CHRISTIANS – GOD’S ACQUIRED POSSESSION

ephesians
 13 After listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in (Christ) with the Holy Spirit of the promise, 14 who is a first instalment of our inheritance with respect to the redemption of the acquired possession, to the praise of His glory (Eph1:13-14)

Peter had affirmed in his first epistle that the Church is “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1Pet2:9)”. Paul is saying much the same here: God is in the process of establishing a people for Himself. These are those who having had the opportunity to hear the gospel, believe and act upon it and are accordingly sealed with the Holy Spirit (v13). Yet mysteriously the language that follows (v14) pertains more to a business agreement than a theological statement! The Holy Spirit is described as a “deposit” or first instalment “with respect to the redemption (or full ransom payment) for the acquired possession”. As to what the final instalment might be, Paul referred to it earlier when he wrote about human suffering, at the same time strongly hinting that God’s benign providential purposes are far broader: “The creation itself is to be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. All creation is currently suffering the pains of childbirth; and not only they but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as God’s children, being. the redemption of our body (Rom8:21-23). As I have been outlining, the source of man’s problem with sin is not the God-given soul but the temporary procreated intellectual vessel it inhabits (cf. Rom7:24). Only when that has been replaced by a heavenly body shall our salvation have achieved its apotheosis.

The mysterious transactional nature of Paul’s language in Ephesians and elsewhere pertains to the Fall and Satan’s role in it. A related mystery is the fact that Satan was seemingly rewarded for his treachery by being given authority over the kingdoms of the earth (Lk4:6). And just as Christ gained a people for Himself (Jn17:6), Satan was granted facility to harvest human souls, a mystery we have been considering in recent posts (cf. Mt15:13; 1Jn3:12; cf. Gen3:15). It should be obvious such arrangements could only be at God’s behest (cf. Rom8:20-21). They relate to the fact that the purpose of gospel salvation and God’s plans for broader humanity is not to restore humanity to Edenic innocence but to raise it to divinity. Indeed, Christians, being those whom James describes as the first fruits of God’s creation (1:18) are to be adopted into the bosom of God’s family as corporate Bride to His Son. This in turn relates to the fact that Satan’s treacherous behaviour and impious rule resulted in the need for God’s Word to be incarnated, suffer, die and be resurrected. Both players (Christ and Satan) have a vital part in this extraordinary plan which was motivated by God’s love and gracious intentions towards humanity. For human beings had been created “a little lower than the angels” but following the Word’s incarnation as a Man, that shall no longer be the case.

Evidence for this hierarchical re-ordering is provided in Heb2:7-9 whilst a clue to the rationale behind it is the succeeding verse (10): “It was appropriate for Him for Whom are all things and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory to perfect the Originator of their salvation through sufferings”. Those who can grasp the implications of what the writer to the Hebrews is intimating here regarding suffering in the context of the Fall and Gospel are close to apprehending the final mystery of God, the ultimate theodicy (cf. Rev10vv4&7). Thanks to a personal revelation from the Holy Spirit, further insights have been provided in “The Little Book of Providence”. It is a seven-part biblical synopsis that, as should be evident from this series of posts, involves a radical reworking of much traditional Western theology. If you have followed through the (Enoch) links in the previous post, you will see why I believe such an interpretive amelioration to be itself a fulfilment of prophecy.

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GOD’S ULTIMATE PURPOSE

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

 In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace which He superabundantly provided to us. Through wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Him, 10 regarding an administration pertaining to the fullness of the times in which all things would be brought together into Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. 11 In Him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will, 12 to the end that we being the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Eph1:7-12)

The theological content of this passage might be summed up in one word: Wow! THIS is the “Good news of great joy that shall be to all people” that I quoted from Luke’s Gospel in the previous post. If only it were understood. Not that I claim to be aware of the detail of how all this is to come about. By “all this coming about” I am referring to Paul’s assertion that at the end of the current age all things in heaven and earth are to be brought under Christ’s administration (Greek: οἰκονομίαν). Verse 10 is not referring to those currently “in Christ” as some translations imply (e.g. KJV) but the fact that all things in heaven and earth shall be brought under Christ’s headship (e.g. AMPC bible). Such an interpretation both does justice to the Greek text but also to Paul’s broader teaching of Christ being “the firstborn of all creation by Whom all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him AND FOR HIM” (Col1:15-16)

Thus, the Word of God who became incarnate through the Virgin Mary might aptly be described as the Cosmic Christ. As just stated, the detail pertaining to how precisely this shall be enacted in the age to come has not been disclosed. What has been made clear to me in this context is the following outline.

In terms of humanity, whilst all shall be brought under Christ’s headship, not all shall have the same status or destiny. It is one thing to be under Christ’s rule, another to be His corporate Bride (Rev19:7) sharing His throne (Rev3:21). Such privileges are for those who have prepared for them whilst in mortal flesh. Paul refers to them in this passage: “those who have obtained an inheritance having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will to the end that being the first to hope in Christ we would be to the praise of His glory (vv11-12). Note how Paul refers to the elect as “the first to hope in Christ” (Greek: τοὺς προηλπικότας). The implications should be obvious, many more shall eventually do so, but not all. For some, the first effect of “coming under the administration of Christ” shall be to be their ignominious removal from the earth [note 1]. These are the “wicked and godless” (Is11:4; cf. Enoch1:1), the “ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ” (1Jn3:12), the seed of Satan (Mt13:38). In terms of the last reference (wheat and tares parable), Jesus affirms the field is the world, not the Church as many try to make out – the tares therefore cannot be referring to “the unconverted” but those who like Cain were “of the Evil One” from birth. Tares cannot become wheat; rather, some of the soiled wheat is being salvaged (“saved”) for immediate utility come harvest time.

In the context of those who shall be living at the Parousia: “Christ shall be glorified in His saints and be marvelled at by those that believe on that day, just as our testimony among you was believed (2Thes1:10). But again, some shall not marvel or believe, nor be prepared to mourn and repent for their sins and disbelief (Rev 1:7). Rather, they shall raise their fists to God and refuse to bow the knee to His Son. For He is the summation of all that is good, whereas they, unlike the bulk of humanity, are unable to admire what is noble and praiseworthy but take delight in what is hateful, evil and perverse. (You should know perfectly well that is not the case for most non-Christians). To remain true to themselves these individuals could never play any positive role in “a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells” (2Pet3:13). Refusing to repent they shall be appropriately and proportionally punished for their crimes against God and humanity.

