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Galatians Free Bible notes

Daily Bible thoughts 724: Monday 13th October 2014:

Galatians 3:15-25

Paul’s message was about the promise of God in the gospel: if you believe in Jesus you will be saved. That is God’s commitment; His guarantee; His ‘price-free promise’! (‘Price-free’ to you and me, that is. We just have to believe.) This is all of grace and received by faith. (To my mind, verse 22 is at the heart of today’s passage and provides a definition of Paul’s message.) But the Judaizers who dogged Paul’s steps, and who were particularly active in the churches of Galatia, taught that one is saved by law rather than promise. So in this section Paul shows that the promise came first and cannot be altered by the later appearance of the law. He writes about the purpose of the law and shows why it is inferior to the promise.

Paul begins with an illustration from ordinary life. People make various covenants with each other. Once one is ‘’established’’ it cannot be easily changed (15). Salvation began not with law but a promise (16). It was not a promise to the ‘’seeds’’ (i.e. all the natural children) of Abraham, but to Christ (and through Christ to all who believe). In (17) the apostle makes his main point. God gave the promise of salvation to Abraham long before the giving of the law at Sinai. So how could the Judaizers say that the law is necessary for salvation? The promise of salvation never depended on the law. It preceded it in time and importance. The coming of the law could not change that original covenant of God. When that covenant was ratified, Abraham was asleep (see Genesis 15). The covenant was all about grace and the promises God made to Abraham. ‘’This is the way I interpret this: A will, earlier ratified by God, is not annulled by an addendum attached 430 years later, thereby negating the promise of the will. No, this addendum, with its instructions and regulations, has nothing to do with the promised inheritance in the will.’’ The Message.

So what was the purpose of the law? (19a, 23-25) It was to prepare people for the coming of Christ; to show us that we are sinners in need of a Saviour. But it cannot save anyone. That’s not its purpose. (Someone has pointed out that the law does not contradict the promise, but it cooperates with it in fulfilling God’s plan. While law and grace seem contrary to one another, if you go down deep you find that they complement each other. They work hand in glove.) In Paul’s day wealthy families hired special tutors or custodians to look after their children. The children were under the authority of the custodian. Paul paints the picture of the law being a custodian to people in (24). Once we come to Christ, however, we don’t need the custodian’s supervision anymore (25). ‘’Until the time came when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.’’ The Message.

So that is the purpose of the law. Paul also points out that the law is inferior to the promise because a.) it is temporary (19, 23-25); b.) it was not given directly from God to man, but came third – hand, from God to angels to Moses (19b, 20), and because it cannot impart life (21). The law cannot save anyone, and that is why Paul stood his ground against the Judaizers. He knew the important place of the law. He knew what it could do. But he was also aware of what it could not achieve. To be saved we have to go back to the promise given to Abraham and not to the law given to Moses.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for your wonderful grace. Help me to never go back to a futile religion of self-effort.

Daily Bible thoughts 723: Friday 10th October 2014:

Galatians 3:10-14

There are two key messages in these verses:

  • We are saved by faith and not law (10-12);
  • We are saved through Christ (13, 14). His work on the cross is central to our believing and receiving the gift of the Spirit. So see:
  •  The curse of the law (10, 12): Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 and later from Leviticus 18:5. The Law demands obedience, and the problem is that it’s not just a bit of obedience that will suffice. There must be obedience in ‘’everything’’. As someone has said, the law is not a religious cafeteria where you can pick and choose (see James 2:10-11). I took an examination some years ago, made up of four parts. But if you failed one section you failed the entire exam. It’s rather like that with the Law. To be saved by the Law you have to do it all No one can and that’s why no one can be saved by the law. If you think you can be spiritually rescued by keeping the Ten Commandments, the bad news is that if you’ve so much as broken one of them you’ve failed to get the pass mark!
  • The content of Paul’s message (11): Habakkuk 2:4 was a key text for the apostle Paul. We could say that it is theme text out of which Romans is developed (Romans 1:16, 17). Paul was insistent that people are not saved by doing good deeds but by believing in Christ. It’s not just that the law can’t save anyone (and that much is clearly obvious) but it is also about what is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. Way back when, the Word of God said you cannot be saved by working and earning, but by believing and receiving. The only way to find true life is by faith.
  • The cross at the centre (13, 14): Paul quotes some more from Deuteronomy (21:33): ‘’Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’’ The Jews did not crucify criminals; they stoned them to death. But in cases of shameful violation of the law, after the stoning, the body was hung on a tree and exposed for everyone to see. This was a great humiliation, because the Jewish people were very careful in their treatment of a dead body. After the body had been exposed for a time, it was taken down and buried (see Josh.8:29; 10:26; 2 Sam.4:12). Of course Paul’s reference to ‘’a tree’’ has to do with the cross on which Jesus died (Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24). He was not stoned and then left exposed on a tree. But by dying on the cross Jesus bore the curse of the Law for us. We can be free from it, and experience redemption, with the Holy Spirit in our lives by faith.

