Monthly Archives: June 2018

Galatians 3:21-4:7

21Is the law then contrary to the promise of God? May it never be! For if the law was given that was able to give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22But the scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, in order that the promise by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ would be given to those who believe. 23Now before the coming of faith, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So the law was our guardian until the coming of Christ, so that we would be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the guardian. 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you are of Christ, you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. 4 1I say as long as the heir is under age, he is no different than a slave, though he is lord of all, 2but he is under guardians and trustees until the time set by the father. 3In the same way we also, while we were under age, we were enslaved under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to set free those under the law, in order that we might receive adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave but a sons; if a son, then an heir also through God.

 

Now we approach the positive power of Paul’s argument; he has heretofore exposited the negative results of dependence on the written code of the Law for righteousness. A couple of pericopes back, he referenced Habakkuk 2.4, in which the people of God were promised that the “righteous will live by faith,” and we recall from translation of that passage in a previous devotional that many scholars see the Hebrew word in question as “faithfulness,” rather than just “faith.” When Paul employs the phrase ἡ επαγγελια ἐκ πιστεως Ἱησου Χριστος in verse 22, I have translated it “the promise based on the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” as do many expositors. It was not the Galatians’ own faithfulness that resulted in this promise of God—but the faithfulness of Christ. And therefore it is not by faith one’s ability to “obey” that one is justified, but faith in Christ, Whose very faithfulness secured that promise. There are essentially two strands in Jewish thought in the Old Testament: the law, which points to our sin, and YHWH’s expectation of a response by faith. One draws us down, the other lifts us up. As Schreiner points out, we cannot by rules and laws change our nature or produce life. Ancient church father Fulgentius reminds us that law without grace can expose disease—but cannot heal. Instead, the Law acted as a sort of teacher, since God is the Master Teacher Who is always teaching. The word used in verse 24 is παιδαγωγος, from which we get our English word “pedagogue.” The study of pedagogy is the study of teaching. The definition of the Greek word is actually “one who provides instruction for informed and responsible living.” The Law, then, was simply teaching mankind about the holiness of God, and continually pointing to the fact that man was incapable of that holiness. Theodoret reminds us that “the law prepared us for faith,” and John Chrysostom rightly affirms that there is no further use for the guardian/teacher once the inheritance has been granted. After all, as Paul points out in verse 4.1, we are all born enslaved to sin. That “teacher” showed the Galatians the bad news about themselves, and reminded them of their enslavement to sin. But the faithfulness of Christ had secured the promise of God to Abraham for them: they were now reckoned not as children being brought up by tutors, but full heirs of God’s promise. The Galatians are thus reminded that God’s purpose in redemption has always been to bring his people to a full realization of their personal relationship with him as sons and to a full possession of their promised inheritance. Thus, reverting to the law’s customs would be as absurd as the grown man moving back in with his pedagogue. The believing Galatian is no longer enslaved to the elemental forces (στοιχεια) of the world, but is now adopted as a son of the living God. And one consequence of this reconciliation with God is a reconciliation with each other; in 3.26-29, Paul points out that the Galatians exist in new relationships because of Christ’s faithfulness. There is no longer to be any distinction in social standing or status between Jew and Greek, slave or free, or male or female. Despite the bigotry and racism of the surrounding pagan culture, the people of Christ are to exist in the Church as brothers and sisters, adopted by God. Thus we see that the need to divide and subjugate is a function of faithlessness, not faithfulness.

 

This is powerful stuff. God originally gave the Law to show man his sin—and God’s own unapproachability. The Law reminds us that God is a holy God, and we are a sinful people. Regardless of our efforts at obedience, we are still fallen and depraved. Think of the Pharisees and their strict adherence to the Law: they knew the written code better than anyone, had “built a fence around it” to keep others from transgressing it—and they had become more odious in Christ’s eyes than the pagan Gentiles who begged for His mercy. It’s not that the Law is evil—it was given by God, after all. Rather, it’s that the Law, now that it is fulfilled, is no longer necessary. The customs, feasts, and codes are babysitters that guarded our humility and pointed us to the true Father, but now that the Father has sent the Son the Law is nothing. Keeping facets of the Law for religious purposes now is just as absurd as a grown man moving back in with his tutor. For this reason, it is crucial that we understand that our obedience doesn’t move the needle with God. Rather, God moves the needle….and our response to Him in obedience is even a gift from Him. We are responsible for ZERO percent of our righteousness. Every bit of it is granted by Him.

