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The true Church of our Lord Jesus Christ has always had to endure persecution from those who didn’t understand or believe the Gospel. Some of this abuse has come because of the wrongful actions of those who are or merely call themselves Christians, and as such can be thought of as just retribution. But most of it has come because of the lying accusations of Satan, and thus the misunderstanding of the people that he has brought under his influence; this is the thought we wish to explore in this article. We will begin with an examination of three chapters from the book of Galatians, and proceed from there.
GALATIANS 3:1-29.... O you poor and silly and thoughtless and unreflecting and senseless Galatians! Who has fascinated or bewitched or cast a spell over you, unto whom--right before your very eyes--Jesus Christ (the Messiah) was openly and graphically set forth and portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the [Holy] Spirit as the result of obeying the Law and doing its works, or was it by hearing [the message of the Gospel] and believing [it]? [Was it from observing a law of rituals or from a message of faith?] Are you so foolish and so senseless and so silly? Having begun [your new life spiritually] with the [Holy] Spirit, are you now reaching perfection [by dependence] on the flesh? Have you suffered so many things and experienced so much all for nothing (to no purpose)--if it really is to no purpose and in vain? Then does He Who supplies you with His marvelous [Holy] Spirit and works powerfully and miraculously among you do so on [the grounds of your doing] what the Law demands, or because of your believing in and adhering to and trusting in and relying on the message that you heard?
The churches in Galatia had been infiltrated by Jews who taught them that Christians should obey and live by the Law. So Paul, being rightfully concerned about them, begins to explain to them the difference between the Law and Grace, and in the process he also shows us why these differences can and do lead to persecution for many Christians.
6Thus Abraham believed in and adhered to and trusted in and relied on God, and it was reckoned and placed to his account and credited as righteousness (as conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action). [Gen. 15:6.] Know and understand that it is [really] the people [who live] by faith who are [the true] sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify (declare righteous, put in right standing with Himself) the Gentiles in consequence of faith, proclaimed the Gospel [foretelling the glad tidings of a Savior long beforehand] to Abraham in the promise, saying, In you shall all the nations [of the earth] be blessed. [Gen. 12:3.] So then, those who are people of faith are blessed and made happy and favored by God [as partners in fellowship] with the believing and trusting Abraham. And all who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by all the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them. [Deut. 27:26.]
11Now it is evident that no person is justified (declared righteous and brought into right standing with God) through the Law, for the Scripture says, The man in right standing with God [the just, the righteous] shall live by and out of faith and he who through and by faith is declared righteous and in right standing with God shall live. [Hab. 2:4.] But the Law does not rest on faith [does not require faith, has nothing to do with faith], for it itself says, He who does them [the things prescribed by the Law] shall live by them [not by faith]. [Lev. 18:5.] Christ purchased our freedom [redeeming us] from the curse (doom) of the Law [and its condemnation] by [Himself] becoming a curse for us, for it is written [in the Scriptures], Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (is crucified); [Deut. 21:23.] To the end that through [their receiving] Christ Jesus, the blessing [promised] to Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, so that we through faith might [all] receive [the realization of] the promise of the [Holy] Spirit. To speak in terms of human relations, brethren, [if] even a man makes a last will and TESTAMENT (a merely human covenant), no one sets it aside or makes it void or adds to it when once it has been drawn up and signed (ratified, confirmed). Now the promises (covenants, agreements) were decreed and made to Abraham and his Seed (his Offspring, his Heir). He [God] does not say, And to seeds (descendants, heirs), as if referring to many persons, but, And to your Seed (your Descendant, your Heir), obviously referring to one individual, Who is [none other than] Christ (the Messiah). [Gen. 13:15; 17:8.]
17This is my argument: The Law, which began 430 years after the covenant [concerning the coming Messiah], does not and cannot annul the covenant previously established (ratified) by God, so as to abolish the promise and make it void. [Ex. 12:40.] For if the inheritance [of the promise depends on observing] the Law [as these false teachers would like you to believe], it no longer [depends] on the promise; however, God gave it to Abraham [as a free gift solely] by virtue of His promise. What then was the purpose of the Law? It was added [later on, after the promise, to disclose and expose to men their guilt] because of transgressions and [to make men more conscious of the sinfulness] of sin; and it was intended to be in effect until the Seed (the Descendant, the Heir) should come, to and concerning Whom the promise had been made. And it [the Law] was arranged and ordained and appointed through the instrumentality of angels [and was given] by the hand (in the person) of a go-between [Moses, an intermediary person between God and man]. Now a go-between (intermediary) has to do with and implies more than one party [there can be no mediator with just one person]. Yet God is [only] one Person [and He was the sole party in giving that promise to Abraham. But the Law was a contract between two, God and Israel; its validity was dependent on both]. Is the Law then contrary and opposed to the promises of God? Of course not! For if a Law had been given which could confer [spiritual] life, then righteousness and right standing with God would certainly have come by Law.
