By Leslie M. Grant
The abrupt style with which Paul opens this epistle is an index of all that follows. There is all through a firmness of purpose in maintaining a single object, a tenacity that will not allow the subject at hand to be lost sight of. If on occasion he turns aside to enlarge on a point that arises, it is only to add to the strength of his argument, so that at the end a subject heart is left without question -- is subdued by the overwhelming force of solid truth. Indeed, Paul is attacking the in-subjection of heart, the unbrokenness of spirit, the self-assurance of pride that is so evident in legal-minded people.
The assemblies of Galatia had been turned aside by some who taught the withering doctrine that Christians are to maintain their salvation by keeping the law of Moses. Law-keeping flatters one's self-importance, as though he is able to do what only the grace of God can do for anyone. It robs from the Lord Jesus Christ the credit that must be absolutely and only His for accomplishing the eternal blessing of believing sinners by means of His unique and perfect sacrifice. It is no wonder that Paul speaks so earnestly and decisively in denouncing this teaching that so dishonors Christ and flatters mere humans.
The New King James Version is used in this commentary, except in a few instances, where an alternative translation may be used, mainly the accurate translation of J.N.Darby which will be indicated by the initials (JND)
INTRODUCTION: PAUL'S CREDENTIALS
Paul writes as an apostle, a sent-one entrusted by God to carry an authoritative message to which Christians must fully bow. "Not from men" (v.1). No human instrumentality was responsible for his gift of apostle: it was a communication directly from God. "Nor through man." This effectively disposes of both man's pretense of conferring gift and of his assumed right to appoint or ordain for ministry. Yet some, while acknowledging that God alone bestows gift as He pleases, still reserve the right to allow the exercise of such gift only when the minister has been ordained or appointed by them. With Paul this would be an interference he could not tolerate, for it is a direct attack on the action and authority of God in directing His work. There is nothing that insists more strongly on subjection to authority than does the grace of God, for it subdues the soul with a confession of personal nothingness, not merely demanding obedience, but supplying the willing motive for submission to the only self- sufficient One.
The question to be met is one of doctrinal evil, not simply the lack of understanding concerning the absolute deliverance accomplished by grace alone, but the avowed claim or doctrine held that the maintenance of one's salvation depends on obedience to law. Thus, though little realized as this, the authority of God is displaced by the authority of law. The conscience, content to be at some distance from God, sets up a standard for conduct that necessarily comes short of the standard of God's character Every latitude then is given for the entrance of deceit and selfishness to regulate the standard, for man will always put his own interpretation on rules for conduct. But there is no mistaking the character of God by one who dwells in His presence.
Hence, Paul's apostleship is not an inheritance of the previous legal dispensation: it is "by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead" (v.1). Not a word here is superfluous. The revelation of God in the person of Christ, manifesting Him as Father, is distinctly a contrast to Judaism which could never bring God into the light. Grace has caused the display of the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of Christ from among the dead is the introduction of an entirely new order of things. Law did not raise Him: it only put Him to death for our sins, but after that it had absolutely no dominion over Him (Rom.7:1). Law could claim nothing, for its claims have been met in His death. He was "raised from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Rom.6:4), the power that far exceeds that of law, into a position of glory where law has no place, sin has no place, death has no place. Legalism (trying to maintain order by law-keeping) can never consistently acknowledge a resurrection from among the dead, though it may admit a resurrection of the dead. Hence a consistent legalist rejects the resurrection of Christ and consequently the deity of Christ also. It is a dreadful position for anyone to take now that Christ has come. True, it is the attempted mixture of law and grace that is reproved in this epistle, but once the meaning and application of each is clearly understood, both expose the utter inconsistency and actual impossibility of such a mixture. Either we must place ourselves in subjection to Christ or in professed subjection to law: we cannot do both at once: "No one can serve two masters" (Mt.6:24).
In no other epistle does Paul associate with himself in approval of his message "all the brethren" who were with him (v.2). It is a plain insistence on the urgency of the message: he had the full concurrence of all the brethren. The Galatians could hardly claim the place of brethren unless they also acknowledged the truth of the epistle, for it is addressed to the assemblies of Galatia, a proof of the already widespread grip the evil had gained. It was not simply a matter of a tendency in one assembly, but had affected all in the region of Galatia.
Paul's greeting is nevertheless precious -- one such as law could never give. Grace is a contrast to law in its principle. Peace has been made by the blood of the cross of Christ, after law exposed only strife and enmity. Now, God is known as Father: He was not thus known under law. The Lord Jesus Christ is known as He who "gave Himself for our sins." Law gave nothing: it demanded there should be no sins and condemned the sinner. What a contrast in the Lord Jesus Christ and His one perfect sacrifice that takes away sins! What infinite, undeserved love and grace! It was this love and grace that brought Him down, not any stern requirement of law, but pure grace.
Moreover, His giving Himself for our sins was not with the purpose of improving our condition or circumstances of life in the world. It was not to make us more at ease in enjoying the things of this world, but "that He might deliver us out of this present evil world" (v.4). We are saved not merely from judgment, but for glory, to enjoy the presence of our adorable Lord and Savior forever. Law could tell us how to act in the world, but could not give us an inheritance outside of the world. Only Christ can receive the honor for so marvelous a work.
The source of Christ's energy in this great work was the will of God and our Father. Perfect unselfishness and perfect, active love going out toward sinners was there. More than this, He delighted to do the Father's will. A sense of duty did not impel Him, but a holy, unblemished devotedness to the Father, manifested in submission to, and a deep heartfelt rejoicing in, His will.
In this brief salutation, God is spoken of as Father three times, "to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (v.5). How pregnant with meaning is every word: not one shred of glory attaches to man's capabilities or accomplishments. The will of God the Father has triumphed gloriously.
THE GALATIAN'S PERVERSION
The Galatians had before acknowledged the sovereignty of God in the gospel. They had heard the call of God to bring them into the grace of Christ, and at that time the joy of beholding the face of God in Christ had been blessedly manifest in their unfeigned love toward Paul (ch.4:13-15). Well might Paul marvel at their so soon changing to another gospel, which indeed he hastens to insist is not another, but a perversion of the only true gospel (good news) of Christ. His charge is most serious, and he makes no hesitation in it: they were changing from God to this perversion of the gospel. There was likely no thought of such a thing in their minds. They were probably quite sincere in believing they were honoring God in the belief that by means of their obedience to the law of Moses they would maintain their standing before God, that is, keep themselves saved by their good works. Paul exposes it in no uncertain terms. The real effect of the perversion, which he plainly discerns, is to eventually leave God out altogether, and to make the law the basis of blessing. On this basis, if I claim to be obeying the law, this only puffs up my pride. If I have a somewhat honest conscience, I shall be discouraged and bereft of hope because of my inwardly corrupt condition and my failure to obey the Law as I know I should.
God's call had been "into the grace of Christ." If the Galatians sought God's will, let it be Christ before their souls. If one ignores Him, he might engage in any useless speculation as to the means of pleasing God, but only Christ Himself is God's standard for righteousness. Hence, we have here also "the gospel of Christ," not as in Romans, "the gospel of God." It is the same gospel, but in Romans (there being no questioning of its character) it is looked at as coming from God as its source. But Galatians insists upon Christ as the only means, the only One by whom the true gospel can come. That name of perfect holiness and truth casts aside everything that is of the flesh as utter weakness, vanity and evil. Hence, it offends the pride of man, for man's pride is the real secret of every perversion of the gospel.
THE DIVINE WARNING
Little wonder then that we find here the exceedingly solemn, yet deliberate pronouncement, "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." The truth of God allows for no respect of persons. Paul says in effect, "If I myself were to change my message, you would be responsible to refuse me, for I would fall under the curse of God." "Or an angel from heaven!" Is there a claim, a profession of a new revelation from God which throws a different light on the gospel? Let the one who brings it be accursed; for even though such were an angel from heaven, it is not the voice of God! How dreadful a condemnation of Mormonism, Christian Science (falsely so-called) and many other human or satanic inventions that pervert the gospel! Supernatural manifestations are commonly regarded as only coming from God, but even a fallen angel preaching another gospel is immediately the object of the curse of God. Satanic power is supernatural too.
Are there those who question the seriousness of that which is here said? Well, the Spirit of God, through Paul, repeats this solemn warning, not in the exaggerated fervor of an excited imagination, but in the cool, firm deliberation of a heart and conscience that bows to, and is persuaded by, the truth. In his first warning, Paul associates himself with the brethren with him; in the second, his pronouncement Is sealed with his apostolic authority, unmistakably, decidedly.
Paul didn't seek to satisfy people, but God. If pleasing people is made my object in anything, I am certainly not the servant of Christ in that thing. People want the flesh (our sinful nature inherited from Adam) pampered, but nothing less than the judgment of the flesh can satisfy God. Paul would not intentionally attempt to displease anyone, for that would be equally wrong. But the eternal glory of God, the exaltation of Christ as infinitely above all others, must be paramount to one called as a servant of God.
THE GOSPEL AND ITS MESSENGER SENT BY GOD
The gospel that Paul preached, he categorically assures the Galatians, is not according to man. Indeed, it is entirely contrary to human thoughts naturally, for it emanates from One whose thoughts are, compared with man's, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Isa.55:8-9). There can be no room for speculation as to it. We are shut up to the absolute and full truth of the declared Word of God and must receive it at its face value if we are to receive blessing. Paul didn't learn the gospel by the agency of man, neither was he taught it. Many plausible religious schemes can be composed by clever innovation and drilled into people's intellects until they are thoroughly saturated with it, so as to hotly defend it and contend for it against every protest. Would the Galatians accuse Paul of this? The gospel had not been taught to him. When it is a matter of one's relationship to God, it is no use teaching the flesh. Paul had been given a direct revelation from Jesus Christ. He declares it. Indeed, in his declaration, there is much teaching, but in no case does Paul appeal to the flesh to recognize it, for it is impossible to be understood by the flesh. In fact, admonition reproof and entreaty are more outstanding than is teaching here. Why so? Simply because the Galatians needed more than teaching. They needed a stirring up that might awaken them to the fact of the Spirit's presence and work, with which the flesh has nothing to do (except to oppose). The flesh will not welcome reproof. But if the Spirit of God dwelt in them, they would pay attention and be awakened to a sense of the truth of Paul's words, and bow to them with thanksgiving.
The Galatians had heard of Paul's former conduct before his conversion, conduct which he then considered an occasion of boasting as Philippians 3:4-6 tells us. He was well-grounded in the principles, ceremonies and traditions of Judaism, having learned with utmost diligence until he was completely imbued with the pharisaic spirit of self-righteousness. But this had so influenced him that, as he says, "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 " (vs.13-14).
Was it by the same long, determined process of learning that he came to know the gospel? Indeed not! There is an entire reversal of natural sequence here, "But when it pleased God" (v.15). The intervention of divine power in sovereign electing grace and divine revelation, turned all human learning and wisdom to no account, humbling to the dust the most self-righteous of the Pharisees. Moreover, to make the humiliation complete, he found that God had separated him to the purpose of preaching the gospel, from his very birth (v.15). The words constitute an unreserved confession that all the diligent effort to which he had devoted himself for years, his zeal for learning and for loyalty to the Jews' religion, was but an empty (though ignorant) attempt to thwart the purpose of God. His will was actually opposed to that of God, though doubtless persuading himself that the stronger his will, the more pleasing he was to God! Such is the perversity of the flesh.