 

What a relief to know that I’m not responsible for my eternal standing with God! Truth be told, there wouldn’t be a day go by in which I didn’t screw that up somehow. I still run into Christians who believe that I’m not as “Spirit-filled” as they are because I don’t adhere to their code of conduct, but Paul’s teaching here challenges this view. We can talk about the process of sanctification AFTER our justification, and how it takes place in the community of faith and is a joint project in which we cooperate with the work of the Spirit to grow us. But that is a far cry from “Christians don’t do this,” or “Christians don’t say that,” or “Christians don’t watch this” or “Christians don’t drink that.” Faith traditions that teach this sort of thing—primarily centered in Puritan-evangelical traditions—have need to go back and re-read Galatians, because they are the modern Judaizers. If we truly believe that the Spirit is fully God, then why don’t we trust the Spirit to grow others around us? Why do we feel that these folks just won’t grow without our input, our lists of prohibitions and codes of conduct?

 

Let’s dial back our legalism today. Love one another, spur one another toward deeper relation with God Almighty through the Person of His Son Jesus Christ. And live in the freedom that Christ has purchased for you—the true righteousness that is based on HIS faithfulness, not yours.

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Galatians 3:15-20

15Brothers, to give a human example, even with a man-made covenant, no one nullifies or adds to it once it is put into effect. 16Now the promises were paid to Abraham and his seed. It does not say, “and to seeds,” referring to many—but to one, “and to your seed,” which is Christ. 17This I say: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not nullify a covenant made previously with God, so as to render it inoperable. 18For if the inheritance comes by law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions until the seed to whom it was promised should come, and it was given through angels by an intermediary. 20Now a mediator implies more than one, but God is one.

 

 

The Judaizers, according to Paul, have been the reading the Old Testament wrongly. During the 400 silent intertestamental years, with no central place to worship and no cohesive group of God’s people to worship as in days of old, Jews turned inward to a type of rabbinism: the close study of the Mosaic Law, with an intent to be holy by keeping its precepts. This caused them to read the Mosaic Law as a stand-alone concept, rather than contextualizing it with the rest of the Old Testament. Of all the Old Testament literature in which the Law could have been contextualized, the covenant with Abraham was the most significant, in Paul’s view. This was the original promise rom God to His people—before they even existed. And so the problem is hermeneutical: the Jews are reading the Bible apart from the context of progressive revelation. Later covenants, such as Davidic, are harmonious with Abrahamic because they elaborate and refine the provisions of God’s promise to Abraham. One must see the Mosaic one in context with the Abrahamic one. The central idea in this pericope is that the Sinai covenant must be subordinated to the Abrahamic covenant (Schreiner). Only then can we get a full picture of the God-man relationship, including how holiness fits in. For example, reading the Sinai covenant (or the Law) out of context causes one to believe that following its precepts makes one holy. But in actuality, it is trust in God that brings holiness, and one by-product of that trust is obedience to the Law. So the Judaizers had it directly backwards: you do not obey your way to righteousness, but righteousness is granted to you—and one after-effect is obedience to His word.

 

This is a crucial concept to master. If the Jews could not obey their way to righteousness—with God’s Law right in front of them—how can we obey our way to righteousness by keeping a strict code of conduct? We are unable to obtain the righteousness of God by promising to “not drink or chew or run around with girls who do.” Rather, God’s righteousness is given to us graciously, and one consequence of that righteousness is an ability to obey Him as He leads us. Moreover, as leaders, since we know that code-keeping does not bring righteousness, it is incumbent on us to not disciple new believers into living our lives instead of their own. For example, if you feel convicted about participation in some activity, you should honor that conviction—but you shouldn’t automatically jump to the conclusion that all Christians will grow along the same path. The “laying down of the law” is a spiritual life-killer. It is a problem of bad hermeneutics. It is a failure to see the forest of righteousness for the trees of rule-following.

