The Hudson and Our Inheritance – Galatians 3:1-18

Galatians 3:1-18

The Hudson River isn’t too far from where I live. It kind of reminds me of a dirty salty version of the Mississippi River, but that is beside the point. Imagine you are feeling a little risky – a little adventurous. You think, “I can swim across this thing.” So when the weather gets right, you go to the bank, wetsuit on, and just jump right in. Unfortunately for you, sitting on the couch everyday doesn’t count as proper training for something so strenuous, and you very quickly get winded. You are reaching the point of exhaustion, and to your grim despair, you aren’t even half way across. But you can’t go any longer. As soon as you accept your fate and make your peace with God, a friendly old man in a fishing boat comes and offers you a lift across.

I know at first you might be wondering why a man is out on the Hudson in a small fishing boat, but that doesn’t matter. You are just happy he was at the right place at the right time. You hop in and thank him for his hospitality. Though after a few seconds, your stubborn self catches wind and tells the man you want to get out… You can swim the rest of the way across by yourself.

I’m not too much of a swimmer. Even though I grew up right next to a private lake where I would swim EVERY day during the summer, I am not a strong swimmer. I don’t know the right strokes or how to breathe properly in the water. Not to mention I am incredibly out of shape. So anytime I go across a long bridge or see a wide river or a big lake I just think how hopeless I would be if I tried to swim across it. So, this illustration speaks to me.

After Paul shares his proposition for writing the Galatians in 2:16, He goes on in chapter 3 to explain that God has already given His Spirit to the Galatians, and that the Galatians don’t have to follow the Law if they already have the Spirit. And since they have the Spirit, they no longer have to feel like they need to mark up their flesh through circumcision. Here Paul takes a considerable amount of time to contrast; The Law and faith, the flesh and the Spirit, and being cursed verses being justified.

This is a persuasive argument from Paul. When I read this section I think of how I would write persuasive papers in high school. Appeal to emotion, refer to someone who has some level of authority, and weave some modus ponens in there like a fiend. Paul is the same way here.

First, he starts by appealing to the Galatians’ personal experience. For the Galatians to deny what God has done in their lives through the Spirit would be ignorance. In verse 5, Paul reminds them that God worked miracles among them and the Spirit moved through them because of their faith, not because they followed the Law. Paul even described the crucifixion of Christ to them so vividly when he first presented the gospel that he says in verse 1 that it was as though Christ was crucified before their own eyes. How can they deny what God had done in their lives?

Paul then goes on to present an argument from authority. Now, when we present an argument from authority, we usually quote doctors or specialists. Paul quotes a ton of Scripture in Galatians 3:10-14. If the Galatians were getting tempted by Jewish Christians to become more “Jewish” and follow the Mosaic Law, it would be harder for them to make an argument if Paul is arguing from the same source of authority that the Jewish Christians are.

Here Paul uses the promise of Abraham, the first “Jew,” the Pillar of the People of God. Paul is showing that God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham in Genesis – the promise that God would bless all the nations through him. This was only done through Christ, who is Abraham’s chosen offspring. God not only is fulfilling something that predates the Law, but is using an example of some one who was made right with God before being circumcised. Paul even says in Galatians 3:7 – “That it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” The Galatians, by being people of faith, now are considered welcomed in to the People of God and hold equal status to that of the Jews. This was without the Law, but was through their faith in Jesus Christ!

Here’s what happened. The Galatians were drowning and God saved them. They were warm and safe, but they are thinking about jumping back in the cold and dirty Hudson. Paul is trying to show them that if the Galatians go back to thinking they can do it on their own they will sink. They no longer need to follow the Law of Moses. It hasn’t helped them thus far. It won’t help them in the future. Next Paul will show them that they need to follow the Law of Christ – following the one who perfected the Law of Moses. This can only be done through faith.

Have you jumped out of the boat?

Maybe you are like the Galatians, and denying something God has done in your life. How can you deny what God has done in YOUR own life? It doesn’t matter if it was last week or in the last century, don’t forget the moments when God spoke to you. Don’t forget how God changed your family. Don’t forget that time that God healed you when the doctors said it was hopeless.

Sometimes what God has done in the past is the only thing that will keep us going in the present.

Or have you forgotten what the Gospel is about? It isn’t about following a set of rules and regulations. It isn’t about the Law of Moses. It isn’t about attending church, or going to Sunday School, or playing on the worship team. The Gospel is about how Christ came to reconcile a world that was condemned. Let’s not lose sight of Christ. Let’s not jump out of the boat – not even for humanitarianism, hedonism, or “morally sound deism.”

