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Bible readingThe 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 6:17-18

17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s righteous anger with the Judaizers and his hope that the Galatians would return to the eternal truth of the Gospel that he had taught them.

Today’s post ends Galatians. Much of Chapters 5 and 6 will be read in 2022 — Year C — on the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity.

In today’s verses we have Paul’s farewell to the Galatians.

By now, he is weary of his flock, the Galatians, being led astray by false teachers, the Judaizers. So he expresses an imperative about no one causing him any further trouble as he bears the physical marks of Jesus for his preaching and teaching (verse 17).

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Who’s he talking to? Everybody. Talking to the people in the church who are making his life miserable because they’re listening to the false teachers. He’s talking to the false teachers who are attacking him. But on what basis, Paul? Why should we leave you alone? “For I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” Whoa. “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus”? What does that mean? “I have the scars for my service to Christ.”

You know, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 when he was defending his apostleship, he defends it by saying, “I was beaten with rods, I was whipped, I was thrown in prison,” and he goes through this whole litany of things. “And these are the marks of Christ, these are the brand-marks of Christ. Don’t add any more suffering to me.”

He was stoned, by the way, in Galatia at Lystra; he had scars from that. “Look, I’m branded” – he says – “with the scars of an apostle.” Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” What do you mean? “They can’t, they can’t hit Christ, He’s not here, so they hit me in His place. So I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. The reason I am beaten, the reason I am abused is not because of something I’ve done, it’s because of who I represent. These are my apostolic credentials. Don’t question my authority, I have the marks of Jesus.”

In the ancient world slaves were branded. In the ancient world criminals were branded as a mark of identification for life. In the ancient world soldiers were branded to demonstrate their allegiance. Religious devotees were branded. And people who were hated, vilified, social pariahs were branded.

Paul says, “I’m all of that. I’m a slave a Christ, a soldier of Christ, devoted to Him. I’m a criminal as far as the world is concerned, and I’m hated because I have Jesus branded on me.” Every scar he ever got was a brand, a brand for Christ. “These are the scars of Jesus. Don’t trouble me; I represent Him, and I have the scars to prove it.”

We can contrast Paul’s suffering with the lack of it in the Judaizers. They escaped persecution because they preached a false halfway house of Christianity: believe in Jesus, by all means, but also obey Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Such a heresy denies Christ as Redeemer.

The Judaizers preached that so that they could avoid persecution. Their own Jewish families and social circles would still accept them as long as they preached about Mosaic law.

They were emissaries of Satan, especially in persuading Gentiles who had become Christians to embrace the Old Covenant.

The Judaizers never suffered a moment of hardship because they had a foot in each camp. Furthermore, as Paul rightly points out, they could rejoice in every Gentile Christian male whom they persuaded to be circumcised (Galatians 6:13):

13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

Contrast that abominable approach with Paul’s, which is one of holiness (Galatians 6:14):

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

As such, Paul asserts his unquestionable authority as an Apostle, as Matthew Henry points out:

He had already suffered much in the cause of Christ, for he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus, the scars of those wounds which he had sustained from persecuting enemies, for his steady adherence to him, and that doctrine of the gospel which he had received from him. As from this it appeared that he was firmly persuaded of the truth and importance of it, and that he was far from being a favourer of circumcision, as they had falsely reported him to be, so hereupon, with a becoming warmth and vehemence, suitable to his authority as an apostle and to the deep concern of mind he was under, he insists upon it that no man should henceforth trouble him, namely by opposing his doctrine or authority, or by any such calumnies and reproaches as had been cast upon him; for as, both from what he had said and what he had suffered, they appeared to be highly unjust and injurious, so also those were very unreasonable who either raised or received them. Note, (1.) It may justly be presumed that men are fully persuaded of those truths in the defence of which they are willing to suffer. And (2.) It is very unjust to charge those things upon others which are contrary not only to their profession, but their sufferings too.

As always, Paul ended his letter with a generous benediction — blessing — upon the Galatians, praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon their spirit, adding an Amen (verse 18), ‘so be it’.

Henry has a marvellous analysis of what Paul is praying for:

The apostle, having now finished what he intended to write for the conviction and recovery of the churches of Galatia, concludes the epistle with his apostolical benediction, Galatians 6:18; Galatians 6:18. He calls them his brethren, wherein he shows his great humility, and the tender affection he had for them, notwithstanding the ill treatment he had met with from them; and takes his leave of them with this very serious and affectionate prayer, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with their spirit. This was a usual farewell wish of the apostle’s, as we see, Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23. And herein he prays that they might enjoy the favour of Christ, both in its special effects and its sensible evidences, that they might receive from him all that grace which was needful to guide them in their way, to strengthen them in their work, to establish them in their Christian course, and to encourage and comfort them under all the trials of life and the prospect of death itself. This is fitly called the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he is both the sole purchaser and the appointed dispenser of it; and though these churches had done enough to forfeit it, by suffering themselves to be drawn into an opinion and practice highly dishonourable to Christ, as well as dangerous to them, yet, out of his great concern for them, and knowing of what importance it was to them, he earnestly desires it on their behalf; yea, that it might be with their spirit, that they might continually experience the influences of it upon their souls, disposing and enabling them to act with sincerity and uprightness in religion. We need desire no more to make us happy than the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This the apostle begs for these Christians, and therein shows us what we are chiefly concerned to obtain; and, both for their and our encouragement to hope for it, he adds his Amen.

When I read these verses, I thought of the Gospel reading from John 13 for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2022, in which Jesus commanded the Apostles to love one another the way He had loved them:

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul certainly exemplified Christlike love towards all the churches he planted during his ministry. It is not an easy love to give, because it involves a seemingly infinite amount of patience, fortitude and kindness. A Christlike love must, in imitation of our Lord, overlook weakness, slights and fickleness. We read in the Gospels how Jesus treated His disciples. He forgave their spiritual frailties and did not forsake them.

Such a love also shows the world that we are followers of Christ, which leads to infinite, eternal blessings but is not without the possibility of serious temporal risk, as Paul found through his suffering and anguish for the Gospel.

Next week, I will begin a study of Ephesians, most of which is in the three-year Lectionary.

Next time — Ephesians 1:1-2


Bible and crossThe 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 5:7-12, 26

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers,[a] still preach[b] circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s telling the Galatians that if they accept circumcision they have to accept the whole of Mosaic law, thereby severing themselves from Christ. So he encourages them to live through the Holy Spirit by faith in the hope of God-given righteousness.

Paul is full of righteous anger at the Judaizers’ corruption of the Galatians’ Christian faith.

John MacArthur summarises the severity of what the Judaizers are attempting to do (emphases mine):

the issue here has to do with an aberrant form of Christianity, which is no different than a pagan religion, as we will dramatically see in this passage. And what Paul is attacking in this entire letter is the idea that you can tamper with the gospel of salvation

… It’s not an anti-Christian religion they taught. It’s not even Judaism itself that they taught. It is a distorted form of Christianity that says salvation comes by faith in Christ plus your works. It’s the combination …

Paul is writing Galatians in a state of righteous anger, the kind of righteous anger that I think is missing from much preaching today. And while we certainly do preach all that the Scripture declares, and that means the love and compassion of God, there is a place for righteous anger over the false doctrines that have found their way into Christianity and seduced people as they were attempting to seduce the Galatians.

Now in the opening of the fifth chapter Paul confronts these false teachers. In the first six verses we looked at last time he confronts their false doctrine, helps us to understand what it does, and then from verse 7 to 12 he looks at the character of false teachers, the very work that marks them. Now remember in the big picture, this whole letter is defending the gospel of salvation by faith alone. And the first two chapters he defended it by his own apostolic testimony. And then in chapters 3 and 4 he defended it from Old Testament Scripture, because it was always the way of salvation – by faith alone. And now in chapters 5 and 6 he defends the true gospel by the experience of the believers in Galatia and the work of the Holy Spirit which they had always seen manifest in their life.

So we’re in that section. But before he starts to talk about the work of the Spirit in their life, which is a manifestation that they have genuinely been saved by faith, he lays down an all out assault on false doctrine and false teachers. There is not a worse position for any human being to be in than to be a false teacher propagating lies from hell, lies that twist Scripture to pervert the true gospel, which then clouds the reality of the only way of salvation. So that’s what’s on his mind in these opening twelve verses

So Paul, first of all, then in this chapter goes after the false doctrine, and we saw that in verses 2 through 6. Now let’s come to verse 7, and I want you to understand this portion and the gravity of it as we go. And I’m going to keep reminding you, we’re talking here not about an agnostic, not about an atheist, not about a blatant God-hater, not about a Christ-hater and a Christ-denier, not about some religion that attacks Christianity, we’re talking about people who declare that they are the people of the true God, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior, but they add works to faith. Such forms of Christianity abound.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they were running the Christian race well — a well-known metaphor of his — and asks them who hindered them from obeying the truth (verse 7).

There is much to look at in that verse.

First, Paul’s use of running.

MacArthur tells us:

Paul liked to use the metaphor of a race, very popular form of activity in the ancient world.

Matthew Henry gives us further insight on the metaphor:

Note, (1.) The life of a Christian is a race, wherein he must run, and hold on, if he would obtain the prize. (2.) It is not enough that we run in this race, by a profession of Christianity, but we must run well, by living up to that profession. Thus these Christians had done for awhile, but they had been obstructed in their progress, and were either turned out of the way or at least made to flag and falter in it.

Secondly, as to who is hindering, Paul clearly knows it is the Judaizers and perhaps one among them in particular. However, he wants the Galatians to think about those people or a person.

MacArthur says that Paul wants them to consider the following questions:

They’re passing themselves off as scholars of the Old Testament. They were very likely connected to the Pharisees. They are the kind of people who would let you think that they came from Jerusalem, that they have the authority of James, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, that they bear some apostolic weight. “They have a credential or so to impress you. But let’s be honest; who are they really who hinder you? Who are they?

This holds true for us, too:

In the larger scheme of things today they may be religious leaders. They may wear robes. They may be priests, they may be patriarchs, they may be popes or cardinals or bishops, they may be pastors, they may be whatever. They may have titles, education. But who are they really?

Henry has much to say about this and why it is important for the Galatians — and all Christians experiencing hindrance — to reflect on the source of it:

He very well knew who they were, and what it was that hindered them; but he would have them to put the question to themselves, and seriously consider whether they had any good reason to hearken to those who gave them this disturbance, and whether what they offered was sufficient to justify them in their present conduct. Note, (1.) Many who set out fair in religion, and run well for awhile–run within the bounds appointed for the race, and run with zeal and alacrity too–are yet by some means or other hindered in their progress, or turned out of the way. (2.) It concerns those who have run well, but now begin either to turn out of the way or to tire in it, to enquire what it is that hinders them. Young converts must expect that Satan will be laying stumbling blocks in their way, and doing all he can to divert them from the course they are in; but, whenever they find themselves in danger of being turned out of it, they would do well to consider who it is that hinders them. Whoever they were that hindered these Christians, the apostle tells them that by hearkening to them they were kept from obeying the truth, and were thereby in danger of losing the benefit of what they had done in religion. The gospel which he had preached to them, and which they had embraced and professed, he assures them was the truth; it was therein only that the true way of justification and salvation was fully discovered, and, in order to their enjoying the advantage of it, it was necessary that they should obey it, that they should firmly adhere to it, and continue to govern their lives and hopes according to the directions of it. If therefore they should suffer themselves to be drawn away from it they must needs be guilty of the greatest weakness and folly.

Thirdly, is the issue of obeying the truth, which some of us might find an odd turn of phrase, yet, our commentators explain why it makes sense.

Henry says:

Note, [1.] The truth is not only to be believed, but to be obeyed, to be received not only in the light of it, but in the love and power of it. [2.] Those do not rightly obey the truth, who do not stedfastly adhere to it. [3.] There is the same reason for our obeying the truth that there was for our embracing it: and therefore those act very unreasonably who, when they have begun to run well in the Christian race, suffer themselves to be hindered, so as not to persevere in it.

