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Archive for the ‘Galatians’ Category

Thanks to all who have been praying for us on this fellowship. We were reminded today as we worked on Isaiah 6 (cf. Matt. 1; John 12; Acts 28) that we are naturally and deservedly hardened and blind and deaf to the Truth and it is purely God’s sovereign grace that opens our eyes and ears and gives us understanding – so we are in a spiritual battle as we read and teach and discuss these things and your prayers are really welcome… and being answered. Today we were blessed to see some exciting things:

  • From Zephaniah 3:1-13 we saw a God who is not called down by our earnest praying but who comes to dwell with a rebellious people – a people who do not and will not and cannot repent and yet God still gathers a remnant and sovereignly saves and purifies them. (More on Zephaniah here.)
  • In Galatians 2:11-21 we found that gospel doctrine must be accompanied by a gospel culture and saw something of the wonder of union with Christ.
  • All through Acts we found the apostles continually, relentlessly preaching Christ from all the Old Testament Scriptures. (Fidel recommended Edmund Clowney’s Preaching Christ in All of Scripture and you can read chapter 4 of that book here (it’s an exposition of Gen. 22) and a helpful review here.)
  • In 2 Corinthians 6 and Acts 20 we saw the true shape of apostolic ministry and that it has nothing to do with power.
  • Finally Daniel Ledama (PTW/UGBR) mined all sorts of deep and wonderful things about Christ from Genesis 39 – particularly showing how Joseph was both a type of the Saviour to come and at the very same time had the presence of that Saviour with him.

Throughout we were constantly aware of how much we all need to have our eyes opened wider to Christ in the Scriptures and aware of how much blindness and partial sightedness is present within and outside our churches.

And a helpful poster from ACFAR:

DDD - ACFAR

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Blessing

Galatians 3 gives a great definition of the gospel:

8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

Clearly there’s a very important connection between Abraham and blessing and gospel. Now there are various ways you can go from here…

One way is to go back to Genesis 12 and say, look at the blessings Abraham was promised – “I will bless you and make your name great” (Gen. 12:2) – and look at all the physical ways in which he was blessed: “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (13:2 cf. 24:35). So it’s very simple, the gospel is being blessed with lots of camels.

Or maybe I focus on Gen. 12:3a: “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonours you I will curse”. You can clearly see this worked out in the life of Abraham (e.g. Gen. 12:10-20; 20:1-18) and his descendants. So then the gospel is victory over your enemies and favour with the powerful.

Or a slightly different way to go is to focus on “and you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2) or “in you all the nations of the world will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3b). This can then become the lens through which we view the whole Bible story – it’s the story of God bringing blessing to the whole world. That’s the gospel and that’s our mission, to partner with God in extending this ever-spreading blessing to the world. And the word ‘blessing’ here often becomes a very broad, flexible, catch-all category – it’s about ‘transformation’, ‘happiness’, ‘shalom’, ‘healing’, ‘redeeming the whole creation’.

The problem with all this is that Galatians has been left behind. Surely the best commentary – the divine, authoritative interpretation of Genesis 12 – is Galatians 3. If we’re not careful we start looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of Galatians 3 being our lens on Genesis 12 (and in fact most of the Torah), Genesis 12 (and not a particularly careful contextual reading of it) becomes our lens (or rather filter) for the whole of the rest of the Bible.

What does Galatians 3 say the blessing of the gospel is?

  • Justification. “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8) The blessing is being declared righteous. Not by works but purely by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 2:16). The old sinful nature crucified in Christ’s death and a new life and status in Him (Gal. 2:20-21). And Abraham is the great example for us – because of his wealth? because of his victory over enemies? because of his obedience? No – because “he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3:6). In an earth-shaking statement for a Jew, Paul continues: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). Justification by faith.
  • In Christ. In Galatians 3:10-14 Paul turns to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, showing their fulfilment in Christ taking (in fact: becoming) the curse of the Law on the Cross. “So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (Gal. 3:14). The promised Abrahamic blessing is found in Christ. It is not so much something given to us by Christ, an object external to him, a package of benefits that you get when you sign up to Christ – No – it’s about being found righteous and uncondemned in Him; it is about being blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
  • Sons of God. “For in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ… and if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:26-29) These verses join up a lot of stuff: justification through faith, Abrahamic promise and Sonship. The premier blessing received through faith, the premier blessing in Christ, is to be sons of God, adoption. The blessing in Christ is to be in Christ. With the same status as Christ. With the same love from the Father as Christ. These are unbelievable things to say. As sons we are heirs to the Abrahamic inheritance (3:29; 4:1,30) – that is the inheritance of the kingdom of God (5:20) – but that is for the future (note: ‘will inherit’). The blessing for now (and eternity) is to be called children of God, one with Christ, participating in the Godhead, filled with the Spirit who calls out “Abba”.

