A Strained Relationship – Galatians 4:12-20

Introduction
We need always to look at ourselves through three lenses: the lens of creation, the lens of sin, and the lens of redemption in Christ. As we understand what we are by creation (all made in the image of God), by sin (rebellious and relationship mess makers), and by redemption (united in Christ with all believers), we will have a starting point to work through the messiness of friendship in Christ. Oh yes, sometimes believers’ relationships with one another can be strained! But we should see how even strained relationships can be opportunities to serve one another in love for gospel growth. This passage sets forth a fact of Christian experience. A person can be a staunch defender of the faith and at the same time very zealous for the good and eternal salvation of people. In fact, the person who loves the truth of the gospel also loves people, who need the salvation purchased by the Christ of the gospel.
Illustration: Surely there are many throughout church history that show forth both of these qualities. If you would like to read the stories of two of them, I recommend biographies of George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon.
In our text Paul relates his love for the Galatians, while at the same time he expresses his zeal for the truth. He is willing to work through their messy relationship to establish them more firmly in the truth. May we learn this lesson well.
 
Exposition
I.            Paul appeals for reconciliation (Gal 4:12).
A.            He was open toward them.

1.            The phrase “become like me, for I became like you” means “‘I have come to regard myself as one of you’—more particularly, I am your father and you are my children (cf. v. 19)” (Bruce). See also 2 Cor 6:11-13.

2.            In other words, Paul wants them to have the same affection for him that he has for them. He is embodying a Biblical principle: A gospel kind of love motivates us to lay aside non-essential differences in order to reach people.

B.            He was ready to forgive them.

1.            “Alienation of affection is often greatly increased by a consciousness that we have acted unkindly to one whom we once loved, and a suspicion that in consequence of this he cannot but regard us with unfriendly feelings. It is in consequence of this, that when friends quarrel the offender frequently finds it more difficult than the offended to resume the cordiality of affectionate feeling which previously existed between them. It was, I apprehend, for the purpose of removing this obstacle out of the way of a complete restoration of a right state of feeling in the Galatians towards himself that he adds, ‘Ye have not injured me at all’” (Brown, pp. 90-91).

2.            We need to clear roadblocks out of the way in our relationships. Wisdom in relating to other people, who have the same problems with sin that we do, is not to think about what they might deserve but how to win them back. “For it is always true that ‘to be loved you must be lovable’” (Calvin). Don’t exclaim, “Do you know what he/she did to me?” Instead, humbly ask, “How can I restore this relationship? How can I make it better than before?”

Apply: Apply forgiveness in Christ to your relationship. Make it a friendship based on Christ.
 
II.            Paul presents the contrast between their former and present relationship (4:13-16).
A.            They used to delight in Paul’s ministry.

1.            Though he had first come among them with some kind of disagreeable illness (we don’t know what it was), they gladly welcomed him. The Lord uses various means that are sometimes disagreeable to us to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ. For example, sometimes the Lord uses personal or family difficulties to make known the need and way of salvation to people. People assume they can fix anything, until they run smack into a problem that they can’t fix.

2.            Though Paul was a sinner like them, they were right in receiving him as they did (cf. Mt 10:40; 2 Cor 5:20). If you want people to receive you like Christ, then you must speak the word of Christ with the compassion of Christ.

B.            They presently disliked Paul and his ministry.

1.            Their attitude had so changed that Paul wonders if he had become their enemy. At such times we can wonder, “What did I do to deserve this?” And then we can fall into the pity party of “I didn’t do anything!” (This might be self-righteousness and blame-shifting.) Or we might think, “Where is the Lord in all this?” (This is denial of Christ’s promise; he is with us to the end of the age. He is pursuing his agenda that you share in his sufferings.)

2.            Their problem was their attitude toward the truth. Notice how people can flip-flop. It is strange that their present reason for rejecting him was their former reason for receiving him gladly. This shows the corrosive power of error in hearts with remaining sin.