MacArthur says much the same and delves further:

Now what does it mean to obey the truth? That is a key interpretive phrase in this section. To obey the truth essentially in the New Testament means “to believe the gospel.” It means “to believe the gospel.”

I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but the gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is not God sharing with you, it is God commanding you. I think we even as believers, when we go out to present the gospel would do well not to talk about sharing the gospel, but talk about commanding people to believe, because that’s what the gospel does: it calls for obedience.

In the sixth chapter of Acts we see an illustration of this: “The word of God kept spreading; the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem. A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” An act of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is an act of obedience to the gospel, which is a command, which is a command.

In Romans chapter 2 this kind of language continues – just a few illustrations of it. Romans chapter 2 talks about those who are ungodly as “selfishly ambitious” – verse 8 – “and they do not obey the truth. They do not obey the truth, but rather obey unrighteousness. For them is coming wrath from God and indignation.”

In the sixth chapter of Romans, verse 17, Paul says, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed. You actually became slaves of righteousness.” It is a call again to obedience and a call to slavery. You are called to be a slave of Christ and a slave of righteousness.

As Paul comes to the end of Romans, in the fifteenth chapter and the eighteenth verse we see this kind of language again: “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles, obedience to the gospel command.”

At the end of Romans chapter 16, verse 26 say, “Now the gospel, the preaching of Christ, the mystery of the revelation of Christ is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God.” There’s the word “commandment.” “The gospel is a commandment of the eternal God, made known to all nations, leading to obedience of faith.” The gospel is a command.

And then we find on the other side, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, that, “God will send the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,”2 Thessalonians 1:8“dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power,” destruction on those who do not obey the gospel. It is the obedience of faith. It is the obedience to the truth. It is the obedience to the gospel. Trusting in Christ is a command, it is a command.

Paul continues, saying that whatever the Galatians are being asked to do is not from him who calls them (verse 8).

Who is ‘him’ in that verse?

Henry says that it could be referring equally to God or Paul himself:

To convince them of their folly herein, he tells them that this persuasion did not come of him that called them, that is, either of God, by whose authority the gospel had been preached to them and they had been called into the fellowship of it, or of the apostle himself, who had been employed as the instrument of calling them hereunto. It could not come from God, for it was contrary to that way of justification and salvation which he had established; nor could they have received it from Paul himself; for, whatever some might pretend, he had all along been an opposer and not a preacher of circumcision, and, if in any instance he had submitted to it for the sake of peace, yet he had never pressed the use of it upon Christians, much less imposed it upon them as necessary to salvation. Since then this persuasion did not come of him that had called them, he leaves them to judge whence it must arise, and sufficiently intimates that it could be owing to none but Satan and his instruments, who by this means were endeavouring to overthrow their faith and obstruct the progress of the gospel, and therefore that the Galatians had every reason to reject it, and to continue stedfast in the truth which they had before embraced.

However, MacArthur thinks that Paul is referring to the doctrine of the effectual call, therefore, ‘him’ refers to God:

… notice verse 8: “This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” This is an effectual call, the call of God to salvation, the God who called you into salvation.

By the way, whenever you see anything about God calling in the Epistles of the New Testament it’s always the effectual, saving call, not just an open gospel call. It’s the call to salvation mentioned in Romans chapter 8, that whom He called He justified. It’s the call that awakens the dead sinner and regenerates him and gives him life. It’s that call. “The God who called you and gave you life is not the one who sent these teachers with this persuasion.”

Paul says that a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough (verse 9). Occasionally, we see someone misusing that verse, as if it is something positive. It is not.

That expression is used more than once in Scripture and the message is always negative.

MacArthur explains:

This is tragic, verse 9: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” We all know what yeast is, right? And yeast is a picture in Scripture of permeation. It’s usually used of evil influence, permeating evil influence.

The Jews before the days of unleavened bread would remove every particle of leaven from their homes. Part of that feast was to recognize that they needed to get rid of the permeating influence of sin, and so this was a symbol of that. Leaven operated on the principle of fermentation, as you know, so it was a good illustration of moral and spiritual corruption. These false teachers contaminate the church, they corrupt the church.

By the way, this is a common proverb, verse 8, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 5:6. It’s the same thing: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and he’s talking about again the influence of sin and the influence of evil and the evil of false doctrine in the church.

But it all really kind of began in the New Testament with the words of our Lord in Matthew 16; and again he was talking about the most religious Jewish people – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Matthew 16:6, Jesus said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, of the leaven.” What did He mean by that? Well, down in verse 12, “They understood that He didn’t say to beware of the leaven of bread,” – not the bread itself – “but the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

So it was our Lord who used the idea of leaven as a permeating evil influence, referring to the teaching of the Pharisees who were the most fastidious, legalistic Jews. And here the apostle Paul picks it up, as he does in 1 Corinthians 5. It’s similar to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 17, where he says that the teaching of false doctrine eats like gangrene. It’s that same kind of corrupting, permeating influence. I suppose in the modern world where we now have a more comprehensive understanding of the pathology of disease, the Lord might have used, if He were saying it today, the cancer of the Pharisees and the cancer of the Sadducees – a symbol of invisible, permeating corruption.

Paul then adds a message of encouragement, saying that he has confidence in the Lord that the Galatians will maintain their faith in and obedience to the truth and that whoever is guilty of attempting to corrupt them will bear the penalty, ‘whoever he is’ (verse 10), implying that there is a dominant Judaizer among them.

Henry says:

possibly he may point to some one particular man who was more busy and forward than others, and might be the chief instrument of the disorder that was among them; and to this he imputes their defection or inconstancy more than to any thing in themselves. This may give us occasion to observe that, in reproving sin and error, we should always distinguish between the leaders and the led, such as set themselves to draw others thereinto and such as are drawn aside by them. Thus the apostle softens and alleviates the fault of these Christians, even while he is reproving them, that he might the better persuade them to return to, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free

MacArthur says that God will mete judgement and punishment to anyone preaching a false gospel:

When someone gets inside a church and tampers with the church the punishment is severe. When someone says they’re a believer, a true believer, and they introduce their error and their corruption to the church, the Lord is very serious in His response

So what is the impact of false teachers? They hinder the truth, they do not come from God, they contaminate the church, and they end in a face-to-face judgment with God.

Paul goes on to give the Galatians another matter for consideration: if he is preaching circumcision — as he must have been accused of doing — then why is he facing persecution, when, surely, if that were the case, the offence of the Cross is no more (verse 10)?

MacArthur explains that verse from the Jewish perspective of the day:

Paul was persecuted. He once persecuted the church. After his conversion he was persecuted, and the primary source of persecution of Paul came from the Jews. Yes, the Gentiles also persecuted him, but particularly the Jews persecuted Paul. They dogged his steps. The Judaizers doing what they were doing was a form of anti-Paul effort. It was a kind of persecution. They didn’t have the authority to inflict wounds on his body or make him a captive; they wouldn’t be able to do that unless he was back in Jerusalem in their country. But they were persecuting him by dogging his steps with false doctrine, trying to undermine everything he did.

But notice what he says there: “Brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” Somebody must have said, “Well, Paul, wait a minute. You’re inconsistent, you preach circumcision.”

What in the world would they have in mind with that? Very simple. Back in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Acts … Paul came to meet a young man by the name of Timothy. Paul met Timothy, was impressed by Timothy’s righteous life, godliness; he was a believer in Christ. His father was a Gentile, but his mother was Jewish. Timothy had never been circumcised, but he was a believer in Christ.

Paul had him circumcised. Somebody probably told the Judaizers about that and said, “Look, you even preach circumcision.” And Paul is saying, “If you think I preach circumcision, why are you persecuting me, if that’s what you want and you think I’m doing it?” Well, of course they didn’t think that. They persecuted him because he didn’t preach it.

But then that brings up the issue of Timothy. Why did he do that? Very simple reason. Timothy was already a believer; it had nothing to do with salvation. But he would have had no access to synagogues. It would have been the natural thought of Jews that he had a Gentile father and he had a Jewish mother. Since he wasn’t circumcised, he must be a pagan, he must have taken his father’s religion. This would have made it difficult for Timothy to minister along with Paul. So Paul accommodates the Jewish expectation by having Timothy go through this surgery so that he will be accepted as one who has embraced Judaism like Paul, and together they can minister to the Jews. It was nothing more than that.

And it was obvious he didn’t preach that or do it any other time, or they wouldn’t persecute him for not preaching it. “If I preached circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” He’s saying this: “If I was preaching circumcision the Jews wouldn’t be stumbling over the cross.”

Now you have to understand what he means by that. The Jews had two problems with apostolic preaching. Problem number one was a crucified Messiah. That was a problem. That was a stumbling block to them, because they thought Messiah was going to come be a king, not a crucified victim of pagans, Romans. That was a problem.

But there was an even greater problem, and that was that Paul was saying, “We had no obligation as believers to adhere to the Mosaic ordinances.” That was a bigger problem. Those Judaizers knew it, because I told you, in chapter 6, the Judaizers believed in Christ and the cross, but they also wanted to embrace the whole Mosaic ritual so that their friends would accept them.

Paul would have been accepted if he had believed in a crucified Messiah, Jesus Christ, but held onto the trappings of Judaism if his message had been, “You have to believe in Jesus Christ crucified and adhere to the Mosaic law, and then you will be saved.” But Paul didn’t preach circumcision, he didn’t preach Mosaic law, and that’s why they were after him with such vicious passion.

Paul concludes this section with an outrageous statement, wishing that whoever is unsettling the Galatians would just emasculate themselves (verse 12). Wow.

MacArthur says that it was a way of saying that the Judaizers were nothing more than pagans — and that it was a message he hoped would filter back to them once the Galatians had received this letter:

Galatia was adjacent to Phrygia. Phrygia was known for the worship of Cybele … a pagan goddess. This was a dominant worship in the area; and the priests of Cybele and the very devout worshipers of Cybele had themselves castrated. They became eunuchs, eunuchs for the purpose of the worship of Cybele. This is sheer, gross paganism.

Why would Paul ever say this to these Jewish teachers? What he is saying is this: “If you accept circumcision and the Mosaic rituals and rules, you might as well go ahead and castrate yourself and become a full-blown pagan, because that’s what you are.” This shows you how extreme any deviation from the gospel is. “You are a full-fledged pagan. You might as well do the most severe things pagans do.”

I can’t imagine what happened when they read that verse. They would be devastated. The Judaizers when they heard it must have been infuriated. They saw themselves as God’s representatives; they were full-fledged pagans. There is no room for any alteration of the gospel of salvation by faith. Any deviation and you might as well become a eunuch in a pagan religion, because that’s what you are.

The rest of Galatians 5 and nearly all of Galatians 6 will be coming up in Year C’s readings in the summer of 2022. Those will be read on the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity.

As such, our exploration of Galatians for today ends with the instruction for the Galatians not to become conceited, provocative and envious (verse 26).

Henry says that this refers back to Paul’s exhortation earlier in Galatians 5 to serve and love one another:

He had before been exhorting these Christians by love to serve one another (Galatians 5:13; Galatians 5:13), and had put them in mind of what would be the consequence if, instead of that, they did bite and devour one another, Galatians 5:15; Galatians 5:15. Now, as a means of engaging them to the one and preserving them from the other of these, he here cautions them against being desirous of vain-glory, or giving way to an undue affectation of the esteem and applause of men, because this, if it were indulged, would certainly lead them to provoke one another and to envy one another. As far as this temper prevails among Christians, they will be ready to slight and despise those whom they look upon as inferior to them, and to be put out of humour if they are denied that respect which they think is their due from them, and they will also be apt to envy those by whom their reputation is in any danger of being lessened: and thus a foundation is laid for those quarrels and contentions which, as they are inconsistent with that love which Christians ought to maintain towards each other, so they are greatly prejudicial to the honour and interest of religion itself. This therefore the apostle would have us by all means to watch against. Note, (1.) The glory which comes from men is vain-glory, which, instead of being desirous of, we should be dead to. (2.) An undue regard to the approbation and applause of men is one great ground of the unhappy strifes and contentions that exist among Christians.