God's counsel had separated Paul for God from the time he was in his mother's womb: it is God's counsel and God's grace that must be magnified, not human will and human works. Note also the simplicity and brevity with which Paul sums up the character of the whole revelation: "to reveal His Son in me" (v.16). This is the grand point that throws light on every subject. The glory of that living, exalted person at God's right hand was sufficient in Paul's soul to lower every other consideration, including his heart-engrossing religion, to a very insignificant level. This is what gives full character to the gospel, not the acknowledgment and observance of certain rules, regulations, formalities, ordinances and the like, but the knowledge of a Person who has life in Himself, whose very presence is resplendent light and infinite love. This is a living motive and living power, not a lifeless set of rules. The revelation is given by God in His own time, and made operative in Paul's soul and spirit.
However, there must be expression given to this, for a revelation to the soul within must have its manifestation without. Paul is to preach Christ among the nations. But the preaching of Christ must not in the least degree be limited by the consultations of men. "I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus" (vs.16-17). The truth took control of his conscience, mind and heart. It is not necessary and indeed would be unbelief, to rush to some other Christian to confirm a revelation distinctly given by God, or to decide by conference what would be the limits or significance of the revelation. The Spirit of God had taken possession of Paul for the purpose of revealing the gospel of the glory of Christ. He does not allow His Word to be submitted to the approval of any person. The free operation of the Spirit of God is to be unhindered, for God has spoken.
Intuitively he knew that only God could answer the questions of his heart, so after his conversion he turns into Arabia. He learns alone in the desert as many before him had done. Going to Arabia is surely not without design. Indeed, every converted person finds something of this experience. Arabia (which means mixed) is a land typical of the legal covenant (ch.4:24-25), the demand of law which produces no fruit. Hence, one who is saved, desiring to bring forth fruit for God, seeks to accomplish this by obedience to the requirements of the Law. But God's teaching is that the flesh is evil and cannot bear fruit. Scripture bears abundant testimony to this simple truth, but every Christian must learn it experimentally if he is to know its true meaning. It is a natural desire to mix the work of God with the energy of the flesh, more or less to give God part of the credit, but take a good share for self.
Paul returns again to Damascus, which name means silent is the sackcloth weaver. The Law had wrought its proper work, so Paul now recognized its true place. He says elsewhere, "the law entered that the offense might abound" (Rom.5:20); and again, "that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful" (Rom.7:13). Thus the application of the law to anyone only magnifies the enormity of his guilt. Law, because it condemns sin, calls to repentance, or to use figurative language, to sackcloth -- the symbol of mourning on account of sin, which ought to be the exercise of every child of God. But the result is not continued mourning. Mourning is replaced by the joy of having done with self and law altogether, and having the beauty and glory of Christ filling the soul. The sackcloth weaver is silent: he has done his work.
PAUL AT JERUSALEM
According to Acts 9:19 Paul, immediately following his conversion, "spent some days with the disciples at Damascus," while in the same chapter we are told, "Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him" (v.23). The "certain days" are evidently those before he left to go into Arabia, but the "many days" apparently include the three years he spent in Arabia. Then he went up to Jerusalem, having been let down the wall of Damascus in a basket (Acts 9:25). Jerusalem means the foundation It was the center of God's dealings with Israel and also the place where the Church of God was originated; indeed, the place where our Lord was crucified. So, if the sackcloth weaver is silent -- the work of plowing up the conscience finished with a realization that there can be no peace in looking for inward change in our nature -- there is also a coming to that place which is the true "foundation of peace." This foundation is the righteousness of God, for "the work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever" (Isa.32:17). Preeminently then, it is because Christ was crucified there that Jerusalem has such character. His cross is the means by which the righteousness of God is fully told out, for the cross proves Him a just God and yet the Justifier of the one who believes in Jesus. This is indeed the one place where peace is found. Little wonder that Jerusalem is the center of God's dealings with mankind, the place from which blessing will flow out to the whole earth in a coming day, and the place where the Church was formed by the coming of the Spirit of God.
All this is of vital interest to those who value Scripture as the Word of God, for the perfect consistency of its details in the way those details dovetail together causes a believer to bow in adoring worship and admiration of the divine wisdom that is so unmistakably manifest in this magnificent revelation.
At Jerusalem Paul visited Peter for fifteen days, seeing none other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. It is remarkable that in fifteen days he saw only two apostles, for the apostles had kept quite close to Jerusalem. But this is a solemn insistence of the fact that it was not by combined conference that any decision was made as to what Paul was to teach or not to teach. Sad it is however that it was necessary for Paul to bind this with a solemn declaration of its truth as before God (v.20). Could they not believe him without such insistence? Had he before proven untrustworthy? His words, "I do not lie" raise a serious issue that demands facing. Why do we so often refuse to believe our brethren who minister the truth of God?
Following his first visit to Jerusalem, Paul turned toward Syria and Cilicia, still not known personally to the assemblies in Judea. In all of this Paul was pressing on the Galatians that there was no imitation of others in his ministry and no dependence on others for his apostleship, but that he was distinctly called by God and given a special message from God. The Judean assemblies received the report that their former persecutor now preached what he had violently opposed, and they glorified God in him. Sweet fruit of the grace of God which mightily wrought in them as well as in him!
THE JERUSALEM CONFERENCE
Not until fourteen years later was there any consultation between Paul and the apostles generally. On this occasion (of which Acts 15 gives the history) Paul went with Barnabas, but also took Titus, a Greek, with him. He did this for the purpose of making Titus a test case, being determined that the Gentile Titus was not to be compelled to be circumcised, yet to be fully identified with the Jewish disciples of Christ. Here indeed is a firmness of purpose on the part of Paul which makes any consultation with men of no importance compared to the revelation of God. Why then the conference, if Paul was prepared not to give an inch toward the judaizing party that wanted to bring the Law into the assemblies? The answer is evident. Jerusalem was the place from which Christianity had sprung, and yet the place which, naturally speaking, was the most liable to cling tenaciously to the Law, for the Law had been established there long before Christianity. Moreover, certain men had come from Judea to Antioch, teaching the Gentile brethren that unless they kept the Law of Moses they could not be saved (Acts 15:1). Paul therefore, counting on God to distinctly settle the matter for all the disciples, went to Jerusalem and to those who were apostles before him, not to inquire if he was right, but rather to require a definite stand on the part of the other apostles.
More than this, Paul had gone up by revelation, not for his own satisfaction (v.2). There he communicated privately to those of reputation (the apostles) the gospel that he had long preached among the Gentiles. He didn't come to learn the gospel they preached, but presented his gospel to the others, as well as telling them of the fruit produced among the Gentiles in years now past. Not that his Gospel was contrary to theirs, but rather the same gospel developed in the fullest way, beyond what the Jerusalem apostles had understood. This was sufficient evidence to prove the distinctness of his apostleship as sent by God independently of their authority, and yet in perfect unity with what they taught.
It was boldness on Paul's part to act as he did, taking the matter directly to Jerusalem, and taking Titus with him under such circumstances, but it was by revelation he went. He would not ignore the testimony and ministry of the other apostles, recognizing them as sent by God, but he would be firm in maintaining the truth that God had committed to him. Lest some should think there was contradiction of one ministry in the others, or that Paul had been deficient through lack of instruction by those who were apostles before him, he would face the matter and require a stand, not simply on the part of the Gentiles, or at Antioch, but on the part of the very Jews by whom the resurrection of Christ had first been preached, and at Jerusalem, the stronghold of Judaism in former times.
The latter part of verse 2, "lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain," does not indicate doubt on the apostle's part. But the other apostles must be called upon to face the question of whether Paul's ministry was of God, or had his labors of past years been in vain? There can be no halfway point here for Paul: there must be a definite declaration.
Verse 3 is a parenthesis, where Paul speaks of Titus, being a Greek, not being compelled to be circumcised. So that at that conference, Gentiles were demonstrably not to be put under the Law. This too should have been a lesson for the Galatians.
Verse 4 therefore connects with verse 2, showing why Paul went privately first to those of reputation at Jerusalem. This was because false brethren had been surreptitiously brought in, having the deceitful object of overthrowing the liberty proclaimed by the gospel of Christ in order to again bring Christians into bondage under the Law. It was no misunderstanding of principles that caused them to act thus. Their motives were willfully, deliberately evil -- a strong assertion indeed, but made by the inspiration of the Spirit of God.
Paul would not tolerate such men. He gave them no place whatever in the Christian conference. His clearness of spiritual perception considered even the allowance of the arguments of such men at a Christian conference to be in some measure at least an indication of subjection to them and their Christ dishonoring doctrines. He will not allow the suggestion that there can by any question about it: it would be weakness to honor them with any privilege of negotiation. The truth of the gospel was at stake, and here Paul takes occasion for pointed appeal to the Galatians, that his firm stand was taken for their sakes, "that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (v.5). How earnest, how faithful, how tender was the apostle's heart! Two things deeply engrossed him: the honor of God in an opposing world and the true spiritual welfare of souls. He would fight with utmost energy on behalf of these.
UNITY AMONG THE APOSTLES
In verse 6 we no longer have a question of the judaizers, but of Paul's relationship with the other apostles. The language here is not belittling toward them, but is a frank, straightforward statement of truth. When he says, "whatever they were, it makes no difference to me" (v.6), he adds, "God shows personal favoritism to no man" and hence places himself on the same level, as far as personalities are concerned. The truth does not gain its character from the importance of its messengers. Let the Galatians think of men what they will, yet Paul assures them, "those who seemed to be something added nothing to me." It is an astounding statement! Could those men who had actually lived with the Lord on earth, give nothing to enlighten Paul? No, their knowledge was not greater than his. Indeed, the revelations given to Paul were of a higher character than the gospel the others had preached, for Paul's ministry is connected with Christ ascended, glorified, Head of the new creation and of the Assembly, Great High Priest, and the saints seen in their heavenly relationship to Him. It was God Himself who had chosen this willingly humbled instrument to present these New Testament truths of Christianity.
The other apostles, at this consultation, fully recognized the distinct work of the Spirit of God in Paul, discerning the special administration of the gospel towards the Gentiles committed to him, while Peter was specially gifted with a ministry to meet the need of Jews. Such a radical change from earthly Judaism to a prospect of heavenly glory, as Paul preached, was, as a general rule, too great a step for one brought up in the Jewish faith. Thus, earnest as he was in proclaiming the truth, Paul could make little impression in such places as Jerusalem. Peter's ministry was more calculated to gradually wean the Jewish believer from earthly hopes to those heavenly. Here is the bright shining of the wisdom of God, and at the same time the reminder of the littleness and impotence of the most able of His servants.
The Galatians had not been devotees of Judaism, so there was no excuse for their attempted mixture of principles. Once a believer has known the liberty of the gospel, it is a dreadfully serious backward step to attempt to mix liberty with the principles of law. We know all too well that at the present time the Gentiles, to whom God never gave the Law, have imported it into many systems that boast the name of Christianity. Awful indeed is such presumption, perhaps through blindness, but all too often through willful blindness.
While acknowledging the persons that God uses, naming them and giving them their distinct place, the Spirit of God ever impresses on us the truth evident in verse 8, that it is God's work, and He operates as and through whom He wills. As to authority, the person is altogether set aside; yet the message as distinctly given by God, carries an authority far higher and more compulsory than any number of people (even the most godly) could give it. Verse 8 then implies that every believer is bound to recognize the distinctness of the ministries of Peter and Paul and not to disparage either of them, but rather to submit to the truths God reveals by both. It is a principle of God's Word that God dispenses His gifts distinctly and with liberty as He will. We too easily allow a message to be affected by how favorably we view the personality of the messenger.
