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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
It's our custom here at HBS to take the time to enjoy the "true meaning of the Christmas Season." With that thought in mind we'll be reflecting on the birth of our Lord, and spending time with family and friends, sharing His love. We pray you'll do likewise. We'll return with the first lesson in Ephesians on January 5, 2018.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Summing up Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
Paul has been developing a contrast between two principles or mindsets. The one believes salvation is totally of God. The other believes salvation requires a joint effort between themselves and God. The first principle is the one he not only seeks to live by, it is the one he taught to these Galatians. The latter mindset is the false teaching Paul has been trying to drive out of the Galatian churches before it spreads like a cancer throughout the region.
In this letter to the Galatians our Apostle Paul has made us aware of a great divide between these two mindsets; i.e. two different understandings of salvation and two different philosophies of how the Believer’s life is lived out. The individual either chooses the way of grace or the way of the Law. I say this because in His Word God has been very specific about what the individual is to believe in order to obtain salvation:
…on the day when, (read carefully) according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16; See 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
For by grace you have been saved through faith (alone); and that not of yourselves (you can’t earn it and you don’t merit it) it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
Paul said the Galatians are to stand fast in their freedom (Galatians 5:1). This is because the Galatians were willingly exchanging their liberty in Christ for bondage to the Law. Therefore, the Believer’s freedom or liberty is at stake. For other folks what’s at stake is still their salvation. They’ve “tabled” the questions, “What are you going to do about Jesus Christ,” and “Where will you spend eternity” for another day. But for the Believer the issue is, “Will you live out your life in freedom or bondage?” So, the stakes couldn’t be higher, which is one of the reasons this Galatian letter carries so much spiritual weight. After all is said and done, it comes down to this question, “What do you believe?”
Our Apostle Paul said, “Do not be deceived!” This statement comes across as a warning to every Believer, but it can be understood as a command. Here’s why. Paul taught the word of God to these fickle Galatians; they were not ignorant of Christ’s sacrifice and its eternal significance. But instead of standing fast in their faith, some of these Galatians were “giving an ear” to these Judaizers’. In doing so, they were inviting deception. This was their first mistake but other errors in judgment followed. These became apparent when they abandoned the gospel, nullifying Christ’s work of the cross, and they denied Paul’s apostolic authority. They changed course, completely.
If you believe you can please God by your own effort, i.e. you can somehow, in some way, earn a “right standing with God” (righteousness), then you have been deceived, my friend. Nowhere in this book does it say you can earn your salvation. Quite the contrary, God has done what we could not do ourselves, through Christ Jesus, and we are totally dependent upon the Holy Spirit (the Helper) to do in us what we cannot do in regards to walking in newness of life, i.e. walking by the Spirit.
Please open your Bible at Galatians 6:11
11: See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
It was common practice for Paul to use an amanuensis at times, a scribe, who wrote down his letters as he dictated them such as Tertius (Romans 16:22). But on occasion Paul would pick up the writing device and personally write a few lines at the end of his correspondence. We know Paul wrote the concluding statements in these letters (1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11-18; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; Philemon 1:19).
This letter from Paul was passed around from one house church to another and read out loud to the Believers. The Galatians would not handle this letter themselves, so they wouldn’t notice a change in writing styles. Therefore it was necessary for Paul to draw attention to the fact he had picked up the pen and actually wrote the concluding statements himself, and there are a couple of reasons for this.
First, Paul has been informing these Galatians how they should live their lives as true Believers since the midpoint of chapter 5, so now he begins to summarize all those important points written - with my own hand. In this way his following words were emphasized (or underscored) by verse 11. When we want something we have written to stand out we can choose to underline it or we can present it in boldface type (I do this frequently). Paul didn’t have these options. Here he accomplished this by taking pen in hand and writing in large letters. The effect is twofold: to inform the reader of the importance of what he has written, and it served to remind these folks that Paul, God’s called apostle, has written it, personally.