We might wonder why were there Judaizers at all?

MacArthur surmises that they wanted to have a foot in each camp — Jewish and Christian — to avoid persecution:

And you might wonder why would they ever do such a thing; and the answer’s given you in chapter 6 of this letter, verse 12: “They desire to make a good showing in the flesh, and so they try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

They didn’t want the persecution that came on them when they said they believed in the cross of Christ. This is a critical point. They had believed in the cross of Christ, but they were not going to exclude their Judaistic works, because it was enough to bear the stigma of believing in a crucified Messiah without being accused of the Jews of abandoning your Judaism. If they did that, they would have been persecuted. It’s as if to say, the Jews could tolerate them believing in Jesus as the Messiah, even though it was a stumbling block to them if they continued to adhere to the law of Moses. So they were trying to hold on to their Jewish community by making this good showing in the flesh in addition to saying they believed in the cross.

Then verse 13, “Those who are circumcised do not even keep the law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.” They want to be able to say to their Jewish community, “No, no, no, we’re supportive of Judaism. No, no, this Christianity is just a branch of Judaism, and we still believe, you know, the law. The law has a place, it has the priority place.” They wanted to hold onto that for their own personal social benefit.

Next week’s post concludes this exploration of Galatians.

Next time — Galatians 6:17-18

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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 5:2-6

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[a] by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.


Last week’s post concluded Paul’s allegory comparing Abraham’s Sarah to freedom and Hagar to slavery. It was his way of convincing the Galatians that the Judaizers promoting circumcision and Mosaic law were exhorting them to become slaves to the law, something which can only convict and condemn to hell. It can never save.

Galatians 5:1 is in the Lectionary (emphases mine below):

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

That is one of Paul’s several verses encouraging converts to ‘stand firm’. He also used the word ‘endurance’ several times in his letters, conveying the idea that the Christian journey is beset with temptation from outsiders like the Judaizers, from the world, from Satan, from persecution, among other things.

John MacArthur says:

Now verse 1 begins with a very strong statement: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free;” – the implication is He set us free to stay free, He set us free to remain free – “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” “You just got out of one slavery as a Gentile, you got out of the slavery to sin and the law and death and Satan; don’t go back again to a yoke of slavery. Keep standing firm in your freedom.”

Gentiles going back to Mosaic law they never even knew about, because they needed to work some part of their salvation on their own? In swinging back to the externals of the law of Moses they would be nullifying the work of God. “Therefore keep standing firm. Do not be entangled, enechō, or oppressed by a yoke of slavery. Don’t go back.”

Galatians 5 is a hard-hitting chapter, one of Paul’s strongest.

Paul tells the Galatians that if they submit to circumcision, then Christ is of no advantage to them (verse 2).

Note that he says ‘I, Paul’.

Then he says ‘I testify again’ that anyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to follow the whole of Mosaic law (verse 3).

He is referring to himself in that way to say that, he, born a Jew, raised as a Pharisee, knows of what he speaks.

MacArthur explains these two verses. In his translation, the word ‘look’ is ‘behold’, always a call to attention:

The false doctrine said you have to be circumcised or you can’t be saved. It’s a small thing; just acknowledge a minor surgical operation. This will open the door to the kingdom of God for you. And then follow the Mosaic prescriptions. Faith is not enough. Mosaic ritual, circumcision has righteous merit.

So Paul says this: “If you do this, you who are contemplating it, if you do this, here are the results. Number one,” – verse 2“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” That is a stunning statement. That’s why it says, “Behold,” because it’s shocking. “Behold” is an exclamation.

“I, Paul, I an apostle, and more than that a circumcised Jew, proud of my heritage, proud of my Judaism, living my entire life under the Mosaic restrictions. I, Paul, this Jewish patriot, I’m telling you, if you receive circumcision, Christ is of no benefit to you.”

This is the dilemma: it’s Christ or works, it’s all Christ or no Christ, it’s all faith or no salvation. “If you get yourselves circumcised” – and this indicates that they hadn’t yet gone this far – “if you do this, if you’ve come to the brink of salvation by faith and you turn and go the way of law, Christ is of no benefit. You’ve canceled Christ.” This is a severe danger. This is a shocking statement

Second effect, verse 3: “And I testify again,” – me, the circumcised lifelong Pharisee until my conversion, I lived in all of this – “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, if you do that you have placed yourself under obligation to keep the whole law. I testify again, marturomai, “I affirm.” Literally could be translated, “I protest further, every one of you who lets himself be circumcised, you have just placed yourself under the law. If you’re going to be saved by law, then you’re responsible to keep all of it.”

Matthew Henry points out:

He was so far from being a preacher of circumcision (as some might report him to be) that he looked upon it as a matter of the greatest consequence that they did not submit to it.

Yet, faith plus works is a common belief in churches, even those where the official denominational doctrine forbids such a belief or action.

MacArthur says:

There is no hybrid salvation. If you accept circumcision, thinking it necessary for your salvation, you just forfeited Christ. Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, or grace is no more grace.” It’s either grace or works – all of Christ or none of Christ.

You say, “But there’s so many people who profess Christ, claim Christ, acknowledge Christ, and think their works contribute to their salvation.” They have no connection to Christ. He is meaningless to them no matter what they say.

Faith and works cannot go together. This is basic to the doctrine of salvation. It is impossible to say, “I want to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that I cannot do anything to save myself,” and then go do something that I think helps to save myself. You have to choose. If you add anything to Christ you lose Christ.

I know we like to say, “Well, you know, there’s lots of people and lots of forms of Christianity; and they go to church, and they believe in Christ, and they believe in God, and all of this. And isn’t is just a minor deal that they’re trusting in their works, their infant baptism, their adult baptism, or their adherence to rituals, and sometimes their moral conduct?” No. If you are depending on anything other than Christ, you have no benefit from Christ. If you submit to circumcision, you have canceled Christ. Christ is everything.

Paul goes further, saying that those who want to be justified by the law — Mosaic law, in this instance — have severed themselves from Christ and have fallen away from grace (verse 4).

MacArthur notes the hard-hitting bluntness of the verse:

That is just amazing. You say, “Well, can’t you believe in some in your baptism, in your works, and the things that you do, the rituals that you go to, and your morality, and also believe in Christ?” No, no. If you’re counting on any of that for your salvation you are severed from Christ. That is a violent word, a violent word. You are cut off from Him.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Jesus will not save everyone for that very reason:

Note, (1.) Though Jesus Christ is able to save to the uttermost, yet there are multitudes whom he will profit nothing. (2.) All those who seek to be justified by the law do thereby render Christ of no effect to them. By building their hopes on the works of the law, they forfeit all their hopes from him; for he will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour.

Paul then mentions that the key to spiritual freedom — freedom from the condemnation by law, which is impossible for any person to keep — is the Holy Spirit, which enables us by faith to await the hope of righteousness (verse 5), which only God can give.

Note that Paul uses the pronoun ‘we’ in that verse, meaning himself and the Galatians, who were once true believers but are now wavering.

MacArthur ties this verse in with the preceding ones and offers further analysis:

If you try to invent any hybrid gospel, Christ profits you nothing, you’re a debtor to the whole law, you’re severed from Christ, you’re fallen from grace. And a final, verse 5, you’re excluded from righteousness. The very thing you seek will never be yours.

Verse 5, notice the change in pronouns: “For we, we.” Now he’s speaking to believers, including himself. “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” We have to wait for the hope of righteousness, because it’s a gift from God, we, literally as to ourselves. It is through the Spirit, by faith, that we eagerly await the hoped for righteousness. We’re not trying to earn it, we’re waiting for it. And in our sanctification the Lord gives it to us as a grace gift. And one day in our glorification He’ll give it to us perfectly.

“We through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting.” I love the fact that he used the verb “waiting.” This is something God has to do for us and in us, and is doing it by His Holy Spirit. If you follow the path of any works, you have lost the very thing you hoped for: righteousness. It comes only by waiting, in faith, on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul concludes this section by saying that circumcision or the lack of it has nothing to do with salvation; only faith working through love counts (verse 6).

What a beautiful verse that is.

Henry says:

Note, 1. No external privileges nor profession will avail to our acceptance with God, without a sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. 2. Faith, where it is true, is a working grace: it works by love, love to God and love to our brethren; and faith, thus working by love, is all in all in our Christianity.

MacArthur describes the connection between faith and salvation:

The whole law is fulfilled by faith and love, believing God, loving God. It’s all gone internal; it’s all gone inside. It’s faith working through love. Our hearts are literally drawn to God in trust; that’s what faith is. We live trusting God, and we live loving God, and as a result, loving those around us as well.

MacArthur illustrates how sanctification plays its part:

It’s a working faith. It’s a living faith. It’s a growing faith. It’s an increasing faith. It’s a growing love. It’s an increasing love. It’s a multiplying love, as we wait and the Spirit in grace does His work in us.

When did I really have time to do a deep dive into the Bible? When I became semi-retired. I finally had the time to explore Scripture, which has answered so many of my decades-old questions.

My prayer life has also improved enormously.

This is not to suggest waiting for retirement to start reading Scripture and praying more often, far from it. However, time does bring us a great gift in this regard. Part of the reason for writing this series is to give bite-size portions of the Bible that working people might not have time to explore for themselves.

Another insight I gained yesterday was from putting together an exploration of John 21:1-19, which showed the difference between John, Peter and the other Apostles.

It answered a question I had for many years about the makeup of church congregations. Do you notice the varied personalities and talents therein? When I was younger, I often wished there were more Petrine and Pauline personalities.

However, Matthew Henry explains that we all bring different gifts to our congregations, just as the Apostles did to the early Church. His discourse is most enlightening:

Now here we may observe, (1.) How variously God dispenses his gifts. Some excel, as Peter and John; are very eminent in gifts and graces, and are thereby distinguished from their brethren; others are but ordinary disciples, that mind their duty, and are faithful to him, but do nothing to make themselves remarkable; and yet both the one and the other, the eminent and the obscure, shall sit down together with Christ in glory; nay, and perhaps the last shall be first. Of those that do excel, some, like John, are eminently contemplative, have great gifts of knowledge, and serve the church with them; others, like Peter, are eminently active and courageous, are strong, and do exploits, and are thus very serviceable to their generation. Some are useful as the church’s eyes, others as the church’s hands, and all for the good of the body. (2.) What a great deal of difference there may be between some good people and others in the way of their honouring Christ, and yet both accepted of him. Some serve Christ more in acts of devotion, and extraordinary expressions of a religious zeal; and they do well, to the Lord they do it. Peter ought not to be censured for casting himself into the sea, but commended for his zeal and the strength of his affection; and so must those be who, in love to Christ, quit the world, with Mary, to sit at his feet. But others serve Christ more in the affairs of the world. They continue in that ship, drag the net, and bring the fish to shore, as the other disciples here; and such ought not to be censured as worldly, for they, in their place, are as truly serving Christ as the other, even in serving tables. If all the disciples had done as Peter did, what had become of their fish and their nets? And yet if Peter had done as they did we had wanted this instance of holy zeal. Christ was well pleased with both, and so must we be. (3.) That there are several ways of bringing Christ’s disciples to shore to him from off the sea of this world. Some are brought to him by a violent death, as the martyrs, who threw themselves into the sea, in their zeal for Christ; others are brought to him by a natural death, dragging the net, which is less terrible; but both meet at length on the safe and quiet shore with Christ.