There is great beauty in verse 9. The ministry of Paul is unreservedly approved by James, Peter and John (recognized as pillars of Christianity) with no suggestion of envy and no thought of limiting, qualifying or adding to Paul's distinctive ministry. The other apostles recognize its marks of distinctness as the marks of God, and the result is a thorough, wholehearted fellowship expressed in no uncertain terms. Sweet indeed is this unity, which, in holy subjection under the hand of God, can be manifested in such diversity! But nothing of the flesh can enter here, or this would only cause confusion. How good to see that here is the liberty of the Spirit of God, active, not only in Paul's ministry, but in the attitude of the other apostles, a liberty which yet produces the utmost unity. The right hand of fellowship is given to Paul and Barnabas.
How blessed it is for us to contemplate this Christian unity which is in such contrast to our own day of ungodly decline, when the profession of the truth and lofty claim of being sent by God is so often accompanied by a spirit of pride and independency! All must be tested by the truth, though it may be a difficult thing to discern error in regard to all who preach, for Satan has today multiplied his mischievous devices. But we must cling to the fact that the foundation stands (2 Tim.2:19). Nothing can destroy the beauty of the liberty and unity that was known among the apostles. There it remains recorded in the Word of God; and of the same is not manifested among the saints today, there is no excuse. We have dismally failed, but the truth has not.
"They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing that I also was eager to do" (v.10). How strikingly beautiful in such an epistle is this desire of James, Peter and John, for it is the effect of the grace of God known and enjoyed. This is another contrast to mere law-keeping, for the Law gave nothing: it only demanded. Paul fully identified with this lovely grace, which is one of the special marks of Christianity. God gave His own beloved Son, and the reality of our knowledge of Him is proven by our having the same attitude of mercy, grace and kindness toward others.
PAUL WITHSTANDS PETER
Verse 11 introduces another matter which Paul faces with admirable candor. He withstood Peter openly when Peter, at Antioch, fearing the attitude of Jews who had come down from Jerusalem, desisted from eating with Gentile believers. The words used here are striking and straightforward: "withdrew," "separated," "hypocrisy." How solemn a departure from "the unity of the Spirit!" Peter ate with believing Gentiles before the Jews came from James (in Jerusalem), but when they came, he withdrew from the Gentiles to avoid the disapproval of the Jews. Thus the unity that had been blessedly expressed in the consultation at Jerusalem, was in practice denied, merely because of Peter's fear of those Jews who clung to the pride of Jewish religious distinction. When Peter acted in such a way, other Jews also followed his hypocrisy. Even Barnabas, Paul's companion in labor among the Gentiles, was carried away by this hypocrisy. It was a strong current, a subtle snare, for Peter was held in reputation; and the greater one's reputation for godliness, the more harm he will do by example if he turns aside. There is certainly nothing for religious tradition to cling to here, in support of the claim of Peter's absolute authority in the early Church. He would be a poor rock indeed for the foundation of the Church of God. His name, Peter, only means "a stone," while "the Rock" is Christ (1 Cor.10:4). It will not do to give any person a place that belongs only to the Lord of glory.
Paul was not intimidated by Peter's person or action. To Paul the respecting of persons was vanity. Paul spoke very plainly in his reproof of Peter, for with God-given discernment he "saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (v.14). Paul therefore addressed Peter before all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of the Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (vs.14-16). The forms of Judaism had been largely given up by the disciples, though not entirely. But there was a decided separation between them and the Jews who still clung to Judaism: the latter persecuted the former, who had, in fact, broken traditional barriers by associating and eating with Gentiles. Thus, by practice, the disciples acknowledged themselves on a Level with Gentiles: they lived as did the nations. Peter himself, freed from the bondage of the Law, had practiced the liberty of the gospel by living as the Gentiles.
Why then would Peter compel the Gentiles to conform to judaistic custom in order to be accorded full Christian fellowship? It was an entire reversal of behavior, the principle being that of leaving Christianity and returning to Judaism. Paul would have the line drawn with thorough distinctness. Let Judaism keep its place and give Christianity its own distinctive place.
"We," Paul says, "who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles" (v.15). He speaks of what might be an occasion for their boasting (he himself being a Jew), but they had been enlightened to know that no person is justified on the principle of works of law. This took the whole foundation from under the feet of those who made the Law their support. It is the thorough destruction of confidence in the flesh, reducing all people to a common level of spiritual impotence and nothingness. The principle for justification must only be the faith of Jesus Christ. Those Jews had believed in Jesus Christ in order to be justified by the faith of Christ, not by works of law.
But the Gentiles present had also believed in Jesus Christ. What was the difference then? None, unless old things, fleshly and vain, were revived. Had not these been done away in the cross? But if they did revive the old things, they were in effect confessing themselves to have sinned in ever turning from them. If a person sought to be justified by Christ, turning from the Law as a means of justification, and then again turned back to the Law, it would in effect be saying not only that he had sinned, but that Christ Himself was responsible for that sin. "Is Christ therefore a minister of sin?" Paul instantly repudiates the thought as abhorrent.
Peter and the other disciples had never thought of leaving Christ to return to Judaism, but that was nevertheless the principle they had acted on. Paul exposes the effect of such a principle if carried out to its ultimate end. We do well to use this method of testing every practice. It would reveal to us a solemn lack of consistency in many things.
"For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor" (v.18). If I was not a transgressor in destroying, then I am certainly a transgressor in rebuilding. If one was not a transgressor in giving up Judaism for Christ, then how can he ever dare to go back to Judaism again?
"For I through the law have died to the law, that I might live to God" (v.19). The Old Testament shows that the Law, because it was broken, invariably demanded death, though its promise was, "do this and you will live" (Lk.10:28). The Law protects a perfectly righteous person, but condemns the one who disobeys in the least degree. Hence, it condemns all except Him "who committed no sin" (1 Pet.2:22). The law demanded sacrifice, and said, "It is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Lev.17:11). Law is "the ministry of death," "the ministry of condemnation" (2 Cor.3:7,9). The Law closes every mouth and brings all the world under judgment to God (Rom.3:21). There is no escaping its sentence: death must be executed: blood must be shed.
But the believer may rejoice that he is dead to the Law. Its sentence has been executed for him. He hasn't died physically, but Another has died in his place. Christ, his Lord and Savior, has fulfilled entirely the Law's demand of death. (Christ has also borne the sins of the believer, of course, but that is not the point here.) The law's demand against me was death. Christ has taken my place and borne that sentence; therefore the law reckons that I have died and it will never make a claim against a dead person. Thus, it is "through the law" - its utmost judgment having been carried out - that I am dead to the Law. The Law itself declares that it can have no more to say in my case: as far as it is concerned, I have died.
Still, I have died "that I might live" (v.19). The flesh, condemned by the law, and having been put to death at the death of Christ (Rom.6:6), is out of the question now. I can only abhor the flesh when I see the agony that Christ has borne for my sake on account of sin. But knowing that the Law now demands nothing from me, and I am delivered outside of its sphere altogether by One whose love led Him to death, I certainly do not live "unto law." I do not attempt to fulfill obligations I never can and which Christ has already fulfilled in His death. Rather, the place I am given is such "that I might live to God."
"Though crucified with Christ" (judicially of course), yet Paul knows he has life, but recognizes nothing of himself in it: "Christ lives in me" (v.20). This is the language of one who has learned his utter nothingness, being humbled to see there is no life, no source of goodness, except in Christ Himself. Christ is risen, and it is the power of this resurrection life that operates in the believer, causing the heart to well up in admiration of Him, ascribing every good thought, word and deed to Christ who lives in him. Blessed attitude of faith! The old life is set aside as worthless, not that it is eradicated, for practically speaking we have much occasion to be humbled by its sinful workings. But in God's sight it is done away with, and we are to reckon ourselves dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom.6:11). This is a matter of faith, not of feeling or experience, though when recognized by faith there will surely be an experimental understanding of it to follow. It will be made a real thing to the soul.
How is it made real? Only by faith! "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (v.20). It is not simply a matter of being justified by faith (a grand truth also), but of living by faith. Christianity does not give its converts a creed or a set of rules by which to be regulated. Rather, it fixes the heart and eyes simply upon Christ. He is its Standard: there could be none higher, and a lower one (whether the Law, or whatever else) could never suit the heart of God. Sweet it is when a believer learns to act simply because of what Christ is and what He has done, out of a true desire to please Him. This is faith. The last clause too, "the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." is uniquely touching, giving the incentive for the activity of faith, for it is the language both of faith and affection wrought personally in the soul. This is never the heart-language of a legal-minded person.
A legal attitude attempts to frustrate (or set aside) the grace of God. Paul will do no such thing, nor allow the principle of law to be mixed with the principle of grace, for "if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died in vain" (v.21). Law could never produce righteousness: grace alone has done this by virtue of the cross. If I dare to suggest any other means of healing my unrighteousness than through the cross of Christ, if I dare to think I can gain or maintain a righteous standing before God on the ground of law-keeping, I am saying in effect that it was useless for Christ to have died! Yet, this is exactly what many professed Christians are guilty of, although they don't realize it. If it is not Christ alone to whom one clings for safety, how dangerous is the ground!
FAITH IS THE ONE PRINCIPLE OF BLESSING
"0 foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?" (v.1). Little wonder, as Paul considers the principles and tremendous issues involved, that he speaks out in words of earnest remonstrance and entreaty. Had it not been portrayed before their very eyes, preached with diligent insistence, that Jesus Christ had been crucified? Would they again exchange the blessedness and joy of the knowledge of the Son of God, who had willingly given Himself for them, for the hard, cold requirements of the Law that could give nothing? Would they lightly turn away from the sight of the bitter agony of Calvary's cross and from the sight of the world's most respected professors of law keeping (Scribes and Pharisees, etc.) pouring contempt, insult and injury upon the Son of God? Would they turn from His cry of tender compassion from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Lk.23:34) or from the heartrending cry of pain and anguish, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mt.27:46). Nothing can be so dreadful as turning away from Christ. Nowhere else is there a ray of hope. It is choosing darkness rather than light, death rather than life. Of course, it had not come to this with the Galatians (and indeed God would not allow it to go to such an extent with any believer) but Paul is not careless in warning them what estrangement of heart from Christ might lead to, for he was alarmed in regard to what sort of attitude they might eventually hold toward Christ if the Law assumed a place of importance in their eyes.
Moreover, Paul brings in the characteristic blessing of Christianity, a blessing altogether distinctive, unknown under Judaism, the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. How had this come about? Had they received Him by the works of the Law? Had their faithfulness and diligence in obeying the Law caused God to be obliged to send the Holy Spirit to indwell them? Even perfect law-keeping could never induce or deserve that! Then don't expect the poor, weak efforts of a corrupt and sinful nature to draw the Spirit of God from heaven to earth!
Only on the ground of accomplished redemption could it be possible for God to come down to dwell with and in men and women. That God has done this is almost beyond comprehension! It is the work of God, and thus should be held fast and maintained against all opposition at whatever cost. Law had nothing to do with it. God, by His own power and grace, altogether apart from any human agency, had introduced a new dispensation, a new means of dealing with mankind. The dispensation of law was replaced by the dispensation of the grace of God, in other words, a new administration, for under the administration of law, humanity had shown itself totally corrupt and unable to produce fruit for God.
A serious issue is raised here. Paul contrasts "the works of the law" to "the hearing of faith" (v.2). Works and hearing are here opposed to each other. Hearing supposes quietness and attention, therefore ceasing from works. How good to be subdued and to listen to the voice of our God rather than to be busily engaged in seeking to show our ability or importance. Faith is connected with hearing, law with works. Faith attributes everything to God, nothing to the flesh, but he who clings to the Law claims the opposite and ignores the Spirit altogether.
"Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (v.3). Can we expect a new-born baby to grow if we change his diet from milk to straw? Will one grow spiritually by feeding the flesh? It is astounding, yet solemnly true, that one may by the Spirit of God confess Jesus as Lord, thereby condemning the flesh, and yet afterward practice fleshly boasting in his initial confession by which he had judged the flesh! Such is the treachery of the flesh, that it will boast in a work it had nothing to do with. When the heart begins to stray from the place of nearness to the Lord, its attitude almost invariably becomes legalistic, not doctrinally perhaps, at first, but such doctrine soon follows the attitude as a means of bolstering or justifying the attitude. The Galatians had begun by submitting to and rejoicing in the work of God. They then turned around to attach all importance to their own work!
Again, why had they suffered persecution for Christ? (v.4). It would be plainly foolish to deny the flesh if the flesh had any ability to please God. Their suffering had not been for keeping the Law, but for Christ. Was this in vain?
Moreover, what of those who had "ministered the Spirit?" (v.5 - KJV) -- gifted men who were the vessels by whom the Holy Spirit was manifested among them, and -through whose ministry the Holy Spirit had worked in their hearts. Was it obedience to law that produced such ministry, or was it the hearing of faith? Certainly only faith receives a revelation from God.
Abraham (in whom the Jews boasted as the father of their race, while also boasting in the Law) is taken as an example and proof of God's work which independent of any principle of law (v.6). Before the Law was given Abraham was counted righteous because he believed God. Was the Law given to cancel that righteousness? If they boasted in the Law, they were actually denying their relationship to Abraham, for he was justified by faith. If they didn't have faith, they were not children of Abraham. Abraham believed God; hence those who have faith are children of Abraham.
The Jewish question was clearly decided, which also effectively settled the question for Gentiles, for "the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, in you all the nations shall be blessed" (v.8). The promise of blessing to Gentiles was to Abraham, not to Moses, and it was also an unconditional promise, just as the promise to Jews (through Abraham) was unconditional. Note in this verse there is importance attached to Scripture that is measured only by the importance of God Himself: Scripture foresaw God's justification of the Gentiles on the principle of faith, and declared it as early as Genesis 12. If the critics deny Genesis as inspired by God, this one verse displays their shame and folly, for their denial is a denial of God.
"So then" -- it is established before the law is taken up -- "those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham" (v.9).
THE LAW'S CURSE IN CONTRAST TO FAITH'S BLESSING
What a contrast then is the blessing of faith in verse 9 to the curse of the Law in verse 10. Israel under the Law was therefore under the curse, and anyone now who puts himself under the Law is also under the curse. Why? Because those under the Law are told, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law, to do them." The test of law has proved all guilty, so if there is to be blessing, it must entirely depend on God's promise.
The argument concerning Abraham and the Law is on Old Testament ground, for the blessing is viewed as a promise, not as fulfilled. In Christianity the blessing is already accomplished by the death of Christ. Ephesians enters largely into this, as for example Ephesians 1:3, "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." "He chose us in Him" (v.4). "He made us accepted in the Beloved" (v.6). "We have redemption through His blood" (v.7). "We have obtained an inheritance" (v.11). These established facts are apprehended by faith in the present day, but they are facts consistent with the promises to Abraham, though revealed in a different manner than might have been expected.
At any rate, the Law pronounced a curse against all who had anything to do with it, for it could justify only those who continued in all things written in the law, without a single infraction. Who would dare claim this perfection of life? None can! But faith procured the blessing! Those of faith are blessed; those of the works of the Law are under the curse.
Paul does not attempt to prove the enormity of man's guilt, though in Romans this is fully exposed. Instead of comparing mankind by the measure of the Law to expose his state subjectively, Galatians rather summarily makes the matter one of the declarations of the Word of God. For any who accepted the Old Testament (as the Galatians did), the evidence is conclusive, "the just shall live by faith" (Heb.2:4). If we say we live by the Law, we are virtually denying the law, for the whole Old Testament is designated as the law of God.
"Yet the Law is not of faith, but the man who does them shall live by them" (v.12). If a person's works were thoroughly consistent with the Law, he would live by this means (on earth of course, for this is the question here), and would have himself to thank for his life. No faith would be required, for God would not be directly involved. But God had said, "The just shall live by faith." The latter part of verse 12 does not concern the just at all, but "the man who does."
THE LAW FULFILLED IN CHRIST
The marvelous revelation of the New Testament to those who, having been under the Law, had now trusted Christ, was a complete and unqualified deliverance. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree)" (v.13). The Law was not belittled: it was fulfilled at the unspeakably awful cost of the curse resting upon the holy, guiltless head of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Law demanded (or imposed) a curse. Christ has borne it in His own body on the tree, exhausting its utmost wrath and terror. Well might we, subdued and enraptured, gaze long and meditatively back upon that scene of unfathomed woe and sorrow. It was the darkest night of earth's dark history, to behold Him bearing that dreadful curse, alone, the light of God withdrawn, so that from the depths of His soul poured forth that cry, "My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?" (Mt.27:46).
Can it be possible that anyone could spend even a short time in reflection upon this great work of Christ and yet maintain a stand of self-righteousness? It is only the deceit and vanity of man to ignore the contemplation of such a scene and occupy his mind with his own doings and capabilities. The lack of meditation upon the cross of Christ is immediately exposed by the lack of a chastened, broken spirit. Verse 13 might well be regarded as the central verse of Galatians. It beautifully clears the way for the perfect and unqualified fulfillment of "the blessing of Abraham" (v.14).
If Christ is to be the means of blessing to Gentiles, He must be in a different relationship than that which law involved, or "the blessing of Abraham" could never "come upon the Gentiles." Hence, the very fact that Christ was born under the law demanded that He must be cursed, suffering the death of the cross, then be raised again in order that Gentiles might be blessed. John 12:20-24 indicates this, when Gentiles wanted to see Jesus, and were told that He must fall into the ground and die before bringing forth much fruit. Gentiles could only "see" Him in that new relationship. On the other hand, the fact that Israel had broken the law under which He came, demanded that He must be cursed if Israel was to be blessed.
The curse of the Law has been borne. Perfect, eternal redemption has been accomplished. The blessing of Abraham -- blessing promised by God and received on the principle of faith -- flows out freely to Jews and to Gentiles alike through Jesus Christ, and faith receiving it, has received also "the promise of the Spirit" (v.14).
The primary application of the promise of the Holy Spirit is millennial. The Old Testament promises are quite clear as to this. In fact, those promises will be seen to refer only to Israel in almost every case, one exception being Joel 2:28-29: "I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh." But even here, if the context is carefully examined, this will also be seen to refer directly to the Millennium. Yet in Acts 2:16-21 Peter applies the prophecy in Joel to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. There is no inconsistency here, for Peter does not insist that Pentecost was the ultimate in the fulfillment of that prophecy. This Old Testament prophecy is not at all a promise to the Church, since there is no promise to the Church as such in the Old Testament. It was to Jews first, and by implication to Gentiles. The ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy can be only realized in the coming earthly kingdom. But the blessing of the Holy Spirit then, is now foreshadowed in the Holy Spirit's presence in the Church.
We today have much more than a shadow of the Holy Spirit's presence, for the Christian has the Holy Spirit in the fullest possible sense, yet His coming at Pentecost was a distinct shadowing of the future perfect fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. The attendant circumstances of Joel's prophecy have never as yet been seen, while the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has accomplished a great deal that was never promised in prophecy. Today, by the Spirit's coming, we are blessed with God's building of the spiritual house, the Church; the baptizing of all believers into one body; the annulling of racial and other distinctions in the Church; the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles; and the giving of access through Christ to God, known and enjoyed as "Father" (Ephesians 2-3).
The unchanging, unchangeable principle insisted on in Galatians is that of blessing only on the basis of faith, especially as contrasted to the ground of the Law which resulted only in cursing.
GOD'S UNCHANGEABLE COVENANT (OR CONTRACT)
In verse 15 Paul draws an illustration from man's everyday business affairs. A contract confirmed by signatures (signed, sealed and delivered) is not allowed to be annulled or added to. When one's word is in this way pledged, law binds him to it, allowing no retractions or additions. "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made" (v.16). If humans allow no changes in their contracts, how much less God!
"He does not say, and to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to your Seed, who is Christ." There is a fine yet beautiful distinction in connection with these promises that is not readily discerned by the casual reader of Genesis, and which likely escaped the attention of Jewish scholars as they searched the Scriptures. The information in our verse 16 is taken from Genesis 22:17-18. Note first as to Abraham himself, "blessing I will bless you." The next clause is distinct from the first: it does not speak of blessing, but "Multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore." This implies a numerous seed, not simply "as of one." But added to this, "In your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." We today see immediately that this last can refer only to Christ, and it is to this that Paul refers. It does not deny the multiplied seed, but it makes definite that the promise of blessing was not to the numerous seed as such, but to the one Seed Christ, through whom alone blessing could flow.
This unconditional covenant of God (unconditional because it is "in Christ"), first given to Abraham, had been confirmed 430 years before the Law was given. The confirmation was not to Abraham (for the time does not correspond) but to Jacob, as plainly stated in Psalm 105:10. God would have us understand that there is no lack of due deliberation and perfect knowledge of all circumstances, past, present and future, when He pledged His word. The intervening time between the giving of the covenant and its confirmation was certainly sufficient to expose the unworthiness of the recipients of promise. Of course, God's Word is sufficient for faith: it stands eternally. But how compassionate He is that He would confirm the covenant for the assurance of His undeserving people.
The Law in no way repudiates, annuls or modifies the promise long before confirmed. If law was the basis of securing the inheritance, promise is entirely out of the question. But God gave it to Abraham by promise, a principle altogether distinct and apart from law.
WHY WAS THE LAW ADDED?
"What purpose then does the Law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (v.19). Law was not added as a condition placed on the former covenant (for that would be legally and morally wrong), but as a step toward the fulfillment of promise, a step which both disposed of every attempted claim of mankind and established the truth that any blessing to come was entirely dependent on God Himself. Thus the coming of the Seed -- the fulfillment of promise -- was the conclusive proof that the Law was merely a parenthesis, having nothing to do with the promise.
Moreover, the Law "was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator" (v.19). As Stephen says in Acts 7:53, the Jews had "received the law by the direction of angels." Paul, in Hebrews 2:2 speaks of "the word spoken through angels" in connection with the Law. God Himself could not possibly be known nor come near to mankind apart from redemption, so He used His creatures, the angels, to administer the Law, signifying that there was a distance between God and sinful mankind. As a mediator, Moses emphasizes this distance, and he was a witness to the agreement of both principals -- God and the people. The people declared "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Ex.19:8), and God promised great blessing on earth if they would obey His Law. Hence, this was a legal, contractual agreement, but conditional on Israel's obedience, with both parties dealing by proxy, but with no coming together of God and the people. Law always keeps a great distance between God and the people: grace gives the greatest intimacy.
"Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one" (v.20). The mediator was the go-between and the witness of the agreement of two parties: this is the covenant of law. "But God is one." Grace gives the people no place whatever in the accomplishment of the blessing. God alone the Blesser, and He will not give any of His glory to another. We are thoroughly humbled, but infinitely blessed because God has His true place. Nothing is dependent on the creature. There are no legal terms of agreement, no business deals in which the capability of man figures, no angels to administer, no mere sinful man as mediator. God has worked, and who shall stay His hand or bind Him with conditions? If a mediator is spoken of now, it is a sinless Man who is God Himself (1 Tim.2:5), the One who has finished the work of redemption by the sacrifice of Himself.
Is there contradiction then in law and promise? Is law a denial of promise? No! If it were even possible that the Law could give life -- could give the blessing proposed by promise -- then righteousness should have been by the Law, not by gift from God (Rom.5:17). If so, human righteousness would be independent of God's grace.
