The Error of the Galatians
(The following article is from the book - " The Gospel Message " by Steve Bray.)  

Paul came to the Galatians with the indwelling life of Jesus Christ. He could say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal 2:20) He had received the life of promise. "It pleased reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles." (Gal. 1:15-16) The Gospel he preached actually worked. This is why he was so insistent that the Galatians adhere to his teachings.

The Galatians, however, were being turned from the true gospel message. Some false teachers had come to the church and were leading them into a "law keeping" form of salvation. This error had turned them away from a faith that depends on the Son to reveal His Kingdom-life of perfect love within the heart and thereby save them from their fallen nature.

There have always been people within the Lord's church who prefer the way of law because it permits them to save their flesh-life. It has become a stumbling block to both Jews and Gentiles alike. While they do not mind studying the Scriptures and committing themselves to many of its ways, they have generally been unwilling to die to their old self-originated form of life in order to find the Lord's Kingdom-life from heaven.

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me {the Messiah who has come to establish the eternal Kingdom-life of perfect love within the hearts of God's people}. But you are not willing to come to Me {through the cross} that you may have life {the divine life from heaven}. (John 5:39-40)

Once people in the church have seared over their conscious concerning the deeper things of God, it is possible to find a sense of fulfillment in a law-keeping form of righteousness. Like the Pharisees, these people end up choosing certain "standards" that are within the capacity of their human efforts. We will then find them insisting that holiness consists of conforming to the laws they have accepted.

It takes pride to think we have the ability to produce a right kind of life. This pride will also tend to foster a spirit that tends to judge others based on the righteousness we have developed for ourselves. However, if we truly compare ourselves to Jesus, we will begin to see how there is still an evil spirit within our heart that has kept us separated from our Lord's meek and loving nature.

People who depend on their own efforts to keep the law actually separate themselves from the life that comes from Christ. "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:4) This separation from grace will prevent the heart from becoming perfect in love.

The Divine love that suffers long, is gentle and will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoking flax, comes from the grace of God. You will find that law-keepers do not possess this grace. There will be a hardness in them that tends to condemn others for not living by the same standards.

People who have not entered into the Kingdom-life of perfect love that comes down from heaven cannot lead others into the Lord's saving life. While they may hold up many of the laws found in God's Word and expose people to the Scriptures, they never lead them into full salvation. Consequently, their converts eventually take on the same critical and condemning spirit.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell, as you are. (Matt. 23:15)

Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, nor will anyone hear His voice {a haranguing voice} in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench, till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust. (Matt. 12:18-21)

Again, perfect love does produce righteousness. It is able to reveal a standard of living that clearly comes from heaven. And those who live through it will reveal a light that shows justice breaking forth into victorious Christian living. In the sense that Jesus had compassion, it will show compassion for the multitudes it sees lost in sin. It is capable of expressing the truth with a real sense of mercy and concern for the hearer.

Give no offense...just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 10:32-11:1)

You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying... repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ...

And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God... For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock...

So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified... I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak... (Acts 20:18-35)

Paul knew that people who live by law would become "conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." (Gal. 5:26) He therefore said, "But if you bite and devour one another {with your unloving words}, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (Gal. 5:15) Do you criticize others {perhaps only in your thoughts and not openly} for not living as you do? If so, it is evidence you have developed your "own righteousness, which is of the law" and know nothing of "the righteousness which is from God by faith." (Phil. 3:9) When you live among law-keepers, you can expect others to criticize you for not following one of their standards. Everyone will have something they can use to judge others. Again, the perfect love of God will not be found in a church {or denomination, or any other religious organization} where people think that holiness consists of conforming to certain laws.

Whenever pastors and teachers display a severe and judgmental approach in pressing certain laws on others, it will become obvious how they have become "estranged from Christ" and "fallen from grace." (Gal 5:4) Their efforts to establish a form of righteousness through their own endeavors will result in a pride that separates them from the grace that supplies the heart with the Son's divine nature. God can only give His grace to the humble. (1 Pet. 5:5)

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits... A good tree cannot bear bad fruit... Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

People who have based their righteousness on keeping the law will not understand the Sabbath-rest of God where God's children "cease" from their own works. (Heb. 4:9-10) They are unwilling to count everything from the self-life as loss and become nothing in themselves so that Christ may become "all in all" and be the source of their spiritual life. They are still looking to have some of the glory.

