Monday, May 09, 2011

Galatians Part 6: Paul defends the gospel (a)—2:15-6:16

IV. Paul defends the gospel—2:15-6:16 

A. Justification by faith above the Law—2:15-5:12
1. The works of the Law cannot justify the flesh—2:15-21

2:15—We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles—Paul is simply contrasting himself, Peter and the other Jewish Christian with the Gentiles. By nature Paul, Peter and the Jewish Christians were Jews, but  by nature the Gentiles were separated from the household of God. 

2:16—nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus—This is now where we get into the heart of the gospel. Justification by faith. The word “justified” comes from the Greek dikaióo (δικαιοω). Justification is a technical term borrowed from the world of law. It means to declare someone righteous. Note that it does not mean to make someone righteous. When a judge made a judgement, he could not make the accused guilty; he could simply declare him guilty. In the same way, the judge could not make a man innocent; he could simply declare him innocent. In this way, when God justifies us, He does not make us righteous; He simply declares us righteous.

The great theologian, Louis Berkhof, defines justification as "a judicial act of God, in which He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner." [emphasis supplied by Berkhof] It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. While it has respect to the sinner, it does not change his inner life. It does not affect his condition, but his state, and in that respect differs from all the other principal parts of the order of salvation. It involves the forgiveness of sins, and restoration to divine favor.”1

Our justification can never be by the works of the law (see Gen 15:6; Ac 13:39; Rom 5:1; 1 Cor 6:11; Gal 3:11, 24). Our justification is through faith in Christ Jesus. “Faith does not merit God’s acceptance; it accepts Christ’s merit before God (Phil. 3:9).”2 Since faith is a gift from God, it cannot merit acceptance with God. Its source is God Himself. Concerning Eph 2:8, James White wrote: “There is no reason, contextual or grammatical, to accept the fact that two of the three substantival elements (grace and salvation) are a ‘gift,’ while the third, faith, is strictly human contribution. Paul’s entire theology, including the fact that he specifically refers to faith as something that is 'granted' to us (Philippians 1:29), would indicate that all three elements together constitute a singular gift of God, for surely grace is His freely to give; salvation is His to freely give, and likewise, saving faith is the gift of God given to His elect.”3 

even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified—Paul puts great importance on the doctrine of justification by faith, since he mentions it three times in this one verse! 

2:17—But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!—Paul shows that even Jews who are justified in exactly the same way that Gentile must be justified, are brought down to the same level as Gentiles. In this verse Paul refers back to verse 15 where the Jews are contrasted with the sinners among the Gentiles. Since in the doctrine of justification it is shown that no one can be justified by the works of the law—the religion of the Jews—even the Jews are then shown to be sinners. Just because it is shown that the Jews are sinners like the gentiles, it does not mean that Christ is a minister of sin! The law is no longer a justifying agency and so the Judaizers have no ground to stand upon with their accusations that Christ is a minister of sin because He has put aside the law! 

2:18—For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor—Having once abandoned the law for grace, returning to the law makes one a transgressor. This is the case with Peter. He had been eating with the Gentiles until the legalists arrived in Antioch. In this way he proclaimed that the Levitical legislation was invalid. When he withdrew from the Gentiles on the basis of eating laws he once again declared the Levitical laws valid. This made Peter a transgressor. 

2:19—For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God—Paul is not saying here that he has become a person without law and therefore lawless. By his conversion he has died to the law as a means to gain access to God. The law as a body of statutes as a means of justification did not live up to its claims—as by the Judaizers—and as such could not bring us to God. Having died to the law, the law had no more claim upon Paul and so he could live for God. 

2:20I have been crucified with Christ—The phrase “I have been crucified” is the Greek word sustauróo (συσταυροω) which simply means to be crucified together. However, this word is in the perfect tense in the Greek Machen writes that “[t]he Greek perfect tense denotes the present state resultant upon a past action.”4 The meaning of the perfect tense as defined by Machen is confirmed by J. W. Wenham in his The Elements of New Testament Greek and also by A Greek Grammar of the New Testament written by Curtis Vaughan and Virtus E. Gideon.

