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Let Freedom Ring: Studies in Galatians, Part 5

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

To download in pdf., click here: Let Freedom Ring – Pt. 5

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1:11-14

The contemporary scene is saturated with divergent worldviews and truth-claims. How may one discern truth from error – the counterfeit from the genuine article? Is there one truth or are there many truths that are equally valid? Is truth merely subject to personal preference or cultural background?

Paul provides the answer by pointing to his personal history: God revealed the truth to him. Because Jesus’ messianic claims did not agree with Paul’s rabbinic training, he was culturally predisposed to reject this supposed Christ. Nevertheless, the resurrected and glorified Jesus vindicated both His Lordship and His position as the Christ by appearing to the insolent persecutor on the Damascus highway. The truth was validated in a historical manifestation of Christ’s person in time and space. It created a marked change, transforming the persecutor into a preacher. The Pauline gospel came by direct revelation, and so was unadulterated by human philosophy or religion. As Vine says: “[It is] not of man’s device, not even in harmony with man’s ideas. The interpretation put upon the facts of the gospel by the Judaizers was ‘after man,’ human alike in its origin and its object.”[i]

Man’s Message Versus God’s Message

Paul did not receive his message “from man, nor was I taught it…” which is exactly opposite from his background in Gamaliel’s yeshiva (v. 12.) He further describes his successful career in rabbinic Judaism in verse 14, saying: “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” One commentator explains the thinking behind Jewish seminary training in this way:

Such progress in a young rabbi would be shown mainly by knowledge and practice of the ‘traditions’ of Israel, the increasing body of material that had, over the centuries, grown up around the Torah like a protective fence. This was collected and summed up, first in the primary collection of the Mishnah, then in the secondary and later collection called the Gemara, the two together forming the Talmud. Of it, in later days, the rabbis would say: ‘The Scriptures are water; the Mishnah, wine: but the Gemara, spiced wine.’ How early this attitude had begun to develop, we cannot say; but passages like Mark 7:6–13 suggest that it was not unknown even in New Testament days.[ii]

Rather than obtain his good news from Jewish sages, Paul received it by revelation. Leon Morris explains the significance of this:

That he became an apostle by revelation is another indication that his apostleship was not brought about by human means. The revelation was not an end in itself; it was made so that Paul might be a preacher of the gospel and specifically so that he should preach Christ among the Gentiles. With centuries of preaching to the Gentiles behind us, we are inclined to take this for granted. But for a first-century Jew, and specifically for one who was prepared to go far afield in persecuting the new little band of Christians, this was a tremendous step. All his previous training would have been motivated by the conviction that there is only one God and that that God had revealed Himself to Jews alone. Occasionally Jews converted others to their religion, but they had no burden to bring good news to people of every nation. Paul did.[iii]

Rake’s Progress

Paul’s personal history in Judaism did not incline him toward embracing Christianity, for it emphasized human effort in place of salvation by free grace alone. What is more, he demonstrated his opposition to Jesus and His followers by brutally persecuting them wherever he found them. Paul later recounts his mission against this new heresy: “…I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (v. 13.) The classicist F.F. Bruce captures the violent imagery of this verse in his rendering: “You have heard about my former course of life in Judaism, how beyond all measure I persecuted the church of God and laid it waste.”[iv] Morris explains the repetitive nature of his exertions:

Paul leaves no doubt as to the vigor with which he had carried out his persecution of the Christians. When this is characterized as Paul’s way of life it signifies that hunting Christians was not a sideline when he had nothing else to occupy him. For Paul in those days to be alive was to be hunting Christians (cf. Acts 9:1-2). The imperfect tense of the verb rendered persecuted indicates that the activity went on for some time. The verb…‘laid…waste’ [“tried to destroy it” KJV] denotes a thoroughgoing and successful activity; the lexicon gives its meaning as ‘pillage, make havoc of, destroy, annihilate (BAGD). Paul was both thorough going and successful in his persecution of the Christians. He was ‘actually engaged in the work of destruction…Paul wished to be not a mere devastator, not a mere disturber…but a destroyer of the church.’ (Meyer).[v]

Elsewhere he spells out his attacks on Christians in greater detail:

…I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11.)

