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Paul's Letter to the Galatians

Pastor Michael P. Walther

The notes for the most recent chapter presented are listed first.
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Paul's Letter to the Galatians Chapter Five April 18, 2021

Introduction

     Remember where we started as we began Galatians?  The Apostle Paul was agonizing over the Christians in Galatia who were turning to "another" Gospel. This new "Gospel" wasn't new, and it wasn't Good News either. It was the old idea found in every pagan religion... That human beings have to somehow earn their status with God. But Paul wanted everyone to remember that we are not "slaves" trying to please a master. Rather, we are sons and daughters loved by God, and now we are eager to do the things that please Him. We don't do them because they are "required" for salvation. Jesus fulfilled all the "requirements" for salvation. We do them because that's what God's people do.  In the last two chapters of Galatians Paul will show us how this faith leads us to new living. These two chapters introduce us to a very important life principle:  It is better to be motivated by "want to" than by "have to." Faith creates the freedom of "want to." Good works motivated by faith are truly good works. Good works motivated by fear (of not being saved) can hardly be thought of as good works. As soon as the fear is taken away, so the good works will disappear. 

Chapter Five – Two Views on New Living

1.   5.1 is a key verse that captures the theme of Galatians. In Paul's day most people were slaves. How might this impact most of the people who heard this teaching? What kind of freedom is Paul talking about here? Why do we place so much value on freedom?  Do a free people always appreciate their freedom?

Luther emphasized that we are free from the eternal wrath of God. This is really the ultimate fear in this world. 

2.  Read verses 5.2-15  The First View... Focus on God and Others

3.  The Judaizers were demanding that Christians be circumcised in order to be considered "Christian." What was the purpose of circumcision for Israel?  See Genesis 17.10-14.  

      Circumcision was a sign to the people of Israel that they were the chosen people and that through them God would bring salvation to all the world. Jesus came to save Israel and all the nations. Since Jesus had come and salvation was accomplished it made no sense to circumcise Gentiles (the nations). While circumcision served a divine purpose for Israel to constantly remind them of their purpose, it was never commanded by God for the other nations and it never had anything to do with the salvation itself. The circumcised Israelite needed the blood of Jesus for salvation as well as the uncircumcised Gentile. Simeon said that Jesus was a "light to the nations and the glory of Thy people Israel." God's plan of salvation was not to turn all the nations into Israelites but to save both the Israelites and the nations through the blood of Jesus. The Judaizers were misusing circumcision by making the blood of this little surgery as necessary for salvation as the blood of Jesus. 

4.  Verses 7-15 illustrate one of the problems with a "Law" or "I have to do something myself to be saved" kind of religion... It puts the focus on ourselves. How does the focus on self, contribute to the problems of pride, quarreling, jealousy, etc.?  

      I often find that thinking about God’s presence helps me escape from my own “pity parties.” Thinking about God’s presence also helps me when I am interacting with other people. Just thinking of Jesus sitting at the table with me and other people completely changes my interactions with them. 

5.  How does the "Gospel" or "God has saved me" religion foster an attitude of love, compassion, and kindness toward one another?

      Realizing that we are saved keeps us in a constant state of thankfulness. It also reminds us that God’s intention is to save everyone. When we remember this, we tend to approach others the way God would approach them. 

6.  Read 5.16-26  The Second View... Rely on the Power of the Spirit

7.  Martin Luther liked to say that Christians are "Saints and Sinners" at the same time. By that he meant that God saves them and looks upon them as "saints," that is, "holy" by the blood of Jesus. Yet they still struggle with sin. If becoming a Christian means that we still sin, what's the point of being a Christian?  What is Paul talking about in verses 5.16-18?  

      The first letter of John shows us the difference between living in sin and living in love and righteousness. We still sin (1 John 1.8), but God forgives (1 John 1.9) because Jesus is our “Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2.1). Because of this the Christian does not make sinning their normal practice. The English Standard Version helps us translate the Greek present tense in 1 John which emphasizes continuous and ongoing action. 1 John 3.9 says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” This “seed of God” is the Spirit and God’s word. Peter said that we were born again “not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1.23). 

8. In verses19-20 Paul presents a list of "works of the flesh" and warns that "those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of heaven."  What's the difference between a person who "does" any of these things and the person who still struggles with temptation and sin and needs to pray "Forgive us our trespasses" on a daily basis?  

      The person who "does" these things does them and doesn't care. He thinks they are okay. He sees no need to repent.

