Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Galatians (Page 1 of 2)

The Climax: Old Cross & New Creation

O PreacherGrabs the stylus from his scribe.  No dictation now.  With his own hand, he climaxes his letter, even though his eye trouble (Galatians 4:13,15) makes the words ungainly large.  See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! (6:11). Better, perhaps, to rivet home his final message.

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ (6:12).  The Judaizers (professed Christian Jews troubling the Gentile Galatians preaching faith in Christ plus Jewish circumcision for justification to the end)  are pressuring them.  Paul warns they have impure motives.   They want to put the (circumcised) Gentiles on display, so Jewish unbelievers won’t persecute them.  Cover up the objectionable cross with honorable circumcision.

A crucified Messiah?  Shameful!  The gold cross draped about my neck is a badge of faith, a sign of to Whom I belong and how.  To the Jew, the cross symbolized utter weakness and criminality and worthless rejection.  Like an African-American proudly wearing a noose around his neck.  Disallowed!

Circumcision, on the other hand, was a badge of honor.  A sign (albeit generally covered!) that this man descended from Abraham, the one through whom Yahweh would make a great nation to bless all the (inferior) nations.  Cover the cross with circumcision.  Jewish law-devotion would show them superior.

Sadly, we’ve “cleaned up” the cross.  Or at least allowed the world to.  It’s jewelry or art.  To the world at worst it represents execution.  But a punishment empty of meaning.  “Jesus died for my sins”— a vacuous slogan.  But the cross declares, “My Messiah was rejected and executed in utter weakness and abysmal defeat in my place for my sins.  He was, in the world’s eyes, an embarrassing loser.”

Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (6:13,14).  Prosecuting, Paul points at the circumcised and roars, “Even they don’t obey God’s law.  The only reason they want you Gentiles to be circumcised is to proudly carve more notches on their “we got-’em-circumcised-belt.”

Paul’s only boast was that the Lord Jesus Christ outrageously, despicably died on a cross for him.  It forever redefined Paul’s estimation of the world.  It “has been crucified to me and I to the world.”  In other words, “Its values don’t govern me.  Its successes don’t beckon me.  I don’t evaluate my life by its measure.  I don’t care what it thinks of me.  Christ’s cross has freed me from the world’s lure.  My crucified Messiah is my treasure.”

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God (6:15,16).  The literal Greek here is, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything”;  the translator supplies “means.”  Again the translator supplies “counts”, because the Greek says, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything . . . ”  They’re trying to capture Paul’s intent.

More significant is how Paul defines the nature of the Christian life.  It’s not a matter of outward religious symbolism, like forehead-ashes for Lent or Bible-carrying  or cross-wearing.  The Christian is “a new creation.”  Startling statement.  Circumcision can’t affect that.  Only the gift of the Spirit can.  As Paul would later write to the Corinthians . . .

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

“And we all with unveiled face,
beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).

Far more than mere personal transformation!  This means the new eternal, righteous creation has burst back into this present age and has already been birthed in us who believe!

Such Christianity isn’t a meritorious faith.  It’s a grace faith by which God the Holy Spirit applies the crucifixion (and resurrection) of Christ in us to create a new righteousness out of our old moral corruption.  This, not circumcised Jews naturally descended from Abraham, is “the Israel of God”—Jew and Gentile one new people through faith in Christ, alive with his life by the Spirit.

Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen (6:17,18).  Paul wants no more messes from these Judaizers, who may even want to turn Paul to their cross-less ways.  He is committed to Jesus.  And his body bears the scars (Greek, stigmata) from following his crucified Lord through a proud and hostile world.

* * * * *

The Cross vs. Prosperity.  Christianity that draws the crowds plays down the cross’ rejection and shame.  It promises “your best life now.”  It trumpets how to be a winner.  It (subconsciously ?) seeks ways to succeed in the world without being “worldly” (not possible).  It’s gloriously true that Christ didn’t remain on the cross.  But we don’t get resurrection without the cross–Christ’s and ours.  May the world be crucified to us and us to the world!

A New Creation.  I look in the mirror and don’t see one.  I know my sins; they are ever before me.  I look at the church and see no difference from what I see at the office or supermarket or ball game.  Where is the power of Christ to transform our lives by means of the Holy Spirit, so people catch glimpses of a new creation in us?

Two responses come to mind. First, the familiar slogan, “Be patient; God’s not finished with me yet!”    And, second, “walk by the Spirit, follow the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit.”  Do in living the desires he’s working in us.  We’ve got to risk stepping to learn to walk!


The Practical Practice of Spirit-Stepping

O PreacherToo bad the Holy Spirit’s notoriety often trumpets bizarre behavior!   Here, with the Galatian troubles in view, Paul concludes his letter urging down-to-earth counsel about how to “keep in step with the Spirit” (5:25.

