"One of the keystones of Christianity is "The righteousness of God," which is developed doctrinally in Paul's letter to the saints at Rome. Through the persistent efforts of false, Judaizing teachers, the warm-hearted, but fickle saints of the region of Galatia were in grave danger of departing from the glad tidings of God's grace, and were in great measure alienated from the great apostle. The recovery to them of the truth developed in Romans is the great point in the Epistle to the Galatians; both epistles treating of the same precious subject — the way of a sinner's justification before God. But there is a marked difference between the two epistles: in Romans, the apostle brings out what the gospel really is,
"The power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; ... for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith";
but in the letter to the Galatians he has to do with those who had received the grace of God, and were attempting to add to it the works of the law, thereby nullifying the wonderful gospel made known to them by the apostle.
Here was a deliberate and systematic attempt on the part of the enemy to bring about an admixture of Christianity and Judaism to the detriment of the former, so as to obscure its heavenly character, and pervert the precious truths of the gospel. With so much at stake, should we be surprised at the severity of tone adopted by the apostle in his scathing denunciation of those who sought to overthrow the true character of Christianity? So keen was the discernment of this devoted servant of the Lord, so sensitive to anything that would besmirch the true greatness and glory of Christ, that he detected in those Judaizing philosophers the pernicious and reprobate machinations of the enemy himself. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the divine authority of the apostle was ever linked with the heavenly character of Christianity. The enemy attempted to set aside the peculiar administration and authority of Paul, and to mix Judaism with Christianity, so as to neutralize Christianity's heavenly character. These two systems can never coalesce, save to the ruin of souls; and although both agree in setting before men a very high standard of conduct, they are otherwise diametrically opposed. Judaism is the religion of man in the flesh, which supposes him capable of keeping the law; a supposition that received its death-blow in the cross.
The beloved apostle shows that the glad tidings he preached to them were unique in source and power. With great joy and thankfulness the Galatian saints had received these glad tidings which they now seemed to be surrendering, little realising what they were doing. In adding the law to the gospel they were surrendering the truth of the gospel. A sense of urgency and deep emotion can be detected throughout the whole epistle; the apostle writing with his characteristic earnestness, but with a sharpness that was not usual. No one is saluted in the letter, and he starts immediately with his theme, wishing them indeed, grace and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ. He stands, as he says, in doubt of them; having to travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in them. Their doctrinal wandering he treats more seriously than the moral evil of Corinth, which men naturally think of a far worse character. Another has said. "Without the gospel morality cannot maintain itself, and in the doctrine of Christ is the root of all morality."
Paul begins by declaring the unique ministry committed to him; insisting upon the special character of his apostleship; affirming in solemn and unequivocal terms his entire independence of man in it, declaring that his commission was received not from men, nor through men, but
"Through Jesus Christ, and God the Father."Unlike the twelve, he received his commission from the risen Christ direct from heaven, after Jesus had finished His work; a commission to which he refers in Acts 20
"That I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus."He saw the Lord in glory, and it was the glorified Christ who sent him. Note too how the apostle valued the fellowship of the brethren in the gospel, associating them with him, as having their sympathy and concurrence in what he states here; and as showing that the Galatians were in danger of departing from the faith held by all the brethren with Paul.
Now we come to the core of the matter,
"Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father."
What has law to do with those for whom Jesus gave Himself to deliver them out of this present evil age? This "age" is marked by implacable opposition to God, and is led by Satan, the god of this age. For believers to have recourse to law is to go back into the world, out of which to deliver them, Christ gave Himself. This is of immense practical importance, for it is the Father's will for us.
How deep and real the emotion of this devoted servant of the Lord, as out of a full heart he expresses his wonderment that they were so quickly changing from Him, who had called them in Christ's grace, unto a different gospel, "which is not another." How arduous were the labours of the apostle, how sore his trials, how intense and perilous his combats in seeking to maintain, and preserve in its purity, the truth of the gospel. By the Holy Spirit he saw the truth of God imperilled, where others could see no harm; peril, not from without, but rising up in the very bosom of the assembly. (Acts 15 may well be called the Christian's Magna Carta).
And now from this custodian of divine truth comes these solemn words,
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed;"
and to show that this was no ill-considered outburst, spoken rashly, he reiterates these solemn words. Beloved brethren, have we this appreciation of the gospel? What is our assessment of its inherent greatness as being the truth of God? Such faithfulness will not call forth the plaudits of men; but may we be preserved from the desire to conciliate men in these things.
