Sabbath School Lesson Commentary for Sabbath, 31 Dec 2011

Sabbath School Lesson Commentary for Sabbath, 31 Dec 2011

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But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Galatians 6:14

Paul has reached the end of his letter to the Galatians. He has a great burden for them that they may stay true to the gospel, so he has written in his own hand (most of his letters were written by scribes; he only wrote the greeting and postscript in his own hand to guard against forgery – see Romans 16:22, 1 Corinthians 16:21, 2 Thessalonians 3;17).

In this last passage, he emphasises the hallmarks of the true gospel; it is of divine origin, not human; its practice is spiritual, of the heart and spirit; and those who follow it are no longer citizens of the kingdom of this world, but are from above – citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And all this is made possible because of the Cross.

Verses 12, 13: External religion counts for nothing. God looks upon our hearts.

As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

External circumcision, the circumcision of the body was a sign given to the Israelites to remind them that true circumcision was the circumcision of the heart. The Spirit would give them victory over the flesh, that principle of sin that controls sinful mankind and is in opposition to God.

He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Romans 2:29

They were not willing to accept the offer of heart circumcision, as this would mean that they had to accept the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary in their behalf. To accept Christ’s death means that we have to acknowledge our own unrighteousness and that we are under the curse of God. We have to accept that Christ took upon Himself our curse, so that we might receive the blessing promised to faithful Abraham (Gal 3:13, 14), that He has died our death, that we might receive everlasting life, that He became the Son of Man, that we might become the sons of God. We must deny ourselves and humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God – this is regarded as ‘persecution for the Cross of Christ’ for many.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

This was not a problem confined to the Judaizers of Galatia. No, it is a universal problem, manifested throughout the ages and it will last until the end of time. Because the sinful, selfish and conceited heart of man finds it very difficult to acknowledge that he is need of anything. It is also seen in the church of Laodicea: ‘I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing...’ Rev 3:17.

It is much easier to put on an external superficial show of righteousness, do all the right things, get baptised, keep the Sabbath etc, but if it does not spring forth from a new creature, born of God and led by the Spirit, it counts for nothing in the eyes of God. It is but a ‘fair showing of the flesh’. You see, the flesh is condemned by God: ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ 1 Cor 15:50; but it will do anything to stay alive. It is perfectly willing to do outwards acts of goodness (self-righteousness) rather than submit to the righteousness of God (Rom 10:3). Because submitting to the gospel and the righteousness of God demands that we accept that we ‘are crucified with Christ and the life we live is no longer in the flesh’ but in the Spirit Galatians 2:20. The only thing that counts with God is the new creature made possible by the cross of Christ (Galatians 3:15).

Verses 14: Our only glory and boasting is in the Cross of Christ.

The true follower of Christ will always boast in the cross. He has realised that without God, he is indeed ‘nothing’ Gal 6:3. There is nothing in him to boast of; indeed all the wonderful things he may have achieved in his sinful flesh, he sees for what it really is – the fair showing of the flesh, which are but filthy rags and dung (Isa 64:6, Phil 3:8). Without God, he was the enemy, destined for eternal death. And so, like Paul, he determines not to know anything but Christ and Him crucified; he determines not to boast in anything but Christ and Him crucified. For all that will last to eternity in our lives is the grace of God revealed in Christ Jesus at Calvary – His blood that cleanses us from all sin, that satisfies the Father and shuts the mouth of Satan; His cross where the Christian is crucified to the world and world to the Christian; His resurrection life that is given to all who believe; the in-dwelling Spirit to produce the very righteousness of God in the life of the believer.

Thus says the LORD: “ Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me,
That I am the LORD, exercising loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. Jeremiah 9:23, 24

Our glory lies in understanding and knowing God. The supreme demonstration of the love, justice and righteousness of God is seen at Calvary.

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Galatians 6:14

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.1 Cor 2:1, 2

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me”. Luke 9:23

Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin... Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:6, 11

I assure you by the pride which I have in you in [your fellowship and union with] Christ Jesus our Lord, that I die daily [I face death every day and die to self]. 1 Cor 15:31 (Amplified)

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. 2 Cor 5:14, 15

The true follower of Christ daily acknowledges what the cross of Christ has done for him. He recognises that he has died ‘in Christ’ to his old life of sin and he presents himself to God daily as alive from the dead, so that God may work out His perfect will in him (Rom 6:13, 12:1, 2, 2 Cor 5:14, 15).

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:4-11

Verse 14: whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

The Cross of Christ is the gateway between the old world and the new, between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven. We enter the kingdom of this world and become sons of Adam by birth. We leave the kingdom of this world by death – the mighty death of Christ. And we enter the new kingdom, the kingdom of heaven by new birth, born again of the Spirit (John 3:6, Colossians 1:12-14) and become the sons of God.