      Illustration of the Pig and the Sheep:  Sheep get dirty. But when they see a mud puddle, they look for a way around it. Pigs, on the other hand, love to wallow in the mud. Christians get dirty with sin sometimes. But they also want to avoid it and be cleansed from it. They don't wallow in it.

9.  According to 5.22 can a Christian take credit for the new life they live by faith?  Who gets the credit?  So then who do you need to turn to in order to improve that life of faith?  Where does one find this?  Acts 2.38; Ephesians 1.13

      Sometimes people are tempted to look for the Holy Spirit in their own actions or emotions. We have to be careful about this. The Holy Spirit will always be associated with God's word.

10.  How do we crucify the flesh (5.24)?  

      Luther:  True believers are no hypocrites. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts. Inasmuch as they have not altogether put off the sinful flesh they are inclined to sin. They do not fear or love God as they should. They are likely to be provoked to anger, to envy, to impatience, to carnal lust, and other emotions. But they will not do the things to which the flesh incites them. They crucify the flesh with its evil desires and lusts by fasting and exercise and, above all, by a walk in the Spirit.

      To resist the flesh in this manner is to nail it to the Cross. Although the flesh is still alive it cannot very well act upon its desires because it is bound and nailed to the Cross.

11. How do we "walk by the Spirit" (5.25)?   

      We are empowered by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments.  Here you might talk about how we could make better use of the Word and Sacraments... Daily Devotions, Regular Worship Attendance, etc.

12.  How can a focus on Word and Sacrament and the Holy Spirit help to defeat the temptation of pride?  

      The Pharisees were zealous students of God’s word, and yet Jesus condemns their pride. It is possible to read the Bible and to retain a prideful attitude. God’s word of Law and Gospel, however, calls us to repentance and blesses us with forgiveness. These two teachings of the Bible are always vitally important to keep us either from pride or despair. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are basically Law and Gospel bound to the phsycial elements of water, bread and wine. With these God the Holy Spirit will always keep us in true faith.

 

Paul's Letter to the Galatians Chapter Four April 11, 2021

     Last month we looked at two supporting arguments for the New Testament teaching that salvation is God's work not ours. Paul used the example of Abraham, who believed in God and was told that he was justified by faith. Paul also used the example of adoption. An adopted child doesn't have to "earn" their adoption. They are adopted because someone loves them.  In the remainder of chapter four Paul adds two more supporting arguments.  First, human works are really weak compared to the works of God. Second, man's pretenses are no match for God's promises.  With four strong arguments Paul overwhelms the Galatians with the teaching that salvation is God's doing not ours. We will also discuss how this teaching really impacts the way we feel about God and how we relate to Him and to others.

1.   Read the 4.8-20 (the third supporting argument) and discuss the following questions:

2.  In verse eight Paul says they were enslaved to "those that by nature are not gods." We don't know exactly the kinds of gods that the Galatians worshiped previously. But they were probably like most other religions that focus on the sun, moon, or some other part of creation and imagine themselves to be pleasing these "gods" by their sacrificial efforts. Paul is asking, "Why would you worship something created rather than the Creator? Why would you rely on your own efforts rather than God's works?"

      Luther was very clear about this in his commentary on Galatians:

      Is it therefore not extreme folly for Rome and the Mohammedans to fight each other about religion? How about the monks? Why should one monk want to be accounted more holy than another monk because of some silly ceremony, when all the time their basic beliefs are as much alike as one egg is like the other? They all imagine, if we do this or that work, God will have mercy on us; if not, God will be angry.

God never promised to save anybody for his religious observance of ceremonies and ordinances. Those who rely upon such things do serve a god, but it is their own invention of a god, and not the true God. The true God has this to say: No religion pleases Me whereby the Father is not glorified through His Son Jesus. All who give their faith to this Son of Mine, to them I am God and Father. I accept, justify, and save them. All others abide under My curse because they worship creatures instead of Me.

      Question:  How do people today make up religious observances not commanded by God but consider them to be a way to earn God's help and salvation?

      First, people use God's commandments as a way of salvation. It is very tempting to think that if we just understood the commandments better we would be able to keep the better. Totally focusing on keeping commandments eventually puts us in the business of trying to keep them just by trying to keep them. But keeping the commandments can only happen by faith in Jesus.  "Apart from Me you can do nothing" Jesus said (John 15.5).  

