Galatians

A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek text

Introduction

The thesis of Paul's letter to the Galatians may be summed up with the words "Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted", Hendriksen. In this letter Paul sets out to demolish the heresy of nomism (dependence on the law to facilitate divine blessing) by establishing the grand truth that the appropriation of God's promised blessings rests on what Christ has done for us and not on what we might do for God. The fullness of new life in Christ, life now through the renewing power of the Spirit, life eternal, is wholly ours when we rest on what Christ has done for us on the cross. There is nothing we can do to improve on the riches of God's grace in Christ. So it is that Paul pointedly says to the Galatians, "Are you so senseless that having begun your Christian journey by means of the Spirit you are now trying to bring yourselves to perfection by means of law-obedience?" Gal.3:3 - Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted.

 
The structure of Galatians  
 
Prologue

1. Introduction, 1:1-10
Background

2. Historical survey, 1:11-2:14:

i] Paul's apologia, 1:11-2:10

ii] Paul's confrontation with Peter at Antioch, 2:11-14
Proposition

3. Paul's thesis, 2:15-21

The gospel, of itself, apart from the law, facilitates new life in Christ, 2:15-21
Argument Proper

4. Arguments in support of the proposition, 3:1-4:7

i] New life in Christ is not dependent on our faithfulness, 3:1-5

ii] Those who inherit God's promised new life are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, 3:6-9

iii] It is not possible to inherit the blessing of new life through obedience to the law, 3:10-14

iv] The promise is independent of the gift of the law, 3:15-18

v] The function of the Mosaic law is to promote death until everything is put right by Christ, 3:19-24

vi] The evidence of a worldwide people united before God, apart from the law, 3:25-29

vii] In Christ we now have the full, free enjoyment of sonship in God, with all its associated blessings, 4:1-7
Application

5. Exhortations, 4:8-6:10:

Introduction: You are slipping back into slavery, 4:8-11

i] Strengthen the bonds between us, 4:12-20

ii] Stand firm and do not submit again to the slavery of the law, 4:21-5:1

iii] Do not cut yourself off from Christ by submitting to the Mosaic law, 5:2-12

iv] Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for sin, but let your lives be guided by the Spirit, 5:13-18

v] Be led by the Spirit and not by the flesh, 5:19-25

vi] Care for one another, 5:26-6:10
Conclusion

6. Postscript, 6:11-18

 

The structure of Galatians reflects its literary form as a personal letter which, due to the fact that it is to be read in a congregational situation, adopts rhetorical forms and conventions in the body of the letter. As a letter it has a prescript, 1:1-5, and a conclusio, a postscript or conclusion, 6:11-18. Betz argues that the body of the letter presents as an example of forensic / judicial rhetoric, a defensive apologetic, although many commentators argue that it is more likely an example of deliberative rhetoric where the author / speaker seeks to persuade his audience concerning a particular matter. It does seem likely that Paul is trying to persuade the Galatians that faith has superseded law as the means of progressing the Christian life and thus the letter leans more toward deliberative rhetoric than forensic. Of course, Galatians, as with the other New Testament letters, is not a technical example of rhetoric and so cannot be strictly classified, but none-the-less it does reflect the accepted conventions of the day used to progress an argument. Betts proposes the following rhetorical structure:

Exordium - the introduction, where the subject matter is raised and personal links established, 1:6-11;

Narratio - background facts related to the subject matter, 1:12-2:14;

Propositio - the proposition / thesis is to be proved, 2:15-21;

Probatio - arguments in support of the proposition, 3:1-4:31;

Exhortatio - exhortations, 5:1-6:10.

The structure offered on this site adopts a rhetorical format, although not always in alignment with Betts.

 
Thesis overview

Text: "The righteous out of faith will live", Habakkuk 2:4.

The righteous reign of God (his setting all things right)

in justification (in judging right / setting right a people before him),

out of FAITH (based on Christ's faithfulness + our faith response),

establishes the RIGHTEOUSNESS of God's children (covenant compliance),

facilitating God's promised covenant BLESSINGS (the full appropriation of his promised new life through the Spirit),

and its fruit, the WORKS of the law (a striving to keep God's law).

cf. Rom.1:16-17

 

The Pauline synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.

