A new mark of the covenant— Galatians 4-6

Today, in our reading in Galatians, Paul will continue with his point that the Law of Moses, with its circumcision, Sabbaths, and dietary rules, was no longer binding on God’s people. He exposes the Judaizing teachers’ real motives (to avoid persecution); he assures the Galatians that the Gospel and the truth have not changed; and that returning to the Law of Moses not only was a return to slavery, but was a fall from grace. He then follows up with some practical teachings for them to follow in view of the doctrinal truths he was given them. In the midst of all these things, Paul also says some things that are worthy of special attention…

The difference between knowing and being known — Gal. 4:9

James Taylor (“That’s Why I’m Here) wrote, “Fortune and fame’s such a curious game; perfect strangers call you by name. Pay good money to hear “Fire and Rain”, again and again and again.” The very definition of being famous is that lots of people know who you are. I know who James Taylor, Brad Pitt, and Paul McCartney are, and I could even claim that I know them; but of course, the truth is they wouldn’t know me.

So also with Jesus; there are many who know about Jesus, and there are many who claim they know Him; but the real question is “Does Jesus know them?” It will certainly not be enough to merely know about Jesus (James 2:19 “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”). And it will not be enough to say that we know Him (Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”). Jesus must know us, and this appears to come from our willingness to obey Him — Matthew 7:21-23 and Matthew 10:32. This second verse speaks of confession (v. denial) in a context that implies that obedience is a major form of confession (see also Titus 1:16).

So, does Jesus know you?

Making enemies by telling the truth? — Gal. 4:16

It is possible, of course, to tell the truth in a hurtful and vicious way, but this is certainly not what Paul is doing. Nevertheless, telling the truth was raising up enemies. Paul knew a little bit about that; he was part of the crowd that covered their ears and rushed upon Stephen with a loud voice in Acts 7:57 to drag him out to stone him to death. Nobody likes being wrong; it hurts our pride. And the truth spoken to sometimes interferes with our enjoyment of the sins we prefer. But when the truth from God’s word is being spoken in kindness and love, and yet we feel animosity and anger arising toward the person telling us the truth, this should tell us something really important. Are we saying that we prefer the lie? And where have lies ever gotten us? Do they change reality?

Fallen from grace — Gal. 5:4

Is it possible for a Christian to fall from grace? Although there are a lot people and a whole theological school of thought that would deny it, the truth of Scripture strongly disagrees. From the early Christian teachings from Jesus in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1ff) to the multiple passages in the book of Hebrews to the warning to Christians in the churches of Asia, the warnings are clear, Christians can fall from grace and lose their salvation.

This is not to say, now, that Christians need to live constantly fearful of the loss of their salvation. The Bible is also full of assurances and promises like Romans 8:31ff. We must simply be appropriately aware that our deliberate and persistent turning away from God will result in terrible spiritual loss.

In this case, it was on the basis of hold to a wrong teaching, a corruption of a fundamental principle of faith in Christ for salvation. In other places in Scripture (e.g., 1 Cor. 5), the danger was on the basis of immoral behavior. It does matter what we believe and what we do.

Called to freedom — Gal. 5:13

In almost all of Paul’s letters there is a practical section that urges and commands Christian behavior, founded on the doctrines taught in first part of the letter to daily life — and Galatians is no exception. Paul starts his practical section by addressing the obvious danger of freedom from the Law — living sinfully. Paul’s answer boiled down to what he also says in the early verses of Romans 8: you must live now by the Spirit rather than the Law of Moses! Gone, now, are the ceremonial rules, the laws about the clean and unclean things, the dietary laws, the Sabbath keeping, circumcision, animal sacrifices, etc. (see the NT book of Hebrews), but Jesus’ law of love and the fruit of the Spirit abide.

Reaping what we sow — Gal. 6:6-10

Among other practical teachings we find in Galatians is one you’ve probably heard a number of times in your life (especially from a parent), “You reap what you sow.” And it is a powerful principle to hold in mind throughout life — though most of us would prefer to sow the wild oats and simply pray for a crop failure. Sowing a thought reaps a deed and sowing a deed reaps a consequence. In so many, many ways there is a very definite cause and effect thread that runs through all of life. Do we mean that if we do good things that only good things will come our way. No, not always; Satan will see to that; remember Job’s story? Will sin-sowing people always reap bad consequences? No, not always; Satan will see to that, too; sometimes the worst people are the wealthiest. It is to say, however, that every seed will definitely see its proper fruit in the spiritual realm, where (Romans 2:6 ) “[God] WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:”

A new creation — Gal 6:15

Among his closing remarks, Paul reminds them again (in context with the practical application section of the letter) that it is not circumcision that really mattered (reference to the Law of Moses again), but a new creation — a different kind of life, newness of life, life guided by the Spirit. Stop looking for the physical marks on your or someone else’s body, he seems to be saying, and start looking for the fruit of the Spirit as the new mark of the covenant!

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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