Bear Each Others’ Burdens (6:1-6).

My friends, if anyone is [caught] in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.  All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride.  For all must carry their own loads.  Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher (6:1-6, NRSV).

The transgressor, it seems to me, is caught in the Judaizers’ doctrine:  faith in Christ + circumcision and law-keeping = ongoing justification (right standing) with God.  The victim has been severed from Christ (5:4).  Liked ripped fishing nets (Matthew 4:21), he must be mended.  Who’s to effect this restoration?  The pneumatikos:  those who have received the Spirit through faith in Christ.

Rarely do we.  Instead we adopt worldliness:  it’s his business.  I won’t butt in on what she’s doing.  How, then, we do fail to serve one another in love (5:13)!  For we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way . . . fulfill the law of Christ”, which is the law of self-giving love (John 13:34,35).

Such restoration requires “a spirit of gentleness.”  This is no place for legalistic sledge-hammering gleaming with the false light of religious pride.  So “restorers” are “nothing:” when they measure their righteous works by those of their struggling sisters.  Rather, each one must shoulder his own responsibility before God alone.  And all must take the learner’s seat before their teacher, and humbly provide good things the teacher needs to teach.

Extremist behavior that attracts attention to itself doesn’t mark the Spirit-walking church.  Lovingly, humbly bearing one another’s burdens does.

Don’t Weary of Doing Right (6:7-10).

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10, NRSV).

Plant wheat, get wheat, not barley.  No fooling the Creator of “nature”.  Nor the Creator of man.  Try to “plant” justification-by-law-keeping, we get moral corruption from our human nature.  Simply insisting “Thou shalt!” and “Thou shalt not!” to our fallen nature will affect our behavior but little and not long.  But if we “plant” to the Spirit, trusting his inward transformation of heart, we will get “eternal life from the Spirit.”

So shall we demand our sinning sister to try harder to do better?  Or shall we meekly encourage her to trust the Spirit to bear his fruit?

Trouble is, fruit (even that of the Spirit) takes time to grow.  And so many believers seem so stunted.  “He’ll never change!” I confess I muttered at times to myself.  “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”

Our people need encouragement to build friendships and to care about those caught in a transgression.  That requires time and humility and gentleness and perseverance.  We rely too much on the pastor to do the “spiritual” work.  We expect the elders to be the Spirit-ministers.  We see “church” as a meeting to attend instead of the family that knows and loves.  The bigger the better we think, never noticing the virtual strangers who fall through the cracks because of sheer numbers alone.

I pastored 44 years.  Never found a solid solution for all these issues.  But one thing I know we can all do is prayerfully look for the opportunity to love and “mend”, trusting the Spirit . . .

“So then, whenever we have opportunity
(look for it, Spirit-walking believer),
let us work for the good of all
(not limited to
Christians)and especially for those of the family of faith.”





Mess in the Flesh/Miracle in the Spirit

O PreacherAudacious are the Gospel’s claims.  No more so than in Galatians 5:19-26.  Paul has been correcting confused new Christ-believers that having begun by faith in the Spirit’s regenerating work, they must not presume to defeat their still-present sin-nature desires by scrupulous law-keeping (Galatians 3:3).

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,
and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,
for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing what you want to do.
But, if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16-18).

Mess in the Flesh.

“Flesh” is human nature apart from Christ.  Fallen from grace.  Sinful before the holy God.  “Flesh” has cravings it seeks to satisfy.  And, when it does, Paul warns, this is what it produces . . .

Now the works of the flesh are evident:
sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery,
enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions,
divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like that.
(Galatians 5:19-21a).

By “things like that” Paul makes his list representative, not exhaustive.  “Flesh” (human nature apart from Christ) produces this kind of mess.  Not every human is this “messed.”  But “messes” like these corrupt every one who is without Christ.  More seriously . . .

I warn you, as I warned you before,
that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(Galatians 5:21b).

Paul now is thinking eschatalogically—that is, of the consummation of the new eternal creation.  Then, God will reign in unopposed righteousness and perfection.  Sin, decay and death will be no more.  Therefore, those whose lives are marked by corruptible vices will not inherit God’s kingdom.

What Paul writes here should rattle every systematic theologian whose doctrines all fit like a huge jig-saw puzzle:   the apostle Paul is writing to Christians.  They have begun the Christian life.  But if they live it “by the flesh”—whether by trying to keep God’s holy, good and righteous law or by abusing Christ’s liberty with license—they will not inherit God’s kingdom.  Legalism and licentiousness both end with the kingdom door closed and the inheritance lost.

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

(Galatians 5:16).