But it could not be, not simply was not so, but could not be so, for Scripture had before concluded all to be under sin, and Scripture cannot be broken. Psalms 14 and 53 and Isaiah 59 clearly declare this. Law proves all to be sinners and confirms the Scripture, hence bears testimony to the perfect sovereignty, wisdom and foreknowledge of God which was not hindered in operation simply because man had not previously been measured by the Law. God measured him long before the Law did. All then are "confined under sin," virtual prisoners unable to free themselves, so that God's promise appropriated by faith is the only possible means of relief and blessing. But this is given only to those who receive it as such, to all who believe (v.22).
Scripture had confined all under sin. Then the Law, which exercised its authority over Israel, only confined them the more conclusively unto faith, that is, faith was the only avenue of escape from their bondage to sin and to the Law. Law gave no hope of escape, but tended to increase the misery of confinement. Faith is the only door to escape from sin and from the Law, but a door thrown wide open in Christ and His accomplished redemption.
"So that the law has been our tutor up to Christ" (v.24 - JND). The teacher and all he teaches is only a means to an end. He should of course strive with earnest energy to put his pupils on the right track, but he has completely failed in his proper function if those pupils settle down indefinitely in subjection to him and dependence on him. His teaching ought to make them independent of his help. Such is the true function of the law: it directs toward Christ. It is a powerful teacher to those who honestly listen to it. It will teach how urgent is our need for Christ. It will drive one to a deep sense of the ruin that sin has caused and of the consequent need of One who is able to cleanse from sin, the Lord Jesus Christ. It does not bring us to Christ, but was in authority in Israel "up to Christ." Christ was its end in view. Law pointed away from itself to Christ, who, now being revealed, is the Object of the faith that justifies. The Law was the signpost that has fulfilled its purpose.
Now that Christ has come, faith has come, faith being the principle that makes one exclusively dependent on God known in Christ. Why then put legal restraints on one who has learned what it is to walk by individual faith in the living God? The tutor is needed no longer.
NOT NOW PUPILS, BUT SONS AND HEIRS
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (v.26). The word here in the Greek is "sons," not "children," which gives a beautiful distinctness to the line of thought. The first seven verses of Chapter 4 are a development of this verse. As it will be noticed in chapter 4:2-3, the word child implies immaturity and learning under subjection, as a servant. Son however denotes a distinct position of freedom and dignity, no longer requiring legal restraints and prohibitions, but able to be entrusted with responsibility apart from rules and regulations. Thus, all true believers are sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus, a principle that brings in personal initiative and developed by the work of God in the soul, the outflow, in fact, of simply believing God and His testimony concerning His Son Jesus Christ.
The decisive question for the Galatians is this: has their position been changed by conversion to Christ? Are they still on the old legal ground, or on new? What did their baptism to Christ imply? They had been baptized unto Christ, and in so doing had "put on Christ" (v.27). In fact, baptism is in itself a sign of burial, and baptism unto Christ is baptism "to his death" (Rom.6:3). Hence, baptism is a striking picture of the setting aside of the old legal position by means of the death of Christ. I acknowledge by being baptized that the death of Christ has ended the first creation for me. By this I in figure put off the old garment and "put on Christ." This does not mean receiving Christ into the heart, or it would be a strong verse for the deluded advocates of new birth by water baptism. But it is outwardly putting on Christ as a garment. If I have done this, and then go back to law as a rule of life, I loudly proclaim that I was wrong in ever being baptized unto Christ.
The Galatians did not mean to proclaim this, but were acting in pathetic inconsistency with their baptism. They sought to mix the fabric of the old garment (law) with that of the new (Christ). But only let them read the law itself, and the clear prohibition faces them: "You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together" (Dt.22:11). Let them be honest: they are shut up to either one or the other: there can be no mixture.
The new position is an entire contrast to the old. The old maintained strictest barriers between Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female. The new disposes of all such barriers (v.28). This refers to the position of blessing. before God: it does not interfere with natural relationships and God's government in the world. A man is still a man in his responsibility to God, a woman a woman; the bond-servant is still that to his earthly master; and as to God's government in the world, Jews and Gentiles are certainly distinct. This will be plainly seen in such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 7:17; 11:3-15; 12:13; and 14:34. Our verse in Galatians (3:28) however deals with God's sovereign work of grace in giving all His own an equal standing in eternal blessing before Him. "You are all one in Christ Jesus." Their position "in Christ Jesus" is dependent neither on national, economic nor social position in the world, but simply and only upon Christ, with all that is of earth completely set aside.
This is a position of blessing representatively held for us by Christ Himself, as seen by the words "in Christ Jesus." A community of people may be laboring, each in different occupations and according to existing relationships, while their common representative is in the King's court upholding their cause as one people. Thus we must distinguish between God's governmental diversities and our positional oneness.
"And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (v.29). The JND version gives the sense more clearly, "If ye are of Christ..." The most vital point is that Christ Himself is the Seed of Abraham, and all believers are represented in Christ: they are "of Christ." Therefore, because He is Abraham's seed, so are they. Faith has brought them into this position and given them an intimate connection with Christ, for it is a faith which, recognizing personal worthlessness, repudiates self entirely and finds all good, all blessing in the blessed Person of the Son of God. The promise was "to Abraham and his Seed," to Christ; and our own marvelous place of blessing is as "joint heirs with Christ" (Rom.8:17). How magnificently are the wisdom and grace of God blended in this admirable means of His accomplishing the fruits of promise to those "afar off," Gentiles who had never themselves been given any promise. Far from doing violence to the promise, this precious working of God only enhances the beauty of it.
HOW CHILDREN ARE ADOPTED AS SONS
The first few verses of chapter 4 give us the distinctive Christian position in more detail. This position is the result of promise accomplished, as contrasted to the position under the Law, promise being then an object of indefinite hope, a prospect unfulfilled. Verses 1 to 3 show the Jewish position under law, the position even of the believer then, for it is of believers he is speaking. Though the child is heir and lord of all, yet in childhood he must be under government, trained, guided, held in check, and in this respect has no more freedom, no more position of dignity than a servant. Assuredly, he is a child of his father and has the same life his father has: the relationship actually exists. But as a child he must learn subjection, though he may not understand the reasons for his father's commands. This is the proper place of the child -- submission to his father's will even without understanding the reasons for it.
So the believer in Old Testament times is looked at as a child virtually in infancy, far from maturity. As such he must be controlled, governed, trained up in the way the Father appoints. Therefore he was "under law" or "under guardians and stewards" (v.2), "in bondage" (v.3). This existed "until the time appointed by the Father" (v.2), when there is, so to speak, graduation from the child's place to that of sonship, from the place of bondage to that of liberty, from the place of mere submission to that of understanding, approval and enjoyment of that will. This is proper maturity.
"The fullness of the time" (v.4) then is the time appointed by the Father, when "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (vs.4-5).
How wonderful to see that it is God's Son whom He sends, the One ever His delight, One perfectly in accord with every thought, word and movement of the Father. Such an One must be the Redeemer, and is Himself the Pattern of the pure liberty and dignity of Sonship. It was no legal constraint that led Him to the cross. It was rather His delight in doing the Father's will.
Yet He was "born of a woman" (v.4). It was through a woman that sin first entered the world. He was "born under the Law" (v.4), - the Law which demanded facing the question of sin. He fully identified Himself with the circumstances of His creatures, though Himself altogether pure. If He placed Himself in a realm where sin was, and where the Law condemned sin, He willingly took the responsibility of facing these questions. Consequently, He gave Himself in suffering and death "to redeem those who were under the law," not merely that we might be forgiven, but "that we might receive the adoption of sons" (v.5).
It was not God's purpose to have people under legal bondage, but rather to give them a place near to His heart, a place of approval of and delight in His ways. This is what redemption has accomplished, transforming the believer from a servant to a son, for redemption is the liberating of one from a place of bondage, to introduce into a state of freedom by virtue of a price paid. Adoption also implies this changing of position as in bondage to that of liberty and trust. The child has come to maturity and no longer needs the restraining hand of government: he is capable of being entrusted with responsibility. Not that his liberty is title to do his own will, but is a freedom that finds real fellowship and delight in the Father's will. This is the place of a son though it does not follow that believers always act as sons. Still, they are sons, and any action apart from the will of the Father is shameful inconsistency with the place given them.
Christ, the Son of God, is the perfect Pattern for us in this position of liberty, dignity and trust. 'The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand" (Jn.3:35). His Son is perfectly and thoroughly worthy of having all things entrusted to Him. This faithful devotedness of the Lord Jesus beautifully displays the liberty and dignity of sonship. A son's place is one worthy of trust, where the blessedness of privilege is not abused. As for instance again concerning Christ, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do" (Jn.5:19). Blessed example for us who have received the adoption of sons. Also, "The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (Jn.5:22). Here is the evidence of perfect coordination in the mind of the Son with that of the Father, the height of which we of course can never attain. Still, such is our portion that we "will judge the world" and "shall judge angels" (1 Cor.6:2-3) as associated with Christ. Therefore, being sons, the privilege and responsibility of wise judgment and discernment is ours now. If I abuse this, I am plainly not acting as a son, but it is not my action that makes me a son. Rather, through the virtue of the redeeming blood of Christ we, believers in Christ, have received the adoption of sons.
The cross of Christ is the sharp dividing line that transforms a servant into a son, fulfills the claims of the Law, sets the believer in the immediate presence of God, rends the veil, and reveals God in the light. Adoption brings all believers of this present Church age into the position of sonship. Such was not the case in the Old Testament, though those believers were born again as children of God. So it is God's own children that He has adopted, to give them a position of dignity as virtually in partnership with Him. Therefore believers are both children of God and sons of God, but each designation has its own line of truth.
"And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out Abba Father" (v.6). In the previous verse we saw that the cross of Christ gave believers the place of sonship. They were therefore sons before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit came because they were sons, and through Him they give expression to this nearness to the Father In this is the distinct revelation of the Trinity. Each person of the Godhead is revealed, a revelation that the Law could not provide. The Son redeems. The Holy Spirit makes good to the soul the fruits of that redemption, bringing the believer into the presence of the Father, to whom the heart cries out with delight. Where is there any place for law here? Law would only mar the beauty of the revelation, and put a question upon the character of God Himself! Let us remember that the Law manifests people, but Christ manifests God! The first therefore brings a curse, the second, blessing: they cannot be mixed.
Romans 8 considers the same subject: "You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out Abba Father" (v.15). The previous verse (14) speaks of "sons of God." However, verse 16 goes on, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." This is family relationship. Such was the fact for every saint before the cross, but was not apprehended by them. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the witness with our spirit that we are God's children (Rom.8:16). Now that we are sons having the Spirit of God, we understand by the Spirit that we are children also.
"Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir of God through Christ" (v.7). The question here is one of assurance. We do not become heirs by adoption, because Old Testament saints were heirs, though they did not have "the adoption of sons." But they had no assurance of being heirs, just as a little child would not understand his heirship. Every child of God is an heir of God (Rom.8:17). Hence, when the place of sonship is given by virtue of the death of Christ, and the Holy Spirit sent at Pentecost to confirm this to the souls of saints, this is absolute proof that they were both children and heirs of God. Having this place, why would we want a servant's place? Would it not dishonor any father to have his full-grown son cringing before him as a slave? Can God be honored when His sons, for whom He has prepared the best that He has and to whom He has given "the best robe," take the cold, distant place of serving Him as it were for wages? This was the folly of the Galatians.