Secondly, Paul finished his letters by writing the closing because this was a way of verifying them as authentic, per his comment in 2 Thessalonians 2:2: that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
Permit me to add to this quite a few people believe Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) was an eye disease or eye-related problem, possibly Oriental Ophthalmia, and his writing in large letters here is just more proof of this. Others believe his rather obvious eye related problem was the result of the stoning he endured in Lystra (Acts 14:19). This eye disease or injury to the eye, they believe, resulted in Paul being partially blind, hence, the large letters (Galatians 4:13-15).
Now Paul begins to write about two different mindsets. He mentions those with the wrong mindset first.
12: Those (people) who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
There’s a lot going on here. Unless you just joined our Bible study, y’all should know the group of people Paul is referring to when he mentioned “Those” people in this verse. They are the Judaizers, Jewish Christians who taught you needed Jesus but you had to add works to faith to be saved. They didn’t deny Jesus was God’s Son, and they didn’t deny His death and resurrection. They believed what Jesus started, man needed to finish. To complete the act of salvation God needs our help.
On the other hand, Paul preached Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). This means your salvation is of God from start to finish. Another way of saying this is, “Justification by faith alone, apart from works of the law.” Paul taught these Galatians the way of salvation was “by grace (alone), through faith (alone), in Jesus Christ (alone).
Paul challenged these false teachers because their teaching was a direct attack on the gospel, and if the Judaizers prevailed, the Lord’s work of the Cross would be nullified. Therefore the Doctrine of Grace was at stake in this controversy. So, it comes down to a simple question: “Are we saved by believing (as God said) or by achieving?” Paul said believing; the Judaizers said achieving.
This controversy continues today. Just as Paul battled the Judaizers during his lifetime, so we too must constantly battle the Judaizers of our own day. The important Doctrine of Grace, which states, “The just shall live by faith” is still being attacked today. And I’m not talking about faith in oneself or in their ability to live a godly life or their ability to keep every single commandment all the time; but faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ (alone). The way of Grace is intentionally narrow because God knows the heart of man (Matthew 7:13-14; John 10:1-10, 14:6).
In verse 12 Paul gives us the Judaizers’ motive, which was twofold: to make a good showing in the flesh and to avoid persecution. When all is said and done, their motives were the love of human praise and the fear of human opposition. Sounds “par for the course” to me because it describes all “Those” with a worldly view; people striving to get ahead in life, despite the collateral damage.
Making a good showing in the flesh – this is actually a play on words. Paul’s talking about the outward act of circumcision. Paul is saying these Judaizers were boasting about the cutting away of their foreskin and using that “work” to display their spirituality. Paul said their motive is: "to make a good showing in the flesh." They worked to bring the Galatian Believers from a pagan, Gentile background under circumcision, because it would be a good showing for them. This gives them something to boast about; to their thinking it makes them more spiritual.
Please don’t overlook the word "compel" it’s significant to the text. There was nothing wrong with a Gentile being circumcised; even pagans were circumcised in those days. But there was everything wrong in compelling a Gentile to be circumcised, saying they could not be right with God without first becoming right with the Law of Moses. Beyond seeking their own glory, their other motive was to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ. If these legalists agreed with Paul they would have been persecuted. The persecution would have probably come from their peers, or from those Jews who remained steadfast in Judaism.
The Bible teaches us the Jewish nation and this includes the Judaizers considered the cross of Christ an embarrassment if not downright offensive. Why? It was the cause of their persecution and suffering. To find one's salvation by the way of Grace (alone) or the cross of Christ was so abominable to the unbelieving Jew that those who chose to believe were persecuted and suffered for their faith (Matthew 10:22).
To lessen the persecution or to possibly avoid some of it the Judaizers worked both sides of the fence. They believed Jesus was God’s Son and they believed He died and was resurrected but they denied Paul’s teachings of the cross. They promoted circumcision a religious work instead. This pleased the Jews, for the most part, and saved them from some if not all of the persecution Paul and the Gentile Believers experienced.