Abraham was saved by a faith that works, and not by faith plus works. The Judaizers, who were infecting the church with their error, were arguing for the latter. The flesh loves legalism. It means we can boast about our religious achievements, and compare ourselves with others who don’t keep the rules as meticulously as we do. But this is not the way of Jesus. The gospel calls us to a simple faith in Him. All boasting is excluded. Through trust in Jesus alone we are made right with God, and even the faith to believe is a gift from God. The cross lies at the centre of our message and experience, and at the cross pride has to die.

Prayer: Lord keep me from trusting in Jesus plus my own efforts. Teach me to live by the gospel.

 

 

Daily Bible thoughts 715: Tuesday 30th September 2014:

Galatians 3:1-9

We come now to the central section of Galatians (chs.3/4).This is about how to become a child of Abraham. Paul has to persuade the Galatians that the gift of righteousness is by faith, and not by observing the works of the law.

In chapter 2, as we have seen, Paul has not spared the leaders of the church for caving in to pressure from the Judaizers. Here he gives the church its share of the message! ‘’You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.’’ The Message. His essential point is that salvation is through faith in the crucified Jesus. This is how you receive the Spirit. This is the doorway into the life of the miraculous. It’s not by keeping the law, but it is by trust in Jesus alone. ‘’Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? The Message. Paul then moves Abraham to front of stage as the prototype of the people of faith (6-9). He is the father of all who have faith, both Jews and Gentiles. Abraham’s salvation did not come through the law (which was not yet given) but by faith in God. We must not allow anyone to move us from this central truth. Salvation is not by faith plus anything. It is by faith in Christ alone. If we try to add anything to the gospel beyond simple belief in Jesus, we end up devaluing the cross. That was not something Paul could be happy about it (6:14, 15).

It may be that good questions are superior to good answers (1-5). We see the power of excellent questioning in the ministry of Jesus. Perhaps the best teachers are those who pose the right questions. Paul, in these verses, bombards the Galatian Christians with questions. In trying to help fellow Christians grow in Christ, may God give us the wisdom to pose the questions that will stimulate and promote forward movement.

Here’s a question for you to consider today. When you became a Christian you were probably very much aware of the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing this about (3). But have you in any way ceased to rely on the Spirit and have you started to try to do things by self-effort? We are saved through the gospel and we must learn to live by the gospel, day after day.

Prayer: Jesus keep me near the cross. Let me never stray from central the truth of Christ crucified for my sins. May I never glory except in the cross of Christ.

Daily Bible thoughts 714: Monday 29th September 2014:

 Galatians 2:11- 21

The fear of man does bring a snare (11-16). Social pressure can squeeze you into a mould where you don’t really fit and don’t truly want to be. Fear makes its presence felt in the lives of the best of people, and can cause them to act out of character. Fear can lead to hypocrisy. That’s what happened in the case of Peter, and Paul was right to call him out on it. I suppose, spiritually speaking, Paul was the ‘new kid on the block’. But he had the loving courage to rebuke the revered apostle. Paul saw that the gospel was at stake (14). The good news of Jesus creates a level playing field in which all the old barriers come down (3:28). In Christ Jews and Gentiles are one before God, and should be able to express their unity in sharing meals and in many other ways Before the Judaizing pressure group came in and started throwing their weight around, Peter lived ‘’like a Gentile and not like a Jew’’ (14). He used to eat with Gentiles (12). He was perfectly free to do so. But then the fear of people got him into double standards. ‘’If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favourable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies.’’ The Message.

Our calling and responsibility is to always act ‘’in line with the truth of the gospel’’ (14). When a leader strays from this path, regrettably, others of Christ’s sheep follow him over the cliff edge (13). Peter’s hypocrisy set in motion a chain reaction of hypocritical living (13). This was probably not something he intended or expected, but it happened. Our actions have consequences. Paul was not being awkward for the sake of it in pointing out this inconsistency. It’s not that he was being belligerent because he was naturally pugnacious, or that he liked to point the finger at others. But when ‘’the truth of the gospel’’ is at stake you have to draw a line in the sand and make a courageous stand. The Judaizers added to the gospel. They insisted that in order to be saved a person must keep the Jewish law in addition to having faith in Christ. A man must be circumcised, they said. Paul, in response, put on his theological boxing gloves and fought for the central truth that justification (a right standing with God) is by faith alone. Four times in (15-20) Paul uses the word ‘’faith’’ (three times in 15 and once in twenty). ‘’We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it-and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can ever please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good…So I quit being a ‘’law man’’ so that I could be God’s man…If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.’’ The Message.

