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Galatians; Their faith had saved them (Index thread)

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posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 03:58 PM
The original “Galatians” were the Gauls who invaded Greece in 280 B.C., after Alexander’s time.
Some of them crossed over into Asia Minor and settled in the western highlands.
The Roman province of Galatia was named after them, though it also extended further south.
So this letter is addressed to the region which Paul visited in Acts ch16 v6, but these might be the same churches which he founded in ch14.

The core of his gospel message had been simple and straightforward, which would have made it all the more appealing.
Faith, directed towards Jesus Christ.
Apart from the new focus upon the name of Christ, this was the same central theme of “trust in God” that fills the whole of the Bible.

This community, unfortunately, was now coming under the influence of outsiders, who wanted to make the message more complicated.
They wanted these Gentile Christians to allow themselves to be circumcised, thus conforming to the legal traditions of the Jews.
The possible consequences were appalling.
The revelation of Christ to the Galatians had given them a form of liberation.
Binding themselves to fresh commitments would have enslaved them once again to new anxieties about their relation with God.
If the Gentiles were reluctant to accept circumcision, the pressure would inhibit them from entering the church, or introduce fractures into the church, or both.
Paul could not observe these developments without making vigorous protest.

Getting the gospel from Christ

He begins by pressing the claim of the gospel message they might be rejecting.
He explains that he received his mission and the gospel which he taught directly from Christ.
So if they turned away from that message, they were, in effect turning away from Christ himself.
And since Christ himself is the source of the message, there is no man who has the right to interfere with it and compromise what it says.

Not compromising the gospel

(ch2 vv1-18)
Paul reinforces that last point by recounting what happened when this issue arose in Antioch.
He recalls how firm he had been in refusing to compromise the simple gospel teaching.
He also recalls that the Jerusalem leaders themselves were willing to accept his approach, not insisting on circumcision. So the troublemakers who are raising the subject again can’t even claim that human authority.

One of the themes running through this chapter is the conflict between the “liberty” offered by the gospel, and the new state of bondage which would result from a return to the constraints of the Law.

The Cross and the Spirit

(ch2 v19 to ch3 v5)
Paul then goes on to explain why the gospel of Christ must be centred upon Faith.
His argument goes back to what made them Christians in the first place.
The anchor-point of the experience was the death of Christ on the Cross.
Through his faith in Christ, the Christian may say, like Paul, that he has died on the Cross together with Christ.
So he has “died” to the old life (including the old subjection to the law), and the form of his new life is that “Christ lives in me”.
The Galatians may know this from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which they have experienced for themselves, and they cannot deny that this experience came to them, by faith, in conjunction with Paul’s teaching about the Cross.

The promise to Abraham

(ch3 vv6-18)
For that matter, Faith is also the foundation of God’s covenant with Abraham, on which the traditional Jews would make their stand.
For we are told how Abraham believed in God’s promise, placing his trust in God, and by that trust he was righteous in the sight of God.
So the righteousness of God belongs to those who share the same kind of trusting Faith, the real “children of Abraham”.

Therefore it is a mistake (though the Law is a good thing in itself) to rely upon the Law as a means of approaching God.
For one thing, nobody is made righteous by keeping the Law, simply because nobody does keep the Law well enough to make that work.
Instead, they fall under the curse which the Law declares on all those who fail in obedience.
In any case, the Law which was proclaimed later cannot displace the covenant by Faith which was already established, for God’s covenant will not be broken.
Nor can we rely on both at the same time, because they work on a different basis, which makes them incompatible.

The purpose of the law

(ch3 vv19-29)
The Law has not been useless, though. It has been our tutor for the period before Christ came.
The “tutor” of the time had two functions which are both relevant.
As a “custodian”, his task was to keep the child under strict discipline, almost amounting to slavery, and that is the effect of the Law’s commands.
As a “schoolmaster”, his task was to prepare the child for adulthood, and that has been the effect of the teaching found in the Law.
The Law has prepared the way for us to become “sons of God in Christ Jesus, through Faith”.
At which point, the task of the Law really comes to an end.

Sons by adoption

(ch4 vv1-6)
In the end, Paul is obliged to run together two slightly different metaphors, in order to explain what is meant by becoming “sons of God”.
The first is about ceasing to be children and becoming adults. This one is particularly appropriate for the condition of Jewish Christians, who were brought up under the law.
The second is about ceasing to be slaves and outsiders and becoming true members of the family, which is particularly appropriate for the condition of Gentile converts.
Either way, we have received the Spirit as the sign of our “adoption”.

Christ in you

(ch4 v19)
This one verse concentrates our attention on the concept of “Christ in you”, which is key to understanding the gospel which Paul teaches.

[continued in next post]

posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 03:59 PM
The two sons of Abraham

(ch4 vv21-31)
This is an allegory which illustrates Paul’s earlier claim, that the gospel provides freedom from the slavery imposed by the Law.
Isaac was born “by promise” as the son of the free woman Sarah, while Ishmael’s mother was a slave.
So the two mothers represent the two covenants, the covenant of promise made with Abraham and the covenant of obedience made at Sinai.
Those who live by faith are free like Isaac, as the “children of promise”.

