Studies in Galatians
The Evangel of Our Salvation
“NOW I BRETHREN, if I am still heralding circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? Consequently the snare of the cross has been nullified. Would that those who are raising you to insurrection struck themselves off also!” (Gal.5:11,12).
Formerly, during an infirmity of the flesh, Paul had brought the evangel to the Galatians (Gal.4:13). He had once “pass[ed] consecutively through the Galatian province and Phrygia, establishing all the disciples” (Acts 18:23). Thus the Galatians became established in “the evangel which [Paul was] heralding among the nations” (Gal.2:2).
Later on, however, through the deceptive, yet highly persuasive teachings of “fraudulent workers” (cp 2 Cor.11:13), the Galatians became “hindered” and “disturbed” concerning Paul’s message; so much so that they were no longer persuaded by the truth (Gal.5:7-10). Formerly they had rejoiced in the truth, and had received Paul “as a messenger of God . . . [even] as Christ Jesus” (Gal.4:14).
Yet now not only had they lost the special happiness which the truth had once afforded them, but they had even come to view Paul as their enemy. Such is the power of fundamental error concerning the evangel. When believers become “enthralled” with what is, in fact, a “yoke of slavery” (Gal.5:1)–all the while denying its intrinsic bondage and affirming their own personal freedom (cp John 8:33-36)–to the perception of those thus deceived, those few who have actually stood for the truth, appear to be in opposition to it. Accordingly, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So that I have become your enemy by being true to you!”
Thus the Galatians had become “bewitched” (Gal. 3:1). That is, insofar as receptiveness to the true corpus of faith was concerned, it was as if a “spell” had been cast upon them. Indeed this was so, for it was “the god of this eon” himself who had blinded them. Consequently, “the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ . . . [did] not irradiate them” (cp 2 Cor.4:4).
Thus the Galatians had been roused to insurrection (Gal.5:12). They had risen up against established authority, and were now in rebellion toward the apostle Paul–toward the very one whom the Lord had commissioned and entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision (Gal.2:7). The fact that they did not consider themselves to be insurrectionists, nor to be repudiators of grace (cf Gal.2:21)–indeed to be ones who had been transferred from the evangel of grace to a different evangel (Gal.1:6)–did not change the nature either of what they had done or of what they had become.
Yet beyond writing this urgent, corrective epistle to the Galatians and making his requests known to God concerning them, Paul himself could only wait, “seeing whether God may be giving them repentance to come into a realization of the truth, and they will be sobering up out of the trap of the Adversary, having been caught alive by him, for that one’s will” (cf 2 Tim.2:25,26).
EXCEEDINGLY GOOD NEWS
The evangel, brought by Paul, was not in accord with man; for Paul had neither accepted it from a man nor had he been taught it by a man. Instead, it came to him “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal.1:11,12).
Paul received no instruction whatever in his evangel (much less the initial revelation thereof itself) through the twelve, through those with whom the Lord had entrusted the evangel of the Circumcision. Indeed, even many years later when, in accord with a revelation, Paul went up to Jerusalem and finally submitted his evangel to the ecclesia there–submitting it, most notably, to James, Cephas and John–“those of repute submitting nothing” to him (Gal.2:6). Thus, “I am making known to you, brethren, as to the evangel which is being brought by me, that it is not in accord with man” (Gal.1:11).
The essence of this glorious Pauline “evangel of Christ” (cf Gal.1:7), is the exceedingly good news concerning the sinner’s gratuitous justification–in grace, apart from law–through the saving work of Christ. “From all from which you could not be justified in the law of Moses, in this One [Christ] everyone who is believing is being justified” (Acts 13:39). Indeed, the evangel is that, “being justified gratuitously in [God’s] grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus,” is “for all, and on all who are believing, for there is no distinction, for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God” (Rom.3:22-24).
As for ourselves, “Being now justified in [Christ’s] blood, we shall be saved from indignation through Him” (Rom.5:9). Being conciliated to God, through the death of His Son, “we shall be saved in His life” (Rom.5:10).
Likewise, since Christ is giving Himself “a correspondent Ransom for the sake of all” (1 Tim.2:6), since God “wills all mankind [not merely present-day believers] to be saved” (1 Tim.2:4), and since God is “operating all in accord with the counsel of His will” (Eph.1:11), “the last enemy is being abolished: [namely,] death [itself]” (1 Cor.15:26)! “Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all” (1 Cor.15:28). “For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified” (1 Cor.15:22).
The teaching of the eternal punishment of anyone, then–not to mention, that of the eternal punishment of untold billions of God’s beloved creatures–is simply a “profane prattling” (1 Tim.6:20); indeed, it is a profane prattling of the worst sort. Eternal punishment is not only false, it is also wrong, for it is contrary to the divine will. Concerning those holding that view, “as to the faith, they swerve” (1 Tim.6:21).
