Thursday, January 14, 2010

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 24

It's been quite a while since I posted an entry in my "Galatians Journal." Part of the reason I've held off is I was planning on presenting some of this material as part of a teaching message for my church. Well, I did that last night, so now I can resume sharing my notes on Galatians without "letting the cat out of the bag," so to speak.

Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus” Paul has spend a great deal of space discussing the issues of slavery in this letter in Galatians 4:8-11 and 4:21-31. But there, the emphasis was on slavery to sin, or slavery to the law. Here, he says we “belong” to Christ. In other passages elsewhere in his writings, Paul connects the concept of slavery to our relationship with Jesus. In Romans 6, he says that we have been set free from sin, and are “slaves to righteousness.” (v.18). In Romans 6:22, he makes a similar statement, that we are free from sin, and are now “slaves of God.” Ephesians 6:6 gives instruction to slaves – literal, real-life slaves who are also believers – to obey their earthly masters even when they aren’t watching, as if “slaves to Christ.” Paul is plainly stating that we belong to Jesus – implying that we are His property, but by NOT using a comparison to the concept of slavery here, the sense is this is something voluntary on our part. Not the issue of ownership of our selves -- that is established as a fact -- but that we have willingly assented to it. I suppose we are indeed slaves of Christ, but we have agreed to those terms. There is also an implication of benevolence on the part of our master!

“have crucified the sinful nature” Paul has used crucifixion as the model for the transformation of our nature in our relationship with Jesus in Galatians 2:20. There the emphasis was on the death of our entire being (our old nature) and that the life we lead now is no longer “us” – that is to say, our old nature – but its Jesus living in us. (I guess we really DO belong to Christ!). The current verse focuses on crucifying or putting to death the sinful nature – the flesh, that which is in us that is opposed to God. But is there really a practical difference? In Galatians 2:20, Paul says “I am crucified with Christ,” here he says the sinful nature is crucified, but, really, before we came to Christ, all we had was a sinful nature. That concept has to die, regardless, if we are to live in Christ. And the death here is total – complete. One of the arguments emphasized by the Judiazers over and over again that Paul was making a case against the concept in this letter to the Galatians (as well as for the Pagan philosophers of the day) was there had to be rules, or the Law, in order to prevent unbridled passion from taking control. Paul, however, has also emphasized over and over that obedience to rules in and of itself leads to failure, in that the one who strives to obey a set of rules will ultimately fall short somewhere. In addition, the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Paul’s remedy for this is complete death in Christ. The verb tense used here is both past and perfect, to signify that the event is completed. It is impossible to die to sin gradually. Paul encourages us – no, he commands us – to accept our completed righteousness by faith, and learn to live accordingly, which is the whole point of the previous discussion in Galatians 5:19-23. One more thing – by using the term “crucify,” Paul means to do more than just emphasize a oneness with Christ in His death. It implies that this death of our sinful nature is the utter destruction of its power over us. It also implies that this death is attended with intense pain. No matter how we conceive it, the end of our sinful nature is painful. But the freedom in Christ that comes from it is worth it.

“with its passions and desires.” The word translated as “passions” here is rendered “affections” in the King James Version. The original Greek work implies suffering, misfortune, calamity, evil, and affliction. This is hard for our modern sensibilities to understand. But its like the title to the movie “The Passion of the Christ.” It is the enduring of suffering and affliction. This almost seems like the wrong word use here. We usually connect passion with sensuality or sexuality, or the unbridled commitment to something -- i.e. "a passion for gourmet food" -- and that appears to fit into the concept of “sinful nature” and “flesh.” Yet, if we give ourselves wholly over to “passion,” as is the case if we are indulging our flesh, it only leads to pain and suffering. This goes hand and with the word “desires” (translated as “lusts” in the King James), which means a craving, a longing, or a deep desire for what is forbidden. In other words, LUST. These are the things that are crucified.

Yet, I am sure that all of us struggle with the “acts of the sinful nature” which Paul discusses earlier in Galatians 5 all the time. Paul goes into a deeper analysis of this struggle in Romans chapters 6 through 8, and even here, where Paul presents the “Freedom” we have in Christ (Galatians 5:1) and the concept of walking/living in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) as a matter of fact, the underlying issue of a struggle is obvious – this is truly a death that compares with crucifixion! There will continue to be struggles as we walk in the newness of life in Christ. But these issues stem from our inability to grasp hold of this new life, of holding on to the Promise. We often make poor choices, or strive to achieve holiness by following the rules rather by living in the Spirit. Those kinds of choices are always before us, and dealing with it righteously, in Christ, in our freedom and concept of new creation, this is all part of the purpose for Paul writing this letter to the Galatians.

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