THE LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
1 Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, 1:1
As always, Paul establishes the ground of his authority to speak of Kingdom things; He was writing to a fellowship that had been infiltrated by a contingent of false apostles who claimed they had authority from the Jerusalem Mother Church, from Jesus‘ revered half-brother James himself, and who were undermining the doctrine of Christian liberty that Paul had taught to the Galatian believers.
A true minister of Christ is appointed and raised up by the Lord, not by any promotion of his own, or by the approval or permission of any man or by the institutions of man. True ordination is the recognition of a divine anointing, which is an impartation from God to accomplish an assignment from God, and not merely the conferring of a human certification of approval or achievement or of knowledge gained through a program of study. Human honor and award have nothing in themselves to do with Divine anointing or the call to ministry, though at times they may acknowledge and support these. As often as not mainstream approval by organized religion is a sign that a Christian minister has compromised his or her message and is no longer proclaiming the full Gospel. As Paul says in verse ten, seeking the approval of men often puts us at odds with the Lord.
In every generation there are multiplied tens of thousands of voices competing for attention in the marketplace of metaphysics and the world‘s religions. (In spite of the loud noises made by atheists, above 85% of the world‘s people believe in some sort of religion, and of those who do not, the majority are agnostic: True atheists make up perhaps one or two percent at best.) I have tried to share in these musings such wisdom as I have mined over the last three plus decades of my experience in Christ as concerns our discerning among all this cacophony the voices that speak Truth. Those who are truly called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom of God by our Father through His Son speak with an authority that cannot be mistaken, once it is encountered, because the only True God Himself backs them up. And those who have ears to hear will not be satisfied until they have found fellowship with those who speak with this authority. (You are right if you realize that my voice is to be counted among these myriad competing voices: It is your responsibility to take everything I have said back to the Book to see if it stands the test of agreement with the more sure word of prophecy. Be Berean! (2 Peter 1:19; Acts 17:11))
The prevenient Grace of God is such that those who are true seekers, though they might be journeying toward the Kingdom from great distances and lonely places, and though they might stop at unwholesome way-stations along their various paths to rest and to eat, nevertheless will always eventually discover the pallets at those hostels hard and the soups thin. These travelers will soon enough grow restless and will once again move on in their search until they find an inn which offers real comfort and rest and those innkeepers whose tables are set with meals of substantial foods that stick to the ribs and truly nourish and satisfy; and waykeepers and fellow pilgrims whose directions send them further down right roads in their journey toward the Kingdom.
The same Holy Spirit who has now been poured out upon all flesh, who is ceaselessly calling to those who have been known to the Father from before our world was forged, also fills and empowers those who are authentic ministers of the Gospel so that when the Father‘s lost children decide to come home, they are able to run into protecting and nurturing and loving arms.
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29
I have come in my Father‘s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? John 5:43-47
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. ―I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. John 17:18-26
And Jesus came and said to them, ―All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have com-manded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus told His disciples about His Father‘s concern for a single sparrow. Most of us have probably watched more than one National Geographic documentary or Discovery Channel special about penguins or seabirds or sea lions that somehow are able to find their one hungry squawking chick or or crying pup or calling mate among tens of thousands of nests on a rocky island or in an Antarctic ice field when they return from days or weeks of separation as they search for food. The children of Adam are more precious to God than penguins. The Lord has said that His sheep hear His voice, and that all who search for Him will find Him.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-13
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17:9-23
Both those who are called to minister and those to whom the Father is calling are being given continual special and personal attention by the Lord, who confirms with evidences the ministry of those who He appoints as His workmen, and who moves with redemptive power to heal and remake and liberate those to whom they minister. In Galatians:
who raised him from the dead— 1:1
Please note the clear distinction Paul makes between the Father and the Son (also in verse 3 below). Paul did not have in mind to answer theological questions that would not be raised for several hundred years, so the issues of the Trinity and of which Person of the Triune Godhead acted in which aspect of the Incarnation and Resur-rection were not questions he tried to explain at depth, but by thinking and praying through such repeated statements as these in each of Paul‘s letters we can begin to gain a richer insight into the ineffable nature of our Almighty God. Paul seems as easily to have understood God as three differentiated unique Persons as he com-prehended God as one supreme and unified Deity, and nowhere in his writing is there any indication of conflict or confusion with these ideas. This is even more remarkable considering that Paul had been a rabidly zealous monotheistic Jew until his encounter with the risen Christ on the road outside of Damascus. If anyone should have had a conflict with the idea of a Three-personal God, it should have been Paul. (cf. John 5:18) His monotheism would have been as deeply ingrained and as strongly held as that of any Muslim fundamentalist toward Allah.
