A New and Living Way, Part 1


In 2001, Disney released the movie The Princess Diaries. In the movie, Mia, a socially awkward but very bright 15-year-old girl who is being raised by a single mom, discovers that the father she never knew has recently died. Not long after his death, her grandmother appears at her house and announces to Mia that she is the princess of a small European country. Her father had been the crown prince, and since he has died, the country will pass from the hands of her family if Mia does not announce her claim to the throne.

As you might imagine, this revelation of her family lineage is quite shocking for this teen girl. Her grandmother asks her to take etiquette, dance, and speech lessons so that she is prepared to fulfill the role of European princess. At first Mia rebels against the idea of taking on a new identity. She begins the lessons, but as she learns of the rules and responsibilities, along with the sacrifices she must make for this life, she questions her ability to fulfill the role. Things only get worse when her friends and classmates learn of her true identity and they begin to reject and even make fun of her. At one point, Mia gets so frustrated with the process of becoming a princess that she walks out on one of her lessons and exclaims in frustration that she wishes her grandmother had never come to tell her of her true identity.

Much like young Mia, many Christians question their identity and calling when they begin to truly understand the responsibilities and sacrifices of being a follower of Christ. Some really doubt and even consider walking away when they face persecution from those around them. Many of the Jewish believers in the first century church were experiencing doubts about their new faith in the face of persecution from both their families and the Roman government.

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to followers of Christ who may have been tempted to return to Judaism in light of the persecution that followed their conversion to Christianity. The theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus Christ over the Jewish system of religion. Hebrews 10:19-25 was specifically written in order to reassure those believers that they had full access to God through Jesus Christ, the Great Priest and mediator of the New Covenant, and to encourage them to live lives that confidently reflected their positions as children in the house of God. In this series of posts, I want to share with you how you can know you are a child of God and what being a child of God looks like as we interact with Him, with the world around us, and with one another in the church.

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Repentance vs. Sorrow


“Mere sorrow, which weeps and sits still, is not repentance. Repentance is sorrow converted into action; into a movement toward a new and better life.”–Vincent.

What is the difference between feeling guilt or sorrow for our sin and being truly repentant before God? How do you know you have repented from a sin? Do you ever spend time considering individual sins in your life?

I think we often accept the idea that we are “sinful people” who do “wrong things” but we do not stop to weigh the impact and consequences of specific sins in our lives. Only by stopping and looking at our lives and the specific sins we commit will we ever be able to repent and rid ourselves of them. After all, if we do not repent of our sins and walk away from them, we can never claim that we are being conformed to the image of Christ. While we will never be sinless in this lifetime, we should be constantly working to rid ourselves of the sins we commit. Often I recognize the sin in my life. I even feel bad about it. But I stop short of repentance because I do nothing to rid myself of that sin. That is lazy Christianity, and it is as sinful as the sins for which I fail to repent.

So how do you approach confession and repentance? Do you have an intentional plan of self-reflection and “soul searching”? Do you have friends that hold you accountable that you allow to point out the sin in your life? Do you recognize specific sins in your life and work to rid yourself of them? Or do you simply attach labels, diagnoses or excuses on them and go about your life? Are you actively using the power of the Holy Spirit to rid yourself of sin or are you content in your conformity to this world?

These are all hard questions that I ask myself on a regular basis, and sometimes the answers are ugly. The work is hard, but the results are glorious!

Philippians 1.12-18a– Overcoming Obstacles in Ministry


I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Philippians 1.12-18a (ESV)

Paul is describing his time of imprisonment as a blessing for the advancement of the Gospel. Some background would be appropriate here concerning the circumstances in which Paul finds himself as he is writing this letter. Most scholars believe that Paul was writing this letter from Rome around the year 62. He was arrested in Jerusalem following his third missionary journey around 57, and from there spent the next several years in Roman custody while he went through various trials. Paul eventually appealed to Caesar, and was transported to Rome for a trial before Nero.

This was not exactly the plan Paul had for his life and ministry. Reading through Acts and his other epistles, you can see that he had great plans for more missionary journeys, namely a trip to Spain which he discusses in his letter to the Romans. Paul had spent the last 12 years of his life traveling throughout Asia and Greece, planting churches and discipling Gentiles. His intention was to continue this ministry. But instead, Paul finds himself arrested in Jerusalem and then imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before being transferred to Rome for another two years of house arrest. It is during his time of imprisonment in Rome that this letter is written.