INCONSISTENCY PRODUCED BY LEGALISM
The Galatians' introduction of the Law, which they thought was a fine complement to Christianity, was in the sight of God no service to Him at all, but as much as turning back to the paganism from which they came. "When you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods" (v.8). Their motives in paganism had been selfish, and they had attempted to cover this by worship of false gods. "But now, after that you have known God, or rather have been known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?" (v.2). How solemn a charge! How grievous a departure! After the true God is revealed, after receiving infinite blessing from Him, these Galatians dared to return to their motives of selfishness, thinking that the addition of the Law gave Christianity a more brilliant light. Rather, it catered to the same principles of self-pleasing and self-exaltation that their repudiated paganism had done. In practice the only difference was that these motives were covered by the outward worship of the true God. How necessary for all of us is that warning, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Lk.12:1).
"You observe days and months and seasons and years" (v.10), the formalism calculated to draw attention to themselves, and involving the assumption that more righteousness was required of them at some times than at others. Such actions subtly sanction unrighteousness on "ordinary" days. What witness of this pervades Christendom today! There are holy days, holy seasons, attended by great pretensions of spirituality, which is thrown to the winds in ordinary life, and even in wild feasts just preceding the holy days. This great inconsistency results in the mockery and contempt of the world and the inevitable judgment of God. Such things caused the apostle to fear that he had labored with the Galatians in vain
PAUL'S PERSONAL URGENT APPEAL
Little wonder that the apostle raises his voice in pathetic words of remonstrance. Can it be that his labor has gone for nothing? Is there only to be disappointment so far as the Galatians are concerned? What a weight on his tender heart! "Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you" (v.12). As did Paul, let their hearts rest on the deep, unchanging grace of Christ, and not turn coldly away from one who had labored to show them the love of the heart of God. For he was as they. What kindness and concern is this, no pretensions of superiority, no boast of standing on higher ground than they. They were really Christ's, as Paul knew. They had trusted Him, confessed Him, so they actually stood on the same firm ground as Paul. He made no claim of being more than a sinner who was now a saint saved by divine grace. Was not this also their place? Why then would they not act consistently with it? Why not be what they actually were, as Paul was?
"You have not injured me at all" (v.12). Their profession of the necessity of law- keeping was no personal injury to Paul. He still retained the same place of blessing before God. He was still as they were, and this being so, was not their addition of the Law thoroughly empty?
He goes back to the first, when the gospel was new to them, to remind them they had not despised the physical infirmity that so tried him, but had received him as an angel of God, in fact, as Christ Jesus. Note that Paul gave a similar reminder to the Corinthians (1 Cor.2:1-5), there speaking more at length of this. Yet the evils to be corrected in each case were very different; the Galatians having fallen into legality, the Corinthians into moral laxity; the Galatians putting themselves under subjection to the Law, the Corinthians knowing no real subjection except to their own wills. Opposite extremes as these were, they both have the effect of puffing up the flesh. But Paul had "a thorn in the flesh" to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure (2 Cor.12:7), and he was in subjection to the One who had given him the thorn. He could not trust in the flesh, his old nature, whether it were the will of the flesh or the ability of the flesh to keep the Law.
The Galatians had seen Paul's weakness, and had also seen, through his trust in God, the power of God working in him. They had not despised him. Appearances of personal strength and ability had not attracted them, yet they received him as an angel of God, and more, "as Christ Jesus" (v.14). He came to them in grace -- as Christ had come to the world -- and was received, not on account of power, but of love and grace. The energy and warmth of the love of God only shone the more brightly in the weakness of the vessel, and the response of the Galatians had been simply to that love. Therefore, the vessel had been treated in the due (not exaggerated) regard that God desires for His servants. Drawn to love God, they loved the least esteemed of His saints also.
What had become of this devoted simplicity that was theirs at the first? Where was the fervency of affection that once would have given their very eyes to the apostle, had it been possible? (v.15). Could they believe it was the true gospel that had thrown this spiritual chill over their minds and built a barrier of cold reserve against one to whom they were thoroughly indebted for the knowledge of Christ? Sad indeed is the depth of the self-deception into which a believer out of communion can fall. Let the child of God even begin to look away from the Lord, how rapidly his spirituality withers away! Thank God it is not our hold of Him that saves or keeps us for eternal blessing, but rather His hold of His saints that saves and keeps (Jn.10:27-30; 1 Pet.1:5). Eternal salvation is dependent on His ability to save and hold, but our enjoyment and communion depend on our clinging to the Lord with purpose of heart, not on clinging to the law or to our ability or our merits.
"Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (v.16). Can it be that Paul, once esteemed their closest earthly friend for the sake of the truth he brought them, has become their enemy because he continues to tell them the same truth? Had he changed? Not at all; but some had been influencing these Galatians to oppose Paul's teaching, and he does not fail to expose them. "They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them" (v.17). These judaizers were diligent in seeking followers, and craftily sought to exclude the Galatians from the apostles so as to attach them only to themselves. It will be always so that those who seek a following will selfishly preach a system of works as a means of salvation, for it attaches importance to the flesh and therefore to themselves. To be zealously affected is good, if the cause is good (v.18). Had the zeal and earnestness of the Galatians at their conversion to Christ been exercised on behalf of a good thing or an evil? If good, why not always be zealous in it? Do they need Paul's presence to be diligent in good? That is surely not walking by faith. It is more the attitude of a little child, able only to act properly when under supervision.
Paul calls them "my little children" (v.19), he himself laboring in travail as though seeking to bring them again to birth. They hardly realized they were spiritually alive. While trusting Christ, they were practically destitute of the inward, experimental knowledge of who and what He is. He had not been formed in them, that is, they had not comprehended His fullness for all their needs. They had given Him a place, but had confined Him to a small place, instead of allowing Him to take His full, true form in them.
Paul desired to be present with them and to change his tone of speaking (v.20). He had no delight in reproving them. Perhaps his presence with them might again revive their zeal in good things. If this was needed, he would desire to come, for he was doubtful of their stability. Not being able to stand faithfully alone, they practically required him to come.
ABRAHAM'S SONS, ISHMAEL AND ISAAC
Paul abruptly reverts from his entreaty back to reasoning from Scripture. It is most instructive and refreshing to see that he will leave no stone unturned in seeking the welfare of those whom he loves. He will appeal to the conscience, heart and intelligence until he leaves them no occasion for self-defense, no excuse for their legality, nothing to lean on but Christ.
If they suppose it an intellectual advance to be under the Law, why not inquire as to the intelligence the Law would furnish? Does the Law (the Old Testament) demand that a person should be in bondage to it? Does it attach all importance to itself? Certainly not! As the next few verses prove, it turns or directs people away from its bondage, giving all honor and glory to Christ Himself, who is "the end of the law" (Rom.10:4).
It may seem astonishing that Paul would use Abraham's two sons to prove the vast distinction between the covenants of law and of grace, but it is the interpretation of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit's interpretation here opens the door to much of Abraham's history in its marvelous typical bearing, that is, in its picturing many truths now revealed in the New Testament.
Abraham had two sons, the first (Ishmael) by a bond-maid; the second (Isaac) by a free-woman. The God of glory had appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran (cf.Gen.12 and Acts 7), and promised him, "I will make you a great nation" (Gen.12:2). This was confirmed in Genesis 15:4. Yet at 85 years of age, Abraham had no son. In Genesis 16, both Sarai's and Abram's anxiety about this prompted them to devise a plan to seek to fulfill God's promise. They could not wait for God to fulfill this in His own way and His own time. Interposing their own ingenuity, Abram had a son by the bonds-woman, Hagar. How striking a picture of Israel seeking to obtain the promise of God by their own righteousness, by their law-keeping! Going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God (Rom.10:3). So Abraham, going about to establish God's promise in his own way. showed no real faith in the promise being altogether God's promise. Hence, the son of the bonds-woman was born after the flesh. The whole affair was of fleshly devising and no fulfillment whatever of the promise of God. The son of the bonds-woman cannot enjoy the full liberty of the son's place: he is really himself in bondage, a servant. How plainly it answers to "Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children" (v.25). Mount Sinai in Arabia is a symbol of this bondage, a symbol of the Law and of great distance between God and the people (Ex.19:18-24; Heb.12:18-21).
Thus the Law is the standard by which man's work is measured, and if depending on his own work, the result is bondage. No one can make himself free or keep himself free. Freedom must depend on the work of God. "If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (Jn.8:36). So, for the child of promise, Abraham must depend entirely on God.
Isaac is this child of promise, born to Sarah when she was 90 years old, and Abraham 100, when their bodies were virtually "already dead" (Rom.4:19), and any natural hope of childbearing long gone. But it was God who intervened in sovereign grace to fulfill His own word. Sarah is the free-woman, in intimate relationship to Abraham, who is a type of God the Father, and Sarah a type of the godly remnant of faith according to grace in Israel, from whom Christ came (typified in Isaac), when all natural hope of blessing was gone. Isaac then is a beautiful picture of Christ, the promised Seed (Gal.3:16), who came to earth, not on account of man's successful law-keeping or any such thing, but on account of the unbreakable promise of God, fulfilled by grace alone.
Jerusalem which is above (v.26) is then that fruitful principle of grace, Christ coming from above, from the intimate presence of God, not from a place of distance, but from a place of full liberty of Sonship. His own place is that into which by grace, we have been brought. This is beautifully pictured in Genesis 24, where Rebekah (type of the Church) is chosen as a bride for Isaac. Hence by marriage she (once far off) is made the seed of Abraham, the daughter of the free-woman. So it can be said, we, as Isaac was, are the children of promise, by grace brought into the same position that Christ as Man has.
Verse 27 is quoted from Isaiah 54:1. The complete fulfillment of that chapter will be when Israel is brought into blessing in the Millennium, but this does not hinder the application, at least a partial fulfillment, to the Church's entrance by faith into this grace wherein we stand. The married wife speaks of Israel in earlier days when they obeyed God in the wilderness, but with an attitude of legalism instead of the intimacy of true affection. Only bondage, misery and desolation came from this. So she was disowned, put away (Jer.2:2; 3:8-10). Christ came "as a root out of dry ground" (Isa.53:2), yet from that dry root, the despised remnant of the people, God saw fit by grace to produce unbounded, eternal fruit. She who was desolate has many children. How marvelous are God's ways!
Did the Galatians not consider the fact that the most zealous of the professed law-keepers, the most religious of Israelites, were the persecutors of those who confessed Jesus as Lord? Those making the most flowery profession and display of religiousness were the strongest, most bitter opposers of the truth of salvation only by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The bitterness of such people is always directed against those who simply confess Him as Lord.
"Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bond-woman and her son, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman" (v.30). There is strong insistence here on the typical interpretation, for these were actually Sarah's words. But it was a history designed by God, and the words of Sarah also were designed by God to apply with striking force to legal-minded Israel. This casting out was accomplished at the introduction of Christianity, when the nation of Israel continuing its cruel persecution of those redeemed by grace, was cast out from God's presence for the time being, until mercy will restore her (Rom.11). God sent His armies (although the Roman armies did not understand that God had sent them) and burned up their city (Mt.22:7), and Israel was scattered to the four winds. Such was the governmental result of their self-dependence and self-confidence. Only recently, God has begun to bring the Jews back to their land, though still without faith in the Lord Jesus, but God will yet work in marvelous blessing for them. Meanwhile, during this age of grace, the Church alone enjoys the distinct favor of God of being owned as "children of promise" (v.28), for this can only have effect insofar as Christ is recognized. Creature merit in all its forms is repudiated. God has decreed that all blessing is in Christ alone. Precious resting place for every believer!
LIBERTY TO BE PRACTICED
Chapter 4 dealt with the perfect freedom introduced by God Himself through Christ, freedom given to all who have been redeemed by His precious blood, freedom from the bondage of law in all its forms. It is not, however, freedom to walk in our own ways according to our own wills (for that is really bondage), but freedom from fear of judgment, freedom from the Law as a rule of life, freedom to walk with God in the blessedness of intimate communion with His own mind and heart. Anything less than this is not freedom. Following our wills is bondage, for it is the devil's triumph and our eventual misery.
