Foundations: “The Sabbath” (Part One) – Exodus 20:8-11

Introduction
Today we begin a short series on the Sabbath. Not unlike many doctrines, the Sabbath is one of ‘those’ topics. Not unlike many doctrines, it’s a topic to which much ink has been sacrificed. In the history of the church, much has been written about the Sabbath. In fact, so much has been written about it, one wonders if it’s at all possible to read all the material. What is not to be wondered about, however, is the fact that the Sabbath, as that which is Biblical, is a beneficial doctrine. “All Scripture is profitable for doctrine,” the apostle states. So, men have preached about it, explained it, defended it, and exhorted others to keep it. And not unlike most if not all doctrines, the Sabbath is a ‘ground-zero’ of much heated debate. We must be honest with ourselves: Sabbath teaching, while beneficial, is also controversial. The Sabbath has been, and is, a cause for division, even, and especially, in the church. This is lamentable. This is sad. Why I say this I hope you will see by the time we’re done; which I think will be in three or four Sundays. But by now, you know, or should know, that any and all Biblical teaching stirs up controversy. The history of the church displays this. Somewhere, sometime, and in some fashion men, both inside and outside the church, take issue with something the Bible states. In our own experience, as we find ourselves in the 21st century, we know this to be true. We don’t need to be church historians to realize that the exclusivity of Christ, for example, is hotly debated. We know ourselves that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty over all things, including one’s salvation, is controversial and stirs up much visceral churning and fierce contention. We know that the doctrine of the cross, Christ and Him crucified, as that which alone saves, is a point of contention. The very name of our church, Sovereign Grace Baptist, flies in the faces of many: Sovereign Grace (TULIP), Baptist (believers not babies).  My point in this is to simply underscore what I am about to say, namely this: ‘Because a thing is controversial, or even divisive, is no reason to not address it.’ One might even argue, and in fact has said, that to remain silent on any point of doctrine, especially if controversial, is to deny Christ at that point.
Having said all that, let me tell you why I address this issue. I do not raise the issue to stir up controversy or division, but quite the opposite. I do so because I am under authority. I am under the authority of the Scriptures which tell me that the pastor-teacher is a gift to the church for “the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” I’m going to ask you something this morning. I’m going to ask you to let me be your pastor. ‘But,’ you say, ‘you are my pastor.’ ‘Yes,’ I respond, ‘But each of you has one or even several pastoral voices to whom you default. Perhaps they are books, mp3s, or the radio. And we must not forget our beloved pastors of the past.’ That’s fine. That’s not all bad. We all have our ‘pastors.’ But what isn’t fine is when those other voices muffle the voice of the pastor God gave you today. Now, lest I am misunderstood, understand. I am not saying I am infallible. I am not saying I have everything figured out and everyone else doesn’t. I don’t have it all figured out. And I am not above any other ‘pastor.’  But I am, to my utter amazement and even bewilderment, a gift to this church, given so that we attain to ‘the unity of the faith…to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,’ the result being we are not children, “carried about by every wind of doctrine.” That is why pastors exist. That is why I’m here. Doctrine is where it’s at. Doctrine is the thing. Doctrine is the purpose. Doctrine does divide; it separates the sheep from the goats. But it also unites! It unites and makes the church strong, able to withstand Chinooks and hurricanes of falsehood … and doctrine that simply misses the mark.  Underpinning all this is the fact that God has spoken. God has spoken a word to us. He has revealed to us His mind. And since God has spoken, we must seek to know what he has in fact said. What did God say concerning the Sabbath? What is its purpose? Why did He command it? What does it mean and look like to keep it? Who are the Sabbath-keepers? Faithfulness to the Scriptures, to the entire counsel of God as it progressively unfolds from Genesis to Revelation, is at stake here. And this is no mere doctrine without obvious and practical implications for the believer. There are monstrous implications for the one who is in Christ. But we cannot live in light of what God has said if we do not know, are unsure of, or hold false ideas about what He has spoken.
By way of approach this is how we shall proceed: First, I will briefly state my answer to the question “Does Sabbath-keeping fly in the face of the cross and is therefore at odds with the work of Christ?” Second, I will embark on a brief history of the doctrine by way of confession. Third, we will survey the Old Testament and make some Biblical observations. And finally, we shall together come to a conclusion, mindful that we’ll be nowhere near finished (but well on the way).
So the question: Does Sabbath-keeping fly in the face of Christ? Is it at odds with His Work? Answer: It does not. Sabbath-keeping does not fly in the face of Christ. It isn’t at odds with the cross. Sabbath-keeping is therefore relevant for the Christian.  Believers in Christ and the Sabbath are intimately related. The nature of that relationship I will not, at this point, define.  That you will see in due course.
A Brief History by Confession
Second, a brief history by confessional statement displays what arguably is the majority report on the issue. Hear the common thread between them. Each statement, each reflective of a different theological tradition, has similar ideas. Noteworthy among them is the ‘one day in seven’ principle.
1. The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.”

2. The 1689 Baptist Confession states:

“As it is the law of nature that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, should be set apart for the worship of God, so He has given in His Word a positive, moral and perpetual commandment, binding upon all men, in all ages to this effect. He has particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy for Him. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ this was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ it was changed to the first day of the week and called the Lord’s Day. This is to be continued until the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week having been abolished.”

3. The Seventh Day Adventists (From www.adventist.org.)

“The beneficent Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts.”

(From www.seventhdaybaptist.org.)

“We believe that the Sabbath of the Bible, the seventh day of the week, is sacred time, a gift of God to all people, instituted at creation, affirmed in the Ten Commandments and reaffirmed in the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles.

We believe that the gift of Sabbath rest is an experience of God’s eternal presence with His people.
We believe that in obedience to God and in loving response to His grace in Christ, the Sabbath should be faithfully observed as a day of rest, worship, and celebration.”
4. Calvin
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin states:

“The purport of the commandment is, that being dead to our own affections and works, we meditate on the kingdom of God, and in order to such meditation, have recourse to the means which he has appointed. But as this commandment stands in peculiar circumstances apart from the others, the mode of exposition must be somewhat different. Early Christian writers are wont to call it typical, as containing the external observance of a day which was abolished with the other types on the advent of Christ. This is indeed true; but it leaves the half of the matter untouched. Wherefore, we must look deeper for our exposition, and attend to three cases in which it appears to me that the observance of this commandment consists. First, under the rest of the seventh days the divine Lawgiver meant to furnish the people of Israel with a type of the spiritual rest by which believers were to cease from their own works, and allow God to work in them. Secondly he meant that there should be a stated day on which they should assemble to hear the Law, and perform religious rites, or which, at least, they should specially employ [or be engaged] in meditating on his works, and be thereby trained to piety. Thirdly, he meant that servants, and those who lived under the authority of others, should be indulged with a day of rest, and thus have some intermission from labor.”

This is enough. This is enough for us to get a flavor of how the Sabbath is, and has been, conceived. These documents speak of a day, a day set apart, for the gathering of the church and the ‘doing’ of certain religious activities, even so that the matters of the soul might be the sole matter of the day. That might be a simplistic summary. But it captures what is asserted. Sabbath-keepers are therefore, according to these documents, a certain kind of people engaged in a certain kind of activity one day a week. For the Seventh Day Adventists it’s Saturday. For everybody else, it’s Sunday. At the end of the day, in the final analysis, at least in terms of how this is worked out and acted upon, it makes no difference. Whether Saturday or Sunday, both groups see their day as the Sabbath (even if called by another name).
Some Scriptural Observations
We leave confessions and traditions to make some Biblical observations. We will not concern ourselves with the New, but only the Old Testament, at least for now. There are five things I wish to show you concerning the Sabbath:
1. The Sabbath is God’s idea. It’s about Him. Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (or, ‘set it apart’ from the other days), because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” The Sabbath is God’s idea. God ordained it. God ordained it, and He did so for Himself. On the seventh day, God rested from the work of creation, of constructing out of nothing, and out of disorder and chaos, all that exists.
2. The Sabbath is for rest. I doubt very much that rest equals idleness. Had God been idle in the absolute sense on the day He rested, all that He accomplished the previous six days would have collapsed. Creation is not a watch wound up and let go, needing nothing more to function. God sustains and upholds what He created every nanosecond of everyday 24/7/365 days of the year. He commands the mornings and causes the dawn to know its place (Job 38:12). “He sends forth springs in the valleys…He waters the mountains…He causes the grass to grow for the beasts, and vegetation for the labor of man…” (Psalm 104).  So, what does it mean when Moses says God rested on the seventh day? He means that God ceased from the work of creation because that work was done. That work was completed. Finished. Notice carefully what the text says: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” God rested not because He was tired, but because He accomplished what He set out to day six days prior.
Why He rested has nothing whatsoever to do with fatigue. God is not a man that He should tire. We spend a day at work, come home, and immediately crash on the couch. Or, if that is not your custom, the very least we might do is sit down. But God has no such need. That God rested from creation means He ceased creating because He was finished that work. I cannot over-emphasize that.
3. The Sabbath is a commandment. It is a commandment given to the nation of Israel, and is part and parcel of that covenant founded upon the small but tremendously significant word “If.” In Exodus 19:5, the Lord says to Moses, and thus to Israel: “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession [then you shall be Mine].” The entire Mosaic Covenant was conditional. Blessing came because of one’s obedience.
3.1. Sabbath obligations
Listen now to the obligations demanded by the Sabbath. No one was allowed to leave home (Exodus 16:29b). No one may work (Ex. 20:10). No one was allowed to cook (Ex. 35:3). Keeping the Sabbath is connected to honoring parents in Leviticus 19:3. Every Sabbath, special bread was to be placed before the Lord (Lev. 24:5-8). Wood gathering was a ‘no-no’ (Num. 15:32). The Sabbath day required twice the amount of animal sacrifices, and meat and drink offerings (Num. 28:1-10). Visits to men of God were allowed (2 Kings 4:23). No one was permitted to carry a load (Jer. 17:21). And buying and selling, all business transactions, were forbidden (Amos 8:5). In a word, the Sabbath imposed restrictions on Israel. Keeping the Sabbath entailed keeping a list of do’s and don’ts.
4. The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant God made with ethnic, physical Israel. This is often overlooked or ignored. But it’s undeniably clear. Just listen to the Law (Exodus 31:12-17, NASB 95 Update):

12 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
13    “But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.
14    ‘Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
15    ‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.
16    ‘So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’
17    “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”[1]

Three things here are noteworthy. First, the Sabbath is a covenantal sign. It is a sign of the Old Covenant. This is what the Lord says. It is a commandment. But the unfolding of revelation tells us it is more than a commandment.
Second, profane the Sabbath, treat it like any other day as if a common day, pick up sticks on the Sabbath even, and you die. This is what the Lord says.
Third, the Sabbath was “a perpetual covenant.” It was, in other words, an everlasting covenant, binding forever upon the people to whom it was given. It was a sign between God & the sons of Israel forever.  Striking is it to see how the Sabbath is so connected with the Old Covenant that it signifies that covenant. Hear that! You must hear that! But what about the “forever” part?  That’s easy. “Forever doesn’t always mean “forever.” Not in Scripture. Read the Law. Read Genesis 17:8; Exodus 12:14; Ex. 27:21; Ex. 40:15; and Numbers 25:13 and you will discover this to be true. One example before we press on (Exodus 40:13-15):

13 “You shall put the holy garments on Aaron and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister as a priest to Me.
14    “You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them;
15    and you shall anoint them even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual [or ‘everlasting’] priesthood throughout their generations.”[2]

‘Everlasting’ and ‘perpetual’ doesn’t always mean forever. We know the Old Covenant priesthood was limited to the Old Covenant. We know that priesthood is not perpetual, forever, ongoing, with no end. Neither were the Passover, the tabernacle worship, and circumcision, all things described as ‘forever.’ So, sometimes the meaning of “forever” is restricted by the phrase “throughout their generations.”
5. The Day of Atonement was a Sabbath. It was a Sabbath, and thus Sabbath and priest and the work of the priests are bound up in it. Leviticus 16: 29-31-

