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Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 4:17-20

17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s physical ailment, probably related to his eyes, which brought him to Galatia to found the churches there. He hadn’t intended to go there, but he needed to stop for some time and tend to his illness. The Galatians received him warmly, indeed.

Paul is deeply concerned about the Galatians’ growing relationship with the Judaisers, who want the congregations to adopt Mosaic law and mix it in with their Christianity.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

The apostle is still carrying on the same design as in the Galatians 4:12-16, which was, to convince the Galatians of their sin and folly in departing from the truth of the gospel: having just before been expostulating with them about the change of their behaviour towards him who endeavoured to establish them in it, he here gives them the character of those false teachers who made it their business to draw them away from it, which if they would attend to, they might soon see how little reason they had to hearken to them

Paul tells the Galatians that ‘they’ — the Judaisers — are fawning over them for no good purpose; the Judaisers want to shut the door on the Galatians — the door to salvation — so that the congregations will be entirely dependent upon them (verse 17).

In today’s parlance, Paul would say that the Judaisers are pulling the Galatians into a psychologically and spiritually abusive relationship.

Henry rephrases the verse as follows:

… whatever opinion they might have of them, he tells them they were designing men, who were aiming to set up themselves, and who, under their specious pretences, were more consulting their own interest than theirs: They zealously affect you,” says he; “they show a mighty respect for you, and pretend a great deal of affection to you, but not well; they do it not with any good design, they are not sincere and upright in it, for they would exclude you, that you might affect them. That which they are chiefly aiming at is to engage your affections to them; and, in order to this, they are doing all they can to draw off your affections from me and from the truth, that so they may engross you to themselves.”

John MacArthur says that this verse is essential to keep in mind at all times with regard to religion, because it points to false teachers:

You ought to know that verse. That verse applies to all false religion and all false teachers. That is a defining verse.

“They eagerly seek you.” This is referring to the Judaizers teaching their Mosaic lies. “They court you, they make a fuss over you to win you, favor you.” “Eagerly seek” is to have a deep concern. They, these false teachers, aggressively went after the Galatians.

That’s how it is with false religion, it is a seeking religion; they’re aggressive. False religion is spreading like wildfire over the world today.

Second Corinthians 11 says that Satan is disguised as an angel of light, and so are his emissaries and ambassadors. “And they’re going everywhere” – as Jesus put it in Matthew 23 – “making double sons of hell.” There are already sons of hell; and now when you get into this false religion you’re a double son of hell.

“They eagerly seek you, not commendably,” not honorably, not honestly, not with any commendable purpose like all false cults, false teachers, false religions. “All they want to do is shut you out so that you will seek them.” Why do they want you to seek them? Because they represent Satan’s kingdom, and they’re in it for the money. They do what they do for money; all false teachers do, according to Scripture.

“They want to shut you out. Literally, they want to exclude you from the benefits of true salvation, and walking with Christ, and living in the power of Christ. They want to exclude you from freedom in Christ. They want to bar the door, they want to put up a barrier, and then they want you to turn and seek them.”

Verse 18 is not without its sarcasm. Paul remembers the loyalty and devotion that the Galatians had towards him.

MacArthur says:

There’s some sarcasm in that. False teachers wanted money. They wanted converts to validate themselves and their false teaching, they wanted to make double sons of hell. They wanted money.

Henry rephrases Paul’s thought for us:

“Time was when you were zealously affected towards me; you once took me for a good man, and have now no reason to think otherwise of me; surely then it would become you to show the same regard to me, now that I am absent from you, which you did when I was present with you.”

Then we have the other, more affirmative, meaning of that verse. It is good to be fawned over, or to be zealous for, a good purpose, and not just when that particular person, Paul, is present.

However, that zeal, that fiery enthusiasm, must be a constant, as Henry says:

the apostle here furnishes us with a very good rule to direct and regulate us in the exercise of our zeal: there are two things which to this purpose he more especially recommends to us:– (1.) That it be exercised only upon that which is good; for zeal is then only good when it is in a good thing: those who are zealously affected to that which is evil will thereby only to do so much the more hurt. And, (2.) That herein it be constant and steady: it is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then, like the heat of an ague-fit, but, like the natural heat of the body, constant. Happy would it be for the church of Christ if this rule were better observed among Christians!

Paul then compares himself to a mother in the throes of childbirth. He says that he is experiencing the same anguish until Christ is formed in them (verse 19).

MacArthur says that Paul is speaking of the doctrine of sanctification. The Galatians are of Christ, and Christ is in them. However, they are still spiritually immature. Christ is not yet perfectly formed in them.

