Sunday, August 19, 2007

What were the Galatians established in?

As I think about having our hearts established in grace, many, many passages come to mind. One particular passage - which is really a six chapter epistle that's worth reading over and over again - reveals a great contrast between being established in "doing" and being established in grace. The Galatians, in Paul's absence, had changed the foundation upon which they were building their lives in Christ. Paul had some not-so-kind words for them about all this in his letter to them, and he even went so far as to call them "foolish" and to ask who had cast a spell on them. Basically, their problem was that while they had received Christ by faith alone, they were now trying to lay a foundation of perfection in their life in Christ through their own fleshly deeds.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Gal 3:1-3

Paul reminds them that the gospel that he had already preached to them hadn't been given to him by man, but through the revelation of Jesus Christ. More on that in a second.

Paul goes on to say something that's very easy to skim over, but that I think is very important. He reminds them of just how advanced in Judaism he had been during his former life as a Pharisee. (He gives a more complete account of this in Philippians 3:4-6, where he lists the many reasons why he would have confidence in his fleshly actions and heritage, before coming to Jesus by faith alone). This is all very important as he works to reestablish the case for the true gospel to these foolish Galatians.

See, the same Jesus who had revealed the gospel of grace to Paul had previously said (during a very famous teaching on some mountain), "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." To many people who would take Jesus' words at face value without considering the context of the full revelation of the gospel of His grace, this might be taken as a word from Him for them to begin working harder at becoming more and more established in righteous deeds that would exceed even the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Paul had considered himself very advanced in Judaism. And according to his words to the Philippians, he had considered himself blameless according to the righteousness which is in the law. But again, Jesus said, "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees..."

What I believe it comes down to is this: We find that it had been revealed to Paul that his former life, which had been established in Judaism, the works of the law, and in his superior performance as a Pharisee, wasn't nearly good enough! In fact, as he told the Philippians, he ended up counting all of it as loss (as DUNG), so that he could gain Christ. The only righteousness that would ever count, and the only righteousness that could ever hope to exceed the best of the best of the righteous Pharisees, was "not... my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith..." (Phil 3:9).

The entire foundation of Paul's life had been completely torn up and ripped apart and chucked away! He turned from being established in fleshly commandment-keeping to a solid foundation of trusting in a righteousness that was not his own but that had been given to him freely as a gift, by grace. He rebuked the Galatians for receiving this free gift but yet trying to go on to establish perfection through works.

It is good that the heart be established in grace. Grow in grace.


  1. Hey Joel,

    I just thought I would mention that Paul had "suffered" the loss of all things. Which gives the idea to me that God had to strip him of all his self-righteous religious trophies. I believe it is a painful process (I know it is for me) to learn to accept your faults and shortcomings by be disciplined to keep your eyes on Jesus and Him alone.

  2. Matthew,

    I agree that the process of unlearning old things and learning new things, and of getting your mind off of self-righteousness and shortcomings and on to Jesus alone, is a hard and painful process at times. :)

    Faithful is He, though. (Sorry, had Star Wars and Yoda on my mind for some reason). :-D

  3. Haha! Yoda is the man..Or the goblin rather.

    I thought I would also let you know I picked up "Victory Over the Darkness" by Neil Anderson. I heard you recommend it once. I'm excited to read it. =P

  4. Speaking of Star Wars, I was a HUGE fan as a kid and teenager. I thought all that was *ahem* behind me now, but the other day when my daughter was watching Revenge of the Sith," I was drawn in all over again, lol. I haven't seen the first three so they're next on my movie list. :o)

  5. Yeah I'm a pretty big Star Wars fan. Not a HUGE fan, as in OBSESSED, but I'll watch any of the six movies any time. :)

  6. Yeah, I'm not sure that mine would count as all-out obsession, but I did collect every figure that came out, played Princess Leia every chance I got and watched the movies when they were on. :o)

  7. I had quite a few of the action figures. A few years ago, my mom presented me with a small box full of my old action figures. My son played with them for a while. Since then, C3PO has lost his head, Darth Vader has lost his cape and Yoda lost his outer garment. :) All of them are filthy-dirty because I used to play with them in the yard.