galatians

Galatians 6

Today we’re reading Galatians 6

The end of Galatians 5, which we read yesterday, told us to walk in the Spirit and the result would be that we would not sin by fulfilling the desires of our sin nature. That is a simple statement, but living it out is difficult because the sin nature within always wants to get out through our actions. And, sometimes it does get out; even though we are Christians, we still choose to sin. Some of our sins are occasional, others are sinful habits and patterns that we repeat continually. In these cases, the Bible calls unto help “restore gently” that person who is stuck. The phrase “restore gently” mean to restore that person to “walking in the Spirit” again. Or, to put it another way, we help release them from being “caught in a sin” so that they can resume the normal Christian life again.

How do we restore someone like this? It depends on what that person needs to no longer be “caught.” Sometimes a person who is caught in a sin needs to be made aware that he or she is sinning. This happens with more subtle sins like gossip. Another example is favoritism, like Paul described back in chapter 2 when he confronted Peter for being hypocritical in how Peter treated the Gentile believers.

In other cases, a believer may know that he or she is sinning but may have trouble stopping. I’m thinking here of someone who is addicted; in that case, the habit is deeply ingrained and often has a chemical aspect to it. Whatever kind of sin it is, if a believer is stuck in it, the Bible calls those of us who “live by the Spirit” (aka “Christians”) to restore that person. We have a command, a call from God to help our brothers and sisters out. This can take a lot of time. It can be very inconvenient to our already busy lives. It can stretch our abilities because we may have to learn some new things or do things that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar to us. But it is good work to do because it restores a Christian to a righteous life again. It strengthens the church because it helps God’s people to become more holy. The only precaution is “watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (v. 1b). Sin is subtle and deceitful so we must be careful when helping others out of it.

“Mind your own business” is usually excellent advice. People sometimes accuse when they have no real basis and we sometimes meddle in other people’s lives. But God does not want us to “mind our own business” when we see a brother or sister struggling with or captured by sin. Our business in those situations is to do whatever we can to help them walk in the Spirit again. So don’t look the other way when you see someone sinning; look for a way to help them out so that they can resume growing in holiness.

Galatians 5

Today, read Galatians 5.

The thing about the Old Testament law, and any code of rules, really, is that they promise moral protection. If you never watch TV or go to the movies, you’ll never see something that causes you to lust or to covet.

But Jesus told us that the desire to curse comes from the heart, not from speaking God’s name. Lust comes from the heart, too, not from seeing an attractive person. Those are opportunities to express the sinful desires within us, not the cause of the sins we commit.

Here in Galatians 5, Paul tells that Galatians that God freed them from the law. They should enjoy the freedom they have in Christ. But the freedom we have in Christ is not the freedom to sin (v. 13). It is the freedom to live out the new spiritual nature we have through regeneration. And the law can’t really restrain the sin nature anyway; all it does it make us aware of our sinful desires and tell us what the penalties for sin are.

Instead of living by a religious code of rules or even a moral list of rules, spiritual freedom calls us to love others (vv. 13b-14). If we love others--that is, we choose to do what is best for them instead of what is best for us, or easiest for us--then we won’t steal from them, lie to them, deceive them into a harmful business deal, or do any of the major sins that people commit. Furthermore, since we have the Holy Spirit within us now (as we saw in yesterday’s reading), we have the power to say no to the sinful nature within (v. 16).

“Walk in the Spirit” has been defined as something experiential, something emotional where you just feel the spirit and do what he says. Of course there are times when we sense God’s presence with us and in us, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here. “Walk in the Spirit” means cultivate your spiritual life. It is a command to read the word, pray, be instructed in the word, discuss truth and temptation with your brothers and sisters, and so on. As you put effort into cultivating your spiritual life, your spiritual life will blossom and bear fruit, just like your garden grows and makes vegetables when you water it, weed it, etc. Verses 22-23 describe for us what spiritual growth looks like. These are categories of growth, things that we will see emerge more and more in the ways we act and react to life and people and circumstances and choices we make. You have the Holy Spirit within you and he desires to make you holy in your life, too. So invest in things that are spiritual and the Spirit will produce the fruit of the Spirit in you.

Galatians 4

Today read Galatians 4.

Paul’s plea to the Galatians continued in this chapter, and a very anxious plea it was! To Paul, following the law is like being a child, a slave even (vv. 1-3) but believing in Christ is full adoption to sonship (vv. 4-7). So why would anyone choose following the law over believing in Christ? To do that would make you like a minor again (vv. 8-11) instead of having all the wealth, blessings, rights, and privileges that an adult heir would receive from his father. It’s like choosing to be Ishmael instead of Isaac (vv. 24-31); nobody would make that choice, but that’s what subjecting yourself to the law is, spiritually speaking.