Quote: “There is an important lesson here. When the Galatians recognized Paul’s apostolic authority, they treated him as an angel, as Christ Jesus. But when they did not like his message, he became their enemy. How fickle they were, and foolish! An apostle’s authority does not cease when he begins to teach unpopular truths. We cannot be selective in our reading of the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. We cannot, when we like what an apostle teaches, defer to him as an angel, and when we do not like what he teaches, hate him and reject him as an enemy. No, the apostles of Jesus Christ have authority in everything they teach, where we happen to like it or not” (Stott, p. 115).
Apply: What is your attitude toward the gospel? If you love it, then rejoice in those who preach the gospel.
 
III.            Paul tells them the contrast between him and the false teachers (4:17-20).
A.            The false teachers were zealous.

1.            They were motivated by a party spirit. True teaching seeks to win people’s loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. As Whitefield said, “Let the name of Whitefield perish!” He wanted Christ’s name to be honored. False teaching seeks to bind people to human leadership. “You must be part of our group!”

2.            They worked toward their goal of alienating the Galatians from Paul. If they could separate the Galatians from the one who taught the truth, their plan to conquer them would be well on the way to success.

3.            So Paul has to remind the Galatians of the nature of true zeal. It has a right object and is constant. For example, you need to be living for Christ at all times, and not only when someone else is pressuring you to participate.

B.            Paul was zealous with a godly zeal.

1.            He was motivated by tender affection for them. Notice his affectionate address, “My dear children.” His love had a sacrificial character—like the love of a mother in child birth longing to see her child alive.

2.            He had a godly goal for them—Christ-likeness. “If ministers wish to be something, let them labor to form Christ, not themselves” (Calvin). Paul is not dividing the work of Christ into two stages here, such as first justification and then some form of sanctification. “It is rather that the one implies the other and reliance on law for salvation [or sanctification] negates both” (Bruce, p. 213, my addition in brackets).

3.            He was perplexed about them. He heard reports, but firsthand knowledge is better than secondhand information. Even an apostle had doubts about the accomplishments of his ministry. Some are so sure about their ministry that they can count their converts in ten minutes. Please tell me, what ever made you think that you can know that someone is saved by some prayer or brief statement they make? The apostles had joy when their children walked in the truth (3 Jn 4). Paul did not see that walk in the truth, so he was perplexed, rather than joyous, about the Galatians.

Apply: Here is what really matters! Is the minister preaching the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ with Christ-like attitudes? Is Christ being formed in the hearts of the people to whom he ministers? The measure of any church and any ministry is the presence of Jesus Christ as Lord. Do we exalt in his glory? Do we worship through him by the Spirit? Do we walk in his ways of godliness and holiness? Is his love abounding and overflowing? Is his joy a common experience? Is Christ’s peace ruling in our hearts? Please, please, let us have no more boasting about how large or small or whatever a church may be! Let us see Christ formed in everyone, and then, whoever boasts, let him boast in the Lord!

Completed by the Spirit, Part 1: Five Propositions

This is the first part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Ed Trefzger
Ed Trefzger
For the apostle Paul, the Mosaic law – or any external commands not grounded in the indicative of the Spirit of God given to dwell in the believer – is antithetical to our growth in holiness; rather it is the Holy Spirit who is transforming the believer from “one degree of glory to another,’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul´s teaching on the inability of the law to effectively combat sin in the life of the Christian has been distorted by many, resulting in an improper focus on law that continues to enslave believers in sin.[1] Perhaps Paul´s exasperated exclamation and rhetorical questions to the “foolish’ Galatians is summary enough of Paul´s view of the law:

[2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? [4] Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? [5] 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— [6] just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? (Galatians 3:2–6)

“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?’ That antithesis – the Spirit and the flesh – draws the battle lines for Paul between those who would have believers continuing as slaves to sin instead of living as slaves to Christ and reaping the fruit of the Spirit. It is, as Paul tells the Thessalonians, the will of God that they – that we – be sanctified, “because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13). God did not choose believers to be sanctified by the law; God did not choose believers to be sanctified by their own actions, behavior modification or self-help techniques; God chose believers to be sanctified by the Spirit of Christ via the gospel of Christ.
For the believer, there is an initial positional sanctification: we have been set apart as holy by God at our regeneration. There is also a final sanctification, or glorification: we will be holy and blameless and spotless. “And I am sure of this,’ Paul writes, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). But what comes between? Thomas Schreiner describes the tension between these two states and the believer´s existence between these two states:

Believers are already in the realm of the holy, but on the last day, they will be transformed so that they are without sin. Paul does not explain how this transformation will occur; though it seems that it will take place when Christ returns. … A tension emerges in Paul´s thought. One the one hand, it seems that the eschatological completion of holiness cannot be sundered from progress in holiness in this life; on the other hand, Paul recognizes that the work of holiness will not be accomplished in this life. He uses a future tense to assure them that God will sanctify them completely. … The already–not yet dimension of Paul´s eschatology provides the most satisfactory solution. Believers are in the process of sanctification now, but they are not yet perfect. They long for the day when God´s promise of perfecting them in holiness will be consummated.[2]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes that “process of sanctification now’ in this way:

So then, I suggest to you that this will do as a good definition of sanctification: it is ‘that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God and enables him to perform good works.´ Let me make that clear: ‘It is that gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit by which He delivers the justified sinner´—the one who is already justified—‘from the pollution of sin´—not from the guilt any longer, that has happened. Justification has taken care of that. He is declared just and righteous, the guilt has been dealt with. Now we are concerned more about the power and the pollution of sin—‘renews his whole nature in the image of God and enables him to perform good works.´[3]

Thus for the purposes of this series of articles, we shall use the term “sanctification’ in the sense of a growth in holiness: what has traditionally been called “progressive sanctification.’[4] However, because of the use of and the association with the term “progressive sanctification’ with those who would also advocate the “third use of the law’ as part of that growth, we will not use that term here, but instead will use “sanctification’ – and its Greek “hagiasmos” – as interchangeable with a “growth in holiness,’ recognizing that this is the most common use of the term in the New Testament.[5]
With that eschatological trajectory in mind – our final complete holiness – we will focus on the sanctification – the growth in holiness – that should be the life story of all Christians, a life story that requires a fervent belief in the gospel and a trust in the Spirit for that sanctification. It is God who justifies and God who glorifies (Romans 8:30) and most assuredly, it is God who sanctifies by His Spirit  (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
To show how Paul views this growth in holiness – this ongoing work of sanctification before that final glorification – this series will look at five propositions of Paul´s theology. First, is that the law cannot cope with sin. Second, the love that is intrinsic to God and which flows only from God – the love brought by the indwelling Holy Spirit – fulfills the law. Third, that it is the Spirit that produces fruit in the believer while the law in our remaining sinful flesh can produce only that which it has power to produce: sin. Fourth, that sanctification results from our union with Christ, exhorted by what it means to be Christ-like. Fifth, that while Paul gives us imperatives, commands and exhortations, they are not themselves laws and are not given as laws or in the category of law, because they are imperatives that are only achieved by the indicative of our reliance upon Christ and our position in Christ.
To summarize, the battle for our sanctification is between the Spirit and the flesh. It is not – and cannot – be the law battling against our sinful flesh. Using the law to combat sin pours gasoline upon the sinful passions of the flesh, a flesh we will inhabit until the day we meet Christ face to face and be raised like Him. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’ (Romans 6:5).
That eschatological, glorified state is where we´ll begin next time.
Up and Coming: Completed by the Spirit, Part 2: A Resurrection Like His
 
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[1] This is a reference to the “third use of the law,’ the belief that the “Moral Law’ or the Decalogue remains a “perfect rule of righteousness’ for the believer, such as is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith and its later derivative, the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 374–5.
[3] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit: Great Doctrines of the Bible (Great Doctrines of the Bible Series, Vol 2)
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books, 1997). 195.
[4] For example, Robert L. Reymond in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Second Edition)
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1998) defines progressive sanctification as one “understood negatively in terms of putting to death the deeds of the flesh which still remain in him and positively in terms of growth in all saving graces.’ (p. 768–769). Reymond then goes on for 12 more pages defending the use of the Decalogue as the as “the moral law of God, which Christians are to obey.’
Similarly, the Westminster Confession of Faith quite sweetly posits that “They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ´s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (XIII/i). Yet that same confession describes asserts that the law “doth forever bind all’ (XIX/v), the words of Paul in Scripture notwithstanding.
[5] William D. Mounce says of hagiasmos that the word, “is generally used in the NT the moral sense, referring to the process (or the final result of that process) of making pure or holy. It is like a growing fruit that results in eternal life.’ Mounce´s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006). 338.