The fate of such reprobates in the age to come is graphically depicted in the closing verses of Isaiah: “For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I shall make, will endure before Me,” declares the Lord, “so will My peoples’ descendants and your name endure. And from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord. Then they will go out and look at the corpses of the people who have rebelled against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be extinguished; and they will be an abhorrence to all flesh”. (Is66:23-24). It could hardly be the case that God’s elect would  be summoned each Sabbath to bow down to God, they shall be forever with Him, serving Him gladly. This is referring to the rest of humanity (“all flesh”). But as ever there is a sub-category, who in the age to come shall be openly punished and exhibited – “an abhorrence to all flesh”.

Such is mirrored in Revelation (chapter 21). God’s elect shall form the new Jerusalem, “like a bride adorned for her Husband” (v2). But then note verse 24: “The nations shall walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring the glory and honouring of the nations into it”. But once again there is a third group who are to be entirely excluded: “Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (v27). The “unclean” shall need to be “placed into the lake of fire”, partly for punishment but potentially for purification. For as third century Origen suggested: “The fury of God’s vengeance is profitable for the purgation of souls. That the punishment also which is said to be by fire is understood to be applied with the object of healing is taught by Isaiah: The Lord will wash away the filth of the sons or daughters of Zion and shall purge away the blood from the midst of them by the spirit of judgement and the spirit of burning…The Lord will sanctify in a burning fire.  [Origen de Principiis Book II chap. 10]. The lake of fire is “the second death” and (to put it mildly) is best avoided.

We can be assured (from Scripture) that every being that can ultimately be redeemed shall be so, but for the more obnoxious it shall be a long and painful process. If the Book of Enoch is to be believed [note 2] those undergoing such punishment shall have opportunity to repent once they have paid the price for their sins, whilst those who still refuse to do so shall be annihilated. For everything that remains is to be subject to the administration of Christ referred to in our featured passage. Then what? “He must reign till all enemies have been placed under His feet” (1Cor15:25), the final enemy to be destroyed is death” (v26). What – first death? second death? No, DEATH! Ultimately even the Lord shall subject Himself and His Kingdom to the Father, who only once His enemies have either repented or been entirely obliterated could God truly be said to be “all in all” (v28).

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Note#1 – Confusion as to who remains on earth after the Parousia can arise in view of the “rapture” (Mt24:40-41; 1Thes4:17). Prior to Christ’s coming the elect shall be temporarily removed from the earth to be spared from the climax of tribulations that the rest of the world must endure. Christ then comes with His saints (living and resurrected) to judge and rule the world (1Thes3:13). It is the wicked who are to be removed from the earth when God (in Christ) comes to reign.The righteous shall never be removed: it is the wicked who shall not inhabit the earth (Prov10:30). That shall be the case once God comes to reign:I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is to be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev21:2-3).

Note#2 The Book of Enoch is ex-canonical scripture that was nevertheless regarded as inspired and a genuine work of the Patriarch by some early Church Fathers such as Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Tertullian. This is hardly surprising since it is directly quoted in the New Testament (Jude14,15). The opening verse suggests it was never intended for the Church throughout her history, but for the current time: “The words of the blessing of Enoch, wherewith he blessed the elect and the righteous who will be living in the day of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed (Enoch1 ch1 v1)

LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the holy ones who are at Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ, just as He elected us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and faultless before Him in love. He predestined us to adoption as sons to Himself through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He favored us in the Beloved (Eph1:1-6)

After a few weeks researching and writing on Academia.edu, I return to Paul’s letters, moving on to Ephesians. Firstly, note how Paul describes his addressees (v1): “ἁγίοις” – saints, holy ones, those who have been set apart from the world. This is in line with how God had addressed the Jewish Nation under the Old Covenant: “You shall be a special treasure to Me above all other people, for all the earth is Mine” (Ex19:5). These descriptions allude to the heart of what I am endeavouring to impart – that although God loves the world as a whole (Jn3:16) and all the earth is His (Ex19:5), from the time of Abraham He has chosen a special people for Himself to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex19:6). Under the New Covenant the Church has similarly become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession(1Pet2:9)”. And to hell with everybody else? It should be evident from these descriptions that cannot be the case, yet it is what I reluctantly believed as an Evangelical for the first 28 years of my Christian life. I now know such a depiction to be a travesty of what had been heralded as “the Good News of great joy that shall be to all people” (Lk2:10), and the time has come for that to be systematically adduced from Scripture.

God’s broader benign providence

Such a conviction of broader benign providence derived from two spiritual encounters, fourteen years apart that I briefly outlined in an earlier post. The second of these focussed on a passage shortly to be considered in Ephesians: God’s secret plan, revealed not directly through Jesus or His twelve disciples but through Paul (Eph3:3-11). But the joyful vista being outlined is not dependent on a particular passage of Scripture or one biblical author, it is, as it must be, a coherent re-interpretation of the whole bible. Nor is there any need to wait for me to plod through the rest of the New Testament; the matter has already been set out in The Little Book of Providence, a PDF of which is freely available through the link supplied.

Returning to Paul’s opening statement, and it’s more of the same. His addressees had been “elected in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and faultless before Him in love – having been predestined to adoption as the very sons of God through Jesus Christ (vv4-5). Again, it should be evident that Paul is not referring to the “world and his wife” but to Christ and His intended (Rev19:7 & 21:9). As for the rest, their post-mortem destiny is determined along the lines of Mt25:31-46. For like the Gentiles of the Old Testament, not having been elected to the exclusive Covenant of Promise from which Ishmael, though blessed by God and Abraham was excluded, he and they function within an over-arching (theologically eluded) Universal Covenant from which Cain defaulted (Gen4), as shall all who follow in his way (Jud1:11) having demonstrated by their inhumanity they have souls derived or planted by the Evil One (Mt15:13; 1Jn3:12). Exactly how the three soteriological categories resulting from these two covenants are integrated with the rest of Scripture is what my book and these posts are primarily about.