Paul shows us how to respond when things in life do not go our way. This divine change of plans in Paul’s life led me to think about how I respond when my carefully developed plans go by the wayside. If you had met Paul just after his conversion, I’m certain that the plans he had for his life did not include an extended time in prison and a group of people competing with him for power in ministry. In the same way, if you had asked me ten or twelve years ago what I thought I would be doing in ministry today, I would not have said that I would still be single and in school preparing to “begin” ministry.

Each of us has some experience in which life has not worked out the way we planned it. Often, my first reaction is to complain. I don’t understand the reasons, I think my plan was perfectly acceptable, and if God really loved me, he would agree with me. Changes of plan tend to freeze us in our tracks. Instead of seeing setbacks and frustrations as God’s unique opportunity to share the Gospel in an unplanned place, we see them as stumbling blocks on the road to our own happiness.

Paul responded to this event in his life in the exact opposite manner. Instead of shutting down, instead of questioning his calling from God in light of his circumstances, Paul continued to answer his call as a missionary regardless of his location. This is an important thing for us to remember. Our calling to serve God and share the Gospel is not dependent upon our circumstances, situation or location. Sometimes the calling we have on our lives does not materialize in the manner we envision. When I answered a call to full time ministry in January of 1997, I was convinced of the fact that I would be a missionary in a foreign country using sports as my platform for working with teens. While the call to serve God with my life has not changed in the last twelve years, the specifics of how that calling has taken shape is vastly different from what I originally thought God was going to do with my life.

Planning is not the problem. Having a goal to work toward is a good thing! Our plans become bad, though, when they become our focus instead of the Gospel being our focus. It is good to have plans and to be intentional in the way we live our lives. But when we become upset when those plans are changed, we need to check our hearts and make sure that those plans have not become idols in our lives.

What are the plans you have for your life? Do they consist only of family or career or ministry? Or do your plans focus on living out the Gospel and sharing the Gospel with others regardless of your circumstances? Paul identified himself as a servant of God and messenger of the Gospel, and that identity can never be taken from us, even when our circumstances change. It was ok with Paul that his traveling had been cut short by his arrest. Instead of going to the Gentiles, God was allowing the Gentiles to come to him! Every four hours, four new guards were posted around Paul, and he then had four hours to talk with them about Christ. Through his faithful sharing of the Gospel, Paul says that the Gospel had been shared with the entire imperial guard. Paul wanted to go to Rome, and God provided a way for him to get there—and Roman government paid for the journey! The church was in a time of persecution. Many believers were losing jobs and homes and their lives. When Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, he was there delivering an offering he had collected from Gentile churches to help the persecuted believers in Jerusalem. There was a shortage of funds to pay for missionary work—at least there was a shortage from man’s point of view. An economic crisis followed by the arrest of a prominent leader would seem to be two heavy blows to the work of the early church. But Paul declares that the exact opposite is the case. The two hardships he has faced—imprisonment and opposition from fellow ministers—have actually served to further the spread of the Gospel. And for Paul, that is more important that any plan he may have had for ministry.

Joseph had a word concerning this very idea when he spoke to his brothers in Egypt in Genesis 50. 19-20: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to being it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Our plans can be destroyed. Jobs are lost. Health is compromised. Fellow believers sin against us and cause frustration and hurt. But if we keep our focus on Christ and His work, we will find ways to fulfill God’s will for our lives regardless of the setbacks we face.

So, how will you view frustrations and setbacks? How will you react to persecution, bad news, or the effects on your life of the sins of others? Will you have an identity crisis and lose faith, or will you remember that your calling is higher than your job or location or situation? Will you see the good opportunity God has placed in your life through the evil of a fallen world or will you focus on the negative circumstance and allow it to rule over you and keep you in bondage? Paul was literally in bondage, chained to two men 24 hours a day. But the closing verses of Acts tell us that during this time, Paul was free because he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28. 31). Our freedom is found in Christ and his Gospel, and no circumstance in this world can take that away from us.