Paul is not a libertine in stressing "apart from works" for he accepts that those in Christ naturally seek to live as Christ and to this end he exhorts believers to be what they are. He stresses "apart from works" in response to the nomist heresy of his opponents who taught that:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS + WORKS = BLESSINGS.

 

James' synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.

James is not giving undue weight to works of the law, as Luther thought, but is seeking to counter the argument of libertine believers who taught that:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS - (minus) WORKS .

 

Luther's synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS = WORKS.

Luther is Pauline in his view of justification, but his perspective is somewhat different to Paul because his opponents are not nomists, but legalists who taught that:

FAITH + WORKS = RIGHTEOUSNESS = BLESSINGS.

Luther focuses on how a person can be saved, but Paul focuses on how a person may fully appropriate the promised Abrahamic blessings / new life in Christ.

 

The New Perspective synthesis:

FAITH = RIGHTEOUSNESS - (minus) LAW = GENTILE INCLUSION.

This flawed synthesis proposes that Paul is not dealing with the issue of how a person appropriates the full blessings of the covenant, but rather how a Gentile can be included in God's covenant community, namely, by the removal of Jewish exclusivism, ie. works of the LAW.

 

Terms defined:

FAITH: ek pistewV eiV pistin, "from the faith/faithfulness of Christ toward our faith response." Faith entails the linkage of i] eiV Criston Ihsoun episteusamen, "we have come to believe in Jesus Christ", our faith/reliance upon the grace of God, and this operative ii] dia pistewV Ihsou Cristou, "through the faith of Christ", by means of the faith/faithfulness of Christ, Gal.2:16. So, FAITH = Christ's faith/faithfulness [his atoning sacrifice on our behalf] and our faith-response.

RIGHTEOUSNESS: Right standing before God, "covenant compliance", Dumbrell, "uprightness", Fitzmyer; "(the state of) rectification", Martyn. Gaining the condition of righteousness is expressed by the verb "justified", just-if-I'd never sinned, which word takes one or all of the following shades of meaning: i] "confer a righteous status on", Cranfield; ii] judge as covenant compliant, "judged in the right with God", Dumbrell, "count/treat as right/righteous", Barrett; iii] "set right before God", Bruce, "rectify", Martyn. (NP = a divine declaration of covenant membership).

BLESSINGS: The promised blessings of the covenant / the fullness of new life in Christ.

WORKS: Paul, following Jesus' lead, uses the term of submission to the law of Moses, extending to God's law in general (NP = Jewish badges of covenant membership, eg. Sabbath law, circumcision), which law serves the following ends:

i] to expose sin and so reinforce a reliance on divine grace expedited through faith;

ii] to guide the life of a child of God.

 
The churches of Galatia

We are not at all sure which churches Paul addresses in this letter. Galatia can refer to two regions in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), both of which fall in the Roman Province of Galatia. There is the northern region where the Galatians themselves live, and there is the southern administrative area commonly known as Galatia. We have no record of Paul evangelizing and developing churches in the northern region. We do know that during his first missionary journey he established churches in the towns of Pisidia (known as Pisidan Antioch, which is distinct from the Antioch found in Syria), Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. These towns were made up of mixed Hellenized peoples, each with small Jewish communities. Paul's letter seems to be directed to such churches and so the majority of scholars today opt for the "South Galatian Theory". None-the-less, the "North Galatian Theory" is held by some and is supported by Gal.4:13. In this verse Paul says he preached the gospel to the Galatians "on an earlier occasion", but to proteron could mean "the first time". This may link with Acts 16:6-7 where Luke says that "they travelled through Phrygia and the Galatian territory having been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia." The suggestion is that Paul had a bout of illness and headed for Pessinus to recuperate, a well serviced Roman town in Galatia proper.

