From the Head to the Heart (Galatians 4:12–20)

“Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” —Galatians 4:12

Paul now turns from the head to the heart. He has presented arguments to the Galatian’s mind, now he pleas with their hearts. In appealing to their heart, he pours out his own.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, perhaps the greatest expositor of the 19th century wrote, 

“We must always realize, when we talk to others, that the heart is never to be approached directly. I go further, the will is never to be approached directly either. This is a most important principle to bear in mind both in personal dealings and in preaching. The heart is always to be influenced through the understanding—the mind, then the heart, then the will.”

To lean on the emotions without any appeal to the mind is to manipulate. Watch the news, a commercial, or a political debate and you will recognize this tactic. The last thing many want you to do is think.

Is Paul now trying to manipulate their feelings, albeit for a good purpose? No, what Lloyd-Jones said was one shouldn’t appeal to the heart directly. This is not the same as saying that one shouldn’t appeal to the heart at all. Lloyd-Jones admired Jonathan Edwards. Lloyd-Jone’s preaching echoed the sentiment of Edwards, 

“I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.”

This is the apostle who commands us to rejoice always, but he also always gives us something to rejoice about. When Paul makes this appeal to their heart, the appeal is built on the arguments he’s laid down up to this point.

Don’t mistake Paul’s appeal to be completely personal. This personal appeal isn’t personal. As Paul argued for his apostleship for the sake of the gospel in chapter 2, now he appeals to them concerning their esteem for him in relation to the gospel. Previously they had received Paul as an angel, as Christ himself. This is because he was a messenger, an apostle of Christ. They esteemed him upon the basis of truth. Paul sought for Christ to be formed in them through the truth.

The false teachers however seem to be unselfish. They make much of the Galatians. But they only do so because they want to be made much of. We have all met the person who liberally gives out compliments, but only because they want them back. Their generosity is an expression of greed. In false teachers this is often hidden behind a veil of talk of God, others, and religion. They lay the icing on thick trying to hide their bad cake.

Paul may seem self-centered whereas the false teachers dote on the Galatians, but the opposite is true. Paul longs for Christ to be formed in them. The false teachers only want to boast in their flesh (Galatians 6:12–13). Paul’s labors, arguments, and pleas are centered on the gospel, and this is why they are truly loving. It is the false teachers who wish to manipulate by their flattery.

The Shocking How of a Shocked How (Galatians 3:8–11)

“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” —Galatians 4:8–10

Here, Paul is shocked that those who were once the lowest of slaves but who have become sons of the highest of kings, would turn back to their slavery. But just as shocking is the how of this how. How is it that these sons are turning back to slavery to the “elemental spirits of this world”? How is it that these former idolators are returning to the bondage of those that are not gods (cf. Deuteronomy 32:17)? By observing days and months and seasons and years.

The context of Galatians insists we understand these to be the Jewish Sabbath and Feasts. These are part of those works of the law wherein they were seeking to stand just before God (Galatians 2:15). The law is a pedagogue meant to bring sinners to Christ (Galatians 3:24–26). To return to the law from Christ is to swim against the current towards death. To turn from Christ back to the law is to turn from the law as it is of God, to a perversion of the law that is of demons. Luther comments,

“Whoever falls from the doctrine of justification is ignorant of God and is an idolater. Therefore it is all the same whether he then returns to the Law or to the worship of idols; it is all the same whether he is called a monk or a Turk or a Jew… For once this doctrine undermined, nothing more remains but sheer error, hypocrisy, wickedness, and idolatry, regardless of how great the sanctity appears on the outside.

…There is no middle ground between human working and the knowledge of Christ; if this knowledge is obscured, it does not matter whether you become a monk or a heathen afterwards.”

To the Jews who insisted that they were the children of Abraham and that God was their father, but who rejected Jesus, Jesus said, 

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:42–47).

The highest moral efforts, devoid of Christ, are nothing more than slavery to demons.

When It Hurts to Say “Father” (Galatians 4:1–7)

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” —Galatians 4:4–6 (ESV)

Here we have a double sending by the Father. First, He sends His Son, then He sends the Spirit of His Son. He not only sends His Son that we might be sons; He then sends the Spirit of the Son that we might know and enjoy our sonship. 

“Father,” we cannot say it too often, but surely we say it too frivolously. We must not forget what the Father gave, what the Son paid, and what the Sprit testifies of that we might address the Holy God of heaven as “Father.”

Unfortunately, for many in these fatherless times, the term causes them to cry not in joy but in pain. If so, know that the pain is so intense because “father” is meant to mean so much. Contrary to the philosophers of our age, God is not a construct of our father pain. Douglas Wilson writes, “We do not project our ideas of fatherhood up onto the big screen of the heavens. No, God’s ultimate idea of fatherhood is projected onto the little screens that each of us carries around.” Any pain we might associate with God the Father as Father is because we’ve turned the projector around so that it’s blinding our eyes. We’re not meant to project our earthly father’s image up, but our heavenly Father’s image down. In his work on the Lord’s prayer, R.C. Sproul wrote:

“I know people who struggle to address God as Father. People have said to me, ‘I can hardly bear to say it, because my earthly father was a cruel and insensitive person.’ People have told me of instances in which their fathers committed child abuse, and they have asked me: ‘After that experience, how could I possibly address God as Father? The word is repugnant to me.’ I can understand that reaction. I usually acknowledge that what makes the pain and torment they bear in their psyches so severe is the fact that these things didn’t happen at the hands of a next-door neighbor, an uncle, or someone else—it was from their father. Nature itself teaches that they rightfully should expect much more from their earthly fathers than they have received.”

Father pain does testify to our heavenly Father. The stinging void says something was meant to be that isn’t as hunger speaks to food. Saints, the one you cry out to as “Father,” is the one who sent His Son so that we might be adopted as sons. The one you cry out to as “Father,” is the one who sent the Spirit of His Son, that we might know and enjoy our sonship. Can we not then reason as Paul? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Why then the Law? (Galatians 3:19–25)

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“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.

Looking for God’s Jewels Outside their Setting

wedding-ring-1556673-1280x864Bible 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.

How Foolish Are You? (Galatians 3:1–5)

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. 

Law Judo against the Legalist (Galatians 2:17–21)

“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.