Philippians 1.11


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

Paul tells us in verse 11 what we are to do in order to become that pure and blameless bride of Christ that he describes in verse 10. In order to have abounding love, increasing knowledge and discernment, so that we may approve what is excellent, we must be filled with the fruit of righteousness. I wanted to know what this fruit of righteousness is, so I did a search of the New Testament for the word “fruit” in an English concordance. The word is used 43 times in the New Testament, occasionally talking about literal fruit, but most often used as a metaphor for the works of the spirit. “Fruit of righteousness” or “fruit of the Spirit” are both terms used to describe the external product of the internal growth of our spiritual life. We spoke about love being an action; fruit is the product of that action.

Jesus spoke extensively about fruit in His teaching in Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned his listeners to be aware of those who claim to be believers but who produce bad fruit. He tells us that a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. But what is the good fruit Jesus is talking about? Paul gives a concise answer to that in Galatians 5:13-26.

13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What fruit am I producing in my life? Do I spend my time “biting and devouring” my fellow believers? If so, I need to heed Paul’s warning that we will destroy one another. I also need to remember that my enemy is not flesh and blood—we as believers are on the same side of the battle against the evil one! Paul encourages us to keep in step with the Spirit by living out the truth that our sinful nature has ALREADY been crucified! We do not fight against our sinful FOR victory; we battle our sinful nature FROM victory! Producing the fruit of righteousness in our lives is possible for every believer who chooses to daily live in the reality of our flesh being crucified and our spirit being renewed and controlled by the Holy Spirit. As I seek to allow the Lord to work out this prayer in my own life, I pray that I will keep this comparison list close to the front of my mind. Is my life producing discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, idolatry? Or am I producing love, joy, peace, patience and the rest? Sometimes we see ourselves better than we really are. If asked, how would those closest to me describe the fruit in my life?

The fruit we produce is of utmost importance for our walk with the Lord and our representation of Him and His kingdom as we journey through this life as His ambassadors. How will people know that we are His ambassadors? Jesus said in the Gospel of John that they will know us by our love for one another. It is our unity as a body of Christ that sets us apart from the world! They will not know us by our building programs or by our humanitarian aid. They will know us by our unified diversity and love for one another. How are you showing love for your brothers and sisters in Christ that causes you to stand out in the world?

Philippians 1.9-10


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV)

Paul has said much in these opening paragraphs of his letter to the church in Philippi concerning prayer. He wants them to know that prayer, communication with the Father, is of vital importance to him, and it should be to them as well. In this short prayer, Paul gives us several things he prays for his readers and several reasons why he prays the way he does.

  1. Paul prays that their love may abound more and more.

We have already discussed love in this study, but I would encourage you to go back and see what Paul has to say about love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. This is a very familiar passage, one that we often gloss over and consider as something to be read at weddings. But really stop over each phrase and consider how your “love life” is concerning each of these areas.

Danny Akin preached on this passage at the 20/20 Conference this past weekend at school, and he gave us a very challenging and convicting exercise to do with the chapter. In verses 4-8, every time you see the word love, replace it with the name Jesus. It works perfectly, right? Jesus is the only person who has ever loved perfectly. Now, replace the word love with your own name. I know I stumbled over more than one of them. How about you? We know the standard of how we are to treat one another, but we also know that it is a standard we will not be able to meet perfectly. That can be frustrating and cause us to want to give up altogether. But don’t give up quite yet! Now, replace the word love with the phrase “Jesus in me.” Works much better! See, we were never meant to fulfill the mandates of Scripture on our own. In fact, it’s an impossible task. We can only love, serve, and obey with the help of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in our lives. There are people in our lives who are difficult to love, but Jesus loves them. And He will love them through us if we allow Him to do so.

But how do we allow Him to do that? Look at the end of verse 9: “with all knowledge and discernment.” In order to be able to love, we have to know how Jesus loved others. The exercise above is a good way to begin growing in the knowledge of the Lord. Continuing in Bible studies is another way. We are to be imitators of Christ. Think for a moment about entertainers who make a living impersonating famous people. How did they become good at their impersonation? By studying for hours and hours the one that they are going to impersonate! No one wakes up one day and decides to impersonate someone they’ve never seen or heard of before. If they do, they probably won’t do a very good job. In order to be like someone, you have to study them, practice their mannerisms, their vocal inflections, their clothing.