The slippery slope

(ch5 vv2-5)
Nor can the Galatians detach circumcision from the rest of the Law, claiming to remain free from the Law in general.
Circumcision is the ceremony which marks a man’s entrance into the covenant of Moses, so if they allow themselves to be circumcised they are formally (and psychologically) committing themselves to everything else.
There is no half-way point.
I compare it with the difference between resting and movement.
The state of trusting in Christ crucified is a condition of rest.
The state of trusting in “works of the Law” is a condition of movement.
There is no possibility of combining the two, because anyone who begins to move has already ceased to rest.
They have “fallen away from grace”, falling back from the summit.
Or perhaps we may see grace as the vehicle which carries us through the sin-barrier into the presence of God, so that “falling out of grace” leaves them trapped on the wrong side.

Christians falling from grace?

(ch5 v4, ch4 v11)
This thread was included to apply Paul’s concerns to the more modern version of this issue, which I have labelled “neo-legalism”.
The roots of the problem are psychological.
It stems from the human mind’s reluctance to part with the concrete.
We look for ways of establishing certainty, in order to feel secure, whereas faith is all about coping with uncertainty.

So literal idolatry gives the worshipper something which can be seen and grasped.

Legalism provides clearly defined rules, which can be followed for the sake of security; like the old favourite “You must treat Saturday as a Sabbath” or the ingenious novelty “You must spell the Saviour’s name with absolute authenticity (except that you’re using the wrong alphabet)”.

If you take care to discover very precise distinctions in doctrine, then you can discover clearly defined rules of belief, which can be followed for the sake of security.
So the Calvinist school of thought has a history of internal argument over issues like the exact order of God’s “decrees”, and whether repentance follows or precedes the believer’s turning to Christ.
I’m afraid I must include in this category the precise distinction of up to three different gospel messages in the New Testament.

Insistence on literal interpretation can be a form of legalism in itself, because it has the same psychological root. That is, the sense of security given by a clearly defined path.
It plays a part in the emergence of new rules, especially when it leads the reader into missing the point of the statements which are being made.
A classic example, which I frequently cite, is the instruction in Deuteronomy to keep God’s laws “as a sign upon your hand and as frontlets between your eyes”. Anyone with any willingness to understand metaphor should be able to recognise this as another way of saying “You shall lay up these words of mine in your heart” (Deuteronomy ch11 vv18-20). But the Pharisees insisted on the stubbornly literal practice of keeping scriptural extracts in phylacteries.

Once one begins to find examples of neo-legalism, it is difficult to know where to stop.
The problem seems to be everywhere.

And there’s no need for all this.
One simple principle lies at the heart of the teaching of the New Testament.
Faith; that is, trust (directed towards our God).
But the neo-legalists of the modern church are always wanting to complicate things, and that is how they are in danger of falling away from grace.

The Spirit and the flesh

(ch5 vv13-25)
A common objection to Paul’s critique of the Law is that it appears to leave people free to do anything they like.
That is not the case, though.
The real effect of Paul’s teaching is that the control of the Law is replaced by the guidance of the Spirit.
The guiding principle is the summary of the Law, as proclaimed by Jesus;
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
The “works of the flesh” fight against this law, showing up our shortcomings in love towards God (“idolatry, fornication”) or towards each other (“anger, envy, drunken behaviour”).
Whereas the “fruit of the Spirit” amounts to a sweetness of character which would enable us to fulfil our obligations in love.

Whatever gives us life must also continue to sustain us.
In the flesh, we “live by” the breath which God gave us at our birth, the spirit which he breathed into Adam. This is not just true for the beginning of our lives, because we also “continue to walk” by the same breath.
In the same way, we now live in God “by the Spirit”, which gave us new life.
Therefore we need to “walk by the Spirit” as well; that is, continuing to live under its guidance.

The Cross and the Israel of God

(ch6 vv14-16)
This brings the letter, in conclusion, back to the starting-point of Christian experience.
It returns to the proclamation Paul made back in the second chapter;
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (ch2 v20).
The point is that our faith centres upon the Cross, “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”.
Nothing counts for anything except our “new creation” in Christ.
Those who walk by this rule are the true “Israel of God”.

edit on 3-4-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 04:00 PM
Discharged from the Law?

The attitude of the Christian church to the laws of the Pentateuch is based on the teaching of Paul;
“But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit”- Romans ch7 v6
In other words, this law belongs to the past, and not to the present time.

This can be justified in a number of ways.
For one thing, as I keep observing, these laws were not designed for the modern world.
They were clearly designed for a different kind of world, a mainly agricultural society.
Just one practical example will be enough to make the point;
The law on rape involves the assumption that “A woman who calls for help in the city will receive help quickly”.
I believe this was a valid and a reasonable assumption in the time when it was made, because it was made in different social circumstances (with smaller towns).
Obviously it’s not a valid assumption at all in modern cities, and it can’t be applied in modern cities without creating injustice.
I doubt whether even the Jews can apply these laws in the modern world, without a certain amount of tinkering.
For this reason alone, they would need to be revised.
They can only be “God’s laws” for a period of Israel’s history, rather than for all time.

