Paul now concludes his letter to the Galatian churches by writing a final exhortation in his own hand.
v11. Obviously, Paul had been dictating this letter, and now he takes up the pen himself and jots down his final exhortation in the rough hand of a tradesman, rather than a calligrapher.
v12-13. Against Paul's gospel of justification by faith, law-bound believers had been pressuring his new Gentile converts to submit to the Mosaic law to maintain and/or progress their approval before God. Yet, as Paul observes, these "members of the circumcision party" are unable to keep the law themselves, so what's the point? As far as Paul is concerned, they are motivated by fear, trying to prove their kosher credentials to their unbelieving Jewish friends by circumcising Gentile converts.
v14. As a Pharisee, Paul has plenty to boast about in the law department, but he boasts of only one thing, namely, the cross of Christ. Paul's confidence rests on what Christ has done for him, not on what he has done. As far as all the "worldly" piety that seemingly earns brownie-points for divine blessing, it is dead to him, and he is dead to it.
v15. There is nothing to boast about in meticulous piety, or even flexible freedom. What we can boast about is "a new creation", our participation in Christ, through his cross, in the kingdom of God.
v16. May God bless all who accept that what matters is the realization of the promise given to Abraham of a kingdom. May God's blessing be upon all believers, upon the new Israel of God, upon all those who are in Christ and therefore, are members of God's new creation.
v17. Finally, Paul asks that the law-bound believers no longer trouble him, but rather that they recognize his apostolic authority.
v18. Paul concludes with a blessing. May the bounteous kindness of God be poured into our inner being, in and through the person and work of Christ Jesus.
Imagine you had to advise a new Christian on how to live for Jesus. What would you say? Would you give them a list of do's and don'ts? When I was a new Christian, the first book I was given was called "The Way." It was full of what I was and was not to do; in great detail it set out to keep me on the straight and narrow.
It is very easy to see law-keeping as the means of restraining sin for the purpose of maintaining and advancing our Christian standing. Yet, we all know, only to well, that we never seem to see victory over recurrent sins, besetting sins.
So we cry for help. "Who can rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord...... because through Jesus Christ the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death", Rom.7. We live now by the new way of the Spirit, we live as "a new creation."
Our new condition rests wholly on "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Through the cross, our old life is buried with Christ and a new life raised with him, all as a gift of grace through faith. Our new life, infused with the renewing power of the Spirit of Christ, makes us a new creation. We are certainly not perfect, but as we walk by the Spirit we find we are better able to overcome the sins of the flesh.
So then, how do we proceed in the Christian life? What do we tell that young Christian to do?
First, trust Jesus for renewal. As Paul puts it, "may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." My best friend is Jesus, and he has taken hold of my life; his resurrection power is enlivening me; his character of love is taking root in my heart and I am being shaped into his image, bit by bit, 2Cor.5:14-15. The more we rely on Christ's indwelling presence, the more we become like him.
Second, look at life the way it really is, its beauty and its rough edges. Enjoy life, while accepting its imperfections. For example, feelings are a natural part of being human, but are often denounced as unchristian. C.S. Lewis once wrote, "No natural feelings are high or low, holy or unholy, in themselves. They are all holy when God's hand is on the rein."
Third, press toward Biblical ideals, using them as a guide for our Christian journey.
i] Trust the Lord's guide to personal morality. It's sometimes hard to believe that Biblical sign-posts on personal morality are the more fulfilling option, but they are.
ii] Love the brotherhood. Aim at acceptance, forgiveness.
iii] Do good to all, especially through gospel communication.
And don't forget to enjoy the journey.
1. We often use religious ideals to hide rather basic motives. Consider the motives of "the members of the circumcision party", v12-13. Can you think of any modern examples?
2. What does it mean to "boast" in the cross of Christ, v14?
3. "What counts is a new creation." How is this so?