It is the same way with Christ! If we are to be like Him, we must get to know Him. Paul prays that their love may abound, but he knows this will not happen through a passive working of spiritual magic. Their love will abound when they choose to grow in knowledge and discernment. Love is an action verb– not a warm and fuzzy feeling that may come and go depending on our mood and the behavior of others– and growing in love requires action as well.

  1. Paul prays that they may approve what is excellent.

If you spend any time around small children, you know that there is no need to teach them to do wrong things. Selfishness is not learned; it just comes naturally. You don’t have to force your children to practice temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Lying is not an acquired skill. If you ever need proof of the idea that we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, spend a Sunday in the nursery with 18-24 month old toddlers! There you will find a room full of “me monkeys”—each out for his or her own best interest, and willing to bite, scratch, kick and scream to get it.

The sad thing is that many adults are still like this because we have failed to grow in love and learn to approve what is excellent. What are the excellent things that we should approve of? How do we begin to develop those things in our own lives?

  1. Paul prays that they may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ

This is a thought that we do not consider often, but it should be the focus of our lives. When we become saved, it is not for the express purpose of going to heaven. Were that the case, I believe God would just take us to heaven immediately upon our conversion. So there is a purpose to our being here on this planet beyond just living an arbitrary life until we die or He returns for His church. What are we supposed to be doing? Paul gives us nothing short of the meaning of life in this one phrase. We are here to prepare ourselves for the wedding supper of the Lamb!

The day of Christ is the day that He returns to this earth to rule and reign as Lord of all creation. Paul is talking about end times here. What we do each and every day determines how well prepared we are for eternity. I have had several friends get married the last few years. To date, not a single one of them has received a ring from their boyfriends and thought, “Well now that’s taken care of! I can really let myself go now!” No, usually when a woman gets engaged, it’s a mad rush countdown of getting really in shape so that they can be presented to their groom looking as good as possible on their wedding day. Think of our salvation as a promise of marriage and the time we spend on this planet as our engagement. We are referred to as the bride of Christ; how are you preparing yourself to be the bride?

Read Revelation 19:6-10. It is John’s description of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The multitude of people in heaven is singing a song at the wedding reception. Their song tells us about the appearance of the bride. “’…for his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’—for the linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Paul prays that we will be pure and blameless on the day of Christ. John declares that he sees the bride prepared for meeting her bridegroom. And the bride in John’s vision is dressed in her righteous deeds. Now, here’s the question: when it comes time for us to be presented to our groom, how will you be dressed? Are you spending your days preparing yourself to be the beautiful bride of Christ? Or do you take it for granted that you’ve been chosen and are laying back and waiting for that day? This is a painfully hard way to look at yourself, but it is a gut check for our Christian lives.

Remember the True Gospel


This is an exegesis of Galatians 1.1-10 for Hermeneutics, Fall 2008

REMEMBER THE TRUE GOSPEL

GALATIANS 1.1-10

Main Idea of the Text: There is only one true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and any diversion from that gospel demands condemnation.

I. Paul has both an authority and calling from God. 1.1-2

II. God’s grace and peace rescue us from sin and evil. 1. 3-5

III. The Gospel of Christ is the one, true Gospel. 1. 6-7

IV. Preaching a false gospel is an act worthy of condemnation. 1.8-9

V. Pleasing the world and pleasing God cannot be accomplished simultaneously. 1.10

Practical Application:

1. Remember that you are set apart and called by God.

2. Trust in God’s grace and power to rescue you from sin.

3. Compare all teaching you hear to the Gospel found in the Word of God.

4. Confront and expose false teaching.

5. Be a pleasing servant of Christ, even when it makes you an enemy of men.


Introduction

Described by scholars as “the standard example of Paul’s style and theology,”[1] all other Pauline writings are thus judged against this epistle to the Galatians. Paul visited the Roman province of Galatia with Barnabas on his first missionary journey. His journey through the cities of Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe is recorded in Acts 13 and 14. “Many scholars conclude that Paul’s Galatian Epistle is addressed to these congregations.”[2] There is debate, however, as to the accuracy of this assessment. Some argue that the letter was not intended for the churches Paul founded in the area of Southern Galatia, but was instead delivered to churches in Northern Galatia, an area comprised of ethnic Galatians. While this theory has support from several well known scholars, a majority of New Testament scholars support the idea that Paul wrote to the churches he had planted in Southern Galatia.

