Why the “Flap” over Law versus Grace?
© C. O. Bishop 3/28/15 THCF 3/29/15
We have worked through three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, so far: while the first couple of chapters deal a lot with his credentials as an apostle, the central doctrinal theme began in the sixth verse of the first chapter and has been interwoven through the whole book, so far….and he isn’t done talking about it yet. The issue has been the trap of legalism.
We may wonder why it is such an important issue with Paul…but, remember that this is God’s Word, speaking through Paul: we must conclude that it is important to God, as well.
One way to look at it is that it is a “Counterfeit Gospel”. Counterfeiting in general is a fascinating subject on a human level, as so much creativity and intelligence has been poured into it that it actually seems clever, and relatively harmless. But the reality is that money, stamps, designer shoes, etc. are all valuable not because of intrinsic worth, alone, but because of what they represent. Even a tool may carry a brand that inspires confidence in its quality and durability. If the buyer discovers that he has been cheated, and that his new equipment is not associated with the brand it boasts, he is justifiably angry. No one comforts him, saying, “Oh, well, the one you have is probably just as good!” The point is that it is not the real thing, and the buyer has been tricked and cheated. It also causes others to look at all tools of that brand with a bit of suspicion, thinking “How do I know it is real?”
If the counterfeited item is a ticket to attend a concert by a famous artist, and, at the door, you find that it is counterfeit, then you have not only lost your money; you have lost your only hope to hear that musician, as it is too late to go find a genuine ticket and buy it.
All counterfeiting constitutes a threat to the perceived value of the original item, as well as the ultimate loss of the one left holding the counterfeit. During World War Two, the Nazi regime had produced plates with which to make counterfeits of the major Allied countries’ money. They planned to flood the Allied countries with counterfeit money and collapse their economies. And it could easily have worked, had it actually been carried out.
In the US, today, it is not only illegal to make counterfeit money; it is illegal to own it. So, even if you received counterfeit money in good faith as payment for goods or services, when you attempt to use that “money”, not knowing it is counterfeit, you can potentially be in trouble. But if you realize it is counterfeit, and try to keep it as a “collector’s item” you can actually be prosecuted for knowingly keeping counterfeit money. There are some striking parallels between counterfeit money and a false Gospel.
So, What about a Counterfeit Gospel?
Clear back in Galatians 1:6-9, Paul made it clear that a counterfeit Gospel of any sort was serious business, and cursed by God. Here’s why:
- This divergence of trust (Law versus Grace and Self-justification versus Divine Justification) has been the issue from the very beginning. Adam and Eve blamed someone else for their sins. Cain brought the works of the flesh in place of a blood sacrifice for sin. This is not just an issue—it is perhaps the primary
- A person who places even “supplemental faith” in works of the Law, either to save or to keep them, displays to those around them a pattern of legalism that is attractive to some people, because they think, “I can do that!” (And the truth is, they can…at least as well as any other sinner!) So, even if this person had already been saved by faith in Christ, they are leading others astray, and helping keep people away from Christ.
- A person left “holding the bag” is just as lost as if they had rejected Christ out of hand…a false Gospel cannot save us. Placing my faith in a life-jacket or other flotation device that will ultimately become waterlogged and sink is simply suicide.
So, let’s move on into chapter four and see how God explains the real purpose of the Law, and why, when misused, it is so dangerous to us.
Galatians Chapter 4
1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child (infant), differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord (kurios—master) of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
We do not share the cultural pattern of ancient Rome: we have no slaves, everyone is raised by their parents or guardians, with few exceptions, and civil law dictates at what point a person is considered to have attained majority. The law of our land determines, state by state, the age at which a person can marry, drive, consume alcohol, or serve in the armed forces. But in Roman society a son had to be publicly recognized by his father as the heir of a household. This was called “huiothesis”—the “placement of a son”. The word is translated “adoption” in English New Testaments, but it is utterly different than our use of the word “adoption”.
In our culture it always means legally taking responsibility of one who is not your child, and giving them the privileges of being your child. In Roman culture it always meant taking someone who is your progeny, your offspring, and announcing to the world that he is your heir.
In our culture, an adopted child will never take on the characteristics of the adoptive parents because they are not genetically related. In Biblical adoption, the child had better demonstrate the characteristics of the Father, as God says “his seed remains in you”. You are literally his child, and only waiting to gain full adulthood with your new body. He says that by means of the promises of Scripture, applied by faith, we do become partakers of the Divine Nature. That would not be possible had we not already been born again by faith. But the nature of God is to become an increasingly visible and solid reality in our lives through the application of God’s Word.