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PAUL – DEAD TO THE WORLD

1See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand! 12 All who want to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they want to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And all who will follow this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen [Gal6:11-18]

Do not love the world

Paul’s remarks in verse 11 confirm this passage to be Paul’s concluding statement in his letter to the Galatian Church. The summary also affirms that his overriding theme has been the activity of the Judaizing infiltrators who urged Christians to be circumcised and be subject to the “works of the Law”, i.e. the Torah rather than to place their faith in a crucified Messiah. That had been the context of much of the apostle’s supposed anti-law rhetoric. Paul, in starkest contrast to these infiltrators, whom he pointed out failed to keep the Law themselves (v13), positively boasted in Christ and His cross “through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (v14). In the same vein, the Apostle John had written:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world (1Jn2:15-16)

In the English language, the world and the earth can virtually be synonymous. Less so in biblical Greek.  Κόσμος can refer to the earth in a positive sense as part of God’s creation (e.g. Jn1:10). It can also refer to the earth’s inhabitants whom Jesus was not sent to condemn but to rescue (Jn3:17). But more often κόσμος indicates a system or orderly arrangement, and as a result of the Fall, not one that is directly overseen or approved of by God – au contraire (Jn14:30; Mt4:8-9). That is the negative sense in which Paul and John are referring to κόσμος in the above texts. These apostles are not saying we should not love and care for God’s good earth and its inhabitants. Indeed, in the final judgement referred to in Revelation, those to be utterly condemned are described as “those who are ruining the earth” (11:18). But Κόσμος has been crucified to Paul and Paul to Κόσμος because it pertains to the flesh – John’s “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life”.

As Paul affirmed in the previous chapter those who belong to Christ Jesus have extinguished the flesh with its passions and desires (5:24), and that should profoundly affect their relationship with the world – they are to be in it but not of it. In Paul’s words, Christians have become a new creation (v15); in Jesus’ words “born again” of water and the Spirit (Jn3:5). The water refers to baptism – What? “Didn’t you realize that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death? Our old self was crucified with him in order that our body of sin might be disempowered such that we would no longer be under its sinful dominion” (Rom6:6). The inter-relationship between the soul, flesh and spirit has been re-orientated such that the Christian is free to serve the living God, even whilst in mortal flesh.

Redemption of the body

However, as Paul has also indicated, the Christian’s ultimate destiny which is to be adopted into the immediate family of God, is consummated at the point at which the body is redeemed (Rom8:23). For few if any appear to have grasped the wondrous Pauline truth that it is not the human soul that is the source [note 1] of man’s problem with sin but the temporary procreated intellectual vessel into which the eternal spiritual component of man is diffused – “the body of this death”, “the body of sin” or “flesh” as Paul variously describes it. And it is only the Christian who is enabled, by applying the means of grace provided to him, “to possess his own vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). For in accordance with God’s secret plan cryptically alluded to in Rev10, it appears to have been His intention that for most of the Christian era gospel salvation should be understood as the sole means by which anyone can be delivered from perdition. That is, as opposed to what it actually is – the calling, cleansing and sanctifying of a people who need to be made ready for a glorious marital-like association with Christ in the age to come (Rev19:7).

The eluded covenant

As mentioned in some recent posts, what happens to everyone else is determined by whether they remain or default from the eluded inclusive covenant depicted in Gen4. Abel remained whilst Cain defaulted, for which reason he declared “My punishment is too much to bear – from this day I am to be hidden from your presence” (Gen4:14), indicating of course that before his fratricide such total alienation was not the case. The Sinful One was crouching at the portal of his soul (Gen4:7KJV) – Cain by his hateful actions made him welcome and accordingly came under new management (1Jn3:12). It is a covenant that operates through natural law (fair to all because it is known by all). Such is not a basic law of mother nature but pertains to divine precepts for human conduct apprehended via the conscience, having been provided by the One through Whom and for Whom all things were created. That is Christ, with whose Passion such law is associated in regard to the propitiation and pardon for the sin of all who demonstrate they are of God (Mt15:13; 1Jn3:10 & 4:7). Its eschatological outworking is to be seen in Jesus’ processing of the “sheep” and “goats” in Mt25 – love rather than religious faith being the key determinant. That is why religion does not so much as receive a mention within the New Testament’s definitive passage on final judgement.

The mystery of Augustine

Finally, note Paul’s benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen”. Truly, Paul cannot be rightly interpreted (or even rightly translated in terms of spirit/Spirit) unless we acknowledge his tripartite theology – i.e. that the human being comprises a body, soul and spirit (1Thes5:23). The earliest Christians largely understood as much, but as the Wikipedia analysis I have linked observes, it was once again Augustine who rejected that earlier consensus and through his extraordinary influence ensured that the Western Church followed suit. But then, the distinctives of that bishop’s theology (relished by the Protestant Reformers) always tend towards vilifying humanity and mystifying if not positively barbarizing God’s nature, typified by his insistence that even the souls of little children are so odious to Christ (Jn5:22) that any who die unbaptized must experience sensual pain through eternity [note 2]. He more than any other historical figure has ensured that the aforementioned mystery of God concerning the true munificence of divine providence be sustained until the appointed time, so in that sense this sainted churchman has fulfilled the will of God for the church and the world.

Anticipating Ephesians

When rightly understood and as his concluding statement indicates, the thematic focus of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is somewhat narrower than many have taken (or wished) it to be – so I have taken the opportunity in this post to summarize the essentials of what I believe the Spirit has revealed to me (book link below). Ephesians is much grander in scope, the great apostle outlining God’s ultimate purpose for the world and the church. Not to mention the disclosure that got me writing in the first place – God the Father’s secret plan for the Gentile nations in the current age (ch.3), the wondrous providential implications of which once again appear to have eluded virtually everyone.

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Note 1: The soul will however receive collateral moral damage from the vessel it inhabits. Hence Peter writes “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1Pet2:11). Note, the fleshly lusts war against the soul, they are not derived from it. Given how Paul is usually interpreted one might have expected Peter to be writing that lusts of the flesh war against the Holy Spirit! (cf. Gal5:17). They do, but that is not the point either Peter or Paul are making.