This debate over the recipients of the letter is important, because issues concerning the dating of the letter stem from it. The Epistle to the Galatians is tied closely to the accounts of Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts, and a consistent understanding of the location and time of Paul’s writing to the Galatians solidifies one’s understanding of the events recorded in Acts. While there are several arguments supporting the theory that Paul was writing to ethnic Galatians in the Northern part of the province, this writer agrees with Bruce: “But if they belonged to different ethnic groups (Phrygian and Lycaonian) what common appellation could he have chosen to cover them all except their common political denominator, ‘Galatians’?”[3] When subscribing to the S Galatian theory, the dating of the writing of the epistle to the Galatians should be placed just prior to Paul’s journey to the Jerusalem Council, which took place in 48/49 AD.

Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia in response to news that they had become ensnared in a false teaching that was leading them to abandon the freedom of the true Gospel of Christ. It is recorded in Acts that there were “missionaries” who followed Paul from city to city, teaching new converts that they had to not only accept Christ but also subscribe to certain Jewish customs like circumcision and food laws.

Apparently these Jewish-Christian preachers, telling the Galatians that Paul had failed to instruct them properly in God’s Law, were finding a receptive audience among the Galatians…. Outraged by this development, Paul fired off this letter to dissuade the Galatian churches from accepting this revision—Paul calls it a perversion (1:7)—of the gospel.”[4]

In his desire to remind the Galatians of the one, true Gospel, Paul pens this treatise of Christian liberty. In his letter, Paul defends his own apostleship, apparently called into question by these false teachers; he defends the doctrine of salvation by grace and not works; he appeals to the teachings he left with them on his initial visit and reminds of them of all that he taught them; he confronts them with the freedom from the Law that they have in Christ, and closes by begging them to return to the true gospel of Christ. The argument of this entire letter is grounded in Paul’s opening statements, found in the first ten verses of chapter one.

I. Paul has both an authority and calling from God. 1.1-2

Paul begins his letter by establishing the grounds for which he has the authority to write the following discourse. Throughout his ministry there were those who spoke against Paul and tried to claim that he had no apostolic authority because he had not physically walked with Jesus or been called by Him. Paul refutes this both here and in Second Corinthians. He gives his experience on the Damascus Road, recorded in Acts 9, as his calling from Jesus. Jesus speaks first to Paul, then to Ananias, and tells Ananias that Paul is His “chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.”[5] Paul demands that his readers understand from the beginning that he is “one with personal, delegated authority from God to proclaim accurately the Christian gospel.”[6] The word apostle could be used at the time as a general term as one sent by another; it is used in this manner even within the New Testament.[7] This is why Paul immediately qualifies the word by specifying that he is not sent by men but by God Himself. Paul is establishing that he has been called and set apart by God to do a specific work. He is not writing as Paul, their dear friend, or as Paul, as former pastor, but as Paul, the messenger of God to the Gentiles. And in writing as such, Paul is declaring his words have the authority of God as their foundation and support.

It is interesting to also note that in no other letter does Paul include such a general group as “all the brothers with me” in his greeting. Occasionally he included one or two specific names of those who traveled with him, but here Paul generalizes as though he is including with this letter the support of a group of fellow believers too numerous to name individually. In his Homily on Galatians, Chrysostom declared, “Why does he do this?…So as to destroy their calumny, therefore, and to show that his opinions are shared by many, he adds on ‘the brothers,’ showing that what he writes he writes with their consent.”[8] Paul wants to begin with the understanding that this letter is not being written from hurt feelings or ego. Paul has tested his concern against a body of believers and he has their support for confronting the churches in Galatia.

II. God’s grace and peace rescue us from sin and evil. 1.3-5

Verses three through five still follow the standard format of Roman letters. Following his identifications of writer and recipients, Paul writes a greeting. He greets the readers in Galatia with the grace and peace of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace and peace are two separate qualities present in the life of the believer. The grace of God is what allows us to receive salvation; the peace of God is the result of being put into right relationship with Him in our salvation. Augustine explained it in this manner: “The grace of God, by which our sins are forgiven, is the condition of our being reconciled to him, whereas peace is that wherein we are reconciled.”[9] Simply put, it is by God’s grace that believers are able to experience peace with God.