So we have a hard time understanding this passage, especially in light of the fact that over in Romans 8:23 Paul states that the final adoption of sons will occur at the redemption of our bodies…and not before. The whole world is groaning together; and we with it, waiting for that release from the curse. Both Galatians 4 and Romans 8 state that we are now the sons (huioi) of God. Both make it clear that until we attain majority, we are children, and under taskmasters. But in Galatians the “paidagogon” is the Law…and no child of God is under the Law, in the Church age. The Law can serve as a mirror to show us our sin, but it cannot cleanse us. Grace cleanses us. This is why David pleaded “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me!”
It seems that positionally we are now sons of God, but that as long as we still possess our sin nature we are conditionally “children” (teknon –born ones), and not “sons” in the truest sense. For instance Romans 8:14 says, “As many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.” The logical question at that point would have to be, “Is there ever a time in a Christian’s life when they are not led by the Spirit of God?” And, to that, the honest response is “YES!” Why? Because we still have an old sin nature. And when we sin, we are not being led by the Spirit of God. If you are sin-free, then you can say you no longer have a sin nature. But 1st John 1:8 says, “If we (believers) say that we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” You can talk this one over with God…I can’t add to His statement.
What’s the Problem with the Law?
So what harm can the Law do? It was certainly given for a good cause.
3 Even so we, when we were children (nepioi…infants), were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
This in reference to the Jews who had been under the Law; the Gentiles never were under the Law, and never will be in the Church age. (Notice the use of the pronoun “we” in this and similar passages.) The unbelieving Gentiles died under God’s judgment, apart from the Law. The Jews died under the judgment of the Law. We were lost for the same reason (Original Sin) and saved by the same Messiah.
6 And because ye ARE sons (huioi), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
In this verse, Paul switches back to the 2nd person plural pronoun “ye”. He is back to addressing the Gentile church, and he says that they are already sons (heirs), and indwelt by the Holy Spirit as a seal of their position in Christ.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Paul underscores the change in the believers’ position, because he is building up to a point regarding their behavior. They are NOT just servants anymore (although he himself elsewhere calls himself a “doulos”—bondservant.) They are literally God’s children, and specifically children named as heirs. Paul is about to point out the inconsistency with which they are behaving. Notice again that the things he points out were specifically true of Gentile believers.
8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. (idols)
9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
Paul says that these Gentile believers had escaped from the slavery of idolatry, and have been born again as children of the living God—known and accepted by God—so why in the world are they willingly becoming slaves again to outward symbolic behavior?
The Law was completely foreign to them as unbelievers and through Christ they were set free from their slavery to sin. But now, because of some ritualistic, legalistic strangers, they are entering again into slavery just as destructive as that from which they had escaped. Paul is completely baffled by their willingness to take on this bondage, when they so recently had escaped their original bondage.
11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
Paul says, “I’m beginning to think I wasted my time working there among you!” He is not questioning their salvation so much as pointing out that the practical outworking of their faith should have been continuing freedom, worship and holiness, by the Holy Spirit and by faith, not by compliance to law. Instead, they have extinguished the light of Grace in their lives and have embraced a system of belief that had already been proven powerless to save, powerless to heal, powerless to cleanse, and powerless to give life.
12 Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.
Paul reminds the Galatian believers that he is cut out of the same material that they are—and yet he is living the reality of his freedom in Christ. He begs them to join him in his freedom, and his walk with Christ.
13 Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.
14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
Paul reminds them of the circumstances under which they had originally met him. In the first place, as we read through the record in the book of Acts, he had come to them after having been savagely beaten-up in another province. In the second place, apparently he had a disease of the eyes, either caused by injury in the beatings, or by infection of some sort. He was not physically attractive when he arrived, but he brought he message of Salvation and they had received him joyfully, and had loved him for the sake of the message, and the hope he had given them.
But now, because of the backbiting deception of the Judaizers, they were viewing him with suspicion, as if, rather than being God’s Apostle to the Gentiles (as he really was), he himself was the false teacher, and the Judaizers the true. That is why, back in chapter 3, he had challenged their thinking, asking, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by the hearing of Faith?” You see, these believers had received the Holy Spirit before the Judaizers ever arrived. Paul had introduced them to the real, living Christ.
Who are the Real Enemies?
16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
Paul is reminding them of who he is to them, and asking “Why have you turned against me? I have only given you the truth, from the beginning.” The truth is not always sweet-sounding words. It has the same character as light—it simply reveals what is real—it reveals what reality is, not attempting to make it into that which is not. If that is what we really want, then we have to welcome the bad news of truth, as well as the good news.