So, though we still live in the world system that is under the rule of Satan, we are no longer ruled by him. We are still differentiated in this world by our gender, our race, our ethnicity, our class and professions, but they have no place in the kingdom of heaven, where we are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28), and where God is all in all. Like Christ, as we acknowledge the reality of His Cross in our lives daily, we are ‘put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit’ 1 Peter 3:18.

So we glory in the Cross because we have passed from death to life, we are no longer part of the world system that is under condemnation, but we are sons and daughters of God and shall abide forever.

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.
And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 1 John 5:19, 20 whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. Since we still live in this world, this means practically that there must be separation from the world and detachment from the things of this world.

The walls of Jerusalem (Isaiah, Nehemiah) were a symbol of the walls of salvation, but they also symbolised the separation of God’s people from the world. We are called by God to go out in love and preach, teach and witness to the gospel to a world lost in sin. So we must go forth as salt and light and yet be separated from the world in principle, i.e. we do not live by the principles of the world. So we resort neither to ascetism nor to worldliness.

In the last days, God describes 2 cities; one is the ‘great’ city of Babylon (Rev 18:2), the other is the ‘holy city’ of Jerusalem (Rev 21:2). What do you seek for – greatness or holiness? That will tell you where your heart is – in this world or in heaven. The world always seeks for greatness; God seeks holiness. And He promises that He Himself will make us holy (Eph 5:27, Rev 21:2).

Verse 15: The New Creation

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.

God is not looking for better men and women; He wants a new creation. Everything that is of the old creation, the old creature, is under the sentence of eternal death. God wants men and women who will humble themselves to the death of the Cross, and thereby become new men and new women, sons and daughters of God, with new hearts and a new spirit, and a new name written in heaven.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Ezekiel 36:26, 27

Three times in his letters Paul makes this statement: ‘neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything’.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. Galatians 6:15

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. Galatians 5:6

Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 1 Corinthians 7:19

Do you see the relationship between these 3 verses?

Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, because it is corruptible (John 3:5, 6; 1 Cor 15:50).

But God’s new creation can, for it :

Is born of the Spirit.

Lives by faith in God’s promises. It is the faith of Abraham who ‘did not waver at the promises of God through unbelief’ Rom 4:20

Such faith trusts in God to work out His righteousness in the life, manifested as the keeping of His commandments and the love of God poured out in the heart and to all mankind. This love of God is the true fulfilling of the law.

God is waiting for a people who like Paul, say: ‘we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ Phil 3:3.

Such a people will allow the Cross of Christ to do its work daily in their lives. By faith, they live as dead to the principles of the world and alive to God. By faith, they believe the promises of God that He, through His Spirit is making them holy. It is of them that the 3rd angel of Revelation 14 says: ‘These are they that have the faith of Jesus and keep the commandments of God.’ Like Christ, they refuse to do anything out of themselves but only speak and act in submission to the Spirit’s leading. As they do this, they will bear much fruit and glorify their Father in heaven. This is the light that will lighten the whole earth with glory (Rev 18:1).

Verse 16: And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, even the Israel of God.

All who walk by this rule are the true Israel of God, spiritual sons of Abraham and partake with him of the promise of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

They will enjoy God’s mercy and live at peace with God and with their fellow-believers.

If we as a people are not enjoying the mercy of God and peace among ourselves, we need to ask ourselves the question, ‘Is this because I am not following the rule (canon) of God?’ outlined by Paul in the letter to the Galatians.

Verse 17: From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.

In Romans times, slaves were branded by their owners. Paul is saying to us, ‘I am now a slave of Christ’. Can we say the same? Are we slaves to the world, its lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life... 1 John 2:15-17’? Or have we let the cross do its work in our lives, and become slaves of God, with our fruit unto holiness (Rom 6:22)?

Verse 18: Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

God’s grace chose us for eternal life before time began (Titus 1:2), chose us for salvation and holiness before the foundation of the earth (Eph 1:4), made that salvation possible through the life, death, resurrection and intercession of His Son, Christ Jesus.

Today, God seeks to manifest His grace in the lives of all who follow Him. He can and will do it in the lives of all who allow His Spirit to live and work in and through their spirits (Proverbs 20:27, Job 32:8, John 4:23, 24). This is what God will do for those who allow His Spirit to live and work in their spirit, the inner man; He will fill us with all the fullness of God:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height; to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

Summary of the Letter to the Galatians:

‘We have Christ through His apostles to teach us, Christ through His cross to save us and Christ through His Spirit to sanctify us. This in a nutshell is the message of the Epistle to the Galatians and indeed of Christianity itself’. John Stott – Galatians.

I take, O cross, thy shadow

For my abiding place;

I ask no other sunshine than

The sunshine of His face;

Content to let the world go by,

To know no gain nor loss;

My sinful self my only shame,

My glory all the cross.



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