About Jesus Steve Sweetman
THE GALATIAN PROBLEM
- IT'S OUR PROBLEM
In this article I will set forth for you just what the Galatian problem was. Once we see what their difficulty was in their walk with the Lord we will see that we today are very much like they were, almost two thousand years ago.
First of all I will give a brief background history of the Galatian Church. Secondly, I will look into the first few verses of Galatian's chapter three and show you just what it means.
As we read through Galatians chapter three you will notice the words "human effort". These words are the key words to our discussion. I will present my understanding of these words and how they apply in their context and what that means to you and I.
There are certain other words and phrases that become a part of this discussion as a result of understanding "human effort". Such words are, 'faith" and "walking in the Spirit". We will see what these concepts mean and how they apply to our lives today.
My intent is to give you, an understanding of this Galatian problem. Once we establish the Biblical understanding I would like to show how that relates to us in a practical sense.
Some modern Christians shun Biblical study, theological understanding, and doctrinal issues. They may feel that it is too philosophical or theoretical. They may think that it is purely an intellectual pursuit that has no practical solutions to life. I am not convinced that this thinking is correct. I am convinced that we need a theological and Biblical base for our understanding. Once we have this we need to know how to present it to others, that is give a reason for why we believe. Then, after we have the understanding well established in our thinking we then need to relate it to our present world, our daily lives. This can be done. This is what I hope to do concerning this topic in this article.
Some Background Information
At this point I want to give you a very brief look at some background material.
If you look at a map, the Roman province of Galatia is on the north east shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The Romans made this one of their provinces in 64 BC.
Originally, that is before Galatia was a province of Rome, it was an area farther north of the Mediterranean shore that was settled by Gauls. These people were settlers from Eastern Europe.
Along with these Europeans were also Romans, Greeks, and Jews. Each one of these groups brought their own lifestyle into the mix. This became evident and actually a source of contention in the Galatian Church. This we will see later. The conflict was between the Jews and the Roman-Greek folk.
My main point for this short history lesson is to make it clear to you that Paul in his letter to the Galatians was not just writing to one church. He was writing this letter to a number of churches. Galatia was not a city. It was a province with a number of cities, thus a number of churches.
The idea that Paul was writing to a number of churches here is significant in the fact that what he was saying was important enough for all the churches to understand. The problem that he deals with in this letter was not just a one church problem. It was a problem that extended into many churches in the whole area. As we will see it is a problem that has crossed the borders of time and space and is with us today.
So please do not underestimate the importance of the book of Galatians and what it has to say to us today. This was a book written to many churches, and many people. I am convinced that we today can learn from what Paul tells these people. I also contend that we as a church have not really learned the lessons of this book of Galatians. Hopefully this will help you and I as we see what Paul is saying.
The Crux of the New Testament
Before we actually get into this Galatian problem I would like to tell you my understanding of what the relationship of the New Testament is to the Old Testament. The reason for this is that it is fundamental to our discussion. It is also something that some of the Galatians didn't seem to have all that clear in their thinking.
As Paul said, "Christ in You the hope of glory "is the crux of the New Testament. Christ in us is what New Testament Christianity if all about. It is the number one point that is made in the New Testament for us today.
You might say, "what about the cross", or, "what about the resurrection"? The truth of the matter is, the death and the resurrection of our Lord was for one purpose. That purpose was to allow the Holy Spirit to come and live within us. That is what it means when we say, "Christ in you". Christ Himself lives in us through His Spirit.
You might say, "I thought Jesus died to forgive our sins". So he did. You are right. He forgave our sins so that He could reconcile us to Himself and live within us. He cannot live within sinful man. Jesus became sin on the cross in order to forgive our sin. As a result we stand holy and sinless in His sight. Therefore and only therefore can He live within us? Once again this is the crux of the New Testament. This was the goal that Jesus had in mind when He hung on the cross. Jesus did not die just to forgive our sins. He forgave sin for this specific reason.
