Image showing You reap what you sow

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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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 psyche 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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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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 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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“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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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).


  • 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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3 O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Therefore, recognize that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10 For all who are of works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the Law, to do them.” 11 Now, that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous one will live by faith.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “The person who performs them will live by them.” (Gal3:1-12)

For some such as Luther, this will have been a favourite passage of Scripture. Less so for me, not because I don’t agree and delight in every word of it but because I know this whole area of Paul’s teaching has been misunderstood, for some fatally so. Everything is fine, providing one understands the context of Paul’s anti-Law tirade. It is the Torah, or rather the perverted idea that righteousness before God can be obtained by keeping it. That notion is perverted because it fails to recognize that man by nature is incapable of keeping the letter of God’s Law in view of the flesh – or as Paul aptly refers to our earthly vessel, the body of this death. Still worse, says Paul, it implies that Christ had had a wasted death (v21).

“Works of the Law” = Torah

That Paul is referring here to the Torah is indisputable. He describes it as “the Book of the Law” (v10), that is why it needed to be kept to the letter. And later in the chapter, when referring to the promise given to Abraham Paul states that “the Law which came 430 years later, cannot invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God”. That covenant promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham, as would all those who “believed” (v9). But as ever, Abraham’s own faith was attested and his righteousness affirmed by what he did (Heb11:8). Faith invariably results in doing what God would wish us to do . That is effectively to respond to God’s law (with a small “l”). “Faith alone” is therefore a meaningless concept – as James indicated, faith that is alone is dead (2:17). And as affirmed in the previous post, James in his epistle just like Paul was referring to faith that justifies before God (2:24). Indeed, good works are so intrinsic to saving faith that Jesus does not even mention the latter at all in his definitive passage on final judgement (Mt25). Yet as I also explained last time, the “sheep” were justified by faith that prompted their acts of kindness, not the perfection of the deeds themselves. They were incapable of being performed to perfection in view of the flesh.

Love for neighbour – Paul’s summary of the law (Gal5:14)

The latter point leads us to consider what Paul really thought about God’s law: “I delight in God’s law in my inner man but I see another law in my bodily members warring against the law of my mind bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my body” (Rom7:22,23).  Such delighting [συνήδομαι] is not so surprising when one grasps that the spirit and intention of God’s law can be summed up in one phrase: love for one’s fellows (Gal5:14). If that is entirely absent, one is not truly human. It in turn explains Christ’s favour towards the Mt25 sheep, who by their acts of kindness (however incomplete and inadequate) had fulfilled the spirit of the law. And such is true of all people by nature, providing they are not the seed of Satan (Mt13:38; Mt15:13; Mt25:41*; 1Jn3:12). For the person Paul depicted in Rom7 had yet to be delivered (“saved”) from the “body of this death” – the “this” referring to the inner conflict he was describing which disrupted his relationship with God), which is what Paul means by “die” and “death” in this context.

But if like Saul of Tarsus one does go on to encounter the grace of the gospel: “Don’t you know 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. For what purpose? “So that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who no longer walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (Rom8:4)

Torah abolished by the Cross

The bible is essential, but unlike our Jewish forefathers the Christian no longer needs to refer to the book of Law; it is written in the heart. “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds and write them on their hearts (Heb8:10). As for the Book of Law: Thank you Jesus: “Having 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). But God’s law itself is to be delighted in. Those like King and Psalmist David who were after God’s own heart have always done so: “Blessed is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly or stand in the way of sinners but his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night” (Ps1:1-2). Back to Galatians and Paul declares that the Law (Torah) is not of faith (v12) yet the law that he spoke of in Rom7 he declared to be spiritual (v14).