 

If you could have obtained your standing before God by being a good boy or girl, you wouldn’t have needed a Savior. Remember that as you disciple others, and remember that as you live the life you’ve been given today. Your righteousness comes from God, and no place else. Moreover, it is unchangeable, as God keeps His promises: “just as no one can change his legal will after his death, that is how unchangeable is God’s promise to save by faith” (Augustine). You trusted in Him for initial righteousness; now trust in Him every day for continued righteousness and everything else you need.

Galatians 3:10-14

10As many as are of the works of the law, they are under a curse, for it is written that “Cursed is everyone who does not obey all of the writings in the book of the law, and do them.” 11However, it is evident that under the law no one is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12But the law is not of faith; rather, “the one who does them shall live by them.” 13Christ has set us free from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for us, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,” 14in order that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

 

 

Paul makes his argument from Dt 27.26 when he reminds the Galatians that unless one obeys all of the law, one is guilty of breaking the entire law. Thus, the premise of the Judaizer argument—that the one who faithfully observes Moses’ law will live a full and acceptable life before God—is false. Paul’s premise, by contrast, is that no one is capable of keeping it, since no one is capable of doing all the good things, so to speak. Paul’s use of the word δικαιουται is important: when Paul uses this word, he means “justify.” When James uses this word, he means “save entirely.” Paul cites Habakkuk 2.4, and you might recall from the Habakkuk devotional that the people of God are summoned to trust in YHWH when circumstances conspire against such trust. Verse 13 shows Paul’s use of 1st person plural (ἡμεις), referring to Gentiles who as yet had not submitted to circumcision. In other words, Paul is so identifying with his readers that the first person plural actually means “we Gentiles” (Longenecker 121). Think about how “Jewish” Paul actually is…and realize what he’s saying and how deeply immersed in his audience he is for the sake of the gospel. And so it is that Paul offers a three-stage argument: (1) those who don’t do everything required by the law are cursed; (2) no one does everything required by the law; and (3) therefore, those who are of the works of the law are cursed. “Our works,” says Schreiner, “always fall short, and hence we trust what God has done for us in Christ for our salvation. Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. Faith is a needy cry for God, while works try to impress God. Faith is a hand reaching out for help, while works insist that no help is needed. Faith trusts that God alone can accomplish salvation, while works smuggle in human effort and cooperation.” As Luther puts it: “trying to be justified by the Law is like counting money out of an empty purse, eating and drinking from an empty dish and cup, looking for strength and riches where there is nothing but weakness and poverty, laying a burden on someone who is already oppressed to the point of collapse, trying to spend a hundred gold pieces and not having even a pittance.”

 

Thus it is that we acknowledge our sin daily but yet cling to the cross as the means by which we are set free. We are not justified by our acts of goodness, such as they may be. We are not justified by our crude and simplistic attempts at holiness. We are not justified by following the rules. We are not justified by abstaining from the worldly pleasures of life. The idea that one must rigidly follow a code of conduct in order to be saved is the modern-day version of Judaizing against which all true Christians must hold forth the message of Galatians. No adherence to a code of rules will justify us; only God saves, and He does that by grace, granted on the basis of faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If the person who follows a list of rules and the person who doesn’t follow a list of rules are both justified by the grace of Christ, then of what value is the list of rules? The answer is none at all. Paul is not only making that point here in Galatians, but will make it quite forcefully at the end of his life in the book of Romans as well. Truthfully, Christ has set us free from slavery—and any superimposed list of rules is a form of slavery. When rule-followers are somewhat successful in following rules, they get a sense of self-righteousness. They feel a pride in being able to keep their feet on the straight and narrow, so to speak. But if one’s status of holiness is due to anything but God’s gift of grace, then the person walking that path is a modern Judaizer, nothing more.