So why is "Christ in you" so important, and what does it have to do with the Old Testament. Look at 2 Corinthians 3:3. It says, "You show that you are a letter from Christ ... written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."
Paul is making a clear distinction here between the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament had the law of God written on tablets, written in ink. They were an external code for us to live up to on our own strength. They were something that people read. They were something that people held in their hands. They were something to be cherished and obeyed. Yet because they came from God we could not fully obey and put them into practice. How could mortal man really follow in the footsteps of the immortal God?
That was the Old Testament. This is the New Testament. The idea has shifted from the written law of God that was external, to the Spirit of God that could be internal. No longer do we have to try and strain to follow an external code. We have the real thing within us. The law of God is now written on our hearts because God Himself is in our hearts via His Spirit.
In summing up this chapter we note that the Old Testament was an era where there was a written external code sent from God for us to follow. The New Testament times show that the external has become internal in that we have the law of God, the Holy Spirit living within us. The Spirit within motivates us to follow the Lord. There is a major difference here. If you cannot see the difference, or if you refuse to believe this you are missing the whole point of being a Christian. You are diluted and not really following the Lord. This is exactly what some of the Galatians were doing. That is why Paul called them "fools". He did not use nice words. He came write out and said that they were foolish, that is to say they were stupid.
In my opinion there is a vast crowd of people in modern evangelical churches that have not seen this very clearly. They prefer to be called New Testament Christians yet live in an Old Testament fashion. They take the forgiveness of their sins and then follow their own man made code of ethics. They take the Old Testament Ten Commandments and obey them yet lay aside the sins of the heart. They fail to see that anger in their heart is the seed of murder. It is simply easier to obey the Ten Commandments and not kill. It is harder to get to the heart of the problem which is anger within. Can you see my point here?
The Galatians had trouble laying aside the old lifestyle. We have the same struggle. It's the original sin; that is to say, "I can do it myself."
Galatians Three - The Problem
To begin this chapter I want to quote from the NIV Galatians 3;1-5.
"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you. Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to attain perfection by human effort. Have you suffered so much for nothing if it really was for nothing? Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have hear?"
These words are strong and pointed. Paul does not mince his words, does he. He says, "after starting out in the Spirit are you now trying to attain perfection by human effort". To me the words "human effort" ring out in my heart. They stop me in my tracks. After hearing these words there is a moment of silence. I can picture the Lord Himself saying this, and the whole universe just stops in silence because of the conviction in their hearts.
This is the Galatian problem. This is our problem. This has been the churches problem throughout the ages. If you are young in the Lord you may not see that you have this problem. Maybe you don't, as yet anyway, but you will at least be tempted in this way sooner or later. It is the tendency of people, and the church to fulfill the Lord's desire in our own "human effort", thus leaving the Lord on the sidelines.
This can be called "The Tragedy Of The New Testament". The Lord dies on the cross, visits Hades itself to loose the righteous souls, rises from the dead, ascends to Heaven and pours out His Spirit on His people. We receive the Spirit by believing we can and then walk away to live out our Christian life by ourselves, apart from the Lord, in our own human effort. This walking away from the Lord is the tragedy. Do you see the picture? It's such a sad picture to behold. We need to call it for what it is. To put it simply, it is sin. There are a lot of different sins. We tend to call this one human frailty. We tend to excuse it, but it is sin. We need to know that.
Galatians Three - You Fools
Now lets go back and look at this passage and a few key words and see what they say to us.
"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you." There are two words here that I would like to point out to you. The first word is the word "foolish". From a brief look at the original Greek word used here we see Pauls disgust with these people. The Greek word used here could have easily been translated as "stupid". Sometimes I wonder if Bible translators use less offending word in their translations. I personally think that Paul might have used the word stupid over the word foolish. It's only my opinion. I think Paul was an aggressive, street type guy. Yes he was an intellectual, a religious leader and moved in the circles of the refined, but he was not one to beat around the bush or try to hide his disgust with soft words. I think he felt that these Galatians were simply stupid.