I sat at church this morning, noting how many different personalities who serve our congregation faithfully every week: the introverted bachelor, the meticulous grandmother, the congenial yet discerning churchwarden — the list goes on. No doubt it is the same for other churchgoers reading this. Everyone brings his own God-given gifts to our local churches in different ways and in different capacities all for our Lord’s glory and for our spiritual edification. Our churches could not run without them.

But I digress.

Paul’s righteous anger increases next week towards the Galatians and the Judaizers.

Next time — Galatians 5:7-12, 26

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 4:28-31

28 Now you,[a] brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s allegory of Hagar and Sarah, the former being a slave (her followers attached to Mosaic law) and the latter a free woman (Christians having freedom in Christ).

John MacArthur recaps Paul’s message for us and adds a similar insight from Hebrews (emphases mine):

Hagar, the slave, symbolizes the old covenant; the earthly, legalistic, Judaistic Jerusalem; the Ishmael mentality of law and bondage. Sarah, the free woman, symbolizes the new covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the wonderful, wonderful blessing of faith and grace. We belong – we belong to the Jerusalem that is above.

I want to talk about that a little bit. So, would you turn to Hebrews chapter 12? Hebrews chapter 12. Because here – this is kind of spread out for us a little bit, Hebrews chapter 12, verse 18 – here the writer of Hebrews is really kind of further explaining this same kind of analogy. He’s saying to the believers, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” – that’s Sinai; you haven’t come to that – “and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they couldn’t bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it’ll be stoned.’” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’”

You haven’t come to Sinai; you’re not Sinai; you’re not Ishmael; you’re not Hagar; you’re not the present form of religion in this world.

“But you” – verse 22 – “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

Paul tells the Galatians, who have been in thrall to the Judaizers, that they (the Galatians) are like Isaac, children of promise (verse 28). Recall that Sarah was well past childbearing age when God opened her womb. He promised Abraham and Sarah an heir, and He kept that promise because of Abraham’s unwavering faith.

Paul is using this analogy to get the doctrine of justification by faith through grace firmly set in the Galatians’ minds and hearts.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

We Christians, who have accepted Christ, and rely upon him, and look for justification and salvation by him alone, as hereby we become the spiritual, though we are not the natural, seed of Abraham, so we are entitled to the promised inheritance and interested in the blessings of it.

MacArthur says of Christians:

We’re in the line of Sarah, Isaac, the Jerusalem that is above, faith, freedom. “And if the Son shall make you free, you will be free for real,” John 8:36 says.

Isaac’s birth was miraculous. It was miraculous. So is ours. The miracle of the new birth cannot be accomplished by human effort. You must be born from above.

Paul likens the state of the Galatians, at risk of persecution at the hands of the Judaizers, to that of Isaac, whom Ishmael mocked (verse 29). Ishmael was jealous that he was no longer Abraham’s heir.

Henry says:

lest these Christians should be stumbled at the opposition they might meet with from the Jews, who were so tenacious of their law as to be ready to persecute those who would not submit to it, he tells them that this was no more than what was pointed to in the type; for as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, they must expect it would be so now.

Paul reminds the Galatians of Genesis 21, wherein God told Abraham to do as Sarah asked when she wanted Hagar to leave their home; the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman (verse 30).

Here is the relevant passage, beginning with Isaac in verse 8:

God Protects Hagar and Ishmael

And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.[b] 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

However, upon Abraham’s death, both Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Genesis 25):

These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau:

24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.[d] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

Returning to Paul’s analogy, he concludes by telling the Galatians that they are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman (verse 31), Sarah.

MacArthur interprets this verse for us:

Ishmael can’t inherit along with Isaac. People under the bondage cannot inherit with those that are free in Christ. Those who are trying to please God by the flesh and works cannot inherit with those who have come by grace and faith.

So, just know this, we’re not children of the bondwoman; we have nothing to do with them. Since that is true, here’s the final exhortation, verse 1, “It was for freedom” – from all that – “Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Don’t go back into that system from which you have been set free. This is the good news of salvation.

Anybody who comes along, tries to add any kind of externalism, any kind of ceremonialism to your freedom in Christ, you tell them, “I’m in the Sarah, Isaac, promise group, not the Hagar, Ishmael, law group. I’m not under bondage; Christ has set me free

Paul hasn’t finished with his discourse on freedom in Christ. More to come next week.

Next time — Galatians 5:2-6

Bible oldThe 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 4:21-27

Example of Hagar and Sarah

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;[a] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warnings to the Galatians about the Judaizers’ flattery and his being ‘perplexed’ — frustrated — about their acceptance of those false teachers.

Paul uses the story of Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the difference between slavery under the old law and freedom in living God’s promise.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… here’s the illustration. Ishmael was born to Hagar. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. The promise was clear: God is going to give a son. It’s going to have to be supernatural. They don’t want to wait on God, they’ll do it their way; so the flesh rejects the promise and tries to take by its own power what God gives.

One child is the child of the flesh, the other child is the child of the promise: that’s Isaac to Sarah. By the time he’s born Abraham’s 100, she’s 90. But God supernaturally creates that child in her womb. Ishmael was born according to the flesh; they did it on their terms their way. Isaac is born through the promise of God; Ishmael is born naturally, you might say. Isaac is born supernaturally. That’s why when he was born they named him “laughter,” which is what Isaac means, or “rejoicing,” or “gladness.”

Two sons then become the patterns for spiritual truth. Ishmael is a son born in the usual, natural way. But beyond that, not just the usual, natural way, but in the flesh in a sinful way, as if they could fulfill the will of God on their own sinful terms. Ishmael is a representative of all those who try to do it on their own. Ishmael is an illustration of those who want salvation by works. And Ishmael was born to a slave, was a slave, and produced a whole lineage of slaves. Ishmael symbolizes accomplishing what God wants by your own flesh and ending up in bondage.

Isaac, on the other side, was born as a result of Abraham’s faith in God. As a blessing on His faith, God miraculously enabled Abraham, though he was, Hebrews says, as good as dead in terms of childbearing capacity. He allowed Abraham to deposit his seed in his wife Sarah, and for that to lead to the birth of Isaac. Isaac then was the child of promise. Isaac was the result of the power of God. He was, you might say, Spirit-born. The Holy Spirit caused Isaac to come forth when it would have been impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Isaac represents then salvation by faith alone. Abraham believed God and God supernaturally fulfilled His will in Abraham.

Ishmael pictures all those who try to please God and accomplish God’s will by the flesh. It’s sinful, it’s useless, it creates bondage. Isaac symbolizes all those who do the will of God by faith in His promise. He does the work; He brings it to pass; He receives the glory.

Paul begins by asking the Galatians who want to live under Mosaic law if they have considered what that would actually be like had they heard it read (verse 21).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

if they would do this, they might soon see how little reason they had to trust in it.

Paul begins recounting the story in Genesis of Abraham’s two sons, one born by a slave woman and the second born by a free woman (verse 22).

Hagar’s Ishmael was born by the flesh while Isaac was a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah (verse 23).

Paul says that, allegorically, the women each represent one of two covenants God made with His people. The Old Covenant, made at Mount Sinai, represents Hagar, bearing children for slavery (verse 24).

Paul goes on to say that Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the Jerusalem of the present, as the Jews, having rejected Christ, were still following the old law and were, as such, slaves (verse 25).

Henry confirms this historical point:

… Agar, represented that which was given from mount Sinai, and which gendereth to bondage, which, though it was a dispensation of grace, yet, in comparison of the gospel state, was a dispensation of bondage, and became more so to the Jews, through their mistake of the design of it, and expecting to be justified by the works of it. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia (mount Sinai was then called Agar by the Arabians) …

Then Paul says that the ‘Jerusalem above’ is free and is the mother of Christians (verse 26).

In that verse, Paul refers to the spiritual Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem.

To support his allegory, he cites Isaiah 54:1, in which the prophet quoted the Lord. When God’s people were released from Babylon, the women would be in labour and giving birth once more (verse 27).

MacArthur gives us the context:

This is an amazing approach by Paul. Isaiah 54:1 is long after Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Sarah, Sinai. Where does this fit? Isaiah’s writing to the captives in Babylon. The people of Israel have been taken captive into Babylon. And Isaiah writes to cheer them up. And this is in the section on salvation. And what he says to them in this verse – chapter 54, verse 1 – is that, “You’re desolate, you’re barren, you’re in exile, life is horrible. You know, you’ve hung your harps on the willow trees. You have no song to sing. All is sadness.” And Isaiah says, “Cheer up, rejoice, barren woman who doesn’t bear; break forth and shout you who are not even in labor; for more numerous are going to be the children of you who are now desolate, you who have no husband – more fruitful are you going to be than even those who are married and flourishing.”

What was that? That was a promise of the return to the land, “You’re going to be out of captivity; you’re going back to the land.” And when they got back to the land, the women began to flourish, and the nation began to reproduce and reproduce and reproduce, and the nation of Israel grew and grew and grew and grew. And the apostle Paul is using another scripture to say, “I promise you that when God says, ‘You will flourish,’ you will flourish.” God said it to the exiles in Babylon, and He fulfilled it. God said it to Sarah, and He fulfilled it by His power. By His power.

Paul also uses this illustration to say that false teachers hate the truth. The Judaizers hate that the Galatians have freedom in God through their faith in Christ.

MacArthur tells us:

Get this; Hagar hated Sarah. Hagar hated Isaac. We see that in Genesis 16. Then in Genesis 21:8 and 9, we see Ishmael hating Isaac. Ishmael thought for years that he was going to be the heir to the fortune. And then along comes the true heir, and he’s out.

And so, there was animosity, and Ishmael was a hater of Isaac, as Hagar was a hater of Sarah. So, persecution came then – mark it – the sons of Hagar, Sinai, the works, the flesh, false religion are always the persecutors of the truth. They will continue to persecute the children of Isaac and Sarah, the children of promise.

The greatest persecutor of the true church is false religion. Satan’s system of works ...

This is so amazing. So, we’ve got this false church persecuting the true church. We’ve got a war going on.

Paul’s allegory continues. More on that next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:28-31

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.


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

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 4:12-16

12 Brothers,[a] I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?[b]


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s deep sadness and disappointment that the Galatians were turning to the false beliefs of the Judaisers. He ended those verses with this lament:

11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

He changes his tone in today’s verses.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

That these Christians might be the more ashamed of their defection from the truth of the gospel which Paul had preached to them, he here reminds them of the great affection they formerly had for him and his ministry, and puts them upon considering how very unsuitable their present behaviour was to what they then professed.

John MacArthur has more on Galatians and today’s verses:

Galatians is a book in the New Testament written by the apostle Paul, one of thirteen New Testament books that he wrote. It’s the first one that he wrote in terms of chronology, and it is a book designed really to do one thing, and that is to proclaim the fact that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ; that salvation does not come to those who are good or do good works, or religious, or involved in religious ceremonies, rituals; whether they be circumcision, baptism, or any other right or ritual. Those cannot achieve salvation, nor do they partly achieve salvation, as if there’s a combination between faith and works. Paul’s message in Galatians is that God forgives the sins of those who believe in Jesus Christ, and no works play any role in that at all. Works are the result of salvation, not the reason for it, not the cause of it.

So Paul has been defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone into chapter 4. And now in verse 12, he sets aside his arguments, and this is a much different portion of Scripture. In fact, it’s a bit of a shocking change in the character of this book. The book has been very polemic, very severe, pronouncing curses on people who tamper with the gospel, warning those who have been bewitched by false doctrine; it has called such people fools. This has been a very strong formidable proclamation of salvation by faith alone in Christ. It has been head, you might say, and not heart …

This is where his heart takes over. His anger and his frustration, you might say, have run their course. It’s not over

Here we see the gentle side of Paul, and it’s a rare insight.

In entreating — begging — the Galatians to become as he is, Paul calls them his ‘brethren’ and remembers that they did him no wrong (verse 12).