Paul’s life is sealed with Christ since he is crucified with Christ. It is a past fact. Christ came to abolish the law through His death, and so when Paul writes that he is crucified with Christ he makes his break from the claim of the law emphatic. Paul died to the law (v19) since he is crucified with Christ. 

and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me—Paul no longer lives a life for himself but a life centered in Christ. Previously Paul was the central person in his life. Now Christ has become that central person. Christ is the living One in him. 

and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God—The life Paul now lives while alive he lives by faith in Christ. All the cases of living mentioned in this verse, whether Paul or Christ, are in the present tense. The present tense in Greek is a continuous tense. Before Paul was saved he continually lived for himself and his own interests, but since Christ came to live in him continually he continually lives by faith in Christ. 

who loved me and gave Himself up for me—Paul is certain of the love of Christ for him and that Christ gave Himself up for him. Paul’s own love and zeal for Christ was centered in the fact that Christ loved him and died for him. 

2:21—I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly—What is Paul saying here? He is simply declaring the crux of the gospel he preached. The grace of God is nullified when we attempt to gain a righteousness based on the Law. If indeed righteousness came through the Law, then the death of Christ was in vain.

“[30] What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; [31] but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. [32] Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” (Rom 9:30-32) 

2. Spirit comes by faith—3:1-5

3:1—YOU foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?—When Paul starts with “YOU foolish Galatians” he expresses his righteous anger at them and the ones who bewitched them. Paul wants to know who bewitched them. Who pulled the wool over their eyes? Who played this mean deluding trick on them? Our salvation hinges on the fact that Jesus was crucified, and now what? Are they hoping for their salvation through the Law?

When Paul preached to them before he publicly portrayed Christ as crucified. The phrase “publicly portrayed” comes from prographo (προγραφω), which in this passage means to portray something clearly or vividly. In a sense Paul painted word pictures when he preached to them. In 2:21 Paul gives the antidote to the Law…the death of Christ. It is almost as if Paul is amazed that the antidote did not take with the Galatians. “I gave you such a vivid picture of the crucifixion of Christ, and still you get hoodwinked into wanting to follow the Mosaic legislation?” Paul was totally dumbfounded.

How could they be so foolish to be bewitched by the Judaizers. Paul uses the word “bewitch” which was a metaphor derived from one of the popular superstitions of the day. It speaks of an evil eye that controls one. The word comes from baskaino (βασκαινω), which means to “cast the evil eye on,
put a spell on
someone.”5 In extra-Biblical writings this word was used of those who lead others astray by using wicked arts and magic. However, one could break the spell by spitting three times! Paul is using this word metaphorically. It is almost as if these Judaizers have put a magic spell on the Galatians to control them to the extent of leading them astray. 

3:2—This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?—Paul continues to ask them a pointed question. What does Paul mean when he asks, “did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” He is simply contrasting the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of the work of Christ alone with the law-works gospel of the Judaizers. Are you saved by faith or by the works of the law? 

3:3—Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?—After calling the Galatians foolish in verse 1, he once again asks them if they could be so foolish as to believe that having begun by the Spirit they could be perfected by works. What does it mean to begin by the Spirit? It means that they started off as Christians by the work of the Spirit. Their rebirth was accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor 12:13)

It is the Spirit who puts us into the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is not only involved in our salvation (Jn 3:6, 8; Rom 8:23; 1 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Gal 3:14; 4:6; Eph 1:13; 4:30). He is also involved in our perseverance to the end (Rom 8:16; 15:13; Eph 3:16; 2 Tim 1:14; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13) and in our sanctification; being made more like Christ (Rom 15:16; Gal 5:22; 2 Thes 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). 