 

Christ has set you free today. You have been made positionally holy by His grace, not your awesomeness. Do not go forth today in your own confidence, as though you are good enough; go forth in confidence in Him, knowing that He Who justified you is also capable of completely sanctifying you in your life. He is capable of leading you. He is capable of keeping you from trouble. He is capable of bringing you into the destiny He has for you. He has set you free to walk in His confidence, not yours. The righteous still lives by faith.

Galatians 3:1-9

1O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified? 2This alone I would find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing with faith [believing what you heard]? 3Having begun in the Spirit, are you so foolish that now you are being completed [perfected] in the flesh? 4Have you experienced so much in vain, if indeed it was in vain? 5Does He Who supplies you with the Spirit and works miracles in you do so by the works of the law, or by the hearing with faith? 6Just as Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. 7Know, then, that it is those of the faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8For the scriptures, seeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached beforehand to Abraham that “all the nations will be blessed in you.” 9So those of faith are blessed together with Abraham, the man of faith.

 

As Paul builds his case for justification by faith, he scolds the Galatians for having been “bewitched” (ἐβασκανεν) in verse 1, but there is no warrant for taking this hyper-literally. It is simply a poetic way of expressing the concept of persuasion. The Galatians have allowed themselves to be led away from the truth. One way that this has been done is in an improper presentation of Christ. To the Judaizers, presenting Christ as crucified was deeply offensive, but to the Christian confession it is a central feature. He challenges the Galatians in verse 2 that “this alone I would in out from you,” which is in the style of a Hellenistic form of rhetoric called a diatribe. His challenge is key: if they are to concede the point of having received the Spirit by faith, then the entire Judaizing case falls. He appeals to their experiences, post-conversion, to remind them that even their positive experiences are all for nothing if the Law is still in effect. By pointing to the inconsistency of the Judaizing argument, Paul is essentially saying the same thing he’d said to Peter in Syrian Antioch: there is no way to consistently live the holy Jewish life, thanks to our fallenness. So why try part of it? He reminds them that the One Who has supplied them with the Spirit and with miracles has done so by the hearing of faith (5). On an interesting grammatical note, “the one who gives” (ἐπιχορηγων) and “the One Who works” (ἐνεργων) are governed by the same particle (ὁ)—placing the two concepts parallel with each other. It is God Who gives the Spirit, and God Who works miracles. We also see a reference to the Judaizers trying to tie their righteous identity to Abraham, as did the Pharisees during Jesus’ ministry on earth. But Paul’s overall point is significant: the Galatians had received the Spirit when they had been justified. And they had been justified by faith, not from works of the law. Not only had they received the Spirit—but they had also received the benefits of the Spirit, as well, including miracles in their midst. Why allow themselves to be persuaded that they themselves had been the true cause of all of that?

 

Think about how far God has brought you. Think about your starting point. The further you’ve come, the more ridiculous it will seem that you have been the supplier of your spiritual peace, your righteousness, the miracles you’ve seen and been a part of. The same One Who forgave you is also healing you and raising you up and taking you along the path that He has for you. These benefits are all of the same Spirit—and you received Him by the hearing of faith, not by doing the right thing. Don’t allow yourself to be persuaded—even by yourself—that you are somehow the origin of your path.

 

Sinful living starts with sinful thinking. To affirm one’s righteousness in Christ is to affirm one’s brokenness without Him. The same One Who saved you is saving you—affirm and embrace this, at the expense of your own pride. Don’t be bewitched by the lie that you can be a good boy or girl. Live today as if all depended on His acts of grace—because all actually does.

