Writ Large (Galatians 6:11–18)

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“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:11–14).

“My Paul, what large handwriting you have!”

“The better to…?”

What is Paul hankering to draw the Galatians attention to? Some hypothesize that these “large letters” relate to Paul’s comment in 4:14–15 concerning the Galatians out of sympathy plucking their eyes out for him. They speculate that Paul had poor eyesight. Some will even surmise that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a “thorn” in the eye. But I take the eye-plucking to be metaphorical and believe there is a clearer and more satisfying answer. To see it, let’s look at a couple of other instances where Paul expressly takes up the pen in his letters.

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Corinthians 16:21–23).

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18).

In both instances, these are the last sentences of their respective letters. Why does Paul explain to his audience that he is writing the concluding blessing of his own letter? Near the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans we read, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord” (Romans 16:22). Paul, like many in his day, wrote his letter using an amanuensis, a secretary. He dictated his letters, but then to authenticate them as genuine apostolic Pauline, he penned the closing benediction himself. Paul explains this in the conclusion of 2 Thessalonians.

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:17–18).

Once again, these are the last sentences of that letter. Normally, Paul picks up the pen near the very end of his letter and simply to authenticate them. Here, Paul picks up the pen much earlier and draws attention to the LARGENESS of his letters. Why? Because the bold and italics function were broken on his secretary’s quill. Because this whole letter is a howler, and Paul means to grab yet another octave and more volume. Paul does not whisper, “Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He shouts it!

The cross of Christ isn’t alternative fine print to the Christian life, it is the essential banner writ large over all of it.

Ridiculous Farmers (Galatians 6:6–10)

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“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” —Galatians 6:7–8

One of humanity’s highest sins is that of being a ridiculous farmer. The principle of sowing and reaping was sown in to the soil of creation at creation. It cannot be undone.

“And God said ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11–12).

You cannot sow peppers and reap watermelons. We try to mock God, but the joke ends up on us. But are we really so foolish? Yes! Men think you can plant a monkey and reap a man. Men think that if you sow a boy in just the right soil you can grow a woman. God is not mocked. It is man who looks ridiculous. A straight face doesn’t alter who the joke is on.

You cannot sow sin and reap life. God told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree he would surely die. We’ve been trying to eat what is forbidden ever since, expecting health and happiness. All sin is an attempted mockery of God. Ralph Venning quotes John Bunyan on this point before adding his own riff.

“In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love, as one writer prettily expresses this ugly thing. We may go on and say, it is the upbraiding of his providence (Psalm 50), the scoff of his promise (2 Peter 3:3-4), the reproach of his wisdom (Isaiah 29:16). And as is said of the Man of Sin (i.e. who is made up of sin) it opposes and exalts itself above all that is called God (and above all that God is called), so that it as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing itself as if it were God (2 Thessalonians 2. 4).”

Churches are full of such attempted mockery because they are full of sin yet full of promises of “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. The punchline will one day come, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” The seed packet may say “church,” but it is not God’s Word that is being sown. The tares may look like the wheat early on, but the proof is in the fruit; and though their beginnings look similar, their ends couldn’t be more different.

If all you sow are seeds of sin in the field of the flesh, don’t expect to partake of the inheritance of the saints growing in the fertile soil of the new earth where the weeds of sin are no more.

Why Fruit is Superior to Vegetables (Galatians 5:26–6:5)

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” —Galatians 5:13, 26

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In contrast to the commended humility of 5:13, we have the forbidden pride of 5:26. Pride is a failure to keep in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. Pride grows the opposite direction. Pride is a rotten onion. We’re after the sweet fruit of the Spirit, not the rotten vegetables of the flesh.

Pride is never private; it always goes public. Personal pride is social. You cannot sin the sin of pride unto yourself. We are limbs, which when bent in on self, lash out at others. John Stott rightly deduces that “our conduct toward others is determined by our opinion of ourselves.” If you are big on self you will be small on others.