Paul’s tripartite anthropology

Regrettably, some of Paul’s teaching in this area has been distorted by mistaking the human spirit for the Holy Spirit, perhaps the most important passage being (Rom8:1-17 interlinear). If you examine every reference to spirit (πνεῦμα) and observe the English translation as to whether it is spirit or Spirit, you will see it always infers the Holy Spirit (“Spirit”). Then examine the Greek and it is a very different story, and consequently has a different meaning, especially and critically verse 13. For writing to Christians, Paul declares “If you live in accord with the flesh you are about to die; but if by the spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, then you will live. Actually in this case (no pun intended), even if Paul were referring to the Holy Spirit it is still the “you” that has to mortify the flesh aided by the Spirit. In most occasions in that Rom8 passage the Greek specifies πνεῦμα (implicating the human spirit) rather than Πνεύμα (Holy Spirit or Spirit of Christ) except in the case of vv9&11 which is clearly referring to the divine personage.

The Greek text in question derives from the earliest Byzantium manuscripts, crucially drafted before the likes of 4th / 5th century Augustine and Jerome denied the tripartite nature of humanity that had been accepted by the earliest Church. Jerome was primarily responsible for the Latin Vulgate bible utilized by the Roman Catholic Church. Some later Catholic versions I have seen (e.g. New American Bible) rightly differentiate spirit from Spirit in this passage – not so, the New Jerusalem Bible. The 16th century Protestant Reformers utilized the aforementioned Greek Textus Receptus but they disregarded the early scribes’ casing of πνεῦμα/ Πνεύμα. That was to suit their own theology having, like Augustine and Jerome, rejected the Ancient Church’s (not to mention Paul’s) tripartite anthropology (e.g. 1Thes5:23).

The mystery of lawlessness

I have certainly mentioned this before and shall no doubt have to do so again as we proceed through the Pauline epistles. For it entirely changes the meaning of his teaching, affirming the believer to be very much involved and responsible for (in Paul’s language) working out his own salvation with fear and trembling – not believing it will invariably be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In the process it brings Paul in line with every other contributor to Scripture (including Jesus and James) rather than making him out to be the extraordinary maverick that the long-held historical renderings infer.

As the late-called apostle to the Gentiles, there are legitimate distinctives to Paul’s teaching that he on two occasions refers to as “my gospel”. These pertain to the Gentiles’ unforetold spiritual inheritance and the consequential breaking down of divisions by abolishing the Torah (Eph2:13-15), a passage referring to reconciling Jews with Gentiles, not the sinner with God. Such is the context of the apostle’s anti-Law (rather than anti-law) rhetoric here in Galatians as we shall continue to discover – and with some trepidation weigh up the fuller implications of this extraordinary yet fore-ordained mystery of lawlessness.

[*Mt25:41 For “angels” in this context read human agents or messengers – Greek: ἀγγέλοιςG32 ]

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Related post: On spirit and letter


11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of some men from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, fearing those of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles; 16εἰδότες δὲ ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦκαὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται ⸃ πᾶσα σάρξ [Gal2:11-16]

Paul’s rebuke of Peter

The first part of the passage is relatively straightforward. Paul is confronting Peter and other Jewish believers because they stopped socializing and eating with Gentiles for fear of some who had come into the Church insisting that non-Jews be circumcised and followed other requirements of the Torah. So, whilst Peter and the like excused themselves from such requirements (i.e. lived like Gentiles), they were effectively expecting Gentile converts to live like Jews. That, as Paul rightly called it, was hypocrisy.

Then the fun begins, and it starts with the translation. In the quoted passage I have retained the Greek for verse 16 (i.e. what Paul actually wrote) as a reference point for those with some familiarity with biblical Greek. [Given the availability of interlinear translations, all that is needed to verify most of the points I raise is a good grasp of English grammar and some awareness of how, say, the genitive case was utilized in biblical Greek, discoverable on the internet].