 

Galatians 2:15-21

15We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16knowing that no man is justified by works of the law except by faith in Jesus Christ, and we have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not from works of the law, because no flesh is justified from works of the law. 17But if, in living justified in Christ, we are found also to be sinners, is Christ the servant of sin? May it never be! 18For if I rebuild again what I tore down, I prove myself to be a violator [transgressor]. 19For through the law I died to the law, that I might live in God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life I presently live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

 

 

Verse 16 contains a powerful truth: what redemption has cost the Savior shows what persistence in sin will cost the sinner. God won’t let His Son’s death be in vain. Of course, this creates an enormous tension in the thinking Christian, as he realizes that he is still unable to defeat sin on his own. This is why the inclusion of “all flesh” (πασα σαρξ) in that verse also releases this tension—there is none who is capable of working toward salvation. If one could just “be better” or “be holy” without a miracle, then one wouldn’t need a Savior. Verse 19 challenges the Galatians to recall that the purpose of grace is freedom FROM sin, not freedom TO sin. So what has changed in the life of the Christian, exactly? The initial desire to trust Christ rather than self for righteousness marks the moment of justification, and the continued desire to “live by faith in the Son of God” despite presently living “in the flesh” (20) leads to a freedom from sin over time. The verb Paul uses for “live” is present tense, indicating an ongoing process, not a punctiliar moment of sanctification that enable the Christian to live without sin. But the danger here is the concept that this moment of justification is all that is needed. Using a train metaphor, Bartlett says that “many a Christian wants to take a Pullman sleeper at justification and wake up in glorification, without covering on foot the rough intermediary road of progressive sanctification.” The ultimate truth here is that the same power that raised the Galatians from death to life will also continue that process daily as well.

 

It is a sobering thought to remember that I was saved FROM sin…..not saved in order to commit MORE sin. Sometimes, that sin is easily discarded; other times, it is rooted deep within, affecting my perspective and my confidence in God and my faith at its core. But what has changed about me is that now the life I presently live is not for me, but for Him—and that continued fact results in the purging of sin from my life over time. It is constant and ceaseless: over the past 13 years, I have turned out to be quite a different person than I was before. Despite my mistakes and human fallenness, I live a life by faith in the Son of God, not for myself.

 

Are you committed to the Son of God in your life? Are you committed to being changed over time by Him—from who you are to the person He designed you to be? If you’ve been justified by Christ, you no longer worry about heaven and hell; now your daily concern is readjusting your perspective from “living for myself” to “living by faith in the Son of God.” This is the process of sanctification. Are you willingly engaged in it?

Galatians 2:11-14

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12Before certain men came from James, he was eating with Gentiles, but when they came, he drew back and separated himself out of fear of those of the circumcision. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that this was not consistent with the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not a Jew, then how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?”

 

 

This pericope is the climax of Paul’s defense of his apostolicity. It describes a confrontation with Peter at Syrian Antioch, the third-largest city in the empire at the time. F.F. Bruce feels that this moment is referential in the period of time following Acts 14:26-28. Interestingly, its existence forms a rebuttal of sorts to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Petrine succession—that is, the idea that all popes descend from Peter, along with the later idea that Popes are infallible. Had Peter been the undisputed head of the church, this conversation would never have happened in this way. But the gist of the confrontation is the idea of Jewish separatism. Specifically, the boundary markers of Judaism had been circumcision, the keeping of the Sabbath, and the food laws. When Peter was found to have been eating with Gentiles, this left him open to scandal in the eyes of his brethren back in Jerusalem. When some of those brethren came in to visit, Peter quickly had to pretend that he wasn’t eating with Gentiles. The very act of living by pretense was compared, in Koine Greek, to the occupation of the lowest form of life on the social ladder: the actor. The word is ὑποκρισει, from which we get “hypocrisy”—or “play-acting.” Paul’s confrontation of Peter because of his play-acting is a fine example of how the Spirit disciplines the church; the truth doesn’t reside in the conscience of one single person, but each of the fallen humans within it hold one another accountable. One of the consequences of Peter’s action was the fact that even Barnabas had been led astray (συναπηχθη, 13). When rank separatism causes others to be led astray from the true gospel, that should be enough to get any minister’s ire up. Verse 14 shows us that, for Paul, the truth of the gospel was at stake. He describes the process of appropriately living in that truth with the word ὁρθοποδουσιν, which literally means “walking straight.” Most telling about this episode is what is missing here—and it’s missing because Paul’s main emphasis is a defense of his own apostolic authority in front of a church that is being led astray by a false authority—and that is how the story ended up. Peter and Paul certainly reconciled, and were forces for the health of the church for years to come. The necessary confrontation had kept the church “walking straight” along the lines of the true gospel.

