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Third Quarter 2017 (June 24–September 29)
COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL IN GALATIANS
Week 14: September 23–29
COMMENTARY ON "Boasting in the Cross"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day 1: Sabbath Afternoon, Introduction
As I've read through the quarterly in this study of Galatians I've noticed that it hasn't had the depth that it could have had. The main reason for this is because the writers of the quarterly have taken you all over the Bible selecting a few verses at a time, and peeling those verses out of context to make a point or to bolster a point that has already been solidified within their Adventist belief system.
This is the most dangerous kind of teaching imaginable. It also implies that a straightforward reading of the book of Galatians would be incomprehensible.
Is such a thing actually a true reality? No. Is it impossible to read the book of Galatians or any other book for that matter without referring to a companion help like EGW Notes? No. Is it possible to read the book of Galatians or any book of the Bible simply by reading the book and asking God the Holy Spirit to lead you to all truth? Absolutely.
So this week I'm going to take you carefully through verses 12-18 except when I have to comment on something erroneous with the quarterly that catches my eye.
Your quarterly states that boasting on the cross of Christ is the focus of Paul's letter to the Galatians and I agree that our focus should be on the cross of Christ—not a day—like the Sabbath. However the whole impetus of the book of Galatians is not that we should boast in the cross but that mixing law and grace is a lethal cocktail that not only alienates us from Christ, but attempts to add works of the flesh to Jesus' finished redemption.
While I wholeheartedly agree that our focus should be on the ENTIRELY FINISHED work of salvation on the cross, too often, especially in Adventism, the focus is off the cross and what Christ did there and back into the Sabbath—which Christ himself fulfilled on the cross.
So let's get to it. Time to dig into the book of Galatians.
Day 2: Sunday, Paul's Own Hand
In Galatians, as in each of his epistles, Paul dictated the majority of the letter to a scribe. It wasn't until the end of the book that he would take the writing instrument and conclude in his own writing.The general form of the conclusion of these epistles included greetings to specific individuals, a final exhortation, a personal signature and a closing prayer.
The book of Galatians is different though because Paul chooses instead to teach and expound on what he's been talking about throughout the book of Galatians—because he's greatly concerned that the members of the church of Galatia aren't getting it.
One of the interesting things is that Paul does dictate his books to a scribe who writes them down. Imagine if you had been his scribe writing down Romans for the first time. How would that have changed your life?
There are many possible reasons that Paul uses a scribe: simplicity, physical deformity, failing eyesight possibly brought on by the opponents of the By Grace Through Faith truth that he was teaching. It could also be as simple as writing in big letters like a child because the Galatians are being childish in their understanding—or to emphasize once again that the legalists of the day are perverting the Gospel of Christ to avoid persecution.
The final option seems the most likely, as it logically follows the entirety of the book itself.
Day 3: Monday, Boasting in the Flesh
12 Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised— but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.
13 For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh.
Your quarterly asks you what the verses above are saying. Let me break it down for you so things are clear.
Paul is restating once again that the legalists of the day want to make a good appearance outwardly—the outer sign of circumcision was more important than inward change. Allow me to provide an example from my life.
When I was an Adventist I was all about making a good impression, and since I was a pastor's kid it was even more important that our family made a good impression. We were like actors in a Greek tragedy. Every Sabbath we put on a happy face so that externally we looked like things were going great. We even lied through our teeth saying that our life was wonderful, things were going great, we were really blessed the past week. The reality behind the facade was that often things were filled with tension, frustration, arguments and anger in one way or another.
We had a fantastic outward appearance, but inside we were like an open sepulcher. (See Matthew 23).
Back to Galatia, Paul goes on to say that they did this to avoid suffering for the Cross of Christ. These legalists stayed in what they knew, stayed under the law, putting on a show of outward appearance. They did this because those that were following Christ and giving up the legalism and the law for the grace of Christ were being persecuted in horrible ways for their choice of surrender into a relationship with God and away from the checklist mentality—the "look how good I'm doing from the outside" so called adherence to the law.
Paul rightly notes that these legalists don't even keep the law that they're claiming to keep—it is impossible. It was impossible to keep the 10 Commandments which made up only part of the old covenant, a covenant that included a massive 613 laws and rules. Then the legalists of Jesus' day added even more laws!