Gal2:16 & the faithfulness of Christ

And so to the translation, but as ever there are options (i.e. ambiguities) concerning exactly how verse 16 should be translated. The translation utilized by most bible versions results in a double tautology, i.e. Paul would appear to be saying the same thing three times in the same verse – viz. “believe in Christ” (x3). “ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν” can only be referring to the believer’s faith in Christ. Not so, “διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ” or “ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ” which more commentators are coming to recognize should be treated as a subjective genitive. That is, it is not referring to a believer’s faith in Christ but to Christ’s own faithfulness in fulfilling His mission to rescue humanity. [You can see some typical discussion on the subject HERE]. Then there is the conjunction ἐὰν μὴmeaning “if not” i.e. unless or except, which has almost uniformly been disregarded in English translations [commented on HERE]. Taking these points on board, Gal2:16 should in fact read along the lines: “But knowing that a person is not justified by works of the Law except (or apart from) Jesus Christ’s faithfulness, so we have believed in Jesus Christ in order that we might be justified by Christ’s faithfulness and not by works of the Law – for no flesh can be justified by the works of law”.

Paul not to contradict Jesus’ teaching on final judgement

The yardstick I am applying throughout this process is that Paul’s teaching on faith and justification must cohere with that of Jesus, as well as every other apostle for that matter. If there appears to be a conflict, as there usually is with regard to the definitive Mt25 (sheep and goats) passage on final judgement, then either Paul (as some dare to say) is a false apostle or his teaching has been substantially misunderstood. I am affirming it is the latter. So when theἐὰν μὴ conjunction is included in v16 [which it should be – Paul wrote it, it is a part of Scripture], the inference is that works can justify in view of Christ’s saving work. But then surely that accords with Jesus’ teaching in Mt25 – the only reason provided for the “sheep” being accepted into God’s Kingdom was their acts of kindness to those in need, whom Christ as Son of Man Himself represents (Mt25:40).

But can works in themselves justify a man? By no means! “For no flesh is to be justified by works of law” (v16b). At first sight that appears to contradict what Paul has just stated in v16a. But note the change of subject from “man” (ἄνθρωπος) to “flesh” (σάρξ). Of course, σάρξ can and does sometimes represent incarnate man as a whole (e.g. Phi1:22) but more often with Paul “flesh” is referring to what I have described as the procreated intellectual vessel (i.e. body plus brain minus spirit). Paul and Peter also refer to this entity as our earthly tent or vessel (2Cor5:1; 1Thes4:4; 2Pet1:13-14) – i.e. that which is left behind when the spiritual part of us returns to God (Eccles12:7). Unlike the whole person, that fleshly part of us is morally bankrupt: “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 (κατεργάζεσθαι) is lacking” (Rom7:18).

Paul and James concur at last

This in turn reconciles Paul with James and the writer to the Hebrews, both of whom more obviously challenge Luther’s notion of faith as primarily a trust/reliance/assurance regarding the saving work of Christ. For James writes: “Someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (2:18). If James is to be believed (of course Luther didn’t believe him) it affirms that faith cannot be as Evangelicals usually define it. For how can one demonstrate the fact that one is “relying on Christ’s merits” or “ceasing from one’s own efforts to be righteous and looking to Christ’s finished work on the Cross” or suchlike by one’s works? Such a substantiation could equally suggest the contrary. Ah, say some, Paul and James are speaking of faith in different contexts. But clearly Paul is writing concerning faith that saves or justifies a man before God, but so is James (2:14). Likewise, the writer to the Hebrews makes clear that faith is a virtue (11:4-40) and that it pertains to seeking a reward from God (especially v6). On the face of it, it may appear that Jesus (in Mt25) and James (ch2) are suggesting that justification is on the basis of works, but that is absolutely not the case as I shall explain.

Justification by faith nothing new

Paul affirms it, justification is and always has been based on “πίστις” – faith or faithfulness. “For as it is written ‘the righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom1:17). But where is it written? In the prophecy of Habakkuk: “Behold, as for the one who is puffed up, his soul is not right within him; but one who is righteous will live by his faithfulness” (Hab2:4). “אֱמוּנָה” means firmness, fidelity or faithfulness as I have translated it. As can be examined HERE,  of the 48 occurrences of the word in the NASB , only once has it been translated as faith and that is here in Hab2:4! You will observe from the other references that it is a quality that God Himself possesses so it is most assuredly a virtue. By relating justifying faith to this verse in Habakkuk Paul is affirming that a person is justified before God in view of a virtue he or she possesses, viz.  אֱמוּנָה / πίστις / faith / faithfulness. However, unlike the Deity, humans only possess it to a degree, never to perfection. But I know a Man who does, and it is on the basis of His faithfulness that a person who exercises their own faith or faithfulness is ultimately/meritoriously justified before God [ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ]. Hence “a person is not justified by works of the Law except (or apart from) Jesus Christ’s faithfulness” (Gal2:16a).