Miracle in the Spirit.

Look what God has graciously done!  What we could not!

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son,
born of woman, born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons,
And because you are sons,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!”
So you are no longer a slave
(neither to sin nor law)
but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Galatians 4:4-7).

And the Spirit,  in the Son-followers produces “fruit”, a “harvest” of Christ-like virtues.   These virtues, though personal, aren’t private.  That is, Paul wants us (as he did the Galatians) to understand these virtues in the context of Christian community, the church.  This is the “fruit” the Spirit (not us) grows . . .

Love:  wanting the best for others and sacrificing ourselves so they might have it.
Joy:  rejoicing in the fullness of grace with which God has blessed us and spreading that joy to the downcast.
Peace:  an inner wholeness and well-being before God, a harmony we sow among God’s people.
Patience:  a heart quiet under stress, enduring  the pain others inflict.
Kindness:  a gracious heart toward sinners shown by our attitude and actions toward them.
Goodness:  a generous attitude toward others that transcends mere justice.
Faithfulness:  trustworthiness expressed in devotion and allegiance, especially in adversity.
Gentleness:  consideration for others, especially the weak.
Self-Control:  the ability to keep one’s desires and passions under restraint, so we don’t indulge ourselves at others’ expense.

March in the Rhythm.

Years ago when I preached this passage, trying to emphasize the work of the Spirit and not ours, I would close my eyes, scrunch my face, pull my whole body tight ’til I quivered, then ask the people, “Is this how a tree grows fruit?” “No, it grows by the creative work of God.”  Ah, now years later, I realize my analogy falters.  We are not trees.  Truly the Spirit grows “miracle fruit” in us.  We are to “keep in step” . . .

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:25,26)

The Spirit sets the rhythm and enables us to follow.  The apostle charges us to keep in step with the Spirit’s beat.

We don’t, at least, not always.  A different image comes to mind.  I’m leading worship.  The congregation is singing and clapping.  I notice a man on the left and a woman in the center whose clapping only occasionally and accidentally hits the beat.  They simply can’t clap with the rhythm.  What shall I do?  Stop and reprimand them?  Prohibit their clapping?  No.  Eventually, if the Spirit indwells them, they’ll get it.  So I let them clap along slightly off for now.  As the Lord does me.  One day, he’ll see to it that we all get it . . .

Technologyis serving and solving problems and is also a creative and ...

Spirit-Walking: The How To

P.AllanHow-To books sell.  Maybe because about something we’re all  “DUMMIES.”  I’m not admitting to “dummie-hood;” but, since reading the apostle Paul’s imperative,  “But I say, walk by the Spirit”  in Galatians 5:16  (see link . . . ), I’ve been asking, “How to?” 

Look at the second imperative Paul issues in 5:25:  “keep in step with the Spirit.”   Notice, too, he references to being “led by the Spirit” in 5:18.  I contend  that by these phrases (walk by the Spirit, [be] led by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit) Paul is saying essentially the same thing.  The Christian life is a Spirit-walk, Spirit-led, Spirit-step life.

These terms also paint a picture.  I walk by [means of] a walker for support and strength. When our four-family family vacationed together, three cars in caravan would follow the lead driver.  I never tried out for high school marching band fearing my feet couldn’t stay in rhythm with all the rest.  Walk by the Spirit (like me on my walker).  [B]e led by the Spirit (like us in our caravan).  Keep in step with the Spirit (like me, if I could, in marching band). 

In a sermon entitled “Live by the Spirit,” Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, explains . . .

“The Spirit works in and through the Word” and  “motivates us to pray” and “causes us to live in freedom by serving one another in love.”  He summarily concludes:  “But we do not fulfill Paul’s imperative  by merely re-doubling our efforts, or by attempting to reach and attain a higher-level or more intense Christian experience. Walking in the Spirit is participating in the means of grace—Word and Sacrament—as well as things such as prayer and fellowship, the result of which is growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and progressive conformity to his image.”

Riddlebarger (one of my Reformed “go-to guys” for perspective) hardly hints at an answer here.  Certainly participating in every means of grace enables us to walk by the Spirit.  But it isn’t the walking itself.   There has to be more.

In a sermon entitled “Walk by the Spirit,” Dr. John Piper, founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota and former Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. says . . .

“But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, ‘Let the Spirit lead you,’ or, ‘Allow the Spirit to control you,’ and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way, you walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.” 

Piper (a mentor through books and Internet) takes us a step closer.  But, while “resting in the promises of God” and living “by faith in the Son of God” fuel our Spirit-walk, it seems to me that “walk by the Spirit” and ‘keep in step with the Spirit” call for more action than resting and trusting.

I think Dr. Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada in his excellent book God’s Powerful Presence takes us closest . . .

