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Galatians – study guide I, Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Bethlehem Christmas Quote

Lee Beckham
Live in Liberty: The Spiritual Message of Galatians

Copyright 2015 Daniel Bush and Noel Due

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Isaiah, Haruto, Flossie, and Ellia
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

(John 8:36)

“The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle.
To it I am as it were in wedlock.
It is my Katherine.”

—Martin Luther


Beckham, L. (2015). Live in Liberty: The Spiritual Message of Galatians (Study Guide) (S. xi–241). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.


Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

To journey into the book of Galatians is to venture into a hostile and confused mob, where outbursts of anger, jealousy, and bitterness are vented in a chaotic cacophony. One voice cuts through the bedlam—“Back to the gospel.” All stop to listen, but will all hear?
That voice is Paul’s, and his announcement is broadcast to us no less than to the churches in southern Galatia, churches in the region of modern-day Turkey, nearest the Mediterranean Sea, that he had planted on his first missionary journey. Galatians may well be Paul’s earliest letter, written about 15 years after Jesus’ ascension, and it’s charged with an emotional intensity we can’t afford to miss. While the letter is profoundly pastoral, Paul isn’t trying to be particularly “pastorally sensitive.” He’s confronting something extremely dangerous.
Agitators, likely Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, had entered the churches he’d already gained for Christ—avoiding unreached fields and the hardships of such work—undermining his authority, persuading the believers that Paul hadn’t known Christ or been commissioned by him. As a consequence, they argued, Paul’s message wasn’t to be believed; his gospel was at best deficient, at worst heretical. Their line of attack might be imagined: “Who is Paul anyway? Wasn’t he one of the last converted, if indeed he’s been converted at all? We, however, are pupils of the true apostles. We saw Jesus perform miracles, we heard him preach. We’re ministers of Christ. We’ve got the Holy Spirit—it’s impossible we should err. Moreover, we’re from the mother church; Paul is a rogue itinerant whose message undermines God’s law and erodes holiness.”
Like attorneys trying to discredit a witness, the personal attack was aimed at discrediting Paul’s testimony: justification by grace alone, through faith alone. These agitators insisted that in addition to faith in Jesus, God required circumcision, kosher eating, and Sabbath observance. In other words, salvation required Christ plus the law of Moses. This was no mere difference of opinion. Paul’s aim, then, is to take the Galatians back to the true gospel, to liberate them from the agitators’ lies. Their message might have sounded good, but it actually led to a devilish combination of thought and action that would have negated grace and established Pharisaic legalism at the heart of the church.
Therefore, as Philip Ryken has astutely noted, “Galatians is a letter for recovering Pharisees.… The Pharisees were hypocrites because they thought that what God would do for them depended on what they did for God.” So they diligently pursued worship, orthodoxy, and morality, but failed to grasp that God’s grace can’t be earned. The way out of Pharisaism is the gospel—that is, rejecting our own righteousness and trusting the sufficiency of Jesus’. This alone can transform the Galatians, and us, into “ex-Pharisees.”
Ex-Pharisees, however, struggle to leave legalism behind. “God loves us,” we say, yet we secretly feel his love and our salvation are contingent on how we are doing in the Christian life. We constantly want to base justification on sanctification, to take what is free and slap a surcharge on it. Our abiding tendency is to performance-based religion, not knowing how to live by grace. Or we fear a message solely of grace will devalue God’s standards.
Martin Luther knew our struggle. He was also an ex-Pharisee:

I was a good monk and kept my order so strictly that I could claim that if ever a monk were able to reach heaven by monkish discipline I should have found my way there. All my fellows in the house, who knew me, would bear me out in this. For if it had continued much longer I would, what with vigils, prayers, readings and other such works, have done myself to death.