This being so, let the Galatians stand fast in the place that Christ had given them (v.1). Let them act consistently with it, make full, godly use of it, and certainly never tinge it with the vanity of their own works, the entanglement of the yoke of bondage. What a contrast in the yoke of the Lord Jesus: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Mt.11:29-30). They had originally exchanged the yoke of bondage for the Lord's yoke. What folly then to return to that which only occasioned complaint, chafing and in subjection!
This Christian liberty was denied if the Gentile Galatians became circumcised (v.2.) Evidently the judaizers were pressing this on the Galatians as a religious regulation, as had been the case with Jews under the Law. But adding such things to Christianity is subtracting from Christ. The mere form of circumcision did not do away with Christ, nor were those who had been circumcised before conversion thereby deprived of any benefit from Christ. But for the Galatians, after conversion to Christ, to be circumcised -- thus taking a place under the Law -- was a public declaration that their blessing was really coming from the Law, not from Christ. What profit is anyone receiving from Christ if he is occupied with law-keeping, which does not cultivate love and light in the soul, nor reflect the character of Christ?
These verses do not forbid circumcision as such, as might be desired by some for medical reasons, but are directed against the pride of adopting the practice of circumcision as a religious obligation, which the Jews had come to consider has some spiritual merit in it. For that reason some Jews were urging Gentile Christians to accept this.
But everyone who outwardly placed himself under the Law by being circumcised, made himself a debtor to keep the whole Law. Baptism is an outward thing that makes a person responsible to adhere to all Christian truth: circumcision makes him responsible to do the whole Law. Can he do both at once? Impossible! Law assumes a person capable of obedience to it. Christianity declares all have sinned, all disobedient, and presents an entirely new and perfect ground of blessing, the accomplished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. If one clings altogether to Christ, how can he cling altogether to the Law? Such an attitude is double-mindedness, begetting instability in all one's ways (Jas.1:8).
If the Law is taken as a principle of justification, this (practically speaking) renders them "estranged from Christ" (v.4). They were not apostates who had given up the truth concerning Christ, as the case (impossible of recovery) of those described in Hebrews 6:4-6, but they had "fallen from grace." This expression does not mean that they had carelessly fallen into sinful ways after having believed, or that they had committed some dreadful sinful act, but rather that in taking the place of being justified by keeping the Law, they had fallen from the high position they had by grace. They are not reproved for wicked works, but for depending on their supposed good works to keep them saved, instead of depending entirely on the grace of God.
The proper stand of the Galatians described in verse 5 is clear evidence that the Spirit of God dwelt in them, even though they had "fallen from grace." "We through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." Note in verses 4 and 5 seven striking words Scripture uses to speak of positive blessing. We list them below, and opposite them the contrasting negative things that can never bring blessing:
Christ ----------- Moses
Grace ------------ Law
The Spirit ------- The flesh
Waiting ---------- Striving
Hope ------------- Fear
Righteousness ---- Condemnation
Faith ------------ Works
"Hope" here is anticipation "both sure and steadfast" (Heb.6:19), not a doubtful issue, as today's usage infers. In verse 6 it is beautiful to see that while Paul speaks strongly against confidence in circumcision, he shows no favor to uncircumcision either. What does he mean? He is striking at the assumption that neither of these adds to Christianity. One may boast he is circumcised, another that he is uncircumcised, but both have no relationship to the question of a person's relationship to God. The prime principle of Christianity is faith, simply taking God at His Word. This brings the believer into His immediate presence. In Paul's conversion, when the light shone from heaven and the Lord Jesus spoke to him, there was no law laid down, no commandment given to change his ways. When full of his self-righteousness and his works, when he was prompted by bitter hatred toward Christians, faith found lodging in his heart. Then his love for Christians was greater than his hatred had been. Blessed result of having his eyes fixed on Christ, not on the Law!
WARNED AGAINST BAD INFLUENCE
The Galatians had run well (v.7). There had been the outflow of love, together with the exercise of faith on their part. Where were these evidences now? Who had hindered them from obeying the truth? Why were they not clinging simply and only to the truth revealed in Christ? Could they dare to say that God was persuading them to think more of the Law and less of Christ? Paul knew this declension had not taken place only because of the ignorance or self-will of the Galatians. They had been under some bad influence of those infiltrating among them, and the Galatians must be warned against such false teachers.
A little leaven very soon leavens the whole lump (v.9). Leaven (yeast) always speaks of the corrupting action of sin. Being only a little, it may hardly be noticed at first, but deceitful men know how to gradually introduce their false doctrines and soon corrupt the truth. Only a little of the doctrine of self-righteousness added to Christianity will spoil the whole, for it magnifies man and belittles Christ. But Christianity is Christ highly exalted and mankind humbled to the dust. This same quotation as to leaven occurs also in 1 Corinthians 5:6 where self-indulgence (moral corruption) is the leaven, while in Galatians self-confidence (doctrinal evil) is the leaven. In either case it is mixture hated by God.
How sweet is the contrasting touch of gentleness, proving a quietness of trust in Christ, in Paul's words of verse 10, "I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind" Still, this spirit of confidence as to their bowing to the Word of God's grace, is guarded from ungodly abuse. Paul is not confident of those who have deliberately pressed these perverse doctrines of legality on the Galatians. Whatever the position, character or dignity of these trouble-makers, the guilt of this perversion of truth rests on their shoulders. Paul shows no such tolerance as advocated by liberal minded men of today.
Another question is seen in verse 11, if Paul were advocating Judaism, why were the Jews his implacable enemies? Why had he been persecuted from the very first time he came to the Galatians, and before? If Christ had been introduced merely as a sort of afterthought and addition to Judaism, instead of completely superseding it, the Jews would have welcomed this, for their own pride would be complimented by it. No true place would be given to the cross at all, no suggestion given that the cross was the judgment of all flesh, the repudiating of all that is of the creature. But the cross shows humanity in its true colors. Hence people are offended by it.
"I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!" (v.12). Paul didn't relish the task of dealing directly and summarily with these trouble-makers, but if his ministry stirred up the Galatians to hold fast to the simple, pure principles of the grace of God and reject the pressures of the judaizers, then the frustration of their efforts would likely result in their cutting themselves off, that is, leaving the fellowship of the Galatian assemblies. Those who have a character of self-righteousness cannot long endure a single-hearted, steadfast devotion to the grace of the Lord Jesus alone. Such devotion will irritate them more than anything else. They will tolerate and continue with confusion, strife, backbiting, contempt, envy, and every kind of fleshly thing. In fact, they will feed these fleshly manifestations, but they will flee from the true manifestation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is better if people decide themselves to leave rather than to require the solemn excommunication of the assembly, for then the responsibility is placed squarely on their own shoulders.
LIBERTY AND LOVE
Liberty and love go together (v.13). There is no such thing as true liberty if it does not occasion the spontaneous outflow of love. Liberty is the very sphere into which the Christian is introduced, liberty from the bondage of the Law, of self, of sin; liberty in fact to honor God. There is no place for the exercise of self-will: such is bondage rather than liberty. The Devil seeks to corrupt this truth and make liberty a license for the indulgence of the flesh, but his evil does not annul the truth. The place of liberty is the place of utter dependence upon, and subjection to God. This is the liberty of the Spirit. How dishonorable then to use such liberty as an occasion for the flesh, the old nature, to indulge itself! How despicable to take ungodly advantage of the kindness of God! The very essence of Christianity is, "through love serve one another" (v.13).
The character of the true child of God is simple. There is no great, involved scheme of practice pressed upon him, no legal forms and ceremonies as contained in the Old Testament. In fact, the Law is fulfilled in one brief sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v.14). This is the root of things, which the law searches out. Love of others absolutely cuts off selfishness, which is the unvarying motive of the legalist, for he seeks blessing for himself, not for others. So the more legal-minded one is, the more thoroughly is he ignoring the claims of the Law in which he boasts!
Such was the inconsistency of the Galatians. Their doctrine called for keeping the Law: their practice was to "bite and devour one another" (v.15), having seemingly no sense of shame concerning it. "Beware," Paul tells them, "lest you be consumed by one another." This is the inevitable result of selfish motives. By our being contentious we soon consume away all spirituality in one another. All that is really profitable is withered away.
THE SPIRIT CONTRASTED TO THE FLESH
So they (and we) are told, "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (v.16). This is turning thoroughly from self-interest, self-exaltation, self-sufficiency and all that is of self, to fix the eye upon Christ, the Object with whom the Spirit of God would engage each of us. This does not involve fleshly determination, but a genuine turning from ourselves, to place all value on what God is and what God has done. The Spirit of God dwells in every believer (Rom.8:9). Therefore we are simply required to submit to His leading and power, and the flesh will have no occasion to work. It is really a most simple truth, but one of great difficulty for Christians to lay hold of because of our natural pride that delights in taking credit for well-doing, instead of giving all credit to God. Indeed, even when there is a recognition that the Spirit of God only can produce fruit for God, there is too often the conception that this is mixed with some inherent good in ourselves, The resulting conflict is seen in Romans 7 - "I" against "I", the flesh determined to put itself down, while actually this means opposition to the Holy Spirit's work.
The flesh and the Spirit are contrary one to the other: there is no point of agreement. The work of the one leaves no room for the work of the other. God will not give His glory to another, and the flesh will not abandon its dishonest selfishness. If God is to be allowed to work, the energy of the flesh must cease. In fact, it is only God's own voice that can quiet the soul so that His work might be seen and rejoiced in, but when the flesh is active, we will have no spirit of thankfulness, no recognition of God's true glory. The last clause of verse 7 shows that the flesh is too strong for us: "you do not do the things that you wish." There is no suggestion that it is impossible to do what is pleasing to God, but the activity of the flesh tends toward not doing what we want to do. It is only God, by His Holy Spirit, who can gain the victory in this battle. My struggling does not help at all, for this would be only the flesh trying to subdue the flesh. The Spirit of God within me accomplishes what I cannot do because He draws my heart to the Lord Jesus to depend totally on Him and have no confidence in the flesh.
Some believers, not understanding that all goodness and truth is in God alone, will suppose that to "walk in the Spirit" is a requirement comparable to the rules the Law. Therefore they fast, punish themselves, go through severe self-discipline, laboring to attain such an experience. But such attainment is impossible. Rather, the patience of faith and quiet rest in God's presence is asked, no labor, no pressing or forcing, for "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (v.18). The Spirit of God never leads us to set up legal standards as guides: He Himself "will guide you into all truth" (Jn.16:13), engaging the heart and mind with Christ, a Standard far more pure, far more full than law. How sweet and joyous is this place of rest, and how perfect a foundation for a life that is devoted to a "labor of love" (1 Thes.1:3), not by constraint, but willingly, rejoicing to bow the shoulder to the easy yoke of the Lord Jesus (Mt.11:30). This is to be led by the Spirit, the character of whose work is seen in verses 22 and 23, where no great outward work is mentioned, but every quiet and beautiful virtue. For the Spirit of God always sets Christ as the One Object before our hearts.
Some of the works of the flesh are enumerated in verses 19 to 21. The flesh is not slow to manifest itself, though we might be inclined to speak with less strong and personally-applicable words that God does about these things. It is all too possible that these things find expression in the believer, though they are the characteristics of the unbeliever who has only a sinful nature. Paul strongly emphasizes "that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (v.21). Unbelievers practice such things: it is their life, their character. What a shame then for a believer, in the slightest degree of his conduct, to resemble one who is bound for eternal punishment! Paul is not threatening the believer with this, but showing him the wretched inconsistency of acting as does the world, when the believer's character and destiny are so far removed from the world.