“[Paul’s] appeal . . . is to ‘go on walking by the very same Spirit by which you came to faith and with whom God still richly supplies you’ . . . That is, a powerful and experiential–supernatural, if you will–presuppositional base lies behind this imperative . . . Life in the Spirit is not passive submission to the Spirit to do a supernatural work in one’s life; rather it requires conscious effort, so that the indwelling Spirit may accomplish his ends in one’s life.  One is urged to ‘walk by the Spirit’ . . . by deliberately ‘conforming one’s life to the Spirit’ (‘keep in step with the Spirit’, 5:25).  If such a person is also described as being ‘led by the Spirit,’ that does not mean passively; it means to rise up and follow the Spirit by walking in obedience to the Spirit’s desire . . .

The difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ many centuries later is almost certainly at the experiential level, wherein their dynamic experience of the Spirit both at the beginning of life in Christ and in their ongoing life in the church would have made this imperative seem much more ‘practical’ and everyday.  Since the Spirit is God’s own empowering presence, Paul expected God’s supernatural aid to enable them to live in keeping with God’s character and purposes . . .

In a world in which Torah observance no longer obtains, the Spirit is sufficient and adequate to accomplish God’s purposes in and among his people.  Spirit people march to a different drummer, and the Spirit empowers them to live in such a way that their lives evidence that fact.”

The Spirit is like my walker.
He gives me support and strength to walk in the Word-centered ways he desires.
I’m urged to walk.
“Walk by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the lead car in our caravan.
He, in my new-born nature, leads me in the Word-centered paths he wants.
I’m urged to follow.
“[Be] led by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the marching band conductor.
He sets the Word-centered tempo and pace he favors.
I’m urged to keep in step.
“Keep in step with the Spirit.”



O PreacherSounds like a low-budget horror movie.  Or a TV preacher’s new “blessing”.  Spirit-Walking.  Actually it’s the way the apostle Paul directs the Galatian church (and us) to live the Christian life.  (Note:  Haven’t read “The Summit:  The Spirit”?  Good to read now—

Paul continues with a “But”, contrast.  What’s Paul “but-ing”?   Submitting again to a yoke of slavery (5:1) by accepting circumcision (5:2) and so obligating oneself to keep all God’s Law (5:3).  Also, using Christ-given freedom from Law (5:1) as an opportunity for the “flesh” (5:13) . . .

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,
and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,
for these are opposed to each other
to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16-18, ESV).

” . . . walk by the Spirit” . . . “Walk” literally translates the Greek, perapatayte.   Figuratively perapataye is translated “behave, conduct oneself, live”.   Under sunny skies and rainy, along a woodsy path, down a plunging, stony trail into a dark valley, up and up a mountain side to a spectacular panaroma.  Perapatayte pictures the Christian way of life as an ongoing walk.

” . . . walk by the Spirit”By” implies means, mode, method.  Yesterday morning I went  to my chiropractor’s office (don’t ask) by truck (sitting in the seat, not dumped in the bed).  Paul directs the Galatian church (and us)  to walk through the Christian life, not by means of personal effort to scrupulously keep God’s Law, but by means of the Spirit.  “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . ” (4:6).  The Spirit doesn’t hover way up in heaven but indwells us who believe in Christ.  By means of the now-indwelling Spirit, we are to walk.  Paul couples his command with a promise . . .

” . . . and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  “Flesh” here doesn’t refer to our physical body or (what this word often brings to mind) sexual sin.  Usually, as here, it refers to our human nature.  Us apart from Christ.  And that “us”, our nature, sinfully seeks opportunities to gratify its desires.  That’s what lies behind Paul’s earlier warning:   ” . . . do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13a).

See Law’s weakness?  “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  “You shall not covet . . . your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17).  The Commandments may give us pause, but are powerless to push away our sin-nature’s desires.  ” . . . if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (3:21).  God’s Law is ” . . . holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), but is “weakened by the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  So “God has done what the law . . . could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3,4).  God the Actor.  God the Giver.

Why, though, does “Spirit-walking” work? . . .

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Our human nature is wired to gratify its sinful desires.  The Spirit of God’s Son sent into us opposes sinful desires with Holy Spirit desires.  Think magnets.  Point two north-seeking magnet poles toward each other and they repel.  So the Spirit’s presence in our fallen human nature creates resistance.  The opposition “keeps you from the doing the things you (that is, your fallen, sinful human nature) want to do.”

Two important points.  One, though justified (in right-standing with God) and Spirit-filled, we have to contend with our sin-nature’s desires as long as we’re in this body.  ” . . . we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). 