      Second, people often look beyond the commandments to self imagined works that supposedly please the Lord. Luther was very concerned about this. Prayers to Mary and to saints, indulgences, icons, etc. But beyond the Christian tradition people look to angels, ancestors, karma, being a good neighbor, environmentalism, etc. 

3.    In verse 13 Paul refers to a bodily ailment.  Apparently Paul stopped in Galatia because of a personal illness. What kinds of illnesses have been suggested?  

      Malaria and Epilepsy have been suggested because it appears that Paul's ailment would come and go. Also some kind of eye problem is suggested since Paul specifically mentions a problem there.

4.  In verse 15 Paul asks, "What has become of the blessing you felt?" What do you think Paul means by this?  

      What Paul is saying is that the Galatians came to faith through Paul's preaching and teaching. That had to be a God thing, a work of the Holy Spirit, because Paul was sick. It couldn't have had anything to do with Paul's personality or fleshly appeal.  What the Galatians were getting into now was fleshly. It was very "man focused," do this, do that, etc. 

5.   What does Paul's statement in verse 19 show us about his earnestness?  Have you ever felt this way about someone?  Why do you think we are sometimes tempted not to really care about whether another person believes in Jesus or not?

      This earnestness is very important. A lack of it could be a sign that we really don't believe in salvation ourselves. But it can also be the weakness of the flesh and our lack of love. This is a good thing to pray for... That God would give us a earnestness and concern for the salvation of others.

     6.   Read verses 21-31.  This is the fourth supporting argument.      

7.   Review the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar from Genesis 16.  What had God promised Abraham? What did Sarah convince Abraham to do in order to "make that promise come true"?  Do we need to "make God's promises come true" with our own efforts?  

      God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child. But they were old, and nothing was happening. Sarah came up with the idea that Abraham could have a child with her servant Hagar. They tried to fulfill God's promise on their own. But that was a big mistake. God still kept His promise, and Isaac was eventually born.

      Trying to earn our salvation through our own efforts is a way of "making God's promises come true." They will come true as He has said without our help. 

8.  How was Judaism in Paul's day abandoning God's promises in the Messiah and trying to make God's promises come true?  Has anything really changed today?  

      In Paul's day the Jews were more focused on survival than salvation. At Jesus' trial the Sanhedrin agreed that it was better for one man to die (to appease the Romans) than to jeopardize the welfare of the entire nation (John 11.50).  

      That pattern continues today as Jewish people and most others look to government and politics to solve all their problems.

9.  How do people today try to gain God's blessings apart from faith in Jesus?

      Paying faith healers for healing... Playing the game "I'll be good if You (God) do this for me," or the reverse... "Why did this happen to me? I haven't done anything bad enough to deserve this.  (This implies that I have earned my blessings from God.)

10.  In verse 29 Paul says that those who are "born according to the flesh" persecute those who are born according to the spirit.  Luther had something today about this (Remember that the pope sentenced Luther to death for what he preached):

      As long as we preach Christ and confess Him to be our Savior, we must be content to be called vicious trouble makers. "These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar ," so said the Jews of Paul and Silas. (Acts 17:6, 7.) Of Paul they said: "We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." The Gentiles uttered similar complaints: "These men do exceedingly trouble our city."

This man Luther is also accused of being a pestilent fellow who troubles the papacy and the Roman empire. If I would keep silent, all would be well, and the Pope would no more persecute me. The moment I open my mouth the Pope begins to fume and to rage. It seems we must choose between Christ and the Pope. Let the Pope perish.

Christ foresaw the reaction of the world to the Gospel. He said: "I am come to send fire on the earth, and what will I, if it be already kindled? " (Luke 12:49.)

      Question:  Does this happen today in different ways?

      If we say that our efforts have nothing to do with our salvation, then we have to look to God for salvation. The only religion that teaches salvation is a free gift is Christianity. Therefore salvation is exclusive to Christ. Anyone who says this will immediately be criticized, scorned, and maybe worse. 

11. What are the practical results of all of this?  Discuss the following:

      A.  How would you feel about God if you had to earn His love?

      It really lowers our view of God if we think we can manipulate Him by what we do. God is the Almighty Savior... Not a paymaster. I also find it hard that people could say they "love God" if they don't really believe that God loves them. How can anyone say that God is love if the main thing He supposedly does is to make rules and tell us to follow them. Any drill instructor can do that!  