His pre-Christian life was a violent campaign against believers, and he describes it in frank terms: “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Tim. 1:13.) One writer point out the unexpected nature of his conversion: “Paul’s point in reciting these two general features from his past life was that, prior to his encounter with Christ, there was not the slightest human preparation or source for his understanding, much less accepting and proclaiming, the gospel of salvation by God’s grace working through faith completely apart from works. It was foreign to all his previous thinking.”[vi]

But now Paul is different. The writer who addresses the Galatians is a friend and follower of Christ – not an enemy. His teaching as an apostle is diametrically opposed to his religious past, for it reflects the change that the risen Christ made in his life. This most surprising conversion of the archenemy of first-century Christians sets a pattern for the extent of the Almighty’s longsuffering towards lost people (1 Tim. 1:15-16.)

Turning Adversaries Into Allies

Since Paul’s time, many opponents of the gospel have similarly repented of their enmity against Christ. The Lord Jesus’ gracious working is able to bring enemies contritely to His feet, as they beg forgiveness for their past crimes. Bakht Singh, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and the Waorani spearmen who killed the Ecuador martyrs are but a few of the famous examples of former adversaries of Christianity who later became proponents of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Still today, the Lord Jesus wins His opponents through the display of His incomparable love in the message of the cross, as well as through the testimony of His saints in this world. Likewise, the most hardened sinner can be transformed by God’s saving power, if they repent.

Of course, many refuse to heed Paul’s story, and continue on in their vain hostility to Christ. They will find out too late that they are missing the specific reason for their existence: to know and serve the Creator God Who revealed Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. All opposition to Him is futile, for His triumph is certain. He has already vanquished the most feared powers of the universe: Satan, sin, death, and hell (Acts 2:31-36; Heb. 2:14-15.) Moreover, every knee will one day bow in homage to Him (Phil. 2:11.) Psalm 2 evocatively sets the scene of the King of kings’ future enthronement over all combatants:

Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure: Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.’‘I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. (Psalm 2.)

[i] W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic ed. (Logos.)

[ii] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 9,  Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1989, p. 89; electronic ed. (Logos); emphasis mine.

[iii] Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom, Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1996, p. 56.

[iv] F.F. Bruce, An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul, R.N. Haynes Publishers, 1981. Emphasis mine.

[v] Morris, p. 52; emphasis & brackets mine.

[vi] John MacArthur, Galatians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983, p. 27; electronic ed. (Logos.)

Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts On Galatians – Part 4

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

“As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Galatians 1:9-10.

When is a gospel not a gospel? According to Galatians the answer is: “When someone tampers with the original gospel given to the apostles by Christ.” Paul declares that the new message being proclaimed by the Judaizers in their midst was a gospel of a fundamentally different type (vv. 6-7.)[i] Its proponents apparently referred to it as a “gospel,” yet it was not actually “good news” for it could not deal with man’s sin problem or satisfy the holy God. Instead it was a message tailored to human preferences, calculated to win over spiritually undiscerning and fleshly religionists. It had a veneer of morality and Biblicism, but it was a counterfeit gospel. Pleasing God or pleasing men is the fulcrum on which a true message stands or falls. The genuine gospel enables the Judge of all the earth to righteously forgive, justify, and reconcile sinful people to Himself. False variations on the glad tidings merely enhance the religious reputations and self-righteous pride of deluded, fallen men.

Cursed Preachers

The gravity of preaching a false message of salvation may be surmised by the extreme penalty called for by the apostle: “Let him be accursed.” This strong word is the famed anathema which means “…something delivered up to divine wrath, dedicated to destruction and brought under a curse…The controlling thought here is that of the delivering up to the judicial wrath of God of one who ought to be ἀνάθεμα because of his sin.[ii] The Old Testament Greek translation, the Septuagint uses this word to render herem, a notorious term for devoting something to destruction at God’s instruction (e.g. Achan in Josh. 7:1.) If one of Israel’s cities was guilty of embracing false gods, they were to be accursed and accordingly must be destroyed. Deuteronomy 13:15-17:

Wiping out, you shall wipe out all the inhabitants of that city by slaughter by dagger; with an anathema, you shall anathematize it, and everything in it. And all of its spoil you shall gather into its streets, and you shall burn with fire the city and all its spoil with its population, before the Lord your God. It shall remain uninhabited forever, never to be rebuilt. Nothing from that which is anathema shall stick to your hand so that the Lord may turn from the heat of his anger, and he shall give you mercy and be merciful to you and multiply you, as the Lord swore to your fathers.[iii]