He further elaborates on the work of Christ in the life of believers in verse four. There, Paul declares to his readers what Christ has done, “gave himself for our sins;” and why he did what he did, “to rescue us from the present evil age;” and the reason why it was necessary, “according to the will of our God and Father.” This is a description of the result of God’s grace in the life of the believer. Sinful, fallen humanity is separated from relationship with God, and there is nothing anyone can do to reconcile himself to God. In fact, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul declares that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”[10] His grace gives man what is not deserved—salvation and peace. It is through the substitutionary work of Christ that we are able to become a part of the covenant promise of salvation. The early church father Jerome explained the work of Christ in the will of the Father in this way: “Neither did the Son give himself without the Father’s will, nor did the Father give up the Son without the Son’s will… the Son gave himself, that he himself, as righteousness, might do away with the unrighteousness in us.”[11] It is God’s will that His children respond to His grace in faith so that they can receive His peace. At this declaration, Paul breaks into a moment of doxology: this rich, undeserved grace and favor of God should lead all believers to join with Paul in giving glory to God for ever and ever!

III. The Gospel of Christ is the one, true Gospel.

In verse six, Paul transitions from his greeting to the body of the letter in a startlingly unique manner. In Paul’s other letters, he follows his greeting with a gracious prayer of thanksgiving for the people to whom he is writing.[12] When writing to the Galatian church, however, Paul launches directly into a sharp reprimand of the believers in Galatia. He declares they have deserted the one who has called them and have turned to a different gospel. Longenecker explains that the grammar of this sentence shows Paul is emphasizing that this new teaching is not an addition to or expounding upon the teachings he delivered to the Galatians. “In all likelihood the errorists were claiming that their message and actions should be seen as complementary to Paul’s preaching and ministry. As Paul views matters, however, theirs was ‘a different gospel—which is not at all the same gospel.’”[13] One of the indications that there is something awry in the Galatian churches is the presence of confusion or disturbance amongst the members. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace….”[14] By contrasting the peace of God in verse 3 with the confusion found in the church, Paul is confirming to them that these new teachings cannot be of God. This word translated as “confusion” can also be translated as “instability, a state of disorder, disturbance.”[15] Paul points out the source of this confusion is the false teachings of those who are attempting to pervert the Gospel of Christ. Bruce describes Paul argument in the following statement:

Gospel it is not; it is a message of bondage, not of freedom. It is a form of the doctrine of salvation by law-keeping from which Paul himself had been liberated by the true Gospel he received on the Damascus road ‘by revelation of Jesus Christ.’ That was the gospel which he preached to others, including the Galatians, and there could be no other….its touchstone was the proclamation of salvation and life through the grace of God….[16]

IV. Preaching a false gospel is an act worthy of condemnation.

To these false teachers of a perverted gospel, Paul delivers the harshest words he writes in all of the New Testament.[17] Jesus told his disciples that “false teachers are children of their ‘father the devil, and… want to do the desires of [their] father,’ who ‘whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies’ (John 8:44).”[18] No doubt Paul had these words of Jesus in his mind as he quickly responded to the news that the Galatians were falling prey to the very false teachers they had been warned about. Paul does not disguise his disgust with these who were destroying the foundation of the faith for which he had nearly sacrificed his life so many times. He boldly declares them to be condemned, for they are indeed preaching a foreign gospel. He is so incensed, not only by the teachings, but by the fact that the Galatians had accepted it as truth, that he repeats himself to ensure they understand his great displeasure and even anger with their situation. Chrysostom says concerning this repetition: “Lest you should think that the words came from passion or were spoken hyperbolically or through a loss of self-control, he says the same things over again.”[19] Paul declares a curse against anyone who shares a false gospel. He also gives very specific instructions to the Galatians concerning how they should receive all future teaching.

Even if Paul or any of his associates were to change their teaching, then the Galatians should not listen to them but treat them like heretics, which they would then be…. The truth outranks anyone’s credentials, and every teacher or preacher must be evaluated on the basis of what he says, not who he is.[20]

“Here Paul showed once and for all that the issue at stake in Galatia was not in the messenger but in the message.”[21] MacArthur goes on to say, “False teachers not only should not be believed or followed but should be left God’s judgment to be accursed. Accursed is translated anathema, which refers to that which is devoted to destruction.”[22] What believers in all times and places must remember is that when sinless Jesus took the punishment for sin on himself on the cross, he took the curse of sin away. To take up a Gospel that requires anything other than the atoning work of Christ is to take that curse from Jesus and place it upon the one doing the false teaching.