 

The church is still led by the Spirit. He still calls us to corporate fellowship and accountability. He still imparts truth to through His word—but the way that we receive that word is through a human filter than is certainly open to being wrong. This is where corporate accountability comes in. Another idea, still, at the heart of this passage is Paul’s courage to defend truth. This is a spiritual gift. Keep this passage in the broader context of what Paul is saying to the Galatians, however: his specific task here is to rebut a Judaizing tendency with the church and correct it. But he cannot do that unless the Galatians recognize his authority as an apostle on par with the conservative Jewish brothers in Jerusalem. This entire section (1.1-2.14) has been a carefully laid defense of that apostolicity. Ironically, there is a “pulling down” the official church authority in Jerusalem to his level, but for the ultimate purposes of equalizing apostolic authority between him and Jerusalem. Some pseudo-authorities from the Judaizing faction were present to lead the Galatians one way—but as Paul’s authority was on the same level, the Galatians must therefore choose the better argument. In reality, Paul’s argument has revealed that, between him and the Judaizers, he is the only possessor of apostolic authority.

 

Again, we take our broken cars to mechanics, and our broken bodies to doctors. One unfortunate by-product of postmodernity has been the “death of authority.” Where we are taught that each of us has the capability of being an apostolic possessor of truth all by ourselves, we eventually conclude that we don’t need the church. Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority is a reminder that different aspects of life fall into different levels of authority, and God has designed it that way. The humble works cooperatively in such a milieu; the prideful bucks against it—and leads others astray.

 

I’m grateful for those who challenge my individual reading of scripture or the way that I care for God’s people. If I thought that I alone had the answers, I would be in denial of my own depravity and brokenness. This is why I seek to maintain a team of exegetes who help me understand what God’s word is teaching. Are you living in such a team? Are you pursuing God’s truth in cooperation with the corporate gathering of the local church? The best way to learn that you have been guilty of mere “play-acting” is to be confronted by a brother or sister—and then to have the humility to listen and correct. Remember that there is always a Barnabas about: there is always someone to be led into whatever behavior you’re exhibiting. If you are pretending to be one type of Christian in front of this crowd, and another in front of another crowd, what might the Barnabas in your life conclude?

 

Corporate possession of His truth and cooperation with His sanctifying work in your (and our) life/lives is the crux of Christian growth. Do it without pretense.

 

 

Galatians 2:1-10

1Then after fourteen years I went again up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and taking Titus also. 2And I went up because of a revelation, and I set before them the gospel I was preaching to the Gentiles (though privately to those who were considered influential), in order to make sure I was not running in vain or had run in vain. 3But even Titus who was with me, though Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. 4Yet because of false brothers brought in under pretenses—who slipped in to spy on our freedom we have in Christ Jesus, in order that they might make us slaves—5we did not yield in submission to them even for a moment, in order that the gospel of truth might be preserved for you. 6And from these who were considered influential (what they were makes no difference to me, for God is no respecter of persons), those who seemed influential contributed nothing to me. 7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter to the circumcised 8(for He who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised also worked through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9and knowing the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, in order that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing we were eager to do.