 
Date of writing

It is not possible to fix an exact date for Paul's letter to the Galatians, nor do we know where the letter was sent from. It was obviously sent after Paul's first missionary journey and most likely soon after the Jerusalem Council in 49AD, cf. Acts 15. The letter may have been written from Antioch (in Syria), a town that tended to be Paul's base-camp during his early years of ministry. If this is the case, it was written before his second missionary journey and is therefore one of his earliest letters, although probably after Thessalonians.

 
The purpose of the letter

Paul writes his letter to the Galatians to address the heresy of nomism, a heresy promoted by members of the circumcision party - the judaizers. These, mainly Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem church, were following up on Paul's missionary work in order to correct his depreciation of the Mosaic law with Gentile converts.

For the judaizers, justification certainly entailed a believer's initial forgiveness, but going forward in the Christian life entailed a detailed keeping of the law of Moses, outwardly displayed in the sign of circumcision. For Paul, a person's justification, and thus their ongoing participation in God's divine act of setting all things right, with all its associated blessings, rests on Christ's faithfulness, not our own. At no point can God's grace be supplemented with law. "Justification by law" serves only to promote rebellion and thus "alienation from Christ", 5:4.

So, Paul writes to the Galatian believers to warn them of the nomist heresy and draw them back to the gospel of God's grace in Christ.

 
The Galatian heresy

Nomism (nomistic / pietistic Christianity), the heresy promoted by the members of the circumcision party (the judaizers), is the belief that, although a person is justified (set right before God, judged covenant compliant) on the basis of Christ's faithfulness ("faith of Christ") appropriated through faith, law-obedience ("works of the law" - obedience to the law of Moses) is essential to restrain sin and shape holiness for a believer to move forward in the Christian life and so appropriate the fullness of new life in Christ (the promised Abrahamic blessings - the gift of the Spirit, etc.).

 
Paul's defining text

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but rather Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live, subject to the limitations of my human nature, I live in faith, that is to say, in the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and surrendered himself up to death for me", 2:20.

 
Paul's central proposition

The apostle proposes that a justified person's reliance on the faithfulness of Christ, of itself, apart from the law, facilitates God's promised blessing of new life in Christ. This proposition rests on Paul's understanding of Habakkuk 2:4, cf. Gal.3:11.

 
Synopsis

In the opening passage of his letter, 1:1-5, Paul dispenses with his usual thanksgiving and prayer on behalf of the church and begins with a condensed salutation and then moves to denounce those who are promoting "a different gospel", v6-10.

Paul then goes on to relate the events of his life after his conversion, focusing particularly on his relationship with the Jerusalem apostles, 1:11-24. This account serves to vindicate Paul's apostolic authority and the independence of his gospel message. Paul then recounts the events surrounding the Jerusalem council where both his apostolic authority and the validity of his gospel message is recognized by the leaders of the Jerusalem church, 2:1-10.

Paul's historical survey climaxes in 2:11-14, with the account of his clash with Peter in Antioch, following the arrival of the Jerusalem council's letter outlining the requirements for the maintenance of table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. Paul confronts Peter when he legalistically applies the council's regulations and withdraws fellowship. Paul maintains the authority of his gospel of grace, even against Peter whose actions interfere with "the freedom we have in Christ Jesus".

In 2:15-21, "the central affirmation of the letter", Longenecker, Paul outlines the theological argument appropriate to Peter's actions, an argument which similarly applies to the judaizers and those in Galatia who have adopted their false teachings. First, Paul identifies with his combatants, stating a doctrine that all Jewish believers hold to be true, namely, that a person is justified (set right with God) on the basis of Christ's obedient sacrifice ("faith of Christ" = Christ's perfect reliance on the will of God = the faithfulness of Christ), appropriated by trusting Jesus rather than obeying the law, v15-16. The trouble is, when a believer applies this doctrine in their Christian life, living under grace rather than law, it can seem that they disregard the law of God ("are sinners") and implicate Christ in their supposed apostasy, v17. For Paul, the opposite is the case. The nomists' dependence on law-obedience to promote the riches of God's promised blessings actually leads to rebellion and death, v18. In the law we die, in Christ we live. To "live", to access the fullness of new life in Christ, to appropriate "the unsearchable riches of Christ", Eph.3:8, is ours in Christ apart from the law. A believer lives "in faith", that is, we experience this new life by resting on the faithfulness ("faith") of the Son of God, his death on our behalf, v19-20. In v21 Paul rounds off his argument by categorically stating that his gospel does not set aside God's kindness in his gift of the law. The simple reason being that the law was never intended to promote the life of a person set with God.