V. Pleasing the world and pleasing God cannot be accomplished simultaneously.

After beginning his letter with a sharp rebuke of the report he have received concerning the Galatians, Paul shifts slightly and begins questioning these same believers. In verse ten he returns to discussing himself and his service to God. Paul does not mean in this question that he believes the approval of God can be earned; he has just chastised them for a false Gospel that includes a works-based salvation.

There was a time when in fact Paul did indeed seek to please other human beings. Before his conversion to Christ, he was on the fast track toward the highest echelons of the Jewish rabbinic establishment. His entire career, including his persecution of Christians, was designed not only to justify himself before God but also to curry the favor of those in power so as to better advance his own ambitions. But this kind of self-serving… endeavor was forever shattered when Saul of Tarsus and Jesus of Nazareth collided outside Damascus. Serving Christ and pleasing humanity are mutually exclusive alternatives.[23]

This pair of rhetorical questions is meant to force the Galatians to peer inward for a moment and consider the motivations of their own hearts. By asking these questions of himself, Paul is indirectly asking these same questions of them as well. “It would be a great mistake, then, to interpret Paul’s two questions in 1:10 as the angry outburst of an egotistical preacher. What we have instead is a clear rejection of unworthy motivations for ministry.”[24]

Conclusion and Application

The meaning and intention of Paul in these first ten verses of his letter to the Galatians is as clear today as it certainly was to the original recipients nearly two thousand years ago. Paul intends to remind the believers in Galatia of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ while dispelling the false teachings of works and law-based salvation. As clear as his original intent was, the lessons he desired his original readers to glean from his writings are applicable to readers today.

First, believers should remember that we are all called and set apart by God. Just as Paul desired to emphasize his own election and calling, each believer has be called and set apart by Father God to do His work on this earth. As sure as Paul was of his calling, so too should each believer be today.

Second, believers must rely on the grace of God and not their own work to deliver them from their sins. As a Jewish-Christian, Paul most likely understood the temptation to return to the old habits of the life he led prior to his conversion to Christ. But Paul even more understood the costly yet free grace of salvation in Christ alone. No amount of work on the part of a sinful human will ever stack up to the righteous standards of a holy God.

Third, when confronted with teaching that causes confusion, believers must compare it to the Word of God. There is a difference between confusion caused by false teaching of the enemy and conviction caused by the Holy Spirit concerning sin in the life of the believer. Whenever a believers’ soul is in conflict, the thought must be taken captive and made obedient to the cause of Christ.[25]

Fourth, if it is discovered that the teaching is in violation of Scripture, that false teaching must be immediately confronted and cast aside.[26] There is no room in the church for twisted truth. In his commentary on Galatians, MacArthur declares that “Satan’s primary target for false teaching is the doctrine of salvation, because if people are confused about that they have no way of coming to God in the first place.”[27] There are enough stumbling blocks on the road to salvation without false teachings in the church being added to the list.

Fifth, believers must be willing to stand for the truth of Christ, even when it means making enemies of man. There is no approval of man that would give validity to making a concession in the gospel of Christ. The early church father Tertullian took a similar stand with his congregation in Carthage in the 3rd century. When confronting church members who were still practicing pagan customs to appease their employers, Tertullian asked them why. They responded that they did so in order to be able to work. He again asked them why they must to that, to which they replied, “Because we must live.” At this Tertullian, himself converted upon the witness of courageous martyrs of the faith, replied, “No! You don’t have to work, or eat and you don’t have to live. The only thing you have to do is be faithful.”[28] This is heart cry of Paul in his letter to the Galatians: above all else, remain faithful to the grace bestowed upon man in the true gospel of Christ.


Works Referenced

Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 1982.

Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1982.

Carson, D.A. and Douglas J. Moo. “Galatians.” An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2005.

Edwards, Mark, editor. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol. 8. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1999.

Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. “Galatians.” Encountering the New Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1998.

Fung, Ronald Y.K. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” The New international Commentary on the New testament. Gordon Fee, ed. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1953.