Remember what God did in history when Christ came and made us Children of Abraham – Children of His inheritance. Remember what God has done in your life through His Spirit. And never forget… It all centers on Christ’s faithful act on the cross and our faith in him.

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Cat People and Christ Followers – Galatians 2:16

“We are natural-born Jews, not sinners from the godless nations. 16 But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:15-16

Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin is probably the best comedian I have ever heard give one-liners. I don’t know if he is just not a fan of segues or if his brain is full of a bunch of small random thoughts. Whatever it is, Martin knows how to turn one simple thought into something laughable.

For example: “My friend Steve likes cats. People are always saying ‘Oh, Steve’s really a cat person’. No he’s not. If Steve were a cat person it’d be, like, ‘Hey, Steve never goes in the pool’.”

I love this joke because it plays on how we define and describe people. By Steve being a “cat person” most people would assume that he is an avid fan of the fur-balls-whom-shall-not-be-named. But instead Martin turns the idea around and points out that if Steve were a “cat person” he would be half man and half cat… or be a villain who fights Batman – your pick.

Sometimes people get lost in letting the things they do describe and define them instead of letting who they are define them. This is an idea that Paul addresses to the Galatians when he goes over this discourse that he had with Peter.

In the Old Testament, many people believe that what made someone belong to the people of God was if they followed the Law. This is false. The people of God weren’t the people of God, because they followed the Law. They followed the Law (or tried to) because they were the people of God. Make sense? Good. One was part of the people of God in the Old Testament, because they were born into the Jewish nation. God set Abraham apart from the rest of creation and bestowed on him a promise – that He would bless the world through Abraham and that Abraham’s descendants would be innumerable.

The Jews however lost their way. They didn’t follow the Law that God gave them, and because of this, God allowed them to fall into exile. They needed a Savior. That is when Jesus came. Christ perfected the Law in that he obeyed it to its entirety. He came and delivered the people of God from their spiritual bondage through his death on the cross. And after his resurrection, all people were welcomed to be part of the people of God. It didn’t depend any longer on what family one was born into. It didn’t matter if they followed the law. Through Christ’s act of dying on the cross, any one who came to him in faith were welcomed in as God’s people.

Paul’s focus throughout Galatians is not just how one becomes a Christian. The Galatians were already saved. He was concerned about how one continues on after they believe. And he shares here that the people of God are no longer made right with God by following the requirements of the Law.

Many have argued as to whether Paul is refuting the ceremonial law, legalism, or the whole Mosaic Law. Jesus didn’t die solely because of legalism. If salvation was just about legalism, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. And what would Christ’s crucifixion mean if it only neutralized part of the Law. Though Christ’s death extinguished the ceremonial law, which allowed Gentiles to enter into the Kingdom of Christ, it was extinguished through Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law in its entirety.

We no longer follow the Mosaic Law.

We now follow the Law of Christ.

Does this mean that there are some things that still apply to believers? Of course it does! Following Christ doesn’t equally Lawlessness. It means a new Law – A new Covenant. Instead of it beginning with birth and ending with legalism, it begins with faith and ends with faithfulness.

The Law was merely a symptom, showing the signs of those who deserved death, and all men were guilty. Paul is trying to show this truth to the Galatians. There are false teachers trying to have them go back to this old way of treating symptoms without being cured. But Jesus already cured the Galatians! They were made right not because they followed the Law, but because they put faith in the faithfulness of Christ.

Don’t follow a set of rules. Don’t think you can get your life right and then come to God. Only through Christ can the guilty be seen as innocent, and only through the power of the Holy Spirit can a sinner be made clean. It all starts with Christ’s death. He died in order that you can be set right with God. Don’t define yourself by any Law or rule or even by church. All those things are chaff if you don’t have Christ. You can have all the looks of a Christian and not be a Christ follower.

Christ has set the world to rights.

Seek him.

Follow him.

Justified or Condemned – Galatians 2:16

“[Yet] we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” –Galatians 2:16, ESV

Sometimes I forget that the culture where one was raised and the culture that one is currently a part of affects the way they talk. Whether it is street lingo of inner-city youths, or the proper speaking of the world’s wealthy, even to the mixed French of those in Louisiana, where one situates themselves changes their vocabulary. This is even true for those in the church. Being part of the body of Christ means that one will speak “Christianese,” at least to some degree.

However, there are words that many Christians use in their everyday vocabulary that, in reality, have definitions that are foreign to them. While I do not claim to have full understanding of each and every word used in English, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, I strive to understand them as best as I can.