What does Paul mean by "the persecution of the cross"? It understands all that's implied by Jesus Christ’s own words, “It is finished.” This is really the point of the great divide. There are those who believe that Jesus was God’s Son and He died on the cross, but that isn't sufficient for salvation. Why? In addition to that, they believe they need to perform certain works of the flesh in order to be saved. In chapter 1 of this letter, Paul told the Galatians if this is what you believe, you’ve nullified God’s grace by placing your faith in a different gospel, which is no gospel at all (1:6-7).
The majority of people would most likely say that they believe in God. They would probably say that they believe that Jesus lived, and He died on a cross. But the overwhelming majority believes that still isn't sufficient for salvation. They believe: I've got work to do. They’ll tell you straight up I've have to: attend church services, pray a prayer, tithe a certain amount of money, and perform good works (although no one knows how many or what kind) in order to be saved. That is in stark contrast to the cross (alone), which believes Jesus died on the cross to do for me what I could not do for myself, and this is in full agreement with what God has said.
I know there's a tendency to think: well, as long as people believe Jesus died on the cross that's the main thing. And then if they add all these other things, attaching them to Christ’s cross, then what’s the harm? It’s not a big deal. Paul says: “No, it is a big deal; that has become a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.” What you believe and why you believe it matters to God. This is the point of the great divide. It's either God’s way of Grace or it's not. This was the point of the division, the biting and devouring of one another in the Galatian church (5:15). This was the point of divide in the Reformation, and this is still the point of divide in the church today. People are still biting and devouring one another over this subject. Satan couldn’t be more pleased.
13: For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh.
Paul’s saying the Judaizers did not practice what they preached. While they were telling the Gentiles to be circumcised, the Judaizers were not keeping the whole Mosaic Law themselves.
And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law (Galatians 5:3).
Circumcision was only a small part of the Law. But if these Galatians were going to submit to circumcision, then they were obligated to adhere to the whole Law, i.e. the dietary laws, keeping the holy days, the Sabbath laws, and they had to make certain they kept themselves from ceremonially unclean things. The LORD God didn’t present Moses a menu of options on Mt Sinai, saying, “Go ahead and select those laws you want to keep and don’t worry about the rest.” The Law of God is an all-or-nothing proposition per His “conditional” statement” (Exodus 19:5-6).
The Apostle James reminds his brethren of this with these words:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).
The LORD God didn’t leave any wiggle room in the Law on purpose. The Law was strict. The penalty for breaking the following laws was death:
Striking, or even reviling, a parent (Exodus 21:15-17)
Blasphemy (Leviticus 24:14-16, 23)
Sabbath-breaking (Exodus 31:14, 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36)
Witchcraft, and false pretension to prophecy (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27, 13:5 18:20)
Adultery (Leviticus 20:10, 22:22)
Unchastity (Leviticus 21:9, 22:21-23)
Rape (Deuteronomy 22:25)
Incestuous and unnatural connections (Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 20:11-11-14, 16)
Manstealing (Exodus 21:16, 24:7)
Idolatry, actual or virtual, in any shape (Leviticus 20:2, 13:8-10, 15; 17:2-7)
False witness in certain cases (Deuteronomy 19:16-19)
Without a doubt we are rather apathetic when it comes to laws and rules. I say this because we’re all lawbreakers by birth; it’s our nature. Most people consider themselves “good” simply because they haven’t robbed a bank or killed anyone. But they don’t think about all the lies they’ve told, all the times they’ve coveted someone or something, the times they disrespected or dishonored their parent(s), they let their anger get the best of them, they stole something, etc. They’re self-assessment is based upon what other people have done or are doing. God’s standards are much higher; we’re all required to meet His standard 100% of the time. And that’s Paul’s point. Those who believe they can achieve God’s standard of righteousness based on their works do not even keep the Law themselves. Nobody can keep God’s Law perfectly; we are all flawed creations (Isaiah 64:6). The Judaizers were failing the very system they were promoting and yet they’re inviting the Galatians to become a part of their charade. It made no sense then and it makes no sense today.