Note 2: Latin: paena sensus (cf. New Advent: Catholic Encyclopaedia under headings “Unbaptised infants”, “Limbo” and the “Teaching of St Augustine”).

The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible

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REAP WHAT YOU SOW

R

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfil the law of ChristFor if anyone thinks that he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he may be able to boast with respect to himself, but not (by comparing with) others. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for what a person sows, such he will reapFor the one who sows to his own flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Let’s not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap providing we do not become weary. (Gal6:2-9)

Fulfilling the law of Christ

Unsurprisingly in view of the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, recent posts have focussed on the Law (Torah) and God’s law in general, examining which of the following applies: 

i) God’s law is not really an issue for the Christian – he is saved by grace/faith alone (Luther’s law versus gospel paradigm);

ii) the Torah has become redundant, but God’s law is to be fulfilled in spirit;

iii) Christians must continue to fulfil the Torah to the letter as the Galatian Judaizers were insisting.

I have been showing that Paul’s teaching accords with the middle case (ii). An example of what I mean is the opening verse of our passage: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfil the law of Christ”. James expresses a similar idea when he writes: “If you are fulfilling the royal law  of ‘love your neighbor as yourself’, you are doing well” (2:8), remembering that in the previous chapter Paul had written: “the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14). Similarly, James’ assertion that faith without works is dead (2:26) accords with Paul’s comment from the previous chapter that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (5:6). That statement had been aimed at the Judaizers insisting on Christians being circumcised, but taken with Paul’s and James’ other statements above it also challenges Luther’s notion that God’s law and the gospel (incorporating the teaching of Jesus) are in any sense antithetical. However, Torah observance and the gospel are at odds now that Christ has “cancelled the written code with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross (Col2:14NIV). That has been the focus of Paul’s anti-Law rhetoric in Galatians. But he also continues to make the broader point that it is the quality we know of as faith rather than works or law keeping that justifies a person before God. But that saving quality (πίστις = faith/faithfulness) by its very nature cannot be devoid of works, more especially ἀγάπη (compassionate love) which is effectively faith’s efflux (Gal5:6).   

You reap what you sow

Many people in the world give credence to the expression: “what goes around comes around”. Some will confine such a maxim to paybacks during a person’s lifetime; those with a semblance of religious faith may also apply it to what is likely to happen thereafter. Contrary to what I believed for many years as an Evangelical Christian, the world broadly has it right in this regard. Paul affirms as much here (and especially Rom2:6-11) whilst Christ is still more adamant, especially regarding the post-mortem dimension. I had believed such a maxim to be inappropriate from a Christian perspective, but that was because I had misconceived the nature of grace and faith and what the bible (especially Paul) really means by those terms. That is an ongoing theme of these posts, but confining ourselves to this short Galatian passage, Paul uses a farming analogy, easily understood by his contemporaries but also suitably timeless: “What a person sows, such he will reap – the one who sows to his own flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit” (vv7b-8).

The translation here could equally well be “spirit” rather than “Spirit”, the former referring to Paul’s “inner man” that delights in God’s law and everything that is pleasing to Him (Rom7:22). In the Christian that inner man is renewed and daily invigorated by the Holy Spirit (2Cor4:16). For many more, such as those Paul depicts in that passage, the inner man or spirit is present and active (delighting in what is good) but is incapacitated by the flesh, creating a moral dichotomy (Rom7:23). But then there is a third category in which the spirit/inner man is quite dead – these are the “twice dead” (in flesh and spirit – Jude1:12). They are the offspring of the Evil One (1Jn3:12), the children of Hell (Mt23:15). The theological error has been to lump the second and third categories together as “the unsaved”. They are unsaved in the gospel sense, but with radically different natures and destinies. This pertains to an eluded universal covenant and the role of evil within divine providence, the sustaining of which mystery was foretold and divinely intended. Its end-time resolution is cryptically alluded to in canonical Scripture, more overtly so in the Book of Enoch.

 In terms of sowing and reaping, Paul has just shown why pursuing the desires of the flesh results in rotten fruit and spiritual death (previous post). The apostle concludes the passage touching upon another recurring theme within these posts: that whilst election to the Covenant of Promise is unconditional and unmerited, final salvation is dependant on human effort as well as grace: “Let’s not become discouraged in doing good, for in due time we will reap providing we do not become weary”. No doubt to the bewilderment of many readers, Paul elsewhere likens the Christian pilgrimage to competitors in a stadium. Many embark upon the race but few shall attain the prize (1Cor9:24-27) – that prize being an intimate and eternal association with God’s Son, sharing His throne, no less (Rev3:21; 19:7). The fact that proportionately few, even amongst those who have been baptized (Rev3:4) shall be counted worthy to attain such an honour will be better understood in the context of the vastly broader benign providence outlined in my book. For, “God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He set forth in Christ regarding His plan to be put into effect in the fullness of the times, to bring all things together into Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph1:9-10).

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FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

13 For you were called to freedom brothers; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you harm and devour one another, take care that you are not destroyed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the desire of the flesh is against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, in order to keep you from doing whatever you desire. 18 But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I forewarn you before and I will warn you again that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have extinguished the flesh with its passions and desires. [Gal5:13-24]

Spirit or spirit?

Firstly, a point about translation. This is the first occasion in the New Testament where I have not followed the casing of Spirit/spirit (Πνεύμα/ πνεῦμα) as it is set out in the Textus Receptus (Nestle 1904 version) utilized by Bible Hub. As previously explained, there was neither casing nor punctuation in the original Greek text of the New Testament. So whether Paul intended “spirit” or “Spirit” was at the discretion of the early monk-scribes who copied the texts for posterity. Their selection of Πνεύμα rather than πνεῦμα throughout Gal5 is surprising given how Rom8 had earlier been translated. That rightly affirmed that when Paul referred to the spirit he was generally referring to the human spirit as in the crucial verse Rom8:4 which the Textus Receptus rightly relays as “ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα = “the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who do not walk after the flesh but after the spirit”.