Obviously, departing from the true gospel is a serious matter! Whether in the Old or New Testament, teaching a false approach to God puts one under the divine curse. This sentence results in the Almighty’s wrath for the accursed one. As Paul says elsewhere: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22.) Amazingly, the Son of God willingly became a curse so that He might redeem believers from the curse of a broken law (Gal. 3:13.) There will be no anathema for those who love and receive Him by being born again through faith in His word (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1.)

Lasting Truth That Needs No Improvement

When the apostle speaks of the gospel that they “received,” he employs the aorist tense. Cole points out the word’s nuanced usage: “…while it should not be overstressed, [it] probably conveys something of the thought of the ‘once-for-all’ nature of the faith delivered to the Galatians. Paul preached it; they received it. That was a decisive experience, not a tentative or temporary position, to be outgrown later, as perhaps suggested by the Judaizers.”[iv] God had not altered His message, for there was nothing that needed to be added to His redemptive work through Christ. When the Lord Jesus said: “It is finished,” it was a completed propitiatory sacrifice. The Father added His a-men in the resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:24, 30-36; Rom. 1:4.) Nothing needed to be added, and certainly nothing could be subtracted from this perfect work.

The Inconvenient Truth

What is Paul trying to accomplish in preaching the gospel? He affirms that he is neither seeking human approval nor popularity. The English Standard Version accurately captures the sense of the expression: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In the past, human opinion loomed large in his thinking. When he says “if I still pleased men” he is doubtless thinking back to his pre-conversion career as an up-and-coming, heresy-hunting rabbi. He was self-righteous, arrogant, confident in his moral rectitude, and in the rightness of his cause. When he met the risen Christ, however, it all changed. He went from self-seeking Saul to Christ-exalting “Paul,” signifying “little.”[v] His ministry was not motivated out of a desire for human acclaim, but rather that he might please the Lord who saved him. He was decidedly a bondservant of Christ (v. 10.)

Pleasing men and pleasing God are two diametrically opposed ambitions. If one pleases one it is impossible to please the other. The gospel of Christ demands complete obedience, permitting no rivals. His message is odious to fallen humanity, for it sets aside human merit and effort. It makes a sham of man’s pretended righteousness and religiosity, demanding instead, death and resurrection. The old man is not improved, he is crucified. The old life is not spruced up, it is supplanted by an altogether new resurrected life – that of the Lord Jesus Himself. It has been well-said: “Jesus did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.”[vi]

Losing Life In This World To Gain It In The Next

Like the apostles, modern Christians must proclaim the gospel of God’s grace in Christ apart from human notions of religion and pretended spirituality. Preaching the real gospel will set the church at variance with the spirit of the age. Believers will not receive applause in the world; nevertheless, at the judgment seat of Christ they will receive crowns (Phil. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jms. 1:12.) Contemporary people seek gospels that will gratify their egos and enhance their reputations. Yet these false paths only lead to spiritual destruction under God’s curse (Prov. 14:12.) Only the gospel that Paul preached may be trusted to transform and eternally save those who receive it.

[i] Consider verses 6-7: I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” NASB & Mr. Vine’s remarks on the Greek words for “different” & “another”: Guided by Paul’s usage elsewhere the words may be paraphrased, ‘Unto a gospel which differs so radically from that which I preached to you that it is not another gospel, for it is not a gospel at all.’ This was the explanation of the Judaizers, theirs was a gospel with a difference; and this the reply of the apostle, so great is the difference that what they preach is not a gospel at all. He cannot allow them even the name. He preached salvation by grace through faith, they preached salvation by law through works; the two, he asserts, are incompatible, and must be antagonistic to the end, cp. Romans 11:6.W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii]Johannes Behm, “anathema” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1. Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley & Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964. electronic ed. (Logos) p. 354.

[iii] A New English Translation of the Septuagint. Oxford: The University Press, 2009; electronic ed.: Accessed on 9/2/10. Boldface mine.

[iv] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction & Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1989, p. 82.

[v]James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; electronic ed. (Logos.)

