Thursday, March 27, 2014
Note: This week I recorded seven new one minute “Grace Points” devotionals that will begin running three times per day on Monday-Tuesdays-Wednesday on the local talk radio (AM 1260; FM 107.5). Below is the script for one of the devotions on the Regulative Principle of worship and here’s a link to the audio:
Welcome to Grace Points, a ministry of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Charlottesville:
Imagine you go to your favorite restaurant where you order the biggest, juiciest steak on the menu. The waiter returns and sets a covered plate before you, which he then slowly uncovers to reveal…chicken!
“What!” you exclaim, “I ordered a steak!” “But, you don’t understand,” the waiter responds, “I prefer chicken.”
We sometimes approach the worship of God like that waiter. We think worship is about presenting to God what we prefer rather than what God commands.
At Christ Reformed we believe in the Regulative Principle of worship. We strive to give to God in worship only those things he orders or commands in Scripture.
In Deuteronomy 12:32, God says, “What things soever I command you, observe to do it…”
Christ Reformed meets for worship each Sunday at 10:30 am at the Covenant Lower School, 1000 Birdwood Rd., just off the 250 bypass. They can also be reached on the web at christreformedbaptist.org, where you’ll find audio sermons and more Grace Points.
The other new devotions include:
Join in praying for these Grace Points spots as they are broadcast over the next 13 weeks. Pray that they might minister to those that hear them and that they might be used to draw guests to worship with us.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
I continued the Sunday evening series on The Doctrines of Grace at the Lynchburg Reformed Baptist Mission with a message on Limited Atonement. In the message, I offered nine observations on this doctrine:
1. We might prefer to refer to this doctrine as “particular redemption.”
2. All evangelical believers who reject universalism hold to some form of “limited atonement.”
3. Limited Atonement makes the best sense of the scriptural description of redemption.
4. Limited Atonement makes the best sense of the logic of the plan of salvation.
5. Limited Atonement is required for an adequate understanding of the penal substitutionary view of the atonement.
6. “Universal Atonement” makes salvation only a potential possibility and not an assured reality.
7. “Universal Atonement” opens up some unseemly possibilities.
8. Those who hold to “Universal Atonement” have shown a historical tendency to drift toward theological liberalism and universalism.
9. As with the doctrine of Unconditional Election, this doctrine is to be held with humility and care.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Note: The last two Sundays I have preached on The Works of the Flesh and The Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-23. Here are some notes from my exegetical spade work on the text of Galatians 5:19-21:
In Galatians 5:19-21 Paul provides a list of “the works of the flesh.” The question is how many items should be included in the list. The traditional text lists 17 items, while the modern-critical text lists only 15 items, omitting “adultery [moicheia]” (v. 19) and “murders [phonoi]” (v. 21). Note: There are also a few other more minor variations (e.g., v. 20 traditional reads ereis; modern critical, eris; v. 20 traditional reads zeloi; modern critical, zelos).
Here is a look at external evidence for these two variants from the Nestle-Aland apparatus:
The word is included, among other early Greek manusctipts, in the second corrector of Sinaiticus, D, F, G, and Psi, as well as in the vast Majority of manuscripts. Among versions, it is found in the Harklean Syriac. In the Church Fathers it is found in a Latin translation of Irenaeus (c. 395 AD), in Cyprian (d. 258 AD), and in Ambrosiaster (366-384 AD)
It is omitted in the original hand of Sinaiticus, as well as in Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and several others. In the versions, it is omitted in the Syriac Peshitta, the Vulgate, and the Coptic. As for the Church Fathers, it is omitted by Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215 AD).
It appears in Alexandrinus, C, D, F, G, and Psi among other Greek manuscripts, including the vast Majority. It also appears in the Old Latin, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Coptic Bohairic, as well as the Church Father Cyprian (d. 258 AD).