They were stupid in the sense that their thinking was beyond sound reasoning. It had no logical or intellectual base. They had moved from sound logical thinking to something altogether unreasonable. It's almost like this. A math student because of sound reason and intellectual correctness knows that fifty plus fifty equals one hundred. These Galatians add these two figures together and come up with two hundred and seem to be steadfast and sure that their answer is correct. Now that is stupid, in light of the fact that these people most likely graduated beyond the point of simple addition tables.
The word "bewitched" continues this line of thinking. It was obvious to Paul that the reasonable process of ones thinking did not bring these Galatians to their improper conclusions. The only way that this would have come about was through deception, through being bewitched. It almost, or maybe you can say it does seem like a spiritual influence persuaded them to stray from the original teaching. Their change in thinking did not come through sound intellectual deduction of the facts. It came through a foolish spiritual bewitchment that defies logic. You could easily translate this word bewitched as "demonized". These people were demonized in their thinking. You might say they were influenced by the devil.
The passage goes on to say, "before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified". Let's look at the word portrayed. Think of the Canadian, or the U.S. government election process. First of all there are conventions to elect the leaders. What do you see in the grand ballrooms of the hotels when the elections and speeches are being made. You see placards. You see banners and signs. They say," vote for whoever". Then when the election draws near you see signs on people's lawns encouraging others to vote for certain men or women. The message of the election and who is running is quite visible to all. Our choices are clearly laid out in a most visible way. This is what the word portray means here. These Galatians had the message of the good news clearly portrayed, placarded, or bannered before their very eyes. They saw it and even more, they believed what they saw. After believing what they saw they went a step farther and acted on it. They got involved through receiving the Holy Spirit.
Paul's directness and pointedness can be seen in the question he asks these people. He asks, "Did you receive the Spirit by obeying the law or by believing what you heard"? Then again he asks the question in another way. He asks, "Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard"? Paul doesn't answer his questions. The answers are clear to all. The Holy Spirit is given to people because they believe in Jesus and that they can have His Spirit by simply asking for Him. There is absolutely nothing that one can do, except ask, to obtain the Spirit of God.
Now what comes next is the cruncher. It is what Paul is really getting at here. The answer to the above two questions are understood. The Galatians knew the answer. We know that the answer. That is, yes we receive the Spirit by faith when we ask for Him. The Galatians had no problem with that. The problem came in the next step that would be taken once a person received the Holy Spirit. Paul says, "are you so foolish (stupid, unreasonable) having begun in the Spirit, are you now trying to attain perfection through human effort"?
The attaining to perfection through human effort was their problem. Paul figured since they knew the answer to the first question then the answer to this question should be obvious. Besides, this question is a natural next question to ask. Paul is quite systematic in his argument. The answer is clear. We cannot reach, or even think of reaching any kind of perfection without the Spirit of God's involvement in our lives.
It is like a new born baby talking back to his or her mother. The baby says, "thanks for giving birth to me and for all of the nourishment you gave me while I lived within you, but I can handle the rest of life on my own". Now that sounds a little far fetched doesn't it. it's a good example of what is happening here. Why is it a good example? Because it is utterly ridiculous and stupid that a baby could say such a thing. It is not a logical thing that ever could happen. A baby can't even talk in the first place. So how could he carry on life without his mother. It could never be done. By the same reasoning a person can't be born into the Kingdom of God by the Spirit and then say "goodbye, I can manage the rest of life on my own".
The sad story of the church is that in many, or maybe even most of the history of the church we have done just that. We have been born into the kingdom, and then we have run our affairs, whether corporately or individually, on our own. We want Him to be a part of our church life but we really don't open the door and let him in. We simply sing our songs because we know them quite well. We preach our sermons because we have learned to do that well. We run the affairs of the church because we have professionals who have studied and learned how to do it. Maybe we don't need the Lord after all. Maybe we can do it just fine on our own. We carry on in this fashion until one day someone asks, "where are the miracles, where is the Lord? How come I don't feel His presence in our meetings"? The answer to these questions are clear as well. We left Him out in the cold long ago.