George, Timothy. “Galatians.” The New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, 1994.

Hansen, W.G. “Letter to the Galatians.” The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament. Daniel G. Reid, editor. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 2004.

Hays, Richard B. “Galatians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. XI. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2000.

Longenecker, Richard N. “Galatians.” Word Biblical Commentary. Word Books, Publisher: Dallas, 1990.

MacArthur, John. “Galatians.” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody Press: Chicago, 1987.

Robertson, A.T. “The Epistles of Paul.” Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. IV. Richard Smith, Inc.: New York, 1931.

Strong, James. Strong’s Dictionary. New American Standard Verson. http://bible.crosswalk.com/ Lexicons/ Greek/grk.cgi?number=181&version=nas. Accessed November 27, 2008.

Wilkins, Tim. “Tertullian’s Advice to E-Harmony?” The Cross Examiner. http://www.crossministry.org/home. Accessed December 3, 2008.


[1]Hansen, W.G. “Letter to the Galatians.” The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament. Daniel G. Reid, editor. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 2004. p. 396.

[2] Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. “Galatians.” Encountering the New Testament. Baker: Grand Rapids, 1998. p. 297.

[3] Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New International Greek Testament Commentary. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1982. p. 401.

[4] Hays, Richard B. “Galatians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. XI. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2000. p. 184.

[5] Acts 9.15.

[6] Longenecker, Richard N. “Galatians.” Word Biblical Commentary. Word Books, Publisher: Dallas, 1990. p. 2.

[7] John 13.16; 2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25

[8] Edwards, Mark, editor. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol. 8. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1999. p. 3.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Eph 2.8-9

[11] Edwards, 4.

[12] Ro 1.8-9; 1 Cor 1.4-9; Eph 1.15-19; Phi 1.3-6; Col 1.3-8; 1 Thes 1.2-3; 2 Thes 1.3-12; Phil 4-7

[13] Longenecker, 4.

[14] 1 Cor 14:33

[15] Strong, James. Strong’s Concordance. New American Standard Version. http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=181&version=nas. Accessed November 27, 2008.

[16]Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle to the Galatians.” New Bible Dictionary, 2nd Ed. InterVarsity: Downer’s Grove, 1982. p. 87.

[17] George, Timothy. “Galatians.” The New American Commentary. Broadman and Holman Publishers: Nashville, 1994. p. 97.

[18] MacArthur, John. “Galatians.” The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Moody Press: Chicago, 1987. p. 10.

[19] Edwards, 7.

[20] MacArthur, 16.

[21] George, 97.

[22] MacArthur, 17.

[23] George, 100.

[24] Ibid., 101.

[25] 2 Cor 10.5

[26] Eph 5.11

[27] MacArthur, 11.

[28] Wilkins, Tim. “Tertullian’s Advice to E-Harmony?” The Cross Examiner. http://www.crossministry.org/home. Accessed December 3, 2008.

Thinking of Ourselves Less


“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
–Tim Keller, The Reason For God

It just doesn’t get any more simple nor straightforward than the above quotation. The point of life is not to develop great self-esteem so that we think the world owes us a favor, nor is it to deny ourselves so much that we become  door mats to the rest of humanity. Rather a Christian’s one purpose is to follow in the steps of John the Baptist, who proclaimed, “I must decrease, He must increase.” When we die to self; when we remember who we were are as hopeless sinners; when we remember the greatness of our holy God and our utter inability to be in relationship with Him; when we think of ourselves less and our great God more, our lives begin to fall miraculously into place. Suddenly “the things of this earth will grow strangely dim/ In the light of His glory and grace.”

There are so many times when I take the focus off of him and I place it on myself. Those are the times I slide into thinking things like, “I’m doing alright. At least I don’t sin like so-and-so. I’m doing pretty good compared to her.” But our goal is not to be better than we were yesterday or to be better than the people around us. Our goal is to be holy as He is holy– a pretty tall order for a bunch of sinners.

In this journey to Christlikeness, I must remember that the fastest way to stay close to Christ is to remember the great sacrifice He made for me on the cross, and to remember how sinful I still am and how sinful I will remain without His grace and help. Praise to Him who loves enough to not let us stay in our sinful state, but instead made a way for us to be holy as he is holy!