In terms of Gal5, the strongest evidence that Paul intends “spirit” (i.e. human spirit) rather than “Spirit” (Holy Spirit) is verse 17: “For the desire of the flesh is against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, in order to keep you from doing whatever you desire”.  This is similar to what he writes in Rom7:18-23 where he refers to the spirit as the inner-man that delights in God’s law versus the “flesh” which opposes it. He is comparing the fleshly part of man with the spiritual component (inner man), the former being that which was procreated from our human parents, the latter being that which was planted by God at birth and returns to Him when body and brain are buried or incinerated (Eccles12:7; cf. 1Thes5:23). Through the goodness of God and as a form of common grace, man has been provided with such spiritual faculties in order, as Paul writes in the same verse, to keep him from fulfilling everything the flesh might desire, none of which is likely to be good. “For I recognize that there is no good whatsoever within me, that is in my flesh, for the willingness to do good is indeed present but the ability to fully accomplish it is lacking” (Rom7:18). That verse should be kept in mind when considering what Paul is about to write concerning the respective fruit of flesh and spirit.

Freedom to love

Before that, Paul concludes his teaching on freedom, cautioning against it giving opportunity to the flesh; rather the Galatians should serve one another in love, being the purpose and summary of the law (v14). In so doing Paul is indicating that the Christian is not to ignore, still less oppose God’s law, he is to fulfil its ultimate purpose and intention. To avoid confusion with the Law (Torah) one might refer to it as Christ’s law as indeed Paul does next chapter (6:2) or in James’ language, the royal law of love for neighbour (2:8). Either way, the Christian must fulfil it as both verses state and Paul is about to re-affirm. Failure to do so could lead to the Galatian Christians he is addressing destroying one another (v15) as would their fulfilling the desires of the flesh (v16). If they walk after the spirit, God’s law will hold nothing against them (v23) – not so if they continue to be under the domination of the flesh (v18).

Fruit of the spirit and flesh

But then examine the fruits of the spirit and flesh that Paul outlines (vv19-23). Note every fruit of the flesh is degenerate, rotten, destructive, hateful, impure or evil. Yet I for one believed for the first 28 years of my Christian life that such was man by nature – devoid of spirit and therefore the ability to produce any of the sublime qualities Paul defines as fruit of the spirit. Augustine and some of his 4th/5th century contemporaries, more especially Jerome upended the earlier Church’s consistent teaching by asserting that man did not possess a spirit, merely a body and soul – rotten from birth. Hence Augustine’s dire assertion that human beings can do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action” except they “had fled to the grace of Christ  [“On Rebuke and Grace”]. Such a denigration of human morality, apart from delighting man’s satanic Adversary, was the catalyst to what would one day result in “the theology of sovereign grace” that I am determinedly deconstructing. And I am more than happy to do so utilizing the teaching of the apostle who was supposed to have been its authenticator.

The “fruit of the spirit or Spirit” must refer to what the spirit or Spirit directly produces, which for the reasons I am indicating pertains to man when he is at his best: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness ,gentleness, self-control (vv22-23). If one cannot discern that a non-Christian is perfectly capable of all these qualities and exercises them to a degree in his or her personal relationships, one is either profoundly deluded or as in my former case, doctrinally soul-poisoned. Whilst I was aware that many of my fellow Evangelicals held more congenial assessments of their unconverted fellows,  I claimed then as I claim now that such were not being faithful to the Augustinian derived Reformed theology that was foundational to our movement. Still more to the point, a more nuanced perspective watered down Scripture as we had been taught to interpret it. For if it were indeed the case that man had no God-planted spirit but was in his totality what I have elsewhere described as a procreated intellectual vessel (cf. 1Thes4:4) provided with a soul rotten from birth, such depravity would indeed have been the reality. So would the end-times cosmic horror show that I  perplexedly had understood to be its logical outcome: the bulk of humanity to be doomed to eternal misery at Christ’s behest (cf. Col1:16; Jn5:22). Thankfully, what I believed for so long was no Gospel at all but a travesty. Truly, the theology of sovereign grace is brilliantly conceived because it is capable of being couched in such pious terms. But by Whom had we actually been deceived? (2Thes2:11-12).

The twice dead

Paradoxically, the point I am making concerning the reality of the human spirit is strengthened by the fact that there are some who are indeed devoid of any good fruit. They are like their archetype Cain: “ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ”, derived from the Evil One, category three, children of the devil (1Jn3 vv10+12). How else does Scripture describe them? – “trees without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots” (Jude1:12). “Twice dead” for they are dead in flesh and spirit whereas man by nature is not.  He is dead “in trespasses and sins” due to the body of this death. But that is his flesh (vessel) not his spirit (Paul’s “inner man”). As quoted above, the latter delights in God’s law and its outworking: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. but is unable consistently to live up to these qualities. Why? “For I see another law in my bodily members warring against the law of my (spiritual) mind bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my body” (Rom7:23)

Disempowering the body of sin

But that is not to be the case for the Christian. For completing Rom7: “Wretched man that I am – who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God it is through Jesus Christ”. In what sense, Paul? “Don’t you realize that we who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? “Our old self was crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be disempowered such that we would no longer be under its sinful dominion” (Rom6:6). But as the apostle indicates in this Galatian passage it is by no means a fait accompli. If it were “all of the Spirit” that would be the case, but it is because our own spirit and will are involved that Paul must issue a warning. “I forewarned you (Galatian Christians) before and I will warn you again that those who practice such (works of the flesh) will not inherit the kingdom of God”(v21).

It should be becoming increasingly evident that “sola fide” and “sola gratia” don’t cut the mustard with Paul’s teaching anymore than they do with Christ’s. For sure, faith and grace are indispensable, but final salvation concerns what we do, our lives and legacy; punishment and rewards likewise (Rom2:6-11; Mt25:31-46; Rev20:12). Paul likens the Christian journey to a race in which only a few shall win a prize (1Cor9:24-27) whilst Jesus refers eight times in Revelation to the rewards that await those “who overcome”. And what do they overcome? It is surely the passions and desires of the flesh. Concluding the passage: Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have extinguished the flesh with its passions and desires (v24). The “flesh” has been extinguished. That cannot be a forensic act; an imputation of Another’s righteousness – for the overriding passions and desires themselves need to be extinguished by the believer (v24). By “passions and desires”, Paul does not exclusively have sexual misdemeanours in mind but the full range of “flesh-fruits” he has mentioned. The fact that Christians have been given wondrous incentives and the SPIRITUAL RESOURCES to overcome the sinful tendencies of the body is absolutely a work of grace; a result of divine teaching, the Holy Spirit’s enabling and above all the faithfulness of Christ even unto death. But self-control and personal discipline have always been central to Paul’s message as Governor Felix discovered and trembled at its hearing (Acts24:25). Paul is insistent that not only faith but a devotion to Christ and His teaching along with self-discipline are required for so great a salvation which the believer himself is very much involved in accomplishing (Phi2:12).