So my struggle is more with common stupidity rather than ignorance.

The term, “justified” is no exception. It is a word that Paul used a lot. I still wrestle with what this word truly means in its biblical context, but that’s okay, because I’m not alone! Many scholars have argued about what exactly it means to be “justified,” as well as understanding the “justice” of God and God’s “righteousness.”

So what does it mean to be justified?

“The biblical terms often translated as ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ belong to a single word-group, that associated with the sdq root in Hebrew, or that based on the dik-root in Greek.” There are three words in Galatians 2:16 with this “dik-root” in the Greek. The verb form, “justified” occurs eight times in this letter to the Galatians, and 80% of the time this word is used in the entire New Testament, it is by Paul. Although this word in Greek held more of a sense of punishing someone, Paul seems to be using it in the same sense that the Hebrew authors did in the Old Testament. Being “justified” holds the idea of being made righteous (being shown justice, being vindicated, etc.).

The biggest argument that usually arises with “justification” is whether it is a change of status or a change of character. If one is “made righteous” are they a better person? Does it mean they are morally better? Or if one is “made righteous” does it mean that they were once guilty but are now innocent, and their moral character does not directly play into it?

We should broaden the scope a little bit. Did God justify the world in order to make it a better place? Indeed, though this was not necessarily God’s chief aim. God’s chief aim was to vindicate a world that was damned by the Fall. This is a change of status that, in turn, causes a change of character. To understand “justification” as anything other than a change of status creates a misunderstanding in the life of the Christian individual as well as to the story of Salvation History. And like many scholars, I stand that Paul has both a relational and ethical understanding as well as a forensic understanding of these terms. The term, especially here, however, seems to be more forensic in nature.

This is why Christ is the Righteous One. It isn’t that he was the “morally perfect one.” While this is true, it misses the theological significance that Christ is the One who set the world to rights through his faithful act of dying on the cross. Because Christ was faithfully obedient to dying a sinner’s death, God raised him from the dead! The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology states: “In raising Christ [from the dead], God ‘gave him justice’, vindicating him over against the world… The justifying act of God in Christ is twofold; in him God is justified in his contention with the sinner, and yet the sinner is justified.”

I may not understand “justification” completely, but I understand it enough to know that I was a sinner that needed to be “made right” with God.

Do you understand what it means to be justified? Whether you are the worst sinner in the world or have never committed even the slightest traffic violation, you are a sinner, because at one time you’ve sinned. In the heavenly courtroom God would call you “guilty.” But Christ came so that all people who were found guilty could be found innocent in God’s court of law. You just have to understand where you as a guilty sinner, and understand that Christ took your punishment so that you could have an “innocent” verdict.

You have to believe in Christ and understand his faithful act of dying for your sins.

Do you stand justified or condemned?

“But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:16, The Voice

Sources: New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders, and various Commentaries on Galatians (by NT Wright, James Dunn, Richard Longenecker, Ben Witherington).

Redefinition and Justification – Overview of Galatians 2:15-21

Galatians 2:15-21

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder. Even children get older, and I’m getting older too.” –Fleetwood Mac

I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. I’m not sure what it is like for a couple to go through a divorce after being married for years. The loss of security that comes when one loses their job after being employed for decades brings no emotional response. But I am sure it is hard. For one to completely change what they once knew, who they once were, and what they used to do because of a cataclysmic event is something I can’t really relate to.

Sure I am a child of divorced parents. Yes, I went to college out of state. And I did move across country for a job opportunity. But I didn’t have a family I was bringing with me. I am relatively new to this thing called “life,” so all these changes didn’t affect me as they would someone who was more accustomed to a certain way of life. I couldn’t imagine how it would impact me having to move across the U.S. if I had a family I would have to take with me. I couldn’t imagine the fear that would come if I would lose my job having to provide for people I love.

This section is the main idea of the whole letter to the Galatians. If someone told me to explain this letter in a couple sentences, I would just point them to Galatians 2:15-21. Here Paul takes a look back at what he went through with calling Peter out on Peter’s hypocrisy. This is probably a summary of what Paul said to Peter, along with some personal testimony, theology (ideas about God), soteriology (understanding salvation), and ecclesiology (understanding what the church is).

Witherington states: “[This] argument is not basically about getting in [to heaven], nor even about how one stays in, but rather about how one goes on in Christ and with the aid of the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul develops his argument stating that to be in Christ does not mean that one follows the Law of Moses but instead the Law of Christ. Paul balances the works of the law with the faithful act of Christ’s crucifixion. This is why he says: “One is not justified by works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16b).

