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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians
Explanation of the Epistle (contd.)
3- Righteousness by Christ, by Faith and Not by the Works of the Law (2: 15 – 5:12, contd.)
+ Righteousness is by faith in Christ who was crucified for us (2:15-21, described in Part 3)
+ Reproaching the Galatians for their Return Back to the Flesh, Abraham as an example of Justification by Faith and not by the Works of the Law, and The Role of the Law (3:1-25, all described in Part 4)
+ We are All One in Christ: Sons & Heirs, Return to a loving reproach, and We are the Children of the Promise, the Children of the Free Woman (3:26 – 5:1, all described in Part 5).
+ The teaching of Justification by the Law means falling from Grace (5: 2-6):
In concluding his defense of the truth of the Gospel and that salvation is by grace through faith, without the works of the Law, St. Paul says, as a responsible minister of the Gentiles, “Indeed I, Paul, say to you” (5:2)… circumcision will not benefit you in anyway (5:6). This issue will not be just circumcision, but it will extend to the whole Law (5:3), which no one can fulfill, and therefore, will fall under the curse … You will not be able to fulfill the Law in any case. Those who abide by the Law as a requirement for salvation, forgo Christ, and fall from Grace. But we seek righteousness by faith in Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through (i.e. reinforced or energized by) love” (5:6).
So, there is no merit to the Jew by his circumcision, nor to the Gentile by his uncircumcision, but the only open door to salvation is “faith expressing itself through love.” St. Paul has joined love with faith, because without love (love of God and the neighbor), faith becomes an intellectual debating activity, not a stream of love springing from the heart and transforming life. It can also lead to fanaticism, seclusion, self righteousness, and self satisfaction. “If I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1Cor. 13:2). When faith is coupled with work (action), it will guarantee that work will not become just a formal or literal (vs. spiritual) performance, or a fulfillment of obligations, but on the contrary, it will be a transformation to the better, a denial of self to serve the world, a resolution to lead a holy life, independence from worldly influences, and an unwavering look forward to eternal life. Thus, Love is the source of power of the Christian faith, and the Christian faith is the source of power of works.
This is what St. Paul stressed at the end of his epistle: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation” (6:15) i.e. the new life in the light, the life that we receive through salvation by faith. This matter is not an intellectual debate, or a comparison between circumcision and uncircumcision. In conclusion, if “faith expressing itself through love” is the means, the reward is “the new creation” which follows the gift of salvation, and which is also eternal life.
+ Facing those who cause corruption (5: 7-12):
St. Paul continues his reproach: I don’t know how you changed like that. You were running a good race and accepting the true teaching. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? This wrong thing has to stop before it reaches others. Don’t you know that “A little leaven (yeast) leavens the whole lump (of dough)” (5:9). And a small spark results in a big fire, the small foxes can destroy the whole vineyard, and “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1Cor. 15:33).
He encourages them to discard this matter, and not to change their mind from what they had received (from him, i.e. the Apostolic Tradition). Those who have disturbed, and offended them will fall under judgment whoever they are. He says about them in another place “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into (masquerading as) apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2Cor. 11:13-15).
He tells them that if they accuse me that I preach circumcision like them (although he asked Timothy to be circumcised, he did not preach circumcision as a teaching) why then do I suffer persecution for the sake of preaching the Cross? For if I preach circumcision, the offense of the Cross would be abolished; because the offense of the Cross is to abandon the heritage of the Law. As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way, “cut themselves off” (5:12), and leave us in peace(1).
4- The Practical Application of the Gospel of Christ (5:13 – 6:16)
+ Christian Freedom is led by the Spirit and is not an opportunity for the flesh (5:13-18):
The Gospel of Christ is neither an imaginary thing nor the establishment of an illusionary righteous city out of this earth, but on the contrary, it leads to a better life on this earth. After assuring that righteousness is through Christ alone, by faith, and is not by the works of the Law, and after providing evidence from the depth of the history of our relation with God, the Epistle to the Galatians turns now to offer a practical way (as St. Paul did also in his Epistle to the Romans). For the field of influence of the word of God is in our daily life. And the liberation from slavery to the Law is not a call to loosen all obligations and to live according to the flesh (5:13).
What assures that the freedom we have in Christ will not become an excuse to fulfill the selfish desires of the flesh is our commitment before God to love Him from all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our power; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This commandment fulfills the whole Law (5:14), “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” (1 Jn. 4:21)
This obligation will be fulfilled only if we are led by the Spirit, i.e. if we allow the Spirit to lead the flesh, so that we don’t do what we don’t want to do. For if we live by the Spirit (the Holy Spirit who dwells in us), we will not fulfill the desire of the flesh: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and (consequently) you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (i.e. sinful nature)” (5:16). So freedom here is in the spiritual field, with the power of the Grace of God and His will which is our holiness (1 Thess. 4:3).
+ Works of the flesh (5: 19-21):
Without the leading of the Spirit, the flesh (old nature) gets his way, to do what it desires. St. Paul describes here seventeen obvious sins that cannot be hidden. These will also lead to other countless sins. They can be classified into four categories:
1- Sins of the Senses: Adultery (sexual relations outside marriage, which start with the lust of the thought and eyes), fornication (selling of the body), uncleanness (sexual impurity, and impurity of character, in contrast to purity and virtue), and lewdness (sexual trade and all its variants).
2- Sins against Faith: Idolatry (worship of idols, or of money, properties, and people) and sorcery (witchcraft, using devil’s power).
3- Sins against brotherly love: (These can grow up from just a misunderstanding to the point of killing): Hatred (enmity, barring), contentions (stirring of conflict and fights), jealousies (feeling bad when others enjoy their talents and properties), outburst of wrath (severe anger, bad attitudes), envy (hatred of others because of their prosperity and wishing their demise), and murders (killing others because of greed, hatred, revenge or other reasons).
4- Sins of pleasure: Drunkenness (excessive drinking of alcohol until loss of discernment), revelries (disorderly behavior and excessive joy often associated with excessive drinking). These two sins are give only as examples, not a full list of course, for there is also greed, addiction, living lavishly (pride of life), and others.
Those who live according to the flesh, even if they enjoyed their lusts and easily responded to their desires, yet they have lost themselves missing the great heavenly reward, for they “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21).
+ Fruits of the Spirit (5:22,23):
Although these are not a price for the inheritance of the kingdom of God, which we essentially receive as a grace by the work of the blood alone, yet they are the testimony of the living faith working through love, and a consequence of being in the kingdom of God. We have nine of the fruits of the Spirit (also as examples and not a comprehensive list; and they are different from the talents (gifts of the Spirit) mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:8-10). These can be divided into three groups:
1- Love (= Agape, which is the greatest fruit, the character associated with God Himself [1 Jn. 4:8,16] and the first and greatest commandment), joy (happiness based on the presence of God in the heart, and irrespective of the presence of tribulations and difficulties in our life), peace (feeling of stability and calm the heart based on an unwavering faith in the power of God, the God of peace).
2 - Longsuffering (i.e. the forbearing, patience,
and waiting, however long-term), kindness (tenderness and compassion,
kindness and tolerance), goodness (integrity, commitment and generosity).
3 - Faithfulness (belief and full confidence in God), gentleness (meekness and humility), and self-control (i.e. self-restraint and control of the emotions and desires, especially in the area of the lusts of the body).
(To be contd.)
(1) Some scholars see that St. Paul here is asking those who preach circumcision to go all the way and “castrate” themselves if they see that this is a factor in their salvation.
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