Works of themselves cannot justify

And contrary to what Jesus and James might appear to be saying, man is not justified by the works themselves. For the Mt25 sheep cannot have perfectly fulfilled God’s law of love for neighbour to its letter, but they had fulfilled the spirit of the law, as indeed must all those who are to avoid perdition (Gal5:14; Rom13:8; Rom2:13; Mt25:45). If the “sheep” had been justified by works, perfection would have been required. But (we might all agree), fallen man is incapable of such perfection in view of the flesh – hence “No flesh can be justified by works of law (Gal2:16b). That is why by the grace of God, at the universal/historical level man is justified simply by exercising a quality he possesses by nature: faith or faithfulness to the light provided to him in his spirit. It functions through the conscience such that  “When Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law for themselves in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying such that their thoughts either accuse or defend their actions (Rom2:14-15). That is why the “sheep” did what they did – however imperfectly, they demonstrated love/compassion (Greek: ἀγάπη) because their “hearts” (inner man) and consciences prompted them to do so (Rom7:22).

So that is faith and justification in the historical and universal context. And as Mt25 indicates it determines whether or not one is finally accepted into God’s Kingdom. As I am more widely adducing, whether or not one is in the Covenant of Promise determines in what capacity one enters the Kingdom (cf. Rev19:7). In terms of those who through God’s elective choice are in that exclusive covenant, the criteria has changed. Their justifying marker had previously been the Law – circumcision and observance of Torah, but now it is by faith in Christ. The Law had been provided as a schoolmaster to prepare for the faith that was to come (Gal3:24). But some were not content – they had no desire to be marked out as a child of God through the merits of an accursed crucified Messiah, thank you very much. They would sooner be identified as God’s chosen people through circumcision and their own Torah observance – “the deeds of the Law”.

The context of Paul’s anti-law rhetoric

So notwithstanding what was affirmed above concerning justification being by faith not works, it is this scenario of Torah observance usurping faith in Christ as the marker for covenantal justification that is the context of Paul’s apparent anti-law rhetoric in Galatians. This is clearer later in the letter where he asks “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? For you meticulously observe days and months and seasons and years” (4:9-10).  As I stated in the previous post, the Law (Torah) has become redundant – not so the law, the spirit of which must be fulfilled. And so it shall be wherever πίστις is present and active. Paul’s problem was that some in the Galatian church had failed to grasp that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal5:6NASB). Many Christians today “get” the former point, less appreciate the latter. Nor do they discern that “being justified in Christ” is far from the end of the story (vv17-21 next post).

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2 After an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear I might be running or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. Yet it was a concern because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy on our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. But we did not yield in subjection to them, even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were of considerable repute (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism)—well, those who were of repute contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who was at work for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised was at work for me also regarding the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do. [Gal2:1-10]

As a result of the revelation Paul had referred to earlier (2Cor12:2), the apostle returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus. At the time Jerusalem was effectively Church Headquarters. That later transferred to Rome which as the Book of Acts indicates in its final chapter had always been God’s intention for the Church. For He knew what was to take place in Jerusalem in AD70, as foretold by Jesus. Such a siege would have impeded the Church’s work and evangelism for decades if not centuries. We know also that Peter died in Rome. Paul effectively affirms Peter (Cephas – note 1) to have been Christ’s chosen leader of the twelve apostles a few verses later where he writes “(the God) who was at work for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised was at work for me also regarding the Gentiles”. For the subsequent calling of Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles was a part of the secret plan hidden in the Father that Paul was in the process of revealing (Eph3:9) – a grasp of which is key to understanding the context of the Church and gospel salvation within broader benign providence to which I referred at the end of the previous post.

