “We may have deviated a little from Paul’s doctrine,” they thought, “and there may have been some fault in us, but that is a small matter. He ought to wink at it, or at least not make it such a big thing, or church unity will suffer.”

Before embarking on my stroll through this letter, I had not thought that the Galatian church had the same difficulties with unity in Christ that plagued the Corinthian church. Yet it is apparent, especially from the next section, that the Galatians were deeply divided over the issue of imputing righteousness to circumcision. Some of them wanted to adhere to Paul’s teaching on this point, while others were captivated by the false teachers and their well-constructed arguments. Perhaps we cannot use the fact that Paul wrote one letter to the Galatians while he wrote (at least) two letters to the Corinthians to infer that the Galatian church was more spiritually healthy than the Corinthian church. Indeed, the present circumstances mandated a strong rebuke of the discord in the Galatian church – lest they lose their salvation.

In verse 12, Paul strongly condemns the false apostles who have led the Galatians astray on the issue of righteousness being imputed to circumcision. Clearly he was so incensed with the false teachers that he even mentioned the concept of emasculation. Now I assume that Paul did not actually desire the emasculation of the false teachers; his strong language was ostensibly meant to:

  • shake the Galatians out of their spiritual stupor
  • sternly warn the false teachers.

One must wonder if the false teachers were frightened by Paul’s rhetoric and repented of their sins, or if they ignored his letter and continued teaching an incorrect doctrine. One must also wonder if at least some of the Galatians were repelled by Paul’s strong language. I do hope to meet the false teachers in heaven and learn how Paul’s letter made a positive impact on their lives.

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