[vi] Ravi Zacharias, “There Is None Good But God,” from the devotion A Slice of Infinity, 3/17/2000; available here: Accessed on 9/2/10.


Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 3

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” Gal. 1:6-8

What could possibly surprise the veteran apostle who traveled across the Roman empire preaching to Jews and Gentiles from all walks of life and belief systems? Surely interacting with people from so many diverse cultures and having many varied experiences would prepare Paul for anything. Yet Galatians 1:6 registers his astonishment on account of the commencement of their sudden defection from the Lord. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon…” reveals both the apostle’s perplexity and the illogical behavior of his Galatian converts. With very little struggle – “so soon” – they were beginning to embrace an aberrant counterfeit of the genuine glad tidings of the Lord Jesus. This was not merely an alternate strain of Christian thought; rather, the Galatians risked losing the truth of Christ entirely by dabbling in a false Gospel.

If It Isn’t Broken, Don’t Fix It

New teachers arrived in Galatia propounding a “new and improved” gospel, which differed significantly from the original version that they heard from Paul. True, they had not deleted anything from the message: they apparently still professed to believe in the deity of Christ and the inspiration of the Bible. The error lay in what they had added to the glad tidings. They suggested that the Mosaic Law was necessary for justification and sanctification. In other words, salvation depended on faith in Christ plus adherence to the law (especially circumcision and kosher food laws.) Tampering with the Gospel is extremely dangerous. John 17:3 explains the momentous issues involved: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Since its truths bring one into a living relationship with the Lord Himself, altering its tenets destroys the possibility of such a connection. In other words, adding to the gospel transforms it into spiritual cyanide.

The false doctrine being foisted upon the Galatians was particularly dangerous, because it had a veneer of morality and religion about it. Those preaching it professed to be Christians, and – judging by certain allusions in Galatians 1 and 2 – claimed to represent the latest doctrinal teaching in the Jerusalem church. The fact that Paul says “Though we or an angel from heaven preach…” (v. 8) indicates that they were charismatic preachers, who seemed to carry equal weight with the apostles. Like a glorious angel, they looked and sounded good. One commentator describes the pervasive threat from this kind of false teaching:

The most destructive dangers to the church have never been atheism, pagan religions, or cults that openly deny Scripture, but rather supposedly Christian movements that accept so much biblical truth that their unscriptural doctrines seem relatively insignificant and harmless. But a single drop of poison in a large container can make all the water lethal. And a single false idea that in any way undercuts God’s grace poisons the whole system of belief. Paul would not tolerate a single drop of legalism being intermixed with God’s pure grace. To turn away from any part of the grace of Christ is to turn away from the power of God to that of human effort.[i]

It was obvious to the Galatians that pagan beliefs like Mithraism and Stoic philosophy were false; but the Judaizing doctrine was especially attractive because it came from supposedly familiar sources. Paul later warned the Ephesian elders of “savage wolves” coming from outside their assemblies. More troubling, however, was the caution that he gave regarding imposters from within their meetings who would speak perverse things in order to build up their own following (Acts 20:28-31.) Even today the worst enemies of the truth often arise from evangelical circles (e.g. the Emergent Church movement.) Regardless of how appealing the spokesman looks or sounds, if they add to or subtract from the biblical gospel, they must be rejected.

In Danger Of Becoming Doctrinal Quislings

Paul says that the Galatians are beginning to act in a spiritually disloyal manner. “Turning away” in verse 6 translates a word that was notorious for philosophical and political treachery. As Stott points out: “It signifies ‘to transfer one’s allegiance’. It is used of soldiers in the army who revolt or desert, and of men who change sides in politics or philosophy. Thus, a certain Dionysius of Heracleia, who left the Stoics to become a member of the rival philosophical school, an Epicurean, was called ho metathemenos, a ‘turncoat’.”[ii] The Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, used the word to depict the effect that Jezebel had on King Ahab in 1 Kings 21:25.[iii] Her insidious influence turned him from nominal Jehovah-worship to the adoration of idols like Baal and Ashtoreth. In Galatians the Greek verb is in the middle voice affirming that the Galatians are actively removing themselves from the Lord by their embrace of error.[iv]