Two, we must “walk by the Spirit.”  In other words, the against-the-flesh activity of the Spirit in us is not without action on our part.  Take a young man with natural-born baseball-pitching ability.  It’s there in his arm—the strength, the finesse, the feel, the touch.  But he has to develop it, work out, practice, pitch in crucial games.  We have to “walk by the Spirit.”

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”  If we are “Spirit-walkers” we are not “under law” (don’t have to post-note the Ten Commandments to our refrigerator and grim- faced sweat to obey them today), because we are being “led by the Spirit.” Hint:  here’show to “walk by the Spirit”.  Be led by the Spirit.  More on this next time.

Let’s finish now by allowing God’s Word to strengthen our faith.  We are not doomed to sweaty, desperate efforts to be a better Christian.  We are not imprisoned by God’s good Law we can’t hope to keep.  We are not sentenced to create our own more-workable system of religion to sooth guilt-feelings.  WE ARE NOT LEFT ON OUR OWN.

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under law,
to redeem those who were under law,
so that we might receive adoptions as sons.
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,    
crying, “Abba!  Father!”
So you are no longer a slave, but a son,
and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Galatians 4:4-7).







The Summit: The Spirit

O PreacherWhen our little family of five  finally reached the summit of woodsy Mills Reservation in Montclair, N.J., we gazed 15-20 miles out and saw a wonder:   the majestic skyline of New York City rising up from the waters of New York Harbor.

Today we reach the summit of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:16-26).

Paul has argued that justification (right-standing) with God comes by faith in Christ Jesus, not by our effort at keeping either God’s Law or our own religious rules and regulations.  He has argued, therefore, that to be justified Gentiles (non-Jews) needn’t and mustn’t be circumcised in addition to trusting Christ.  This absence of law-keeping (circumcision being the sign of the Law Covenant), however, raises the question of license.  Does Paul mean we are free from restraints to our sinful nature?  Does he mean we’re liberated from law to do whatever we want?  No.  “For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the sinful nature, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13,14).

How, though, can we use our freedom from Law (and laws) to fulfill the Law; that is, to serve one another in love?  At this summit, Paul tells us:  by the Spirit.

He’s already referred several times to the crucial role of the Spirit . . .

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham
might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus,
so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit
(Galatians 3:14).

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
(Galatians 4:6)

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit
the righteousness for which we hope.
(Galatians 5:5)

Many commentators make justification by faith the letter’s summit, not the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.  I respectively disagree based on  the specific occasion which prompted Paul’s letter . . .

I would like to learn just one thing from you:
Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law,
or by believing what you heard?

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you
because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
(Galatians 3:2,3,5)

The issue at hand isn’t the start of the justified life (by faith or works?) but its goal (by the Spirit or our works?)  I imagine the Judaizers might have argued, “Good.  You started with faith in Christ.  But if you’re going to make it to the end and be right with God on the Last Day, you need circumcision and devotion to Law-keeping.”  No, Paul lashes back.  “Justification comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone.  And with justification comes adoption by the Spirit . . . ”

But when the time had fully come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,
to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son,
God has made you also an heir.
(Galatians 4:4-7).

Justification by faith in Christ is, as Martin Luther wrote, an alien righteousness.  That is, by faith we receive the righteousness of Christ and are therefore “legally” put in right-standing with God.  Similarly, the work of the Spirit is alien.  God sends the Spirit of his Son from outside us into our hearts.  Thus starts a transformative relationship in us by the Spirit.  Not “legal”, but “experiential”.  This is why Galatians 5:16-26 stands as the summit of Paul’s letter.

When our little family gazed from Mills Reservation at New York City, we might have “oohed” and “aah-ed” and excitedly pointed out certain iconic buildings.  But when we turned to trek back down the trail, we weren’t changed.  Not true of the Spirit- summit.

And all of us, with unveiled faces,
seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

I invite you to sing the video-prayer above and enter the Spirit’s powerful presence with me . . .


What Counts? Only Faith Working through Love

O PreacherDon’t misread this title.  It doesn’t mean what it seems.  It comes from the apostle Paul’s declaration in Galatians 5:6 . . .

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but faith working through love.

Paul doesn’t suggest nothing else matters, but faith working through love.  He means rather in the context of being in right standing with God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything.  The only thing that counts in  being right with God is faith in Jesus Christ—faith that shows itself through acts of love.

I wrote about this in a previous blog (  But I’ve since realized how important this text is for what follows (5:16-26).  I’ve come across three important observations by Dr. Gordon Fee in his book, God’s Powerful Presence.  Before passing them along, just a word about circumcision.