If anyone tries to say that anything other than faith in Christ will make a person a Christian, we also need to resist those ‘added ingredients’ that heretics want to toss into the mixing bowl. The truth sets free. Error ties people up in chains.

It is the case that some people opposed Paul’s teaching of justification by faith. It seems they deliberately misunderstood it (17) arguing that Paul was saying, ‘It doesn’t matter how you live so long as you have faith in Jesus.’ They said that he (and ultimately Jesus Himself) was promoting sin. Anyone who still thinks like that should read Romans 6. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please expose to my own heart any lurking hypocrisy, that I may turn from it and glorify you in a crucified life of faith in you.

 

Daily Bible thoughts 700: Tuesday 9th September 2014:

Galatians 1:11-24

Have you seen those slimming ads that show before and after pictures? In some cases, there are those who have dieted in such a disciplined way that they are barely recognisable as being the same people. Yet, in spiritual terms, Paul’s (or Saul’s) transformation was infinitely greater than any dietary success story (23, 24). When we watch the news at the moment, and obviously we are disturbed by it, let’s remember that this man had, at one time, murderous intent towards Christians. Then he became one! God is in the business of changing people and making them new creations in Christ. ‘’I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had designs on me.’’ (13-15a) The Message. So be encouraged by Paul. Keep sharing your faith and pray on. Don’t despair of anyone; not even the very worst. If you look at (13) and then (23) you will see something of the greatness of the miracle. It was ‘darkness to light’. It took God to explain such a change (24), and God did receive the praise (24)

Paul recognised that his conversion was entirely due to the Sovereign grace of God. Long before he cared to know Jesus, and, indeed during the years he persecuted Him, He was ‘’set…apart’’ by God to preach the gospel of Christ. He just didn’t know it yet.

What changes God brings about in the hearts and minds of people to bring them to an ‘about turn’! At one time Paul was very proud of his Jewish heritage, tradition and accomplishments (14; see also Philippians 3: 4-11). But he came to see that all the things he prided himself in were ‘’loss’’ and ‘’rubbish’’ compared with the shining jewel of knowing Christ and possessing His gift of righteousness (Phil.3: 7, 8). However religious you are, religion is not enough. Don’t confuse religion with Christianity. Saul of Tarsus was arguably one of the most religious men to walk the planet, but he hated Christians and set out to arrest them. He wanted them dead!

But because Paul, the new man in Christ and now an apostle, knew the threat to the Galatian churches (as we saw yesterday), he was anxious to show that his message should not be ‘perverted’ (7). False teachers had come along and were tinkering under the bonnet of truth. But they were not authorised to change anything. Paul’s gospel was Paul’s because he preached it, and not because he invented it. It was not man-made but God-given (11, 12). You will see why it was so important for Paul to stress this point. He wanted them to know this (11). The Galatians needed to know that the gospel was a fixed body of truth they were not to deviate from. Paul’s message did not even come from a process of consultation with other key leaders (16, 17). He had a personal ‘’revelation from Jesus Christ’’ (12). It seems that this took place in ‘’Arabia’’ and he may have been there for three years (18a). Not until later did he meet Peter and James. They didn’t give him a message to preach, but Jesus did.

Prayer: In my life, Lord, be glorified today.

 

 

Daily Bible thoughts 699: Monday 8th September 2014:

 Galatians 1:6-10

In his early travels, Paul ‘’founded a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. A few years later Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come into those churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the coral of religious rules and regulations. Paul was, of course, furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religous tactics…But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation.’’ Eugene Peterson: ‘Introduction to Galatians.’

In this letter Paul ‘gets down to brass tacks’ straight away. The gospel of ‘’grace’’ was at stake and Paul was at pains to defend it. The gloves are off. He is at white heat. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on niceties and pleasantries. He wasn’t a slave to people-pleasing (10). The Galatians might not like his approach. Some people might like him less for his frankness. But that wasn’t the issue for him. He remembered whose servant he was and concentrated on pleasing Him. Desperate times can require desperate measures. He doesn’t even commend them for anything (contrary to his normal pattern). He gets straight to the point: ‘’I can’t believe your fickleness – how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head.’’ The Message. Paul actually uses the language of military desertion in (6). He was facing a grave situation, and urgently needed to address it. It wasn’t simply a case of abandoning the teaching of the gospel, but the Person of the gospel: ‘’the one’’ (6) who is at the heart and centre of the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the embodiment of the ‘good news’ (See also 5:4)

This is the second mention of ‘’grace’’ in just a few verses (6; see also 3). It is the key theme of Galatians. We are not saved by God’s grace plus anything, but by grace alone, through faith. The ‘Judaizers’ who regularly dogged Paul’s steps, were teaching that in order to be saved you must believe in Jesus and be circumcised. If someone ‘perverts’ (7) the ‘’gospel of Christ’’, changing its truth and meaning, they create a ‘’different gospel,’’ (6). Such a man-made ‘gospel’ is ‘’no gospel at all’’ (7). It is bad news not good news and it creates ‘’confusion’’ (7). I was talking with someone recently about the confusion that must exist in our nation because there is no clear note of truth sounded from the traditional churches. While some churches preach the gospel uncompromisingly, and we thank God for them, others spoon out poisonous deviations that can ‘kill’ people spiritually. It’s not politically correct to say this, but error destroys people. We have a responsibility to point it out and resist it and do all we can do correct it.

Truth matters! (8, 9). No-one can read and understand Galatians and think that it doesn’t. Paul said, ‘Even if an angel from heaven should stand in your pulpit and preach a gospel other than the one you heard from us ‘’let him be eternally condemned!’’ This is an incredibly strong statement, and Paul uses it twice. It refers to God’s own curse. ‘’All readers of this letter are confronted with matters that affect their eternal destiny.’’ Moises Silva, ‘New Bible Commentary, p.1209.

‘’The gospel is neither a discussion nor a debate. It is an announcement.’’ Paul S. Rees.

Prayer: Help me Lord to always stay true to truth, as truth is true to you.

Daily Bible thoughts 698: Friday 5th September 2014:

Galatians 1: 1-5

Paul had a divine encounter that changed his life completely. He had no intention of becoming a Christian. He was set on destroying the church (13, 14; see Acts 9:1). His aim was to arrest Christians and cart them off to jail. But then one day Christ apprehended him while he was on the road to Damascus (Philippians 3:12). One preacher said that Paul ‘felt the Hand of the Heavenly Policeman on his shoulder.’(In fact, having ‘a Damascus road experience’ has entered into common parlance for anyone having a major turnaround in thought and behaviour.) Paul met the risen Lord and was changed in the encounter. Furthermore, it was fundamental to what he had to say to the Galatian church that they should understand that his ministry was not man made (11, 12). So, meeting Jesus changed Saul’s life (and name!) and gave him a ministry (1). He was ‘’an apostle’’ – a ‘sent one’ – because the living Lord Jesus, and His Father God who raised Him from the grave, sent him. Paul had a divine encounter and in that he received a divine commission.

Paul was a team player (2a). Undeniably he was a bright individual who, probably, would have shone in any arena. He was multi-gifted. But he never let people put him on a pedestal. He didn’t insist on titles and privilege. He was just plain Paul, faithfully getting on with his work, and knowing that he had a particular role to play in a large team. He knew who he was in God and didn’t need special ‘handles’ to impress. There were others working for God on the same team, and Paul affirmed them; loved to work with those the Lord brought alongside him, and expressed his need of their help and support. He didn’t play the part of the ‘big shot’ leader; the superstar evangelist. He didn’t see himself as the ‘super nova’ Christian, outshining the rest. Maybe God had made him an outstanding ‘striker’ and team captain, but he was still part of a team. He knew he was nothing without the others. I say, ‘Thank God for the church.’

Great leader that Paul was, he knew to Whom the glory belonged (5), and it wasn’t to him. Any success he saw (and let’s face it, he was massively successful) was the Lord’s work through him.

Verse 4 presents the heart of Paul’s Christ revealed (12) gospel. It is the good news about what Jesus Himself has done for us through His sacrifice; His self-offering on the cross of Calvary. This substitutionary death was ‘’according to the will of our God and Father’’. It flows from the ‘’Grace’’ of God; His undeserved favour. It leads to ‘’peace’’. I once heard a preacher say that he had read that you could fill the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ in London with the amount of tablets people in the U.K. take, in one week, in a desperate attempt to find peace. True ‘shalom’; authentic harmony and wholeness, will not be found anywhere else other than in Jesus Christ, and through His work on the cross. Someone said that grace and peace are the two main pillars of the gospel. Everything comes from grace, and centres in Christ and His cross, and issues in peace. We are all born into ‘’the present evil age’’ (4). ‘The world’ – secular society: i.e. society ordered without reference to God, exerts a huge influence over every person living in it. We are surrounded by its poisonous fumes, like some invisible gas. We breathe in its ideologies and standards and values etc often without knowing it. It is Satan’s kingdom (John 16:11). Jesus came to set us free from it by His work on the cross. He paid an enormous price for our deliverance. He doesn’t take us out of the world, but frees us from its evil (John 17:15).Once Paul got a hold of this message (or it got a hold of him) it caused him to ‘give himself.’ Fired and fuelled by the thought of Jesus and His cross, he went all over the Roman empire to tell everyone he could about the liberating work of Jesus. When the truth sets you free, you don’t want to keep it to yourself.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus that I share your victory.

 

 

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