11 See 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.
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.
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”).
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