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FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE

Gal5:6

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Look! I, Paul, tell you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who has himself circumcised, that he is obligated to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law; you have fallen from graceFor we, through the spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. [Gal5:1-6]

Freedom from what?

Paul opens his remarks with the statement: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free”. In view of what many currently understand to be the gospel, they would assume such freedom must relate to deliverance from God’s punishment for human sin. But that is not the case, either in Paul’s reference here or in Jesus’s statement recorded in the Gospels that “if the Son shall set you free you shall be free indeed” (Jn8:36). In the apostle’s case he is referring to the Torah, its regulations and the Christian’s exemption from its requirements. In Jesus’ statement it pertains to deliverance from the dominating power of sin, and that is a recurring theme of Paul as should be becoming evident. This passage also makes it abundantly clear that what might appear to be Paul’s anti-law rhetoric in Galatians is directed at those wishing to reinstate Torah: “I, Paul, tell you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (v2). Why? Because “every man who has himself circumcised is obligated to keep the whole Law (v3). This is not a tirade against law itself, for to the chagrin of many Western theologians, even an unregenerate Paul had delighted in God’s law in his inner man (i.e. his spirit). The problem Paul had identified in the passage to which I have to keep referring (Rom7) was the degenerate condition of the “vessel” that the eternal spirit of man temporarily inhabits. Paul variously describes it as “the flesh”, “the body of sin” or “body of this death” (vv22-24). But as that apostle exultantly declares when concluding that passage, the matter has been resolved for the Christian by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (v25). For through baptism, “Our old self has been crucified with Christ in order that our body of sin might be nullified such that we might no longer be under its sinful dominion (Rom6:6). For what purpose? “So that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who no longer act in accordance with the instincts of the flesh but with the spirit” (Rom8:4)

Love actually

So, far from despising the law, the Christian is intended to fulfil its requirements! As to what Paul means by “the requirement of the law”, he specifies that later in the chapter: “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall LOVE your neighbor as yourself” (v14). For after all, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom13:9). It will astonish many that duty to God is not directly mentioned in Paul’s summary of the Law – it all pertains to our relations with other human beings. Likewise in Jesus’ definitive passage on final judgement, there is no mention of service to God (or indeed religious faith), only one’s response to one’s fellows. Hence, “When did we help You Lord when you were so in need?” “Truly I tell you in as much as you helped the least of these whom I regard as My own kindred, you did it to Me” (cf. Mt25:40). This mystery pertains to the vastly broader benign providence I have been outlining which I won’t expand upon here (see earlier post). However, for the Christian, unlike the Mt25 “sheep”, a personal knowledge of Christ is essential as is dutiful service to God. It is why we were recreated (2Cor5:17) – to relate more fully to God even whilst in mortal flesh so that in turn we might fulfil still greater expectations in the ages to come (Rev3:21 &19:7).

Falling from grace

As for those, like myself in the past, who understood it to be impossible to fall from grace, the people Paul was addressing had done just that (v4). They had nullified what their Lord, Master and Saviour had achieved for them through His Passion. Apart from acting as a universal propitiation for sin (1Jn2:2), Jesus had “cancelled the written code with its regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col2:14NIV). That “written code with its regulations” was of course the Torah. As decreed by angels (Gal3:19), the Law had been established for the people of God – those chosen to be a holy nation and priesthood for the world (cf. Ex19:6; 1Pet2:9). The Law was to act as their guardian and instructor until Messiah should come. But now He had come and so had the Holy Spirit after His ascension. As prophesied in the Old Testament God’s law was to be written in His peoples’ hearts by the Spirit (Heb8:10). And as Paul has just indicated, Christians have been empowered and spiritually provisioned to fulfil the requirement of God’s Law themselves, not through divine proxy (Rom8:4; James2:8).

Faith working through love

So, walk according to the spirit rather than the flesh and fulfil the heart and purpose of the law. But forget the Law: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love (v6). Much as some might wish to dissemble, “πίστις δι’ ἀγάπης ἐνεργουμένη” can mean nothing other than “faith working through love”. And when that concept has been apprehended, what I have been explaining above, especially regarding Christ’s teaching on final judgement, together with the vastly broader benign providence being outlined will more readily fall into place.

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CHILDREN OF PROMISE

 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the Law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman.  But the son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.  This is speaking allegorically, for these women are two covenants: one coming from Mount Sinai giving birth to children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.  Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.  For it is written: “Rejoice, infertile one, you who do not give birth; Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; for the children of the desolate one are more numerous than those of the one who has a husband.”  And you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.  But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is even now.  But what does the Scripture say? “Drive out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.”  So then, brothers, we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman [Gal4:21-31].

“The Law” Paul is referring to in the opening verse is the Pentateuch, being the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. For he is quoting from Genesis. Hagar was the servant-girl Abraham (then Abram) took to himself encouraged by his wife to conceive an heir. As we know, Abraham later miraculously conceived a son Isaac through his elderly wife Sarah in accordance with God’s promise. This led to rivalries between Sarah and Hagar and between the two young boys. The Scripture Paul quotes regarding “driving out” the slave woman and her son was a retort of Sarah. As was the case with his description of the Law’s purpose, Paul doesn’t always present the full picture but is making a particular pastoral point. For Abraham had felt very differently about the matter to his wife regarding Ishmael and Hagar. Indeed, Abraham called upon God to bless Ishmael and the Lord obliged (Gen17:20).  Ishmael was also circumcised by his father and was sent away having received Abraham’s personal blessing. Yet as Genesis and Paul indicate, it was certainly the case that God had chosen Sarah’s son whom He insisted be called Isaac (“He Laughs”) in view of his parents’ bemused tittering (Gen17:17 &18:15). It was to be his seed rather than Ishmael’s that would be the members of God’s elective (i.e. exclusive) covenant.