It is not included in p46, Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and a few other Greek manuscripts, as well as a few Vulgate manuscripts and the Coptic Sahidic version. Among Church Fathers, it is not included in Marcion (according to Epiphanius; c. second century AD), the Latin of Irenaeus (c. 395 AD), Clement of Alexandria (d. c. 215 AD), and Ambrosiaster (366-384 AD).
Again, let us consider each of these variants:
Metzger does not offer any discussion of this variant in his Textual Commentary. One can understand how the word might have been accidentally omitted. Harder to understand is why it might have been added if not originally present. This is not to say that it does not serve as an appropriate introduction to the cluster of “works” which deal with sexual sin (fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness), “adultery” seems to be a fitting opening to the list, much as “love” properly introduces the corresponding “fruit of the Spirit” (vv. 22-23). The Westminster Shorter Catechism notes that the seventh commandment properly forbids not only physical adultery but also all unchaste thoughts, words, and deeds (cf. Jesus’ interpretation of the commandment in Matt 5:27-28). To remove the term would disrupt the natural flow of the list.
The possibilities for copying errors are immediately apparent with this example. The preceding term is “envying [phthonoi],” a word that differs from “murders [phonoi]” by a single letter (theta). Metzger concedes that a “wide range of witnesses” read phthonoi phonoi and that “the shorter reading may have originated in accidental omission due to homeoteleuton” (Textual Commentary, pp. 597-598). Nevertheless, he adds that majority of the UBS committee “was impressed by the age and quality of the witnesses” supporting the omission of “murders.” Thus, they were “inclined to think that phonoi was inserted by copyists who recollected Ro. 1.29” (Ibid., p. 598). Is it really feasible to think, however, that a copyist would be influenced by Romans 1:29 when copying Galatians? Even Metzger and the UBS could only assign the omission a “D” reading (Ibid., p. 597).
The traditional list of 17 “works of the flesh” has strong, ancient attestation. It was the reading adopted by the vast Majority of Greek manuscripts and, thus, the reading most accepted in early Christian usage. To remove “adultery” would disrupt an appropriate opening to the cluster of words which follow related to sexual sin. The possible accidental scribal omission of “murders,” in particular, is very easy to understand in light of its close similarity in spelling to “envyings.” One can only think that these two words came to be omitted in the modern-critical text, because they are omitted in Sinaiticus (original hand) and Vaticanus. We must conclude, however, that there are weighty and convincing reasons to maintain the traditional reading.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Note: I preached last Sunday morning on Paul’s listing of The Works of the Flesh from Galatians 5:19-21, a catalogue of seventeen dreadful sins. This Sunday we move on to their opposite, the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-26. Here are some notes from the introduction to last week’s message:
Thus far in our study of Galatians we have seen that Paul has described the existential dilemma of the regenerate man. He is saved, yet not fully sanctified. He is not what he used to be but not yet what he will be.
An internal civil war rages within his heart (see v. 17a: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh”). On one side there is the flesh (remaining sin) and on the other side there is the Spirit (the indwelling presence of God). There is no doubt who will ultimately prevail in the life of the believer. Still, he must persevere in this life, and so Paul’s encouragement is: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (v. 16).
A failure to acknowledge this existential condition in regenerate man results in one of two equal and opposite errors:
First, to fail to acknowledge the flesh leads to the soul destroying errors of works righteousness and perfectionism (see 5:1).
Second, to fail to acknowledge the indwelling Spirit leads to the soul destroying error of antinomianism (see 5:13).
Paul continues in our passage today to let this argument run its course and to add further detail. In vv. 19-21 he offers a list of “the works of the flesh” and in vv. 22-26 he will list “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Today we look at the first list (the works of the flesh) and next week the second list (the fruit of the Spirit).
Many of our children know that second list from a song we have sung in Vacation Bible School. We have, as far as I know, no such ditty to help in memorizing the the works of the flesh. In medicine the systematic study of disease is known as pathology. We might call what Paul does in vv. 19-21 a work of spiritual pathology. It is a taxonomy of sin. Why do doctors study pathology? They do so in order to know how to prevent and cure the various diseases. And Paul, as a doctor of the heart, working as an intern under the Great Physician, provides us this list to serve a similar goal—that we might know these things and avoid them as we walk in the Spirit.Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Monday, March 17, 2014
1. Read the book in its entirety. If you do not have time to read the book you should not be attempting to write a review. Take notes as you read the book. If a hard copy book, create your own index on the blank pages at the front or back. This can also prove helpful for later use.
