The One Gospel and its Terms
Randal Amos, Rochester, NY, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
WE NOW COME TO THE SECOND MAJOR PART OF GALATIANS.
Chapters 2. 16 –5. 12 A question of salvation
Terms: Is the gospel what God does for man or what man does for God, or a bit of both?
Central question: What do we believe?
The gospel involves facts. The gospel has a ‘word’ to it. When the apostles preached the gospel they did not present it as an emotion to feel or a philosophy on which to meditate. They taught a doctrine of truths concerning God’s Son Jesus Christ in which to trust. In Acts, the gospel is called ‘the faith’, ‘the doctrine of the Lord’, ‘the word of this salvation’, ‘the word of the gospel’ and ‘the word of the Lord’. It’s called in Galatians chapter 2, ‘the truth of the gospel’.
As we saw when considering Galatians 1. 1 to 2. 15, the epistle deals with the origin of the gospel.
Now in the closing verses of chapter 2 along with chapter 3 it deals with the terms of God’s salvation.
In Galatians the problem is not the Person of Jesus; that is, who He is. Indeed ‘false brethren’ have confessed Him as the Son of God and that He died and rose again. Satan also will at times present ‘another Jesus’ in attempt to deceive men, 2 Cor. 11. 4. But the issue at stake here is in the terms on which to be saved.
1. Paul defines the terms of the gospel to Peter, Gal. 2. 16-21
2. 16-18. Here, Paul is reminding Peter of what he said when Jesus had a public discussion on the subject. He spells out the terms of God’s salvation; both what they are and what they are not. One set of terms is called ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’. The other is called ‘the works of the law’. The law involves what a man must do to secure the promises of God and these are called works. Faith involves the Person we must trust to secure the promises of God and this becomes grace. God’s gospel claims that a man is justified, (being on right terms with God) on the basis of faith alone (an individual’s act of personal commitment and absolute trust in the Saviour). Not to understand justification’s terms is not to understand ‘the faith of Christ’ - the gospel.
2. 19-21. ‘I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’, and ‘the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God’ are the expressions to think about here (italics mine). Once justified, how and why I live for God are the questions that present themselves. Do I live for God to stay justified or do I live for God because I am justified? Is my lifestyle for God one of following the law with its rituals and rules or is it by ‘the faith of (in) the Son of God who now lives in me?
Clearly taught here also is that God’s gospel is not just a legal transaction in which a man’s status is changed while his character is left unchanged. The details of this will come later.
Peter is reminded of the illogical conclusion of preaching justification by works. For if righteousness comes by the law (what we must do to secure our salvation), then the suffering and death of Jesus Christ was useless. It would be the greatest blunder of the universe to obtain our salvation by grace when there was another way after all. But the gospel claims it is by grace alone by which we obtain salvation, there is no other way.
To think that a man must do something in addition to having ‘the faith of Christ’ for justification is to try and finish a ‘finished’ work. It is the biggest lie from the biggest liar abroad in the universe today.
Paul is passionate about getting the terms of the gospel right. And why not? For example, if you took on a new job, would the terms of payment not concern you? You would want to know if it was commission or an hourly wage or a straight salary or a volunteer position?
2. Paul thinks through the terms of our gospel blessings, Gal. 3. 1-5
3. 1. The Galatians had come under the influence of some false teachers and were not obeying the truth of the gospel. They were being persuaded to believe that there were other requirements necessary in addition to faith that was needful to secure their salvation. Paul reminded them of the original message that they heard which was Jesus Christ and Him crucified!
The gospel is not an invitation for man to do something but a declaration of what Christ has done on the cross. The gospel is based not on the morality, miracles or teachings of Jesus, but His death.
3. 2-5. Paul wants them to think through the terms on which they received the Holy Spirit. Did God give them the Spirit by ‘the hearing of faith’ or ‘the works of the law’? How would you answer that? Was it when by faith you trusted in the risen Lord Jesus Christ who died for your sins when God’s Spirit came into your heart and you were born again? Or was it when you had later reached a more holy state by obeying some rule you had to keep? If it was the moment of faith alone then why would we be foolish enough to think that God starts the Christian life with the gift of the Spirit by faith but only completes it with human fleshly effort (things I must do) to secure it?
