This post is the context for this one. It is an overview of Galatians 1:1-3:14... I'd normally take about four hours to work through this in a Bible Study questions format, so this is a high speed version. If Jonah is my favourite Old Testament book, Galatians is the New Testament equivilant. Mike Reeves calls 1 Corinthians his 'champagne and caviar' - these books are my 'coffee and chocolate' - books full of God's grace and the struggle to live in it. God's words that led me away from disobedience, doubt and deception to love his grace more and make much of the Cross of Christ in all I do.
What's the effect of the gospel on us?
What was our previous condition: 1:14, 4:8, 5:1
Galatians 1v3-5. It's freedom! Jesus dies on the cross, for our sins (4) for the purpose of “delivering us from this present evil age” - to set us free, to rescue us. All of which is “by God's will” and “for God's glory”. Becoming a Christian is not a lifestyle choice, it's not the acquiring of some new habits or experiences or even knowledge: it's FREEDOM. Freedom from what? “This present evil age” ??To find out what that means we need to see where Paul and the Galatians were previously... and we're told so: 1:14 – Religious zealotry; 4:8 – Slavery to idols; 5:1 – A yoke of slavery
Not rampant sin or postmodernism... things we might imagine as our 'present evil age' – rather, the gospel, in Galatians at least, brings us freedom from slavery which can look like outright idolatry, or the kind of hard-core religious zealotry that was Paul's life. From this Paul speaks strongly about the priority of the gospel in his ministry – and establishes false teaching, of so called 'alternative gospels' as bringing condemnation. From this he speaks about how he got the gospel from Jesus, and then speaks of his unity with the Jerusalem apostles. They shared in the same gospel – with no additions made. Bonded together in fellowship in the gospel.
This was tested by taking the Gentile Christian Titus with him to see whether they would compel him to be circumcised... Titus gets away with it. Unlike Timothy who Paul has circumcised. The difference being that that was to enable Timothy to preach in the Synagogues, it's fun going on a mission with Paul! It's not immediately clear why Paul wants to tell these stories for the Galatians, but it will be eventually! Having told the story of his unity with Peter he moves us forward to an incident in Antioch... The One with the Apostle and the Bacon Sandwich. Peter finds himself out of step with the gospel, in the wrong and condemned. Paul observes that he is leading people astray from the gospel. How? By changing his eating habits... he was eating with Paul, Barnabas and the Gentile Christians... but then he separates himself... probably without even saying anything – to go and eat kosher food with the Jewish 'believers'. Looks minor on the surface but Paul is outraged by this..It's contrary to the gospel, to everything Peter knows and it leads others – even Barnabas – astray. Peter has become a false teacher by putting down his Bacon Sandwich and going to eat with the Jews only. Paul concedes that Peter is motivated by fear (12) but hypocrisy stands whatever the motive. Peter is re-imposing food law upon himself, and others. He knows for well that this is unnecessary, since Jesus has specifically shown him that all foods are now clean.
He's reminded that justification is not by law (15, 16c) – but by faith in Jesus Christ (16a&b). Peter is never going to say different, and what we're seeing is Paul working Peter through the implications of his actions. A series of questions to which Peter would certainly answer with agreement. Paul has to do it because “Lifestyle is a matter of justification”- what?? “Lifestyle is a matter of justification”. Not, that the way we live justifies us, but that the way we live says everything about the way we consider ourselves to be justified. And in Peter's case he is living like keeping food laws is required... which Paul wants to say is not the case.
You can imagine Peter begins to defend himself... saying he doesn't want to sin... v17, the presence of sin wont mean that Jesus endorses sin (v18) “If I rebuild what I tore down” - THE LAW - “I prove myself to be a transgressor”. That is if I choose to live under law, I will prove that I'm a sinner. Peter wants to avoid sin but it'll merely be highlighted and proved if he tried to keep the law. Not a great outcome! Instead, v19 – the law helped them to die to lawkeeping so they could live to Christ. And – v20, now crucified with Jesus they no longer live. Peter and Paul are dead, with Jesus. The life they now live, in this body, is lived “by faith in the Son of God” - the one who loved them, who gave himself up for them.
They have a new life that isn't their life at all. A life that is Jesus. He is their life. You want to see Paul – look at Jesus. You want to see Peter – look at Jesus. That's their life... so trying to dress up sin with a bit of law keeping is irrelevant and pointless. Further, v21... if justification was by the law: a. grace is nullified - b. Jesus died for no purpose
If Peter's lawkeeping strategy is the way to live the justified life then that would nullify grace and the cross. They'd simply not be required... we could just keep the law. Peter, of all people who ever lived, knows that the cross wasn't meaningless... he knows and depends upon the cross. “Christ died for no purpose” is something he would never want to say. And he isn't – explicitly, but Paul sees the implicit confession that Peter's actions make. But why is he telling us all of this? Or, more importantly – why is he telling the Galatians about Peter's error....? I don't think it's so get us to look for legalisms in our lives... you know, the what might I be doing that's like Peter did. No, the key is in 3v1.