A non-issue for us.  However, in our context it represents both our futile attempts to be right with God by trying to keep his Law (centered in the Ten Commandments) and our attempts to be right with God by constructing our own rules and regulations.  “Real Christians don’t drink, smoke or chew or hang around with girls who do!”  Not sure I got that old slogan right.  But you know what I mean, right?  Legalism.  Extra-biblical rules and regulations we make necessary for being righteous before God.

It’s in that context that Paul writes, “In union with Christ Jesus keeping God’s laws or your self-created rules counts for nothing.  The only thing that counts for being right with God is faith in Christ Jesus that shows itself in acts of love” (my paraphrase).

Here, now, is Galatians 5:13-15 from which Fee identifies three important points we should note before moving on . . .

You, my brothers, were called to be free.
But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;
rather, serve one another in love. 
The entire law is summed up in a single command:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
If you keep on biting and devouring each other,
watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

One:  “Freedom from enslavement to Torah (Law) paradoxically means to take on a new form of “slavery”—that of loving servanthood to one another.”

In Paul’s allegory (4:21-31) he refers to Jews under the law as the daughter of Abraham’s wife’s maid servant (Hagar) who “bears children who are to be slaves [to Law] (4:25).  Earlier he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13).  And later, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

Then he warns, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (5:13).  A reminder, as someone wisely noted, Christ freed us not so we can do what we want, but what we should.

Also a reminder that God designed the Christian life to be lived in community with one another.  Therefore, we don’t speak of attending church, but being the church.  Therefore, Jesus gave us a new commandment:  “Love one another . . . By this all people will know you are my disciples” (John 13:34,35).

Two:  “Love of this kind is the way the whole of Torah (Law) is ‘fulfilled’.”

“The entire law is summed up in a single command:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Fee explains:  “The aim of Torah . . . was to create a loving community in which God’s own character and purposes are fulfilled . . . as God’s people love one another as he loves them.”  The Law, of course, is powerless to do this.  But the Spirit is, in the title of Fee’s book, God’s Powerful Presence”.  Thus he empowers believers to live toward fulfilling the Law, which is the Law of love.

Here, too, we find the focus for the Christian life:  as part of the Christian community, the church.  As we, empowered by the Spirit, love one another as members of the church, the whole of Law is fulfilled in our relationships with one another.

Three:  “Freedom from Torah (Law) does not mean ‘lawlessness’.”

This was the Jews greatest objection to the absence of Torah.  If we don’t let it fence us in any longer, do we have license to gratify ourselves however we wish?  As we’ll see in the coming paragraphs, the Gospel provides a new fence.

As long as we’re in these bodies, sin is in our nature.  And typically, we view sins as personal, not as relational.  That is, wrong before God and hurtful to us, but not to the church.  I would suggest that every personal sin “bad marks” the whole Christian community.  And some, of course, like gossip, directly harms the Body.  Such “lawlessness” corrupts us all.

But the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel Paul preached, is not lawlessness.  It is Spirit-saturated.

With this preface in mind, next time we’ll finally reach the summit of Paul’s letter:  the exciting, transforming, powerful presence of God the Holy Spirit.

Image result for photos of the holy spirit



Christ Set Us Free to Be Free

O PreacherNo smoking.  No dancing.  No movie-watching.  Requirements for membership in the church where I grew up.  Leaders meant to keep us from sin.  But they implied people observing the ban helped make “real Christians”.  Specifics in the 1st century Galatia churches differed, but in principle were the same.  In today’s text the apostle Paul concludes his argument against justification by human rule-keeping . . .

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).  “Christ redeemed (or, set us free from) the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13)  so we could be free from “a yoke of slavery”  (futile law-keeping as the way to justification with God).  “Stand firm,” Paul urges.  “stubbornly resist, hold your ground against the slavery-yoke Judaizers want to hang on your Gentile necks!”

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:2-4).  With “Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you” Paul asserts his apostolic authority and issues three warnings . . .

First, get circumcised and Christ will mean nothing at all for you.  Second, get circumcised and you’re legally bound to obey all God’s laws.  And, third, try to be right with God by law-keeping and you’re cut off from Christ and, like withered blossoms on a flower, you’ll have fallen away from God’s undeserved, unmerited love and favor.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:5,6).  But, writes Paul, we who are justified by faith in Christ, are waiting by means of the Spirit the glorification in righteousness we hope for.  We are justified now.  Are being sanctified now.  And will be glorified in the new creation.

That’s because joined to Christ the circumcised Jewish believers have no advantage and the uncircumcised Gentile believers have no disadvantage.  Only one thing matters:  faith—faith that shows itself through acts of love.  Paul doesn’t mean faith plus love equals justification.  He means the faith that justifies works by doing love.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law [circumcision being the identifying mark of the law covenant]” (3:13).  ” . . . the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (5:14).