      B.  Can the "Hagar" approach to salvation (taking things into our own hands) really give us assurance?

      If salvation is based on what we do (even partly), it will always be tenuous. Our human works, like everything on this earth, are never perfect. Whenever I talk to people who believe that their efforts are part of the cause of their salvation, I always hear a little bit of doubt in their voice when it comes to the question of salvation... I hope so, I think so...  Also, these people live under a perpetual cloud of obligation and with a sense that "I've never done quite enough."  It is true that we never do all that we should do as Christians. What's sad is when that gets linked with our salvation. Christians can say, "I've haven't done all that I should. But I still know that I am saved because Jesus did all that needed to be done.  The reason I am going to try harder to be a better person is because I'm thankful for what God has done for me." That is what the next two lessons in this series are all about.  

      If anyone is interested, the website that has Luther's commentary online is called "Classic Bible Commentaries."  

 

      

Galatians Chapter Three March 28, 2021

     Here's where we've been... In chapter one Paul outlined the problem: People add requirements to God's grace in order to give themselves some credit for their salvation. In this case it's the Jewish practices of circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and meal fellowship (Kosher). In chapter two Paul lays down the solution: Salvation is based on Christ's suffering and death and nothing else. We take no credit for it.  You might think of the problem as a bare axel. Paul applies the solution like a mechanic applies the tire. Now he begins to bolt it in place with supporting arguments. We have two in chapter three and two in chapter four.

Chapter Three – Two Supporting Arguments

1. Review from last month…

            Paul did not yield to the Judiazers for a moment. We talked about when it is appropriate to compromise and when it is not appropriate. Where the Scriptures speak clearly, the church must avoid compromise. Where there are open questions, the church must strive to work together in love.

            Another important item from last month is that grace based living does not necessarily lead to more and more sin. Many fear this, and so Paul addressed it in 2.17 “Is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” In verse twenty he points out that faith is like dying with Christ and rising with Him. This is a key verse! “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of god, who loved me and gave himself for me.” He lives in us.  Later, in chapters 5-6, he will explain how this “Christ-living-faith-in-us” overcomes sin and produces good works.  

Read the third chapter including 4.1-7 and discuss the following questions:

2.  Who “bewitched” you? In Greek this is a powerful word that means a person is exerting an evil influence on someone through the eye.  How serious is Paul about this problem of salvation by grace alone through faith alone?

      This is related back to 1.6 where Paul says he is “astonished” and 1.8 where he says that those who corrupt the Gospel are “accursed.”

3. “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified...” (3.1). What does this tell us about the content of Paul's preaching? What did he emphasize? How should a pastor respond to someone who says, “I want to hear more than the 'old Gospel saw'?”

      Paul was must have made Christ's death and resurrection the center of all his preaching. It was never assumed.  

      1 Corinthians 2.2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

      Pastors have a special challenge to keep focusing on this central message of the Bible in ways that are edifying. It is not enough to just say “Jesus died for your sins” every Sunday. That becomes a meaningless mantra. We need to take all the other teachings of the Bible unite them with this teaching... Like the spokes of a wheel being united to the hub.    

4.  The first supporting argument for salvation by grace alone through faith alone is found in the example of Abraham.  Paul asks a simple question (3.2) “How did you come to faith?”  What is the answer (3.5)?

      They came to faith by hearing God's word. The Holy Spirit worked through that word to create faith. The person and work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned 16 times in this letter.  When you look through the entire Bible, you will see that the Spirit and God's word are always closely connected.

5.   The rabbis taught that Abraham was justified by his obedience to God in offering up Isaac.  But which came first, the promise that Abraham would be the father of a great nation (Genesis 12.1-3) or the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22).  Which comes first in our lives faith or good works?  How did Abraham's being called to faith without works show that God would call the Gentiles to faith without works?

      Faith always precedes good works. Good works can only flow from faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11.6). 

      What is a “Jew”?  “Jew” is short for Judah. Judah was one of the twelve tribes, the descendents of Jacob, the descendents of Isaac and finally Abraham.

      When you think about it, Abraham was a Gentile when he was called. God called him by His word (the Gospel) in the same way that they were called when they heard the preaching of God's grace in Christ.

6. What happens to those who live by the idea that they are saved by keeping the Law? (see 3.10-13)

      Paul mixes several quotes from the Fifth Book of Moses (Deuteronomy) to show that no one can be blessed or saved by keeping the Law. Instead, we are cursed because we cannot keep it.  This is the universal experience of humanity. Who can dare claim to be perfect? Some do make this claim, but it is absurd. An honest person admits to his/her imperfections.       

