A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part V – Galatians

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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Paul, in writing to the Galatian churches, explores some of the same themes as in his letter to the Romans. Paul had noticed in his travels that there were certain very insidious teachings that had seeped in as Jewish believers and Gentile believers began to worship together. He penned his letter to the Galatians to address one such teaching.

Another Gospel

Now, it must be noted on the outset that Paul’s introduction to the letter to the Galatian churches is by far his shortest, shorter even than that of his letter to the Colossians, whom he had not likely ever seen in person (Col. 2:1). The matter about which Paul was writing was of grave importance, and he wanted his readers to feel the urgency of it. Some who had come in among them were teaching a different gospel.

Infiltrating the churches of Galatia was a group theologians have come to call Judaizers. These Jewish “converts” were teaching that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not enough. They went further and argued that, in order to become a real Christian, one must first become a Jew through physical circumcision (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:10; 5:2-6).

Paul explains in chapter 1, verses 6-9, that this gospel is not even another gospel. In fact, he labors throughout the book to demonstrate that it is the opposite. Rather than being the gospel which compels us to follow our Father’s law as sons, the circumcision taught by the Judaizers subjected its adherents to the curse of the law. These Judaizers were wishing to be justified by the law (a futile undertaking for any man), not by faith.

In the same way, there are many today who add their pet views to faith as a prerequisite for salvation, thus creating a “new gospel.” Some claim that their approach to the problem of self-defense speaks to whether or not we are truly hoping in the gospel of Christ. Others claim that their philosophical approach to the very real problem of racism and their specific terminology in addressing it is essential to a proper understanding of the gospel. Still others claim that their particular view of economics and subsequent solutions to the problem of poverty are a necessary part of the gospel to the extent that one cannot even be a disciple of Christ unless one is willing to vote in an economic system designed to take from one group and give to another. Others, while not adding to the gospel per se, add abstinence from drink to the law and to the biblical qualifications for elders and church planters (see here and here). We will address this particular heresy more fully when we get to our study of Colossians.

This approach to the gospel may be useful for shaming others who disagree, but that is not all it accomplishes. It also serves to promulgate a “new gospel,” which is not really the gospel at all. It is a false gospel!

Notice that the Judaizers were not telling Gentile converts they could not be Christians. They did not want to keep Gentiles from entering fellowship with them. Rather, they wanted to impose prerequisites on them for entering the fellowship that are not imposed by the gospel itself. In the same way, legalists in the church today (infiltrating even as far as the Reformed and Reformed Baptist camps) do not claim that people who are different than them cannot fellowship with them. They simply have to agree with all their solutions to the problems they see in society. They must circumcise the foreskin of political, social, and economic disagreement before they can expect to be welcomed to the discussion. They have to read all the right books, listen to all the right teachers, imbibe all the right terminology, and subscribe to the right social narratives. Otherwise, they must remain outside the fellowship like the uncircumcised dogs they are. They have not come under bondage to the right works of the law, so they dare not dine with those justified by these works.

The Seed of Abraham

Of course, in both Romans and Galatians, Paul condemns the idea that man can be justified by the works of the law. Rather, it is by faith that we come to have all the blessings of union with Christ, including justification. Along with justification, we have the blessing of oneness with believers of all stripes. Paul explains that these privileges come to us by way of the promise made to Abraham.

“Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham,” (Gal. 3:6-7; NASB).

Paul goes on to remind his readers of the nature of the promise: “All the nations will be blessed in you,” and to explain further that this promise was made “foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (vs. 8; NASB). It is important to mention, at this point, that the term translated Gentiles and the term translated nations in this one verse are the exact same term in the exact same construction in the Greek: τὰ ἔθνη. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Paul understands this promise made to Abraham to apply to believers of every nation, even non-Jewish nations. In fact, he goes on to say as much:

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise,” (Gal. 3:25-29; NASB).