And it is equally clear from his writings that Paul did not make blind-faith simplistic assumptions about his theology either. It is safe to assume that he fully understood and accepted that the God of the Shema (Hear, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One) Deuteronomy 6:4 and the God he so clearly differentiated as God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ 2 Corinthians 11:31, who also is the “Paraclete” (one who comes to one’s side as an advocate) Romans 1:1-4 , the abiding companion known to us as the Holy Spirit, are one and the same Sovereign Deity and Creator of all things. It is absolutely clear from the body of Paul‘s writings that his revelation of the Kingdom of God included an absolute transformation and expansion of his understanding of the nature of God Himself
and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 1:2–3
Paul frontloads this letter to this mixed group of largely Gentile, with some Jewish, believers with reminder after reminder of the grace of God and the finished work of Christ because he is about to come down on them like a ton of bricks about their rapid back-sliding into the lies and snares of the Judaizers who had infiltrated their fellowships after Paul and his team had shared the Gospel of the Kingdom with them. These Judaizers were a divisive splinter group based in Jerusalem who perhaps were originally associated with the very conservative Christianity of James, Jesus‘ half-brother, who, though not one of the twelve apostles, had become one of the patriarchs of the nascent church, and whose blood relationship to the Lord gave him great authority with many in Jerusalem. (Histor-ically speaking, tradition describes him as a very devout and decent guy, but very old school and Jewish in his approach to the new faith.)
A faction of these extremists broke from the main stream of the Jerusalem fellowship and began to stalk Paul and his team, claiming that James had authorized them to do so (which he hadn‘t, though perhaps he hadn‘t been strong enough with them either in shutting them down). They were religiously racist and were unable to abide the idea that the Gentiles could be saved simply by faith in Christ. They apparently could not free their minds from obedience to the Mosaic Law, and they would invade young Gentile fellowships and try to convince them that they had to become Law-keeping circum-cised Jews in order to benefit from the Gospel. (There is also an indication in Paul‘s remarks that these Messianic Jews were having problems with the stigma that was attached with becoming a Christ-ian, and that they were trying to avoid being ostracized by the Jewish community while still benefiting from the promises of the New Covenant.)
It is to counter this strengthening heresy that Paul is writing this letter. These troublemakers show up regularly throughout the New Covenant writings, and not just in Paul‘s letters. Elements of this prejudice still exist in some measure even today among more extreme Messianic Christian groups, as do opposing excesses among Fundamentalist believers that reject everything that links Christian-ity to the Old Covenant and to Israel: Both are heretical errors.)
The struggle has always been between Law and Grace, rooted in the compost of pride: It is very hard for us human beings to accept the idea that we can do nothing of ourselves to earn the approval of God, but that we must bow in humility and admit that we are both absolutely wrongheaded and absolutely helpless. and that we must receive even the strength to give up from Him. We so desperately want to be someone in ourselves; to say, ” Look at me, Daddy! Look at what I have done! Approve of me!” But that is not possible, because there is nothing we can do in ourselves that can repair the damage that has been created by what we have already done in our own efforts. Only by accepting the Grace of God can we receive the resources we need to accomplish anything that can rise to the stan-dards of God.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11; Romans 1:17
who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, 1:4
Christ came in order to complete the task of delivering us from the present evil age. He had already given Himself for our sins when Paul wrote this, and Paul speaks in terms that indicate that we have been delivered, not that deliverance is a future event. The emphasis of the rest of the letter is that we are free to walk in liberty in the Spirit NOW. For the non- believer the present evil age is still continuing. For the believer, we have been delivered into the Kingdom age even as we still walk through this world. In Ephesians, Paul speaks of this age and of ―the ages to come (Eph.1:21; 2:7) and the Greek word that we translate eternity is more accurately rendered “ages of ages”. The biblical revelation is rich with the promise of God‘s unfolding purposes.
according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 1:4–5
I have written at length in other essays about the precision and orderliness of the Father‘s plans and purposes: Nothing regarding the fall and redemption of humanity or the work of Messiah has been unexpected or unaccounted for.