Within Paul’s explanation about this he described one of the benefits of believing in Christ. Christ died for our sins so that “we might receive adoption to sonship” (v. 5). Adoption is such a great metaphor for what God has done for us in Christ. When a couple adopts a child, that child is conferred--credited--with all the rights and privileges that a natural-born child has. In the same way, by adopting us in Christ, God gives us the same status of sonship as Christ himself. But “status” is not something we experience, at least not in this life. If we are going to relate to God as his sons, we need more than just status. So God did something else for us so that we could benefit from our status as sons in this life. As Paul put it in verse 6, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” The reason why we can have assurance of salvation is that we have the Spirit within us that speaks of our relationship to God as his sons now in Christ. The reason we can pray in faith that God hears us is that the Holy Spirit within us calls out to him.

This gives us hope for a future eternity with God. As verse 7 put it, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Christ promised an inheritance to us in his eternal kingdom; that inheritance comes from the status we received as a gift of grace from Jesus.

Galatians 3

Today’s we’re scheduled to read Galatians 3.

Paul had strong words for the Galatians in this chapter but that is because so much is at stake. If the Christian faith became tied to obeying the law of Moses, then the gospel itself would be corrupted.

The main issue in this chapter is how can Gentiles be legitimate spiritual descendants of Abraham. Jewish people, of course, are physical descendants of Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were about his human descendants. The Messiah--Jesus--descended from Abraham physically and the kingdom he promised was tied to the covenant God made to Abraham. So what about these people--“Gentiles”--who did not physically descend from Abraham? How can they be blessed without being physically descendants of Abraham?

The Judaizers who wanted to connect following Christ with keeping the Old Testament law apparently saw obedience to the law as the way to connect Gentile believers to the covenant God made with Abraham. Paul wanted to stop anyone from believing that false doctrine, so in this chapter he gives a better answer: It is that faith makes a person a spiritual relative of Abraham (v. 7, 29) not obedience to the law. This is because: (a) Abraham was a man of faith himself (vv. 6, 9) so faith matters in spiritual things, not physical descent. (b) God prophesied the Gentile conversion when he told Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (v. 8). (c) In Christ, who was Abraham’s “seed” believers are connected to the promises given to Abraham (vv. 15-17). Since Christ kept the law and died as an atonement for the penalties of the law, the law has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer necessary as a covenant structure for God’s people (vv. 23-29).

All of these things seemed like they were not directly relevant to us, until recently. Sure the principles in this passage have indirect, extended relevance and application to us in the sense that they teach us not to look to religious actions for justification but faith alone in Christ. Recently, however, new movements have emerged which seek to return Christianity to its Jewish “roots”. A pastor friend of mine is dealing with elements of this in his church. While understanding the Jewish background of scripture and Christianity can be helpful in interpreting the Bible, the New Testament is clear that we are not under the law of Moses in any sense because Christ fulfilled it all. Don’t allow anyone to undermine your faith by offering you a deeper experience of Christianity by keeping the law. Christ is all we need and in him is more than we can appreciate in this life.

Galatians 1

Today we pause from reading acts to start reading Galatians; specifically, Galatians 1.

I should have had us read Acts 15 first before we turned to Galatians, but it’s too late to fix that now. Although Galatians was not written at this point in the story of Acts, Galatians 1 describes Paul’s life before he became a Christian (vv. 11-14) and his early Christian life (vv. 15-24). The events of Galatians 2 are described either back in Acts 11:30 or in Acts 15 so that’s why we’ll read Galatians now before going further in Acts.

Here in Galatians 1, Paul expressed his surprise at how quickly the believers in the region called Galatia were turning to a perversion of the gospel instead of the true gospel Paul brought to them. We’ll learn more about this perversion of the gospel in the days ahead but for now it is important to know that it was an attempt to blend Judaism with Christianity and impose that blend on the Gentile believers.

Paul knew Judaism quite well which is why he began addressing this problem with his own religious resume as an enthusiastic Jewish Pharisee (vv. 13-14). In order to highlight the difference between the Judaism he was raised in and lived under and the gospel, Paul reminded the church “that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (vv. 11-12). Instead of seeing his faith in Christ as an extension of his Judaism, Paul saw it as a complete conversion. Once he was “...was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (v. 14b) and then God chose “to reveal his Son in me” (v. 16a). Anyone who attempts to blend the Christian faith with Judaism, then, has misunderstood and mischaracterized the Christian faith.

The lesson for us is to be careful with the gospel--understand it well and guard it from corruption. There are all kinds of ways in which Satan would love to corrupt the gospel. Most of them, however, add human works to faith in one way or another. These might be Jewish traditions or they might be some other kind of religious actions. The scriptures remind us in this chapter that the gospel is God’s good news; it is not ours to modify. Modifying the gospel changes it into “a different gospel” (v. 6b) which means it isn’t good news at all (v. 7a).

Most people dislike conflict but within your friends and neighbors there are likely many different religious practices including some that claim to be “Christian.” You may love your friends and neighbors and desire to be accepted and fit in among them but don’t change the message of salvation in Christ in order to extend acceptance to them or to be accepted by them.