7.   How does Paul use the idea of “precedent” in his argument in 3.15-18?  How does this speak to the person who says, “I don't sin”? Or to the person who says, “I am mostly good”?  

      Paul shows that the Law of Moses, which came approximately 400 years after Abraham, does not overturn what God began through Abraham. Salvation came to Abraham through faith and continues to do so. 

      The Hebrew word for “seed” zera can be used either as a singular (one seed) or as a plural (many seeds). Paul argues here that the same promise God gave to Abraham was ultimately fulfilled by his one descendent Jesus.  

8.  3.19-4.7 present the second supporting argument for the teaching that salvation comes through grace through faith in Christ.  Can you summarize the gist of this argument?

      3.24 is a key verse... 

      The law served a temporary role in that it taught the need for faith, and it pointed to a further promise that was coming. When Jesus came, that temporary role was finished.  I watched a show about a tight rope walker. He would throw or shoot a light cord across a bridge or between two buildings. Then with the cord he would draw across the cable. The cord set up the cable. To go back to the law, would be like going back to the cord that was never meant to be our salvation.  The people of the Old Testament were saved by faith just as we are. But they had faith in promises that were frankly not very concrete. To compensate for that God gave them the law. You might compare it to people going on a trip on an airplane. The airplane hasn't arrive yet. But they know it's coming. So they wait in the waiting area until it arrives. When it arrives, they leave the waiting area and board the plane.     

9.  Galatians 3.25-29  Christ saves. Christ makes us sons of God through faith. Baptism unites us to Christ.  If we belong to Christ, how are we related to Abraham?  Do I need to do anything to become an heir of Abraham?

      We are his offspring/heirs.  We do nothing to achieve this status. It is bestowed upon us by faith. This passage is often misused to overturn the New Testament teaching that pastors should be men. But as you can see, Paul is not using it at all for that purpose.  There is no difference between people when it comes to salvation.  

      Verses that stress male pastors:  1 Timothy 3.12 and Titus 1.6

10.  Galatians 4.1-7  How is this just another illustration of the same basic argument...  (that the Law sets us up for the Gospel)?  How does the idea of adoption illustrate the teaching that we are saved by faith as God calls us by the Gospel?

      Until a child comes of age, he can't act on the blessings that are set aside for him. Again, this is the idea that the Law was a “holding bin” until the time of the Gospel.

      Someone might ask, “Why did God use this 'holding bin' thing? Why didn't He just give the Gospel all at once?”  Good question. The answer lies in the fact that His Son would be exactly like us except without sin. He had to stand in our place as the Son of God to die for us. How were we to believe in Him if He looked exactly like us? The time of the “holding bin” is also the time of prophecy building. These prophecies would later give the identity of the Messiah.  

11. What are the practical results of all of this? Discuss the importance of the following:

      A.  The most evil person in the world can be called by the Gospel at the end of their life and be saved. Is that fair? Why is that a good thing?

      B.  While we may use various “hierarchies” in the church in order to maintain harmony and order, there are no essential (Biblical) hierarchies. All Christians are equally saved... the Mary Magdalenes (prostitute), the Pauls (murder), the Peters (brash), etc.

      C.  How does this teaching help us to be patient with one another?  How does it relate to the statement: “There, but for the grace of God go I.”  (The statement of the English reformer John Bradford, who lived at the time of Luther. He was in prison for his faith, and he saw a criminal being led away.)  

Galatians Chapter Two, March 21, 2021

     Galatians was one of the books of the New Testament that Martin Luther appealed to at the time of the Reformation. As in Luther’s day, so in Paul’s day and in ours, there is a temptation to think there is something we must do to be saved.  After all, everything else in life works that way.  “You don’t get something for nothing.”  But the “something” here is not like anything else in this world. It is eternal life… forever with God in paradise.  It is true that we have to work for wages. We have to practice to play music. We have to exercise and eat right to be healthy. But wages, music and health are nothing compared to eternal life. The Good News is that this “something” we call eternal life is totally a gift.  To make it anything less than a gift is to take away from God’s glory and to diminish it… to make it just another earthly accomplishment. Accomplishments are good… But eternal life is so much more.  

Chapter Two – The Solution

1.  Review from our last lesson:

      We noted how worked up Paul was about this. He skipped his normal “Thanksgiving” in the introduction to get right into the main issue.  We noted in verse four how Paul captured the heart of the Gospel… Jesus’ life and death to deliver us from the present evil age.  We talked about how the Gospel get’s distorted today and about how well qualified Paul was to address this particular Jewish distortion since he was such a dedicated Jew.  We also talked about persecution, and how God turned Paul around from being a persecutor of the church.