So, now Paul shifts the conversation and begins to speak about the correct mindset; the one that boasts only in the cross of Christ:
14: But may it never be that I boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Paul, the chief of sinners, (means: the first in line to be saved by God’s grace) knew better than most what it meant to be redeemed out of an undeserving life, even though that life was zealously dedicated in serving God, or so he thought, and that’s the thing. Misguided thinking leads to problematic living (Philippians 3:2-16).
Some folks falsely label Paul a braggart, but Paul knew human boasting was of no value where God’s Grace is concerned:
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:27-28).
The word preached by Paul was the way of Grace; because the only way a person can approach God is through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
God’s Son paid the sin debt required by God for all (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). But here’s the thing, each person has to appropriate Christ’s work of the cross to their account by faith (Romans 3:21-22; Hebrews 11:6). Through our faith in Christ, the righteousness of God is given to us. This is called “imputed righteousness.” Jesus Christ took our sin and offers us His righteousness, if we’ll only believe. That’s what took place at the cross (Romans 3:24-26). It sounds too simple; to be saved in this manner, but this is what the book says “We are saved by faith.” I’m not saying God’s plan of salvation is simple, far from it. I’m saying our role in it couldn’t be easier. People just need to overcome their pride, and “take God at His Word.”
Now, for anyone to add anything to Christ crucified or to take anything away from it invites the condemnation of God Himself. This book in several places says do not add a word or take anything from what God has clearly said because God’s Word is complete.
“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it” (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Revelation 22:18-19).
God has revealed His plan of salvation in this age and everything God has said is the truth: “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160; Proverbs 30:6). I’d be careful about “editing” God’s truths. Paul told the Galatians in 1:8: But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached (i.e. Christ crucified) to you, he is to be accursed! (This means they must answer to God. But we are responsible to withdraw from their false teaching and pray for them so that they too will come to understand God’s truths).
Paul’s specifically speaking about “Those people” a.k.a. the Judaizers who believed their good works needed to be added to faith, such as circumcision, to complete the salvation process. But, as I’ve said, Judaizers’ are still among us, we’re battling this same issue today. I can think of two church groups that believe and teach that unless you are water baptized you cannot be saved! I won’t name the churches but I attended one of them for a brief time many years ago. I spoke to the pastor about this belief and showed him what the Scriptures said after his sermon one Sunday morning. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up after he told his congregation, “If a person made a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, re: His death, burial, and resurrection, but was killed in a traffic accident on his way to church to be baptized with water, he would go straight to hell, because without water baptism he was not saved.” And he based this belief on this Bible verse (Acts 2:38). I explained, using several other Bible verses, the Bible doesn’t say this. In response, he likened me to “Apollos.” He said I had been taught correctly about “some spiritual concerns,” but my knowledge of baptism was incomplete. We spent the next six months emailing one another, but nothing was gained. So, do not be deceived by the teachings of men. Always go by what God has said and always rightly divide the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15).
Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world -
When Paul says the world here, he’s not talking about the “physical world” made up of physical matter, i.e. trees, plants, wild life, flowing streams and rivers, oceans and seas. He’s talking about the world’s system. How do you suppose that is characterized? Pride tops the list. Prideful boasting about one’s self, their social status, and religious endeavors and the Judaizers’ are just one example. When an individual has the world’s mindset, their life will be characterized by prideful boasting. This is what Paul’s talking about and this is why he’s upset with the Judaizers. The message they’re preaching, “You can do something to earn God’s favor and righteousness” is straight from the pit of hell; it’s the message of the world – Satan’s playground. This is the mindset of “joint effort” in salvation and it’s a lie and Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).