All blessing is based upon the blood of Christ. Even where man’s works are essential, they are never contributive. That is, man’s works never incorporate any kind of independent human provision. Much less do they include some sort of vital, decisive, ultimately-independent human part, a part which makes the difference between success and failure. Instead, man’s good works are always the product of God’s grace. Ultimately speaking, all is to be traced back to God, to Whom be the glory (Rom.11:36). Thus, and only thus, may all boasting in the flesh be debarred.
THE DESIGN OF THE CROSS
In the course of the divine judgments, it is neither hades nor Gehenna, but the second death alone with which we are concerned with respect to last things. And here, it is not a question as to whether there is a day of judging, following the thousand years, before a great white throne, when the rest of the dead will live again. Nor is it a question whether the Son, to Whom all judging has been committed, will, in that day, judge evil doers with fury, indignation, affliction and distress; and, subsequently, return those brought before Him to death once again, doing so by means of fire. We are plainly told, “This is the second death– the lake of fire. And if anyone was not found written in the scroll of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev.20:14).
The question is not whether those who die in unbelief are lost. Indeed, “He who is believing in the Son has life eonian, yet he who is stubborn as to the Son shall not be seeing life, but the indignation of God is remaining on Him” (John 3:36). The question is not whether the unbeliever is lost, or whether he is subject to divine wrath, even to the second death as well. The question is just one thing: Is the second death the unbeliever’s final end?
We need not ask whether there is a second death, but whether there is life subsequent to the second death, for those who were cast into the lake of fire. The true answer to this question can only be found in the will and counsel of God, according to the design of the cross. In the Revelation, the apostle John simply does not address this question; instead it is left for the apostle Paul to settle, through his own ministry, which completes the word of God (Col.1:25).
According to Paul, Christ’s saving work is a matter of gratuitous grace (Rom.5:15), not of human qualification. Accordingly, then, since God will one day abolish death, it follows that the second death will be abolished. God will be All in all (1 Cor.15:28).
A STUMBLING STONE, A SNARE ROCK
The poet William Cowper (1731-1800) once wrote, “The path to bliss abounds with many a snare.” This is the sense of the word “snare” in the phrase, “the snare of the cross.” Thus a snare is that agency by which one is entangled, or involved in difficulties; held fast, or impeded in one’s progress. The Greek word, of which the CV rendering “snare” is the translation, is skandalon. The English phrase, “the snare of the cross,” in Greek, is to skandalon tou staurou; in Latin (as in the Vulgate), it is scandulum crucis.
A “snare,” or “scandal” (as in the Lord’s words, “All of you shall be snared in Me in this night”; Matt.26:31), speaks of anything that hinders reception of faith or serves as an occasion of unbelief. To be snared is to be shocked by some supposed violation of morality or propriety. That which is scandalous, offends the moral feelings and leads to disgrace. A scandal is a cause of offense, and is closely related to a stumbling block (cp Rom.14:21).
Christ was both of these: “they stumble on the stumbling stone, according as it is written: ‘Lo! I am laying in Zion a Stumbling Stone and a Snare Rock’ ” (Rom.9:32; cit. Isa.8:14). “To you, then, who are believing, is the honor, yet to the unbelieving: ‘A Stone which is rejected by the builders, this came to be for the head of the corner’ [Psa.118:22], and a stumbling stone and a snare rock; who are stumbling also at the word, to which they were appointed also” (1 Pet.2:7,8).
THE EVANGEL SCANDALIZES
It is altogether righteous that men should fulfill God’s counsels, and that God should fulfill His own word concerning the sufferings of His Christ, even the sacrifice of His Son. It was a “necessity” that the cross should be, seeing that thus it “must” occur (Luke 24:26,46).
Yet the “snare of the cross” (Gal.5:11b), is the scandalous nature of certain vital aspects of “the word of the cross” (1 Cor.1:18). In essence, the “scandal” of the cross consists in the fact that salvation is achieved solely through the cross. The snare of the cross is that justification, even as all that it entails, is a gratuitous, gracious, saving work on behalf of helpless sinners, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.
Just think of it: the evangel itself is scandalous! This is because, according to man, it is not right that God should choose whom He will save and when He will save them. This is because, according to man, it is not right to choose some for eonian life but not all; especially when those who are chosen, in their own nature, are children of indignation even as the rest. It is insisted as well that it is not right to exempt them alone from wrath.