The refreshing contrast is the fruit of the Spirit (v.22), the believer's proper character Mark the singular here, fruit, not fruits. It is the perfect oneness, the harmonious flowing together of God's work, sweet contrast to the discordant, jarring contradiction of the works of the flesh. Note the precious and unostentatious character of all this fruit. There is no display. Fruit for God is not seen in great public manifestations, as we might see in John 15:7-8. Ephesians 5:9 declares, "the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth" (JND). We read too in Hebrews 12:11 of "the peaceable fruit of righteousness." The fruit itself is the quiet, godly virtues of light and love. The energy there in such fruit is God-given and profitably directed, while the flesh, or self, is hidden from view.
"Love, joy, peace." These three characteristics are the animating power for the entire life, for they are primarily operating when the soul is shut up with God. It is our proper attitude toward Him. Blessed contrast to the hatred, misery and fear that fills the unbeliever at the very thought of the presence of God.
"Long-suffering, kindness, goodness." Here is our normal Christian attitude toward others, sweet characteristics of a life that in godliness seeks the welfare of those with whom we may come in contact. These traits are shown when we consider one another in genuine respect and simplicity. They are better meditated upon and practiced than explained.
Finally, "faithfulness, gentleness, self control." These three are personal to ourselves. Do you have faith? "Have it to yourself before God" (Rom.14:22). We must neither act on the faith of another, nor press another to act on our faith, though we may give him the Word of God to encourage him to act on his own faith. Gentleness (or meekness) is that quality that simply submits to personal humiliation, if need be, without demanding our personal "rights" as we see them. Self-control is a great inner conquest, as Proverbs 16:32 reminds us: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city." In contrast, "Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls" (Prov.25:28). "Against such there is no law." They are the spontaneous fruit of the Spirit, operating unquenched and ungrieved in our lives. Law neither produces or prohibits them.
"And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (v.24). This is the step which, by faith, we take when we trust in Christ. We may not be fully conscious of it, nor would we express ourselves at that time as Scripture does, but we do, to a greater or lesser degree, condemn self and justify God. Of course, from God's side the judgment of the flesh has already been completely accomplished at the cross of Christ, so when we receive Christ as Savior, we accept God's judgment of sin as applying to our own sinful nature. We virtually admit that the flesh is only good for crucifixion, and by taking sides with Christ we therefore crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. We don't experience a thing like this, but we accept it by faith. Because God has passed this judgment on the flesh, we take sides with Him in this judgment. This is in contrast to making excuses for the sin of the flesh, or justifying what the flesh in us has been guilty of. We must be done with the flesh as an evil thing, and count it as having been crucified at the cross of Christ. Then we can rightly say we have been crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20), yet that we live, having a new life now that is the fruit of God's work, a life linked with Christ in resurrection (Eph.2:1-5).
Therefore "we live in the Spirit" (v.25). This is true of every child of God. Since this is so, then let our walk be consistent with it, seeking no other motivating power except that which is of God. To desire personal and worldly honor is just the reverse of this, for such motives really put God out of sight. Self is then puffed up, a most obnoxious attitude for a Christian, and productive of every evil -- rivalry, controversy, envy -- in our associations with one another. "Let us not be" (v.26) is a negative to be taken seriously.
CONCERN FOR THOSE WHO FAIL
The Galatians may have considered themselves spiritual because they were legal-minded. There is a good test for this. What about a person overtaken in a fault? Shall we callously say, "That's his problem, not mine"? Or shall we despise and ostracize the erring one? Either attitude is commonly that of a legal mind. But if one is spiritual, there is good work for him to do in restoring such a person (v.1), for compassion is one of the lovely marks of spirituality. Law can expose and condemn a person, but it can never restore. More than that, spirituality can lead us to show a spirit of meekness, even toward one who has failed, for it will remind us that we have the same propensities for failure as our erring brother or sister does. We should pause to consider how we would like to be treated if we were in such a situation. This is a lovely contrast to the attitude that Cain expressed, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen.4:9).
How appealing then to a Christian's heart is the admonition, "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (v.2). Did the Galatians desire a law? Then, being Christians, why not take the law of Christ rather than a Jewish law? This is "the perfect law of liberty" (Jas.1:25) rather than the law of bondage, as was Moses' Law. Bearing the burdens of another reduces the flesh to nothing, for we must humble ourselves to do this. Was it, for instance, the stern spirit of justice that led Christ to come to bear at Calvary our greatest burden? Absolutely not! Rather, grace and humility stand out there at the cross in marvelous beauty, and this is "the law of Christ."
How scathing then is the denouncement of our personal pride in verse 3. How can we dare, being nothing, to think of ourselves as something great? We do not deceive God by this, nor do we deceive others either, as a general rule, so how senseless to deceive ourselves!
"But let each one examine his own work" (v.4). Assumptions and claims have no place before God. Instead of this, let each individual discern, with rigorous self-judgment, the true value of his own work. He is to examine himself, but make no boast of it before others. "And then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another." Such self-judgment puts the believer personally and alone before God, to judge his own work, not in comparison to that of others, but as in God's eyes. This will give him true rejoicing in himself, but not telling it to others.
"For each one shall bear his own load" (v.5). In the final analysis, though we may at present "bear one another's burdens," each one of us is solitarily responsible only for our own work. We cannot transfer responsibility from ourselves to someone else. Nor should we have such an attitude as did Peter at one time, saying, "But Lord, what about this man?" (Jn.21:21). Therefore, while it is important that we have genuine compassion and care for others, we must not expect others to take responsibility for us, nor concern ourselves with what is their responsibility.
THE GRACE OF WILLING SACRIFICE
The above instructions require a spirit of grace in which to be fulfilled. Yet, they are instructions, not merely suggestions as to which we may form our own opinion. "Let him" in verse 6 is not the legal demand, "You shall," but it is God's strong encouragement to respond to His grace, as seen beautifully in 2 Corinthians 8:9: "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." One who learns the truth of God from another is responsible to respond in turn with whatever help he may give the teacher, particularly if the teacher's time is devoted to the ministry of the Word. It is most serious here that the apostle warns that God is not mocked, and people will reap what they sow (v.7). The believer is addressed here not the unbeliever, though the principle is all-inclusive: anyone walking in independence of, and disobedience to God, is sowing to the flesh and the sad reaping will come in due time. The sowing here directly refers to the use of our possessions. Compare 2 Corinthians 9:5-10. Are we using for God that which He has given us? We are not to expect recognition for it in the world, for we are to give as to God, seeking only His approval, not because we look for a reward, but desire only to please Him.
Our giving to the work of the Lord associates us with that work and with those who labor for Christ's sake. We should therefore be sure that the work to which we give is truly the Lord's work and the persons involved in it are honestly and scripturally carrying on that work. Galatians 2:10 has already spoken of giving to the poor, and 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 deal at length with that question.
The principle of sowing is widened in verses 9 and 10 to include our whole conduct of life. Well-doing of whatever sort is sowing pure seed. May we never become weary in doing it! The season of final reaping is close at hand -- the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom.14:10; 2 Cor.5:10). There is no reason to faint or be discouraged, however, and we shall not faint if Christ is the Object before our souls. Opportunities for doing good are abundant if we keep our eyes open, and we are to exclude no one from our thoughtfulness and care. Partiality can have no place, except in this, that we are to have special consideration for those who are of the household old of faith (v.10) -- for every individual whose trust is in Christ. This is not merely enjoying people and indulging their desires, but actual, positive good done toward them.
BOASTING ONLY IN THE CROSS
Was Paul's heart in all he wrote? Was there no exaggeration in the words he used? Such might have been the questioning of the Galatians. Verse 11 shows that they and their spiritual conduct meant enough to Paul to write with his own hand, despite his "infirmity in the flesh," which possibly was, or included, very poor eyesight. This is likely the reason he employed a scribe in the penning of his other epistles, but in this case he wrote the letter himself.
It was nothing but pride that activated the Galatian judaizers to demand the circumcision of Gentile believers. The judaizers desired recognition from the world, something to make a good show in the flesh (v.12), and they drew back from suffering and persecution for the sake of the cross of Christ. They knew that a forthright, simple confession of their sins having been borne on Calvary's cross, would be displeasing to the world. They therefore took refuge in formalism, and sought formalistic followers.
These false teachers, while formally observing such legal rites, did not actually keep the Law themselves. Rather, having followers in their legalistic practices, they are said to "boast in your flesh" (v.13), that is, with no concern for the spiritual welfare of their followers. All they desired was a fleshly adherence to their ordinances of law, so they could boast in the numbers they influenced by fleshly attraction.
How the thought of such fleshly boasting moves the depths of Paul's soul! "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v.14). He thoroughly repudiates every thought of fleshly boasting. In fact, with godly discernment, he recognizes nothing but evil in himself, that is, in the flesh (Rom.7:18). Will a sinful nature (which he and all other Christians still have) give him the least occasion of complacency? God forbid! Would the Lord Jesus find satisfaction in settling down in this world with those who were merely ritualistic followers? Not for a moment! Reflect on the Lord's searching words when the people sought Him because of His multiplying the loaves and fishes (Jn.6:26), words which in fact caused many to go back and walk no more with Him. "What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (Jn.6:62-63).
How would the Jews be affected by His leaving the world and ascending back to His proper home? What were His thoughts concerning the world? He was leaving it. In fact, He would be thrust out of it by way of the cross. His connection with the world and the flesh would be broken off violently by the cross.
Therefore, circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. There is no place for anything that is of self. Death has taken its course, and on the other side life has sprung up in a "new creation" in which "old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. Now all things are of God" (2 Cor.5:17-18). Blessed and pure resting place for faith! New Creation is the dwelling of all God's redeemed, though their feet are still on earth. Such is the position in which God views them, though in themselves there is still the grieving sinful nature, weakness and failure. Sweet indeed to be lifted above ourselves and our experiences, our estimations and our feelings, to meditate upon and delight in the viewpoint of God in all of this. How unspeakably are we blessed! How exceedingly marvelous are His counsels! God has introduced (only for the vision of faith) an entirely new creation in which nothing earthly can have place. The Law, sin, death and all social, national, economical distinctions, and every other occasion of human boasting, are left behind in the grave of Christ, as it were, and His resurrection is into a realm of perfect purity and holiness, a realm called "New Creation."
The normal, proper course for every Christian is to "walk according to this rule" (v.16), a vast contrast to walking as though under law, for "this rule" fixes the mind on Christ in glory, not on law keeping. It is here that "peace and mercy" properly apply; and to the Israel of God.
"The Israel of God" (v.16) is in contrast to "Israel after the flesh" (1 Cor.10:18), bound by the Law and its ceremonies. The expression is to be applied prophetically to the true Israel restored in blessing in the Millennium. The Law then is done away as the basis of any standing before God, and all glory is absolutely given to God. But today mere law-keepers really know nothing of peace and mercy, for they constantly fail to do what they know they must do perfectly.
Strange is the deceit of men, that they would willfully. trouble the publisher of peace, but it would not turn Paul aside, for the marks of the Lord Jesus -- sufferings for His sake -- were in his body (v.17). What a consideration for the Galatians! Then the benediction (v.18) is as from the tender, yearning heart of a father toward his children, "Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" -- not with their flesh.
This mingling of gentleness with unwavering zeal for his Lord is beautifully characteristic of Paul. Such admirable balance has been seen all through this epistle to the Galatians, and we may be sure that many would take to heart the truth that he so faithfully presented to them, though no scripture gives us any knowledge of what might have been the results in all the assemblies of Galatia. Yet God assures us concerning His Word, "It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isa.55:11). Since Paul wrote this epistle, it has without doubt proven of great blessing to countless numbers.