There are two possibilities, two ways our pride could be expressed: provoking one another or envying one another. This is most illuminating and a needed corrective as to what we normally think of as pride. Biblically, there is strong pride, and then there is what John Piper calls “weak pride.” Pride can provoke with an upturned nose, or it can envy with downcast eyes. When pride feels superior, it provokes others. When pride feels inferior, it envies. As a wounded horse is still a horse, so wounded pride is still pride. It takes more than felt shame to turn pride into humility.

It isn’t wounded pride that leads to serving one another through love. Wounded pride will lead to envy. So then, the opposite of conceit isn’t self-contempt, but a contrite-confidence. We’re aiming at a service born out of freedom. Humility means that we bow our head before our Creator, but then we lift it before man, though not with upturned noses. We were once slaves bound in sin and under the law. By sovereign effectual grace we’ve been made sons. In our freedom, we now walk in the Spirit, seeking to love our brothers and neighbors.

Our confidence isn’t in ourselves, but an assurance of who we are in Christ.
 If we are finding our identity in Christ, this is what it will look like.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves [the idea isn’t to loath self, but esteem others]. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” 
(Philippians 2:1–8).

It is from the position of freedom and assurance and comfort, not self-loathing, that humble service of our brothers grows. And if Jesus washed His disciples’ dirty feet, how can we not serve our brother through love?

Not Stumbling on Keeping in Step (Galatians 5:17–25)

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” —Galatians 5:17–25

What does it mean to walk by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to keep in step with the Spirit? Evangelicals have fumbled the answer by trying to privatize spirituality.

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When the worship leader works up the emotions, with the room is dark and isolating, and you’re told to close your eyes so that it is just you and God—this is thought spiritual. But as C.S. Lewis warns, “let us beware of the ambiguity in the word spiritual. …There is spiritual evil as well as spiritual good. The worst sins of men are spiritual.”

What I have just described has more in common with pagan spirituality than it does Christianity. The Scriptures commend us to address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Spiritual songs are to be sung to God and to one another.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 11–14 Mark Ashton comments, “It is clear from these chapters that Paul’s main concern was how the Corinthian Christians were treating one another and outsiders when they met, not how they were treating God—because how they were treating one another was how they were treating God! To concentrate on getting so absorbed with God that we cease to notice those around us during a church service is not perhaps as spiritual as it might seem. This was the very thing against which Paul warned the Corinthians. The more truly they focused on God, the more aware they would actually become of one another.”

So, again, what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? It is not some mystical thing in which we become Christian wizards, wowing others with our advanced use of the force. The Spirit is first focused on Christ, and because this is so, anyone who is in step with the Spirit will love Christ, and in loving Christ, they will love what He loves, the church.

You know you’ve met a spiritual person, spiritual in the good sense, when you walk away, not simply impressed with their personal piety, but also with their selfless love for the saints.

 

On Avoiding the Starboard Side by Jumping off the Port Side (Galatians 5:13–15)

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“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. …For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” —Galatians 5:1, 13

In standing firm and not submitting we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that defending the north side of the fort is the same thing as defending the fort. What is most important is the freedom stood in, not the legalism stood against. If you make standing firm against legalism on the north your only concern, you’ll be blindsided out of the south by libertinism.

In standing firm against legalism, it is easy to fall backward into libertinism or antinomianism—(anti: against; nomos: the law). Luther colorfully said, “The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can’t help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil’s.” The world is doomed to fall off one side or the other. The saints can be taught to ride. They can learn to run well and walk by the Spirit down the straight and narrow. Even so, we, the saints, never keep it perfectly between the lines and it is easy to drift. Our ears must be tuned to the Word so that we hear the warning rattle of the rumble strip as we’re making our way to the ditch.

The danger stands not only on both sides, but within. The flesh wants to drift from the center of gospel freedom. Likely, you recognize your steering has an alignment issue towards the left or the right. Which son are you? The older brother or the prodigal? The legalist or the libertine? It’s good that you’re aware of your bent, but you must also beware of the danger of overcorrecting. It is in this letter, containing Paul’s sharpest rebuke of legalism, that we find this warning concerning antinomianism. The recovering legalist shouldn’t reason from grace to sin. “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:10).

Jumping off the starboard side is not a good way to prevent falling off the port side. If standing firm against legalism is your sole concern, you’ll fall off the other side. The point of standing firm isn’t simply to avoid falling off of one side of the boat. Our chief concern shouldn’t be what we are standing firm against, but what we are standing firm in.