MacArthur tells us that the doctrine of sanctification is largely absent from today’s theological discourse.

Personally, until now, I’ve only ever read about sanctification — and the spiritual assurance that comes from it — in Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermons.

MacArthur explains this important aspect of Christianity:

Sanctification is a marvelous word, it’s a familiar theological, biblical word that all Christians understand. But the doctrine of sanctification, the truth of sanctification has become unpopular in our time. There has been much, much talk about the doctrine of election, divine sovereign election, how God has chosen sinners before the foundation of the world to belong to Him and to enter into eternal heaven, and He wrote their name in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. We celebrate the doctrine of election. There has been much talk about the doctrine of justification, which is where God in time declares a sinner righteous by virtue of imputing to him the righteousness of Christ; and that is the experience of conversion, salvation, regeneration, new birth, new life. We are committed and we celebrate loudly the doctrines of election and justification, and we’re happy as well to celebrate the doctrine of glorification, that great reality that will be the culmination of God’s redemptive purpose when we are in heaven and we are like Christ, and we are in the midst of eternal joy and peace and bliss and worship and service.

Even in the contemporary church there is a lot said about the doctrine of election. There is a lot said about the doctrine of justification. And there is some said about the doctrine of glorification, although that doesn’t seem to be a priority as it should be. But the doctrine that has fallen into the greatest disuse is this doctrine of sanctification. And yet, sanctification is the applicable doctrine to our entire life as believers on earth.

Election is something that happened before creation; that was the work of God solely. Justification happened in a moment of time when God declared us righteous in Christ by faith. Glorification will occur in the future. And in between justification and glorification, we live our lives on this earth, and the doctrine that defines the character of our lives before God is the doctrine of sanctification.

What is sanctification? The word means “to be separated, to be separated.” It is the lifelong work of God in every believer to separate us from sin; that is sanctification. It is what the Holy Spirit is doing now in our lives. Nothing is more important for us to understand than this work of sanctification. And yet the truth of sanctification is treated with indifference commonly. It is ignored by many preachers, if not assaulted by many preachers. The same foolish teachers and their followers who are bewitched about the gospel of salvation by faith alone are often bewitched about the doctrine of sanctification. But beyond those who are bewitched there seem to be many who completely ignore this doctrine.

Again, the truth of sanctification is what defines the work of the Spirit in our lives from justification to glorification, which means from the moment of our salvation until we enter heaven. If there’s anything that we ought to know, understand, and be committed to it would be sanctification. And that is expressed in Paul’s words where he says, “I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you, filled out in you, so that you are like Christ. I settle for nothing less.”

MacArthur cites Ephesians 2:10, which, incidentally, is part of the traditional Anglican liturgy:

… please notice verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” – listen to this – “for good works,” – not because of good works, not by good works, but for good works – “which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Sanctification is living a godly life. This should be our main preoccupation, because God has already accomplished the foregoing work in us — election, or predestination, and justification by faith through grace:

Now listen, the doctrine of election – sovereign election, predestination – does not only relate to justification. It does not only relate to justification and glorification, it relates also to sanctification. God has not just ordained that we be justified and one day glorified, He has ordained that we be sanctified. And that is what verse 10 is saying: “God prepared beforehand.” God prepared, we can say, before the foundation of the world certain good works that we would walk in.

The doctrine of election, the great truth of sovereign election, divine choice, encompasses our sanctification, not just our justification and our glorification. God has established a pattern of good works in which believers will walk by His sovereign will. And as our justification was accomplished by the Holy Spirit who gave us life, so our sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit who enables us to become more and more righteous, and less and less sinful. Nothing then is more important for us to understand than this great doctrine that is the defining work of God in us until we go to heaven. God has ordained this as much as He has ordained our justification and our glorification.

The good works God has prepared for us to walk in are the fruits of faith, because they often spring up spontaneously, without much conscious thought:

That is to say, God did not design to justify us and glorify us and be indifferent about what’s in the middle. He ordained that, and for that He ordained sanctification and manifest good works, that before the foundation of the world He determined we would walk in them, so that every true believer is being sanctified, has been justified, will be glorified, is being sanctified. That is a mark of a true believer. That’s why Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Manifest evidences of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work are those fruits.

Paul is intent on ensuring that the Galatians grow in Christ, which happens only through sanctification. By being ‘bewitched’ by the Judaisers, they are moving towards a false works-based salvation, which is still popular today. There is no such reality as a works-based salvation. No human can achieve that. That is not what the New Covenant promises. Only faith in Jesus Christ, by whom we know God the Father, brings salvation.