Paul now embarks on a series of arguments in support of his proposition that a person, who is in the right with God on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ, experiences the fullness of God's promised new life apart from law-obedience, 3:1-4:7.

For his first argument Paul draws on the personal experience of the Galatians, 3:1-5. Having experienced the renewing power of the Holy Spirit (a new heart within, Jer.31:33) through faith in Jesus Christ, the Galatians should have realized, by now, that their participation in the blessings of the kingdom (the promised blessing of the Abrahamic covenant) is based on Christ's faithfulness, not their faithfulness.

The truth stated in 3:5, that God's promised blessings rest on Christ's faithfulness, leads Paul to his second argument, one supported from scripture, 3:6-9. In this argument, Paul reminds his readers of Abraham, a man who stood right before God due to his reliance on the faithfulness of God, v6. Paul then exegetes this verse, aligning Abraham's trust in God with the trust of believers in his own day, identifying them as Abraham's true children and therefore recipients, in like manner to Abraham, of the promised covenant blessing, v7-9.

In his third argument, 3:10-14, Paul establishes from scripture that the promised blessing of life is not a product of law-obedience. All that law-obedience does is inculcate the curse of the law, v10. The promised new life is not facilitated by a faithful attention to the law, rather, it rests on the faithfulness of Christ, Hab.2:4, v11, and this because the commandments must be "done" to find life in them, Lev.18:5, v12. The simple fact is that the promised Abrahamic blessing, now realized in this present moment through the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift experienced by Gentile believers as well as Jewish believers, rests wholly on Christ's atonement, v13-14.

In Paul's fourth argument, 3:15-18, he makes the point that the promise, a promise encapsulated in the covenant with Abraham and now realized in the gift of new life in Christ, is independent of the Mosaic covenant such that "the law does not have the power to specify and thus to alter the promise", Martyn. The giving of the law four hundred and thirty years after the establishment of the Abrahamic covenant, does not supplement, nor replace, God's agreement with Abraham.

The fifth argument is outlined in 3:19-24. Here Paul sets out to explain the role of the Mosaic law in relation to the Abrahamic covenant and in so doing counters the notion that the Mosaic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant, such that the promised blessings of the covenant, "life", rest on both grace and law. Paul's argument is that the Mosaic law does not facilitate the blessing of new life in Christ, Paul's argument is that the Mosaic law does not facilitate the blessing of new life in Christ, rather it is nothing more than an interim measure devised to support the promise.

Paul now develops his sixth argument, 3:25-29. It is obvious that the blessing of new life in Christ has nothing to do with our submission to the restrictive oppressive supervision of the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law, as a temporary measure designed to complement the Abrahamic covenant, is terminated in Christ. The promised blessing to Abraham of a worldwide people united before God is even now unfolding before our very eyes, and this, not on the basis of law obedience, but on the basis of what Christ has done for us. We are all one in Christ.

In 4:1-7 Paul outlines his seventh and concluding argument. Christ, "born under the curse of the law" ... fulfills all its requirements, absorbing its curse by his death on the cross", Dumbrell. "God's purpose [in all this] was both to redeem and to adopt, not just to rescue from slavery, but to make slaves into sons", Stott. Consequently, as adopted sons in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles receive God's promised blessings, a foretaste of which is the gift of his life-giving Spirit. So, a believer, as a son of God, is rightly an heir to the promised blessings of God [and this apart from law-obedience].

Paul now embarks on a series of exhortations ("the request section of the letter", Dumbrell), running through to the postscript, 6:11-18. Most of the exhortations address the nomist problem besetting the Galatian believers.