 

 

Paul continues his defense of apostolicity to his audience, the Galatians. He references Titus and Barnabas, which bear some explanation. First, he mentions that he did not have Titus circumcised, and this seems to be a problem with some who flip over to the section in which Paul has Timothy circumcised for ministry, and wonder if there is a contradiction. There is not: Timothy was considered Jewish, having a Jewish mother. In order to fit in culturally and be able to speak the cultural language of the people to whom he had been sent, Paul had him circumcised—not for legal or soteriological reasons, but for cultural engagement ones. Titus, on the other hand, was all Gentile—and to circumcise him would have then undermined Paul’s argument that observance of the Law had no place in Christianity. So there is no contradiction. With respect to Barnabas, those who support the “south Galatian” theory of the audience of this epistle remind us that Barnabas and Paul together evangelized the south Galatian churches on the first missionary journey. The use of “even Barnabas” in this pericope demonstrates a familiarity with him, so the “south Galatian” folks use this as evidence for their claim. We might also note the private character of the meeting between Paul and the other apostles in Jerusalem. This is a very different setting than the famous Jerusalem Council of Acts 15; here, Paul is setting before the brothers the essence of the gospel he’d been preaching. At the end of his presentation, they put their imprimatur on his ministry. This isn’t Paul starved for their validation—it’s corroboration that the Spirit of God is in his ministry. It is a type of ordination, to be honest: it’s the moment that the community of faith recognizes the call that God has on Paul and gives full assent to it. Paul’s confidence in the divine origin of the call shows up in the way that he refuses to bend to the “false brothers” (ψευδαδελφους) who have infiltrated the meeting to require legal mandates from the new converts. In the end, Peter and John and James and the others recognize Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles as Peter has been to the Jews. It is a recognition, not the origin of the call.

 

This pericope is an example of why it’s important to “keep reading.” Had we stopped with yesterday’s pericope, we might well have concluded that a person can hear a divine revelation from Jesus Christ and have no responsibility of accountability to anyone else in the Church. Then, each person would simply see himself as an apostle who preaches whatever he wants—and the “kerygma” would cease to be a kerygma, having lost its objective status as the “historic faith once handed to the saints.” It would then merely be an opinion in the mouth of a human. One can look no further than the current theological landscape, particularly in Pentecostalism and independent or non-denominational churches, to see that this has become the preferred paradigm for ministry in Protestant evangelicalism. Paul was pretty confident that his call came directly from Jesus Christ—yet here he was in Jerusalem, submitting to accountability with the church at large. The fourteen years he was preaching the gospel were quite valid already, because of the imprimatur of Christ. But this moment of ordination also bore the imprimatur of the Spirit, bringing unity to the Church, which by definition is always one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Paul’s willingness to be accountable shows his willingness to be in fellowship—and this is love.

 

Another thing to keep in mind during this section is the conviction that “any theology that ultimately locates salvation in ourselves and what we do or accomplish is a false gospel. Salvation is no longer the world of God bur represents our work, and hence we become idolaters who are praised for our contribution” (Schreiner). Sometimes it seems as if we make too much of the “works vs. faith” distinction in soteriology. However, it can never be overstated that salvation doesn’t lie within ourselves. Many in the hyper-Wesleyan side of Christianity (the Holiness Movement), for example, argue that you can be free from sin in this life through a work of sanctification. The emphasis in external holiness in that movement has given us many stories of terrible emotional trauma, addiction, and apostasy. Eventually, a thinking person realizes that he just can’t be good enough to be sanctified. This is a true “works-based” salvation. It is to be repudiated, not tolerated—it is not the gospel. It is bad news, not good news. It is for this reason that the Assemblies of God dropped the adjective “entire” from their 9th Fundamental Truth in 1960 (they went from “Entire Sanctification” to “Sanctification”).

 

It takes humility to recognize that your holiness and righteousness comes to as a gift from God through Jesus Christ by the agency of the Holy Spirit. It takes only pride to “try harder.” It takes humility to recognize that you don’t have it in you at all. And it takes humility to be in accountability with others, in order to verify the imprimatur of the Spirit. As we survey the landscape of ministers in evangelicalism, it is sometimes helpful to note these two ideas. Is this minister accountable to a larger body of ministers who exercise ordinational authority over him or her? Or is he flying solo, leading a parachurch ministry by the power of his personality? Since Christ has called us to humility and love, we should be accountable to one another and remember that we are saved by grace—so that we may have grace toward others.