You'd expect Paul to tell us what happened next. He's just hit Peter with the killer blow, and then he drops the story and turns to the Galatians (3v1), and takes them back to the day they met Paul. They're now being foolish... and it's exposed by remembering what Paul had preached to them. Namely: Christ Crucified. What's he getting at? He wants to remind the Galatians that when they became Christians they believed the message of Christ and Him Crucified. Peter has just been shown to have acted in a way that makes that empty words, meaningless preaching... contentless teaching.
And Paul says to the Galatians – don't get obsessed with your legalisms... remember the cross. Remember those words I taught you – that the death of Jesus was very meaningful. Full of meaning. Overflowing with significance. And yet “You fools” you're being like Peter. Exactly like Peter. Not with a food law but with circumcision... the issue is the same. And whatever the issue if we look at the cross we see that such law keeping is utterly futile.
Lifestyle is a matter of justification. And if you want to take your justification from the cross then say no to law keeping... if you want to keep the law, then you have to abandon the cross. Every reason to think that Peter did repent. No doubt broken in tears as Paul took him to the heart of the issue... and that's the way to do all pastoral care, to walk people slowly and lovingly back to the Cross of Christ.
Paul would have us remember the great work of the cross. Christ who loved us. Christ who gave himself for us (20). Christ whose death set us free from this present evil age (1v4). And he says – the way you live, with regard to the law shouts loudly about the value you place on the cross. Either, we abolish the cross by lawkeeping or we have to find the way to magnify the cross. To show, in our lives, that far from being meaningless. It is in fact the one meaningful thing that has ever happened!
Galatians 3 is full of amazing stuff, and we're going to have to walk past some of the greatest artefacts in the Bible. To merely glance at some of the choicest foods. But we're on our way to a meaty feast of a meal. Let's quickly walk from 3v1 to 3v14. So, back at the beginnings of their Christian life.. They “heard with faith” and received the Spirit “heard with faith” and saw miracles. In this they were like Abraham who “heard with faith” and was counted righteous by God.
In fact they are therefore, 3v7, Abraham's sons. Oh, but they're Gentiles, not descendents of Abraham? No worries -v8 God said to Abraham that he would justify the Gentiles – ethnos=peoples by faith when he preached the gospel to Abraham. I'd love to dwell on this... but we can't. Just trying sticking this summary of the gospel in your evangelism seminar... God says this is the gospel: “In Abraham shall all the peoples be blessed” And so the peoples, like those of Galatia get blessed by God with Abraham.
That's just full of hours of stuff. One more aside here, notice that Paul was trying to get them to think about the cross. remembering what he'd told them before. How is any of that anything to do with the cross. I think it means that when Paul preaches the cross he tells the whole story. Hhe preaches Abraham. And when it comes to justification for the peoples of the world. That's pretty important. Anyways
That all does rather make us ask... “why does the cross matter?” Answer: v10... cos far from being blessed... there are people who rely on the law and so they're cursed. Cursed under the terms of the law they rely on because they don't keep all of it. And even if they could – God does justification by faith not by lawkeeping. So, big problem. Lots of cursed people. But, v13 – Jesus redeems the Jews from the curse, under the terms of the law by hanging on a tree! Hallelujah! So, v14... in Christ Jesus “the blessing of Abraham might come to the peoples” which is to say... “in Christ Jesus justification might come to the Gentiles by faith” So that, we might (all) receive the promised Spirit through faith. Big pay off of the gospel promise: the peoples of the world are blessed... counted righteous and have the Holy Spirit.
By whom... 2v20, they can live life in the crucified Son of God! Catch your breath...
Law keeping adds to the gospel (2:6)
Law keeping proves you're a sinner (2:18)
Law keeping nullifies the cross (2:21)
Law keeping curses you (3:10)
Law keeping can't justify you (3:11-12)
The cross brings freedom (1:4)
The cross justifies through faith (2:16, 21)
Christians don't live any more in themselves... our life is in the Son of God (2:20)
Justification for the peoples is by faith (3:8)
Blessing is for the peoples by faith (3:9)
The blessed peoples get the Holy Spirit (3:14)
All of which rather begs the question... “why the law?” - and as various wise people have said that if you're asking the question the passage poses then you're understanding it – and in v19, that question will come!!