22But the Scriptures [picture all mankind as sinners] shut up and imprisoned by sin, so that [the inheritance, blessing] which was promised through faith in Jesus Christ (the Messiah) might be given (released, delivered, and committed) to [all] those who believe [who adhere to and trust in and rely on Him]. Now before the faith came, we were perpetually guarded under the Law, kept in custody in preparation for the faith that was destined to be revealed (unveiled, disclosed), so that the Law served[to us Jews] as our trainer [our guardian, our guide to Christ, to lead us] until Christ [came], that we might be justified (declared righteous, put in right standing with God) by and through faith. But now that the faith has come, we are no longer under a trainer (the guardian of our childhood). For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many [of you] as were baptized into Christ [into a spiritual union and communion with Christ, the Anointed one, the Messiah] have put on (clothed yourselves with) Christ. There is [now no distinction] neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ [are in Him Who is Abraham's Seed], then you are Abraham's offspring and [spiritual] heirs according to promise.
GALATIANS 4:1-31.... Now what I mean is that as long as the inheritor (heir) is a child and under age, he does not differ from a slave, although he is the master of all the estate; but he is under guardians and administrators or trustees until the date fixed by his father. So we [Jewish Christians] also, when we were minors, were kept like slaves under [the rules of the Hebrew ritual and subject to] the elementary teachings of a system of external observations and regulations. But when the proper time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born subject to [the regulations of] the Law, to purchase the freedom of (to ransom, to redeem, to atone for) those who were subject to the Law, that we might be adopted and have sonship conferred upon us [and be recognized as God's sons]. And because you [really] are [His] sons, God has sent the [Holy] Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba (Father)! Father!
7Therefore, you are no longer a slave (bond servant) but a son; and if a son, then [it follows that you are] an heir by the aid of God, through Christ. But at that previous time, when you had not come to be acquainted with and understand and know the true God, you [Gentiles] were in bondage to gods who by their very nature could not be gods at all [gods that really did not exist]. Now, however, that you have come to be acquainted with and understand and know [the true] God, or rather to be understood and known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly and worthless elementary things [of all religions before Christ came], whose slaves you once more want to become? You observe [particular] days and months and seasons and years! I am alarmed [about you], lest I have labored among and over you to no purpose and in vain.
12Brethren, I beg of you, become as I am [free from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and ordinances], for I also have become as you are [a Gentile]. You did me no wrong [in the days when I first came to you; do not do it now]. On the contrary, you know that it was on account of a bodily ailment that [I remained and] preached the Gospel to you the first time. And [yet] although my physical condition was [such] a trial to you, you did not regard it with contempt, or scorn and loathe and reject me; but you received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus [Himself]! What has become of that blessed enjoyment and satisfaction and self-congratulation that once was yours [in what I taught you and in your regard for me]? For I bear you witness that you would have torn out your own eyes and have given them to me [to replace mine], if that were possible. Have I then become your enemy by telling the truth to you and dealing sincerely with you?
17These men [the Judaizing teachers] are zealously trying to dazzle you [paying court to you, making much of you], but their purpose is not honorable or worthy or for any good. What they want to do is to isolate you [from us who oppose them], so that they may win you over to their side and get you to court their favor. It is always a fine thing [of course] to be zealously sought after [as you are, provided that it is] for a good purpose and done by reason of purity of heart and life, and not just when I am present with you!
19My little children, for whom I am again suffering birth pangs until Christ is completely and permanently formed (molded) within you, would that I were with you now and could coax you vocally, for I am fearful and perplexed about you! Tell me, you who are bent on being under the Law, will you listen to what the Law [really] says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondmaid and one by the free woman. [Gen. 16:15; 21:2,9.] But whereas the child of the slave woman was born according to the flesh and had an ordinary birth, the son of the free woman was born in fulfillment of the promise.
24Now all this is an allegory; these [two women] represent two covenants. one covenant originated from Mount Sinai [where the Law was given] and bears [children destined] for slavery; this is Hagar. Now Hagar is (stands for) Mount Sinai in Arabia and she corresponds to and belongs in the same category with the present Jerusalem, for she is in bondage together with her children. But the Jerusalem above ( the Messianic kingdom of Christ) is free, and she is our mother. For it is written in the Scriptures, Rejoice, O barren woman, who has not given birth to children; break forth into a joyful shout, you who are not feeling birth pangs, for the desolate woman has many more children than she who has a husband. [Isa. 54:1.] But we, brethren, are children [not by physical descent, as was Ishmael, but] like Isaac, born in virtue of promise. Yet [just] as at that time the child [of ordinary birth] born according to the flesh despised and persecuted him [who was born remarkably] according to [the promise and the working of] the [Holy] Spirit, so it is now also. [Gen. 21:9.] But what does the Scripture say? Cast out and send away the slave woman and her son, for never shall the son of the slave woman be heir and share the inheritance with the son of the free woman. [Gen. 21:10.] So, brethren, we [who are born again] are not children of a slave woman [the natural], but of the free [the supernatural].
GALATIANS 5:1-18.... In [this] freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off]. Notice, it is I, Paul, who tells you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no profit (advantage, avail) to you [for if you distrust Him, you can gain nothing from Him]. I once more protest and testify to every man who receives circumcision that he is under obligation and bound to practice the whole of the Law and its ordinances. If you seek to be justified and declared righteous and to be given a right standing with God through the Law, you are brought to nothing and so separated (severed) from Christ. You have fallen away from grace (from God's gracious favor and unmerited blessing).