Galatians Two - The Circumcision Problem
One major problem Paul had with these Galatians, and even more so the Jewish Christians was the Old Testament law. Many Jewish Christians felt that in order to be a Christian you needed to follow and obey the law as it was in the Old Testament. The number one, and main thing that these folk stressed was the idea of circumcision. They felt that you could not really be a Christian if you were not circumcised. As an aside, I often wondered where women came into their thinking when they made such statements.
At this point I would just like to relate to you in story form part of Galatians chapter two. Paul took Barnabas and Titus (a Greek) to Jerusalem to explain to the leaders of the church his ministry among the Gentiles. During their time together some of the Jewish Christians infiltrated the ranks of Paul and his friends to, as it says, "spy out their liberty".
The question here is, what liberty were they spying on? They were spying on their liberty of not having to be circumcised. If these men were spies they wouldnt just come out and ask about Paul and the rest being circumcised. I wonder just how they found out who was circumcised and who wasnt. I can imagine in my mind some funny scenarios.
They were all together in the Jerusalem church, in a conference of sorts. I picture it this way. I think when it came time for a coffee break a couple of guys were staked out around the bathroom. You know how it is with guys. They have their coffee break at ten AM and talk around a table about all sorts of things. Titus was probably sharing lots of good times he had with Paul. Maybe they were sharing some of the latest jokes that had been going around in the western churches. Men often get telling jokes at these occasions. They end up laughing their heads off while extending the coffee break beyond the fifteen minute limit.
Titus finishes his coffee and heads over to the washroom before he makes his way back upstairs for the main morning session. He goes into the washroom, combs his hair as most men do and does whatever else he may need to do. At this time the spies who are staked out are trying to look inconspicuous as they glance around corners, and in mirrors. They may twist their heads just a bit in order to get a better viewing angle of what they need to see. One of the guys loses his calmness and in the midst of the excitement yells out, "there's one. He really is a Gentile. He's not circumcised after all." Titus can't believe what just happened. He pulls himself together and rushes upstairs where Paul had already gathered with the rest of the men. Titus whispers in Paul's ear. "Those guys spied on me and they saw that I have not been circumcised." Paul in disgust jumps to his feet and blurts out, "brethren I challenge you on this point of circumcision. I am appalled that you have gone to such a deceitful extent and have spied out our liberty that we have in the Lord."
At this point Paul would take a back seat to no one, not even the "so-called leaders" (Gal. 2:2) in Jerusalem. He would have expounded point by point his position.
You can tell just how Paul felt when you read Gal. 5:12.
It says, "As for those agitators I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves". I have quoted here from the NIV. The King James makes the thought much more obscure. It says, "I would that they were cut off which trouble you". This is an example of what I mentioned earlier. The King James doesn't even make the point clear in their translation. The NIV makes it pretty clear, yet in a very respectable manner. The King James seems to suggest that the agitators should be cut off from the church. In reality Paul wanted something else cut off. Paul's disgust went pretty far. He told the Jewish agitators, "if you are going to insist on circumcision then cut the whole thing off. Forget about the foreskin. Simply cut it all off and emasculate yourself. The thing that really makes a man out of you, cut off." That is what the word emasculate means. It means to make a man not masculine. Do you see my point? Better still do you see Paul's point?
I would like to close this chapter with quoting a couple verses from Philippians 3:2 and 3. "Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh ..." The simple fact here is that Paul views those who serve God in a purely human fashion, and teach others to do the same as evil men. He calls them dogs. That is blunt. He puts these so-called Christian people in the same boat as murderers and adulterers. The usage of the term "evil men" is quite strong language and to me says a lot. These are serious words that we need to consider and understand their meaning. We have these same type of men with us today. Circumcision may not be the issue today. We have our own issues now, our own rules that cause us to live as Christians in our own human effort.
I suggest that in todays church there are many Christians that want the New Testament blessings but live an Old Testament lifestyle, alone and apart from God, dealing only in the external aspects of their Christian life. It is so much easier just to forget about the internal things of the heart.