2. Compose an introductory paragraph which introduces the reader to the basic facts about the book including the author, the subject matter, and the significance of the work.
3. Compose a summary of the content of the book. Do not go into too much detail, but give a strategic overview. This is a book review not a book report! Quotations might be used in this section to illustrate the content but should not be overused.
4. Provide an analysis of the book. Point out both its strengths and weaknesses. If you love the book, find at least one thing that might improve it. If you hate it, find at least one thing you can commend. Strategic use of quotations can be made to cinch the main points of your analysis.
5. Compose a conclusion which offers your final assessment of the book and its significance. Either commend the book to your readers or suggest that they avoid it. Tell them why you have reached this conclusion.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Note: I preached last Sunday in Lynchburg on "Unconditional Election" in our Doctrines of Grace series. Since I didn't get that sermon recorded, today I posted a podcast that covers the same teaching material. Below are nine objections or queries challenging the doctrine of unconditional election that I mention in the message:
1. Does election in the Bible refer to God’s election of individuals to salvation or to something else?
This question often takes one of three forms:
First, some might ask, “Could passages that speak of God’s choosing refer to the election of nations or groups and not to individuals?”
Response: Scripture clearly assumes God’s sovereignty extends not merely over corporate bodies but also over individuals (see Prov 16:9; Psalm 139:16; Matt 10:30). Paul says in Ephesians 1:4 “he chose us.” He was writing to a specific group (the saints at Ephesus in 1:1), not a generic or hypothetical audience. We should also not forget that groups and nations consist of individuals. It seems odd that some evangelicals who stress the importance of personal evangelism or “soul-winning” will make appeal to this argument, avoiding the most natural interpretation of the texts cited above. God chooses individuals for salvation!
Second, some might ask, “Could these passages refer to God’s election (choosing) of Christ?”
Response: Although it is clear that Christ, as the second person of the Godhead is appointed in the secret counsel of God to the work of incarnation and redemption according to the covenant of redemption, the language of election is applied repeatedly and specifically in Scripture to the people who are to be redeemed.
Third, some might ask, “Could these passages refer to God’s election of believers to sanctification and not to salvation?” In this regard, particular appeal is often made to Romans 8:29 which speaks of believers being “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
Response: It is agreed that full sanctification (glorification) is the final stage of salvation. All those who are saved eventually achieve a state of final sanctification commencing either at their deaths or at the Lord’s coming and finding consummation at the final resurrection. In places like Romans 8:29-30, Paul is addressing the entire process of salvation. The process of sanctification, however, does not proceed until one is saved. So, the issue of election to sanctification for the believer cannot be used to sidestep the necessary beginning point in the entire process of salvation, which is election.
2. Does election mean that God’s choice of those who will be saved is merely random?
Some critics have falsely described the doctrines of grace as a version of the children’s game: “Duck, Duck, Goose!” with the God of Calvinism making it “Duck, Duck, Damned!” Scripture affirms, however, that God’s choices are never arbitrary. God’s election is according to his own mysterious purposes and counsels. Indeed, these are often hidden from us, but all his decisions tend toward the end of God’s own ultimate glory. The Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, And my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa 55:8-9). The pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, after being humbled by God, likewise affirmed, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
3. Could it be that God simply foreknows those who will freely choose Christ and then elects them?
First, note that Romans 9:11 specifies that the election of Jacob and Esau was not according to their future actions. Romans 8:29 (“For whom he foreknew, he also predestined…”) is often cited by those who suggest the “foreknowledge” explanation of election. In response, the point needs to be made that “foreknowledge” does not merely refer to awareness of future factual events but to relationships. The Bible often speaks of a man “knowing” a woman (e.g. Gen 4:1: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife….). This does not mean that he possesses factual information about her actions, but that he has an intimate relationship with her. It is this understanding of “knowledge” that should guide the interpretation of Romans 8:29.