2.  Paul made five different trips to Jerusalem. This is probably the third trip mentioned in Acts 11.30.  His point here is to emphasize that he consulted with the leaders of the church about what he was preaching. Why do you think it is important for church leaders to do this?  What can happen when people strike out on their own?

      We can’t strike off on our own and make the church into whatever we like. One of the unique things about the Christian church is that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon all believers at Pentecost (See Peter’s sermon in Acts 2).  It is a mistake to think that authority in the church rests upon a certain individual. The Papacy is a good example of this problem. Another example is that of certain churches in which leaders are given total control… The Jim Jones fiasco…

      Our church body is called The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.  The word “synod” means to “walk together.”  Doctrinal unity and love is one of the main priorities of our Synod.

3.  How is Titus a living example of Paul’s Gospel that people are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ? (see v. 3)

      He was not circumcised. Titus’ lack of circumcision is a sign of the New Covenant. See Colossians 2.11-23.

4.  What was the sign of fellowship in verse nine?  How does this help to define the meaning of “fellowship” in the church.

      The right hand of fellowship.

      “Fellowship” is primarily a unity in the faith that was taught by Jesus. When we say we are in fellowship with other Christians, we mean that we are in agreement with each other’s teachings… that we both believe and teach what Jesus taught.

5.  To what did Paul not yield “for a moment” in verse five, and when is it appropriate to compromise?  When is it not appropriate?

      Paul did not yield to anyone who said you have to be circumcised or follow other Jewish practices to be a Christian.

      Compromise is a good thing to do when you are dealing with issues that could go either way.  What are some examples of that?  When to have church services? What kind of building to use for worship? etc. None of these things are commanded by Scripture one way or the other. In our Lutheran Confessions these are called “adiaphora.”  But we can’t compromise the teachings of Jesus. How do people get this confused today?   

6.  What happened between Paul and Peter that showed a misunderstanding of the freedom we have in the Gospel? (see vv. 11-14)

      Peter went back to the Jewish practice of eating only with fellow Jews. I don’t know of any specific OT commands saying a Jew can’t eat with a Gentile. However, Jews were required to eat certain foods and to avoid certain foods. The reason why they might not eat with Gentiles had to do with these food laws. Essentially these food laws of the OT had been fulfilled in Jesus. A Jewish person who believed in Jesus was free to continue eating those certain foods. But they could not require Gentiles to do so. The Law of Moses gave the people of Israel their identity in God’s grace. This identity included outward signs to the world: Sabbath keeping, distinction of foods, inheritance of the land, the temple and the sacrifices. All of these pointed to Jesus. With the incarnation and Moses’ greater prophet (Deuteronomy 18.18), the identity of God’s people is in Christ. He is our Sabbath, our food, our land, our temple and our sacrifice. All those past things are important because of the purpose that they served in the past. But their purpose has been fulfilled in Christ. 

7.  Verse 16 is a key verse. It is the first time the word “justify” is used in the letter. What does the word “justify” mean?

      The word “just” and “righteous” are basically the same in the original languages (Hebrew/Greek). The word was a legal term. It was used to say that person was “declared righteous/just.” Justification recognizes that the person justified is not necessarily innocent. A person can be justified by the mercy of the court. This idea of justification fits with all the other images of the Gospel (Redemption=Covering Sin; Salvation=Saving the Dead; Propitiation=Taking the Punishment of Another). This is where we see the value of a Bible dictionary or a study Bible. When we gloss over important terms like this, we can easily miss the meaning of the entire letter.

8.  Notice how Paul says “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law…” Everybody basically agreed with this teaching. The problem was applying it. The “new Gospel” that the Galatians were hearing was “We are justified by Christ, but there are just a ‘few’ things in addition to faith that you need to do to be counted right with God.”  How does this happen today?