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.  I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be (Galatians 5:7-10).  Using a race analogy, Paul ruefully reminds them how well they were running.  But someone cut in and blocked them from continuing to obey gospel truth.  God who calls you, Paul asserts, isn’t the source of this change-your-course persuasion!  Like “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”, the Judaizers are affecting the whole church.  Yet, I’m confident because of the Lord, says Paul, the Galatians will focus on the gospel I preach and the confusion-planter will pay!

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:11,12).  Puzzling what Paul means by “if I am still preaching circumcision.”  Perhaps the Judaizers argued, “Look, Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).  And he doesn’t stop the Jewish tradition. He still is pro-circumcision.  So get with it and get circumcised.  Paul retorts:  “If I’m preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  If I were preaching circumcision, the offense of the cross would be a non-issue.”  (The Jews viewed a crucified Messiah as a shameful, offensive idea.)  To say it another way, Paul is being persecuted by Jews for the offense of the cross.

Let’s not “biblically correct” Paul’s words in verse 12.  He really means he wishes the gospel-agitators would slip with the knife and castrate themselves.  Slash off the whole of the private parts.  Paul is furious at the offense this heretical preaching brings to Christ and at the harm it ravages on Christ’s  church.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Galatians 5:13-15).  Taking a deep, calming breath, Paul calls his readers “my brothers” and repeats their call to be free (see 5:1)—free from justification by law-keeping.  But they must not use their freedom from law-keeping to “indulge the sinful nature”.  (Justification and adoption by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still possess a sinful nature as long as we’re in this body.  We’re not to gratify its lusts.)  Freed from the slavery of law, not freed to indulge our sin-nature, but freed to be servants in love to one another!

What’s going on in the Galatia churches?  Chaos and division.  The Judaizers are preaching “a different gospel”.  Some are buying in, others aren’t.  Think of church splits you’ve been part of or heard of.  Believers become animals, “biting and devouring one another”.  Paul calls them back to what the law in summary calls them to:  love.  And he couples that call with a terrible warning:  “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

* * *

When we add rules and regulations to faith in Christ for justification, we make the cross valueless and puff up human pride.  Rule-keeping is like meriting a chest of medals.  (My medals are more than yours!)  And pride breeds “biting and devouring one another.”  Through faith in Christ we’re free.  Not to gratify our lusts.  But to serve each other in love.  Only Christ can make that happen.

This is one reason right doctrine is so important.  What we believe matters.  And what we must believe and stubbornly stand firm in is the truth of the gospel . . .

We have been crucified with Christ and the old “us” no longer lives.
And the life we now live we must live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved us and gave himself for us.
We must not nullify the grace of God,
for if righteousness were through rules,
then Christ died for nothing.



Kick ’em Out!

O Preacher“Having begun in the Spirit, can you be so stupid as to end in the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3, NJB).  The apostle Paul understood that the Christian life begins by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not the result of a preacher’s persuasive sermon or moving music or a hand raised or prayer prayed.  Similarly, the Holy Spirit brings believers to a successful end of the Christian life, not the result of keeping the Ten Commandments or daily devotions or church attendance.

Jewish Christians were trying to convince the Galatia churches otherwise.  Yes, faith in Christ.  But to succeed in this life as God’s people a Gentile must be circumcised and adhere to Jewish law.  Paul was furious and wrote this letter to call these new believers back to faith in Christ crucified working through the Spirit.  This next section of Galatians divides into three parts headed by a summary question . . .

How can you go back to slavery?

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods.  Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?  You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.  I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted” (4:8-11).

For Paul, law-submitting is slavery.  Who can keep all God’s laws all the time?  No one.  And “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them” (3:10).  How can these new believers go back to that?  Faith alone in Christ alone saves and keeps saving to the end.

Have I become your enemy?

The heretical teachers not only drove a wedge between Paul’s gospel and theirs; they also drove a wedge between Paul and the people.  “What has become of the goodwill you felt?” he asks.  “Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”  Paul is pained . . .

Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong.  You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you;  though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.  What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.  Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?   They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them.  It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you.  My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (4:12-20).

TV preachers have more charisma than our pastor.  More clout.  More success.  More power.  (After all, they’re on TV!)  Beware!  99% of the time the TV preacher’s a heretic and our ordinary pastor has the truth.

What does the Scripture say?

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman.  One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise.  Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery.  Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written, “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.”  Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac.  But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.  But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.”  So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman” (4:21-31)

This is an allegory, says Paul.—“a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life or for a political or historical situation” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).    This is not the normal way of interpreting Scripture.  Paul uses it here to make his point.  Hagar, Sarah’s slave-maid, had a son, the result of Sarah wanting a child and urging Abraham to produce one with Hagar.  Hagar, in Paul’s allegory, is like “present Jerusalem” still in slavery, trying to live under law.  Sarah, had a son as a result of God’s promise.  She is like “the Jerusalem above.”  When Paul writes, “Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac”, he is saying that believers in Christ are descendants of Abraham, right with God by faith.