So Jesus again said to them, ―Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. John 10:7-18
Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:21-24
One other thought about the Fatherhood of God. I ran across a quote from a commentator that gave me pause:
“The rabbis welcomed a sinner in his repentance. But to seek out the sinner … was … something new in the religious history of Israel.” (C. G. Montefiore)
The gods of the pagan world were (are) capricious and often monstrous exaggerations and distortions of sinful humanity. Those who came before them groveled in terror, bringing sacrifices of appeasement and sometimes performing unspeakable acts of obeisance in the hope that by doing so they might somehow escape the wrath or curry the favor of their fickle tyrant overlords.
The majestic yet intimate God, Yahweh (YHWH), of the religious Jews had become an awesome and intimidating deity guarded and made unapproachable by the priestcraft and ceremony of the Levitical Law and the Temple worship. Over time He had become the God of the nation, and of the privileged classes of that nation, but was kept at a distance from the common people as individuals by the accumulated traditions of their religion and by those who had turned the Law of Moses into an instrument of power and control.
The Father, who Jesus called Abba, reached out to the weakest and most broken and wounded of Jew and Gentile alike with strong yet tender hands to offer them comfort and renewal. This was, and is, a totally unique revelation to anyone who is honestly aware of his or her own sinfulness and need for redemption. Jesus (Emmanuel -“God with us” Matthew 1:22-23) demonstrated the willingness of the Father to seek and save that which is lost Luke 19:10 by such actions as his initiation of a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, his touching of lepers to heal them, his eating with publicans and sinners in their own homes, the willingness he had to violate religious law as he touched the dead to restore them to life and return them to their families, his acceptance of women into his circle of fellowship.
In Christ we see the heart of God, desiring to woo us back to the place and purpose for which we are created. Over and over again we read accounts of Jesus calling out to individuals themselves lost in crowds of people, summoning them by name to come to Him. We see the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son Luke 15:11ff who, understanding that his wayward child would not listen to reason until the fires of his rebellion finally burned out, nevertheless stood each day on the roof of the house watching the horizon, always searching for that small spec of a silhouette on the distant road that would mean that his child was finally coming home. And when that day finally came, that loving father ran to that weary and broken wanderer and embraced him and gathered him up and celebrated with joy. Such a Father is our God.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him (to turn from the Gospel is to turn from the true worship of God the Father: To turn back into the state of separation from the only source of spiritual life.) who called you in the grace of Christ 1:6
It was inconceivable to Paul that anyone who had experienced the liberty of the Gospel would choose to return to the bondage of legalism. But perhaps this is not so strange a thing as it first appears. Deeply imprinted patterns are hard to erase. Most of us have heard stories of animals that have lived so long in cages that when the cages are removed the poor creatures cannot step beyond the invisible lines that once defined their confinement. Plenty of human prisoners, when released from their sentences, very quickly find their way back into a jail cell because they cannot cope with the larger world outside the walls.
With liberty comes personal responsibility, and many people are uncomfortable with personal responsibility. With liberty comes risk and the possibility of failure as well as the possibility of great success and reward. And many people are afraid to take risks and to face failure, even when the rewards of success are very great and very real. It is easier, and safer, for many to follow externally im-posed rules and to let others dictate and therefore bear respon-sibility for decisions and for consequences. It is easier to say “I was just following orders” than it is to stand upon what is right and true in the face of what is wrong but powerful. Many people will sacrifice the chance of great personal rewards and live lives of mediocrity rather than take some risk and possibly suffer some setback or a failure with the threat of being ridiculed and publicly humiliated. But the people of God are to live outside the camp. Exodus 33:7; Hebrews 13:10-13
Paul had clearly taught the Galatians that the salvation in Christ was the fulfillment of the Jewish Old Covenant and that a New Covenant now prevailed: This was his message and it is clear from what he writes in reminder in this and his other letters. He had taught them completely the details of these core truths and had led them to a Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus Christ sealed by water baptism. He had helped them structure a New Testament fellowship to con-tinue their progress in Spirit-led discipleship after he moved on. The fact that we have this letter indicates that he made efforts to stay in touch with them.