Paul verifies his understanding of the gospel

Paul writes that he verified the gospel he had been preaching to the other apostles “for fear I might be running or had run, in vain” (v2). That seemingly odd phraseology harks back to what I quoted from in the previous post concerning Paul’s depiction of the Christian pilgrimage as a race to be run and a prize to be attained (1Cor9:24). Such a description will appear particularly strange to those who, like myself in the past, understood the Christian’s position to be far removed from “running and competing in a race for a prize”. For me it was “standing in the grace of God, and resting in the Saviour’s merits, trusting in His completion of the course on my behalf”. Such psychological semantics are of themselves futile as I will continue to demonstrate. Jesus’ teaching should already make that clear, providing it is not regarded as simply “a preparation for the gospel of Paul”. So, to be on the safe side I shall demonstrate the point from the teaching of Paul. Then shall Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, and the gospel writers be at one with each other. And when that is demonstrably the case, we shall know we are in receipt of the fulness of truth.

This early part of the letter hints at what Paul’s epistle to the Galatians shall primarily concern: the distortion of the gospel by “false brethren” who had “sneaked in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ” (v4). Freedom from what? From the law? – no, from the Law [cf. Rom2:13; Rom8:4 Textus Receptus (“spirit” not “Spirit”); Gal5:14; James2:8]. [Proof texting has its limitations and is potentially dangerous; the four texts I have just quoted are mere clues or pointers – proof would be a fully coherent biblical synopsis and I believe such has now been provided].  The clue from the Galatian 2 passage is Paul’s reference to Titus who as a Greek had not been circumcised and (Paul asserts) was not required to be circumcised (v3; note Gal4:9-10 – that affirms more clearly that Paul is referring to the Torah, not God’s law in general as having no role in gospel salvation).

Light has also been shed on this matter by the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-twentieth century. It provides insights to the nature of first century Judaism (and more to the point the predisposition of the Judaisers Paul was dealing with). It clarifies what Paul meant by “faith” and enlightens concerning Paul’s reference on a number of occasions to the faith of Christ usually translated as faith in Christ (except the KJV). As earlier indicated, it is a distinction that is important in perceiving the broader benign providence being outlined. But as ever, I will primarily be relying on Scripture to interpret itself.


Note 1 “Cephas” is Aramaic for “rock”, not stone as many bibles translate the name – [see Biblehub]. Likewise, the Greek form – Peter (Πέτρος) means a boulder, rock or piece of a rock larger than a stone, a stone being “λίθος”. Peter’s name could hardly have been translated into the Greek as πέτρα (a substantial rock) for that is a feminine noun. Λίθος (stone) on the other hand is masculine so if it were intended that Peter be distinguished as a stone rather than a rock the New Testament writers would have translated his name as λίθος (stone).

Related post: The True Gospel


13 You will have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when He who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 But I did not see another one of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) (Gal1:13-20)

Called through God’s grace

Paul was conscious that God had set him apart at birth to be “ἀπόστολος” – a delegate or messenger of God, and that message was the Gospel or “Good News”.  Paul does not speak of being called to God’s grace but through God’s grace (v15). He knows his election was entirely unmerited – he had persecuted the church and had wished to destroy it (v13). But having been elected, that is where the “all of grace” paradigm ceases. As I highlighted from Paul’s previous epistle, the Christian is set a course to run which is not dependent on grace alone but requires personal discipline and effort. What? ” Did you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win!” (1Cor9:24).

Luther’s notion that salvation consists of “being certain of God’s favour” can hardly be squared with Paul’s teaching and still more obviously diverges from that of Jesus (e.g. Mt 5:28-30). Jesus makes clear that personal effort and discipline is required to keep the procreated intellectual vessel (body and brain) in check. But so does Paul: “I keep a tight control on my body, and bring it into subjection: so that having preached to others, I myself should not be disqualified”. (1Cor9:27).

In terms of being certain of God’s favour, Paul had no assurance of future glory until he was virtually on his deathbed, knowing at that point that he had completed his course (2Tim4:7-8). In the meantime: “Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Likewise, all who have been perfected should have such an attitude; if in any respect you have a different attitude, may God reveal that to you as well” (Phil3:13-15).

In terms of what had been disclosed to the apostle, God had not only revealed His Son to Paul but in Paul (ἐν ἐμοὶ v16). That was reflected in the fact that Christ was evident in every facet of his life and behaviour. For Paul was no longer “the chief of sinners”; the context makes clear that had pertained to his previous activity as Saul of Tarsus (1Tim1vv13&15). As Paul he had told the Corinthian churches regarding himself and his fellow workers “our exalting is in the testimony of our conscience that in godly sincerity and purity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world” (2Cor1:12).

Paul’s personal testimony

Paul could claim to be as valid an apostle as those Jesus had appointed during His earthly ministry. But as the thirteenth faithful apostle there was a greater spiritual/supernatural element both to his appointment and tutelage. For he had been commissioned by the risen and glorified Lord on the road to Damascus. We are told he then spent time in Arabia, the details concerning which have not been provided but no doubt would have involved further revelations. As a result, he did not need to “consult with flesh and blood” (v16) concerning the message he was to preach. Remarkably, it was a further three years before he acquainted himself with Cephas (“the Rock”, i.e. Peter – v18) and to a lesser extent with James. As we shall see, there are aspects of the Gospel that even Peter had not fully appreciated which led to Paul needing to reprove him (chapter two).

Dire consequences of misreading Paul

More fundamentally for Christians today, there are aspects of Paul’s teaching in Galatians, especially the whole area of what he meant by “being justified by faith rather than through the deeds of Law”, a misreading of which has resulted in profound doctrinal errors being incorporated into Western theology. The leading protagonist had been Catholic Bishop Augustine of Hippo. Regarded by the later Protestant Reformers and consequently by many Evangelicals today as Paul’s most faithful interpreter of the first millennium, the African Bishop’s misreading of Paul’s teaching on law and grace, shaped by over-reactions to the errors of Pelagius [note 1] obscured the bi-fold nature of God’s economy of grace and the vastly more benevolent providence that flows from it. The angel’s message of joy for the world (Lk2:10) had, in terms of providential outcomes, been turned into a cosmic horror show.

It was primarily through Augustine’s influence that the existence of the human spirit and the natural law related to it, largely accepted by the pre-Nicene Church, came to be rejected by the mid-first millennium, certainly in the more dogmatic formularies of the Latin Church. Augustine concluded it was God’s wish that the bulk of humanity remain under condemnation, destined for eternal torment “in order that it might be shown what had been due to all” (De Civitates Dei XXI chap. 12). For he had got right the fact that Scripture indicates that proportionally few would come to a saving knowledge of Christ whilst in mortal flesh. Paul’s language throughout, including references alluded to above indicate that to be the case. Such is borne out by the subsequent course of cultural and religious history. Hence the vital need at this time to set out the context of gospel salvation within overall providence. With God’s help I believe such has been provided in The Little Book of Providence. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)


Note#1: I am in the process of demonstrating that both Pelagius and Augustine were flawed in their respective assertions regarding free will and original sin. Fallen human nature is inherently corrupt as Augustine asserted but it is not the God-given soul that is the SOURCE of the problem but the temporary procreated intellectual vessel (body and brain – cf. Rom7:22-23). Such is the nature and consequence of original sin – not the imputation of Adam’s guilt to every soul such that even infants who die unbaptized must share the misery of the damned: “experiencing sensual pain through eternity, albeit to a mild degree” (Augustine again). In terms of free will, Pelagius was right to assert that man by nature is perfectly capable of choosing to perform actions that are righteous and pleasing to God (cf. Mt25:40). That is in view of his spirit-derived faculties, especially the conscience (cf. Rom2:14,15). However, as Paul also observed in Rom7, the spirit (or inner-man) is ever inclined to give in to the flesh (“the body of this death”) unless empowered by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore only the Christian is enabled “to possess his vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). And only the Christian can be saved (Rom5:10 & 7:23-24) – free to serve the living God even whilst in mortal flesh, during which time he/she can be fitted for eternal glory.

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