Paul said, “There’s nothing to boast about, except the cross of Christ.” Why? God’s Grace removes all rationalization for boasting, because the saved individual realizes he or she didn’t do a thing except believe the gospel (they followed God’s directions). They realized on their best day they couldn’t keep God’s commandments; they simply did not measure up to His standard of holiness. They understand it’s all about God’s Grace; His unmerited favor available by invitation to an undeserving, rebellious, enemy of God (John 6:44; Romans 5:6-11).
Paul said, “I died to the world,” which means that living the independent life apart from God believes, “I got this,” or “I can do this without any help from God.” Paul died to that prideful mindset.
15: For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
By now when you see the word circumcision in the text you should recognize this is of the Jews. The religious rite of circumcision is an everlasting covenant in the flesh; an outward sign that revealed an individual was one of God’s chosen people. This covenant was the sign given to Abraham by the LORD God (Genesis 7).
Jesus’ sacrificial death changed things significantly. There are no conditions to our salvation. In light of Christ crucified or the cross, circumcision means nothing. So, instead of giving these Galatians a sense of false pride in being circumcised or not being circumcised, Paul said no matter which decision you made it doesn’t matter. You are saved only if you are in Christ Jesus and this is accomplished by faith (alone) and not by works of the flesh. And if you are in Christ, you are a new creation. And if you are a new creation you’re no longer motivated by the world’s system. In other words, prideful boasting and being motivated by “self” indulgent activities are not the way; instead, your motivation is (agape) love or the law of Christ (6:2).
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but (what) faith working through (agape) love (Galatians 5:6; Romans 2:28-29; 1 Corinthians 7:18-19; Galatians 5:22-23). Circumcision isn’t the issue; salvation is the issue, per God’s plan.
16: And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (See Romans 9:6).
Notice Paul’s use of the word “walk” in this verse. It denotes a willful activity. The Koine Greek word for rule is Kanoni the English word “canon” is derived from this word. Paul uses it here to refer to the gospel, i.e. the Word, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ (6:2).
The burden of Christ Jesus was the commandment that most characterized His teaching which is we are to love one another. Those who obeyed this commandment would find their load or burden light and easy. The other way opposite of love is the way of distraction, divisiveness, and disorder; the Galatians were becoming aware of this. You could search but you would not find peace and mercy being practiced in the Galatian churches at this time. This is why Paul said make a decision to walk by this rule and not just say you’re aware of it.
the Israel of God – there isn’t sufficient time left to explain this statement and its significant implications regarding what the Scriptures say, especially concerning end time events. Please know it is one of the most controversial topics in the church today. (See the false teaching: Replacement Theology)
In Romans 11:16-36 our Apostle Paul gives us the illustration of the olive tree. These verses refer to Israel “the natural branches” being broken off from the olive tree and the Church, the “wild” branches or shoots being grafted into the olive tree. Since both Israel and the Church are both referred to as branches, it stands to reason that neither group is the whole tree but the olive tree represents God’s workings with all mankind. This means God’s Prophetic Program with Israel and His New Covenant Program with the Church or the Body of Christ are part of His outworking of His purpose among men in general. God’s program with Israel has been interrupted (Acts 7) ushering in the Dispensation of God’s Grace – the Church Age (Acts 9).
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants (Romans 9:6-8).
In Galatians 3:16 Paul wrote: Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is Christ.
Paul’s saying the primary recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant were Abraham and Christ. This, of course, would include every single Believer in Christ Jesus, which means all Believers are recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant. The promise is not realized in the Jews. Why. For now there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. Here Paul calls “the church” the Israel of God. In his letters he has emphasized Abraham’s true seed is not by racial descent but by faith (alone) (Galatians 3:7, 9, 29; Romans 2:28-29, 9:6; Philippians 3:3). The gospel is all about Jesus Christ and His work of the cross and not national Israel. Those who believe the gospel are in Christ Jesus and thus are the “true people of God” in this dispensation.
(To be continued)
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