Henry explains why Paul’s tone changes:

He styles them brethren, though he knew their hearts were in a great measure alienated from him. He desires that all resentments might be laid aside, and that they would bear the same temper of mind towards him which he did to them; he would have them to be as he was, for he was as they were, and moreover tells them that they had not injured him at all. He had no quarrel with them upon his own account. Though, in blaming their conduct, he had expressed himself with some warmth and concern of mind he assured them that it was not owing to any sense of personal injury or affront (as they might be ready to think), but proceeded wholly from a zeal for the truth and purity of the gospel, and their welfare and happiness. Thus he endeavours to mollify their spirits towards him, that so they might be the better disposed to receive the admonitions he was giving them. Hereby he teaches us that in reproving others we should take care to convince them that our reproofs do not proceed from any private pique or resentment, but from a sincere regard to the honour of God and religion and their truest welfare; for they are then likely to be most successful when they appear to be most disinterested.

MacArthur looks at the word ‘entreating’ — ‘begging’ in his translation — and the phraseology in the verse:

Let’s look at his appeal. I find this one of the most fascinating parts of this entire epistle. Verse 12: “I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” Now this is strong: “I beg you.” That is a very strong verb. He is begging now. It’s not so much the father commanding as it is the mother begging, pleading. But it’s a strong attitude behind the begging.

“I beg of you, brethren,” – he identifies them first as brethren, and then down in verse 19 as children – “become as I am.” Now what do you think he means by that, “become as I am”? What do you mean, Paul? “I mean, I am free from the Mosaic law.”

If you go back to chapter 2, verse 19, “Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I’ve been crucified with Christ.” He has been delivered from, severed from the Mosaic customs and rituals: circumcision, ceremonies, all the things that went with it. Not from morality, not from the divine nature and the definitions of righteousness which are forever; but from the Mosaic formulas, the externals.

“I have been delivered from them. I no longer have anything to do with them. I have been set free from them; I now live free in Christ. I now live under grace. I now live in union with Christ. And what I could not do through the law because I was weak in my flesh, I can now do through Christ who is strong in me. I have been disconnected from all that old Mosaic religion.” So he says to them, “Become as I am. Disconnect yourself from those teachings of the Judaizers. Disconnect yourself.”

And then he adds this: “For I also have become as you are.” “Look, when I came here, when I came here to minister to you, I became as you are.” First Corinthians 9, he says, “Be all things to all men, that you might win some.”

“So when I came to you as Gentiles, I stepped into your culture and your world, and I didn’t bring Jewish traditions. I had none of those constraints on my own life. I came to you like a Gentile. As a Jew I had all that legal prescription that tied me up. As a Jew I was into it, I was deep into it; I observed all of it, I lived under it, until I came to encounter Christ. And Christ forgave my sin, granted me His righteousness, and set me free from bondage to legalism.”

Paul’s appeal is very simple: “I had all the advantages of Judaism. I had the advantages of Judaism to the max level. I had it to the highest possible conceivable level, that devotion to religion, Jewish religion. And it’s all gone; it’s all rubbish; it’s all empty. And now I have become, as it were, like a Gentile, free from all of it. Don’t you go back into what I have been delivered from.” He said back in chapter 3, verse 28, “In Christ there’s neither Jew nor Gentile.”

“It’s all new. That was all shadow and picture and illustration. And now the substance, the reality has come, and that’s Christ. You’re no longer under the law, you’re in Christ. You’re no longer under the Mosaic law, you are in Christ.”

He reminds them that it was because of a physical ailment of his that he came to preach to them (verse 13).

The end of Acts 13 begins with his arrival in Galatia and continues into Acts 15 with the Jerusalem Council which ruled that circumcision was unnecessary. Pisidia was a region of Galatia. My posts follow:

Acts 13:13-14a and Acts 13:40-43 — Paul, Barnabas, companions, Antioch, Pisidia, Anatolia, Jewish – Gentile audience

Acts 14:1-7 — Paul, Barnabas, Iconium, Lystra, Anatolia, miracle, crippled man

Acts 14:19-23 – Paul, Paul stoned, Lystra, miracle, Barnabas, Derbe, return to Lystra, Iconium, Antioch (in Pisidia), Anatolia

Acts 14:24-28 – Paul, Barnabas, Pisidia (part of Anatolia), Pamphylia, Perga (Pamphylia), Attalia (Pamphylia), Antioch (Syria), spending time with Antioch disciples

Acts 15:1-5 – Paul, Barnabas, Antioch (Syria), party of the Pharisees (or ‘of the circumcision’, meaning Judaisers or those of the ‘circumcision party’), the Jerusalem Council

Acts 15:30-35 — Jerusalem Council, letter to the Gentiles, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Judas Barsabbas, Antioch (Syria), rejoicing Gentiles

MacArthur recaps the beginning of this sojourn for us:

“Look, you were all there in the early days on that first missionary journey when I preached the gospel. You knew the Jews hated the gospel I preached. But you heard it, you believed it; you received it with joy and blessing and salvation; and you did me no wrong, as the Jews did.”

Chapter 14, verse 19: “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium into that area, and having won over the crowd, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” They were furious enough to try to kill him.

MacArthur says that, although we cannot be sure, it is likely he came down with malaria, hadn’t intended to stop in Galatia but had to, possibly because the illness affected his sight:

I don’t think Galatia, the region of Galatia, was on the plan for the first missionary journey. I think Paul was there because he was sick; that’s what it’s saying. That is clearly it. “Because of a bodily illness, I preached the gospel to you the first time.” “If I hadn’t have been ill, you wouldn’t have heard the gospel.”

In God’s providence somehow, Paul contracted some kind of illness. Originally he did not plan to stay in Galatia, or maybe even to go there. We don’t know why he went there. It’s a little bit more elevated than some of the lowlands of Pamphylia. Some suspect that maybe there was an epidemic of mosquitoes and malaria in the lowlands, and he went up into this area to get a little bit of relief from that; we don’t know that. But he was sick.

Could it have been a malarial sickness? Could have been, because malarial sickness is kind of recurring, its symptoms ebb and flow, and he would have been able to still minister and still preach and still teach in times of strength, and then maybe settle down in times of weakness as he fought the disease. And we do know something about malaria. It can attack the optic nerve; and in attacking the optic nerve, it can develop basically color blindness, some atrophy, and ultimately even blindness.

So perhaps it was malaria that he had somehow contracted; we can’t be dogmatic about that. But it was enough to keep him in one area so that he couldn’t go anywhere else. But still he had enough power or strength to be able to do the ministry that he did while he was there. It wasn’t totally debilitating, but it kept him, you could say, off the road.

“There I was. I was sick, so sick I couldn’t leave; so sick, you were kind of an afterthought, that’s the only reason I was there. But God had a better plan.”

Paul goes on to remember their kindness. His illness was a trial for them but they received him as if he were an angel of God, as Christ Jesus (verse 14).

MacArthur explains why Paul’s illness was a trial for the Galatians:

Now look at verse 14: “And that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition.” What does he mean by that? Why was it a trial to them? Literally, he says, “My illness was a trial to you. My illness was a trial to you.” Why was it? Because he was not able to do all the things they wanted him to do; because it kept him away from them a lot of the time when he had piercing, torturous headaches and pains.

Like the Jews, the Gentiles viewed illness negatively, as if it were a sort of divine curse from either God, in the case of the Jews, or, for Gentiles, a judgement from their deities:

in the ancient world, if somebody claimed to be a prophet of God, and particularly if somebody claimed to be the one who represented the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he had chronic physical problems, this would be a way certainly to discredit his claims. “And yet, you did not despise” – that means to regard as nothing – “or loathe me,” – that means to spit out – “you didn’t think of me as nothing, you didn’t spit me back out, even though I had this illness, which was a trial or a temptation to you.”

Why was it a temptation? The Jews, first of all, believed that if you had an illness, this is the judgment of God. Go back to the book of Job where that theology is articulated by Job’s friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – chapter 4, chapter 8, chapter 11. They come to Job and they say, “Job, you have all this trouble because there’s sin in your life. You’re under judgment, God is punishing you; that’s our theology.”

That was longtime Jewish theology, the theology of trouble. “You have it because you’re sinful, and God is punishing you.” You say, “Yeah, but these are Gentiles.” Yes, but the fascinating thing to me is the Gentiles had the same theology

But … Paul says, “Though that illness was a temptation to you to despise or loathe me, to spit me out, to think nothing of me because your theology told you this was a sign that I was under divine judgment, you didn’t do that. Quite the opposite. You received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.” Really an amazing, amazing statement.

And that shows the works of the Spirit of God on their hearts. “You received me; you didn’t yield to some temptation to judge the messenger and judge the message by my outward appearance, by my physical illness, you received me as if I was an angel from God, or Christ Jesus Himself. Do you remember those days?”

Paul asks what happened to that blessed state of theirs since, when, if it had done any good, they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to the Apostle (verse 15).

That verse further indicates that he must have had problems with his eyesight.

MacArthur tells us:

Transplants weren’t possible, “But if they had been, you would have given me your eyes.” Wow. Deuteronomy 32:10 speaks of guarding someone, and it wants to makes an illustration of how important it is to guard someone, and it says guarding someone as if he were the pupil of your eye.

Look, of all our extremities, the eye is the most precious. “You would have plucked out your eyes. You would have given me a transplant,” if indeed this is a physical malady, if indeed this is because malaria had attacked his eyes. Perhaps something had attacked his eyes, some eye infection that would be everywhere in the ancient world. “You would have literally given me your eye.” It’s very, very reasonable to presume that he had some eye issues.

Look at chapter 6, verse 11, toward the end of the book: “See with what large letters I’m writing to you with my own hand.” Why is he writing in large letters? Possibly because those are the only ones he can see. Why is he even writing? Because in his other letters he had a secretary. And then at the end of the letter, such as the end of 1 Corinthians, the end of Colossians, the end of 2 Thessalonians, he says, “I signed with my own hand.” He would always write a final few words in his own hand so that everyone would know this was not a forgery.

But this particular epistle, his first, he says in chapter 6, verse 11, “I wrote it.” He apparently didn’t have a secretary or an amanuensis at that time, and he launched into this thing with his own hand and he wrote with large letters, letters that would allow him to see what the Holy Spirit was inspiring through him.

He returns to his sadness about their rejection of him for telling them the truth (verse 16), the Gospel truth, as it were.

Henry says that this prevails in ministry even now — a rejection of the messenger who gives a congregation the eternal truth. Such a minister must persevere, regardless:

Am I become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? How is it that I, who was heretofore your favourite, am now accounted your enemy? Can you pretend any other reason for it than that I have told you the truth, endeavoured to acquaint you with, and to confirm you in, the truth of the gospel? And, if not, how unreasonable must your disaffection be!” Note, 1. It is no uncommon thing for men to account those their enemies who are really their best friends; for so, undoubtedly, those are, whether ministers or others, who tell them the truth, and deal freely and faithfully with them in matters relating to their eternal salvation, as the apostle now did with these Christians. 2. Ministers may sometimes create enemies to themselves by the faithful discharge of their duty; for this was the case of Paul, he was accounted their enemy for telling them the truth. 3. Yet ministers must not forbear speaking the truth, for fear of offending others and drawing their displeasure upon them. 4. They may be easy in their own minds, when they are conscious to themselves that, if others have become their enemies, it is only for telling them the truth.

Paul then resumes his sadness and bewilderment over the Galatians’ acceptance of the Judaisers. More on that next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:17-20

Bible oldThe 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 4:8-11

Paul’s Concern for the Galatians

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.


Last week’s post discussed what Paul called enslavement to ‘the elementary principles of the world’, meaning law for the Jews and idolatry for the Gentiles.