In fact Jesus Himself in Matthew 23 mentioned this in his diatribe against legalism:
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.
24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!
Can you see why Paul is using big letters? I'd be ticked too. They tossed the Cross—the very work that Christ was born for, under the proverbial bus of law-keeping.
Day 4: Tuesday, Boasting in the Cross
14 But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.
I'm going to cover very quickly what took a great many sentences to cover in the quarterly. Paul's boasting in the cross was amazing because to the Jews such an idea was offensive. The Romans wouldn't even consider crucifixion for it's citizens and to the gentiles it was considered to be the worst method of punishment.
Yet Paul says we should never boast in anything except what the Lord did for us in his crucifixion on the cross? Is the cross really that important you might say? I have noticed—and it's kind of hard not to notice having been a Adventist pastor's kid—that Adventists boast in the Sabbath more than the cross. That puts Adventism in direct conflict with Paul, not to mention God the Holy Spirit who is inspiring these words.
So why is it so important that we boast in the cross and not the Sabbath...or our so called ability to keep the Sabbath?
The answer is simple, the cross frees us from religious slavery and the mire of legalism and living under the law, while keeping the Sabbath keeps us in religious slavery, drowning in the mire and muck as a slave to the law.
To conclude today I'm going to look at two important passages from Romans that explain why we should only boast in the cross.
1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection.
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, 7 since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, 9 because we know that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will not die again. Death no longer rules over Him. 10 For in light of the fact that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in light of the fact that He lives, He lives to God. 11 So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. 13 And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. 14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)
One of the greatest fears of the legalist when hearing about the simplicity of true salvation (By Grace alone, Through faith alone, in Christ alone) is that for some reason it will cause the new believer to wallow in his or her freedom and turn into a sin machine. However the new believer has been saved by God's grace and is no longer under sin's dominion. This alone should cause the new believer to yearn to follow Christ's calling. We are children of light. The Law of the Spirit causes to walk more and more in His ways. We will still sin but we are no longer dead in our sin.
Notice verse 14 in particular. Sin has no rule under us for we are no longer under the Law but under grace.
This is huge. We are no longer under the law when we are born again, because we've been saved by grace—we live in that grace forever. When exactly did we become dead to the law? Or when did the law become dead to us?
1 Since I am speaking to those who understand law, brothers, are you unaware that the law has authority over someone as long as he lives? 2 For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband while he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding the husband. 3 So then, if she gives herself to another man while her husband is living, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law. Then, if she gives herself to another man, she is not an adulteress.
4 Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah, so that you may belong to another — to Him who was raised from the dead — that we may bear fruit for God.
5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions operated through the law in every part of us and bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law. (Romans 7:1-6)
We are born spiritually dead—our spirit is dead to sin. We are in the domain of darkness. Yet the Father draws us to the Son through the Holy Spirit and awakens us to our fatal condition. He uses the law to show that we are incapable of keeping the law and to direct us to the only person who has EVER kept that law perfectly, Jesus Christ.
When we surrender ourselves into salvation by giving up ourselves and our sin to Jesus on the Cross our status changes—our spirit is made alive in Christ. The Holy Spirit is sent from heaven and Indwells us and seals us (not by keeping a day) for heaven. We are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son He loves (Col. Chapter 1).
Amazing things to be certain but the most amazing thing is since we are in Christ and Christ is in us we are seen by the Father as having perfectly kept the law and we are also moved out from under the power of the law of death and into the power of the law of the Spirit—the law only entered by being born again—born of heaven.
We have been released from the law because we died to it in Christ, and we rose together in a new life.
We have entered into the rest of God, the true Sabbath and thus the true Sabbath rest, where the Christian rests everyday in the grace of God!
That is why Paul says he will only boast in the cross of Christ and says that we should only boast in what that crucifixion on Golgotha did for us also.
Everything else was a shadow, but the Christian rests in the reality of living under the law of grace. Everyday is a day of worship and living life unto our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Day 5: Wednesday, A New Creation
If Wednesday's lesson in the Quarterly has taught you simply that Paul was pitting circumcision against the gospel you have not been studying the book of Galatians deeply enough. Judaizers had slipped into the congregation(s) at Galatia and had started to poison the waterhole by mixing law and grace.