"For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
The apostle then goes on to show how he had learned the gospel: he neither received it from men, nor was he taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. This revelation had transformed him from a persecutor and injurious person into an ardent, faithful, uncompromising witness for Christ. He now speaks of the circumstances of his wonderful con-version, of the good pleasure of God who set him apart, even from his mother's womb, and called him by His grace. He knew all about this Judaism the Galatians were embracing, for did he not say that as touching the law he was a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to the righteousness which is in the law, he was found blameless? But God had something far better for him: He revealed His Son in him; not merely to Him, but in him. The call of God was accompanied by an inward revelation of the Son of God to his soul; and from henceforth this was the abiding power and reality that enabled him to count all things loss for Christ.
How touching is the close of this first chapter;
"He which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed; and they glorified God in me"What an amazing transformation the sight of Jesus in the glory of God had wrought! In misguided zeal he once thought he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus; but now he can say,
"For me to live is Christ!"Little wonder that the dear saints, in that day, glorified God in him . . .
So grave was the departure that the apostle is moved to exclaim with feelings of deep emotion,
"O senseless Galatians, who has bewitched you?"How great was their folly in turning to the law for righteousness after having known the grace of the gospel. It seemed as if a bewitching power was drawing them away from divine grace. in which the doctrine of the Cross of Christ had been conspicuously presented to them; desiring to add their own supposed righteousness to the justification procured on the principle of faith; or having recourse to a system of ordinances to make up for their defect in righteousness. In both cases it is the fascination of law preventing them from looking to the Lord Jesus Christ in whom alone righteousness can be found. Observe how strong is the expression.
"before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you."The publicity and prominence which the apostle gave to the doctrine of the cross was that of a proclamation set forth by authority in the most frequented part of the city. The doctrine of the cross strikes at the deeply imbedded roots of all man's pretensions to wisdom, righteousness and strength: and it is this that still makes this doctrine offensive to them: but how acceptable it is to those who know that through the cross, God was "making an end of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness." . . .
Alas, men still think that God is to be served by men's hands as though He needed something. They know Him not in His blessed character as Giver, and so do not come to Him to receive. How distressing to see those who once enjoyed the truth of the Gospel bowed down under a system of ordinances, observing days and months and years; thus obscuring for themselves the one great object that God would bring before them, even His own blessed Son, in the glory of His humiliation and in the greatness of His exaltation . . .
The heavenly character of Christianity has been convincingly demonstrated: the perverters of the Glad Tidings of the glory of the blessed God, the devotees of Judaism with all its ritualistic and legalising influences, stand dishonoured and confounded in the presence of a light that shines from heaven itself . . . To sum up Galatians 5, the Spirit is shown to be the power for sanctification. It is by the Spirit that holiness is produced. The apostle does not allow the law, either as a means of righteousness or sanctification. As justification is by faith in the blood of Jesus, so also sanctification, or holiness, is from the new nature in the energy of the Spirit of God. In all this, the apostle will not, under any pretext whatever, allow the law any standing. The law is not allowed any part in the Christian economy; it is an element of the world, and as such has gone in the cross of Christ. That wondrous cross has swept away all that belongs to this world; every vestige has gone for God and for faith. The beloved apostle, in his own inimitable way, takes up the elements one by one, and demonstrates that the Christian is delivered from them by the death of Christ. We are God's workmanship; we have received the divine nature; and it is unthinkable that anything of the old economy can have part in this.
Viewing ourselves as still in the body, we have the two principles within us, but the old is not allowed; only the new is recognised. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says,
"I am crucified with Christ;"
and in Galatians 5:24,
"They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."
In this latter portion the truth is applied to every Christian but it is another thing for the individual Christian to apply it to himself: to know the power of the truth experimentally in the experience of the soul from day to day. The practical application of the death of Christ is of immense importance, and it may help us to consider some Scriptures where it is brought before us. First let us consider Col. 3:3.
"Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."
Here the truth is stated positively from God's standpoint. We have died in regard to the old order of things, and we have a hidden, divine life with Christ above. How appropriate then the exhortation,
"Seek the things which are above."
In Romans 6:11 we have the exhortation,
"So also ye, reckon yourselves, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."
God accounts us to be dead with Christ; we are therefore to reckon ourselves dead (see verses 2 and 8). Faith always acts with God, as we also see in the Scripture,
"We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again."
In the power of the new life, by faith in Christ Jesus, we see ourselves as dead in His death, but as living in His life for His pleasure. If we turn now to 2 Cor. 4:10 we shall find how Paul applied this truth to himself.
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body."