The New Covenant, which Christ introduced, does away with the law and brings in redemption, to which believers are heirs. God’s plan was to bring the Jewish church to maturity by abolishing Mosaic law and bringing His Chosen to a belief in Christ, the Messiah.

These verses are in the Lectionary, but they will help bridge the gap between last week’s reading and today’s (emphases mine):

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

However, Judaisers had come from Jerusalem to persuade the Galatians, most of whom were Gentiles, that they could be proper Christians only if they obeyed Mosaic law. That is another gospel, and plainly incorrect.

Paul tells the Galatians that, before they knew God, they were enslaved to idols (verse 8).

Matthew Henry elaborates on this enslavement:

He reminds them of their past state and behaviour, and what they were before the gospel was preached to them. Then they knew not God; they were grossly ignorant of the true God, and the way wherein he is to be worshipped: and at that time they were under the worst of slaveries, for they did service to those which by nature were no gods, they were employed in a great number of superstitious and idolatrous services to those who, though they were accounted gods, were yet really no gods, but mere creatures, and perhaps of their own making, and therefore were utterly unable to hear and help them. Note, 1. Those who are ignorant of the true God cannot but be inclined to false gods. Those who forsook the God who made the world, rather than be without gods, worshipped such as they themselves made. 2. Religious worship is due to none but to him who is by nature God; for, when the apostle blames the doing service to such as by nature were no gods, he plainly shows that he only who is by nature God is the proper object of our religious worship.

Paul asks them how, now that they know God and He knows them, they can revert to the ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world’ (verse 9).

Paul is at a loss to understand. Most of them are Gentiles, so they would not have known Jewish law, therefore, why embrace it? Mosaic law was only a forerunner of the Messiah. It was never intended to be in place permanently. Christ’s payment for our sins, however, will last forever.

He chides them further by telling them they are celebrating festivals under Mosaic law, observing days and months, seasons and years (verse 10).

Henry explains:

they had never been under the law of Moses, as the Jews had been; and therefore on this account they were more inexcusable than the Jews themselves, who might be supposed to have some fondness for that which had been of such long standing among them. Besides, what they suffered themselves to be brought into bondage to were but weak and beggarly elements, such things as had no power in them to cleanse the soul, nor to afford any solid satisfaction to the mind, and which were only designed for that state of pupillage under which the church had been, but which had now come to a period; and therefore their weakness and folly were the more aggravated, in submitting to them, and in symbolizing with the Jews in observing their various festivals, here signified by days, and months, and times, and years.

Paul laments that the time, prayers and effort he spent on them were in vain (verse 11).

Henry discusses Paul’s despondency. Unfortunately, this is a sad part of ministry. Ultimately, the person who turns away from faith in Christ will have to account for it:

Hereupon he expresses his fears concerning them, lest he had bestowed on them labour in vain. He had been at a great deal of pains about them, in preaching the gospel to them, and endeavouring to confirm them in the faith and liberty of it; but now they were giving up these, and thereby rendering his labour among them fruitless and ineffectual, and with the thoughts of this he could not but be deeply affected. Note, 1. A great deal of the labour of faithful ministers is labour in vain; and, when it is so, it cannot but be a great grief to those who desire the salvation of souls. Note, 2. The labour of ministers is in vain upon those who begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh, who, though they seem to set out well, yet afterwards turn aside from the way of the gospel. Note, 3. Those will have a great deal to answer for upon whom the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ bestow labour in vain.

Paul is despondent because the Galatians are adopted sons of God, heirs to His everlasting kingdom, but they want to embrace legalism.

John MacArthur explains how believers are God’s heirs and why it is such a privilege:

The law couldn’t save. The law couldn’t bring forgiveness. The law couldn’t remove the sentence of death and hell.

What the law couldn’t do, weak as it was to the flesh – it wasn’t the law’s fault, it’s holy, just and good; but the flesh is weak – God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. And as an offering for sin He condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. He not only became accursed for us, but He fulfilled in His death; but in His life He fulfilled the law for us. So our sins are imputed to Him in His death, and His perfect life is imputed to us by faith.

He sent His Son. Why? Verse 5, “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” He wanted to redeem us, buy us back from our bondage, pay the price.

The word “under” appears a lot here. Have you noticed that? “Under law,” once in chapter 3, once in chapter 4. “Under a curse,” chapter 3. “Under sin,” chapter 3. “Under elemental things,” chapter 4. Even, “Under a tutor.” This describes the life of someone before Christ, under the law, under sin, under elemental things of basic religion, under a curse. All of this reflects our bondage.

Our Lord, it says, was born under the law, but He kept it perfectly. That’s His active righteousness, His active obedience. And then He died in our place, and that’s His passive righteous obedience. “And He did it to redeem us,” – buy us from the bondage of sin – “that we might” – here it comes at the end of verse 5 – “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” This is such an honorable privilege.

MacArthur tells us why Paul uses the notion of adoption. We had another family before God adopted us, thanks to His Son’s perfect and sufficient sacrifice:

… let’s talk about adoption. What’s our former family? “You’re of your father the devil,” John 8. Sons of disobedience, sons of wrath. Our home is the world system. We’re in bondage to sin and death and hell. Our father is the devil; that’s our family. This is the universal human condition. But God displayed His glory through love and grace toward us. And chapter 3, verse 26 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

And then as we read in verse 5, He came to redeem us, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” We were regenerated, given life, we were declared righteous; and now God says, “I am moving you from the family of Satan into My own family, and I’m placing you in My family, and so intrinsically into My family that I am placing you in union with My Son, in union with My Son.”

John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become the children of God.” We have authority as the children of God.

I’m always drawn to 1 John chapter 3. Listen to verse 1: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God. How great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we will be called children of God.” Yes, we were actually born anew so that we are new creations with new life. But we were also doubly put into God’s family by then being chosen and adopted and taken out of the kingdom of darkness.

In order to appreciate the notion of adoption, it is important to keep in mind that, in Roman times, it was very different to today’s practice.

Today, people adopt babies and young children from charities. It is seen as a charitable act.

It was quite the opposite in the Roman empire. Adoption in that era was a sign of social status and was for adult men only, not women or children.

MacArthur explains the whys and wherefores of Roman adoption:

In the ancient Roman world they did not adopt children. They adopted adults, and they adopted male adults. Very rarely was a female adopted. That is why when Paul talks about adoption he talks about sons, because adoption was done with male, adult young men. Rarely does anyone in our society adopt an adult. There wouldn’t be any compelling reason to do that basically in our society.

But let me tell you a little bit about Roman adoption – almost always an adult male twenty years of age and up, even into the thirties. They were adopted into wealthy families, families of status, families with an estate, families of prominence, and virtually all those kinds of families did adoptions. Even if they had children, even if they had sons, they would adopt. If they had no sons, obviously they would adopt in order to have an heir. But if they had sons that they didn’t think were suited for the future of the family, they would adopt another son.

And by the way, there was a power in ancient Rome called patria potestas, which essentially says “the father’s power.” And a father could disown a born child. More frequently than not, it would be a girl. But the father could also disown a son. He could also sell a son for adoption. He could also kill a son for whatever reason he wanted.

So the father had absolute power over his children. And if he had no sons or if he had sons that he didn’t want to become the heirs of his estate, he would adopt. They were chosen, not as babies, because many babies didn’t survive childhood. You wouldn’t go through all the adoption to have a baby that would die. And furthermore, you didn’t know what kind of a young man this baby would become.

So they waited until they were in their twenties or thirties and they could see their leadership potential, their mental skills, their physical strength, their wisdom. They were looking for someone who would be the next patria familias, “father of the family.” The father wanted someone to take over the estate. The purpose was really singular: to bring an heir into the family who was worthy of this estate and could guarantee the future of that estate going forward.

And this would happen either because they had no son, or they had no son they felt was qualified. And there were families who had more sons than they needed. They would have sons to carry on their line, and they would be happy to have one of their sons adopted by one of these patrician families – very often adopted out of the plebeian, the common families.

In Roman times, the head of the family was both a manager of the family’s estate – a bookkeeper and a financial caretaker for the family’s fortune, and a priest, who basically ran the family religion – whatever gods they worshiped, whatever household gods, whatever forms of worship were part of that heritage were his responsibility. He was patria familias, “the family father.” And so when they adopted young men they were looking for an heir who could step into that role – very, very important: be the keeper of the family’s fortune and the keeper of the family’s reputation in the future. Poor, again, less noble parents who had such desirable sons would gladly make those sons available to a noble family for a price, for a price. And the price could be very high. It was an honor, by the way, not a dishonor. It was an honorable act to give your son to one of the patrician families, one of the families of the senators, the people who were elite.

Keep this in mind. Somebody might say, “Well, wait a minute. If you’ve got a really bright, sharp young son, maybe he could take the family he’s in and elevate that family and move that family up the social ladder to make them one of the elite families.” Couldn’t happen; didn’t happen. There was an elite class of patricians in the Roman world that was essentially unapproachable and unavailable to the rest of the plebeian society. So if you wanted to advance your capable son, this would be a great way to do that, and maybe the only way to elevate him.

It wasn’t secret. It was very public. It was very official. In fact, it was so official that at a high level it required senate confirmation, senate confirmation. A lot was involved. You’re talking about wealthy families with estates and reputations. Many of them senators. Many of them, by the way, emperors in Rome.

So this had senate involvement. It was a long drawn out, very official, very formal ceremony, like a wedding. It was that public. It was that kind of celebration. And like a wedding when the bride gives herself to the husband, she doesn’t intend to never speak to her family again. She doesn’t intend to forget her family, even though they cleave together and create a union all their own; they continue to be connected to the family that was their birth family. They create a new family, but they have a connection to the family of the past in some way.

That was true in adoption. It was not a complete forsaking of your family, so that the family in the future would in some ways be able to enjoy something of the success of the adopted son as they stayed connected in some way with him. However, he would take the father’s name, the new father’s name, and he would bear that name for the rest of his life. He would get all of the rights and privileges of that family. In fact, he would be the heir of everything that family possessed, and he would bear the name of his new father.

Adoption – here’s a definition: “The condition of a son, chosen and given to a father and family to which he doesn’t naturally belong, to formally and legally declare a son who is not a son by birth, but a son by choice, granting him complete rights and inheritance.” That’s Roman adoption.

There were four results of this adoption. Number one: You had a new father. You had a new father. Number two: You were heir to his estate. And that’s the primary reason for this adoption. And if you were adopted to become the primary heir, and the couple had more sons, those sons could never supplant the adopted son who was declared the heir. They could share in the inheritance like co-heirs, but that adopted son would be the ultimate heir.

Third thing: all the adopted son’s previous debts and responsibility were wiped out. If he owed anything to anyone anywhere, that was all gone. They erased his past life, except the connection with his family. It was as if he had never lived before. Everything was set aside; everything was erased. He is now legally and absolutely the son and heir of his new father, and there is no past life to take into account.

The fourth element is: he would have to be purchased with a high price, which is one of the reasons that poor families would make this overture of a son that was desired by a wealthy family. So the results were significant.

One other thing to say – according to the Roman-Syrian law book, I found an interesting quote there on this subject. It says, and I quote, “A man cannot disown an adopted son,” end quote. So once you were adopted, it was permanent.

Does this make our adoption as sons of God more meaningful?

MacArthur continues:

So much care was taken about who was adopted. The adopted son – listen – then is more secure in his inheritance than a born son. The adopted son is more secure in his inheritance than a born son. A born son could be disowned, sold, adopted out, or even killed, as I said earlier.

This is such a noble event that nine of the Caesars were adopted. Julius Caesar had no children, so he adopted Augustus. Augustus had no sons, so he adopted Tiberius. Nine Caesars, nine emperors were adopted from other families into the royal line. So this is a very richly textured picture of what Christian believers experience in being adopted into God’s family.