Abandoning The Savior

Tragically, they were deserting a person not a dogma. The New King James Version rightly capitalizes “Him” in verse 6, acknowledging that God is the One in view. It is no use claiming that it does not matter what one believes, so long as they have Jesus. Such drivel sounds appealing to Postmodern ears, but the Bible makes it clear that a relationship with the Living God through Christ is the result of believing in the Lord Jesus as the Son of God, and receiving by faith the benefits of His saving work through His sacrificial death, vindicating resurrection, and victorious ascension (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:16; 5:24; 20:30-31; Acts 4:12; Rom. 3:23-26; 5:1; 8:1; 10:9; etc.) As Boice powerfully describes it: “Embracing legalism means rejecting God, according to Paul’s reasoning, because it means substituting man for God in one’s life. It is significant that once again even in the space of a few words (‘who called you by the grace of Christ’) Paul reiterates the true nature of the gospel: (1) it is of God, for God does the calling, and (2) it is of grace rather than of merit.”[v] To depart from the apostolic gospel as it was first preached in Galatia is to put oneself under a false system which results in eternal damnation (1 Jn. 5:11-12.) Moreover, preachers of a fraudulent gospel place themselves squarely under God’s curse (Gal. 1:8-9.)

The Truth And Nothing But The Truth

Thankfully, the phrase “turning from” is in the present tense, meaning that the Galatians had not yet fully embraced the fake gospel. There was still time to adhere to the truth, and repudiate the Judaizers and their wicked perversion of the gospel. Paul asserts that some were “troubling” them. Indeed, to obscure Christ’s good news of grace and peace always troubles the church. Those who are really saved can never impassively accept a caricature of the glad tidings. Conversely, the genuine gospel unifies the people of God. “They were all together in one accord” is the great refrain of the early chapters of Acts as the Christians carried the Lord’s message forth to Jews and Gentiles. The famous hymn puts it well: “I love to tell the story for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”[vi] If believers genuinely love the Lord, they will love the New Testament gospel, and tenaciously hold to it against onslaughts from the religious and secular worlds.

[i] John MacArthur, Galatians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996; electronic ed. (Logos), p. 14.

[ii] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians : Only One Way. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1986, pp. 21-22; electronic ed. (Logos.)

Christian Maurer defines metatithemi thus: “‘…‎‘to turn from,’ ‘to fall away,’ ‘to become apostate,’…” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 8, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964, p. 161.

[iii] W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

A modern translation of the LXX of 1 Kgs. 21:25 reads: “Yet Achaab did act foolishly when he sold himself to do what was evil before the Lord , as his wife Jezebel led him astray.” (boldface mine, indicating the use of metatithemi; A New English Translation of the Septuagint, Oxford: The University Press, 2007, p. 316.) Available for free usage here:

[iv] W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

[v] James Montgomery Boice, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Galatians, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977; electronic ed.

[vi] A. Katherine Hankey, “I love to tell the story”, accessed at: on 8/26/10.


Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 2

Friday, August 13th, 2010

“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Galatians 1:3-5.

After establishing the divine origin of his apostleship, Paul greets the Galatian churches with this beautiful doxology, which sums up the gospel that he defends in this epistle. First, it is one characterized by “grace and peace.” While it is true that these terms were used as salutations in the ancient Jewish world, he is employing them for their theological content, not merely out of literary courtesy. “Grace” is frequently defined as “God’s unmerited favor.” It emphasizes the free gift of God, irrespective of any human merit or contribution. It focuses on the giver, not on the recipient of the gift.

Peace In Our Time

“Peace” is often discussed in this world, but seldom experienced in any form. It is the fleeting object of man’s deepest yearnings, yet it slips through his fingers like grains of sand. This is because the most important aspect of peace is a right relationship with one’s Creator; if one does not have peace with God, then peace of mind, peace among men, and all of other types of peace will prove to be maddeningly elusive. Through the work of the Prince of Peace, however, one may be given a righteous standing and thereby be reconciled to God. As Romans 5:1 succinctly puts it: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As beautiful as grace and peace are in themselves, they are impossible to experience apart from the work of God the Father and God the Son (verse 3.) Together these words describe the glory of God’s personal character and the beneficence of His gifts towards men. One writer describes them thus: “The first is the source of salvation and the second is the result. Grace is positional, peace is practical, and together they flow from God our Father through His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[i] Furthermore, the deity and divine equality of the Lord Jesus is demonstrated by this joint mention of the activity of the Father and the Son.