But apparently some of them were still concerned about their con-nections to the Temple in Jerusalem and the benefits that derived from these connections, and hadn‘t understood that their salvation did not depend in some way upon their genealogical relationship to “God‘s Chosen People”, the Jews, and the Temple rituals. Somehow, perhaps, some of them even had missed the revelation that God was universal and omnipresent and not just living at the Temple in Jeru-salem, even though they had experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit under the ministry of Paul. And when the contingent of troublemakers, possibly “from James“(2:12), arrived, these were able to be convinced that they needed to keep some old order rules in order to be Christians … that the liberty in Christ was conditional.
How this went down probably occurred in steps: First the Jerusalem contingent persuaded the more conservative Jewish members of the Galatian fellowship that they, being blood-line children of Abraham, were the “true” Christians and that they needed to ex-plain this to their Gentile friends. And then these Gentiles, once they had folded under the pressure of this assault and been circumcised and brought in as second class adopted “brethren”, in turn leaned on their less theologically knowledgeable god-fearing non-Jewish neighbors and began to pressure them. (Compare the way Peter acted at Antioch Galatians 2:11-13ff). This, of course, created tension and confusion throughout the fellowship, and began to cause divisions in the church with some persons following Paul‘s teachings and others moving toward the Judaizers. Those who were locked in to the Holy Spirit and were hearing from God remained in liberty. Those who were not men and women of conviction and cour-age and were afraid of living with the responsibility of freedom caved and went back under the Law.
and are turning to a (qualitatively) different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort (pervert) the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary (Opposed, as in character or purpose: 2. Opposite in direction or position:) to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (anathema…separ-ated to the eternal destruction of Hell) As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. 1:6–10
How many ―other Gospels are there? Paul is speaking against one here which, in the name of Jesus Christ, seeks to make religious “works” the basis of salvation, instead of Faith through Grace. It might be safe to say that “other Gospels” generally fall into a few categories:
1) Christ plus works: errors that conflate the Old Covenant with the New and do not correctly discern that the Church is constituted entirely under the terms of the New.
2) “Gnostic” errors that separate the evil actions of the material world from the pure actions of the spiritual realm and regard the sins of the flesh as inconsequential, and therefore teach spirituality without holiness. The antithesis of this is any system of belief that regards the material world as utterly evil and therefore teaches severe asceticism and self-destructive behavior as a means to gain spiritual insight and escape the bondages of the physical.
3) Errors that elevate the forgiveness in Christ too far above the seriousness of repentance (cheap grace) and teach salvation without Lordship, conversion without discipleship.
4) Errors that fail to understand the Gospel of the Kingdom and teach less than the full message of the New Covenant; distortions and caricatures of Christ that hunt and peck through the scriptures to find texts to support a preconceived theology of the Gospel rather than inductively allowing the text of the scriptures to inform and guide the life and growth of the Body of the church.
5) errors that teach “another Christ”, either by redefining Jesus and His Messiahship or by offering another savior or path to God altogether.
Any preaching or teaching of the New Covenant which fails to fully speak the truth in love when truth needs to be spoken, however controversial or potentially disruptive that truth-speaking might be, is a failure on the part of the minister. We are called to deliver a timely message “in season and out of season” 2 Timothy 4:2 regard-less of consequences whenever the Lord requires it of us, and it is not for us to second guess His timings or His purposes. Acts 5:29 This is the “spirit of prophesy, which is the testimony of Jesus Christ“. Revelation 19:10
If we are afraid of the results of such outspokenness then we need to step down from our assignment as a minister to the Body until we have dealt with our personal issues and our fears. If we do not we will be held accountable for our words, and our words will be at best ineffective. We are not called to be friends with everyone, nor are we called to be at peace with everyone all the time. “As much as lies within us, we are to be at peace with all men” Romans 12:18 must be reconciled in us with “I come not to bring peace, but a sword” Matthew 10:34, because the King we serve is a warrior King, and we are His soldiers in battle. And there will be times when the word that is a blessing to one person will inflame the anger of another. Mat-thew 10:34-39
To be a manpleaser is to stand for nothing. It is to be a hypocrite, a wearer of masks. It is to always try to run to the front of the herd and to convince them that you are in the lead. True leadership always is seeing farther than those being led, and is speaking of things which those hearing have not heard and may not want to hear. True leadership is always going to be a disturbing and disrup-tive element, at least to some.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man‘s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 1:11–12
Paul is emphatic in his claim to authority. After his experience on the road to Damascus he spent a period of time, at least some months, in a solitary retreat in the wild country to the east of the Jordan river. By his own testimony it was there that he was instructed by the Lord Himself in the details of the New Covenant and of the Gospel of the Kingdom and of the inclusion of the Gentile world in the redemption made available through the Incarnation. He details this in the verses that follow. (Compare this with 2 Corinthians 12:1ff). Paul was unique-ly qualified, because of his brilliant mind, his lifetime immersion
in the study of the Tanakh (The Jewish Old Testament) including his studies at the feet of Gamaliel (the foremost conservative rabbinical teacher in Israel), and his cosmopolitan heritage, to breach the ancient theological walls that Judaism had built around the Old Covenant and to rethink the entire system of the Jewish religion in terms of the New Covenant, once it had been revealed to him by the resurrected Christ.