And if you look at it in the breadth of that, you begin to see what the Galatians would have understood, and what Paul intended them to understand, that what happens when God adopts us into His family is, first of all, we are in another family. We are comparatively in an impoverished family. We are in a family with no future, no hope of ever achieving what that new family possesses. We are chosen; we are chosen. We are then purchased. We are then given the name of the new family. We then become heirs of everything that that father possesses; and that can never change. That’s adoption. And we say, “Abba! Father!”

We have a new Father, and we’re so intimately connected to Him that we say, “Papa. Daddy.” It’s that intense a relationship. And we have all the rights and privileges, so that Jesus says in John 1:12, to those who believed in Him, He gave “the authority to be called sons of God.” It is a position of authority In heaven we will sit with Him on His throne. We will be, as we have read in Romans 8, “heirs and joint heirs with Christ” of all that God possesses.

The adoption ceremony in the Roman empire also had to have witnesses. We believers also have a witness, the Holy Spirit:

By the way, in the adoption ceremony, according to one source, there were seven witnesses, seven witnesses. Why would you have witnesses of the adoption? To establish the legality of it and testimony to it, in case in the future other children of that wealthy family would contest to that adoption and say, “Wait a minute.” When the estate starts getting passed out and they are overlooked, there could well be conflict in the family.

And so one source says there were seven witnesses required, which fascinates me, because we have in our text, if you’ll look down at verse 6, “Because,” verse 5, “we have received the adoption as sons,” verse 6, “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” And what is the Spirit sent into our hearts to do? Romans 8 says, “To witness that we are the sons of God.”

The Holy Spirit is the witness that we are the sons of God. And according to Isaiah 11:2, the Holy Spirit is the sevenfold spirit. In Isaiah 11:2 there are seven features of the Holy Spirit. They are demonstrated in the menorah with its seven flames. The fullness of the Spirit is a sevenfold fullness. And so the fullness of the sevenfold Spirit is God’s witness to the legality of our adoption that can never be contested, because of the witness of the Holy Spirit.

We have seen the preparation for our sonship in the early verses: the realization of our sonship, verses 4 and 5, when we become adopted as sons; the confirmation of our sonship, verse 6, receiving the Spirit in our hearts who witnesses with our spirit that we are the sons of God. All of this is built on this incredibly rich picture of Roman adoption.

Now we come to the consummation of sonship in verse 7, the consummation of sonship. “Therefore you are no longer a slave.” And by the way, slaves could be adopted; both slaves and free men could be adopted. Slaves, by the way, were not all the kind of slaves you might think. Many of them were highly educated; many of them were professionally skilled people. That was just their social status.

“You are no longer a slave, but a son;” – and here it comes – “if a son, if a son, then an heir through God.” The point of adoption was to give the estate to that adopted son. It was that he would be the heir through God, dia, by the immediate agency of God. God is choosing an heir.

Think of your salvation that way. He chose you before the foundation of the world to be an heir of everything that He possesses. This is the magnanimous nature of the grace and love of God. This is astonishing, astonishing.

That is what our adoption by God means. It is an immense privilege, more than we can possibly appreciate or understand.

I hope that this gives us renewed appreciation of our spiritual state as believers in Christ Jesus and of our inheritance to come in eternity.

Next time — Galatians 4:12-16

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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 4:1-3

Sons and Heirs

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave,[a] though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles[b] of the world.


Last week’s post looked at the curse of being under the law rather than in freedom in and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Readers who have been following this series on Galatians will recall that a group of Judaisers went to them to say that, in order to be a good Christian, they had to obey Mosaic law, which, for the men, meant being circumcised.

Paul told the Galatians that they were ‘bewitched’ by this false teaching of faith through works when they should have continued believing in justification by faith, which requires no works. The fruits of faith are different to our own works, because, as we become regenerated through our belief in Christ, we spontaneously want to do things that glorify Him and His Father. We cannot produce fruits of faith by ourselves; we need God’s grace working through us as part of our sanctification.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises Galatians 4, which we will explore in depth:

In this chapter the apostle deals plainly with those who hearkened to the judaizing teachers, who cried up the law of Moses in competition with the gospel of Christ, and endeavored to bring them under the bondage of it. To convince them of their folly, and to rectify their mistake herein, in these verses he prosecutes the comparison of a child under age, which he had touched upon in the foregoing chapter, and thence shows what great advantages we have now, under the gospel, above what they had under the law.

The law means one thing only: death. No one can live up to 613 of God’s commands to Moses. Therefore, if salvation were dependent on a perfect and perpetual obedience to the law, we would all be cast into hellfire. We all sin. Because we all sin, we die. However, we will be with God if we believe in Jesus Christ. Unbelievers will endure eternal torment. That is how much God hates sin.

Yet, there are Christians who believe that we need more than faith. We need works, they say. A lot of Catholics and Evangelicals believe that very thing. There might be some confusion over works and fruits of faith.

However, MacArthur warns us against this train of thought (emphases mine):

By way of reminder, all religions, all religions without exception, all religions, as well as false forms of Christianity – and there are many of those – teach that people are delivered from judgment, saved from divine punishment by their own works: works of morality, works of religion. And that, of course, is Satan’s big lie, and it has covered the planet through all of human history since the fallWe must understand the true gospel. Here we are five hundred years after the Reformation and the church of Jesus Christ, professing church of Jesus Christ is still trying to figure out the gospel; not surprising since Satan works very hard to overthrow the truth and place error where the truth has been removed. So we’re always in every generation fighting for the true gospel. The majority of evangelical Protestants think salvation is by faith and works. That’s why there was a Reformation to undo that heresy. Here we are again needing that new Reformation.

Paul begins Galatians 4 with a discussion on sons and heirs.

He gives his audience a simple way to understand the maturity of the Church from the days of Mosaic law.

He begins by saying that the child, although an eventual heir to his father’s estate, is at that point no more than a slave, or a bondservant (verse 1).

Henry says that the child in this case was the nation of Israel under religious and ceremonial law:

He acquaints us with the state of the Old-Testament church: it was like a child under age, and it was used accordingly, being kept in a state of darkness and bondage, in comparison of the greater light and liberty which we enjoy under the gospel.

A child is under the care of guardians and managers until his father decides that he is ready to be independent (verse 2).

Henry explains that such a childhood of the Old Testament church was both a promise and a curse:

That was indeed a dispensation of grace, and yet it was comparatively a dispensation of darkness; for as the heir, in his minority, is under tutors and governors till the time appointed of his father, by whom he is educated and instructed in those things which at present he knows little of the meaning of, though afterwards they are likely to be of great use to him; so it was with the Old-Testament church–the Mosaic economy, which they were under, was what they could not fully understand the meaning of …

Paul then brings his train of thought to the Galatians’ situation while still referring to the Old Testament church, yet with a look ahead to the church of the New Covenant: they were obliged to ‘the elementary principles of the world’ — meaning the law — in a spiritual sense (verse 3).

Henry explains:

they were in bondage under the elements of the world, being tied to a great number of burdensome rites and observances, by which, as by a kind of first rudiments, they were taught and instructed, and whereby they were kept in a state of subjection, like a child under tutors and governors. The church then lay more under the character of a servant, being obliged to do every thing according to the command of God, without being fully acquainted with the reason of it; but the service under the gospel appears to be more reasonable than that was. The time appointed of the Father having come, when the church was to arrive at its full age, the darkness and bondage under which it before lay are removed, and we are under a dispensation of greater light and liberty.

The next four verses are in the Lectionary:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

MacArthur explains why God sent Jesus to us when He did:

The law was known by the Jews, and after the Babylonian captivity when they came back into the land they never again worshiped an idol. Idolatry had been literally taken from them in their captivity. So religiously, the Babylonian captivity had resulted in Israel’s final turning from idols and focusing on the one true God. That cleared the way, in some sense, for the coming of Christ.

Also, the Canon of the Old Testament had long been completed, and they had the Law and the Prophets and the Holy Writings. So necessary to understand Christ, that’s why He said, “If you knew the Scriptures you’d know who I am.”

Culturally Alexander the Great had made it a Greek world, which meant there was a common language stretching across all those multiple ethnic groups in the Mediterranean area. They all knew a common language, Greek, which then allowed for the New Testament books to be written in a language that everybody could read. And then politically the pax Romana, the sweeping power of the Roman Empire had built roads everywhere so that the gospel could then be taken to the world. We read about that in the book of Acts. So from even the standpoint of just looking at what was going on in the world, it was a great time.

More importantly than that, it was God’s perfect time. He sent forth His Son. It doesn’t say He created His Son, it says He sent Him forth. He already existed. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh.” The eternal Son became man. God sent forth His Son. He is God. He is the exact representation of God. He is God in human flesh.

MacArthur gives us two illustrations of the impact that the Book of Galatians, particularly Galatians 4, had on Martin Luther and John Wesley.

Luther’s reading of Galatians gave him further insight into the doctrine of justification by faith:

Luther was reading a couple of years after he posted his theses on the door at the church at Wittenberg. He was reading Galatians, and it was then reading Galatians and also Romans when he was converted a couple of years after he had posted his thesis of protest. He knew the religious system was wrong, but he was not yet converted until the power of the book of Romans and Galatians swept over his soul in the hands of the Holy Spirit. We have to go back and be sure we understand the gospel, and so the book of Galatians is a book for all believers in all places and all times in the history of the church to make sure we’re clinging to the truth and proclaiming the truth alone which saves.

Wesley later renounced the Holy Club he had created at Oxford University. The Holy Club revolved around a lot of good works, rather than faith alone:

John Wesley was the initiator of a group of people in England called the Holy Club. That’s a pretty bold name to take, a sort of self-declaration. In his post-graduate Oxford days, he was part of the Holy Club. John Wesley was the son of a preacher. He was very religious in his personal life and practice. He was moral externally in his conduct, and he was full of external good works.

He and his friends, he says, visited the prisons and the prisoners. They went to the workhouses where the poor were; they tried to bring relief to the poor. He took pity on slum children, provided food for them, clothing for them, and even funded education for the horrendous poverty that was exhibited in the slum children, many of whom were orphans.

He and his friends observed Sabbath on Saturday, and they kept the Lord’s Day on Sunday. So both Saturday and Sunday they fastidiously adhered to religious preoccupations. They gave generously alms to the poor and to the church. They read the Bible, they fasted, they said prayers; thus they were the Holy Club.

But John Wesley said that he and his companions were bound in the chains of their own self-righteous religion and not fully trusting Christ. What a statement. Bound in the chains of their own self-righteous religion and not fully trusting Christ. What were they trusting? They were trusting in their works for their salvation.

A few years later, John Wesley in his own words, quote: “Came to trust in Christ, in Christ only for salvation.” End quote. And then it was that he experienced for the first time in his life what he says was the assurance that his sins had been forgiven.

At that point, the point of his conversion, he looked back to his days in the Holy Club and he wrote this: “I had then the faith of a slave and not of a son.” What did he mean by that? “I had the faith of a slave, because I was in bondage to the law. I did not have the experience of the freedom of being a son.” He was referring to Galatians 4 …

John Wesley said, “We were slaves and not sons”

What does that mean? What does it mean when he says, “I was a slave”? He means he was a slave to the law. And the law is a brutal and cruel taskmaster, because no matter how you endeavor to do good works, you can’t do enough, and you can’t avoid sin. And so the law becomes, essentially, your executioner. You violate the law, and the sentence of death is passed on you.

In closing, MacArthur summarises Paul’s message to the Galatians — and to us:

This is the wondrous heart of salvation. It’s not something you earn, it is a gift you receive by believing. We are justified by faith. Justified means that God declares the sinner righteous in His eyes because the sinners believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. God considers such a believing sinner to be the recipient of His own righteousness. This is a remarkable reality that God justifies the ungodly who believe.