His grace brings rebels nigh, changes them into new creatures, and extends peace that passes understanding to them (2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 4:7.) His peace to them is never rescinded, and springs from the knowledge that they are right with God, who “…works all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11.) He seats them in the heavenlies, giving them free acceptance in God’s presence and provides them with unassailable heavenly inheritance (Eph. 1:11; 2:1-10; 1 Pet. 1:4.) In short, God gives His redeemed ones unparalleled blessings of grace and peace.

The Gift Of Gifts

The Creator’s grace is chiefly seen in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, who though sinless, paid the penalty that sinners deserved. Elucidating the specific way that this grace was extended to undeserving mankind Paul writes “…[He] gave Himself,” thus demonstrating the voluntary nature of Christ’s sacrificial death (verse 4.) The Son of God went to the horror of the cross with perfect foreknowledge of all that awaited Him there. Gruesome as they were, the torture and indignities that He suffered at the hands of His creatures paled in comparison with the agony of an utterly holy Being becoming a sin offering on behalf of humankind. His death was “for our sins” – the things that alienated man from his holy Maker and forged the chains of vice that enslaved humans of every type and description. He saved believers from the wrath to come by suffering that righteous anger in their place. In spite of this, He did not shrink from His responsibility, but went forth to the death of the cross in complete obedience to His Father’s will.

The verse next details the object of His self-sacrifice: “…that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” “Deliver” strikes the note of salvation from extreme danger. As a well-known commentator writes:

Christianity is, in fact, a rescue religion. The Greek verb in this verse is a strong one (exaireō, in the middle voice). It is used in the Acts of the rescue of the Israelites from their Egyptian slavery (7:34), of the rescue of Peter both from prison and from the hand of Herod the King (12:11), and of the rescue of Paul from an infuriated mob about to lynch him (23:27). This verse in Galatians is the only place where it is used metaphorically of salvation. Christ died to rescue us.[ii]

Another remarks: “The verb ξέληται, as in Luke’s reporting of its use in the early church (Acts 7:10, 34; 12:11; 23:27; 26:17, where the emphasis is on the idea of rescue), denotes not removal but rescue from the power of. So the deliverance spoken of here is not a removal from the world but a rescue from the evil that dominates it.”[iii] The Lord delivers His people from this evil age, so that they live the life that characterizes the age to come. Eternal life is more than life of unending duration; it is a quality of life – that which pertains to a relationship with the King of kings and sharing in His kingdom. The world as it currently is, dominated by lust and wickedness is passing away. The triumphant death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus make it inevitable that this age will be superseded by the age to come, where “God will be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:22-28.)

Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way

The dramatic deliverance carried out by the work of Christ is totally in keeping with the Father’s desires. The Son gave Himself to rescue the lost, but as Paul notes, it was “…according to the will of our God and Father” (v. 4.) In the divine counsels of eternity past, the triune God determined to ransom and save His people from sin, death, and hell (1 Pet. 1:20.) Like Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, “…the two of them went together” to Golgotha (Gen. 22:6; along with the Holy Spirit, Heb. 9:14.) Designating Him as “our God and Father” reminds one of the gracious relationship that the Almighty now gives to believers: they are His children and may call Him “Abba, Father” (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 8:15.)

Praise The Savior Ye Who Know Him

With the ancient apostle Christians say: “To whom be glory forever and ever” (v. 5.) Such great salvation naturally elicits worship, praise, and thanksgiving from the saints’ hearts and lips. This doxology is astounding coming from a converted Jew. As one commentator recounts:

To any Jew, it was natural to slip into reverential bĕrākâ, or ‘blessing’, after any mention of the divine name. For instance, ‘The Holy One—blessed be he’ is one of the commonest of such blessings used by later Jewish commentators. So here, after the mention of the name of God, it is natural to add to whom be the glory forever and ever (literally, ‘for ages of ages’, where the same word aiōn is used). Just as in old days the name of Yahweh, with its association of salvation from Egyptian bondage, stirred a Jew to praise, so now the name of Jesus Christ stirs Paul to similar response. If the Jew of old was a ‘Yahwist’, to use modern theological jargon, then Paul and those to whom he wrote were ‘Christians’, whose whole understanding of God was dominated by the revelation in Christ.[iv]

The great God and Savior will ever be lauded for the greatness of His person and work. Those who are redeemed through faith in the Lord Jesus will always remember what He has done and be enraptured with His lovely person.

