On Law, Grace, Bondage, and Dog Collars

This weekend has been a yard work weekend. After ten weeks of volleyball’s regular season, I took two days to clean up my sorely neglected yard. Fences needed to be cleared, bushes trimmed, grass mowed, beds weeded. There was a LOT of work to do.

trimming bush

IMG_7215 FullSizeRender

For a bit of background for this story, you need to know that, for months now, my puppies, Scout and Atticus, have been on a wireless fence system to keep them from wandering into the road or the neighbor’s yard. The appearance of their being able to roam free is an excellent home security system. The down side to the system is that, in order to limit their access to the neighbor’s yard, they do not have free reign of my entire yard. Rectangle shaped property and circle shaped wireless fences don’t work well together. So Scout and Atticus have experienced several months of being unable to get to the back half of my yard.


(Meet Scout and Atticus. They like each other.)

Cue this weekend. It was a stinky week, personally, spiritually, and professionally, but it was a glorious weekend, which meant I needed to be outside. Badly. And the puppies followed me all around the yard; until I moved toward the back of the yard. At that point, the puppies quit hanging out with me. When they got to the border of the wireless fence, their collars would beep and they would back up and lie down, getting as close to me as their collars would allow, but never going beyond that limit.

I decided this afternoon that I would let them wander the whole yard since I was going to be out there, so I took off their red fence collars and put Atticus’ regular collar on him. I couldn’t get Scout to sit still long enough to put hers on, so she went collarless. This is the point at which the teachable moment began.

As I walked to the back of the yard, they both followed me to the point that their red collars would have beeped if they had them on, and they stopped and laid down. It didn’t matter how much I called for them, they weren’t coming. They had spent enough time on those red collars that they knew not to go any further or there would be a consequence.

In an attempt to coax them to the back of the yard so that they could run and play, I walked to Atticus, gently held his collar with two fingers, and led him beside me toward the back yard. He was very tentative– until he got several feet past the “shock zone” that he knew should be there. When he got past that part and I was still with him and nothing bad had happened, he wandered around, smelled things, and generally chilled out.

Scout, on the other hand, stayed in the wireless zone, barking endlessly for us to come back to her. Since she didn’t have a collar on, there was nothing for me to hold on to in order to lead her back therewith us, and she would have none of the idea of simply following me out there.


As I watched this scene unfold, the picture of how the Law, Grace, and bondage to sin work in our lives unfolded in my mind as well.

These are the Law:


They tell the dogs just how far they can go, and they punish them if they attempt to overstep their boundaries. But the Law is meant to protect them; before the collars, I once chased Atticus across South Moore Road and about two blocks down the street. Barefoot. In my PJs. With Crazy Hair. At 5:30 am. It was special. The Law, in this case, is good. It taught Scout and Atticus right from wrong.

Then one day, the Law was removed. The punishment was no longer a threat. I’d taken that threat and put it on the table on the back porch. Yet the puppies still respected the boundaries the Law had set in their lives. They were free, but still living by the Law. They knew that boundary was there for a reason, and they kept it.

Until I put a new collar on Atticus and led him away. It reminded me of the opening statements of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

All I had to do was put a different collar on him, and he followed me right past the boundaries set for him and into an unprotected and dangerous world. This new collar represents bondage in the life of a believer. Atticus could have roamed free within the set boundaries, collarless and without fear, but by taking up a new collar, a new form of bondage, he left the boundaries he knew and didn’t quite know what to do with himself. But take note of the bondage that led him astray, for they are what spoke volumes to my own heart:


One tag is his name. Oh, can’t our name, our reputation, become an idol and a bondage?

One is his rabies tag. Look, he’s a good dog. He’s done all the right things to be considered good. Maybe for us that’s giving time or money to good causes, or going on mission trips, or attending the right church or small group. He’s checked off his legalistic list of things to look good.

The middle one is his microchip tag. He’s even a “member” of a home. Sometimes church can become an idol of bondage. Do you belong to the “right” church? Listen to the “right” super pastors or worship groups? Ascribe to the “right” doctrine of the the day?

None of the tags on his new collar of bondage are bad things. In fact, in the right circumstances, they are very good things. But in this case, they were use to lead him away, and often, it’s the good things in our lives, done for the wrong reasons, that get us into trouble.

Now, back to Scout. Let’s look at the picture again with the imaginary fence line drawn in:


Scout is sitting, barking her fool head off at Atticus, begging him to come back. But she refuses to cross the line to come get him, and there is no bondage around her neck for me to lead her astray. She is free. Free enough to roam within the boundaries given to her while still knowing her limits, even without the threat of punishment.

That is the freedom we have in Christ! He said Himself that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Scout is a picture of a believer free of bondage, trusting the one who knows and loves her. I removed the collar of the Law, yet she continued to trust that those boundaries were still what were best for her. And because she did not allow herself to be put into any other bondage, she could not be led astray. She was even in the position to call for her little brother to please get back in line and come back to the right side of the boundary. Which is exactly what he did.


For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Be free, friends.

Remember the True Gospel

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



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.


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.