Finally, the “foreknowledge explanation” really does not solve the problem of divine responsibility. If God foreknows that some will believe in Christ while other will reject Christ, why does he not alter circumstances so that those who reject him will instead respond in faith to Christ? The responsibility for salvation remains firmly with God alone.
4. What about those who are not saved?
There are at least two views on this question.
The first position is to argue that God actively elects persons both to salvation and damnation (cf. John 12:37-40; Romans 9:22-23; 2 Tim 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7-8; Jude 1:4). God elects (chooses) both the saved and the reprobate. This is called double predestination.
The second position is to argue that God is active in electing the saved but passive in allowing the wicked to persist in their sinfulness (see Rom 1:24; Eph 4:17-19). Those who reject Christ are not actively damned by God, but they are passed over and left in their self-chosen sin. This view is generally reflected in the major Reformation era confessions and their successors. The Second London Baptist Confession (1689), for example, states that some are predestined to eternal life to the praise of his glorious grace while “others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation to the praise of his glorious justice.”
It is also certain that God is glorified in both the damned and the saved. Those who are unsaved are the fit objects of God’s wrath and glorify God’s justice for eternity. The saved, however, glorify both the justice of God, as their sins have been laid upon Christ, and his gracious mercy in saving them through no merit of their own.
5. Is this doctrine unfair?
Those who raise this question usually do so on the basis of two false assumptions. On one hand, they assume that there are people who want to be saved who are not saved, simply because God did not choose them. This view does not take seriously the damage that sin has done to the spiritual life of mankind. No sinner wants to be saved unless God first changes his heart. Paul notes that apart from God’s grace “there is none who seeks after God” (Romans 3:11).
On the other hand, some suggest that the doctrine of election means there are people who do not want to be saved, who are saved. Again, such a hypothetical person does not exist. No one is pulled kicking and screaming into the kingdom. Once a sinner experiences the new birth he gladly trusts and follows after Christ.
The apostle Paul anticipated the charge of unfairness in Romans 9:14: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!” Paul reminds his readers that God is sovereign, having mercy and compassion on whomever he will (see Rom 9:15). Likewise in Romans 9:19, Paul anticipates the objections of some: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” Paul then silences the critics with these words: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?”’ (v. 20).
The problem with the fairness argument is that it places a human view of justice above the revelation of God’s sovereignty. Scripture affirms the Godhood of God. Whatever God chooses to do is by definition the very standard of everything that is good, right, just, and true. Once more look at the words of Nebuchadnezzar: “No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan 4:35).
6. What about human responsibility?
The doctrine of election is not inconsistent with human responsibility. The Second London Baptist Confession notes that God decrees “whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby God is neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature….” Those who are not saved are completely responsible for their own end. The wicked pay the due penalty for their sin. No one in hell will protest that God has treated him unfairly. The sinner is responsible for his own sin and his own rejection of Christ.
On the other hand, those whom God chooses to save have their sinful will renewed. Those who are saved must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Without repentance and faith they will not be saved. They respond in faith to Christ knowing that God alone deserves all praise for their salvation.
7. Couldn’t God intentionally limit his will and then choose men for salvation conditioned on their free will choice of him?
First, this is essentially a philosophical argument rather than a Biblical argument. Where in Scripture do we read of God’s self-limitation with regard to salvation? Where in the Bible do we find the framework for this theory?
Second, this view again errs in its overly optimistic view of man’s free will. It assumes that sinful, unregenerate man is seeking to know, trust, and worship the God of the Bible. Scripture notes that no man, in his current sinful condition, will freely choose to bend the knee before the God of the Bible and his Christ. As a proverb in 1 Samuel 24:13 puts it, “wickedness proceeds from the wicked.”