3:4—Did you suffer so many things in vain -- if indeed it was in vain?—We find that the church in Galatia did suffer persecution (Ac 14:2, 5, 19, 22). Because of their leanings toward the teaching of the Judaizers, Paul wants to know if they suffered that persecution for absolutely nothing! At first they stood up to persecution for their faith in Christ, but now it seems that they are thinking of throwing away that faith for a false gospel. However, Paul, through the phrase “if indeed it was in vain,” seems to think that the Galatians have not been that foolish yet to step over the line to the false gospel. It seems Paul is not willing to believe that they are defectors. 

3:5—So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?—In verse 3 Paul questioned the Galatians to answer from their own point of view whether they had begun in Christ by the Spirit or the Law. Here he puts the question to them from God’s point of view. Did God who saved them—provided them with the Spirit—do it by the works of the Law or by faith?

Paul covers the whole scope of Christian experience in vv2-5. Verse 2 handles the salvation of the Galatians. Verse 3 speaks of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and here in verse 5 he writes of the miracle working power of the Holy Spirit among the Galatians. This may well be a reference to the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, but we cannot be dogmatic about it. 

3. Abraham’s children are those who believe—3:6-9

3:6—Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS—Abraham thought that since he was childless that someone not his own flesh and blood would become heir of his house. At this point God spoke to him and told him that “one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir” (Gen 15:4). God took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them…, So shall your descendants be.” (v5 ) Then Abraham “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (v6) Abraham put his faith in what God told him and God reckoned it to Abraham’s account as righteousness.

The word “reckon” comes from logizomai (λογιζομαι), which is used in ancient papyri as a business term in relation to bookkeeping. It means to calculate or reckon; to take something into account. It has the idea of crediting something to someone’s account.

Abraham “believed God and his act of faith was computed as to its value, and there was placed to his account, righteousness.”6 As a result of his faith, Abraham’s account was credited with righteousness.

“Righteousness” comes from the Greek dikaiosune (δικαιοσυνη), in a moral and religious sense means uprightness, the characteristic required by God of men in the sense of fulfilling God’s statutes. It is the compelling motive for conduct in life. It speaks of conformity to the laws of God. The question is, however, can we actually conform to God’s law? 

3:7—Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham—The question that the Judaizers put in the minds of the Galatians is: “Who are the genuine children of Abraham?” These Judaizers taught that only those who are physically circumcised are the true children of Abraham. Paul counters this notion by quoting Gen 15:6 in verse 6 and then stating the principle of being Abraham’s children if one stands in faith before God. 

3:8—The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU—Paul quotes from Gen 12:3 to say that the gospel was preached to Abraham. The truth about the matter is that as Abraham was justified by faith, so the Gentiles too will be justified by faith. Jesus told the Jews that “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (Jn 8:56) Abraham became the prototype of how anyone must appropriate salvation. 

3:9—So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer—What are “those who are of faith” blessed with? Well, the context makes it clear to us that Paul is dealing with salvation. Salvation by works—which just does not happen—and salvation by faith. The Judaizers proclaimed salvation by works, but Paul simply carries on by showing that only “those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham.” Only “those who are of faith” receive the blessings that Abraham received and are saved with Abraham. 

End Notes

[1] Berkhof, Louis, Systematic Theology: New Combined Edition, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996, p513. 
[2] Sproul, R. C., General Editor, The Reformation Study Bible, NKJV, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1995, p1850.
[3] White, James R., The Potter's FREEDOM, Calvary Press Publishing, Amityville, NY, 2000, p296.
[4] Machen, J. Gresham, New Testament Greek for Beginners, The Macmillan Company, Toronto, Ontario, 1923, Copyright renewed, 1951, Arthur W. Machen, p187.

[5] Friberg, Timothy & Friberg, Barbara & Miller, Neva F., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000, p89.
[6] Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Volume One, Galatians in the Greek New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1973, p89.

For more on this series, simply visit the Galatians label.
The next part in the Galatians series will be available next Monday!

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