Paul says that the purpose of the Law was to be our “schoolmaster” (AV), our “custodian” (RSV), “like a slave serving us” (Jerusalem Bible) until Christ came.- Galatians ch3 v24
These various translations are rendering the Greek word PAIDAGOGOS.
The PAIDAGOGOS was a family slave entrusted with the daily guardianship and education of a child.
He was a male version of Mary Poppins, except that he had a lower social status (even lower than the status of a real Victorian governess, who would normally be paid less than a good cook).
His disciplinary methods might be very harsh, because a slave might not otherwise find it easy to hold the attention of the free-born son of the household.
But the child was released from the slave’s charge, of course, once he came of age.

So Paul’s meaning is that the Law was a system of discipline which held God’s people in a kind of servitude.
It had a necessary but temporary function, preparing them for adulthood, but once they had reached adulthood they were released from its control.
The moment of adulthood is to be identified with the arrival of Faith, which replaces the Law, and their “adoption” in Christ (ch4 vv1-5).

The Law which Paul is rejecting is the written code, published in the name of Moses.
Other parts of the New Testament show greater respect for the law, but on closer examination it’s not clear that the law they want to keep is the same law which Paul is rejecting.

Thus James, for example, tells his readers about the need to keep “the whole law”.
However, he seems to understand this law in terms of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which sits in the background of everything he says.
He’s quoting the commandment which Jesus quoted, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
He calls this “the royal law”, in most translations, though I’ve argued elsewhere that the Greek really means “the law which belongs to the Kingdom”.
He also uses the very suggestive phrase “the law of liberty”.
Paul says that we have been “made free” from the law, and I’m inclined to think that James has coined this semi-Pauline term to mean much the same thing. “The law of liberty” is not the written law (which is not liberty), but a substitute for the written law, to be found perhaps in the teaching of Jesus. (James ch2 vv8-12)

Jesus himself appears to take a firm stand when he declares that the law will never pass away.
At the same time, though, there are details in the written law which he’s unwilling to endorse.
He asserts that the permission to divorce was in conflict with God’s real will, and only allowed because of their “hardness of heart”.
He’s also very reluctant to enforce the death-penalty for adultery.
So perhaps he, too, is thinking in terms of “the spirit of the law”, as expressed in his own teaching, rather than “the letter of the law” which had been given by Moses.

There’s an obvious danger in the idea that the law has been made obsolete, which explains why religious teachers might be reluctant to take that route.
The problem is that people are only too ready to understand “freedom from law” as “freedom from all restraint”, and live accordingly.
That is not what Paul means at all.
In his teaching, our “service” has not been abolished but simply transferred; we are serving under “the new life of the Spirit”, which is a different kind of restraint.

I can explain the difference by use of analogy.
When I was a child, the school taught us how to cross the road safely.
I still remember watching the misadventures of “little Dolly Daydream” (in those days, a projected silent filmstrip with live teacher commentary).
We were expected to cross by following a set of rules;
“Look right,
Look left,
Look right again;
When all is clear, then cross”.
That could be called “the letter of the law”.
Obviously the important point here is the basic principle of not running out into traffic.
That could be called “the spirit of the law”.
Now that I’m grown up, I don’t follow those rules religiously (“freed from the law”), but I don’t take that as permission to rush out and get myself killed.
Instead, I live under “the spirit of the law” by keeping my wits about me enough to make sure there aren’t any vehicles coming.
There is still restraint, but a different kind of restraint.

Paul seems to assume that the Christian will be receiving moral guidance direct from the Holy Spirit.
However, the later church has never been able to live up to that standard.
Individual Christians did not feel confident enough to rely on this direct contact, and the church leadership was reluctant to risk leaving them to their own devices.
So the church, in practice, has evolved the compromise theory that the “ritual law” has been abolished while the “moral law” content of the Law of Moses remains valid, especially in the Ten Commandments.
This works well enough as a practical rule of thumb, but it’s not really what Paul means.
He does agree that we should not be committing theft and murder and adultery.
But his point is that we now avoid these things because the Holy Spirit tells us to avoid them, and not because the Law of Moses tells us to avoid them.

We are discharged from the Law of Moses, in every detail, and living a new life serving in the Spirit.

posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 04:08 PM
Here now are links to a couple of threads which are thematically related to this one;

Jesus said; Your faith has saved you

God's law; Your patient teacher

edit on 3-4-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 04:11 PM
Nobody is 'saved' until they are saved (or not) at the end of their life by balancing their deeds on a scale. Then its into the sun or not, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, became some thought they were gods gift to human kind and it turns out, they weren't.

posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 04:17 PM
a reply to: intrptr
Jesus told the woman in Luke ch7 that her faith had saved her.
This title was deliberately chosen as an echo of that.
If Jesus could say it, it has to be true in some sense.

posted on Apr, 3 2016 @ 04:23 PM
a reply to: DISRAELI

Jesus told the woman in Luke ch7 that her faith had saved her.

She worked pretty hard to stop sinning, it didn't just happen, thats why he said her faith saved her. About saved to eternal life, thats what I meant, nobody knows till then.

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