How can God do that? He can do that because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Go back to chapter 3, be reminded, verse 10: “As many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who doesn’t abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.’” If you’d ever broken the law of God you’re cursed …

If you live apart from the gospel of Christ, if you live apart from faith in Jesus Christ, I don’t care how religious you are, how moral you are, you are in bondage. You are under the law, you are under sin, you are under a curse, and you’re captive to the elemental things of this world that have no power to restrain or subdue your evil flesh, and can do nothing but deliver you to eternal judgment. You are a slave. There is promise there, but you can’t enter into it until you become a son, a fully mature son; and that happens only when you come in faith to Jesus Christ.

And then the generosity of God is staggering. You literally sit with Christ on His throne in glory, Scripture says, and become a joint heir with Him of all that God possesses. Staggering grace to sinners.

From three verses, who could imagine there is so much upon which to reflect?

I wish everyone reading this a blessed week ahead.

Next time — Galatians 4:8-11

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 3:10-14

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”[a] 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit[b] through faith.

Galatians 3:22

22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s brief explanation on Abraham’s justification by faith and the promise that God made to him: ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’.

Paul told the Galatians they were ‘bewitched’ for believing the interloping Judaizers who told them that faith was not enough for salvation; it must be combined with works, e.g. circumcision.

Unfortunately, the doctrine of justification — righteousness — by faith has often been ignored through the centuries to the present day. Yet, it is central to the Gospel and was present from the very beginning in the Old Testament, as we saw with Abraham’s unfailing belief in God, faith which God imputed to him as righteousness.

John MacArthur explains that belief in justification by faith is essential, which was what drove Paul to bring the Galatians back to the truth instead of the curse of obeying a false gospel (emphases mine):

Back in chapter 1, Paul said, “That’s a false gospel, and anybody who believes and preaches that false gospel is cursed.” So the curse is even more profound: universally cursed, because we can’t keep the law of God; doubly cursed, because we believe that our works can gain us salvation; and the triple curse is, we propagate that as a true form of religion, and anybody who does that, Galatians 1, is accursed.

Let me make it even more practical. Anyone who believes that works are necessary for salvation has bought into a cursed gospel. Anyone who preaches that is preaching a cursed gospel. And the people who are believing it and preaching it are themselves cursed: cursed by their sin, doubly cursed by their works system, triply cursed by preaching it

The Galatians had become bewitched, and they were true believers; but they were buying into the fact that works were necessary. Even though they hadn’t believed that, they had believed correctly and been saved, they were allowing for an accursed heresy. So Paul is colliding with them head-on in chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians.

MacArthur preached the sermons cited here today in 2017.

He talked about a Pew survey done that year:

Let me shock you. This week a new survey by the Pew survey people came out; pretty timely. A question was asked to thousands of people across America who are evangelical Protestants, and the question is this: “Is salvation by faith alone, or is it by faith and good deeds?” This is Protestants, not Catholics. They surveyed Catholics. Eighty-two percent of Roman Catholics said salvation is by faith and good deeds, eighty-two percent of Catholics. Where were the other eighteen percent? They’re just Catholics who don’t know what Catholics believe, nominal Catholics. But Catholics get it. They know what they’re supposed to believe, and they believe that heresy.

Protestants, evangelical Protestants were asked, “Is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus good deeds?” Fifty-two percent of evangelical Protestants said faith plus good deeds. I told you when we started chapter 3 about being bewitched, and I told you that most churches and most people sitting in evangelical churches across this country, if not the world, are bewitched. They are bewitched by this lie of works being added to salvation.

In today’s verses, Paul proves the doctrine of justification by faith by looking at the law of the Old Testament.

Mosaic law has 613 commandments. Granted, some apply only to men (e.g. circumcision) and some only to women (e.g. ritual cleansing after menstruation), but that still leaves hundreds of laws for a Jew to obey perfectly. Today, the Orthodox Jews try to follow as many as possible. Conservative Jews are a bit more lenient. Many Reform Jews believe that there is no need to follow them anymore.

However, in Paul’s era, Jews still attempted to follow them all.

Paul quotes Deuteronomy and says that those relying on works of the law over faith are cursed because the person who fails to obey all of those commandments is cursed (verse 10).

This is what Deuteronomy 27:26 says:

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that everyone would fail. We would all be convicted by the law and, therefore, cursed:

If we put ourselves upon trial in that court, and stand to the sentence of it, we are certainly cast, and lost, and undone; for as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, as many as depend upon the merit of their own works as their righteousness, as plead not guilty, and insist upon their own justification, the cause will certainly go against them; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them, Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26.

Paul says that no one is justified before God by the law, because, citing Habakkuk, the righteous live by faith (verse 11).

This is what Habakkuk 2:4 says:

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.[a]

Paul then states that the law has nothing to do with faith, rather the one who obeys those 613 commandments shall live, citing Leviticus (verse 12).

This is Leviticus 18:5:

You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

That means the person obeying all of Mosaic law would not die.

However, who can obey all of those laws? Even in our Lord’s day, some of those commandments were seen to be more important than others.

Matthew Henry says that obeying all of the law would require a continual, perpetual effort which is impossible, given our sinful nature as human beings:

The man that doeth them shall live in them: and for every failure herein the law denounces a curse. Unless our obedience be universal, continuing in all things that are written in the book of the law, and unless it be perpetual too (if in any instance at any time we fail and come short), we fall under the curse of the law. The curse is wrath revealed, and ruin threatened: it is a separation unto all evil, and this is in full force, power, and virtue, against all sinners, and therefore against all men; for all have sinned and become guilty before God: and if, as transgressors of the law, we are under the curse of it, it must be a vain thing to look for justification by it.

Indeed, it is pure folly to want to be justified by the law, because God would condemn every one of us for eternity.

MacArthur summarises the meaning of those three verses:

Verses 10-12: “Cursed is everyone who doesn’t abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” That’s the curse on all men, the entire human race. And the reality is so bad that it is really without human remedy. There is nothing that man can do. No matter how noble his moral efforts, no matter how extensive his religious efforts, no matter how many rituals, ceremonies, sacraments he goes through, there is nothing a man can do to come out from under that curse.

In fact, his condition is delineated in Romans 3 – you’ll remember these verses – starting in verse 10: “As it is written” – this all comes from the Old Testament – ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving,’ ‘the poison of asps’ – or ‘snakes’ – ‘is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known. There’s no fear of God before their eyes.’” So every mouth is closed and the whole world made accountable to God. That is the true human condition.

Paul reminds the Galatians of the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the Cross. Paul says that He redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because anyone who hangs from a tree is cursed (verse 13).

That curse comes from Deuteronomy 21:23:

23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

That was the penalty for a blasphemer.

MacArthur says:

When somebody was basically a blasphemer, somebody was an abomination to God, when capital punishment was executed against someone like that, they would stone them to death. They didn’t crucify them, they stoned them. But after they stoned them, it was their habit to tie them to a post, that is the corpse, or to a tree as a visible sign of rejection by God, visible sign of rejection by God. It was not that a person was cursed because they were tied to a tree; it is that because they were cursed by God, they were tied to a tree.

And here, Paul is saying, “This is Jesus. In a sense, He’s the ultimate fulfillment of that picture. God cursed Him. God killed Him, tied Him to a tree.” This is the curse of God.

You want to know how severe the curse of God is? It brought all the sins of all who would ever believe on Jesus, and He took the full fury of the punishment, and He was even openly, publicly, blatantly the picture of one cursed by God. The Jews would know that. They would know that somebody tied to a tree was cursed; they knew their Scripture. Jesus was cursed by God.

MacArthur explains the seeming theological contradiction of God putting His Son — perfect in every way — under a curse for us, we wicked sinners:

Is God going to justify the wicked and condemn the righteous? That is exactly what God does. He condemns His Son, the Righteous One, and justifies us, the wicked.

How can God do that and not be Himself unrighteous? And the answer, of course, is 2 Corinthians 5:21. “He made Him who knew no sin” – Jesus – “sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The guilty are not unpunished. The guilty are punished, but a substitute takes the punishment. A substitute takes the punishment. God only can justify the ungodly, in the language of Romans, God only can justify the wicked, in the language of Proverbs, if He punishes their sins; and He has chosen to do that in the Righteous One, Jesus Christ.

This is the glory of the gospel, and this is the second curse. Go back to verses 13-14. The first curse: the divine curse on all men. Now the second curse: the divine curse on one Man, the divine curse on one Man. The divine curse on all men, that’s the bad news; the divine curse on one Man, that’s the good news.

Verse 13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us.” “Curse of the Law” simply the curse from God for all law-breakers; and that’s the whole human race. “There’s none righteous; no, not one.”

The curse of the Law is the violation of the law of God. But God has redeemed us, bought us back from that curse through Christ who became a curse for us. That is how God justifies the ungodly, as Paul says in Romans. He became “a curse for us.” No sin goes unpunished. But in the grace of God, we’re not punished for our sins; Christ is punished in our place.

Man’s sin has to be punished; justice has to be satisfied. God requires it; it’s not whimsical. But man’s spiritual deadness, man’s spiritual inability, man’s spiritual unwillingness leaves him unable to pay the penalty for his sin without going to hell forever. So God has appointed His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to take the place of sinners and receive their punishment. And in 1 John 2:2 and 4:10 it says, “He became the propitiation for our sins; and not ours only, but the sins of the whole world.”

It simply means “satisfaction.” God’s justice has to be satisfied. And in the death of Christ, justice was satisfied, because divine justice meted out full punishment for all who would ever believe, through all of human history, on Christ. All the sins that we will ever commit were paid for. He is the propitiation, the satisfaction of divine justice.

“Propitiation” is used again in Hebrews 2:17. It’s used again in Romans 3:23-26. It’s a critical word. God’s justice must be satisfied; it must be satisfied. He can by no means clear the guilty. He cannot justify the wicked and condemn the righteous, unless the sins of the wicked are paid for in full so that divine justice is satisfied. Simply stated, 1 John 3:16 says, “Christ laid down His life for us.” “Christ laid down His life for us” …

Furthermore, Paul says that our Lord’s death on the Cross enabled the blessing that God gave Abraham to extend to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promised Spirit — or ‘the promise of the Spirit’ in some translations — through faith (verse 14).

Under the Old Covenant, the vast majority of Gentiles could not be saved because they did not know of the God of Israel and His law. Some Gentiles did convert to Judaism from paganism.

MacArthur tells us:

Christ was cursed so that punishment for sin was completely exhausted; and for all who turned to Christ, there is the blessing of Abraham. What is the blessing of Abraham? Salvation, righteousness. Righteousness was reckoned to him, imputed to him, credited to him, accounted to him by faith. That’s the blessing of Abraham.

The blessing of Abraham can come on Gentiles, come on all nations, because it’s by faith, not by being a part of the Jewish people or the nation Israel, or understanding the Mosaic litany. So salvation is by faith in order that in Christ Jesus where you place your faith, the blessing that came to Abraham could come to the whole world regardless of what they know about Moses and the law.

Secondly, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Through faith we – faith is the beginning. Justifying grace brings sanctifying power. Justifying grace through faith brings sanctifying power through the Holy Spirit. I love the fact that it ends there, “through faith, through faith.”

Finally, Paul says that, according to Scripture, all of us are convicted as prisoners because we sin, therefore, the only remedy is a promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (verse 22).

Henry elaborates:

the scripture hath concluded all under sin (Galatians 3:22; Galatians 3:22), or declared that all, both Jew and Gentile, are in a state of guilt, and therefore unable to attain to righteousness and justification by the works of the law. The law discovered their wounds, but could not afford them a remedy: it showed that they were guilty, because it appointed sacrifices and purifications, which were manifestly insufficient to take away sin: and therefore the great design of it was that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those that believe, that being convinced of their guilt, and the insufficiency of the law to effect a righteousness for them, they might be persuaded to believe on Christ, and so obtain the benefit of the promise.

Paul goes on to discuss sons and heirs in Galatians 4, more about which next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:1-3

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