Luther’s conscience bothered him. He thought he wasn’t good enough for God. The breakthrough came when he discovered Christianity wasn’t about what he had to do for God, but about what God had done for him—Christ crucified.
The free grace of God in Christ, received by faith, was the theme of Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, which he began by saying:

I do not seek [my own] active righteousness. I ought to have and perform it; but I declare that even if I did have it and perform it, I cannot trust in it or stand up before the judgment of God on the basis of it. Thus I … embrace only … the righteousness of Christ … which we do not perform but receive, which we do not have but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.

The attack on Paul’s authority, therefore, was an attack on the gospel. In reply, Paul lifts his voice with passion, not simply to defend his apostolic calling but to preach the gospel again to his beloved Galatian converts. Liberation from legalism lies in seeing God’s grace not only as completely sufficient for salvation, but also as the wellspring for every facet of life.

The emotional intensity of Paul’s greeting demands we pay full attention to the rest. His apostolic urgency can be gleaned from what is absent from the greeting, in addition to what is included.
Unlike his other letters, this one contains no commendation of the church, no notice of evidence of grace among them, and no expression of thanksgiving for them. Indeed, throughout the letter we meet a brusquely direct tone: “I am astonished,” he writes in 1:6; “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” in 3:1. And in rapid fire in chapter 4, Paul says, “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” (4:11); “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (4:16); “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (4:19). This is no warm, fuzzy letter. Paul’s not trying to be affable; he’s concerned with the gospel’s integrity. That integrity was wrapped up with his authority as an apostle, a position he was forced to defend.
The Greek word apostolos, from which we get “apostle,” simply means “one who is sent,” a title used to denote commissioned representatives. But the early Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, mainly understood it as applying to those who spoke with Christ’s authority. The title was reserved for the Twelve and a couple of others who had been eyewitnesses of Christ’s ministry and whom he appointed through the agency of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 1:16–26). In using the term in his letters, Paul shows “that while there were apostles before him, there were no apostles after him. According to Paul he is both ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ of the apostles.”
The point was that New Testament apostles weren’t self-selected; hence Paul’s status as an apostle was hotly contested by his opponents. Who really spoke with true apostolic authority? Paul’s defense effectively proceeds thus: “No matter how much these vipers may brag, their provenance is lacking. They may boast that they have come either ‘from men’—that is, on their own, without any call—or ‘through men’—that is, being sent by someone else. But as for me, I have been called and sent neither from men nor through men but by Jesus Christ. In every way my call is like that of the apostles, and I am indeed an apostle.” He didn’t need the support of those who agreed, such as those in Antioch—Paul refers only to Jesus and the Father.
When Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the Damascus road, Paul became an eyewitness to his ministry. And it was there he was also commissioned, according to the book of Acts:

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” … Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:3–6, 10–16; see also Acts 26:15–18).

If Paul’s commission was so clear, why does he assert his apostleship so strongly? Was he a braggart, resentful of those who had stepped on his turf? No! He defended his apostolic calling because the gospel he carried to Galatia was in jeopardy. If he carried Christ’s authority, his hearers would attend to his message. But if Paul wasn’t an apostle—as his opponents implied—his message could be discarded. The defense of his calling was a defense of his message. He’s not possessive; he’s intensely passionate for the liberation and transformation of those to whom he preached the gospel.

C. J. Mahaney has suggested the liberating and transformative gospel can be traced along three lines. These distinctions are helpful—so we want to linger on them below.
One: The Gospel Is God-Centered, Not Man-Centered