8. Does this doctrine create pride and elitism in those who believe they are among the elect?
This is certainly possible. Pride is a perennial and fundamental sin in all men. The doctrine of election properly understood, however, does little to promote pride in those who embrace it. The believer who affirms this doctrine understands that he was not saved because of any merit in himself, but purely through the grace of God. He was not more intelligent, more spiritual, or more upright than other men. He was simply the object of Christ’s affection through no merit of his own. A right understanding of this doctrine deposes pride and develops humility in the Christian’s heart.
9. Will this doctrine dull our zeal for evangelism?
Scripture teaches that God not only ordains the recipients of salvation in election, but he also ordains the means for their salvation. In Romans 10:14-15 Paul gave this charge to preach the gospel:
14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”
The apostle then adds: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). All those who are chosen for salvation must have the gospel preached to them, so that they might hear and believe in Christ. The orchestration and coordination of this is in God’s hands. We do not know who will respond to the gospel. We do not choose who will be saved. We discover those whom God has chosen as we watch the elect respond in faith to gospel preaching.
In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), Christ ordered his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God, and teaching them to obey all of the Lord’s commandments. The doctrine of election, far from quenching zeal for evangelism, gives us great confidence and boldness that we will be successful in this task. If we preach Christ, God will draw all kinds of men to himself (see John 12:32). The greatest cross-cultural missionaries in the evangelical world have been those who held to these doctrines, starting with William Carey, the father of the modern missions movement.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Last Sunday evening in Lynchburg, I preached on the “U” (“Unconditional Election”) in “TULIP” (forgot to record it!) In so doing I necessarily addressed the related topics of God’s sovereignty, his decrees, and predestination. I ended with this well known quote from Spurgeon (from his May 4, 1856 sermon titled Divine Sovereignty):
There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation—the kingship of God over all the works of his own hands—the throne of God, and his right to sit upon that throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings, no truth of which they have made such a foot-ball, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his sceptre in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach.
Then, on Monday I heard word that Reformed Baptist brother Johnny Farese had passed from this life to the next (see this post). Among the many legacies which Farese left behind was this powerful video on the Sovereignty of God. This message seemed to be a good companion to Spurgeon’s quote.
May we see the trials that come to our lives from the same frame of reference as Farese did, and may we love to preach God’s sovereignty as Spurgeon did.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I preached Sunday from Galatians 5:16-18 and meditated upon the spiritual state of the regenerate man and the struggle within between the flesh (remaining sin) and the Spirit (the indwelling presence of God). “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (v. 17). In the message I made reference to a quote from the Church Father Jerome in which he laments the fact that though he had withdrawn from the world, the temptation to sin was still present in his heart. Here’s the quote from Jerome:
O how often I imagined that I was in the midst of the pleasures of Rome when I was stationed in the desert, in that solitary wasteland which is so burdened up by the heat of the sun that it provides a dreadful habitation for the monks! I, who because of fear of hell had condemned myself to such a hell and who had nothing but scorpions and wild animals for company, often thought that I was dancing in a chorus with girls. My face was pale from fasting, but my mind burned with passionate desires within my freezing body; and the fires of sex seethed, even though the flesh had already died in me as a man (as cited in Timothy George, Galatians [Broadman, 1994]: p. 388).
Monday, March 10, 2014
Note: We sang this hymn Sunday before last during a deacon ordination service. I wrote the text back in 1992 for the service in which I was ordained to the gospel ministry.
This Noble Task
To all who would this noble task
Take up in view of call,
One thing the noble Master asks
Is that we give up all.
We give up all we’ve loved the best,
Our pride, our wealth, our fame
And find that God has given rest
And made our losing gain.
With empty hands we go to work
The task before us lies
To help those who in shadows lurk
And open blinded eyes.
This task is not for one alone
But for the Church entire,
For all on whom Christ’s flame has blown
And built a burning fire!