The child born according to the flesh (Ishmael and his descendants) persecuted the child born according to the Spirit (Isaac and his descendants).  So it is now, says Paul.  “But what does the Scripture say? . . .Drive out the slave and her child”.  Kick out the false teachers!

How are we to apply this passage?

  1.  Trust that ” . . . he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  In the new earth we will praise Jesus for saving us, for keeping us, for sanctifying us and, ultimately, for glorifying us.  We’ll know then that all was of grace and nothing was of us.
  2. Don’t treat the TV pastor or popular book author as your buddy while giving less credence to your pastor.  The Lord has set your pastor in place to study and pray over and serve you his Word.  Don’t be awed (and misled) by the “superstar”.
  3. “Kick out” the false teacher.  More often than not, the really popular guys preach a popular gospel, not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Don’t watch them on TV.  Don’t buy their best-selling books.  “Kick ’em out”.  Be a good student of the man God has placed in your church.  And feed daily on the bread of God’s Word.


God-Adopted (2)

O PreacherNowhere does the Bible teach that we are all God’s children.  Yet I say with confidence, “I am a son of God.”  “So,” writes Paul, “you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4;7).

Paul, for the sake of the new Galatian believers, has argued against “the circumcision party” who insisted that Gentiles believe plus be circumcised and follow Jewish law to be right with God.  Paul countered, “Now before faith came, were we held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” (3:23-26).  From slaves to law.  To justification by faith.  To sons by adoption.

“I mean that the heir (to all God’s saving promises) as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father” (Galatians 4:1,2).

Under Roman law, a child—heir of his father’s estate—lived under a tutor’s supervision.  The child, in Paul'[s view, was “no different from a slave”, because he had to follow the tutor’s rules.   But at the son’s 25th birthday,  he inherited everything that was his.

“So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic [elemental] principles of the world” (4:3).

We were children pre-Christ.  And Paul sees that  life as “slavery under the basic principles (Greek, stoykaia) of the world”.  For Jews stoykaia was the Hebrew Law.  For Gentiles concepts of pagan religions.  So our “designer religions” today.  Whatever we design—a little Christianity, a little Judaism, a little New Age—has rules to follow, ceremonies to attend.  All of it to merit a right-standing with God.  But how can we be sure it’s enough?  And how to compensate for falling short of our self-made rules?   In Paul’s mind, it’s childhood slavery.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of [adoption as] sons.  Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (4:4-7).

When God’s calendar said, “Time!”, he sent his Son.  ” . . . born of a woman” to represent us humans.  ” . . . born under law to redeem those under law.”  That is, God’s Son was born under law, lived under law, and fully obeyed the law without transgression.  He did it so we might stand before God justified by faith.  He did it so we might receive his righteousness as a gift of grace.  And he did it “that we might receive adoption as sons.”  Or, as the NIV interprets huiothesian. “that we might receive the fulls rights of sons.”  Like the child-“slave” now turned 25.  All the “estate” God has for his Son, his sons share in.

Adoption as sons—-it’s more than a “legal” transaction.  “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.”  The Spirit applies adoption to believers.  Adoption is an experience in our inmost being.  God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.  And the Spirit calls out “Abba, Father.”

Gordon Fee, theologian and Professor Emeritus at Regent College, writes, “The jury is still out on the precise meaning, and therefore the significance, of the term Abba.   Most likely the word was in fact an expression of intimacy, used by children first as infants and later as adults, reflecting what is true in many such cultures where the terms of endearment for one’s parents are used lifelong” (God’s Empowering Presence). The Son prayed in Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  The Spirit witnesses in our spirit that we are  God’s adopted children, sharing in the Son’s relationship with the Father.

Fee writes, “Here is the ultimate evidence that we are God’s children, in that we address God with the same term of intimate relationship that Jesus himself used . . . The Spirit has taken us far beyond mere conformity to religious obligations . . . For Paul—and for us—this is the ultimate expression of grace” (God’s Powerful Presence). 

And, since we are sons, God has made us also heirs of all his promises.  What we enjoy with him now is just a taste of what’s to come forever.

I am an adopted son of God.  The Spirit of God’s Son lives in me.  And what I will be has not yet appeared; but I know that when he appears, I shall be like him, because I will see him as he is (1 John 3:2).  If you belong to Christ by faith—you too.

Listen to the video.
Let the Spirit of the Son stir your heart with his love . . .



« Older posts

© 2024 The Old Preacher

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)