      This is a very important question and a very subtle one. The most glaring example of this is the battle that Luther fought in the Reformation. The official teaching of the Catholic Church following the Council of Trent is that a person is justified by faith and works. In their view grace forgave the eternal consequences of sin, but works covered the earthly consequences of sin. Hence the need for the doctrine of purgatory.  Luther insisted this was a new doctrine invented by the scholastics (philosophers) which the Lutherans called papalists (because they also invented the papacy). They misused passages such as James 2.24 “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Obviously, there appears to be a conflict between what Paul says and what James says. But James also says, “Even demons believe – and shudder” (2.19). James is using a different definition of faith (in Greek, “faith” and “believe” are the same word.)  By “faith/believe,” James meant “knowledge of God.” We of course know that this doesn’t save. This is much different from Paul. Paul uses faith in the sense of a spiritual transformation of the soul from death to life (see verses 19-20). To add any “work” to faith in this sense is exactly the Galatian problem. 

      The problem gets even more messy when we are told that the “work” added to faith is “love.” Everyone recognizes the importance of love. Jesus emphasized it often. Paul said that love is the fulfilling of all the law (Romans 13.10). But love used in this way is still a work, and as important as it is, it is not the basis of our salvation. If it were, we would have to ask Luther’s question: When can you be sure that you have loved enough?  

      How does it happen today outside the Catholic Church?  We see it in the Lutheran church when people dance around the importance of living faith and look to things like “I went to a parochial school.” Or, “I don’t need to go to church. I believe in Jesus, and I’m basically a good person.”  Or, “I’ve been a Lutheran all my life.”  

9.  Verse 17 is another vitally important verse. The opponents of this true Gospel always point out that if salvation is free, then people will just sin like crazy and not care. That would make Christ the cause of more sin. Paul says “certainly not!”  Why is Christ and the true Gospel not a cause for more sin?  Read verses 17-20 carefully.

      Verse 18 makes this a little confusing. It might help to just skip it at first. Verses 19-20 basically answer the question. Christ is not the cause of sin because justifying faith is such a radical transformation it creates a new life and a new desire to live differently by the power of Christ’s life in us.  

      Now go back to verse 18.  Paul has torn down the wall the separates Jews and Gentiles. All are saved in the same way. To rebuild that wall by focusing on a “few” things in addition to the work of Christ would be to contradict the work of Christ and to be a transgressor.  

10.  According to verse 21 what happens if we start requiring works along with faith for salvation?

      We bring the ultimate cause of salvation back on ourselves. It all depends on us. The famous illustration for this is an iron chain that is used to lift us up to God. But if I need to add a few links of my own to that chain, links made from the thread of my good works, which links will fail? Of course ours will. We can never be sure that our works are good enough.  Other ways of illustrating this…

      Bringing your own sack lunch to a beautiful luncheon?

      ???

11. The greatest danger of “works” is that they always bring the focus back onto ourselves. God is not glorified, and we are left facing two terrible problems. Either we become complacent or prideful.  We either think, “I’ve done enough.” Or, “I’m not sure I’ve done enough.” How do we as Lutherans struggle with complacency or pride? What can be done to change this?

      Only half our members are in worship on any given Sunday. We have many members who only worship a handful or times or less every year. What does this say about their faith?  Their works?  

      I think the pride can be seen in the “we’ve got it right therefore we’re going to heaven” attitude that I sometimes see.  

 

 

Chapter One Sunday, March 14, 2021

     The Apostle John taught that the entire world lies under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5.19). Jesus came to deliver us from evil. Galatians was Paul's first letter, and probably the first part of the New Testament to be written. In it, he addresses the basics of the Christian faith - our only hope for deliverance from evil.  He shows us the true way of salvation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Nothing else can save us, and nothing else will produce in us the good works that God desires. 

Chapter One – The Problem

1.  What is an “apostle”?  (Look in a commentary or study Bible for help.)

      The word “apostle” means “one who is sent.” Jesus had many disciples. But from among them he chose twelve. Each of these men were taught directly by Jesus. They were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. Paul also said he received revelation directly from the resurrected Jesus. Apostolic authority was important because in Paul’s day, just as in our day, there were many wackos claiming to have the authority of Jesus.  

2.  “Grace and peace to you…”  Paul usually began his letters this way. Why do you think he used these words?

      “Grace” was a familiar greeting to Greeks. But Paul loaded with much more meaning. This is no general “grace = pleasant feelings” kind of thought. For Paul, “grace” was the undeserved love of God. “Peace” was very familiar to Jews. But again Paul loads the term with more meaning. We have true peace with God and with one another through the forgiveness of sins.

3.  The opening of this letter does not include Paul’s usually thanksgiving prayer. Why do you think he left that out?

      This probably indicates the urgency Paul felt to get quickly into the problem facing the Galatians. Paul included the prayer of thanks when he wrote to the Thessalonians and Corinthians even though they had some serious problems as well.  It may show that the Galatian problem was even more serious that the problems in these other churches.