I also want to point out that those who oppose the Christian mes-sage and who dismiss the documents that Christians claim as authentically proclaiming that message must therefore take such statements as these in those documents (and there are many), written by men who give all indications of truth, honesty, and integrity in their writings, and simply and directly call those men deceivers and liars… an easy thing to do since the writers are no longer around to defend themselves. I find it easier to question the character and motives of the accusers than the accused in these cases. It is much easier to hide in an ivory tower and pontificate and kiss the ass of the world than it is to live and die for your faith and for your Lord.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 1:13
Paul here refers to his activities as an “enforcer” for the Sanhedrin after the stoning of Stephen. (He is going over some of his backstory for the benefit of the many folks in the Galatian fellowships who have never actually met him, but who have only heard of him through the stories told by those to whom he had first brought the Gospel years earlier.) (Acts 7:54- 8:3, Acts 26:1-23)
And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 1:14–15
Please read my thoughts on predestination and on the prevenient grace of God in the essays on Romans and Ephesians for a detailed exploration of these ideas.
was pleased to reveal his Son to me, 1:16
Paul writes “to reveal his Son in me“, not “to” me: This is significant. Again, modern translators tend to put God “out there” somewhere, when choosing their words, when the scriptures teach us that the King and the Kingdom are within. (Luke 17:21) We are, each one of us if we are Christians, bearers of Christ, in transcendently intimate relationship with our Lord. We are united with Him, not separated from and reaching out to Him. This is the blessing of the New Cov-enant; its radical difference from the Old. The Lord is infinitely close to the New Covenant believer: He does not have to be sought out
at a distance. (Romans 10:8)
The God of the Old Testament was necessarily external. The intimate communion between Creator and creature for which man was designed had been severed through the Luciferian deception of Adam. But this has been restored through the Incarnation and resurrection. Jesus explained this to his apostles prior to his passion (cf. John 14:16-17), and they experienced the reality of this with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and afterward. Paul, receiving his understanding of the Gospel by direct revelation from the Lord, was given the privilege of communicating this Truth in depth for the permanent record.
However, and unfortunately, poor exegesis of the scripture and the marketplace of popular preaching has run roughshod over sound theology, and even though a modern Evangelical Christian says that he or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and has “accepted Christ in his or her heart”, in practice it often seems that the God we serve is again somewhere “out there”. And it is unfortunately true that in our modern world “perception is altogether too often reality”.
We gather at the church building to “meet with the Lord”. We stand in church and sing “Come Lord Jesus”. We raise our hands to the ceiling and ask the Holy Spirit to “fill this place”. We cry out for the “rain to fall” and for the anointing of God to “come down on” us. We move to the front of the sanctuary because that is where “the presence of the Lord is”. We “shout to the Lord” and we “give the Lord a clap offering” as if He were sitting on His throne at the front of the room. Sometimes we physically “dance before the Lord” or “bow down” as if He were on the stage reviewing our worship. And this is not to detail the extravagant formalities of the religious rituals of the more mainstream “high churches” like Roman Catholic, Or-thodox, and Anglican.
These are all Old Testament paradigms. Some of them might have a value in that they are external demonstrations of internal attitudes, and we, as physical beings, are sometimes aided and encouraged in our faith by such things. I don‘t want to say that all such activities are wrong or that we all are to sit silently in our services like Quakers. But for a New Covenant believer “the Kingdom of God is within” us, and we are to go within to enter it.
We should not be gathering at a church “to meet God”: We each carry the Lord within our own spirits to a meeting, and there, “where two or more are gathered He is among us“. The gathering of believers is a place where Divine power is, and is, for lack of a better word, “concentrated”, because it is there that we can agree together in worship and in prayer, and therefore can accomplish greater works than individual believers might be able to accomplish alone. (Matthew 18:18-20) In our assemblies we encourage each other and build each other up and an environment of corporate faith is created which is magnitudes greater than the faith any one of us might be able to exercise as an individual.
