Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 3, Relationship Not Religion

In today's passage Paul begins to speak on the subject of the freedom we have in Christ. He will expand on it even further in tomorrow's study, but today he reminds his Gentile readers that the Christian life is a relationship with Christ, not a "religion". It's possible to be very observant about rules and rituals and not have a personal relationship with the Lord. Having a relationship with the Lord will naturally lead people to do what Jesus would do. Having a relationship with the Lord will naturally help Gentile believers, who don't have the Mosaic law, to follow the spirit of the law in their dealings with God and with their fellow man.

First Paul completes his discussion on just where he received the gospel message he preaches. As we learned yesterday, after his conversion he was given the message from Christ Himself. "Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also." (Galatians 2:1) Yesterday he told us that he met with the Apostle Peter and the Apostle James at Jerusalem three years after his conversion. So he's saying, "Fourteen years after that meeting I returned to Jerusalem."

"I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek." (Galatians 2:2-3) Some of the Jewish Christians were having trouble viewing Gentile Christians as equals. They had been brought up to regard Gentiles as unclean, which is understandable when we consider the idolatry the Gentiles formerly practiced. We can see where the Jews were coming from in having difficulty believing God was willing to accept Gentiles into His family. Some of them figured that if this was His intention then surely He wanted them to be circumcised and to follow the dietary rules and other points of the Mosaic law. So while Paul was at Jerusalem he met with the leadership of the church and presented to them the message he preaches among the Gentiles. The council could clearly see that the message Paul preaches is the same message they themselves preach. The gospel says nothing about circumcision or about dietary rules or about adhering to hundreds of laws; the gospel says faith in the One who perfectly kept the law is what imputes righteousness to believers.

The men of the council could see that God called the Gentiles out of darkness into light while they were still uncircumcised and while they were still eating unclean foods. Upon calling them into the light, God did not command them to become circumcised and begin following the law. The law did not save them and the law is not going to keep them saved, just as the law did not save the Jews but faith in the Giver of the law saved them. So the men of the council extended the right hand of fellowship to Titus, a Greek convert, and treated him as an equal in spite of the fact that he was not circumcised and did not know all the points of the Mosaic law and did not observe these points in his daily life.

Yet there were those in Jerusalem who were unwilling to view Gentiles as anything other than perpetually unclean. "This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." (Galatians 2:4-5) As happens in most any religious community, there will be those who attend church services mainly for the purpose of stirring up trouble. Paul says some "false believers" were hanging around in the assembly of believers in order to see what was going on at their meetings. These were apparently people who did not want the Lord to call Gentiles into His family, who did not believe He would even consider such and thing, and who did not want Him to consider it. But on the off-chance that God actually was willing to accept the Gentiles, these men thought surely He would expect them to observe at least the basics of the law. They had completely missed the entire point of salvation by grace through faith. Having been saved by faith, the Gentiles are in danger of being brought into the bondage of the law by those who are unwilling to accept them unless they follow the law. If the law were necessary for salvation, then how can they explain the fact that these Gentiles are already saved? Rather than reasoning this out and coming to the conclusion that it is faith that saves souls, certain troublemakers want to force the Gentiles to adhere to the law as if their salvation in Christ is not complete without it.

These men have forgotten that their father Abraham was saved (considered righteous) before the law was ever given. (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:22) And what about Job? He lived before the law was given but the Lord said of him, "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8b) What about Isaac? What about Jacob? What about all the men and women who lived on the earth and feared the Lord before the law was ever given? We consider these believers "saved", don't we? Yet they could not follow the law because they did not have the law, so it is clear that the law does not save anyone. The law had a purpose and that was to show man that he had sinned and fallen short. After realizing he had sinned and fallen short, man could either choose to repent and turn to the Lord for mercy (receive righteousness by faith) or choose to go on living at a far distance from the Lord.

The law was a good thing because it helped man to acknowledge his sin and turn to the Lord for mercy. But the law did not save souls; faith in the Giver of the law saved souls. This is why Paul says something like, "These spies want to take away our freedom in Christ! They want to confuse the Gentile believers about their salvation. They are telling them their faith isn't enough to make them right with God, that God won't accept them until they are circumcised, and that He won't have mercy on them unless they learn and strictly follow all of the 613 laws. Yet not one of these spies could stand here before us and recite all 613 laws, must less perfectly keep 613 laws. Why then are they trying to compel the Gentiles to do it? Why are they trying to confuse the Gentiles and make them feel frustrated and depressed? I refuse to give in to those who want to bring believers into bondage. I did not ask Titus, my Gentile friend, to give in to them and he did not feel the need to give in to them. The leaders of the church accepted him as an equal, and all believers should follow their example and accept as equals those Gentiles who have been saved by the gospel message. It is the only message that saves! After accepting this message the Gentiles will naturally be led by the Holy Spirit into doing what is right in the eyes of God, but learning and observing rules is not going to add anything to what Christ has already done. Christ accomplished salvation for mankind; mankind cannot accomplish salvation for himself."

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