Commentary on "Freedom in Christ"
Day 4: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - The Dangerous Consequences of Legalism
Overview: Gal 5:2-12
The lesson falsely limits these verses to being about legalism (as seen in the title "The Dangerous Consequences of Legalism") and circumcision. What it fails to address is that this is a continuation of the discussion of the Law as a whole. If one pursues law either as the means to come to Christ or as the means to grow in Christ (Gal 3:2-3), one is cutting themselves off from the Savior (Gal 5:4).
The bias of this lesson is on full display based simply on the time allotted to the passages. There are 15 verses in this week's lesson, or about 3 verses per day. The lesson spent two days covering half of the first verse; the second half of that verse was skipped entirely. Then we come to the core of the passage totaling 12 verses. Because these verses address the immediate danger of the Law, the lesson spends only one day on these. The lesson purposefully glosses over the teaching that would draw questions about SDA doctrine and worldview.
The lesson makes an astute observation, but does not follow up on the implications of that statement. The lesson correctly points out that "If a person wants to live according to the law, he or she cannot just pick and choose the precepts to follow. It is all or nothing". That is an accurate restatement of verse 3. It is also consistent with what James says in James 2:10; if we fail in one point of the Law we fail in all of the Law. Paul also pointed out this truth earlier in Galatians, " For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (3:10). The Law is a whole unit. It is not a smorgasbord where one can pick only the ones that they like and leave the rest. If anyone wants to promote keeping the Law as the requirement for believers, then they must promote keeping the whole Law. This is a case where SDA theology falls severely short. SDA theology picks a handful of Laws from the OT and promotes those, while ignoring the remainder of the Laws. Paul has made it clear (and even the Sabbath School lesson itself restated that truth) that this simply isn't an option.
The lesson accurately points out that "a decision to be justified by works involves at the same time a rejection of God's way of justification in Christ." However, since the lesson has carefully avoided or re-interpreted the passages about the Law it fails to recognize that once a person re-establishes obedience to the Law as a requirement to obtain, or even maintain, salvation then that person has made the decision to be justified by works. If salvation requires 1% human works and 99% God's gift, then salvation is ultimately still tied entirely to human works, either you achieved that 1% threshold or you did not. Whether those required works come before baptism or after baptism also does not matter. As long as salvation is based, in any form, to the smallest degree, on what works you perform, then it is a justification by works. And therefore it is a rejection of Christ.
Seventh-day Adventists may express concern about how one keeps or loses their salvation. There are very few verses in Scripture that speak directly about a believer losing their salvation, and none are as direct as verse 4, "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace." If you believe that keeping the 10 Commandments are what will ultimately determine your good standing with God (your "justification"), then you are looking to be justified by the law. And Paul warns you that you are severing yourself from Christ and falling away from grace as a result of this teaching.
The limited lesson time given to this section speaks to the direction that the authors of the lesson are trying to focus the study. The shift from "justified by the law" as stated by Paul to legalism and circumcision by the lesson authors is a grave injustice to the passage. There is a stern warning here that anyone promoting the observance of the Law as a necessary requirement for Believers would want to examine closely in order to assure that they had not stepped into the same positions as the false teachers in Galatia.
Copyright 2011 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised November 30, 2011. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
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