A couple of things that flow from this:

  1. The prosperity gospel is onto something very important. It is wrong to fix on physical blessings as the main thing. And it fails to read Scripture as all about Christ. But it is  absolutely right to insist that the gospel is blessing. The good news is actually good news. In our concern to avoid the prosperity gospel and stick to the ‘old gospel’ we can end up saying, “Look, you don’t want to go to hell do you? So believe in Jesus and you won’t go there. Following him is going to be really hard and you might have to stop doing lots of fun stuff but at least you won’t go to the hot place when you die.” I caricature. But there is a real danger that we actually buy the devil’s ancient lie that God is not really good, the world is good, sin is fun, God might be necessary but he’s not really that great to be around. So you might as well wait till your death bed to convert. That’s a lie. Jesus is really really good. The gospel is about blessing – the sweetness of complete forgiveness, being saved by Jesus and united to him, being utterly known and utterly loved as God’s children.
  2. Mission is not about bringing some vague blessing to the world. If we are New Testament believers, it is about bringing the gospel of Jesus to the world – the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. This will in turn lead to a lot of transformation on every level of society, but the cutting edge of mission is the proclamation to fellow sinners of Christ crucified.

Discuss…

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I’ve just found an English translation of Luther’s commentary on Galatians online here. Blistering stuff and incredibly contemporary. This is a bit on Gal. 1:11:

If it were not for the example of the Galatian churches I would never have thought it possible that anybody who had received the Word of God with such eagerness as they had, could so quickly let go of it.

The article of justification is fragile. Not in itself, of course, but in us. I know how quickly a person can forfeit the joy of the Gospel. I know in what slippery places even those stand who seem to have a good footing in the matters of faith. In the midst of the conflict when we should be consoling ourselves with the Gospel, the Law rears up and begins to rage all over our conscience. I say the Gospel is frail because we are frail.

What makes matters worse is that one-half of ourselves, our own reason, stands against us. The flesh resists the spirit, or as Paul puts it, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit.” Therefore we teach that to know Christ and to believe in Him is no achievement of man, but the gift of God. God alone can create and preserve faith in us. God creates faith in us through the Word. He increases, strengthens and confirms faith in us through His word. Hence the best service that anybody can render God is diligently to hear and read God’s Word. On the other hand, nothing is more perilous than to be weary of the Word of God. Thinking he knows enough, a person begins little by little to despise the Word until he has lost Christ and the Gospel altogether.

Let every believer carefully learn the Gospel. Let him continue in humble prayer. We are molested not by puny foes, but by mighty ones, foes who never grow tired of warring against us. These, our enemies, are many: Our own flesh, the world, the Law, sin, death, the wrath and judgment of God, and the devil himself.

The arguments which the false apostles advanced impress people to this day. “Who are you to dissent from the fathers and the  entire Church, and to bring a contradictory doctrine? Are you wiser than so many holy men, wiser than the whole Church?” When Satan, abetted by our own reason, advances these arguments against us, we lose heart, unless we keep on saying to ourselves: “I don’t care if Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, or an angel from heaven, teaches so and so. I know that I teach the truth of God in Christ Jesus.”

When I first took over the defence of the Gospel, I remembered what Doctor Staupitz said to me. “I like it well,” he said, “that the doctrine which you proclaim gives glory to God alone and none to man. For never can too much glory, goodness, and mercy be ascribed unto God.” These words of the worthy Doctor comforted and confirmed me. The Gospel is true because it deprives men of all glory, wisdom, and righteousness and turns over all honour to the Creator alone.

You may argue that the Church and the fathers are holy. Yet the Church is compelled to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses.”  I am not to be believed, nor is the Church to be believed, or the fathers, or an angel from heaven, if they teach anything contrary to the Word of God. Peter erred in life and in doctrine (Gal. 2). The Church, Peter, the apostles, angels from heaven, are not to be heard unless they teach the genuine Word of God.

Let the Word of God abide forever.

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