Here's a little refresher:
1 You foolish a Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified? 2 I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so much for nothing — if in fact it was for nothing? 5 So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:1-5 emphasis mine)
The questions are important and very telling:
Either the Spirit of God is given to you by the law, or by Grace through faith.
There's no option to mix the two because that's a lethal combination. And what was done on the cross makes even the thought of mixing law and grace abhorrent.
As a new creation we are spiritually reborn. God the Holy Spirit now tabernacles IN US—we become His temple!. We are given a new heart, and mind. We live in the freedom in Christ. We live each and every day unto the Lord because we have entered into the rest of God (Hebrews 4)—our true rest in the Lord of the Sabbath. We hold no day above another but hold all days the same.
There is freedom and blessed relief from trying to ensure our salvation by keeping laws, or by doing good works, or worshiping on a certain day, or highly elevating the law—all the things that Christ confronted the Pharisees for in the temple. He came to introduce a better covenant not founded on the keeping of laws.
"Come unto me all ye who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
God wants you to enter that rest now. He wants you to do the only thing that can give you salvation—trust His finished work on the cross. Then you will be what God desires—a new creation—a Christian!
Day 6: Thursday, Final Remarks
In the book of Galatians the question is asked about Grace: is Grace enough all by itself—is there any place for the works of the flesh in the salvation of the new believer. The answer over and over and over again is yes—grace is enough—nothing needs to be added to what Christ did on the cross. Christ's work is a finished work and He did it all. All we did is surrender into His amazing grace.
Paul said (to paraphrase) that “all the works I did in my life before Christ I count as dung and refuse.” That's because they were done to gain the grace of God. They were done to add or help in his salvation. Paul was a first class legalist who was radically transformed into a new creation on his way to Damascus. He became a Christian from blindness that was not just physical but spiritual into true sight—again not just spiritual but physical.
The rule Paul is referring to is this: Grace is enough. If people come in attempting to mix law and grace do NOT follow them! You were saved by grace through faith not the works of the law.
And once you're truly born again—a new creation, a Christian—you die to the old law of sin and death and live unto the law of the Spirit, the law if you will of rebirth.
What of the Mark? Is the mark of the Christian physical or something spiritual?
I believe that we might very well be physically marked for our Christian faith—people are being physically and even mentally scarred for their beliefs. However I don't think Paul is speaking of something physical. The mark of the Christian is spiritual but results in changes that ripple into every facet of the life of the believer is the fruit of the Spirit that comes through being born again and being filled by the Holy Spirit.
It is possible to be really nice without being reborn. Iit is possible to seem really religious without being reborn, it is possible to seem to posses the fruits of the Spirit without being reborn. However, resting in the land of possibility won't save you, and it won't transform you into a new creation. Only by entering God's rest will you be given the gift of God the Holy Spirit who by living in you will mark you as being a new creation.
And out of that "marking" will result in something that cannot be denied, replicated, duplicated or pretended. God's Love will rule in your heart, and you will be able to love people the way God loves people. This is not a fickle love or a love with any kind of strings attached. This is an unnatural, supernatural love that only God can give through us to others.
This is the love that led us to surrender our way into God's rest in the first place. It is the love that He had for Adam and Eve, for Abraham and Sarah, for Jacob, for Joseph, for Moses, for the Children of Israel, and it's a love unlike human love. God is love, and once we are new creations, we are His love too.
One final point. In the last lesson I talked a little about Paul's works before he was born again. These works to try and prove himself to God as being worthy of earning salvation were dung, refuse, and not impressive at all.
The new Believer, on the other hand, does the works that were prepared for Him to do by God since before time began. These works come out of a changed heart, soul and mind— from being a new creation. They are not done to help in salvation, they are a praise offering because of assured salvation!
Boasting about the cross is not about stagnation, it's about Salvation.
Christianity is not about being in a comfortable place, it's about moving on and being transformed.
It's about following the Good Shepherd wherever He leads you.
It's about grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone.
It's about leaving old covenant curses for new covenant blessings.
It's about the freedom to be a child of God.
Day 7: Friday, Further Study
Instead of reading the quotes written by Ellen G. White given for today's lesson, please re-read the entire book of Galatians in one sitting. Ask God to open your eyes to see what He is teaching you through this important book.
May you trust the words of the Bible and follow wherever Jesus leads you, no matter the cost!