Paul was in practice holding himself as dead to everything here, passing in an experimental way through the sufferings and afflictions that kept him in truth altogether apart from things here, God helping him in this, even as he says,
"We who live are always delivered unto death on account of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh."
Who delivered him unto death? God did! In what way? Read verses 8 and 9; "Every way afflicted, but not straitened," and so on. Why was the apostle allowed to pass through persecution, to be cast down, perplexed and troubled? It was because he desired to bear about in his body the putting to death of Jesus; and God says I will help you to do it. It was like the breaking of the pitchers of Gideon's three hundred men; it let the light shine out. Beloved saints of God, let us take account of this in days of adversity and distress. This is the way God helps us to reckon ourselves dead to all that is around, so that we might live unto Him. It is evident that the death and the life go together. I have dwelt at length on this particular line of truth, convinced of the necessity of knowing these things as power in our lives, so that we can stand perfect and complete in all the will of God . . .
At the close of Galatians 5, the apostle warns the saints of what necessarily results from the cultivation of the legal spirit, vainglory, provoking one another, and envy. In the beginning of Galatians 6 we have another kind of spirit, the spirit of grace,
"If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
This is what we need to do, not to glory over each other, but to help each other; ever seeking the profit and advancement of our brethren. In appealing to those who are spiritual, the apostle does not desire us to be testing ourselves to discover our degree of spirituality. The spiritual man lives too near to God to think anything of himself; and the spirit of meekness is the antithesis of the spirit of fancied spirituality. Those who are spiritual know that the restoration of the erring one is bound up with the glory of God. It was said of the Pharisees that they bound upon men's shoulders, burdens grievous to be borne; but they would not touch them themselves with one of their little fingers. This was the spirit that was creeping in among the Galatians; the direct result of turning to the law as a rule of life.
Since they had a fondness for law, the Galatians are directed to a law of a different character;
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
In effect, the apostle says, If you will have law, here is a law for you; but it is the law of Christ, who was, and is, the great burden bearer: Who not only bore our sicknesses and carried our sorrows, but also bore the mighty burden of our sins in His own body on the tree. Now we have what might be called a Christian paradox. As fulfilling the law of Christ, we are to restore the fallen and bear the burdens one of another but in connection with work, every man shall bear his own burden. The apostle was no doubt referring to those who were seeking to destroy the foundations that he had laid; and for this they would have to give account to God. The day of appraisal is coming, when every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour. It is salutary to remember that grace never interferes with the exercise of God's government, nor modifies its application."
An Outline of Sound Words: Volumes 1 - 10: Simple Reflections on Paul's Letter to the Galatians.
"Now, what is the character of God as revealed in the scriptures? First:
“God is Love,”and second,
“God is Light”—so we read in the first Epistle of John, and, in this double way as combining these two qualities, is God made known to us. I speak first of “Love,” although, as to actual statement, it occurs second in the Epistle referred to, for, whatever the judgments by which the dealings of God have been marked, such as the flood, &c., yet it has pleased Him to express His nature in the gift of His Son—a fact which in itself proves that His judicial dealings do not spring from malice. Sin calls for correction, but God, whilst punishing the sin, pities the sinner, and mercifully seeks by correction, to make known the malignity of sin, and thus to turn the soul to Himself.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”Greater proof could not be asked nor given of the immensity of God’s love.
The first effect of sin was to lead man to distrust God. They
“hid themselves amongst the trees of the garden.”Such is never the way of confidence. But sin produced a suspicion of God, and from that moment to this the love of God is doubted by the natural heart. It is a remarkable fact, that in the whole range of heathen mythology there cannot be found an idea of love in the “gods many” to whom bloody sacrifices are offered in abundance, or self-abnegation practised, in order to appease an outraged deity. There is the need of Christianity to dispel such darkness, and to whisper into our hearts the glorious truth, “God is Love,” and if, in Christianity, a sacrifice be necessary, if “the Son of Man must be lifted up,” by whom was that sacrifice given? He was “the Lamb of God.” The grace of God provided what His justice demanded,
“Deliver from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom,”
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”Such is the uniform voice of the gospel. God is the blessed Giver, and Christ the precious Gift, and this for the benefit of those who hated God. What grace! Oh! that such a Gospel might be sounded over the surface of the earth, might overtake the lie published in Eden, might chase away the dark night clouds of heathenism, Mahommedanism, and apostate Christendom! “God is Love,”
“God is Love!”J Wilson SmithGod’s Character the Believer’s Hope
*Photo by Nick van den Berg on Unsplash