We are standing in the gospel, in freedom, to by the Spirit, unto God and in obedience to Him, love our neighbor. Stand firm. Do not submit. You’re free! Use that freedom to by the Spirit, love your neighbor for the glory of Christ.

Running Well by Standing Fast (Galatians 5:7–12)

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” —Galatians 5:7–9

The race of faith is one in which if you are cut off, you take the blame. If you’re tripped, you’re at fault for not being ready. If you’re not running well, it’s because you’re not standing fast (Galatians 5:1). Enemy interference is expected. This is no gentleman’s race. It is a race for warriors.

The word translated “hindered” can carry the connotation of being cut off. It’s hard to avoid the double entendre. By circumcision the Judaizers were trying to cut the Galatians off in the race of faith. The knight cannot reason that he committed treason because his opponent had a bigger sword.

If you are duped by a false teacher, the blame falls on you. If you eat the apple, you cannot blame the serpent. Tolerated lies are soon digested. Stand firm. Do not submit. Give no quarter.

Rest assured, the serpent and his spawn have been crushed under the crucified foot of Christ. Our Lord will manifest this victory when He returns in glory and the serpent is crushed under the feet of the saints (Romans 16:20). But the saints are those who persevere in the faith. So, paradoxical as it may seem, if you are to run well, you must stand fast.

Free Spirit vs. Freedom of the Spirit (Galatians 5:1–6)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” —Galatians 5:1

If justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the central doctrine of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, why is it hailed as the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty? Because as 5:1 demonstrates, justification by faith is bound to freedom as an attempt at justification by works is bound to slavery. Here we have the central commands of this letter: “stand firm” and “do not submit.” These are really one command. Standing firm is not submitting; not submitting is standing firm. This imperative flows from this gospel indicative, “for freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ, in whom we have this freedom, is laid hold of through faith; the Christ grasped through faith is our righteousness.

What is freedom? Certainly it is freedom from something. It is freedom from the law’s demands (3:23), the law’s curse (3:10), sin (3:22), and the elemental spirits of this world (4:3–9). We are freed from these things, but what are we freed to? Is our freedom only negative?

What is freedom? Consider this, one of the most famous works of Jonathan Edwards is his treatise The Freedom of the Will. One of the most famous of Martin Luther is The Bondage of the Will. What might surprise some is how harmonious the two are. It is all a question of what is meant by freedom. Luther, ever the blunt one, says that the will is in bondage to sin (i.e. John 8:34, Romans 6:17). Edwards, in his more sophisticated style, first says that the will freely does whatever it wants. The problem is, the only thing fallen man want’s to do is sin. Fallen man freely does as he wants, but his want-to is enslaved to sin. So, as Calvin says, to insist that such a will is “free” is to use a big word for a small thing.

What Edwards demonstrates is that being free to do whatever I want to do isn’t truly freedom. Yet, this is exactly what our modern, individualistic connotation of freedom is. As fallen a man, being free to do whatever you want is bondage to self—a self who is a damned fool. As a fish is free in water, so we are free when we bow to the Sovereign who is life, goodness, beauty, and truth. When a creature tries to play creator and cast off God’s Lordship, he embraces death, evil, ugliness, and lies. He embraces bondage. Bondage willingly embraced is the worst kind of bondage. The soul might be free when the wrists are shacked, but, though the wrists are unshackled, they are not free if the soul is chained.

So again, what is freedom? At its core is the redemption of Christ purchasing us unto Himself, so that we are counted righteous in Him, reconciled to God, and adopted as sons with all the benefits and promises thereof. But central to this freedom as Paul now wants to work it out is life in the Spirit. When Paul began laying down his defense of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in chapter 3 he asked, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Paul will bring this full circle in 5:16–18.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

What beautiful irony: walking by your own desires is bondage whereas walking by the Spirit is freedom. In the former we are under the law and break it. In the latter, we are free from the law and keep it. What is this life in the Spirit? It is living unto God by God. It is living as a creature in love and dependence on the Creator. It is not a life that strives for justification. It is a life that stems from justification.