Words by Jeffrey T. Riddle, 1992 Tune: ST. ANNE, Common Meter
Friday, March 07, 2014
Note: Here’s another single verse reflection from Galatians 5, taken from expanded notes from my sermon on Galatians 5:7-12.
“I would they were even cut off which trouble you” (Galatians 5:12).
Paul’s sentiment in v. 12 has been much discussed. Some have been troubled by it. Longenecker called it, “the crudest and rudest of all Paul’s extant statements” (Galatians, p. 371). Paul says, “I would they [the false teachers, the troublers] were even cut off [apokapto: literally to cut off; also with the sense of to mutilate of to castrate] which trouble you.” Paul is essentially saying, “They care so much about circumcision, I wish they would just go the whole nine yards and emasculate themselves.” So, the NIV: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Indeed, Paul uses very vivid language Paul. There is also a play on word here with v. 7. I wish the ones who cut you off in the race (egkapto; v. 7) were cut off completely (apokapto; v. 12).
In our modern day emphasis upon a more therapeutic and “feminized” view of ministry, my guess is that there would be more than a few who might accuse Paul of expressing a sub-Christian sentiment here. They might say something like, Paul had anger issues. He is just too harsh. He needs training in counseling. To make the case against Paul, they might place alongside this passage others like:
1 Corinthians 4:21 What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
Or even, Galatians 3:1: “O foolish Galatians….”
This is not, of course, to excuse real abuse in any form, but Paul is not being abusive. His inspired words here are like the inspired words of the imprecatory Psalms (cf. Psalm 137). Timothy George concludes:
In this emergency situation Paul summoned the courage to utter a word of imprecation. It had to be said, and it was right for him to say it because a lesser rebuke would have signaled an unconscionable compromise and retreat. Let no one ever utter such words lightly, unadvisedly, or in a spirit of personal aggravation or revenge. Those kinds of statements are likely to return upon the one who pronounces them with all the reciprocal force of a boomerang (Galatians, p. 373).
Paul’s words are there to serve as an inspired warning against ungodliness. They come with apostolic authority. Those who preach falsehood should be cut off and they will be cut off.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Note: Here are some abbreviated expositional notes on Galatians 5:13 from last Sunday morning’s sermon from Galatians 5:13-15:
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Paul begins v. 13: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty….”
Notice again Paul’s use of the title “brethren [adelphoi]” (cf. 1:11; 3:15; 4:12, 28, 31; 5:11; 6:18). Once more, despite the strain on their relationship as apostle and people, Paul still has a fraternal affection for the Galatian believers. They are brothers still, even if brothers seduced into error. Paul does not demonize these “brothers.” He continues to hold them close.
He reminds them of their status as redeemed men and women. It is a status they have received through the effectual call of God (cf. v. 8; Romans 8:30).
It is a status of liberty [eleutheria] (cf. v. 1). Again, the word has a secular usage that draws to mind the manumission of one enslaved. Paul is reminding the brethren that they have been set free through Christ. From what have they been set free?
1. From the wrath and curse of God due to them for their sin.
2. From the guilt of sin.
3. From the duty to keep the law as a condition of salvation. Keeping the moral law of God and the commands of Christ might be a grateful response of a believer, but the believer does not look to this as the thing that saves him. He has the liberty of knowing that his salvation does not depend on his own law keeping. But there has been given to him, completely undeservedly, the righteous life of Christ.
Paul proceeds to say: “only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh….”
Paul is urging and warning: Do not use the assurance of your salvation as an occasion or an excuse knowingly, flagrantly, and repeatedly to wallow in sin.
Finally, Paul adds: “but by love serve one another.”
Thus, Paul offers a positive alternative to the negative path of giving occasion to the flesh. The Christian life is not merely a matter of mortification (putting to death sin) but also of vivification (bringing to life godliness). Paul exhorts: Use the occasion of liberty not for licentious living but for serving your fellow believers with an attitude and spirit of love.
This final part of the passage speaks to the importance and centrality of belonging to a local church. How better to obey this command than by becoming a vital part of a local body of believers?
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle