“Whatever sin the heart of man is most prone to, that the devil will help forward. If David is proud of his people, Satan will provoke him to number them, that he may be yet prouder (2 Sam. 24). If Peter is slavishly fearful, Satan will put him upon rebuking and denying of Christ, to save his own skin (Matt. 16:22; 26:69-75). If Ahab’s prophets are given to flatter, the devil will immediately become a lying spirit in the mouths of four hundred of them, and they shall flatter Ahab to his ruin (2 Kings 22). If Judas will be a traitor, Satan will quickly enter into his heart, and make him sell his master for money, which some heathen would never have done (John 13:2). If Ananias will lie for advantage, Satan will fill his heart that he may lie, with a witness, to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Satan loves to sail with the wind, and to suit men’s temptations to their conditions and inclinations. If they be in prosperity, he will tempt them to deny God (Proverbs 30:9); if they be in adversity, he will tempt them to distrust God; if their knowledge be weak, he will tempt them to have low thoughts of God; if their conscience be tender, he will tempt to scrupulosity; if large, to carnal security; if bold-spirited, he will tempt to presumption; if timorous, to desperation; if flexible, to inconstancy; if stiff, to impenitency.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions…” —Galatians 3:19
The law is not a ladder for men to climb up towards self-righteousness, but a pit to fall into realization of the depths of our depravity. The law is the nail in the coffin of efforts at self-righteousness, showing man that he is dead in his trespasses and sins.
This is not to say that the law is contrary to the gospel (3:21), for the gospel speaks to none but sinners. One cannot hear the gospel unless their ears have been slapped by the law and are ringing with guilt. Luther comments,
“The Law with its function does contribute to justification—not because it justifies, but because impels one to the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable. Therefore we do not abolish the Law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ.”
But we have glazed over the mirror of the law, so that men may delude themselves they are more attractive than they are. We have not allowed the full weight of the heavy hammer of the law to crush the consciences of men. We have not preached the law so that sinners hear the prison door clink behind them and feel the coldness of their cell of death. We have not proclaimed God’s law such that they feel it’s discipline and long for the maturity of sonship in the Son. The gospel isn’t sweet, because the bitterness of the law isn’t tasted. Men do not thrust themselves on Christ in despair of themselves because they’ve never seen the terrors of Mount Sinai so that they cry out for a Mediator.
We must do what the Puritans referred to as “law work” before we herald the good news of the gospel. Yes, may we ever revel in the gospel. But this means preaching the law. Not as a means of justification, but to cause men to despair of any hope of self-justification. Let us preach the law so that men may see the depth of their sinfulness, their total depravity, their wickedness that permeates their every faculty such that they do not love God with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind as He is worthy of being loved.
And then, once the image of the mirror horrifies, once the hammer has crushed, once the prison door has clinked loud, then may we proclaim that though we have not loved God, He has loved us and sent His Son to keep the law as our righteousness and to suffer the just wrath of God for all our lawbreaking.
Then we will marvel. Then we will weep. Then we will rejoice. Then we will sing.
Bible Promise Books are silly and trite. People go to them looking for some promise that God will get them through a tough week when God is saying in His Word that He will get His saints through death, and on the other side, resurrection, no curse, and blessedness evermore where God is our God and we are His people.
Bible Promise Books fail to understand that every promise is a diamond set within the ring of covenant. Too many are trying to wrest promises not betrothed to them. If you want the ring of all God’s promises, you must be wed to Christ.
Don’t survey the Bible as a thief bent on self-profit. Stare long and hard at the craftsmanship of God’s promises set within the covenants that are fulfilled in Christ and truly know the richness that is yours in union with Him.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? —Galatians 3:1, 3
In Galatians 3:1–5 Paul asks five rhetorical questions to make the folly of the Galatians apparent. When one is on the receiving end of such questions, the head is not raised and tilted in deep thought, but hung low in deep shame. These questions are not meant to be answered, save with repentance.
We’ve all likely been on both sides of a parent asking a child, “What were you thinking?” As children, none of us find difficulty proving Solomon’s maxim that “folly is bound in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). When asked, the best response is perhaps, “No excuse sir.”
Likewise, these are chastening questions. They sting; but this folly, left unchecked, would sting far more. This is a folly our Galatia-Pelagia flesh is ever prone to. We need these kinds of words.
My hope in this little meditation is that you realize there is a place for such rebuke and that such rebuke is sorely needed today.
“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!” —Galatians 2:17
Paul, for his defense of his apostleship and the gospel, is now is dealt a foul backhanded in return. Paul doesn’t simply dodge the accusation, he does a bit of judo, flipping things around, slamming his perceived opponent to the ground with his own strength.
The accusation is that of antinomianism, of being anti-law, anti-obedience. People’s pride dresses up as piety, human hubris as holiness, and attacks the gospel as antinomian. Paul is basically dealing with the same accusation that follows his presentation of justification in Romans.
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1–2)”
There are true antinomians, and their teaching is heretical, but the Judaizers were saying that the gospel itself is antinomian. They were accusing the gospel of freedom as frivolousness and the gospel of liberty as leading to license. The legalist will always slander the gospel as license. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took comfort in such accusations.
“The true preaching of the gospel by grace alone always leads to the possibility of this charge being brought against it. There is no better test as to whether a man is really preaching the New Testament gospel of salvation than this, that some people might misunderstand it and misinterpret it to mean that it really amounts to this, that because you are saved by grace alone it does not matter at all what you do; you can go on sinning as much as you like because it will redound all the more to the glory of grace. That is a very good test of gospel preaching. If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel.”
Paul demonstrates that the legalist ironically doesn’t understand the law, for if Paul rebuilt what he tore down, namely, his efforts at justification by works of the law, then he would be a transgressor of the law (2:18). It is only because Paul died to the law, by the law, in the death of Christ, that he can live unto God by faith in Christ. Herein is the paradox, if you don’t die to the law as a means of justification, all your law-keeping is law-breaking, but if you die to the law as you are in union with Christ through faith, then you live in Christ, by faith, unto God.
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” —Galatians 1:11
Paul has already delivered a powerful one-two punch defending his apostleship and the gospel, now he finishes with a vicious uppercut. First comes the left jab in 1:10–24 where Paul demonstrates that his gospel did not come from or through men but through Christ. Paul didn’t get his gospel from Jerusalem to distort it. Second, Paul follows with the right cross of 2:1–10 showing the unity of the apostolic gospel. Paul took his gospel to Jerusalem where they recognized it. Now, in 2:11–16 he finishes with a strong uppercut for the KO. Here, Paul demonstrates that his apostolic authority stands even over another apostle when their conduct is contrary to the gospel.
Paul isn’t throwing Peter under the bus out of envy to establish that he’s the better apostle. The point in this isn’t the supremacy of Paul over Peter, but the supremacy of the apostolic gospel even over those who are apostles.
That this is so is evident in that our text opens not by contrasting Paul with Peter, but Peter with Peter. The “but when Cephas” of v. 11 is first in contrast to the “and when… Cephas” of v. 9. The contrast is between Peter as an apostle of the gospel and Peter’s behavior as a sinner saved by grace. Luther comments, “The apostles were not superior to us in anything except in their apostolic office. We have the same gifts they had, namely, the same Christ, Baptism, Word, and forgiveness of sins. They needed all this no less than we do; they were sanctified and saved by all this just as we are.”
Paul has already placed himself under the same standard in 1:8. The gospel is supreme, I don’t care who you are. And by the gospel, Paul has centrally in mind justification by faith alone. It isn’t Peter that Paul knocks out here, but the damnable teaching of salvation by works of law rather than faith in Christ alone.
“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the litter up of mine head.’ ” —Augustine, The City of God