In 4:8-11, Paul introduces his exhortations by expresses his deep concern for the believers in Galatia. They are drifting back into the the prescriptions and ordinances of religion to progress their Christian lives and so Paul has to face the terrible possibility that his ministry in Galatian "may have been wasted."

The first exhortation, 4:12-20, is in the form of a "personal appeal", Garlington, Dunn, which seeks to reestablish the personal relationship that existed between Paul and the Galatians, cf. Bruce, Barnes..... Given the Galatians' defection, due to the influence of the members of the circumcision party, Paul pleads with his readers to establish again the strong personal trust and respect that once existed between them and their founding apostle. This exhortation, found in v12, is supported by the rest of the passage: i] The strength of the relationship that Paul has had with the Galatians, v13-16; ii] The intentions of the judaizers to promote another gospel (namely, that the promised blessings of the covenant are appropriated through obedience to the law of Moses), 17-18; iii] Paul's tender desire that Christ again be the center of their Christian life (rather than the law), v19-20.

In his second exhortation, 4:21-5:1, Paul uses the Hagar-Sarah story to make the point that the Galatian believers are confronted with a choice of two ways forward in the Christian life: the present Jerusalem/Mount Sinai, or Jerusalem above; flesh or promise, law or Spirit, slavery or freedom. Paul reminds the Galatian believers that they are the children of the free woman, the children of promise, v31, and that therefore they are to live out that reality, casting out the nomism of the judaizers, v30, reaffirming the freedom they possess in Christ and refusing to submit again to the slavery of law for blessing, 5:1.

In Paul's third exhortation, 5:2-12, he encourages the Galatian believers to resist the temptation that they submit themselves to the Mosaic law as the means of facilitating full standing before God (full justification) for the appropriation of God's promised blessings. To choose this course of action will serve only to cut the Galatian believers from Christ and the gift of new life found in him through the renewing work of the Spirit. As for those who are promoting this heresy, the members of the circumcision party, they "will pay the penalty"; their infection needs to be resisted.

Paul's exhortations to the Galatians up to 5:12 focused on the dangers associated with nomism - law-obedience for the purpose of appropriating the fullness of new life in Christ. From 5:13 to 6:10 Paul focuses on the danger of libertarianism, reminding us that the Christian life is "at once free and holy", Allan.

In 5:13-18, Paul's fifth exhortation, he explains how love, the quality that sums up the ethical demands of the law, is realized in the life of a believer when they rest on the indwelling-compelling of the Spirit of Christ. When we are in Christ, the love of Christ compels us. So, Paul encourages his readers that they "not let the possession of [their] freedom serve ... as an opportunity for yielding to the promptings of the lower nature", but rather that they "let [their] lives be guided by the Spirit", Cassirer.

In the sixth exhortation, 5:19-25, Paul gives an overview of the "works of the flesh" and "the fruit of the Spirit". The sinful nature, stirred up and impelled forward by the law, promotes "the works of the flesh"; the indwelling-compelling of the Spirit of Christ promotes "the fruit of the Spirit." So, since we possess the fullness of new life in Christ, we must let the Spirit of Christ renew us.

Paul concludes his exhortations in 5:26-6:10 with a practical word on achieving unity between the "libertines" and "legalists" in the Galatian fellowship. He begins with a negative exhortation in 5:26 and follows this up with an exposition on "exercising our freedom to serve each other, with the contrasting warning added to avoid proud attitudes. By so doing they will fulfil the law of Christ amid the present tensions in Galatia", Dumbrell.

In the final verses Paul summarizes the main points of his letter: he denounces the members of the circumcision party; he states clearly that circumcision (and what it stands for - law-obedience for blessing) is of no value whatsoever; and he again declares that the cross is the means by which we gain the fullness of new life, by which we fully participate in God's new creation.

 
Critical Issues

It should be noted that scholars are divided on many important issues which affect the exegesis of this letter:

 
i] Nomism, or legalism?

