Saturday, August 18, 2007

Bad News about Good Works?! A Short Discussion on Galatians 3


During his first missionary journey (46-48 A.D.), Paul together with Barnabas had the opportunity to establish several churches in the Roman province of Galatia (Acts 13:14-14:23). On his second trip (49-52 A.D.), Paul and Silas visited them again (Acts 16:1-5). Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is now commonly believed to be addressed to these churches, as opposed to the churches in Northern Galatia (which Paul supposedly helped establish during his 2nd missionary journey, though no mention of it exists in Acts.)

In any case, this letter of Paul to the Galatians (whether North or South) were for:

 “Churched” believers of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26; 4:6-7) who have already been Justified (declared Righteous) by faith (Gal. 3:26); Paul already considered them as “saved.”

 Galatians were “running a good race” (Gal. 5:7); they desired to please and serve the Lord and did not seem to be complaining about suffering for their faith.

 Problem: Though already Justified by their faith, they were then misled by certain "teachers" (Gal. 1:7) into thinking that they now need to “attain their goal” (of either Holy living/Sanctification or of somehow “completing” their Justification?) by human effort (Gal. 3:3 NIV or “by the flesh” in KJV, ESV, NASB) in this case, through mandatory circumcisions (see Acts 15 for more background info).

OVERALL LOGIC: If human effort or good works cannot even justify you, what makes you think that you can now depend on good works to “attain your goal”—of either Holy living/Sanctification or of somehow “completing” your Justification?

Trying to become Holy (or Sanctified) by works is as useless as trying to be Justified by works. Good works do not result in us becoming Holy. It is GOD who makes us Holy and this results in good works.

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction; Greetings & Salutation; Warning against false gospels; Paul’s Credentials/Qualifications for Apostleship: Received Gospel by Divine Revelation, not “man-made;” Former Persecutor who was graciously set apart by God and accepted by the Apostles in Jerusalem.

CHAPTER TWO: Paul's opposition to “Judaizers” (Christians pushing Jewish traditions on others) while he was in Jerusalem with the apostles, who agreed with Paul. Paul was chosen to minister to the Gentiles. Paul's concern for the Gentiles even resulted in him rebuking Peter when he (Peter) separated himself from Gentile converts in favour of mingling with Jewish converts. Paul’s point: man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

CHAPTER THREE: Justification is by Faith, not by Law (remember Abraham?); So why are you now trying to “attain your goal” by observing the law, which could not even Justify you? The Law condemns us of sin and thus leads us to Christ. Now that we are in Christ, why are you trying to go back under the law?

CHAPTER FOUR: God’s children are no longer slaves to the law. Like Paul, do not alienate yourselves from the Good News you have already received. Using Sarah & Hagar (Gen. 21) as illustration, let us appreciate our position in Christ.

CHAPTER FIVE: Christ set us free from sin and the law, not so that we can indulge in sin nor in the law again—but so that we may live by the Spirit of God. Those who think that Christ set us free from the law so that we can be free to sin do not have the Spirit in them and will not inherit the kingdom of God—what they do is obviously the opposite to what the Spirit causes believers to do.

CHAPTER SIX: (Application) Carefully help the Weak and Sinful. Freely share with those who instruct you. Trust God, who knows those who are still secretly living by their sinful natures (God cannot be mocked or tricked by people pretending to be “moral”). Seize every opportunity to do good. These are the genuine words of Paul, who then condemns those who want to boast about what is done in the flesh. Benediction.

PLS. READ GALATIANS CHAPTER THREE (v. 1-29) then discuss:

1) What seems to be Paul’s mood when he wrote the opening passages of chapter 3 and why do you think was Paul feeling that way? Was Paul correct to feel and write the way that he did?

2) Gal. 3:1b (NIV) says, “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” What do you think is the significance of this? What was it like to be crucified (remember Passion of the Christ)? How does Christ being brutally tortured and crucified for our sins, compare with people being circumcised to please God?

3) How do you think the Gentile Galatian Christians felt when they compared themselves to the Jewish Christians? How should Gentile Christians have seen themselves based on 3:8-9; 3:26-29?

4) The Galatian Christians seem to be very willing to suffer and lose even their happiness, for their faith (3:4a; 4:15; 5:7a). Is there a right way and wrong way to suffer for our faith? How can we tell the difference? How can we tell if God’s imperatives (or commands) to us, are being taught in their proper Biblical context or not?

5) When someone reads Biblical passages out of context, how does this affect their testimony and witness to others, especially to non-believers? How do you feel when you hear someone teach God’s Word out of context, especially to non-believers and new Christians? How do you think Paul would deal with this problem today?

6) In 3:6-18, what covenant (agreement) did God make with Abraham? Who else did God make this covenant with (3:16)? Who among the parties to this agreement is the most trustworthy (someone we can truly have faith in)? (Many thanks to Elder Rob V for elaborating on this further, by using Hebrews 6!)

7) If sinners are Justified (proclaimed Righteous) by faith, what then is the purpose of the law (3:19-25)? Are Christians now free to be immoral (breakers of God’s laws)? How should Christians now see and conduct themselves, based on 3:26-29?

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