Posts Tagged ‘Galatians’
I have the great privilege of teaching on Galatians 2 this Sunday. It’s a convoluted chapter in some ways, and I admit, I had to read it about 5 times to break down what Paul was saying. (I also needed to read the background of what was going on, because Galatians, after all, is a letter written in response to the Galatians’ movement toward doing things that they thought would make them right, and the author, Paul, is answering certain accusations against him that they already know about.
After studying the passage, I reread part of Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, and came again to this. “Passive righteousness” is the heavy-duty term for the reality that Christ in his death and resurrection made us right with God, something we could never do for ourselves. I love the fact that Luther says it is a “mystery” that we cannot ever completely understand it — because I find myself teaching it sometimes and thinking, “but wait, how can this be…does this even make sense?” And I guess the answer is, that in our limited, fallen way of thinking, it really doesn’t. But enough from me, listen to how well Luther talks about our human tendency to want to be right, and the problems that raises:
“2. The need for Christian righteousness
This “passive” righteousness is a mystery that the world cannot understand. Indeed,
Christians never completely understand it themselves, and thus do not take advantage
of it when they are troubled and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it, repeat it,
and work it out in practice. Anyone who does not understand this righteousness or
cherish it in the heart and conscience will continually be buffeted by fears and
depression. Nothing gives peace like this passive righteousness.
For human beings by nature, when they get near either danger or death itself, will of
necessity examine their own worthiness. We defend ourselves before all threats by
recounting our good deeds and moral efforts. But then the remembrance of sins and
flaws inevitably comes to mind, and this tears us apart, and we think, “How many
errors and sins and wrongs I have done! Please God, let me live so I can fix and amend
them.” We become obsessed with our active righteousness and are terrified by its
imperfections. But the real evil is that we trust our own power to be righteous and will
not lift up our eyes to see what Christ has done for us… So the troubled conscience
has no cure for its desperation and feeling of unworthiness unless it takes hold of the
forgiveness of sins by grace, offered free of charge in Jesus Christ, which is this
passive or Christian righteousness… If I tried to fulfill the law myself, I could not trust in
what I had accomplished, neither could it stand up to the judgment of God. So…I rest
only upon the righteousness of Christ… which I do not produce but receive, God the
Father freely giving it to us through Jesus Christ.
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Are there Bible passages that you slide right past because you’re not quite sure what they’re talking about and they make you uncomfortable, not just because you don’t know what they’re talking about but also because you suspect they’re talking about something that nails you? This is the way the passage in Galatians 5:16- 26 has been for me. Today I read this explanation in Tim Keller’s Galatians study. It really helped me understand two of the key words in this passage: ”flesh” or “sinful nature” and “Spirit.” See what you think.
Paul is contrasting the “sinful nature” with the “Spirit” (v.16 and v.17). On the one hand,
Paul speaks of the sarx, which in older translations is rendered the “flesh” and in more
modern translations is called the “sinful nature.” The flesh in the New Testament, when
opposed to the Spirit, does not refer to our physical nature as opposed to our spiritual
nature, but to the sin-desiring aspect of our whole being as opposed to the God-desiring
aspect. How do we know that? Just look at the list of “the works of the sinful nature [i.e.
flesh]” in v.19. “Hatred… jealous… ambition… envy” (v.19-21) have nothing to do with
the physical body at all, but with the spirit. Other works of the flesh do have to do with
the body. Therefore, the sarx is our sinful heart. It is the part or the aspect of our hearts
which is not yet renewed by the Spirit.
On the other hand, Paul speaks of the “Spirit.” At first sight, it may seem that this is a
battle between something inside us (our sinful nature) and outside us (the Holy Spirit). But
since Paul talks of each side as producing character qualities within us, and because of his
language of two kinds of “desires” (v.17), it is evident that this conflict takes place within
us. Therefore, “the Spirit” could be thought of as the renewed Christian heart, renewed
by the Holy Spirit. Our sinful nature was there, naturally, before we were Christians. The
Spirit, however, entered supernaturally when we first became Christians and has begun a
renewal that is now our “new nature.” Paul refers to these two natures as “the old man”
and “the new man” (often translated “old self/new self”) in Ephesians 4:22-24.