[i] John MacArthur, Galatians, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), p. 5; electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii]John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians : Only One Way, Downer’s Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986, p. 18; electronic edition (Logos.)

[iii] Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary : Galatians. Vol. 41. Dallas: Word, Inc., 2002, p. 8; electronic ed. (Logos.) I generally agree with his assessment that the emphasis is on “rescue from the power of” something, but would note that verses like Acts 7:34 and 12:11 include deliverance from physical places (i.e. Egypt & Herod’s jail respectively.) Of course, Christ’s rescue of believers includes the eventual deliverance from the world as it now is (fallen & sinful) through His coming. –KRK.

[iv] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 9, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989. p. 73; electronic ed. (Logos.)


Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 1

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Man intuitively yearns for freedom. Through the ages, numerous thinkers have suggested schemes for human liberty. Examples are readily found in the founding documents of my homeland, the United States; they are choked full of references to liberation from tyranny and oppression. Ironically of all the enslaving powers on earth, man is unable to achieve freedom from his vices and personal passions – things that are symptomatic of sin within the core of his being.

The Magna Carta Of Christian Liberty

Some people think that freedom from indwelling evil is to be attained through religious observance or esoteric disciplines. Due to their human origin, however, the world’s religions are powerless to liberate people from the thraldom of darkness that stems from their sin. In fact, religious people have no assurance of the forgiveness of sins which is a prerequisite for a relationship with the Creator God. Nor do human rites and ceremonies free one from sin’s power. There are many counterfeit paths to freedom, but only a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith can free one from sin’s penalty and power – even from sin’s presence, eventually, when He returns.

The Epistle to the Galatians begins by affirming the divine origin of Paul’s apostleship and the gospel that he preached. In context, this was important to establish, for there were competing false-apostles propounding erroneous messages and methods of salvation to the Galatian churches (e.g. Gal. 6:12.) Likewise, in the modern world the biblical gospel is one among many competing truth claims. One must understand, however, that Christianity is based upon divine revelation, not on human thinking or ingenuity.

God’s Messenger Of Liberty

The messenger introduces himself in a manner that displays his credentials: “Paul, an apostle (not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…” (Gal. 1:1.) He is an apostle, which is defined by one dictionary in these words: “One who fulfills the role of being a special messenger (generally restricted to the immediate followers of Jesus Christ, but also extended, as in the case of Paul, to other early Christians active in proclaiming the message of the gospel)—‘apostle, special messenger.’”[i] Another adds: “It always denotes a man who is sent, and sent with full authority.”[ii]

Paul’s apostleship was not of human origin – “not from men,” as he puts it. He was not sent out by a group of missionary minded men, nor a human organization. Neither was he put into this work “through man.” He was ordained by the Lord without the use of human intermediaries. His particular office and function derived from God, who chose him as His emissary to the nations (Acts 9:15.) As such, his authority stemmed from the will and character of the Almighty. As he articulates the source of it: “…through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1.) The Son and the Father selected and commissioned Paul to his service as an apostle. The Lord Jesus Himself was vindicated and authenticated by the Father raising Him from the dead. Thus, this apostle and this message were authorized and originated in the Risen Christ.

Conversely, his adversaries were mere men with human agendas and ineffectual pseudo-gospels that were impotent to change their adherents. By contrast, Paul declared God’s Word, which is able to save and transform those who receive it (e.g. Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12.) Yet he was no lone wolf in this work, for he then goes on to mention “and all the brethren who are with me” (verse 2.) Therefore, the brothers who were with him were also in fellowship with his work and message. So one sees that Paul’s gospel is the one that comes from God – the One who revealed Himself in history through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of Galatians may be paraphrased thus: “Don’t be fooled by imposters or swayed by ‘new and improved’ gospels. Look back to the original glad tidings that come from the true and living God.” Freedom can only be found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, so consider the good news that He gave through His apostle Paul.

[i] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996. Electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii] Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, “apostolos,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-. Electronic edition (Logos.)