What is another word for sanctification? Holiness.

MacArthur says:

Now you notice that holiness is the synonym for sanctification. Holiness means “to be separate” also, as sanctification does, “separate from sin.” So the doctrine of sanctification, we could say, is the doctrine of holiness, or the doctrine of righteousness. It defines our earthly lives in Christ. It is the constant work of the Holy Spirit to separate us from sin.

You will see as you live your Christian life decreasing frequency of sin and the increasing frequency of holiness as you move from your justification to your glorification. As the believer is being sanctified, the seductions of the world, the desires of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life are replaced by love for God, love for Christ, love for the Word of God, love for obedience, longing for holiness, aspirations to give glory and honor only to the Lord with your life. This is, as justification is and glorification is, a mark of true Christians.

MacArthur explains the route towards sanctification:

Now the question would be asked, “How does it occur? If Paul is desiring that his people whom he loves and once gave birth to in a spiritual sense, if he’s in pain again for them to become like Christ, how does that happen? How does it occur? By what means do we become Christlike? Are we sanctified? Do we become holy? By what means does this happen?”

Well, first of all, it is again the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from means, which engage the believer. Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from faith. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from obedience.

You say, “Well then do I need to read the commands more, go over them, maybe memorize all the command? Do I need to become more familiar with the commands?” That can’t hurt. “Do I need to develop more self-discipline? Maybe I need to have more accountability with people around me who can help me with discipline.” Certainly that’s good, but that is not what Scripture calls us to do.

If you are to keep His commandments in an increasingly more faithful way, this is not going to come out of sheer duty, but rather our Lord said this: “If you love Me you keep My commandments. Whoever keeps My commandments” – He said – “loves Me.”

This is not about duty, this is not about discipline, although it is a duty and there is a discipline; this is about love. So if you want to be more obedient, you must love Christ more. And if you want to love Christ more, you must know Christ better.

Why do we spend years and years and years going through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and all the rest of the books of the Bible that present Christ? Why are we always preaching on Christ? So that you can have a lot of information about Him, so that you can have a lot of data in your mind about Him? Not at all. So that you can know Him in the fullness of His glory, and as a result of that, love Him.

The unconverted don’t love Christ. And anyone who doesn’t love Christ is damned, Paul says. Believers are those who love Christ; and we are continually exhorted to love Him more. That’s not going to happen in a vacuum, that’s going to happen as you are exposed to who He is in the glorious revelation of Scripture. Sanctification, holiness, purity, righteous attitude, righteous words, righteous actions are the result of looking at the Lord Jesus Christ and loving Him more until you are literally becoming like Him.

… It is your vision of Christ that is the means the Spirit uses to sanctify you. Sanctification is Christlikeness. Christlikeness is loving obedience to God.

How many times in the Gospels was Jesus quoted as saying that He obeyed His Father and was carrying out His will, including dying on the Cross for our sins and rising from the dead on the third day? Many times. Christ was in perfect obedience to the Father. And we should strive to be the same way.

MacArthur says:

First of all, perfect love for His Father that manifested itself in perfect obedience. He said, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father shows Me. I only do what the Father wills. I only do what honors the Father.”

His perfect obedience out of perfect love for the Father is a manifestation of what it is to be fully sanctified. A fully sanctified person is one who loves God perfectly and obeys Him perfectly. Christ is our model.

Returning to Paul, the Apostle despairs over the Galatians, wishing he could be with them and be able to change his tone by finding out more about why they are following the Judaisers; for now, he is perplexed about them (verse 20).

Henry discusses Paul’s state of mind towards the Galatians at that time:

… he desired to be then present with them–that he would be glad of an opportunity of being among them, and conversing with them, and that thereupon he might find occasion to change his voice towards them; for at present he stood in doubt of them. He knew not well what to think of them. He was not so fully acquainted with their state as to know how to accommodate himself to them. He was full of fears and jealousies concerning them, which was the reason of his writing to them in such a manner as he had done; but he would be glad to find that matters were better with them than he feared, and that he might have occasion to commend them, instead of thus reproving and chiding them. Note, Though ministers too often find it necessary to reprove those they have to do with, yet this is no grateful work to them; they had much rather there were no occasion for it, and are always glad when they can see reason to change their voice towards them.

In order to further illustrate his theological points, Paul contrasts Abraham’s servant Hagar with his wife Sarah.

More on those verses next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:20-27

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