What Paul is also declaring is that anything, not only the Law, that we attempt to substitute for Christ to give us a right standing with God will also separate us from Christ and the salvation that He purchased for us through His sacrifice. There are numerous substitutes for Christ being used by large segments of Christendom that needs to be as closely examined and explained as Paul is doing here concerning the Law. This would require a large book and probably much more, but we can only point out the need and the method in this short article.
5For we, [not relying on the Law but] through the [Holy] Spirit's [help], by faith anticipate and wait for the blessing and good for which our righteousness and right standing with God [our conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action, causes us] to hope. For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love.
7You were running the race nobly. Who has interfered in (hindered and stopped you from) your heeding and following the Truth? This [evil] persuasion is not from Him Who called you [Who invited you to freedom in Christ]. A little leaven (a slight inclination to error, or a few false teachers) leavens the whole lump [it perverts the whole conception of faith or misleads the whole church]. [For my part] I have confidence [toward you] in the Lord that you will take no contrary view of the matter but will come to think with me. But he who is unsettling you, whoever he is, will have to bear the penalty. But, brethren, if I still preach circumcision [as some accuse me of doing, as necessary to salvation], why am I still suffering persecution? In that case the cross has ceased to be a stumbling block and is made meaningless (done away).
In the above emphasized portion we are reminded that we are saved by faith alone, and that if anything is added it will destroy the very concept of salvation by faith. Paul illustrates this by saying if he went along with the Judaizing teachers and preached circumcision as necessary for salvation that these teachers would cease to persecute him, but it would also annul and make meaningless the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf. This is the very situation that Christians face in this day and age, just go along with the humanistic ideas of the false teachers and they will leave us alone. The result would also be the same as above, by doing so we would be destroying or nullifying the Gospel.
12I wish those who unsettle and confuse you would [go all the way and] cut themselves off! For you, brethren, were [indeed] called to freedom; only [do not let your] freedom be an incentive to your flesh and an opportunity or excuse [for selfishness], but through love you should serve one another. For the whole Law [concerning human relationships] is complied with in the one precept, You shall love your neighbor as [you do] yourself. [Lev. 19:18.] But if you bite and devour one another [in partisan strife], be careful that you [and your whole fellowship] are not consumed by one another.
16But I say, walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh (of human nature without God). For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other], so that you are not free but are prevented from doing what you desire to do. But if you are guided (led) by the [Holy] Spirit, you are not subject to the Law.
Paul in explaining the differences between Law and Grace (Gal. 3:1-5:18), has set the stage for our considering the reasons Christians have and continue to be persecuted.
As we have seen in this portion of Galatians, God’s promise of salvation by faith was given to Abraham 430 years before the Law was given to Moses, and the Law was given to guide Abraham’s descendants to have faith in Christ Jesus who became our Savior about 1475 years after the Law was given. The allegory that Paul speaks about in Gal. 4:24-31, reveals to us that Abraham had two sons, one a natural son, the other a miraculous son of promise. The natural son represents not only the Law, as Paul explains, but also any other supposed religious way of salvation, and any such way is not to have any inheritance, share or part with the miraculous son of promise – that is Jesus. The story is clear, other religions are not to have any part with Christianity, they are to be sent away or discarded as were Hagar and Ishmael.
Whenever the nation of Israel or the Church has mingled with or been affected by other religions the results have always been disastrous, resulting in the judgement of God upon them for disobeying the instructions to remain separate and pure. How then do you think God will react when His people become involved with groups such as the Ecumenical Movement, the Interfaith Movement or the One-world Religious Movement? Christians shouldn’t have any thing to do with movements or groups such as these, but when we are faithful to Christ and refuse to go along with them how do you suppose these groups will react to us? Are you beginning to see why Christians have always been persecuted as was Isaac by Ishmael? "Yet [just] as at that time the child [of ordinary birth] born according to the flesh despised and persecuted him [who was born remarkably] according to [the promise and the working of] the [Holy] Spirit, so it is now also" (Gal. 4:29).
The Roman Empire persecuted the early Christians mainly because they refused to participate in their religious activities and worship the gods of the empire; the global system being formed today will do the same thing for the same reasons. Jesus warned His disciples, "If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world [no longer one with it], but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you" (Jn. 15:18-19). On another occasion He told the brothers of His earthly family, "The world cannot [be expected to] hate you, but it does hate Me because I denounce it for its wicked works and reveal that its doings are evil" (Jn. 7:7).
Therefore, we need to prepare ourselves and be ready to stand fast when opposition comes, and at the same time we need to warn nonbelievers who are presented with the Gospel that their being faithful to Christ may very well put them in a position to face increasing persecution as this world becomes more and more united against Christ. The opposition that we face is trying to silence us by passing laws to restrict us and eventually to force us to join them or suffer the consequences. In the not-to-distant future it will probably be against the law to proclaim that "Jesus said to him, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me" (John 14:6).