Paul is saying that God wants all people to forget who they once were and get a new identity in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is saying that he has to strip his identity as a Jew, and he now has to redefine who he is in Christ. He is encouraging the Galatians to also not become Jewish, get circumcised, and follow the works of the Law. Paul is encouraging them to find their identity instead in Christ.

This would be like someone getting divorced after many years. This would be like someone changing their career right before it was time for them to retire. To be a Christian one had to completely change how they once lived. For many, this would be no easy task. Many grew up being Jewish and following the Law, or they were Gentile and merely did as they pleased. To now go from doing those things to following the Law of Christ would be like completely redefining who they were.

Have you redefined yourself since becoming a Christian? Do you see yourself as your own, or do you see your life as being one in Christ? We need to be unified in Christ! We need to discover who we are as individuals and as a community through the understanding of who Jesus is as the Christ. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about how Christ has come to set a wicked world to rights. How has the gospel affected your life? Has Christ’s faithful act of dying on a cross transformed your life?

Take time to reflect on who you once were and who you are now that you are in Christ. Take time to remember what Christ has done for you through dying on the cross – the love, the sacrifice, and the implications of that event. Take a moment to remind yourself of your new identity in Christ.

The Promiscuity of Purity

John and I had a complicated relationship. It’s not that we weren’t friends, or had some adolescent, passive-aggressive hostility against one another. We just had a theoretical friendship. Let me explain. We never really hung out that much, but we would carpool a lot. So I would chip in with gas riding home or when we would hang out with friends. But whenever we got to our destination we would part ways. It was an interesting friendship.

You learn a lot about a person when you are trapped in a moving metal box with them for countless hours. You find out their bad habits, their music interests, and eventually you get to the nitty-gritty secrets that nobody else knows. Maybe we just talked to each other about it because we knew once we got to our location, we would part ways and not feel the vulnerability or regret that comes from spilling out one’s heart… We are guys, so we probably talked about that stuff mostly out of boredom.

The conversation that sticks with me the most with John is one that we had that pertained to a girl he was interested in. I didn’t know her at the time, which is why he wanted my opinion on the matter. He knew I would be free of prejudice. He explained how he had a crush on this girl for years, and how there was now hope for them possibly being a couple in the near future. The wrench in the mix for him though was that she wasn’t a virgin… and he was. It was hard for him to get past the fact that she wasn’t “pure” anymore. John was upset that he “waited” for her, but that she didn’t wait for him. I shared with him something that caught him a bit off guard.

Who are we to say that Christ’s forgiveness isn’t good enough for someone?

I have a continuing love/hate relationship with the Purity Culture in the American Church. While trying to strive towards chastity, the people of God accidently replaced it with misogyny and legalism. Don’t get me wrong, I think people should be abstinent until they are married… but my problem is to put a label on the sin as though those who commit it are now dirty, discarded, and unwanted.

It creates cyclical problems of insecurity with no solution for wholeness.

Maybe it’s an argument of semantics, but “purity” is something that once it’s lost it cannot be regained. I remember hearing pastors and reading authors describe it as drinking dirty water or trying to continually rewrap and unwrap a birthday present. And purity rings, though with good intentions and great outcomes, can easily become a judgmental staple of condescending holier-than-thou-ism in the eyes of those who have a past, or those who have hurdles in the present.

We just need to be careful how we present chastity and abstinence.

Purity culture can also easily drift into sexism and misogyny. Purity rings can easily become like shackles on the young women in our church, while men get out mostly unscathed. If young males “stumble in their purity” it is just that – stumbling. But it is our young women who go through a transformation from pure to impure. I can only imagine the psycho-trauma caused from young women trying to remain “pure.”

But Christ has already brought about a transformation, and we have forgotten about it. We have been justified by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:22). This is a court term saying that we have a status that has transformed our guilty verdict to innocent. It is saying that despite our guilt, we are now free to go, because of Jesus’ obedience to dying on the cross. Being righteous isn’t about perfection – that is sanctification. Being righteous is about being set in right relationship with a holy God.

It is saying, “The slate is clean. You are free to go.”

Don’t let any culture decide through subjectivity what has been clarified objectively through God. Even if it is the Christian Culture, remember that it can be fallible as anything else in this fallen world. Too often the church says everything it is against, and people forget all that it is for.

Be for chastity. Be for love. Be for forgiveness.

Luckily for John, he got over himself, and he and that girl ended up getting hitched. They are a great couple, and a wonderful godly example to all those around them.