The evangel is deemed scandalous as well, since it is claimed that it is not right finally to save all, even those who refused to accept Christ in this life. It is likewise confidently insisted that it is not right–even after severe judging–to grant endless life and glory to all, to those who, in this life, failed to walk in whatever measure of light they had (especially in the case of those who walked instead in extreme uncleanness, even in unspeakable wickedness).
In reply to all of this, we simply declare that, all is of God, ultimately speaking; including all that is not of God, faithfully speaking. We proclaim, not dualism or polytheism, but monotheism; not autosoterism (self-salvation), but divine grace. To those who would protest, “Why, then, is He still blaming? for who has withstood His intention?” (Rom.9:19), our reply is, “O man! who are you, to be sure, who are answering again to God? That which is molded will not protest to the molder, ‘Why do you make me thus?’ ” (Rom.9:20).
ACCORDING AS HE IS INTENDING
Man’s unrighteousness commends God’s righteousness (Rom.3:5). It is God’s will to display His indignation and to make His powerful doings known (Rom. 9:22). Doers of evil are in need of suitable discipline and appropriate chastening (2 Pet.2:9; cp Heb.12: 5-13; Rev.3:19).
Instead of it being unjust, then, that God should judge His creatures according to their deeds, even though it is He Who has molded them to be as they are, and it is He Who has appointed them either as vessels of mercy or of indignation, to the contrary, it is altogether righteous, wise and good that He should do so.
It is right that we should commit the sins and experience the evils that we do–no more and no less, and in no different variety–that God should be glorified according as He is intending, not otherwise.
It is really just that simple. Consequently, we will be blessed accordingly as well–according as He is intending (“that it might work out as at this day”; cf Gen. 50:20; cp Rom.15:4).
We might as well, in nature, disapprove of the innumerable varieties which obtain among the species or the number of the species themselves (not to mention their disparate characteristics) as to disapprove of the innumerable differences which obtain among men, whether in their races, cultures, or individual characteristics, whether good or evil.
It is right–it really is–that men should do awful things that they might experience awful consequences (viz., sin, guilt, shame and suffering); for God has need of just such creatures as those who have known these very experiences and in the very varieties as those with which we are acquainted. In light of the fact that God is operating all (Eph.1:11), it becomes evident that this is so. God is by no means operating all according to the whims of caprice, but according to the counsel of His will. We live, move, and have our being, for the sake of God’s own purpose. We are for Him (1 Cor.8:6); we are not for us.
It must be right as well, then, that the ecclesia should make so little progress in the faith and remain so disposed to the terrestrial, even as to the foolish and the profane. It must be right that competition, jealousy, implacableness, ingratitude and pride should prevail; and that kindness, gentleness, meekness, gratitude and humility should only rarely be seen.
ENEMIES OF THE CROSS
If Paul had continued to herald circumcision, the snare of the cross would have been nullified (Gal.5:11). “The proclamation of circumcision, or of lawkeeping, or of any human effort to attain the favor of God entails no persecution. The cross is a snare which not only captures but crushes us. No human pretensions can abide the great fact of His utter humiliation and shameful death for us on the cross, and the sober truth that such were our deserts, not His. Christ Himself is our righteousness (1 Cor.1:30). We loath every effort of our own.”
By nullifying the snare of the cross (through our denial of its all-sufficiency for salvation), we avoid being “persecuted for the cross” (Gal.6:12) itself. That is, we avoid the shame, rejection, and persecution which comes to those who, in fact, boast only in the cross.
In nullifying the snare, we become “enemies of the cross” (Phil.3:18), for we deny (and stand in opposition to) what was actually accomplished there. Such a course can only consummate in destruction and loss (Phil. 3:19), insofar as the commendation of the Lord and compensation for faithful service is concerned.
BOASTING IN THE CROSS
“Whoever are wanting to put on a fair face in the flesh, these are compelling you to circumcise only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ Jesus. For not even those who are circumcising are maintaining law, but they want you to be circumcised that they should be boasting in that flesh of yours. Now may it not be mine to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal.6:12-14).
We wonder how many of those who advocate some form of “conditional” salvation today, do so not only because they do not realize what gratuitous grace actually is, but as well because they want to be boasting in their own flesh, even as in that of their converts, whom they have won to Christ by convincing them to fulfill the supposed “required” steps.
We rejoice to know that righteousness is not through law, but that it is through the faith of Christ Jesus (Gal.2:16). May we glory in the all-sufficiency of the cross–in the very truth which, for most, must continue to serve as a snare. May it not be ours to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, and we in Him, in accord with the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (cp 2 Thess.1:12).
1. Whether apart from offense, or through offense, through the facile convenience of dismissing its messenger, the truth itself is often dismissed as well.
2. THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.284; A. E. Knoch.
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