29 This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you;
30    for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.
31    “It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.[3]

Once every year, Aaron, the priest, dressed in the finest of clothes, would enter the holy of holies, the very inner sanctum of the tabernacle, and make atonement for all the people. And this Day of Atonement was a Sabbath day.
Conclusion
I could go on like this. Our survey has not been exhaustive; not in the least. But what we have covered is enough to make a point. And that point is simply this: if we’re honest with ourselves, in and of itself, there is nothing about this which captivates our hearts and causes our hearts to be launched in praise. To be honest, I find these things, in and of themselves, to be rather dull, dreadfully boring, and anything but inspiring.
Furthermore, when compared to the majority report as expressed earlier by way of confessions, all that can be truly concluded is this: At best, the majority report and the Mosaic Covenant both focus on a day, or days, upon which certain religious activities are to be done and certain other activities must be avoided. In essence, to put it another way, there is no difference between the Jewish and Christian vision of the Sabbath. Both are essentially the same, that is, at best.
But at worst, the majority report just doesn’t cut it. When compared with everything the Old Testament reveals concerning it, it is found terribly lacking. The Old Testament’s conception of the Sabbath is far more dynamic and comprehensive than the majority report. But what is the Old Testament anyway? Is it not the revealing of David and Solomon and the priesthood and the temple, all things that point beyond themselves to something far greater? Is King David about David? Or does he point beyond himself? Is Solomon about Solomon? Or does he point to someone far greater? Does the priesthood of the Old not point to a far superior One? Does the old temple not point to a far greater temple? Does Torah itself not  point to something far greater? And what of the prophets? “I must decrease,” said one, “but He must increase.” What is the Old Testament? And how therefore should we read it?  The Old Testament is the result when the light of revelation shines on Christ and casts a shadow. And the shadow is never the substance of the reality, but a mere silhouette of that reality. The Sabbath is therefore a shadow of Christ. Christ is the true David. He is the true temple. He is the true everlasting priesthood. He supersedes Moses. And He is the true Sabbath. Christ is the epitome of the Sabbath. When viewed through the lenses of the entire counsel of God therefore, the Sabbath is not a day, but a Person. Think it through with me. as the Old Sabbath, the shadow, was about God, the true Sabbath is about Christ. As the shadow spoke of God resting from His glorious work of creation, because it was finished, the true Sabbath speaks of one who now sits at the right hand of God because His glorious work of redemption is finished. As the shadow was the sign of the Old Covenant, Christ is the New Covenant. As the shadow was a perpetual sign as long as the Old Covenant was in force, Christ is the truly forever covenant that is eternal. As the shadow made atonement with blood that could never forgive sins, Christ is the true atonement.  If we don’t get this, if we do not read our Bibles correctly, we lose Christ in the shadows.
Who then are the Sabbath-keepers? What does it mean and look like to keep the Sabbath? I ask because we need to know.  Answer: Sabbath-keepers are not those who merely attend religious services on Sunday and follow a list of do’s and don’ts on that day. That might be traditional. But it ain’t Biblical. The Sabbath is no longer a day, or days, but a Person. Therefore, now hear this, Sabbath-keepers are those who rest not in a day, but in a Person & His Finished Work. Sabbath-keepers are those who trust in Christ for complete redemption. And they do that not one day a week, but 24/7/ 365 days a year! Therefore, Christians are inherently, by definition, Sabbath-keepers. And they are so only by the sovereign grace of sovereign God.
Are you a Sabbath-keeper? Do you rest in Christ? Is Christ your treasure? Do you treasure Him over your so-called Sabbath Day observances? Do you rest in Him alone? Or do you rest in your theological tradition? Theological traditions can be our idols, our gods. Sin is so deceitful. Rest in Christ, not your doctrinal understanding. Rest in Christ, not yourself. He is our Sabbath and I plead with any and all in this room who do not know this rest not to come short of it, but enter in. Trust Christ. Embrace Christ. Extend the hand of faith and rest from your strivings to measure up.

1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.
2    For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.
3    For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said…[4]

Presented…
Sunday, May 8, 2011
SGBC, Blackie, AB
Todd Braye

[1] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ex 31:12–17). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[2] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ex 40:13–15). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[3] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Le 16:29–31). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[4] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Heb 4:1–3). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Christ’s Redemptive Work and Adoption: Galatians 4:1-5

Introduction:
Review previous.
“Whoever made the division into chapters has mistakenly separated this paragraph from the one before, for it is simply the investigation or recapitulation in which Paul explains and illustrates the difference between us and the ancient people” (Calvin).

Galatians 4:1-5 HCSB
Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything.  (2)  Instead, he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father.  (3)  In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world.  (4)  But when the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  (5)  to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Exposition:
I.          The position of Old Testament believers (4:1-3)
A.        A helpful illustration (4:1-2) Since the spiritual experience of old covenant believers no longer exists, we need such descriptive word pictures to help us comprehend the great change in position that happened with the arrival of Christ and his better covenant.
Principle: As we understand more clearly what the Lord Christ has done for us, we are better able to praise him.

1.         A minor child may be a true heir, but because of his legal status, he is unable to use and to enjoy his inheritance. The believing Jew was a child of God, and so he was also an heir. God’s people in all ages share membership in God’s family and are heirs of his promises. Although the old covenant believer was a child and an heir, as far as his status in the family was concerned, he was no different from a slave.

2.         A minor child is subject to guardians and trustees for an appointed time. The old covenant believer had guardians and trustees ruling over him—the rituals and regulations of the law. The old covenant believers “were not in possession of freedom, since the law like a tutor kept them under its yoke. The slavery of law lasted as long as God pleased and he put an end to it as the coming of Christ” (Calvin).

B.        A clear declaration (4:3) – Here we must grasp an idea. Since the people of God are one, how can our position be different from that of the Jews? “Since we are all equally the children of God, how comes it that we at this day are exempt from the yoke which they were forced to bear?” (Calvin)

1.         The Jewish believers were minor children in their legal standing in God’s family. The inheritance was theirs, but they had no legal access or power to use it.

2.         In that position, they were “in slavery under the basic principles of the world.” What is meant by these basic principles? They were the worldly elements or first principles. They were elementary rules and regulations suitable to the experience of children. They are called worldly to show their tangible and external nature (cf. Brown). Life under these basic principles was the experience of slavery. Consider the ritual washings, the required observances, the set times of sacrifices, and the rules about clothing, and then you will know why it is likened to slavery. Note well: They were the objects of the Father’s affection, but they could not use the rights of adult sons in his family.

II.        The way to adult sonship is through Christ’s redemptive work (4:4-5). Every blessing of our salvation was purchased by Jesus the Son of God in his redeeming death.
A.        Focus on the Redeemer (4:4) – First of all, we must keep our eyes on Christ!

1.         He came at “the fullness of time (cf. Mk 1:15; 1 Cor 10:11). The fullness of time under the law had come (cf. Guthrie). Now we live in the last days. However, we should remember that even in the last days there is a constant contrast between what is already here and what is not yet.

2.         He was sent by the Father. While this statement alone does not prove Christ’s preexistence, it is in agreement with that teaching. Above all, we should see that he was doing his Father’s will (cf. 1:4).

3.         He took on our human nature by being born “of a woman”. He humbled himself that he might enter “the prison-house where his people were held in bondage so as to set them free” (Bruce).

4.         He was born under the law (the old covenant). The Son of God became subject to the law’s demands, in order that he might fulfill them perfectly and exhaust their penalty (cf. Mt 5:17-18).

Apply: We should respond to his coming with worship. We live among a proud, self-focused people, and we need to declare the praises of our Savior and Lord. We are not gods; we are created to worship. The pen in my pocket was made so that people could write with it. If it doesn’t work, it is fit for a trashcan. If we don’t worship, we are meaningless and so fit for destruction.
B.        Focus on accomplished redemption (4:5; cf. Heb 9:9-10)

1.         He redeemed those under the law. This, of course, refers to Jewish believers. He released them from the status of servitude.

2.         He redeemed those under the law in order that we might have the full rights of sons. This was release to something. We are set free to live as adult sons. Christ’s sacrifice, since it was a redemptive sacrifice, began an ear of liberty from which there can be no turning back to the bondage of the law.

3.         He redeemed so that we might enjoy the blessings of adult sonship: a fuller knowledge of God, a higher measure of filial love and confidence, and a spiritual form of worship fitting our status as adult sons and daughters of God.

Lessons:
1.         Know the superiority of the new covenant over the old covenant. The law was good, but Christ’s new covenant is better. The unchanging God has a progressive work in history, increasing the display of his glory in Christ the Redeemer (cf. 2 Cor 3).
2.         Remember that the position of adult sons of God is a blood-bought blessing. Therefore, we ought to be very thankful for the unspeakable privilege of having the full rights of sons and daughters in God the Father’s family. Christ died on the cross to put us in this position. Value it!
3.         Since Jesus the Son of God purchased these full rights for us, we should make full use of what he has purchased for us! Isn’t it a shame to spend hard-earned money for something and never use, or to give a loved one a precious gift that is ignored? How much more shameful to fail to enjoy and to live in what Jesus died to purchase for us!
4.         Be shocked at the incongruity of an adult son or daughter of God desiring to live like a little child. Yet how often common sense is thrown out the window when we come to theology. Since the Father sent his dearly loved Son to redeem the Jews from under the law, he will surely not put them back under the law in the future. Since the Father sent his dearly loved Son to redeem his people from under the law, he does not want his church to live under the law now. We are in Christ, in his law, and under his lordship. We are no longer under the covenant of the tablets of stone. We are in the freedom of the Son of God!
5.         Since we are heirs, look forward beyond present suffering to glory.

Keep in Step with the Spirit (14)

“Two Kinds of Men (6): The Brand Marks of Jesus”
Galatians 6:17-18

Todd Braye

Introduction
… In the final two verses of this glorious book, Paul essentially gives three words. First, he gives a word of exhortation. Then, he offers a word of explanation. And finally, he ends with a word of benediction.
The Exhortation
Todd Braye
The word of exhortation is simple enough. In the first half of verse 17, the apostle pleads that no one causes him strife. “From now on,” he writes, “[from this point onwards] let no one cause me trouble…”
The difficulty Paul wishes to avoid arises out of the epistle’s occasion in writing what he wrote. You do recall why he wrote. Certain men, teachers zealous for the law, influential, persuasive men appealing to the flesh, who perverted the gospel by adding law to it, seduced the Galatian Christians, perhaps new converts (cf. 1:6). The key to understanding this seduction is the 6th verse of chapter one. Paul there expresses his astonishment that the Galatians were deserting the gospel and turning to “a different gospel.”  We understand there is but one gospel. But the fact of the matter is, that gospel is often distorted. The Galatians weren’t duped by something that had no resemblance to the gospel at all. What caught their attention looked alright. It made sense to them.   It glittered as though it was gold. But as the saying goes: All that glitters isn’t gold. And so, the apostle curses anyone who preaches a gospel out of step with the one the apostles preached, the one that they, the first century Galatians, previously received.
What they received was simple. Sinners are justified by faith apart from law. Sinners are also sanctified by faith apart from law. God justifies because of Christ alone. God sanctifies through the Spirit of Christ alone, He who dwells in the hearts of believers (4:6). The apostle’s question, with all its grit & abrasiveness, is as relevant to the modern, conservative, orthodox evangelical as it was to the Galatians. He asks them if they were foolish. They had begun by the Spirit of God. They were to continue by the Spirit of God. “Are you so foolish?” he interrogates in the 3rd chapter. “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected [or, ‘Are you now being brought “to a successful finish”[1]] by the flesh” (3:3)? “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith” (3:5)?   Paul’s intention is to demonstrate to the Galatians their folly. Their position was simple. The ‘gospel’ to which they were turning asserted essentially this: One begins as a believer by the Spirit and he continues to the end by the law. Christian life starts by the Spirit. But it continues by the law. Law is needful for a successful finish. That’s the ‘gospel’ to which the Galatians were turning. That ‘gospel’ was and is a far cry from the truth of the gospel. Paul’s gospel, the only true gospel, could be expressed in these terms: Having begun by the Spirit, a successful finish comes by the Spirit.  Having begun by the Spirit, by faith, apart from works of law, you are now being perfected by the Spirit, by faith, apart from law. So, keep in step with the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit, the One who produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…and self-control. He will lead you and guide you and make you walk as you ought. The Lord is our Shepherd; we shall lack nothing. He makes us lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. He restores our souls. He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
To learn the Galatians were abandoning this gospel, the one he received by divine revelation, from Christ Himself, choosing instead a distortion, even a gross distortion of the gospel, caused Paul no small amount of consternation.  He speaks of being ‘astonished” (1:6). He speaks of being fearful that his past labors over the Galatians were to no good result, in vain even (4:11).  He even likens his pain to that of a woman bearing a child. “My little children,” he writes, “for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (4:19)!  This whole letter is to that end. Paul writes with all grit and grace that Christ be formed in them and they be established in the truth of the gospel. He states the truth. He argues for it. He contends for it without apology and without wavering. He does not occupy the space between two opinions, trying to appease two parties, or two interpretations. Not at all. He rather shoots straight, sharply cuts his doctrine, sets his argument on the table, and exhorts the Galatians to stand firm. And then he says, “From now on let no one cause me trouble.” ‘From now on, from this point forward, let no one cause me trouble, undermining my ministry, calling me a man-pleaser, as if my aim & goal was to contradict the Scriptures and make it easy for sinners to be numbered amongst God’s people.’ ‘Let no one cause me trouble & grief by neglecting my doctrine, my gospel, by deserting God in turning to a gospel that is no gospel.’
Foundational to such matters is the matter of Paul’s authority. This had been questioned. His apostleship had been doubted. His message therefore did not hold the Galatian’s attention. Hence, the departure from truth and drift from the gospel, Paul’s grit and consternation, his defense of his apostleship, and his clear gospel statement. On these matters, Paul presses that no one causes him any more trouble. Essentially, he was saying, “Enough already!” “No more!” “Let this be the end of my troubles over these things!”   ‘Let this, let what I’ve said to you in this letter, forever settle the matter!’
The Explanation
Why the apostle presses this is more than fascinating. Again verse 17, but note the second half: “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” It is hard to miss the comparison with the Judaizers, Paul’s detractors, the other kind of man. Their external mark was circumcision, the seal of Abraham, the sign marking, identifying the people of the old covenant. But the marks of Jesus donned the apostle. The marks of Jesus Paul bore on his body. As a Jew, he would have been circumcised. He would’ve had that mark in his flesh. But that is nothing to him. What matters to him is what matters this side of Calvary: close identification with Christ, even at tremendous personal cost.
The nature of Paul’s relationship with Christ is defined by the phrase ‘I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.’ Let me stress something here before moving on. What defined Paul’s relationship with God was not his circumcision. It wasn’t defined in terms of law or law-keeping, by things Old Covenant. Paul defined his relationship with Christ by something far more radical than that.
The word rendered ‘marks’ is ‘stigmata.’  ‘Stigmata’ are brand-marks. Brand marks were marks engraved on the bodies of slaves. So Paul is saying he bears in his body the marks of a slave. He defined himself as a slave of Christ.
This is not new. In many of his epistles, Paul often introduced himself as a slave of Jesus Christ.  In Romans 1:1 for example, we read “Paul, a servant [but more accurately ‘a slave’[2]] of Jesus Christ, set apart for the gospel of God.” Philippians 1:1- “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi…” Titus 1:1 – “Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect…” In the first chapter of Galatians tenth verse, Paul refers to himself as a “slave of Christ.”
But Paul wasn’t alone in this. Other New Testament writers also viewed their relationship to Christ in terms of slavery. Peter begins his second epistle introducing himself as “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ…” Jude begins his short epistle calling himself “a slave of Jesus Christ…” To the twelve tribes of the Dispersion, James also identifies himself as “a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).  But lest we think such phraseology is exclusive to a select few, allow me to make reference to the opening words of ‘The Revelation To John.’  In Revelation 1:1, the apostle John writes, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his slaves the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his slave John, who bore witness to the word of God…” We see here that the apostle John calls himself a slave of Christ. And he calls every Christian a slave of Christ. So, we must not think this small verse has nothing to say to us. It has much to say, especially to those of us with ears to hear.
Paul’s Brand-Marks & John Huss
But one may ask what it is to bear the marks of Jesus. Such a phrase conjures up images of disfiguration and even bloody mutilation: flesh ripped open by scourging, a brow pricked open by thorns, hands and feet nailed, and a wounded side pierced by the thrust of a spear.  Of course, the apostle could not be saying he bore these marks. These marks speak of one who died, who was crucified in the flesh. Paul knew nothing of these in his body. Paul knew nothing of that level of public disgrace, and even…. stigma.
But what Paul did know, what the apostle did bear in his body, are marks as a result of his ministry. Paul loved Jesus. He was sold out to Christ and His cause. Paul’s was a life and ministry in which the cross was larger than life to him. The cross on which the Prince of Glory died was his theme and joy and doctrine and hope. Foundational to this is the fact of that which transpired on the cross. What transpired on the cross was this: Christ bought Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20). With His blood, Christ purchased the apostle. Paul was therefore, not his own.  Paul did not belong to Paul. He was not free to pursue freedom as culture understands it. He wasn’t even free to be a mere servant of Christ, not at all. Here’s why: one hires, or employs a servant, but Christ bought Paul. Christ thus owned the apostle, which made him Christ’s slave. “To be a slave of God (one writes)…involves more than merely being His servant. Servants retain their independent status. They have only specific duties and limited responsibilities. Slaves, on the other hand, have no rights [with regard to] their owners, because they are deemed the property of the latter” (Walter S. Wurzburger, as quoted in “Slave,” by MacArthur, p. 17).    It flies in the face of not just our culture, but modern evangelicalism also: Christians belong to Christ: Therefore, they are His slaves. We need to let this sink in this morning. This is a truth that needs to shape us.  Christ purchased us with his blood. And since He did that, He owns us. And if He owns us, now hear this, we are bound to obey His will without hesitation. AND we are His to do with as HE pleases. If we truly believed this and understood this, our church would look radically different, don’t you think? I mean, I need go no further than the man in the mirror. How different would our lives look if we understood and believed that Christ bought us, that the cross places demands upon us, that Christ is truly Master and we His slaves?
This turned Paul upside down. We know the life he lived after he encountered Christ. Persecution and slander, beatings beyond number, imprisonments, afflictions, hardships, scourges and whippings, stoning: this was the life to which Christ called Paul. Hardly healthy, wealthy, and happy was it in the eyes of men. No one would naturally sign up for this, not if left to themselves. It is remarkable to read and see the source of such treatment. The apostle tells us that five time he received at the hands of the Jews the fort lashes less one” (2 Cor. 11:24).  And Luke tells us in Acts 14:19 that Jews from Antioch “stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” Why this is so needful to point out is simply to underscore the difference between the two kinds of men (and teachers) on display in Galatians. Both were religious. Both were believers. But one kind of man, one kind of believer/teacher, insisted upon the necessity of keeping the law (cf. Acts 15:5). The other kind of man, that is, the one named Paul, the one who gloried in the cross, bears “scars for the cause of Jesus” (HCSB), thus proving him to belong to Christ. The marks on Paul’s body proved he was no politician, seeking to satisfy his own ambitions and appetites. They proved Paul wasn’t interested in self-preservation. The only thing he wished for is pleasing his master, even if it meant tremendous, unbearable pain, let alone mere discomfort or even inconvenience on a Sunday morning.
On the morning of July 6th, 1415, John Huss was burned at the stake. For seven months he endured tortuous imprisonment.  The conditions were dark and rancid. His feet were bound. His hands chained to the wall. His trials were nothing more than mockeries. His attempts to defend himself were lost in the sea of accusations against him. Even his silence, a position he took when it was clear whatever he said made no difference, was construed as admission of guilt.  And so, on a summer’s day, in a field outside the city, John Huss was tied to a stake and burned.[3] What makes a man choose to endure jail time and mockery and being labeled a heretic and a painful death over simply recanting and life, even life free from trouble? For John Huss, he believed what he preached. And what Huss preached was in step with Scripture, namely that no man but Christ Himself is Lord of the Church. Christians therefore must not submit to the pope, but Christ alone.  Just listen to what he wrote:  “If the papal utterances agree with the law of Christ, they are to be obeyed. If they are at variance with it, then Christ’s disciples must stand loyally…with Christ against all papal bulls [edicts or decrees] whatsoever and be ready, if necessary, to endure malediction and death. When the pope uses his power in an unscriptural way, to resist him is not a sin, it is a mandate.”[4] John Huss was a slave. Christ was his master. Consequently, he bore in his body the marks of Jesus even unto death.
Slavery & Biblical Christianity
There are five points of contact between slavery in the first century and Biblical Christianity.[5] First, slaves were the property of and in the absolute control of their respective owners.  Unlike hired servants, slaves were not free to quit. Nor were they free to engage in that which was a matter of choice. The slave was always subject to another’s will, namely his lord’s or master’s, the one who bought him & thus owned him.
And so, Paul speaks of those who “belong to Christ” (Gal. 5:24), of those He redeemed from all lawlessness, “a people for His own possession” (Titus 2:14), even those with a master in heaven (Col. 4:1). Listen: If Christ died for you, you are not your own. Christ is your Savior. He is also your owner. He is your Master. You are at His disposal; He is not at yours.
Second, slavery also means obedience & submission. Just listen to this! “Slaves know no law but their master’s word; they have no rights of their own; they are absolute possessions of their master; and they are bound to give their master unquestioning obedience.”[6] That ‘slaves know no law but their master’s word’ is cause for pause and deep reflection here. I remind you of that which Paul pens in Galatians 6:2. Keeping in step with the Spirit means bearing “one another’s burdens, and so [fulfilling] the law of Christ.” Does freedom from Mosaic Law give permission for unholy living? The life and Spirit-inspired writing of the one who wrote this very epistle unequivocally say, ‘Not on your life!’ Freedom from Old Covenant Law does not equal loose living according to some subjective notion of the Spirit’s ministry. The Ten Commandments, as the summary statement of the Old Covenant Law, do not govern the believer. That is true. But equally true is this: What governs the believer is the Law of Christ. Christ, who is superior to Moses, governs the believer, the one who belongs to Christ. And He does so from the inside out, by His Spirit, and not from the outside in. Why did God the Father choose whom He chose? Peter tells us in the introduction of his 1st letter. He tells us that the Father did so “for obedience to Jesus Christ.”    So, let us be reminded: Disobedience to Christ is at odds with slavery to Christ. And only the enslaved to Christ is a Christian.
Third, slaves had one aim in life, namely to do what they were told. When they weren’t told what to do in explicit terms, they were to find ways to please their masters.  To please Christ in all respects, to do that which pleases Him, which finds His approval and comes from devotion to Him, is in view here.
Fourth, slaves were absolutely dependent upon their masters for everything. Food, shelter, and all the essentials for living came from the one who owned the slave. Slavery had its benefits, especially if you had a good and merciful master. The Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) renders Psalm 123:1-2 in such a way that brings it to bear on this. Where most English translations say ‘servants,’ the LXX uses the word for ‘slaves.’ The Psalmist writes, “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of ‘slaves’ look to the hand of their master…so our eyes look to the Lord our God…” So, Jesus says, “….do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…your heavenly Father knows you need them all…” (Mat. 6:25ff.). Slaves obeyed their masters. But masters, good masters, provided for their slaves.
Fifth, slaves were 100% accountable to their masters. Whatever they did, they were answerable to their owners. A pleased master resulted in a rewarded slave. But disciplinary action rewarded the slave whose master was unimpressed. Though rare, under Roman law such action could include crucifixion, amputations, hot tar, or the rack.
Christians are also accountable to their Master.  Elsewhere, the apostle writes that “each one of us will give an account of himself to God,” standing before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10, 12). To the one who perseveres, the Master will say, “Well done, good an faithful slave. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21). To the other slaves, He will say, “You wicked and slothful slave!” and then cast them into the outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat. 25:26ff.).
There is one thing that needs to be underscored at this point. Slavery in the Bible does not mean doing something against one’s will necessarily. It can mean, and often does mean, doing that which is more desirable. Take sin, for example. Why do people sin? Why do people do what they do, whatever it might be? We do what we do because we want to do it. Our wills our enslaved to our wants. Our desires and affections determine everything we do. It doesn’t matter if we’re 2, 22, or 52: we will do what is most desirable to us at any given moment. So, Christ says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. Do not, therefore, think the slave-master relationship between believer and Jesus in terms of a cold and frigid, duty-bound, affectionless, joyless arrangement. It isn’t that.
But what is Paul saying?
But what is Paul saying here in Galatians 6:17? Is he saying ‘Let this epistle settle the matter because I bear on my body proof that I am Christ’s and thus His slave?’ If this is what he means, it would be true. But I doubt that’s what he means.  I doubt it because every Christian, as the Bible defines the term, is a slave of Christ. Surely, to exhort a group of churches to give him no further trouble on the matters addressed throughout this epistle, simply because he was a Christian, could not be what he’s saying here. Otherwise, any Christian could make the same appeal regarding any matter of doctrine, any interpretation of the Scriptures, and any novel perspective on that which is forever fixed. The result would be doctrinal chaos, doctrinal confusion, and the eternal doom of millions upon millions upon millions of men. Why did Paul write Galatians? He doesn’t state explicitly per se what lies deep in his heart. But the apostle might as well have. Beginning in chapter 2 third verse [Paul tells of a previous trip to Jerusalem he made with Barnabas and Titus]:
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised [and thus obligate himself to the law], though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery [i.e. to the Mosaic Law] – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
Question: It is true that every slave of Christ be about the business of preserving the gospel, but by whose authority? Who’s to say that that slave’s interpretation is correct and this one’s incorrect? Do you understand? “Let this settle the matter because I’m a Christian, because I’m a seminary grad, because I’m a pastor with 50 years of Bible study under my belt doesn’t quite cut it! Seems real shaky to me!
I will not recite the entire chapter. But if I did, we would together discover that in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul again defends his apostleship. He defends his apostleship against those he refers to as ‘super-apostles,’ at least in their eyes. What they truly are is false apostles, boasting in their mission. What we would also discover is that Paul uses the terms for ‘servant’ and ‘apostle’ as if they were interchangeable. This isn’t always the case. Context determines such things.  But in this chapter it is evident that a servant is an apostle and an apostle a servant. And so when one gets to the 23rd verse, it all falls into place. “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one,” Paul says, “I am talking like a madman- with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one…” and on he goes, listing his experiences as a slave of Christ, but also as an apostle of Christ.  In other words  Paul appeals to his “brand-marks of Jesus” as the marks and seal of his apostleship.
So hear verse 17. Paul essentially says this: “Let what I have written settle the matter of the gospel. Let what I have written settle the matter of Law and Gospel. Let what I have written settle the matter on the role of law in the one who embraces the gospel. Let this be forever settled because I bear in my body proof of my apostleship and thus authority in these matters. Authority is always the issue, isn’t it? It is. It is indeed. To whom do we listen? Upon what do we rely?
The Benediction
A word of exhortation, of explanation: and finally, a word of benediction. The 18th verse: “The grace of our lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” Let me close with the words of the commentator. I cannot improve upon them:

“After all his sorrow, amazement, censure, and despondency, he parts with them in kindness; after all the pain they had cost him, yet were they dear to him; and ere he lifts his hand from the parchment, it writes, as a parting love-token” (John Eadie).

As we conclude our studies in Galatians, I urge you all to not forget all that we’ve covered. Forget not Galatians. Don’t let the dust of time blow over it and bury it. It’s too crucial of a book for that to happen. So read it often. And whatever you do, remember: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” He who bore the marks of Jesus on his body presses this upon us.
 


[1] Louw & Nida.
[2] The Holman Christian Standard Bible correctly translates doulos as ‘slave.’
[3] MacArthur, Slave, 57-8.
[4] As quoted by MacArthur, 62-3.
[5] I am indebted to John MacArthur for this material. I highly commend his book “Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity In Christ.”
[6] William Barclay, The Letters of James & Peter (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 39 as quoted by MacArthur.

 

The Family of God: Galatians 3:26-29

Introduction

The well-known theologian J.I. Packer once said that the Biblical teaching of adoption into God’s family was the “Cinderella” of doctrines. We all know that fairy tale about the beautiful maid who was neglected, abused and despised. Yet Cinderella eventually married the prince of the land. In a similar way, the teaching of adoption is misused and forgotten. But when the wedding day of the Prince of Peace comes, this doctrine will shine in all its glory. However, this teaching is not only for the future. It is also about life now, and the Galatians and all who read it need to know it experientially.
First, we need a working definition of spiritual adoption into God’s family. Adoption is an act of God’s saving grace whereby he gives all believers in Jesus Christ since Pentecost the position, privileges, and responsibilities of adult sons in his family. The position of an adult son in God the Father’s family is a blessing of Christ’s new and better covenant and was unknown to believers prior to our Lord’s ascension. It is closely connected with the Holy Spirit’s living in the new covenant believer. The Galatians needed to know their superior position in Christ in his new covenant, since they were being tempted to turn back to life under the law covenant, being deceived about the position, privileges, and responsibilities of those who lived under it. Long ago I learned that doctrinal knowledge is not a cure all for the Christian. However much that is fuzzy, confused, inadequate, and messed up in the lives of Christ’s followers could be improved by a correct understanding of this Biblical teaching. We can only live what we know, and a failure to know the truth builds distortions and puts Christians on spiritual wild goose chases.
Exposition:
I.          The entry point into God’s blessings is faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul has been presenting this truth throughout this book. He does so again. Why does he do this?
A.         All people do not receive spiritual blessings from God, although he loves and cares for all as his creatures (Ps 145:8-9, 15-16).

1.         People who reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have a different father (cf. Jn 8:42-47).

2.         Those who receive Jesus Christ by believing in him become children of God (cf. Jn 1:10-13).

B.         The first point that Paul wants to establish firmly in the hearts of his readers is that the entry point is faith in Christ, instead of ethnic heritage, ritual observance, having parents who are believers, being a spiritual person, caring for others, or any other alternatives people like to invent.

1.         Those who believe in Christ Jesus are sons of God. (By the way, it will become clear later why Paul uses the term sons. He is not against women; in fact, Paul uses the expression “sons and daughters” in 2 Cor 6:18, as he quotes Is 43:6 with a different purpose.) Faith in Jesus Christ is the outcome of being born of God, or what is called regeneration (1 Jn 5:1). Regeneration gives the disposition or attitude of a son of God; adoption gives the position of an adult son of God.

2.         This blessing includes all who believe—“you are all sons of God”. Adult sonship is not the exclusive privilege of a few eminent saints but the common blessing of all who believe in Jesus.

Apply: We all need to get off of and stay off of the spiritual performance treadmill. Knowing what we all possess in Christ helps keep you off when you apply the truth to your identity. Who are you, believer in Jesus? You are an adult son of God through faith in Christ Jesus. The key is faith in Christ Jesus.
 
II.          Four spiritual blessings examined
A.         We are immersed into Christ (cf. Rm 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:12-13)

1.         All believers are put into a real, vital, spiritual union with the risen and ascended Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is not something you can feel, but it does provide a foundation for your experience.

2.         The Spirit uses the term immersed to communicate that we are joined to Christ in the fullness of his redeeming work, since baptism or immersed means to be submerged, inundated, overwhelmed, totally surrounded by, or overcome. When you are baptized as a believer in water, you give witness to this baptism by the Spirit into Christ.

B.         We are clothed with Christ.

1.         “The expression conveys a striking suggestion of the closeness which exists between Christ and the believer” (Guthrie, my emphasis).

2.         Again, this is not something we feel, but is also lays the foundation for our spiritual experience (cf. Rm 13:14). Here is what you are in Christ; now, be what you are.

C.         We are sons of God.

1.         The connective word “for”, which sadly is not translated by the NIV, shows the sequence of thought. “We are no longer under the supervision of the law” (3:25), “for you are all sons of God…” (my emphasis). Regeneration presents our sonship in terms of receiving a new nature or disposition, in contrast to what we were by nature in Adam. Adoption presents our sonship in terms of receiving a new legal position in God’s family, in contrast to what believers were during the time of the old covenant.

2.         Believing people under the law covenant were certainly members of God’s family, but they were “under the supervision of the law” (3:25) or “subject to guardians and trustees” (4:2). They had a place in God’s family, but not freedom (5:1) in the family. They were like little children and not grownups. For this reason, their lives and worship were regulated by the types and shadows of the law (Heb 10:1). The Spirit dwelt among them but not in them. There was fading glory, but we have lasting, surpassing glory (2 Cor 3:9-11). They could see a cloud of glory above the temple. We are the temple of God and the Spirit resides in us. They experienced fear in the presence of the glory. We experience assurance in the glory of God.

3.         When a person believes in God’s Son, the risen Jesus Christ, he or she is in union with him, whose God is his Father (Jn 20:17) and therefore also our Father. The believer is then filled with joy and peace and the love of God that is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rm 5:5). The Spirit uses love, joy, and peace to form new, fresh desires in our hearts to love, please and serve the living God by the power of the Spirit.

Quote: “To such persons the restrictions of the Mosaic law are unnecessary, and its carnal ordinances altogether unsuited; and such is the state [position] into which every believer of the gospel is brought, and such is the character to which every believer of the gospel is formed” (Brown).
Illustration: When you are able to read well and enjoy reading, you no longer need an instructor to teach you and to prod you to read. You still read, but you read in joy, and the instructor has become unnecessary. (Compare Brown, p. 74)
4.         Our standing and privileges as sons depend on nothing but our union with Christ, which is formed by faith. The apostle Paul picks three areas to demonstrate this.

a.         It is not dependent on ethnic or what some wrongly call racial distinctions: “neither Jew nor Greek”.

b.         It is not dependent on social or economic considerations: “neither slave nor free”.

c.         It is not dependent on gender differences: “neither male nor female”.

Comment: It is obvious that all these distinctions still exist in the world and nature. Christianity does not obliterate such in the world. For example, males and females have different functions in the world, the family, and the church, even during this new covenant age (cf. 1 Tm 2; 1 Cor 14). But all believers share the same blessing of God—adult sonship.
Apply: We must constantly pursue and apply this unity of adult sonship. Every church needs to be remade practically in this teaching.
D.         We are heirs according to the promise.

1.         Here we find that believers are the true spiritual seed of Abraham. Since we are seed, we are the heirs of the promise made to him. We do not reach this position by the law covenant but by the fulfillment of the promise covenant in Jesus Christ.

2.         Being such, we are heirs of God’s promises. We have an inheritance of glory (Eph 1:14; Rm 8:17).

3.         Being such, we are to be a blessing to the world. This puts us on the fulfillment of our missional agenda.

Apply: Look at your life this way. I am an heir of God’s promises in Christ. How can I be a blessing to the people I interact with regularly? This week seek to be a blessing to five people you meet outside of your family and your fellowship of believers.

Things Into Which Angels Long to Look – Todd Braye

The Definite & Particular Atonement of Christ
1 Peter 1: 10-12
Introduction
This is the first day of that week set aside to focus on the passion, or suffering, of Christ, I thought it fitting to address you concerning the atonement of Christ. The material will, as I have said, be familiar to you. But lest the things we assume become things we abandon and forget, we remind ourselves of that which is the fountainhead of hope. Hear then, the word of God as it reads in 1 Peter 1:10-12 (NASB95):

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. [1]

It has been said on more than one occasion that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Though that may be the case, it is also the case that fools for Christ rush in where angels long to look. Such a place into which these celestial creatures desire to gaze is described in our text by the words ‘salvation [in verse 10],’ ‘grace [also in the 10th verse],’ ‘sufferings of Christ [verse 11],’ and ‘gospel [in the 12th verse].’ Upon a short but Biblical reflection upon these terms, it would be discovered that these words point towards & speak of the crux of Biblical Christianity, namely atonement. ‘Salvation’ points to, is founded upon, flows out of, and is secured by the atonement of Christ. ‘Grace,’ even sovereign grace, speaks of the unmerited, undeserving, saving favour by which the atonement of Christ is made. The ‘sufferings of Christ’ are essential to atonement.  And the gospel itself is the good news of atonement.  As that which effects the reconciliation of sinners to God, atonement is also that by which sinners are both justified & sanctified.  Furthermore, the people of God have always rejoiced in God with a joy inexpressible for His provision of atonement. Now, I need to preface what I am about to say by saying that the atonement of Christ is a ‘gi-normous’ doctrine. There is much to feed upon so much so that it will be impossible to treat the subject in its entirety in the time we have this morning. And so, what I simply hope to do, Lord willing, is to give you a broad outline of the doctrine and then spice it up with a question that addresses the heart of the one true gospel.
The Definition of Atonement
To answer first of all the question regarding to what atonement specifically refers is to embark upon a much needed if not much neglected quest.  If we were to look the word up in the Oxford Dictionary, we would find that atonement is “reparation (or the making of amends) for a wrong or injury.” While that is a helpful definition and even a good start, it is inadequate to describe the work of atonement accomplished by Christ. Biblically speaking, atonement is more than “making amends.” Biblically speaking, atonement is a sacrificial offering offered or a payment paid to bear the guilt of the people of God and thus avert, appease, turn away, placate or satisfy the wrath of God. To atone therefore is to bear guilt on account of sin and appease God.  Biblical atonement was always a priestly work. It was always for sins. It was always a necessary condition for pardon and forgiveness. There was always a cost involved. It always required the shedding of blood, i.e. death. And it was always God-ward; that is to say, the offering or payment was always to God.
The Old Testament sacrificial system, as bloody as it was, reveals much and illustrates much concerning the doctrine of atonement. Surely, it is the background against which we are to understand the work of Christ. For example, when, in Leviticus chapter 10, 16th verse Moses discovered that the priests, the sons of Aaron did not eat the sin offering according to God’s clear and precise instructions, he confronted the sons of Aaron in the 17th verse saying, with no small amount of displeasure, Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord.” We may ask ourselves why Moses was so bent out of shape. That he was ought to alert us to the fact that eating the sin offering must have had great significance. Indeed it did. Listen to what John Gill writes on this verse. He says, “by eating the sin offering, or sin itself, as it is in the original text…they made the sins of the people, for whom the offering was, in some sense their own; and they bore them, and made … atonement for them…” Shoots us forward in our thinking, does it not? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Substitution is clear – the priest in place of the people just as Christ, our great high priest, took the place of His people [He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us]. And the imputation, or transfer, of sins is equally clear – as Gill pointed out to us that ‘by eating the sin offering, or sin itself…they made the sins of the people, for whom the offering was, in some sense their own; and they bore them…’ Even so, by imputation the sins of all of Christ’s people were laid on Him so that He was reckoned as sin, bearing all the sins of His people as he hung upon a tree.
Furthermore, to illustrate that atonement not only bears the guilt of God’s people but also averts God’s wrath, we need only to open our Bibles to the 16th chapter of the book of Numbers {Go there with me]. Remember Korah? Korah was the guy who made a bunch of phone calls, gathered around himself some 250 men who evidently had clout in the congregation, and proceeded to lead a rebellion against the leadership, namely Moses & Aaron. What ensued was a double outpouring of God’s wrath, the first episode of which included the earth opening up and swallowing all who belonged to rebellious Korah. The second episode came the following day. After the congregation accused Moses & Aaron for causing the death of the Lord’s people on the previous day [when in fact such death was the result of the direct unleashing of divine anger], God once again, and not unlike the day before, showed up. Verse 43 of Numbers chapter 16: “Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Get away from this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.’” Now, remember the occasion. The sin for which God was unleashing His righteous wrath was none other than rebelliousness against God-ordained leadership. But notice what that leadership does next in the 46th verse: “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it, then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun. 47Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he took his stand between the dead and the living, that the plague was checked.””
He who is even remotely familiar with the history of the Jews will be reminded at this point of another plague that was checked. When, by the providence of God, the people of God were held in the hand of Pharaoh, a series of plagues ended with the Lord ‘going out into the midst of Egypt’ so as to strike down all the first-born. But God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt, between His people and those who were not His people. And that distinction was made via the blood of an unblemished, slaughtered lamb applied to the doorposts of every Hebrew house. When the Lord then passed through to smite the Egyptians, he passed over His people on account of the blood of the sacrificial lamb. God’s wrath unleashed that very night was turned away, propitiated because the blood supplied by the lamb was applied to the people. Again, shoots us forward in our thinking, right?  “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood.”
Atonement is an offering that bears guilt. Atonement is also an offering that turns away wrath [i.e. it propitiates – propitiation is a crucial, Biblical term that you must have in your vocabulary]. And atonement is also, in its essence, is at least one more thing. Atonement is a payment paid or a price spent. Atonement is a purchase. Or, another term that is used to refer to this purchase is ‘ransom,’ a redemption price. Three sets of verses make this clear: First set is Exodus 30:11 – 15. “The Lord also spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them…14Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and older, shall give the contribution to the Lord. The rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.”  Second verse: 2 Samuel 21:3-4. “Thus David said to the Gibeonites, ‘What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?’ Then the Gibeonites said to him, ‘We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house…” Third and final set is 1 Peter 1:18 – 19. “knowing that you were not redeemed [or ransomed] with perishable things like silver or gold, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
The atonement of Christ as the sacrificial, substitutional, Lamb of God is then, the offering and payment of Christ Himself. It is Christ Himself that bears the guilt of sinners, propitiates the wrath of God against sin and sinners, and purchases both sinners and everything required for their salvation
The Definiteness of Atonement
But the $65,000,000.00 question is ‘For whom did Christ make atonement?’ Or, another way of phrasing the question is ‘For whom did Christ die?’ ‘On behalf of whom did Christ bear guilt, turn away and satisfy wrath, and purchase redemption from the penalty, power, and even presence of sin?’ Before you respond to what may seem to you to be a no-brainer, consider for a moment, that your answer will reveal whether or not you believe God actually and effectually saves all by Himself, or if he needs a little help. Your answer will also be telling of your estimation of the gospel and whether or not you embrace the gospel of the Holy Scriptures.
Listen to what J.I Packer has to say on the subject. In his introductory essay on John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Packer writes:

“Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel [i.e. the biblical gospel] for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’ too – more so, indeed, than the new- but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially and proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre is man…Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him…From this change of interest has sprung a change of content…”

In other words, what Packer seems to be saying, at least in part, is that in large part the professing church has replaced its eyeglasses. It has replaced the lenses of God-centeredness with man-centeredness as if the gospel was first and foremost about man. The gospel isn’t that. It isn’t about man. The gospel is about the splendour of God and the maximum display of the glory of God in all His sovereignty and holiness and righteousness and wisdom and wrath and justice and mercy and grace. And it’s about Christ in all His love for His Father and complete submission to His will even unto death. And it just so happens that in order to display these things, God had to decree a fall that He might display a ‘rising again.’ Which means that salvation and the gospel is a means to a further end; it is not the end in itself. God does not exist for our happiness. Neither does God exist for us; but we exist for Him. Flip that upside down, make man the center, and I would argue that a correct view of God becomes impossible and life will consequently be utterly joyless. All this to say that our answers to theological questions must be God-centred [and therefore joy producing] not man-centred [and therefore empty].
For whom then, did Christ make atonement?  Essentially, there are two answers, both of which contradict each other and diametrically oppose each other. One answer, simply put, is that Christ died and thus made atonement for all men without exception. In this view, the death of Christ makes possible the salvation of every man, woman, and child that has been or shall be born. Atonement is limited in this view; it is limited by the absence of faith. In other words, the effectiveness of Christ’s death hinges upon whether or not it is met by trust. In my observation, this view is the predominant view of evangelical churches, at least in this country and doubtlessly in the U.S. The other answer is that Christ died and thus made atonement for all men without distinction, but not without exception. In other words, Christ did not die for each and every man, woman, and child who ever lived, lives, or shall live. Christ died rather, only for those chosen in Him before the foundation of the world [before time began]. In this view, salvation isn’t possible for everyone. Salvation is, rather, purchased and made certain for the elect. Atonement is also limited in this view, not by a man’s faith, but rather by the design and intention of God.
Which position is the correct one? Before I draw your attention to three portions of Scripture, it is most beneficial for us to pause and reflect on the mission of Christ on earth. “It is a trustworthy statement: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “And she will bear a Son; and you will call His name Jesus; for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” “When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” [“Tetelestai” – ended, completed, executed, accomplished!] And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.”  That that for which Christ came into the world was accomplished is indisputable. Christ fully accomplished the atoning work of redemption. Therefore, every soul for whom Christ died will never see the fires of hell. Christ bore their guilt in full. Christ completely propitiated God’s wrath as their substitute which means that the wrath of God due them was spent on Christ. For them there is no hell to pay. And Christ was and is their complete redemption price, their ransom. There is nothing left whatsoever to pay. Christ purchased those for whom He died. And those whom He purchased shall never be snatched from His hand. Christ alone atones. Faith does not atone. Faith connects us to the atonement, but it does not atone. Now, think it through. If one soul for whom Christ died was ever cast into the lake of fire, Christ would have indeed failed in His mission. He did not save His people from their sins. In fact, if that were the case, Christ did not finish anything thereby making Himself a liar. The inerrancy, infallibility and authority of God’s Word would no longer hold any water – at which point I’d be looking for a new job, you’d be wasting your time, and a countless number died a fiery death for no good reason. This ought to leave a burning question: What about those who do end up in hell? Faith is not the determining and decisive factor in one’s eternal destiny, God is. Translation: The decisive factor concerning those who end up in hell is not because they believed not, but because, in the sovereign purpose of God, they were not chosen in Christ before time and therefore were not atoned for in time. Three texts and then three points of application (namely justice, joy, and evangelism):
1. First text – 1st Timothy 2: 3 – 6, our focus being the 6th verse. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.”  Question: In what sense are to understand that Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all?” ‘All’ means all without distinction, not all without exception. In other words, the ‘all’ refers to all kinds of men, not each and every man. I get this from 1 Timothy 2: 2 where Paul equates all men with ‘kings and all who are in authority. Clearly, he does not mean each and every man, but only those in various positions of governance & rule. I get this also from the 7th verse of this chapter in which Paul says that he was appointed as a teacher to the Gentiles, or ‘nations.’ In other words, to all nations, not just the Jewish nation. I get this also from the broader context of scripture in which all does not always mean each and every. Case in point: Genesis chapter 6. Between the 13th and 17th verses of that chapter, God says that he will destroy all flesh. Verse 13: “Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh is before Me.’” A little later, same verse, same reference to all flesh, God says, “I am about to destroy them [i.e. all flesh] with the earth.” Verse 17: “I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is in the earth shall perish.” ALL flesh? Really? EVERYTHING? Really? If by ‘all flesh’ and ‘everything’ God meant ‘each and every,’ then why did Noah build an ark? Was Noah and his family, along with countless creatures, not rescued from the waters of judgment? Either God is a liar, or He simple means to say all flesh without distinction, not all flesh without exception. And here’s the clincher: Revelation 5, verse 9. “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain [there’s the cross], and didst purchase for God with Thy blood [there’s ransom for atonement] men from [or out of] every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Not each and every man from every tribe and tongue and nation, but simply men from every tribe and nation. In other words, Christ purchased certain men from the mass of humanity. In other words, when Paul says that Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all, he means that Christ purchased all men in the sense that He purchased certain men from all nations of men.
2. Second text – John 10: 11. There Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  He repeats Himself in verse 15 just in case we missed it the first time: “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Who are these sheep? Upon an honest reading the entire 10th chapter of John, one would discover that the sheep are actually those unconditionally elected, irresistibly called, and sovereignly kept. They are those of whom sovereign grace enables to rise from their spiritual death, hear the voice of the Son of God, and the follow the Son of God in affectionate obedience. Does this sound like every man to you? This isn’t every man though it is to be seen among all men in the sense that Christ has laid down His life for men of every nation, both Jews and Gentiles. “I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also…and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.” [cf. Eph. 2:11-21 for the best commentary on the two becoming one flock- aside].
3. Third text – Matthew 20:28. Jesus says, “The Son of Man did come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [i.e. a purchase price] for many.” Again, ‘many,’ if language means anything, is not all in the sense of ‘each’ and ‘every.’ If it be that angels long to look into such things, the prophets are said to make careful search of such matters. The 11th verse of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah agrees with Christ. It says “My Servant [that is Christ] will justify the many and He will bear their iniquities [i.e. the iniquities of many].” The next verse says, “He Himself bore the sin of many.”
There are other Scriptures to which we could turn (take John 11:51 – 52 which records the prophecy of Caiaphas, for instance) but that would get tedious. Three quick points of application.
1. The first point concerns justice and probably answers an objection – How is it fair that Christ should die for a select few when compared to the billions of people who have ever lived? I don’t think that’s the right question. It’s not the right question because it makes a man-centred, un-Biblical assumption, namely that we deserve to be rescued from hell. Beloved, listen. No one deserves to be rescued from wrath. No one has any claim or entitlement to grace. God would be entirely just if each and every man who was or shall be born, save One, would be left to bear his own sin and feel the crushing, unspeakable, indescribable, unknowable, full brunt of divine displeasure on account of his countless sins. Because the modern church has lost a keen sense of the holiness of God, we treat Him lightly. We approach Him all too often as if it were a thing of no consequence. We rush into His presence as if we were a kid in a candy store. And we live before Him, coram Deo, as if sins and sinfulness were far less offensive to Him and far less sinful than they actually are. If God were to punish each and every human, save Christ, by unleashing His eternal, fiery anger upon them, God would be absolutely righteous and just in doing so. So, the question ought not be “Why did Christ not die for everybody?” Rather, the question ought to be “Why did Christ die for anybody?”
2. Joy – How does this doctrine produce joy?  Well, joy comes from a least two truths. First, joy flows from the knowledge that atonement is certain, not merely possible. Joy comes from knowing that the atonement of Christ is a complete atonement and that nothing is required from me to make it more complete. Joy comes from knowing that it is Christ who in fact made complete atonement for sin, my faith does not atone. Nor does anything I do, including turn from sin. And so if my faith be small or weak, or sin seem greater than grace on any particular day, or repentance weak, the fact of atonement changes not. Nothing sinners do undoes what Christ did on their behalf.
Second, joy comes from God’s justice. Since Christ fully and actually accomplished my atonement, and thus that divine wrath which is due me was completely satisfied by Christ, being spent of Him, then what have I to fear?  Since God is just, He does not require double payment for my sins. Christ paid my ransom in full. It is as Spurgeon writes: “God must change his nature before one soul, for whom Jesus was a substitute, can ever by any possibility suffer the lash of the law. Therefore, Jesus having taken the place of the believer– having rendered a full equivalent to divine wrath for all that his people ought to have suffered as the result of sin, the believer can shout with glorious triumph, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Not God, for he hath justified; not Christ, for he hath died, “yea rather hath risen again.” My hope lives not because I am not a sinner, but because I am a sinner for whom Christ died; my trust is not that I am holy, but that being unholy, he is my righteousness. My faith rests not upon what I am, or shall be, or feel, or know, but in what Christ is, in what he has done, and in what he is now doing for me. On the lion of justice the fair maid of hope rides like a queen” (Morning & Evening, September 25).
3. Third point of application concerns evangelism. Since Christ died for the elect only, how then shall we evangelize? In a word, we evangelize faithfully. That is, we do not tell everybody that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. [God had a plan for Pharaoh, and it wasn’t wonderful, not to him.] But we do tell them that they must turn from their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has made an actual atonement for actual sinners, a definite redemption for definite sinners, and all who come to Him He will in no wise cast out.
Fools for Christ rush in where angels long to look and prophets have made careful search. So, I now exhort you, rush in. Be noble-minded and search the Scriptures for yourselves to see if these things are so. And as you do so by God’s grace, your affections for Christ will increase, your joy will become more and more inexpressible, you will be strengthened in your faith, and you will grow both in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
 


[1] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Pe 1:10–12). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

 

Keep in Step with the Spirit (13)

“Glorying in the Cross” (2)
(Two Kinds of Men continued.)
Todd Braye


Galatians 6:11-16
Introduction
Todd Braye
In verse 14 of our text, the apostle Paul passionately declares that he glories in nothing but the cross of Christ. He contrasts himself with those making much of law, almost shouting to his readers, and to us, that it be far from him “to boast [in anything] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When one takes this to heart and considers the fact that he himself once took pride in the law, and in keeping the law, being zealous for the traditions of his fathers, such a declaration ought to “kick” us in the pants.  Just think on it: Paul, once zealous for the Law, now a zealot for the cross. At one time, the apostle would have been on the same page with the kind of men he describes in the previous two verses, more or less. But now he labors to set himself completely apart from them.  As one noted, “Pride in the Law has been displaced by pride in the Cross; pride in righteousness as an achievement, by pride in that which empties him of pride.”[1] Furthermore, and moreover, it should not be missed: what the apostle has so obviously engaged in, needs to be the activity of the church in every generation, namely self-criticism.[2] It’s true. In writing against those dead earnest for law, he was pitting himself against the man he once was. Why he did this is before us, in verse 14. When one sees the cross in all its glory, when one sees the cross as the Great Divide of redemptive history, the end of the law and the beginning of covenantal grace[3] with all that Christ achieved for sinners there, then his posture will mimic the apostle’s. He will glory in the cross. Everything else will seem to be a thing shameful to him, as though nailed to a piece of wood.
In the 15th verse explanation is given. Paul tells us why he glories exclusively in the cross. He tells us that he so glories for three reasons. He so glories in the cross because by it (1) Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, (2) Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and (3) New Covenant promises are realized (or fulfilled).
(1) Old Covenant Distinctions Neutralized
Verse 15: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision…” This is an old covenant distinction. It is a distinction belonging to the time and era before Christ came. It is a distinction that marked the time before Christ died, was buried, rose to life, ascended, was enthroned on David’s throne, and sent His Spirit. Jews were circumcised. Other nations were uncircumcised. You need not go there. But in Genesis 17, Moses records the ‘why’ of the mark. He writes these words:

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.’”[4]

Moses goes on to tell us this mark was a sign of this covenant God made with Abraham and his offspring. Every male, whether born a Jew or bought by a Jew, wore the mark. Every other nation did not wear the sign. God had sovereignly, for no reason outside Himself, made a distinction between the nation that would come from Abraham’s loins and every other nation (Gentiles).
The language of the first exodus illustrates this distinction, this ethnic, national distinction, enormously well. Even a quick reading of that book of law bears this out. You recall the burning bush. Moses was minding his own business, tending Jethro’s flock. And the Lord appeared to him in a flame and says to him, “I have surely seen the affliction of MY people who are in Egypt…”[5] God claims the sons of Abraham, the Hebrews, to be His people. He does not say this of any other nation, not the Egyptians or the Canaanites or the Hittites, or the Amorites or the Jebusites! God knew & cared for Israel in a way that He did not know any other ethnic group or family or tribe or tongue.[6] The God who is is a God who makes distinctions among men! And He does so sovereignly.
Then we fly over the plague sequence. To the king of Egypt, through Moses the prophet, the Lord repeatedly commands, “Let MY people go, that they may serve me.” “Let MY people go, that they may serve me.”  Not every people group was God’s people. There were the Hebrews, the Israelites, the sons of Israel, Abraham’s grandson…and there was everybody else. Israel was the object of divine favor; the Gentiles not so much.
The final plague bears this out even more explicitly. Let’s allow Moses to stir our memories. “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock [The pain and economic hit Japan took pales in comparison]. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.”[7]
Such was the divine judgment on all who lived in Egypt. It begs the question, does it not? What about the sons of Abraham? What about “MY people,” those marked in the flesh by the sign of the covenant, i.e. circumcision? Were they not in Egypt, amongst the Egyptians?      // When the Lord revealed what the final plague/judgment would be to Moses, he told Moses that…

“There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt…. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”[8]

Israel was circumcised. It bore the sign of God’s promise to Abraham. Egypt did not. And so the Passover came to pass, the blood of lambs on Hebrew doorposts. And so the exodus, “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.” He knew them in a way that he did not know any other nation or people group.
To further establish this distinction, a quick look at the fifth book of the law is enough. In Deuteronomy 7 we find the circumcised ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. Moses commands the nation to not marry anyone from another nation. And then he lists reasons for that command. Among them is the foundational reason stated in the sixth verse of that chapter.  He tells them that they “…are a people holy to the Lord [their] God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Above all peoples and nations, the Lord had “set his heart in love”[9] on the nation called Israel, the so-called “covenant community.”
But here in Galatians, Paul unabashedly declares this distinction to be neutralized. Covenantally speaking, the playing field is now level. It doesn’t matter if one is circumcised or not. It matters not if one is a Jew or not. One’s family tree counts for nothing this side of the cross. “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28. Distinctions based on who one’s parents are, of nationality, of genealogy, are no more.  No more is the question, “From what stock are you?” a question of any weight. God does not bless on the basis of flesh and blood. On the other hand, on the other side of the evangelical spectrum, it must be noted: Israel does not have a future simply because of its family tree.[10] The only thing that avails & counts is the cross. The cross neutralizes (nullifies) Old Covenant distinctions.
We know the cross divides. We know the cross places a wall between men. But here we see the cross making peace between men, bringing them together. The apostle makes this explicit in his epistle to the Ephesians chapter two. There he calls upon the Ephesian saints, “Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision,” to remember that at one time they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants, having no hope and without God in the world.” “But now,” he writes, “in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one [i.e. circumcised and uncircumcised, Jews & Gentiles, Israel and non-Israel] & has broken down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in the place of the two (i.e. Jews & Gentiles, Israel & non-Israel), so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross…”[11] The cross neutralizes Old Covenant distinctions! Ethnic Israel or not, it matters not. The cross nullifies the distinction. The cross creates one new body, the church, from two bodies that are not the church, namely the Old Covenant community of Israel & every other nation.
(2) Old Covenant Privileges Nullified
The cross neutralizes Old Covenant distinctions. And it also nullifies Old Covenant privileges. To be numbered amongst the circumcised was to be numbered amongst those with great advantages. “To begin with, Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”[12] God spoke to them directly, “at many times and in many ways.”[13] “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”[14] God cared for them, rescued them from their enemies, fed them, favored them, and imposed a covenant upon them. He gave them His law. Four hundred and thirty years after the covenant of circumcision, the circumcised nation met God at Sinai. Just listen to how Moses sums this covenant up. Listen now! This is beyond fascinating. It’s as striking as it is undeniable. Exodus 34.28

“So he [Moses] was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water[15](!). And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” Exodus 34.28

Why this is so striking is what Hebrews 8.13 states. It says this: “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete.” It was a great privilege to have special revelation from God. To be given that which is ‘holy, righteous and good,’ was of tremendous advantage. It was so for a number of reasons. But ultimately it was so because it spoke of Christ and His work, but only by way of shadow. “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities…”[16] says the writer to the Hebrews. But now that Christ, “the true form,” has come, what need is there for a shadow? Do we love the shadow or the person? Do we love the shadow our spouses cast, or do we love our spouses themselves? “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross,” says Paul, “for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [things Old Covenant] counts for anything.”
The point to grasp in context here is this: In light of the cross, the Old Covenant is a non-issue. Whether one was a Jew or a Gentile was beside the point. That is to say, whether one possessed the law or not, and therefore knew what the law demanded or not, was irrelevant. After all, Jews had the law. And the uncircumcised, not having the law, not blessed with that possession and advantage, were ‘lawless.’ They were not put under “the covenant, the ten commandments.” But these matters no longer matter. We’ll get to the heart of the matter in a moment. For now, Paul is telling us that Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized. The cross does this. Therefore, Old Covenant privileges are nullified as well. Nothing that we ourselves do, or have done to us, as adults or infants, counts before God. It has no saving merit. It does not put us into a privileged place before God. It matters not if our families are believers, or if they are flaming pagans, with not a Bible in sight. Incidentally, we can have bookshelves full of Bibles and even read them studiously. In and of itself, such activity doesn’t mean much. The Jewish scribes did this, and to no avail, right? We must be mindful to not think in ways Old Covenant. To think Old Covenant is to think like Nike Shoes and ‘Just do it.’ ‘Just do it’ and you’ll win. ‘Just do it’ and you’ll win the race. That’s what the false teachers were telling the Galatian believers. Just get circumcised. Just observe the special days. Just keep the law. Just do any number of things the Scriptures commend and command, and you’ll be saved. And so Paul says to them, “You were running well [i.e. apart from the Old Covenant). Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Galatians 5:7.  ‘Who tripped you up, trying to sell you an old, worthless pair of running shoes?’
New Covenant Promises Realized
Paul glories in the cross because by it (1) Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, (2) Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and (3) New Covenant promises are realized (or fulfilled).  The only thing that counts in light of the cross is “a new creation.” It is claimed that Paul uses this phrase in two ways. Sometimes he uses it to mean the new age of the last days, the period of redemptive history brought about by the Christ event.[17] “If anyone is in Christ,” he writes elsewhere, “he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[18] There may be a sense of that here.
However, it is best to take “a new creation” as the matter of the heart. The only thing that counts is the heart of the matter, which is the matter of the heart. Read the prophets. Read Ezekiel. Discover for yourself what God promised to do in the new age of the last days. See that He said He would give His people a new heart, that He would put His Spirit within His people, even the people of Israel.[19] What is “a new creation?” I love how John Brown puts it. He puts it like this: It is “the mind and heart transformed by divine truth regarding the cross of Christ, made effectual by divine influence.”[20] There is a change of character. The way a man thinks is altogether changed. The way he acts is altogether changed.  New affections are given. He loves God. His soul magnifies the Lord. His greatest joy is the exultation of Christ. And His greatest sorrow is to see Christ diminished. This IS something. This and nothing else! This IS something. And this is not something one can just do. This is God’s work. This is God by His Spirit radically changing hearts, even by the power of a creative act! It’s called a new CREATION for a purpose!
Lamentable is the fact there is a low view of what a Christian is, of what regeneration is. Any number of people can claim to be one. Anyone can call himself a Christian, believing himself to be one, and yet know nothing of this new creation. He may think that since he does this or that, since he keeps in good company and attends the right church, or since he engages in any number of religious exercises, wears the right clothes, and refrains from certain activities, that he is a believer. Beloved, think with me a moment. What kind of power did God have to exercise when creating the universe? What kind of power did God exert when forming Mount Norquay or Sulfur Mountain or even Mount Robson? What does it take for God to knit a baby in its mother’s womb? That is creative power! Creative power is the power that gives life where there is no life! And that is precisely the power involved in the new creation. It is divine. It’s real. And it’s unmistakable! This is a transforming power, one that changes a man in the core of his being. What makes one a Christian is not what one does; what makes a man a true Christian is what God does by His Spirit.  And when God transforms a life, giving a new heart, sending His Spirit, even the Spirit of His Son, into a man’s heart, faith works through love – love for God, for Christ, for His Word, for the church, for the lost. He seeks not, nor cares for, the smiles of those at the hockey arena, or wherever.
A Final Benediction
By the cross, Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and New Covenant promises are realized.
And finally, the apostle gives a final benediction. In verse 16, he says: “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” This is an enormously crucial verse. In it, Paul pronounces a blessing upon all who walk, or live in accordance to, or better, keep in step with, this rule, peace and mercy be upon them. Keep in step with what rule? What is this rule? “Rule” here is a standard or principle, a measuring rod. Here, it refers to the standard of true Christianity.[21] Now hear this, beloved. The apostolic standard of Christianity, the apostolic standard of the Gospel is what Paul writes in verses 14 and 15. The center and crux of it is the cross. By it, Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and New Covenant promises are realized. The essence of true Christianity is spiritual, of the heart, a new creation. Anything or anyone else, any theology, “Christian,’ “evangelical,” or otherwise, that does not keep in step with this standard, is false. It isn’t true to the Biblical standard. Paul isn’t blessing such ones.   He’s blessing those who keep in step with what he has set as the standard.
But who are they exactly? Are there two groups Paul blesses here, or what? It sounds like there might be two. Just look at it: “As for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, AND upon the Israel of God.” Sounds like there are two groups of men here: ‘all who walk by this rule,’ AND ‘the Israel of God.’ In fact, there is only one group of men here. Without getting too technical, context demands that the word rendered ’and’ be rendered ‘even.’ The effect is that the ‘all who walk by this rule IS the Israel of God,’ that is, the true, spiritual Israel, the church. Remember Paul’s statements defining who the son’s of Abraham are. Galatians 3.7. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Galatians3:29. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Translation: All who are joined to Christ by faith are the Israel of God!  The church is the new and true Israel. The church is that now nation which is “a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” All God promised Abraham, God now gives to the church. The church, Abraham’s spiritual sons and daughters, is the heir “according to promise.”
Conclusion
There are a thousand ways to conclude. And there are, no doubt, a thousand questions that each of us could ask ourselves in response, if only to engage in some self-criticism. Two of them might be: (1) Do I have a high view of the church, even as God sees the church? The church after all, as the Israel of God, is that for whom the Lord Jesus Christ died. He died that the blessings and promises of Abraham would be lavished upon and be fulfilled in the church. The church is not, as some would have us believe, a parenthesis in redemptive history. The church is at the apex of redemptive history! The church was God’s plan since before time began! (2) Am I keeping in step with the apostolic standard of Christianity? Is the cross front and center? Is the world crucified to me and I to the world? Do I boast in it to the degree that what is objectively true is personally true, that my life reflects the truth that Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and New Covenant promises are realized in my life, that I am a new creation? These are good and relevant questions. (3) A third question might be this: Where are the teachers I most admire in relation to all this? Do they hold to the standard of Christianity the apostle sets? Or do they resist the notion that the cross nullifies old covenant distinctions and privileges? These are important matters. I do not think it to be an overstatement to say that they are life and death issues. Surely, Paul himself thought so.  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit … to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).


[1] C.H. Dodd, as quoted by Ronald Y. K. Fung. The Epistle to the Galatians, TNICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 306.
[2] Barrett, quoted by Fung, 306.
[3] By this I do not mean ‘covenant of grace’ as per covenant theology. I mean grace as in the New Covenant in opposition to the Law Covenant at Sinai.
[4] Genesis 17:9-10
[5] Ex. 3.7
[6] Amos 3.1.
[7] Ex. 12.29-30
[8] Ex. 11:7
[9] Deut. 10:15
[10] Rom. 11.28-29 teach that the grace of unconditional election is the ultimate cause of any number of ethnic Jews to be saved, not their ancestry. To understand the chapter, verse 1 must not be forgotten: Paul himself was a Jew. He was not rejected because of it, but was saved as any other man. Sovereign grace and mercy is to all men, not just the Gentiles!
[11] Eph. 2:12-16
[12] Rom. 3.1.
[13] Heb. 1:1
[14] Rom. 9.4
[15] cf. Matt. 4:1-2
[16] Heb. 10.1.
[17] John G. Reisinger. Studies in Galatians. (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2010),464. See also Ronald Y.K. Fung.
[18] 2 Cor. 5:17
[19] Ezek. 36:26-27.
[20] John Brown. Galatians. 380
[21] “In one passage alone (Gl. 6:16) is the word κανών used in the NT for the norm of true Christianity.” Beyer, TDNT, Logos edition.

 

The Apostle Paul's "Hermeneutical Key"

In Galatians 3:3 Paul asks his readers a life and death question.

“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?”.

My friends, For Paul it was not enough to just attribute the beginning of one’s personal salvation to God’s quickening Spirit. You must also attribute your daily walk to him for he is the saint’s Companion and the administrator of Christ’s government upon your heart. His work is so telling that Paul could state:

“For: who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16.

I find it to be quite troubling when so many ignore the thrust of Paul’s Gal 3:3 question. I personally believe it is avoided because professing Christians are embarrassed to attribute the “all” of what they do to God the Spirit. The flesh, even in the best of God’s saints, seeks to satisfy ego. In some circles professing Christians would rather attribute their “being made complete” to just about anything or anyone (myself/flesh?) other than God “in” them. Are we any different? Let’s evaluate our own circle by reflecting upon our own “NCT” conversations.
Have you come away with the sense that it is quite alright for Paul to speak of such things as long as we do not speak of such things ourselves? It’s the difference from being an astute observer but never an actual participant. Are you and I part of the “Never Ending Story” story? Are we mere readers or are we actual participants within the story?
Do you become uncomfortable when Paul speaks of the labors of the Spirit “in” and “among” God’s people? There are those who dare not speak too much along these lines. For others, if they speak of the Spirit’s activity beyond giving birth and gifting, he becomes all too mystical so they abandon such talk lest God forbid someone may over hear them. Granted, there is always the risk of sharing openly about such things. There will be consequences. Speaking of the Spirit as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 3 is enough to provoke the antinomian hunters out there into a mad feeding frenzy –even from within NCT circles! It would appear that our critics have forgotten that the Sword of the Spirit is the word of God and that word from Genesis to the Revelation.  Who needs all this talk about law when you have the complete Bible in your hand?

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Eph 6:17

Please consider all of the ramifications of Galatians 3:3. Begin in the Spirit? Yes! But what about the days, months and years since your beginning? Why won’t you go there in print or in your pulpits to address the heart of the matter? Perhaps it is because you would prefer to talk about law, all sorts of law and lots and lots of law. Some just can’t seem to get enough of it. Within NCT circles the conversations are almost always about law. Not that old era big LAW but lots of little laws and how they all fit together as the Law of Christ.
Listen to yourselves! Typical conversations almost always end up talking about what remains applicable of the Old Covenant and its body of law within the New or there is the frequent wrangling over how we are to define the Law of Christ. (With regards to the Law of Christ I’d like to hear what you have to say of its Modus operandi?)
Like it or not and despite our neglect (or ignorance) the word of God confirms the supernatural activity of the Spirit that we are so embarrassed to talk about. With the glorification of Jesus our Messiah, God has through the agency of his Holy Spirit, established a wonderful thing within those whom he has called in the New Covenant era. Get a taste of it through Paul’s prayer for God’s saints:

“I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,  (17)  and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love,  (18)  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love,  (19)  and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  (20)  Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think–according to the power that works in you–  (21)  to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21.

You just read what is considered a popular Doxology. Did you notice that not once did Paul employ the word law to communicate something of the mysterious yet great sanctifying work of God. Imagine for a moment the above context minus the words“…be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,  and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith.” The passage minus those words pretty much sums up what we hear and read from many who espouse NCT. You will not enjoy the balance of the passage minus the root. That’s the truth of that matter. If you remove those words the balance of God’s work will not happen in the life of the believer. Absent the power of God in you -you are nothing. There it is in a nutshell. That is the missing emphasis within today’s NCT circles and without it we are wasting our time. It’s the answer to Paul’s question to the churches of Galatia. (Gal 3:3) If you, as you profess, began your journey in Christ by the Spirit then you had better end your journey by the power of the same Spirit.
Paul understood the marvelous activity of the Spirit as the fulfillment of the word spoken through the Patriachs and the prophets. One example from Ezekiel:

Eze 37:24  My servant David will be king over them, and there will be one shepherd for all of them. They will follow My ordinances, and keep My statutes and obey them. (and) 36:26-27  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  (27) I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.

You know I think it really says something when someone from outside our camp such as Tom Deidun informs us that Paul understood the work of the Spirit within the life of the New Covenant community to be the “‘hermeneutical key.” It undergirded his thinking. Hear Deidun:

In the Spirit’s activity Paul sees the absolute novelty of the Christian religion: the immediacy and interiority of God’s action in Christ, creating obedience in the hearts of Christians. The immediacy of God’s presence and activity is not, of course, exclusive to Paul’s theology, since it is more or less implicit in all the New Testament writings. But it is distinctive of men of genius that they are capable of grasping the sheer wonder of what others take more or less for granted (and therefore leave more or less implicit), and of grasping it with such intensity that it becomes the dominating and formative principle of their lives and thought. So with Paul. The fact of the immediacy of God’s saving activity in the hearts of believers dominates his thought, and constitutes for him a ‘hermeneutical key’ by which both to penetrate the mystery of Christ and to interpret Old Testament prophecies and their fulfillment in the new People of God. [Page 84: Deidun, T. J. New Covenant Morality in Paul. Analecta Biblica 89. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981.]

Mind you Deidun is not from our tradition. He wasn’t raised a Southern Baptist or a Reformed Baptist and I doubt he’d flaunt Sovereign Grace credentials as some of our number. That’s what blows my mind. I didn’t glean the quote from one of your works and from the works of one of our New Covenant theologians. I would rather that I had. In fact some of you brothers can’t hold a candle to some of things he has written. You just don’t seem to understand the hermeneutical key that opens it all up. In fact I get the sense that some of you would rather avoid going where Deidun has gone. So be it. If I may be honest I have less and less time for those who deny the worth of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the believer. If you continue to address the Law of Christ and do no more than sprinkle a little dash of the Spirit here and there (if even that!) then you have failed to see the weight of what God himself has to say on this all important doctrine of the Spirit and the New.
As I conclude my time on the tree stump I’d like to re-focus your thoughts one last time upon Paul’s question.

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?

Don’t be foolish! Consider Paul’s hermeneutical key. I’ll be praying for you.
– MB
 

The Fountainhead of the Abrahamic Covenant

The fountainhead of the Abrahamic covenant and its blessings flow from Christ Jesus.  One of the blessings secured by the Abrahamic covenant is the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which was prefigured by circumcision of the flesh and pointed to the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. (Rom 2:29, Col 2:11)  The Spirit is the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant upon the hearts of those who are in Christ … Abraham’s true children.

Gal 3:14-16 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. 15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

The Abrahamic Covenant and its promises were made to Abraham AND to Jesus Christ (the Offspring).  Since the promises were made to Messiah, then the substance of them are purely eschatological, spiritual, and redemptive in nature, not fleshly, earthy, nationalistic, or geopolitical.

Gal 3:17-19 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19  Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

The law was added until the promised offspring should come.  The “offspring” is Jesus Christ.  He came as “the promise” fulfillment to the true children of Abraham, both believing Jews and Gentiles.  Jesus IS the very substance and promise of the Abrahamic Covenant who comes to his people.  The covenant that God made with Abraham was Jesus.  Jesus is the Abrahamic Covenant Incarnate.  All of the covenant promises of the Old Covenant age (Adamic, Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.) find their convergent fulfillment in the Word Incarnate, in one united New Covenant.
Jesus even indicates that he is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, when speaking of Abraham’s faith in the covenant promises.  Through the promises Abraham saw Christ’s day and was glad.  (John 8:56)
The Abrahamic geographical land promise is now understood by Paul to be the entire world. (Rom 4:13)  This present world has been redeemed by Christ and is “eagerly longing for the revealing of the sons of God”, at which time “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8:19-21)  The present Jerusalem is in bondage and we are awaiting for the appearing of the heavenly Jerusalem, of which we are now members. (Gal 4:25-26)

Though Abraham received promises of a physical land, son, nation, kingdom, etc, he forsook the earthly nature of them, calling himself a stranger and exile in the earth, and saw “by faith” that these promises were eschatological (heavenly) realities to be fulfilled in Christ.  (Heb 11:8-16)
Gal 3:20-21 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Paul is saying that it is the Promise (Christ Himself) that gives life and righteousness, not the law.

Gal 3:22-23 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.

Before faith (Christ) came the Old Covenant people were imprisoned under sin and held captive under the guardianship of the law.

Gal 3:24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Men can never be justified OR sanctified by the law . . . but only through faith in Christ alone.  The faith which justifies is the same faith which also sanctifies.

Gal 3:25-27 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Believers are no longer imprisoned “under sin” and held captive “under the law” but are now sons of God and clothed with Christ, our righteousness and life!

Gal 3:28-29  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Christ is Abraham’s Offspring (singular).  Those who are covenantally united to this Offspring through faith, being “in Christ”, are joined to his singular covenant Body and become partakers of the blessings promised to him.

Why Was the Law Given?

Galatians 3:19-25
Introduction
In the Bible God tells us the story of his glory in Jesus Christ. He wants people to know him and his joy in sharing all his richness with those who deserve wrath rather than mercy. God wants us to understand and appreciate this great story, the greatest of all stories, because he knows we become part of this story by his grace. Therefore, as we live out our part of the story, we need to understand his message clearly. Lack of clarity about the message produces confusion in our way of life. Paul has been saying that the only way to be right with God is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some false teachers had been telling the Galatians that they also needed to keep the law covenant, especially the command about circumcision. So Paul has proved that the law that came 430 years after the promise of justification cannot change the way of justification. Now he must answer an important question. “Since the law was not given to provide people with justification and life and God’s blessing, then why did God give it? What place did the law have in the plan of God?”
This is much more than some empty theological or academic question. The matter before us involves the correct way to live the life of faith as we follow Jesus Christ. To live godly and joyfully (and those two concepts cannot be separated), we need clarity of thought about three Biblical teachings: justification, adoption, and sanctification. We should also remember what is meant by the term “law”. It refers to the law covenant given on Mt. Sinai to Israel, with all its commands and regulations of life and worship.
 
Exposition: Four assertions about the law or old covenant (it is called old because a new and better covenant has been established)
I. The law was in force for a set period of time.
A. In the plan of God, the law (covenant) was added after the giving of the promise (covenant) to Abraham and to his seed, Christ (3:19). It is important to remember that the law was not added to change or modify the promise in any way.
1. The Scriptures note this definite beginning of the law (Rm 5:13, 20; 2 Cor 3:7). The law was not in force from creation or the fall. Since the same God is working out his purposes in history, in our reading of the early chapters of Genesis, we will observe consistent ideas about God and his purposes, but it is a serious mistake to import the law covenant back into that time. There are many truths you can learn in Genesis 1-3, but you cannot find the whole Bible in those three chapters.
2. This addition of the law was part of God’s purpose in gradually unfolding his plan of redemption in Jesus Christ. God created and humanity rebelled. And then God willed to let thousands of years of human history pass, until he gave the promise covenant to Abraham and hundreds of years later added the law covenant.
B. The law ended at a certain point in time (3:19, 25).
1. Beginning with the birth of Christ and culminating in our Lord’s death on the cross, the time of the law came to an end (Heb 8:7, 13; 10:5-10; Eph 2:14-15; Col 2:13-14).
2. This means that we are no longer under its supervision (3:25). In God’s good purpose his holy law (Rm 7:12) exercised this supervisory function over some people. Who were they? The old covenant nation of Israel.
 
Illustration: On the day before his crucifixion, even the Lord Jesus observed the Passover in order to keep the law. After his death and resurrection, no such observances are required. We no longer need the supervisory function of the Passover, because Christ is our Passover (1 Cor 5:7). The Lord Christ does not simply tell us what to eat one night of the year, but how to live as his pure people every day of the year.
 
II. The law was added because of transgressions (3:19).
A. Before the law was added, there was sin (Rm 5:13). But now sin became known in its character as transgression (“the conscious disobeying of definite commandments”, Cranfield, quoted by Bruce).
1. This made more of the evil of sin clear. Sin is not a preference or an alternative. It is evil; it ruins and distorts human character. Now people could see more clearly that sin is destructive behavior that people do. You might have had some terrible things happen to you, but that is not the full extent of your problem. You also are a transgressor. (I know people don’t like to hear this, but we need to see our situation clearly to want to receive the help we all so desperately need.)
2. Now people can understand sin as rebellion. People constantly walk past the boundaries in the word that God established. Open your Bibles to Colossians 3:1-17. Look at those three sections. You and I rebel against the right attitude, against getting rid of sin, and against putting on holy qualities. Fill in this worksheet in dependence on the Spirit’s help.

Three perspectives on true spirituality What I should know about true spirituality Where I need to grow in true spirituality
Colossians 3:1-4
Colossians 3:5-11
Colossians 3:12-17

B. Even more, the law had the effect of stirring up sin (cf. Rm 5:20).
1. How many times have we all seen that telling someone not to do something is taken as an invitation to do that very action? For example, what happens when you tell a child, “Don’t eat those cookies”? Before the prohibition, the child might not even have known that there were cookies to eat. Now they become irresistible!
2. What is our problem? “I have never believed in what is called morality teaching – I mean the teaching about sex which in some quarters is now being introduced into the schools, and for this reason, that, as a result of sin, the minds of children are not pure, and what such teaching is likely to do is to create in them a greater desire to know about these things and to do them. They already find out about these matters surreptitiously; and the teaching will simply intensify that interest and stimulate them to sin. Knowledge of sin has never prevented anybody from sinning. Indeed, the more one knows about it the more one is subject to the temptation to do it. So Paul says that the Law has increased sin even in that sense, that it has made us sin even more” (Lloyd-Jones, Assurance, pp. 293-294). The problem is not God’s law but the human heart, which is ruled by sin. The law made clear how desperately we all need a Savior from sin.
 
III. The law is not opposed to God’s promises (3:21-22).
A. The law was never given to usurp the place of God’s promises.
1. No law could ever give life to sinners, or else God would have given a law that could have. The only way of life for people dead in sin is by grace through faith in Christ.
2. The law can only condemn a sinner. It proclaimed God’s standard of righteousness. Such a standard must pronounce judgment on the unrighteous. That is all it can do. How could anyone ever think it could make a sinner righteous or help him become right with God?
Illustration: Rebels against a government are never improved by the government’s laws restricting revolutionary activity. Fear of punishment might restrain their revolutionary activity, but law and fear will never produce patriots.
B. The law discloses a truth of the Scriptures: the whole world is a prisoner of sin.
1. This revelation does not oppose God’s promise of justification, but rather shows the need for the promise of righteousness for all who believe in Christ.
Illustration: A diagnosis of an illness is not opposed to the treatment and cure of the disease. But a diagnosis alone will not cure the patient; in fact, the patient might hate the diagnosis or induce despair. But that still makes the diagnosis valuable.
2. The law was valuable to Israel, if it was used properly-as a diagnosis of how greatly they needed the promised Seed of Abraham.
 
IV. The law held people in bondage until Christ came (3:23-25). The apostle gives two illustrations to make this clear.
A. The law covenant was like a jailor, which did not give people freedom but held them in a certain place. The law did not and could not give a heart to follow the Lord freely; instead, it restrained people in a physical nation by the power of physical punishment.
Illustration: Jails are good places for people who need restraint from harming others, because they lack restraint in themselves. Jails are not meant for free people who have internal desires to live as free people should.
B. It was like a servant, who was in charge of a child. “In Hellenistic times, the paidagogos… was not really a teacher… He or she was usually a slave who served a household by being a companion to the children-accompanying them to school and making sure that they did their studies and stayed out of trouble” (Borchert). The child in such a situation did not dare stray away. If he did, the servant forcibly brought him back to where he should be.
 
Lessons:
1. The only way of eternal life and of true godliness is by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God gives all his blessings to those who believe in his Son.
2. The law covenant was God’s holy jailor until the Liberator arrived. Never say there was anything wrong with what the law required. The law was holy, righteous, and good. It served a good function until the Redeemer accomplished salvation. But I’m glad for the freedom we now have in Jesus Christ to serve the living God.
3. Life under the old covenant was a time of strict regulation. It regulated what you could eat, what kind of clothing you could wear, when you could have marital relations, when you could cook food, when you could enter the presence of God (one man, one day of the year), and many other matters. Now we have the freedom of adult sons and daughters of God, so that we may better live for him!
4. A better way to view the history of God’s people, instead of “law and grace”, is “promise-law-fulfillment”.
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Please Note: The views expressed by our guest writers are not necessarily in full agreement with our own but are worthy of consideration. – CMC