Paul was not denying the existence of ethnic disparity between the Greeks and the Jews within the church. What he denied was the law-centered approach to addressing this disparity. Rather, he pointed his readers to unity with Christ. We who have faith in Christ—who have been baptized into Christ, who have clothed ourselves in Christ—belong to Christ and in Him are now considered descendants of Abraham, heirs according to promise.

This union with, and unity in, Christ does not know racial or ethnic subdivisions. Rather, it is an indivisible unit. Furthermore, to reiterate, this breakdown of ethnic divisions does not pave the way for the gospel, as was attempted by the Judaizers with their requirement of circumcision. No. The gospel laid the foundation for the breakdown of ethnic divisions. It laid the foundation, provided the fuel, and supplied all the justification necessary for the utter destruction of ethnic division between the Greeks and the Jews. Circumcision had no power to accomplish such a feat, but the gospel could see it through from beginning to end.

Freed!

Having been freed from bondage to the law (chapter 4), Christians are now free to walk by the Spirit (5:16). The Judaizers, however, would have had the Galatian believers rely on a fleshly circumcision. Paul understood that there was no power in such works of the flesh. Rather, relying on our flesh to save us only leads to more “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19b-21; NASB). Walking by the Spirit has a vastly different effect, though:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” (Gal. 5:22-23; NASB).

So, rather than pointing the Galatians to fleshly solutions for ethnic tension, like the Judaizers, Paul pointed his readers to the gospel. Note also that Paul did not equate the gospel with fleshly solutions to the problem of ethnic strife (e.g. adopting worldly terms like “safe spaces,” “micro-aggression,” “majority privilege,” etc.). The Judaizers went there, claiming “We will fellowship with people of other ethnicities only if they meet our extra-biblical prerequisites,” and Paul declared them accursed. Rather, Paul pointed them to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the sole sufficient and holistic solution for the ethnic strife that existed between the Jews and Greeks in the Galatian churches.

Conclusion

As we have seen in our study, both of Romans and Galatians, and as we will see in the rest of Paul’s letters, Paul was very concerned to see the churches of God unified in the gospel. The world will seek to divide the church of God according to gender, ethnicity, and anything else the devil might imagine. It is necessary for us, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, to return to our unity in the gospel, and to look for no other, no “better” solution. All such solutions are accursed! The gospel, however, is the power of God unto salvation.

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15 thoughts on “A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part V – Galatians

  1. William,

    I began reading this series on public theology after seeing your comments on the RAAN blog recently. Your articles, along with those on The Road of Grace blog, have been a great help to me as I tread through current issues. I’ve been a law enforcement officer for 30 years and a Christian for 20. I was alarmed when I first read an article on RAAN on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. And I was baffled why Tim Challies would have recommended it (that’s what led me to the RAAN blog to begin with) Since then, I’ve experienced no small amount of frustration trying to engage their contributors, as I know you have.

    When I saw your dialogue recently with a fellow “Jimmy G” on RAAN, I was impressed with the grace and acumen with which you engaged him. I also was convicted by my lack of grace and decided to stop trying dialogue with them altogether.

    This article on Galatians reminded me of a series of sermons preached by Pastor Albert N. Martin that I listened to recently on Sermonaudio called “Orders to the Church.” He asks the question, “Who has authority to give orders to the church?” because, as he observes, it seems so many people and interest groups are declaring what social issues the church ought to be addressing. He begins, of course, by defining what the church is, and is not, and concludes that only Christ can give marching orders to the church, and He has clearly done that in His Word and those orders cannot, and must not change with the times.

    I’m sharing your series with friends and look forward to your next installment.

    John Nolan

    • Thank you for your kind words, John, and thank your for your service to your local community.

      Lately, I have begun to think a lot along the lines of civic virtue and personal responsibility. The racial reconciliation crowd and I share the common desire for less government. I would champion less government on all levels, and they would (minimum) champion less police in local communities. I would argue that the answer to the question of how to have less police in local communities, and less government in general, would be an increase in civic virtue and personal responsibility. Gabe touched on this issue briefly in his discussion of Romans 13. As a police officer, I would like to hear your thougts on the matter, if you have the time and the inclination to offer it.