Peter himself had used this same type of argument. When those who ‘believed’ said it was needful to be circumcised and keep the law, he appealed to the terms and timing of when the uncircumcised Gentiles he had been preaching to received the Spirit. The fact that their hearts were purified by faith alone was borne witness by God Himself – by instantly giving them His Holy Spirit. For one doesn’t put something clean into something unclean. This instant giving of the Holy Spirit without any extra works required was proof that God saves by grace and not works, Acts 15. 6-11.
To change the character of something you don’t have to subtract from its formula. Adding to its substance will do it equally well. Consider the atomic world. The atomic number of the oxygen atom is eight (i.e., eight protons in its nucleus). If you could add just one more proton to it (with its accompanying electron and neutron) you would have something completely different - a halogen, called fluorine. Add one more proton and you have a gas, called neon. Add just three little protons to the gold atom, and you are left with lead!
To add human attainment or merit to the single work of God’s grace changes it to lawkeeping and immediately excludes Christ. It makes man his own saviour, Rom. 11. 6.
The Old Testament taught the same principle, Gal. 3. 6-9 3. 6-9.
These verses answer the same question posed to examine the salvation experience in the earlier verses. Were the blessings received by ‘the works of the law’, or by the ‘hearing of faith’? But now Paul appeals to scripture itself rather than their experience in conversion. Experience alone is not enough. It must be rooted in the word of God to be foolproof.
On what terms did ‘faithful Abraham’ receive his blessing of being made righteous before God? He simply believed God’s promise to him that He would perform a work that was humanly impossible. Abraham’s faith ‘was accounted unto him for righteousness’. This happened years before Abraham was circumcised or was told to walk before God and be perfect, see Genesis chapters 15 and 17. And so scripture foresees that this would be God’s pattern for all nations to be saved and stated that in Abraham, (not Moses the lawgiver), all nations would be blessed.
If you want law keeping then you must accept the terms of the law, Gal. 3. 10-13
In these verses the flow of the use of scripture continues. ‘It is written’ is a reference to God’s final authority in His word. Paul now contrasts the terms of the gospel with the terms of the law. Here we learn the terms of the gospel by seeing how they contrast to those of the law.
3. 10. While the gospel promises only blessings to the believer, 3. 8, 9, 14, the law has promises and a curse on those who are under it. Firstly, they must continue in it. Secondly, they must observe all of it, that is the moral rules (commandments), civil law (judgements) and religious law (statutes). One could not just select circumcision as a requirement for Christian salvation without being now indebted to fulfill all its requirements, Gal. 5. 3. Thirdly, they had to do the commandments not just believe in them. Do, all, and continue, were its terms.
If an Israelite failed in these three terms he was judged a lawbreaker and forfeited the blessings and received the curse, see Exod. 24; Deut. 27, 28. All the right things he had done would never be mentioned and he would die in his sins, Ezek. 18. 5-9, 24-26.
3. 11. In the sight of God, scripture clearly states justification is by faith; therefore it cannot be by law keeping, Hab. 2. 4.
3. 12. Here we learn that law cannot be confused with faith. Some would argue wrongly as to the definition for faith saying ‘God gives me the faith to do the works’. Law commits you to do with your own ability, faith commits you to trust what Another has done. They are two opposite terms and principles. Some things are good by themselves but you dare not mix them like fire and gasoline. So it is with Law and Grace.
3. 13. The Saviour of the gospel is Christ. The good news is that He redeems (delivers) from the curse of the law. Therefore, God’s gospel does not operate on the terms of law keeping. Praise the Lord! The Lord Jesus Himself delivered us from the sentence of the law it by taking the curse of it for us on the cross.
To be Continued..
AUTHOR PROFILE: He is a full time worker commended by Linwood Gospel Chapel and Northgate Bible Chapel and is in fellowship in the assembly at Rochester, New York. His ministry is greatly appreciated throughout N. America and he has also ministered in N. Ireland.