Yet as stated above, Ishmael was not only blessed by his father but by Father God. That was not to condemn him and his seed “to a lost eternity”. That would have been no sort of a blessing for a human soul who was also the fruit of Abraham’s loins. Yet Ishmael’s seed, like the vast majority who have occupied the planet were not to be the children of promise. The covenant with Isaac was exclusive as is its replacement sealed with Christ’s blood that Paul refers to in the passage under consideration (Gal4:28). That is a matter of God’s elective choice, it is not the covenant that determines the eternal destination of the soul. That pertains to who is of God and who is of the devil (1Jn3:10). That in turn is determined through the theologically eluded  covenant referred to back in Genesis 4:7(strictly KJV), the participants appropriately being the first two human beings to born of woman, Cain and Abel. Abel didn’t “get saved”, Cain reprobated having shown himself to be “ek tou ponerou” – derived from the Evil One (1Jn3:12). Whilst that was not the covenant Paul was alluding to in this passage, the apostle’s reference to Isaac and Ishmael impinges upon the subject that is always closest to my heart: the breadth of God’s benign providence. For that in turn pertains to the Creator’s intelligible goodness and equitable justice, including towards the Arab people of which many believe Ishmael to be patriarch. I commented on the matter in my book with which excerpt I will close: 

“Just as Cain and Abel being the first siblings to be born of woman were representative players in the Universal Covenant, Ishmael and Isaac are such for the new embedded elective covenant established through Abraham. The difference here is that unlike Cain, Ishmael was not disqualified by his actions, he just wasn’t selected in the first place, whereas within an inclusive covenant all are admitted but some default. Ishmael had been circumcised by his father Abraham and blessed by God [Gen17:20] but Sarah’s son Isaac was elected to inherit the promises given to his Father Abraham. However, God continued to relate favourably to Ishmael [Gen21:20]. He was still accepted within the Universal Covenant of life as potentially were his descendants. Others outside or preceding the Abrahamic Covenant specifically referred to as righteous in the Old Testament include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Lot and Job. As for the Christian:

You brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise [Gal4:28]

And you sisters and brethren, if baptized, are in the elective covenant that replaced Abraham’s and you are there by grace alone. Others like Ishmael are loved by God but not elected to that exclusive family predestined before the foundation of the world to form the community in which the education and spiritual resources are provided for individuals to become holy and faultless in love before God through Jesus Christ [Eph1:4-5]. That is the Church, priesthood for the world, brought forth by God’s will to be the first fruit of a restored universe”. [Excerpt from “The Little Book of Providence” – chapter 3]

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CHILDREN OF GOD

“I (the Lord) said you are gods: you are children of the Most High” – Ps82:6

Whilst an heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave, although he is to be owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So we too, when we were children were held in bondage under the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, so that He might redeem those who were under law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles, to which you want to be enslaved all over again? 10 You meticulously observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain [Gal4:1-11]

The illustration Paul uses in the opening verses concerning a child being under guardians and managers suggest he has a wealthy Roman rather than Jewish family in mind. Until the father deemed his son ready to be formally adopted as his heir, the latter would have been under the guardianship of a non-family member such as a senior slave or servant. That had been the meaning of παιδαγωγὸς in the previous chapter (v24) regarding the role of the Mosaic Law acting as a guardian up to the coming of Christ. But, writes Paul in this passage, when the time was right God sent His Son to redeem “those under law” which he also describes as “the elementary principles of the world”. To whom is the apostle referring? God’s elect? – certainly it will include those, but the context here is surely broader. For in his opening statement Paul writes simply that Jesus had been sent to redeem those under law. Only Jews and proselytes were “under the Law” as such, whereas the whole human race was under “the elementary principles of the world”. That is until in the fulness of time God sent His Son so that all in due course might come to be adopted as God’s children. I say “all in due course” for Paul elsewhere and slightly less cryptically than here in Galatians indicates that God intends that all true humanity (1Jn3:12) shall one day enjoy the liberty and privileges of the children of God.  I have two passages in mind, the first is in Romans:

 19For creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only they, but also we who have received the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, i.e. the redemption of our body (Rom8:19-23).

The highlighted text is surely indicative of a broader salvific strategy. For God’s elect will have already been delivered from “slavery to corruption”, not so the rest of creation (v21). And note verse 23: “not only they, but also we ourselves who have received the first fruits of the Spirit await adoptions as children of God. And the following passage from Ephesians provides insights into the context of God’s elect within such broader benign providence:

God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, with which He has endued us in the Beloved… He made known to us the mystery of His will 10 regarding an administration for the fullness of the times, to bring all things together in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. 11 In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will, 12 to the end that we being those who trusted in advance in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” [Eph1:5-12]

Paul describes God’s elect as those who have trusted or hoped in advance of Christ’s coming [“προηλπικότας”] . They will be specially favoured when He does come having been suitably prepared. For even whilst in mortal flesh they have become God’s children, possessing the Spirit by which they cry “Abba, Father”. That is why Paul is flabbergasted that some Galatian Christians were now turning back to the “weak and beggarly elements” of the world. In their case it pertained to Torah or the “deeds of the Law” – being circumcised and “meticulously observing days, months, seasons and years” (v10). As Paul will go on to explain in the next chapter, those who chose to be circumcised obligated themselves to keeping the whole Jewish Law whereas “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (v6).

That profound utterance concerning the nature and outworking of faith together with related statements in the same passage (ch5 vv5-24) will continue to affirm that Paul’s teaching on grace, law and gospel is not the doctrinal outlier that Luther and the Reformers took it to be. It is in  line with every other contributor to the New Testament. And surely that has to be so, especially in Jesus’ case. For the risen Lord’s commission to His disciples had been to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I (Jesus) commanded you (Mt28:18-20). If we understand the 13th apostle to have turned Jesus’ teaching regarding faith, works, law and judgement on its head then Paul would be an apostate – a false apostle. But contrary to the unwitting assertions of many, he did nothing of the sort as I shall continue to demonstrate.