Due to the influence of both Luther and Calvin, commentators have tended to treat Galatians as a theological treatise on the means of salvation, and this against Paul's opponents who argued for a salvation by works of the law, ie. the error of legalism. The approach taken in the notes on this site is that Paul's opponents were not legalists in that they did understand that their salvation rested on the faithfulness of Christ, in much the same way as any faithful Jew understood that their covenant standing rested on God's grace. Paul's opponents were nomists, as were most religious Jews at the time. Paul's opponents, the members of the circumcision group in the early church, saw obedience to the Mosaic law as a necessary requirement for the appropriation of covenant blessings. For Paul, the promised blessings of the covenant, of life in all its fullness, is found in Christ alone. To move beyond the faithfulness of Christ for the appropriation of covenant blessings serves only to undermine a person's standing before God. So, Paul's letter to the Galatians is all about going forward in the Christian life, not about getting saved.

 
ii] The New Perspective on Paul

The exposition of Galatians is in a state of flux with some commentators adopting the Dunn-Wright synthesis of the new perspective on Paul, while others continue to follow a traditional liberal or reformed synthesis. Take for example the latest commentaries published on Galatians: Don Garlington, A Reading from the New Perspective, 2002, rev. 2007, as opposed to Peter Barnes in the EP Study Commentary series, 2006, or Philip Ryken, in a Reformed Expository Commentary, 2005. The issues in this debate are central to an understanding of the book of Galatians.

 
iii] The date of Galatians

Although not overly important, commentators are divided as to whether the letter was written before or after the Jerusalem Council, cf. Acts 15. The notes on this site proceed on the assumption that the letter was written after the Jerusalem Council and refers to Peter's actions in Antioch following the arrival of the circular letter from the Jerusalem church, Acts 15:20, (Gal.2:12, not "certain people came from James", but "certain instructions came from James").

 
iv] The circumcision party

Central to any understanding of Galatians is the actual identity of the judaizers, "the members of the circumcision party", who were undermining Paul's ministry in his mission churches, and whose activities Paul focuses on in this letter. Some commentators regard them simply as unconverted Jews, but it is more likely that they were believers, many being converted Jews, all of whom were committed to the full obedience of the Torah, outwardly expressed in the sign of circumcision.

 
v] Works of the law

Crucial to an understanding of Galatians is how both Paul and the members of the circumcision party view the law. Both do seem to be speaking about the law of Moses, the Torah, but from totally different perspectives.

For Paul, the primary role of the law is to expose sin and thus drive the sinner to seek a righteousness that is apart from law-obedience, a righteousness found in Christ's faithfulness. At a secondary level, the law does serve to guide the life of faith, but it cannot appropriate the full blessings of the Christian life. The riches of God's grace are found in Christ. For a believer to use the law as a mechanisim to appropriate the full blessings of the Christian life, serves only to place themselves again under the curse of the law, under judgment.

Clearly, the members of the circumcision party saw the law in quite a different light, although, since we only have Paul's critique of their position, it is not easy to know exactly what they taught. Most commentators regard these judaizers as legalists, that is, they taught that obedience to the law earned a person their salvation, it justified them, but this seems unlikely. It is more than likely that 2nd temple Judaism understood that a person's covenant status was a gift of God's grace, of his covenant mercy. Yet, when it came to the maintenance of covenant standing and thus of access to the promised blessings of the covenant, they mistakenly treated the regulations of the Mosaic covenant as a binding codicil to the Abrahamic covenant. For the judaizers, a person who is right before God, is there by grace, but must go on by obedience.

The judaizers, and probably most Israelites, had failed to recognize that the prime function of the law is to expose sin and thus compel Israel to seek a righteousness like Abraham's, a divine approval that rests on God's covenant mercy (grace), a mercy appropriated through faith. Note how Jesus uses the law in his many confrontations with law-bound Jews. He constantly pushes the law into the area of ideals such that it is impossible to claim righteousness under the law, eg., The Rich Young Ruler and The Good Samaritan. Faced with such ideals, repentance is our only option.