      • Thanks for asking. Here’s a few thoughts…

        My Pastor, Jeff Smith, has been preaching through Romans for a long, long time now. As of last evening, we’re in the middle of chapter 8. I’ve asked him, sort of tongue-in-cheek, sort of serious, ‘Would you please skip ahead to chapter 13?’ Seeing Gabe’s article on Romans 13 was very timely and is sadly a critical text that is not being discussed much, if at all, by the popular voices on the issues, even in our reformed circles.

        As an LEO, and one that actually investigates allegations of misconduct among our personnel, including use of force complaints, Romans 13:1-7 has been very much on my mind for the past two years. Here are some of the questions this text begs my mind to answer:

        1. How does our government, federal, state and local, rightly instill “terror” toward those with “bad conduct” (verses 3 and 4)?

        2. What is the nature of such “terror” short of the “sword”?

        3. To what extent does federal/state/local law enforcement go beyond the authority God has given to instill “terror” toward citizens?

        These are just a few of the questions I wrestle with and I believe Christians with wide reaching public influence, within the church and without, would do well to discuss at length publicly, and often.

        And here is a case in point that brings these questions, among others, to a level of urgency for us to understand. In 2013, a series of law suits were filed in federal court in NYC challenging, among other things, the proactive police practices of patrolling private buildings for trespassers and other criminals, and one of the most effective practices in all of community policing, the “stop and frisk.” The plaintiffs alleged these practices were driven by racism. Despite the fact that all of the plaintiffs in the stop and frisk case were known criminals with extensive histories, the federal court ruled against the NYPD. This reverberated throughout the national LEO community as a sign of what’s to come for all of us.

        I had the occasion to discuss the significant surge in gun crimes NYC experienced in the months following the court’s striking down of the practice of stop and frisk (also know as Terry stops, after Terry vs. Ohio) with RAAN’s Tyler Burns. In his opinion, those who are subject to such pat downs are image bearers, and, as such they suffer damage to their dignity. Given that sometimes LEO’s abuse the stop and frisk, and that even in the course of lawfully applying it innocent people can be affected, should LEO’s abandon this “terror” inducing practice to preserve the dignity of image bearers, even if it has taken multiple tens of thousands of guns out of criminal’s hands throughout the nation? No doubt, you have also encountered such arguments.

        So there you have a few of my thoughts on these difficult issues. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share.

        John

    • I was reading your initial comment to my wife, and she asked with some befuddlement, “Challies supports RAAN?” I told her that, yes, Challies wrote in support of one of their articles. I have a great respect for Challies, but this is one area where I disagree with him and several other high-profile Evangelicals. Of course, being a “white ally” of RAAN has its perks I’m sure. At minimum, I’m sure they respond to you with a little more respect than guys who openly disagree with their extra-biblical narrative and terminology.

  2. Another head scratcher I saw recently was Albert Mohler’s praise of RAAN writer Mika Edmundson’s message to the 2016 TGC Council member’s annual meeting, called “Is Black Lives Matter the new Civil Rights Movement?” A link to Mohler’s response was provided in RAAN’s transcript of the message, on June 24, 2016. I hope to get to talk to both Challies and Mohler at the 2017 Ligonier conference. Love them both. Wise men.

    Of course, suggesting that an increase in civic virtue and personal responsibility (in the inner city, in particular) would result in a decreased police presence seems too simple a solution on its face, doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s why the idea seems unpopular even among Christians wrestling with the related issues. But it’s the truth. As Pastor Martin says in the sermons I mentioned, the influence of the church upon social, political, and economic issues is always a byproduct of the powerful application of the gospel. Where the gospel flourishes, individuals are changed. And where individuals are changed institutions and communities are changed. Straying from that Christ ordered mission only delays, and perhaps completely stifles the progress and changes we hope for.

    We’re praying for widespread revival, beginning in our churches.

  3. Pingback: A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part V – Galatians | Reformedontheweb's Blog

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