- 21st May 2010
- Filed under: grace
When contemplating the law, we must always keep grace in the forefront of our hearts. Listen to what Luther teaches about this in the preface of his commentary on Galatians:
3. Law and grace
It is an absolute and unique teaching in all the world, to teach people, through Christ, to live as if there were no law or wrath or punishment. In a sense, they do not exist any longer for the Christian, but only total grace and mercy for Christ’s sake. Once you are in Christ, the law is the greatest guide for your life, but until you have Christian righteousness, all the law can do is to show you how sinful and condemned you are. In fact, to those outside of Christian righteousness, the law needs to be expounded in all its force. Why? So that people who think they have power to be righteous before God will be humbled by the law and understand they are sinners.
Therefore we must be careful to use the law appropriately. If we used the law in order to be accepted by God through obedience, then Christian righteousness becomes mixed up with earned/moral righteousness in our minds. If we try to earn our righteousness by doing many good deeds, we actually do nothing. We neither please God through our works-righteousness nor do we honor the purpose for which the law was given. But if we first receive Christian righteousness, then we can use the law, not for our salvation, but for his honor and glory, and to lovingly show our gratitude.
4. Living the gospel
While we live here on earth, we will be accused, exercised with temptations, oppressed with heaviness and sorrow, and bruised by the law with its demands of active righteousness. Because of this, Paul sets out in this letter of Galatians to teach us, to comfort us, and to keep us constantly aware of this Christian righteousness. For if the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths are lost. For there is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ, you must build your confidence on your own work. On this truth and only on this truth the church is built and has its being.
So learn to “speak the gospel” to one’s heart. For example, when the law creeps into your conscience, learn to be a cunning logician–learn to use arguments of the gospel against it. Say:
O law! You would climb up into the kingdom of my conscience, and there reign and condemn me for sin, and would take from me the joy of my heart which I have by faith in Christ, and drive me to desperation, that I might be without hope. You have overstepped your bounds. Know your place! You are a guide for my behavior, but you are not Savior and Lord of my heart. For I am baptized, and through the gospel am called to receive righteousness and eternal life….So trouble me not! For I will not allow you, so intolerable a tyrant and tormentor, to reign in my heart and conscience–for they are the seat and temple of Christ the Son of God, who is the king of righteousness and peace, and my most sweet savior and mediator. He shall keep my conscience joyful and quiet in the sound and pure doctrine of the gospel, through the knowledge of this passive and heavenly righteousness.
When we are assured of this righteousness, we not only cheerfully work well in our vocations, but we submit to all manner of burdens and dangers in this present life, because we know that this is the will of God, and that this obedience pleases him. This then is the argument of this Epistle, which Paul expounds against the false teachers who had darkened the Galatians’ understanding of this righteousness by faith.
- 20th May 2010
- Filed under: grace
I hope for you, as for me, it has been enlightening to think about how Christians ought to understand the Law. In one of those really cool God-things, even as I’ve been posting from Packer’s thoughts on it, I came across Luther’s preface to Galatians, which puts the law in perspective. So today, two paragraphs from Packer and one from Luther…and tomorrow, more from Luther:
“But the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor. The truest and kindest way to see situationism is as a reaction against real or imaginary Pharisaism. Even so it is a jump from the frying pan into the fire, inasmuch as correctness, however cold, does less damage than lawlessness, however well-meant. And love needs law as its eyes, for love (Christian agape as well as sexual eros) is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.
Keep two truths in view. First, God’s law expresses his character. It reflects his own behavior; it alerts us to what he will love and hate to see in us. It is a recipe for holiness, consecrated conformity to God, which is his true image in man. And as such (this is the second truth) God’s law fits human nature. As cars, being made as they are, only work well with gas in the tank, so we, being made as we are, only find fulfillment in a life of law-keeping. This is what we were both made and redeemed for.” J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ
Now for Luther:
“Once you are in Christ, the law is the greatest guide for your life, but until you have Christian
righteousness, all the law can do is to show you how sinful and condemned you are. In
fact, to those outside of Christian righteousness, the law needs to be expounded in all
its force. Why? So that people who think they have power to be righteous before God
will be humbled by the law and understand they are sinners.”