There are some commentators who think that the judaizers were simply arguing for the maintenance of Jewish traditions, in particular, circumcision, but again, this seems doubtful. It seems more likely that they were nomists, that is, they saw the law as an integral part of covenant life, such that a failure to obey the law undermined their standing before God, undermined their covenant status, and thus their access to the blessings of the covenant. Probably, and of course this is open to debate, they taught that submission to the law maintains a believer's standing before God, in that it restrains sin and promotes holiness, and thus facilitates the promised blessings of the covenant. What Paul was probably dealing with was a form of pietism.

 
vi] Sanctification

Sanctification has always been a hotbed of debate in Christian circles. Pietists usually define sanctification as the progressive realization of what we are in Christ and tend to teach that faithful obedience to the law, in the power of the Spirit, is the mechanism for progressing that sanctification (making holy). Yet, as far as Paul was concerned, in Christ we are already holy, nothing can progress our standing further; we are justified, fully justified before God, "just-if-I'd never sinned", perfectly holy in Christ. Paul then faced the obvious retort, "why not sin that grace may abound?", but in truth, a person in Christ will naturally strive to be like Christ, irrespective of the demands of the law. It would be more appropriate to say that as a product of justification, sanctification is a state of holiness, which, in the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we seek to realize in our daily life, albeit, always imperfectly.

 
vii] Justification

Paul promotes what we might loosely call "full justification". Often, justification is understood as a declaration of righteousness, of right-standing before God, at conversion, which must then be maintained by a faithful attention to God's law. Yet, it is likely that this is the very heresy that Paul is addressing. For Paul, justification is the divine bestowal of an eternal right-standing before God, which standing, of itself, comes with all the inherent blessings that belong to a person who is recognized as in the right with God. Justification is a gift of God's grace facilitated in the faithfulness of Christ such that in Christ we possess the fullness of God's promised new life, and this apart from law-obedience.

Reformed commentators have divided on the declared, or made right issue, although we probably need to accept that what God declares so is so. If God declares that we are members of his covenant community, that we are covenant compliant, then we are that way. Of course, just because we stand eternally approved before God does not mean that we should loose sight of the indicative / imperative so evident in the scriptures. Certainly Paul doesn't and it is particularly noticeable that he doesn't in Galatians. In Christ we are perfect, so let us strive to be the perfect person we are in Christ. Of course, we never will; as Luther put it, "the old Adam retains his power until he is deposited in the grave". None-the-less, we press forward.

Neither libertarianism, nor perfectionism has any place in Paul's understanding of justification.

 

 
Bibliography: Commentaries - Galatians

Allan, Torch. Barnes, EPSC, 2006. Betz, Hermeneia. Bligh, Greek notes, University of Detroit Press. Bligh*, St. Paul Publications. Boer, NTL, 2011. Bruce, NIGTC. Burton, ICC, 1920. Cole, Tyndale, 1965. Cousar, Interpretation. Davis, "Christ as Devotio". Dumbrell, NCC. Duncan, MNTC, 1934. Dunn, Black's. Dunn, NTT. Eadie, 1884, reprint Zondervan. Ebeling, Fortress. Esler, Readings, Routledge. Fee, Pentecostal, 2007. Fung, NICNT. Garlington, Wipf & Stock, 2007, 3rd. ed., reading from the new perspective. George, NAC. Grayston, Preachers Commentary, 1957. Gromacki, Baker / Kress. Guthrie, NCB. Hamann, ChiRho. Hansen, IVP Commentary Series. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth + Eph. Hunter, Laymans. Jarvis, Wycliffe. Lightfoot, Macmillan, 1865. Longenecker, Word, 1990. Luhrmann, Fortress. Martyn, Anchor, 1997. Neil, CBC. Osiek, NT Message 12. Quesnell, The Gospel of Christian Freedom, Herder & Herder, 1969. Ryken, Presbyterian and Reformed Commentary, 2005. Riches, Blackwell Bible Commentaries. Ridderbos, NICNT. Ryken, A Presbyterian and Reformed Commentary, 2005. Silva, HGT, 2014. Stott, BST. Tenney, Eerdmans 1950.

 

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