4.  How does verse four capture the central teaching of the Bible?  Do you think most people consider this the central teaching of the Bible?

      The central teaching of the Bible is sin and salvation, Law and Gospel.  When Jesus began His ministry we are told that He preached “Repent (Law) and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1.15). Just before His ascension He instructed the apostles to preach “repentance and the remission of sins” to all nations (Luke 24.47). 

      Many, many people miss this today. Most people think that Christianity is about “being good.” Another version of the Gospel today is “The way God helps you become the best you can be…”

5.  Verses 6-9 focus on the problem. How serious is it to distort the Gospel?  What could happen if the Gospel is distorted?

      Paul is deeply concerned about the distortion of the Gospel that has crept into the Galatian church. The Gospel of forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ is what distinguishes the Christian faith from all others. All other religions teach some form of quid pro quo… you do this for me, and I’ll do that for you…  In other words, in all other religions spiritual blessings are earned.  But Paul knows this is impossible. Such a view of God makes Him no more than a paymaster not a savior. To lose this understanding is to fall back into darkness. This “present evil age” (v.4) is an age of rejection and deception. At the core it rejects the will of God, but on the surface it deceptively claims to keep the will of God. Think back to the fall of Adam and Eve. Throughout the church’s history, its greatest enemies were not the Pharaoh’s, the Jezebel’s, and the Nebuchadnezzar’s of this world. Its greatest enemies were the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7.15) that Jesus warned about. These were the false prophets of Israel, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Judaizers, the Gnostics, and other teachers of false doctrine. 

6.  What does Paul mean when he says that he is not trying to please man?  Should pastors address false teachings in their sermons today?  Are there good and bad ways of doing this?  How are Christians tempted to “please men” rather than “serve Christ” today?

      Apostles were authorized representatives of Jesus. Just as Jesus did not come to please man to to save, so the apostles were always concerned that they would faithfully present Jesus for salvation. 

      Pastors have to address false teachings just as Jesus and the apostles did. But we have to take great care in this. First, we define ourselves by what we are not what we are not. That is, we can’t let false teachers always set the agenda and we can’t primarily be responding to them. Second, Paul urges us to speak the “truth in love.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of always making sure we’re right simply for the sake of being right. Christians want to be right for the sake of saving souls. There’s a big difference.

7.  Why does Paul say that he received the Gospel through a direct revelation of Jesus (v.12)?  Read the account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 22.3-21.  Was Paul’s conversion a human decision or a miraculous intervention by God?  How do people try to undermine the “divine revelation” of the Gospel today?

      Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was a miraculous intervention of the Lord. It shows what Jesus meant when He told the Twelve, “You did not choose me, I chose you” (John 15.16).  Throughout the Bible the emphasis is always placed on the way God intervenes in our lives and “calls us by the Gospel.”  

      Let’s face it. There are a lot of people who don’t believe they are sinners who need to be saved. They resent being told that they need salvation. They often reject this as just another “opinion” or “idea” that they don’t need to believe. They try to find errors and inconsistencies in the Bible. They reject God because they see so many problems in the world. We can’t force anyone to believe in God. But we can show how all these criticisms of the Christian faith are weak and that they really have nothing better to put in it’s place.  

8.  The opponents of Paul were teaching Christians that they had to do a few “Jewish” things in order to be true Christians. What kind of background did Paul have as a Jew?  Why was this important?

      Paul was a very, very devout Jew. There was not another person in the world who could claim to be more devout that Paul. If anyone could be saved by keeping the many, many Jewish practices, it was Paul. This is important because no one could say that Paul didn’t understand what he was rejecting. He understood it very well.

9.  How had Paul tried to persecute the church?  (See Acts 7.59 – 8:3)

      Paul assisted in the stoning of Stephen and sought out and arrested Christians.

10. Have you ever know anyone who persecuted the church and later became a believer? What does this say to us about the potential for anyone to become a believer? How should we treat people who persecute the church?

      There have been many examples of people who initially rejected the Christian faith, ridiculed it, and later were overwhelmed by it. Men like C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge come to mind. Lewis was an English professor and Muggeridge was a journalist. We should never hate those who attack the Christian faith. But we should always consider the potential they have to be “called” by the Gospel even as we are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past Bible Studies

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Learning to Read the Bible

 

 

 

 

 

 

March-April 2019

Christian Evangelism
February 2019

 

 

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