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THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW

17 What I am saying is this: the Law which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, nullifying the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 So what is the purpose of the Law? It was added on account of the violations, having been ordered through angels at the hand of a mediator, until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; but God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? Far from it! For if a law had been given that was able to impart Life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, so that the promise through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness [ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ] might be given to those who believe. 2But before faith came, we were guarded by the Law, being confined for the faith that was yet to be revealed24 Therefore the Law has become our guardian to Christ so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 For you are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus [διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ]. [Gal3:17-26]

Frankly it is no wonder that Paul has so often been misunderstood. Every word of the passage we have arrived at in Galatians 3 is truth, but it focusses on certain aspects concerning the Law whilst omitting others. I have pointed out before, that is because Paul is not writing a theological treatise but attending to particular pastoral issues. In this case it is to repudiate the teaching of the Judaizing heretics that had infiltrated the Galatian churches. They had taught that Torah observance was essential for Christians and implied that observing the Law could be grounds for righteousness in the eyes of God. Paul therefore sets out the context of the Law as a temporary measure. In particular, he makes the point that its introduction could never invalidate the promise made to Abraham which had been based on faith, not compliance with law.

The true purpose of the Law

Paul also writes here that the purpose of the Law was to deal with violations (v19), i.e. to restrain sin and expose it when it occurred. What Paul doesn’t mention (for it is not essential to the pastoral point he is making) is that whilst justification had never been on the basis of keeping the Law, nor could it impart Life (v21), the covenantal requirements that God made with Israel via the intermediaries of Moses and angels were entirely do-able. Says who? Says God, through His servant Moses:

“For this commandment which I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far away.  It is not in heaven that you could say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and get it for us, and proclaim it to us, so that we may perform it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you could say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and proclaim it to us, so that we may perform it?’  On the contrary, the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may perform it. (Deut30:11-14)

 This actually pertains to natural law but I won’t develop that idea further in this particular context (see note 1). For the other key point concerning the purpose of the Law was alluded to by Moses. It is that God’s chosen race and their Laws were to be a witness to the rest of the world concerning the wisdom of the statutes themselves and the prudence of those who adhered to them:

“Look, as JHWE my God commanded me (Moses), I have taught you laws and customs for you to observe in the country in which you are to take possession. Keep them and put them into practice and other nations will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation Israel” (Deut4:5,6).

Augustine’s misreading of the Law

So, it is absolutely not the case that the Law was given to God’s people with a view to them “acknowledging their inability to act in obedience, give up their own efforts to be righteous and trust in God’s mercy”. Still less, to put their trust in a future Saviour, “believing in the incarnation, Passion and resurrection of Christ as a future event” as Augustine outrageously suggested in his anti-Pelagian writing (Book III chapter11). That whole notion, which I as a former Calvinist Evangelical was taught to believe, is a non-runner for three key reasons:

i) It is nowhere suggested in the Old Testament itself; quite the opposite as Moses’ statement affirmed;

ii) In terms of trusting in a future Saviour, Christ’s own disciples were clueless concerning Jesus’ future death, let alone the purpose of it, even having been at His side for three years (Lk18:33-34);

iii) Paul here in Gal3 affirms that justification through faith in a Saviour was not known to those within the Mosaic Covenant: “Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law, being confined for the faith that had yet to be revealed” (v23).

Augustine’s assertions built upon by the Protestant Reformers largely came about in view of his rejection of natural law [note 1] – principles that the likes of Irenaeus and Eusebius indicate had been universally accepted within the 2nd century Church. Augustine’s position was also an overreaction to the teachings of Pelagius. But primarily it was a misreading of Paul’s teaching. No great surprise there, for his fellow apostle Peter acknowledged Paul’s writings were prone to be misunderstood even in his own day, sometimes with fatal consequences (2Pet3:16). The result in this case: a tendency to antinomianism and the repugnant doctrine usually referred to as “the theology of sovereign grace”. I malign it as I do because it distorts God’s kindly providential care towards humanity as a whole. It belittles the scope and efficacy of Christ’s saving work (note 1) and presents those created in God’s image as innately depraved rather than people whose spirits temporarily inhabit a corrupted intellectual vessel – Paul’s “body of this death” (Rom7:24-25). Sovereign grace theology deems our entire spiritual essence to be corrupt in itself. As a result, according to Augustine, man by nature can do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action(Rebuke and Grace chap.3). Whilst in my former hero Calvin’s words: “All men’s thoughts, inclinations and efforts are corrupt and viscous”, even young infants being “odious and an abomination to God; their very natures being a seed-bed of sin” [Institutes of Christian Religion – Second Book chap. 1 para 8]. 

Such sentiments are piously packaged and presented as a doctrine that claims to exalt God’s grace whilst “trouncing man’s arrogant determination to in some way contribute to his own salvation”. Yet it is a doctrine that must delight Satan’s heart in view of what it implies about both divine and human nature. That is no doubt why his party has shown such displeasure that such an ingenious fabrication is being systematically dismantled by yours truly.

But regrettably many sincere Christians shall also take offence. For whilst, even within this post, I have alluded to doctrinal errors within the Roman Church, for those who separated from her 500 years ago my denouncements are foundational to their movement’s raison d’être. Yet the purpose of this exercise is not primarily to point out error or “deconstruct”. Many could do that and make a more convincing case than mine. But only with the Holy Spirit’s help could a coherent biblical synopsis be provided in its place. In view of its intrinsic coherence and the phenomena I have alluded to in my earlier testimony, I believe such has happened with regard to The Little Book of Providence. It is for those who are sufficiently theologically literate and (far rarer) faction-free to determine whether that is the case. But frankly, a virtually unprecedented movement of the Spirit would be needed to bring about what I understand must occur prior to Christ’s return (cf. Jn17:11; Mt24:14).


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  • Note 1 – “Natural Law” – In the words of 3rd century Church historian Eusebius: “The Creator has impressed a natural law upon the soul as an assistant and ally in man’s conduct. It points out to him the right way by this law; but endowed by a free liberty, man makes the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance; because he has acted rightly from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise”. As I have outlined in earlier posts, by positively responding to these innate spiritual faculties the majority (those who are of God – 1Jn3:12) benefit from the forensic (guilt remedying) fruits of Christ Passion whereas the participatory (sanctifying /empowering) benefits are restricted to those in whom Christ dwells and who dwell in Him (Jn6:56)

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