17 They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
The NASB reads “They eagerly seek you, but not commendably, but they wish to shut you out that you may seek them.” I actually had this happen at work once: There was a fellow who claimed to be a believer, but never went to church, never read his Bible, etc. One day he came to me and asked, “Do you study the Didache?”(pronounced “DID-ah-kay”) I said, “I don’t even know what it is.” He gave me a smug, superior smile and turned away, saying “I expected you wouldn’t know….” I walked after him a few feet, asking how it was spelled, and he spelled it for me. I told him that I had seen it in print, but had not known how it was pronounced. He gave me some small bit of information about the document in question, implying that it was an important part of scripture that had been “left out” by those who compiled the canon. He acted as though he possessed some secret, desirable information that God had kept back from me. (That sounds very familiar—it is nearly exactly what the serpent–our ultimate enemy– told Eve.)
So, I went and looked the thing up on the internet, and found there were a few different versions of it, but that it was only one of the many “pseudepigraphal” (false-scripture) writings, and that, conveniently, the entire text could be downloaded in English, and printed. So I did, and skimmed through it to see if there were any definite departures from Biblical truth. I quickly found that it taught works-based salvation, to be earned; by that I could easily reject it as false. (No need for a scholarly opinion by a seminarian; we compare it to God’s written Word.) I took the printed copy back to the man who had challenged me and gave it to him, showing him the portions that were clearly false teaching. As we spoke, it became obvious that he had really never seen a copy of it before; he knew nothing about it. Then I knew that his whole play had simply been an effort to position me as an “outsider”, and claim to have special knowledge. When it turned out he had no special knowledge, and that the knowledge he had claimed to have was false anyway, he seemed quite deflated. He never mentioned it again.
18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
It seems that, as in the above verse, the issue was what they were seeking, and where. The Judaizers wanted the Gentile believers to seek God (or, in reality, seek the Law) through the Judaizers. They wanted to gain followers.
Paul says it’s a good thing to seek good things…and not only when Paul is personally there to stir them up. He says that they should be continually seeking the things of God in his absence as well as when he was there…but that the people who were subverting them were not seeking their best at all. They just “looked good.”
The cults today may look pretty good, too, and some of them advertise heavily. But, universally:
- They deny the full deity of Christ,
- They deny that His blood can fully eradicate our sin-debt and
- They deny the inerrancy of His Word.
They claim to teach the Bible, but deny its central figure: the Biblical Christ—the Messiah. We must realize that not all teachers point us to Christ. Prior to the Cross, Judaism did point people to Christ. After the Cross, by those who persisted in the form of it, it pointed people away from Christ, as they denied his person and work.
The Old Testament definitely points people to Christ. But those who teach the Old Testament in exclusion of the New Testament are excluding the person of Christ, and so excluding the God of the Old Testament as well, because they are the same God, separated only by the mystery of the Trinity. It is good to remember what Jesus said in John 5:23 “…That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father who sent him.” If someone claims to believe in Christ, but does not offer him the same honor as the Father, then they are missing the mark. They do not believe in the Christ of the Bible, but some lesser figure, the product of their own imagination or (possibly) a simple doctrinal error.
In the case of these false teachers, Paul offered no excuse on their behalf: He said they were under a curse from God. We think that is too harsh…but it is because we do not understand the Holiness of God. He utterly rejects Sin as a whole, while, by Grace through faith, He continues freely redeeming both its victims and its practitioners.
A Counterfeit Gospel comes from your Enemy
We need to be aware that counterfeit holiness looks superficially like genuine holiness, but the motive is completely different, and it is exposed when you see how the individual responds to other people. Genuine holiness is rooted in a genuine love for the Savior and results in a genuine love of one’s neighbor, regardless of circumstances. Counterfeit holiness is rooted in self and results in pious, but self-serving relations with others. Ultimately, far from drawing a person to Christ, it separates the practitioners from God.
The Real Gospel Comes From God
Soak in the real Gospel. Spend time meditating on the depth of God’s Word. Just as a bank teller studies the genuine currency in order to recognize counterfeitr bills, study the genuine Word of God, in order to recognize counterfeits.
Let us maintain the freedom of Grace, and seek to see the Love of God and the Fruit of the Spirit worked out in our everyday lives. Let us be sure that the message we portray to others is the Grace of God, not our personal piety, nor a system of “good works”. We do not believe in a “Counterfeit Gospel”—let’s live in such a way as to show (and share) the real Gospel.