Paul wastes no time proclaiming where hope is really found. The hope of salvation is found only in grace. Grace forgives sin, and this alone leads to a peace that stills the conscience.
The law, and legalistic observance of it, accuses and terrifies; the more we sweat to extricate ourselves from sin, the worse off we are. Legal striving knows no end, provides no peace in the conscience, causes quietness to flee, robs our joy. Why? Doesn’t striving end sin by making us better people? No, because salvation isn’t man-centered; it’s God-centered.
Notice who is emphasized in Galatians 1:1–5: not us, but God. The Father is mentioned thrice, the Son twice. When we are mentioned, it’s in connection with our need for deliverance. Since we’re incapable of altering our being, we’re enslaved to the present evil age.
The gospel’s radical negation of ceaseless striving and hard work is unfathomable to us. Our thoughts can’t produce it; our will doesn’t originate it. It’s otherworldly, “according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4). Christ suffered not because we are worthy, or because we moved him to act, but only because it was the will of God. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men,” says Peter (Acts 2:23). It’s hard to imagine a statement better calculated to oppose the intrusion of human will in salvation.
Divine grace, therefore, is God’s unconditional goodwill toward humanity, irrespective of any human merit; it alone brings peace, a state of life enjoyed by those who have experienced this grace. Grace and peace are tied to Jesus’ work, not ours.
Two: The Gospel Is Objective, Not Subjective

At the center of the gospel is the historical fact of Christ’s substitutionary death upon the cross, his laying down his life freely. This was exactly how Jesus saw it; he said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:17–18).
Jesus’ death wasn’t a simple display of love, nor was it an example of heroism. It was a sacrifice for sin. He laid down his life for (“on behalf of”) his sheep (John 10:11). It’s helpful to think of the cross as having two sides. The first side is that all of your sins were placed upon Jesus, and he endured the full wrath of God against them. The other side is that all of Christ’s righteousness was put into your account. God sees you mercifully through the blood of Christ. One side is God’s wrath against sin; the other, his mercy extended to us. You are justified; you stand in a right relationship with God, not on the basis of what you have done, but on the basis of what Jesus did.
The gospel, therefore, is not a feeling, not a subjective experience, not repentance and faith. All of these wonderful things correspond to the gospel, and the gospel brings them about. But they are not the gospel.
When the gospel is viewed subjectively it becomes exposed to interpretation and alteration. Mahaney puts it well: “When we view [the gospel] objectively we are invited to trust in God for a salvation that is gracious and free. When we view it subjectively we are compelled to work for a salvation that must be earned.” Such work can never transform our hearts; it leaves them stuck, endlessly striving. Yet the gospel transforms!
Transformation occurs precisely because when the gospel is viewed objectively, we’re assured of God’s love located in the person and saving event of Christ, which is outside us—not dependent upon us. But if we view the gospel subjectively, God’s love is held captive to our emotions and becomes dependent upon our performance, which is never complete. Instead, let Jesus’ words from the cross echo in your heart: “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
Three: The Gospel Is Complete

It is important to realize how sufficient and complete the gospel is. The more we know the grace of God in Christ, the more we see the severity of our own personal sin, as well as the evil age from which we’re delivered.
If sin is just a mistake, it could be sorted out with a moral fitness plan like a weight-loss regime; a resolution could be made, knowledge gained, training obtained. Christ’s death, however, speaks to the severity of my sin: It is severe enough to require death. In fact, sin is death. Death and sin are two sides of one ugly coin. Sin is death dealing to our relationship with God, to the knowledge of our true nature, and even to our physical bodies. God’s giving us over to this penalty also demonstrates his utter holiness. Even the minutest, most mundane sin can’t stay in his presence. Sin’s severity isn’t defined by comparing ourselves to others, but to the holiness of God.
Jesus also gave himself up “to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). Paul contrasts this current age with the coming kingdom of God. When the New Testament sets off nature from grace, flesh from Spirit, or the old man from the new man, it is making the same contrast. The present age is dominated by an ethos opposed to the will of God. We can’t transform this age into the age to come. It must pass away, or we must pass from it. Because it is all-embracing (affecting our mind, emotions, and will, as well as the very social, political, and economic systems we live in), we can’t remove ourselves from it.
But Jesus can do what we cannot. He frees each of us from “the present evil age” by orienting us away from ourselves and toward God, birthing in us a radical change in thinking, feeling, and acting. He builds within each of us a longing for God and a passion to obey. This deliverance isn’t, however, out of the physical world—remember Jesus’ prayer, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15)—it is liberation from the God-opposed spirit of the world.
The gospel is sufficient to deliver us both from the penalty of sin and from the present evil age. It is wholly complete; nothing can be added to it.
This is why Paul effectively says, “Submit to my authority” (the assertion of his apostleship in Galatians 1:1). At first glance, this command seems to contradict Galatians 1:4, which could be paraphrased, “Christ has been crucified; you are delivered from the world, from this age that holds you enslaved. Be free; don’t be subject to anyone.” Is this a contradiction? Submit to me, but don’t be subject to anyone? It is surely a paradox, but it’s solvable.
The freest people on earth are those who submit most humbly and thoroughly to Jesus, who says, “It is finished! My grace is sufficient for you” (John 19:30; 2 Cor 12:9).
Because the gospel is complete, Paul is intensely passionate to preserve what he preaches as an apostle of Christ. Add anything to the gospel—religion, feelings, obedience to biblical imperatives—and you nullify its sufficiency. It is complete—nothing else is needed. It is objective—standing true regardless of your feelings in a given moment. And it is God-centered—it’s about what he has done, not what you do.

