After taking a couple of weeks off from blogging prior to Easter, I’m continuing our series based on the Ocoee Oaks Bible reading plan. You can find the plan by clicking here.
The imagery here is somewhat convoluted because Paul uses a mixed metaphor. He uses the imagery of redemption and adoption. The redemption metaphor makes reference to how the nation of Israel, and each of us today, are under bondage or in the condition of slavery. The Israelites were enslaved to the Law. We are enslaved to sin, but not the Law because Gentiles (all non-Israelites) were, generally, not a party to that covenant.
While we were still sinners, we were adopted into God’s family. Adoption during this time was a permanent arrangement that could not be rescinded. As a result of this adoption, we now have a new type of intimacy with God and receive an inheritance from God in the form of blessing both in this life and the life to come.
What does it mean to you that you have been adopted by God and that the terms of adoption are such that he can never cancel that adoption agreement?
Paul expresses distress that the Galatians who have been redeemed and adopted by God have abandoned their state of grace. Rather they have turned their back on the teachings of Paul and turned to the teachings that previously enslaved them. This is so like us isn’t it? Change is hard. Think about any change you have made. How easy is it to slip back into the old eating habits or the old routine of watching TV rather than working out or practicing your instrument? Our habits form a groove in our lives that it is very hard to extract ourselves from.
What are some ways that you are tempted to return to an ungodly way of life?
Apparently, the Galatians are upset with Paul and he feels the need to defend himself. He reminds them that at one time they were willing to sacrifice for him and were a tremendous blessing to him. But somehow, they’ve “lost that loving feeling” (for you Righteous Brothers fans).
One thing we find in this passage is a goal of Paul’s ministry. In the Galatians 4:19, Paul says that he “labors until Christ is formed in you.” What does Paul mean by this phrase? Paul talks about it in different ways in different passages, but the goal of his ministry is that the image of God will be restored in those who believe. When Paul says that he labors “until Christ is formed in you” he is saying that he desires for those of us who follow Jesus take on the likeness or image of Christ (Colossians 3:10). This is not just an outward form, but a form in which the outward appearance and the inner reality are congruent with one another.
In what ways does your life reflect the image of God?
In what ways do you position yourself to allow God to do the work of formation in your life?
This section is clearly written for a Jewish readership who have returned to their Jewish roots. Even though they are free from the requirements of the Abrahamic Covenant, such as circumcision, they have apparently returned to their old covenant ways of living. The analogy of Hagar and Sarah is used to indicate that the promises of God will not come through the old covenant (Hagar), but through the new covenant (Sarah). These covenants are analogous to the Law and Grace in the next section.
Paul had been speaking in generalities in the previous sections, but now he is very specific. There are some Galatians who have been circumcised. Circumcision was given as a sign that one was a part of the Abrahamic Covenant in the Old Testament (Genesis 17:10-14). Jewish men were circumcised as a symbol that they were a part of this covenant. In Paul’s day, there were some Christians that thought one had to convert to Judaism before one could become a Christian. They saw Christianity as a sect within Judaism. In fact, this is how it started out. But is soon became apparent that God was doing something completely new among followers of Christ and that conversion to Judaism was not necessary to becoming a Christian. Since this was the case, Paul argues that to received circumcision was actually an abandonment of the grace of God in Christ.
Today we don’t have to worry about abandoning Christ for the Law of Judaism, but there are many ways that we might abandon Christ. Rather than growing in our faith, we can simply trust that we can make it through life on our own rather than trusting Christ on a daily basis.
What are some of the ways that people abandon faith in Christ? (think mixing other religious beliefs with Christianity)
Paul uses a gustatory analogy to describe what happens when we don’t love people like Jesus loved people. In verse 15 Paul uses the process of eating food—biting, chewing, and swallowing—to describe what happens when we fail to love.
What are some specific ways that people in the church injure others in the church by failing to love them?
These are likely somewhat familiar verse to most Christians. In verses 16-18, Paul makes the case that the Spirit and the Law, that is, the Spirit and the flesh, the Old and New Covenant, adherence to the law and faith in Christ, are mutually exclusive. One cannot do both; it’s one or the other. We can seek to make ourselves acceptable to God through adherence to the law or through faith. He said earlier that if you’re going to attempt to be saved by the Law, you have to keep every little bit (Galatians 5:3). You’ve got to be “all in” on the law. But he has stated elsewhere that adherence to the law is impossible (see Romans 3).
What are some ways that people attempt to earn their salvation today?
In 19-21, Paul describes the things that flow out of the flesh. He concludes that those who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Does that mean if you lose your temper (for instance) one time that you’re doomed to miss heaven? No! Paul says that those who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God (see Galatians 4:7). In other words, if any of the things listed is a defining characteristic of your life, then your life is not characterized by the Spirit of God which is a sign that one is living in the Spirit and will receive the kingdom of God.
Have you ever done any of the things listed in verses 19-21?
Are any of these things characteristic of your life? (if so, stop now, confess, and repent)
When it comes to this list of vices, how much is too much? (once; entire sanctification means that we can be free from willfully committing any of these sins.)
In verses 22-25, Paul describes the characteristics of a person who is full of the Spirit of God, who has been adopted as a son by God. These characteristics are meant to assure us, when they are a part of our lives, that we are living by the Spirit and will receive the kingdom of God. Verse 25 is an incredibly important verse for our day and age. There are many, many Christians who claim to live by the Spirit, but upon examination, we might find little evidence that they are walking by the Spirit. Said differently, they claim to be Christians, but their lives are characterized more by the list in verses 19-21 than the list in verses 22-23.
At what point is the gap so big between what we say and what we do that what we say is clearly false? More specifically, when we say that we are Christians, how big can the gap be between our professed faith and the way we actually live our lives before our profession is obviously a lie?
One of the roles we have in one another’s lives as believers in Jesus is to hold one another accountable for engaging in righteous behavior. Paul tells us that if someone sins, we are to work with them with the goal of restoration. In order to do that, we have to confront the sin. Paul instructs us that we are to engage in this process of identifying, confronting, and restoration with gentleness. We are not to get in someone’s face and yell, “Turn or burn.” Rather, we express concern, point out the discrepancy between their stated desire to live a life pleasing to God, their current practice of sinful behavior, call them to repentance, and set up accountability that will reduce the probability of a sin relapse. Unfortunately, this is rarely how this goes anymore. Too often, we try to hide our own sin. Too often we overlook the sins of others. “After all,” we think, “it’s really none of my business.” Wrong! We are to “bear one another’s burdens.” I grieve over how far the modern church has fallen from the vision that Paul and other early church leaders had for true fellowship (see also James 5:16).
Why do you think we as a Christian culture in North America simply do not hold one another accountable for living a Christian life?
What do we lose by this failure?
What might we gain by our obedience?
I’ll focus here on verses 9-10. We are not to allow ourselves to become discouraged in doing good. Doing the right thing is sometimes hard. And it can be equally difficult to keep our spirits up when we have opposition and resistance. Nevertheless, we are to do good to all people—no exclusions. But we have a special obligation to do good by those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being low), what is your current discouragement level with helping others?
What has led to your discouragement?
What can the people in your group do to help you overcome your discouragement?
Paul evidently had an eye problem (see also Galatians 4:12-15). Paul sums up what he has been saying that what is important is not what we once were, but what and who we are now. What is important, what we brag about, is not ourselves, but in Christ. Christ is what’s important. In Christ, we are a new creation (see also 2 Corinthians 5:17).
In what ways is your life reflective of the fact that you are a new creation in Christ?
If you don’t have an answer, why not?
What are you going to do about it? What are the options?
What do you think? Leave a comment below!
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