The Word is clear that we are to gather together often, both for worship and for fellowship. Hebrews 10:25 However, we, as New Covenant believers, are each one of us the Temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19; 3:16) The Holy of Holies, that place where God is, now resides in each one of us. Paul says this clearly every time he writes of such things by using such prepositions as “in” (as above), and “of” (in verse 2:20 below), and in many other ways.
And unless, and until, we understand this we are going to be trying to live out the New Covenant, at least in part, according to Old Covenant rules. At the least this will leave us in a confused and weakened state, unable to walk out the full life and power available to us through our relationship with our Lord because we are trying to resolve mutually contradictory Old Covenant and New Covenant principles. We will be “double minded” and therefore “unstable“, as James puts it. This happens every time we find ourselves second-guessing our moments of liberty in the Lord by constructing some theological cage of verses from the scripture to dial back the moving of the Spirit of God in the assembly or in our own lives and keep our service to our Lord “respectable” and dignified. It is much easier to keep order in a service if there are rules to follow than it is if we allow the supernatural to prevail.
At its worst we will end up once again under law, trying to gain our salvation through some discipline of our own works. And by so doing we will fall under the condemnation that Paul is invoking upon those of the Galatian churches who have opted to accept circumcision and to return to living as law-abiding Jews. Ultimately we will either live fallen from Grace and become religiously Pharisaical, or we will fall away entirely from religion in discouragement and frustration and return to a worldly or even reprobate lifestyle.
in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas (Peter) and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord‘s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 1:16–20
Here again Paul bears witness to the truth of what he is writing. Those who would question these accounts must be willing to stand in front of this man, hypothetically at least, look him straight in the eye, and call him a bald-faced liar. It is very easy to sit in a Lazy-Boy at a distance of a couple of thousand years and make stupid, arro-gant comments about dead people, isn‘t it? Paul had his life as a rising Jewish superstar and his aspirations to worldly success utterly ruined when he became a follower of Christ. He spent over thirty years enduring extremes of hardship and persecution as he traveled on his missionary journeys, and he ultimately was beheaded for his faith at the whim of the lunatic emperor, Nero.
Intelligent people do not make such personal sacrifices for some-thing that they know to be a lie. Could he have been laboring under a delusion? Perhaps. But if so it was a delusion that thousands of others of his contemporaries, many of whom had been with, or at least around, Jesus himself, also became convinced was true and worth dying for. All of the other apostles, save for John, died as martyrs after embracing lives of hardship and persecution. John did suffer greatly during his long life.
And tens of thousands of converts also gladly suffered ostracization, loss of property, physical abuse, imprisonment, and often cruel deaths because they chose to follow a Lord they proclaimed emphatically to be risen from the grave and alive, not crucified and dead.
All the enemies of the Gospel had to do was to produce a body! And this rag-tag rabble of a disruptive movement would have died in a heartbeat. They could not!! Even though they were the ones who had sealed and guarded the tomb in which the body of Jesus was buried after his execution… they could not. The Great Sanhedrin of Israel that had sentenced Christ to death and had stood witness over every moment of His execution and His burial was unable to dispel the increasingly disruptive rumor that Christ had risen from the grave. It is on the record that just three days after the mutilated corpse of Jesus was sealed into an officially secured sepulcher owned by a prominent wealthy merchant it was necessary for those temple soldiers who guarded that grave to be bribed to lie by the most powerful men in Jerusalem to explain why the tomb was empty. A ridiculous fabrication was all that could be mustered to explain two earthquakes in three days and the disappearance of the body of the most controversial celebrity criminal of the day from a heavily guarded and officially sealed solid stone tomb. And for two thousand years now, everyone who has tried to explain this little problem that some rag-tag fishermen managed to steal a corpse out from under the noses of an elite military guard and from a stone sealed cave has failed. Romans 1:1-4
Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, ―He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.‖ And they glorified God because of me. 1:21–24
This is a reference to Paul‘s time in Tarsus and Asia Minor, a period for which we have no detailed record that lasted over a decade and ended when Barnabas sought Paul out and brought him down to Antioch to help with the rapidly growing church that had taken root there.