The gospel effects a dramatic subjective experience that continues to deepen as we go.
Paul knows this experience better than most. He was a very pious Jew, more legalistic and Pharisaical than Martin Luther. His zeal for the law led him on a manhunt for Christians and made him an accomplice to murder, all with the aim of eradicating the church. He truly believed he was doing God’s bidding, yet all the time he was battling against God. Similarly, we become enemies of God when we pursue the law as a way to merit God’s favor or to fix other people. Paul, however, was changed from the inside when the Light of the world shone upon him and the Word of God spoke to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
As Paul recalls this and reflects on the mercy of God at Calvary, he cannot but break into doxology: “to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Gal 1:5).
This doxology isn’t a statement of superfluous wordiness. It places the gospel above both criticism and self-glorification. Look again at who is uttering these concluding words: It is Paul, the zealous Pharisee who no longer boasts about his efforts or work but trusts in the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
Luther somewhere said, “It is the purpose of all Scripture to tear us away from our works and bring us to faith.” Paul was torn away by Jesus, as we are torn away by the Holy Spirit, who impresses the message of Jesus upon us. Paul glories only in the mercy of God, for he knows the grace and peace of being ripped away from his works of righteousness and his self-reliance.
Have you been severed from your acts of goodness, your acts of religion, your acts of morality as the basis of your acceptance to God? If not, then hear the message of Galatians!
Bush, D., & Due, N. (2015). Live in Liberty: The Spiritual Message of Galatians (S. 2–11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
1. What does the theme “back to the gospel” make you think of? Do you feel a need to get “back to the gospel” in your own life? What would that look like for you?
2. Where do your good works fit into your salvation? Does God bestow salvation upon you because of the works you have done, or do the works flow out of a changed heart that is overflowing with love and gratitude?
3. Most people like to be recognized for doing good deeds. How does that help you understand the appeal of legalism to the human heart?
4. Can you relate to Martin Luther’s experience? What are some ways that you have worn yourself out trying to earn a right status with God? Have you ever felt you had to “clean yourself up” before you could approach God?
5. How would you describe the state of your conscience? Is it quiet before God, or is it struggling to justify you?
6. What does it mean to you that you get the credit for Christ’s righteousness as you stand before God? Is this a new idea for you?
7. Which is more appealing to you, a salvation that you have earned based on your works of righteousness or a salvation granted to you because of what God did for you?
8. Do you think of your sin in terms of the wrong things you have done or as a fundamental aspect of your nature? Is your sin more defined by what you do or who you are?
9. Think about Luther’s words: “It is the purpose of all Scripture to tear us away from our works and bring us to faith” (Live in Liberty, 11). How have your works been a hindrance to your growth in faith and understanding the gospel?
10. Do you feel freedom when you think of submitting to God in Christ? Why?
Beckham, L. (2015). Live in Liberty: The Spiritual Message of Galatians (Study Guide) (S. 241–243). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.Bethlehem Christmas Quote.png


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