Thursday, July 19, 2018

Galatians and Ephesians: faith, freedom and life in Christ

This month’s study was on the books of Galatians and Ephesians. In Paul’s letter to the Galatian church, he writes to refute the claims of some teachers, who taught that Gentile believers had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved. As well as to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul writes to strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ. I will focus on his instructions to wives and husbands as well as his imagery of the full armor of God in order to fight of spiritual battles.

In Galatians 3:1-14, Paul writes about the importance of faith over the Law. The Galatians were being influenced by teachers called Judiazers who claimed that the Law still had to be followed. Paul stresses that believers received the Spirit through faith not by observance of the Law. In verses 2 and 5, he repeats the same question, did the believers receive the Spirit by observance of the law or by believing the message that they heard? By asking these questions, Paul wanted to remind them, and us, that faith is founded in Christ, not the law. We grow spiritually because of God’s work in us by his Spirit, not by following special rules. The reasons that the Galatians felt they still needed to follow the law is the same way people today still believe there needs to be special rules to follow. Receiving God’s Spirit and blessings by faith alone is too simple, too easy. While studying the Bible, prayer and service in the church helps us grow, they do not take the place of the Holy Spirit which we all receive at the moment of acceptance. Paul even brings up Abraham who many agreed kept the law and therefore received salvation. However, Abraham was a man of faith and preceded the law by generations. So how can Abraham be a man of the law when the law hadn’t been written yet? (verses 6-9). Christ died to rid the curse of the law as breaking even one commandment condemned someone (Deuteronomy 27:26). Paul continues his argument that if righteousness and salvation were achieved by observance of the law, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). Would God send his only Son to die for us if his death was meaningless? Therefore, the law is importance to know as it helps be moral compass; however, it is not the source of our salvation. Faith and faith alone in Christ is.

In Galatians 5:19-26, Paul lists acts of a sinful nature and tells readers that those who live in these acts will not inherit the kingdom of God. He says these acts are obvious (i.e. sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, etc.) (verse 19-21). He then terms his attention to the Fruit of the Spirit, by products, acts as one lives for God. These acts are just as obvious: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (verse 22). These acts are characteristics found in the nature of Christ. We obtain these traits by imitating him, loving him and knowing him. As a result, we fulfill the intended purpose of the law: to love God and our neighbors. A person who exhibits these fruits fulfills the law far better than a person who observes the rituals but has little love in his heart for God or others. Paul warns us in verses 24 and 25 that we have crucified our sinful natures with Christ; however, we still have the capacity to sin which is why we need to stay in step with the Spirit and commit daily (emphasis mine) to rid ourselves of our sinful natures. Daily crucify our sinful natures and draw on the Spirit’s power to overcome them. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25). His final words are: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (verse 26). After speaking about the fruit of the Spirit and committing ourselves to walking with the Spirit, why would Paul end with a statement like that? As humans, we are social creatures and we often seek approval of others. And when we seek the approval of others, rather than God’s approval, we become conceited and envious. Keep your eyes on God and you won’t need the approval of others. I also want to mention that there are some Christians who become so confident in their relationship with God that they become conceited and forget that they too were once a broken person who reached out for God for salvation. Remember where and who you were when you accepted Christ’s gift of salvation as you deal with others who need him too.

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul turns his attention to wives and husbands and gives instructions on how they should act with each other. First, he addresses the wives. He tells them to submit to their husbands (verse 22). The dreaded word “submit.” It has been misinterpreted and misused throughout history and even in today’s modern times. Submitting to one’s husband does not mean being a doormat or a slave. For a wife to submit to her husband means to be willing to follow her husband’s leadership. A husband is the spiritual leader of the family just as Christ is the spiritual leader of the church (verse 24). A wise and Christ honoring husband does not take advantage of his leadership role and a wise and Christ honoring wife will not try to undermine her husband’s leadership. While Paul instructs wives in two verses, he has much more to say to husbands. He instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (verse 25). He is to love his wife as he loves himself (verse 28) and unite with her to become one flesh (verse 31). Uniting as one flesh isn’t just through sex, it also includes being of one mind and discuss any disagreements. For example, with my husband and I, we discuss everything together: money, budget, our children’s education and discipline, etc. My husband listens to and considers my position and opinions, while I accept that as the head of our family, he has the final say in any decision and we usually come to an equal agreement on many topics; however, sometimes, as the leader, he may decide something different. Going back to verses 25 and 28, how should a husband love his wife? First, he should be willing to sacrifice everything for her as Christ did for the church (verse 25). Second, he should make her well-being a priority as Christ did for the disciples (verses 26-27). Third, a husband should care for her as he cares for his own body (verse 28-29). With a husband who does these three things as Christ as his example, no wife needs to fear submitting to her husband’s leadership.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, near the end of his letter, Paul discusses the armor of God for protection against the devil’s schemes (verse 11). These schemes could come in the form of unseen forces or as the attacks from nonbelievers. First, the belt of truth (verse 14) helps us remember God’s truth and defeat Satan’s lies. Second, the breastplate of righteousness (verse 14) to protect our hearts which safeguards our emotions, self-worth and trust. The breastplate reminds us that God loves us and sent his Son to die for us. Third, the footgear of the gospel of peace (verse 15) is the motivation and readiness to spread the Good News of Christ and the peace found with him. Fourth, the shield of faith (verse 16) to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks. These attacks come in the form of insults, setbacks and temptations. The shield of faith reminds us of God’s promise of love and salvation. Fifth, the helmet of salvation (verse 17) protects our minds from doubts about God, Jesus and our salvation. Lastly, the sword of the Spirit (verse 17), as the only weapon of offense in the armor of God, it is the Word of God. Our best weapon against spiritual attacks and helps the other pieces of armor do their part to protect us. Along with putting on the full armor of God, we are to pray on all occasion and with all prayers and requests. We are to be alert and pray for all the saint (other believers the ones we know as well as those around the world) (verse 18). The image of the full armor of God reminds me of a song by Twila Paris called The Warrior is a Child. In the song, the narrator discusses being a child who runs to God when the battles become too much to fight. We came to the Father for rest, comfort and encouragement as we go through life fighting battles for God.

In conclusion, the letters to the Galatian and Ephesian churches are filled with importance lessons. I just touched on a few. Our salvation does not depend on the observance of the law but rather with faith in Christ. A true believer and follower of Christ can be identified by the fruit of the Spirit he displays in his life. Wives are to submit to their husbands, while husbands are to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Believers are called to put on the full armor of God in order to defend ourselves against the attacks against spiritual forces as well as fight battles against those who fight against God.