Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Time with Galatians

Recently, I was asked by my church to begin a short series on the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians, to begin in August. It seems to be divine timing, because both my radio co-host and myself have recently encountered some examples of the Galatian heresy in the course of our ministry. Here's a brief overview of what I am going to be dealing with.

The letter (book) was written by the Apostle Paul to counter the arguments of the Judaizers, or Jewish Christians who believed that the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament were still binding on the New Testament church. Paul had preached the Gospel in the region and he had a personal stake in the well-being of this congregation. The Judaizers had come in behind him and were tearing the Gospel to shreds. Eventually, I will take a chapter by chapter, verse by verse approach in the Sunday school study, but I have noted some things that grabbed me in my latest read-through.

1. Paul's change in demeanor from previous epistles. Why would this issue upset Paul so much? Later in 4:20, he talks about being perplexed and wishing to change his tone. Even in both letters to the church at Corinth -- where there were also serious sin issues -- he generally begins with a lengthy invocation or greeting, but not here. Just to get an idea, imagine a faithful church-planting missionary going in and laboring for months, if not years, to get a new congregation off to a solid start, only to find out later that it’s being torn apart by heresy.

2. In chapter 2, Paul gets into the showdown between himself and the Apostle Peter. To set the stage, let’s look at Acts 11, where Peter gets sent to the Gentiles (and this predates Paul). Peter is told not to consider the Gentiles unclean. The Gospel is open to them as well. Later, his famous incident with Paul takes place. Peter knows better, yet he (and even Barnabas, who spent so much time with Paul) “feared the party of the circumcision." Interesting that these people are described as “certain men from James,” yet James had signed off on the encouraging letter to Gentile believers in Acts 15, where Gentile believers were not put under the burden of following the Law of Moses. We see that Jewish believers who were not part of the “circumcision party” were swayed and influenced enough to fall into the trap. So Paul is incensed. Again, the very nature of the Gospel is being threatened.

3. Another issue we find (and this is being renewed today in some circles) is that the Judaizers were attacking Paul and dismissing his authority as an Apostle. They are “red letter” Christians who insist that Jesus’ words are authoritative, but also insist that the Apostle Paul’s writings do not carry the same authority. This denies the plenary inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit. Paul again shares his testimony with the Galatian believers in chapter 1:11 through the Jerusalem Council. James, Peter and the rest of the Apostles (and the Jerusalem church) gave Paul the nod as the Apostle to the Gentiles, along with Barnabas. 2 Peter 3:15 shows Peter recognizing that Paul’s writings were inspired Scripture.

As an aside, I had to think of the Apostle Paul's basic integrity in making a distinction between his own opinions and the actual word from the Lord. The example of this is in 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul takes pains to make a distinction in instructions he received from the Lord, and his own private judgment.

4. In chapter 3, Paul drives the point home, making a sharp distinction between Law and grace. In verse 6, Abraham believed God, verses 10 and 11, whoever is under the works of the Law is under a curse, and no one is justified by the Law before God. The righteous shall live by faith – the same phrase that so captivated Martin Luther in the Roman Catholic system of works righteousness. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us. Roman 10:4, Christ is the END of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

This promises to be an exciting, invigorating study, and a timely one. We dare not compromise the Gospel. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory.

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