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Empowering Grace Blog

"The importance of grace, part 7"

Look at what Paul said in 2 Cor 11:3 — “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” The Christian life is all about simplicity, not complexity (Not as the old song says, “God moves in a mysterious way”, but as Paul said in Col 2:3 — “in whom (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”) The simplicity that’s in Christ is what the book of Galatians is about; for in it, he makes it very clear to us that the gospel is all about God’s grace from start to finish. Throughout the book of Galatians, he asked them several questions that caused them to use their commonsense in dealing with the true gospel of Christ, and then return to its simplicity. Not only does Paul seem to bear his soul a few times with these Galatian people for turning away so soon to a more complicated message of law and grace, but he shows them the reason why the law was added to the Old Covenant. 

He does this to show them that the law has absolutely nothing to do with the New Covenant of God’s grace; for Christianity is about liberalism, not legalism! As we saw from what he said in Gal 4:4 about Jesus being born under the law, that we must be careful to rightly discern the word of truth as we read the red letter words of the 4 Gospels. In the minds of these Galatian people, as in many people today, they think that the New Covenant started in Matt 1:1, at the birth of Jesus. So, when they read the Gospel accounts, they see the red words of Jesus as doctrine for us to follow today (Keep in mind that the Judaizers used the Gospels of Jesus to bring in their legalistic message). Jesus’s earthly ministry circumferenced 3 things: 

1) it was to the nation of Israel (to let them know how pristine the law is, and that it’s impossible to do); 

2) it was to the unbelieving nations of the world (Gentiles), to show what the true punishment of God is; 

3) then, finally, we see His teachings for the futuristic Body of Christ with teachings like, “Abiding in the Vine”, “The promised Holy Spirit”, and His dynamic High Priestly prayer in John 17. 

As I said before, Paul mentioned this because the Judaizers were using the red letter words of Jesus and His teachings, that was meant for the Jews, or either meant to unbelievers, to bring the mixture of law and grace (Much like what people do today in ignorance).

Look again at the question that he asked them in 4:9 — “how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?” Instead of relying on the ability of the indwelling Christ to control their lives (grace), they turned again to the weak and beggarly elements of legalism; thus, bringing them into bondage again (The “AGAIN” of this verse shows that their Christian lives were not any different from their lives before they came to Christ; other than having His life inside). 

4:12 — “Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all.” 

Paul once again appeals to them returning to their common sense, just like he did in chapter 3 with asking his questions. At first glance, this verse may not mean too much, but it holds valuable truth for us today. Let’s remember the audience of this letter; they are Gentiles. Paul, being a Jew by heritage, was absolutely free from the law he grew up in (which they were turning again to the weak and beggarly elements of the law). Paul became as they, as a Gentile, and he says to them to become as free as he is from the law. Do you see it? He did this because as we have seen, Judaizers (those who mixed the law with grace) had come in behind Paul and muddied the waters of the pure message of grace. So, Paul’s appeal to them is to stop relying on the works of the law, and start trusting in the indwelling Christ, when it comes to living their lives.

Then he makes an interesting statement for them to remember when he was there with them, “You have (did) not injured me at all.” The verb implies that he is referring to when he first came unto them and preached the gospel, and to the physical shape he was in, which he tells us in the next few verses.

Verses 13-16 — “13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” 

If you notice in v.13, it was BECAUSE of his physical illness, he ended up in their area, took advantage of it and preached the gospel to them. He never says what kind of physical infirmity he had because that’s not the point here. The point here is for them to remember the great acceptance and care they had with him in the trial that was in his flesh. So, in v.16, he says to them, “Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” He wants to remind them of this, because he is now correcting them for trusting in the law instead of resting in Jesus’s finished work, and His ability within them (It’s natural for people to get offensive when someone is pointing out things they need to correct in their lives, and this was Paul’s point for bringing this up).

Verses 17-20 — “17 They (the Judaizers) zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. 18 But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, 20 I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.” 

In v.17, we realize something about the ministry of the religious mixers of law and grace. Their ministry is described as zealous and eager about reaching people, but with the wrong message. He said to them, they want to “EXCLUDE” you from the true message of grace, so that you would depend on them, which gives us the idea of the message of legalism. This legalistic message of law and grace is about “behavior modification”, or self-help by one’s own effort, and these people get extremely upset about the Pauline message of grace.

Again, Paul expresses his great concern for these people and what they were doing in welcoming this other kind of message. In v.19, he says to them that he labors in prayer until “Christ is formed in you”. You can hear the words of 2:20, “Christ living in me”, in what he said here. This reminds me also of what John said (3 John 1:4) — “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Paul’s idea behind the words, “Christ being formed in you”, deals with our daily walk. Then in the next verse, he speaks directly to the followers of the legalistic message of law and grace.

Verses 21-31 — “21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.’  28 Now we (Christians), brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now (This shows how religion persecutes Christians). 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ 31 So then, brethren (Christians), we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” 

It’s important for us to keep in mind that the law was never intended for anyone outside the Jewish nation of Israel (That’s less than 1% of the world’s population). Gentiles, that’s most of us, have absolutely no knowledge of the law that the legalistic Judaizers preached (Non-Jewish people today, who preach a legalistic mixture of law and grace do not have a clue in what they are saying, see what Paul said in 1 Tim 1:7). Paul is saying here to them in these verses, “You want law? Let me give you some of it in making my point.” The summation of this allegory is in the last verse of this chapter, that “we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free”. This story is between 2 Abrahamic nations; representing 2 systems or approaches to God. The first system is from the bondwoman, and her son of the flesh (the product of Abraham’s works, “Let me help you out God to bring to pass your promise in my life.”). The other system is from the freewoman, and her son of the promise (the product of God’s grace, and His faithfulness in bringing to pass what He promised, see Gen 18:10). This is what Paul had been bringing out in this letter; that the addition of the law did not affect the promise.

So, get the picture: the bondwoman represents man-made religion and its legalistic system, and the freewoman represents God’s promise of Christ and His system of liberty. It’s this idea of our liberty that is carried over into the next chapter, and how God’s new system of grace works its freedom in our lives (We know this system as “the fruit of the Spirit”).


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