Again, the way of finding divine life from heaven by following Christ through the cross, remains a real stumbling block to people who insist on living by law. Rather than glorying in what can be received from the Son by taking His way of the cross, they glory in the righteousness that comes from keeping the law. But regardless of how far they progress, people who live by their own human efforts {in the same sense that Abraham tried to help God produce the "life of promise" through his own efforts - but instead produced Ishmael, a life that ultimately had to be cast out} will not have the capacity to "put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph. 4:24) They cannot become perfect in love and mercy like their heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)

We need to realize that even Jesus, while living in a mortal body, did not produce the Kingdom-life by His own efforts. Everything He did came from the Father through faith. He said, "The Son can do nothing of Himself." (John 5:19) This literally means that He did not do anything "out from" Himself.

Jesus did not live by a self-originated form of life. While He was required to surrender His will to the will of the Father in order to remain free from sin, and He had to choose to submit to truth, He was dependent on the Father to manifest the "light of life" from heaven through Him. And in this same sense He says to us, "Without Me you can do nothing."

This does not mean that we will not find people working hard for the Lord. We will find them doing many things in the name of Jesus. But these works do not necessarily reveal the divine life of perfect love. And without this revelation of perfect love through our daily life, our works will remain valueless. (1 Cor. 13:3) They are called "dead works" because they do not reveal the divine life from heaven.

Human benevolent works are unable to further the kingdom of God because they will inevitably be overshadowed by the darkness that comes from a self-centered nature. A life that is still centered around self will display various signs of selfishness, and this corruption will divert others away from the Lord's Kingdom-life of promise. The disciple will find reasons to excuse himself from pressing forward through the cross and into Christ's life of perfect love as long as he still senses that his teacher is living for himself. And so, because of his opportunity to see the true meaning of light from his reading of the Scriptures, he becomes "twice as much a son of hell" as he was before being converted.

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ {and they have seen what His life is like}, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Pet. 2:20-21)

Again, there is a vast difference between the works that man does as a benevolent person and the work that God does through people who have been perfected in love. The work that is accomplished in God's kingdom is intended to have a supernatural quality to it. There needs to be such a degree of selflessness revealed that others can plainly see how this "light of life" is coming from the Son of God in heaven.

But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God {through the Son's life of love}. (John 3:21 NIV)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay {weak mortal bodies} to show that this all-surpassing power {to live in perfect love} is from God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7 NIV)

There was a reason why Paul did not preach with "persuasive words of human wisdom." (1 Cor. 2:4-5) One cannot develop the Christian life in the same way that teachers of this world help people develop their lives. In the world, everyone must depend on his of her own efforts to raise themselves into a better life. In contrast, the simplest child of dependent faith can enter into a position that permits God to raise them into the highest levels of spiritual life in the kingdom of God. Paul therefore preached "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (v. 5)

Unfortunately, the Galatians had turned from this way of childlike faith in God's power and had begun to rely on their own strength to produce the "goal" of righteousness. (Gal. 3:3) And just as unfortunately, this has been the same error committed by many earnest Christians in the church today.

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like {dependent and trusting} little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:3)

We can only enter into the Kingdom-life of God through a childlike faith in the Lord. While we are required to meet His covenant conditions, which includes submitting to His teachings, this submission will never produce the life of heaven. Again, "Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life {the Kingdom-life of heavenly righteousness}, truly righteousness would have been by the law." (Gal. 3:21) Paul was trying to teach the Galatians to look to Christ as their only hope of truly enjoying the righteousness that exists within the kingdom of God.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes... For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last... (Rom. 1:16-17 NIV Emphasis added)

But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Rom. 3:21 NIV Emphasis added)

But whatever was to my profit {everything that led to a strict religious life} I now consider loss for the sake of Christ...that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phil. 3:7-9 NIV Emphasis added)

The granting of this righteousness that comes from Christ is an act of our Sovereign God that comes through a work of His grace, when the conditions are met. Again, meeting the conditions can only prepare the way that will lead to the life of promise. We receive this "gift" of true righteousness by receiving an "abundance of grace." Only in this way can we ever expect to "reign in life through...Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:17)

Paul uses Abraham, "the father of faith," as an example to distinguish the difference between the "way of faith" and "the way of human effort." He assures the Galatians that everyone who follows Abraham's way of faith will receive the long awaited "promise of the Father." "For if the inheritance {the life of promise} is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise." (Gal. 3:18) While the great saints of the Old Testament dispensation died in the faith without actually receiving the Kingdom-life of "promise" in this world (Heb. 11:39-40), they continued to walk in a justified state because they continued to submit to God's will as best they knew how while waiting on Him for the fulfillment.

Yes, they responded to the known will of God. But their hope of truly becoming righteous was in the coming Messiah. The law had revealed to them their need for a Savior who could deliver them from the law of sin and death and enable them to display the true righteousness and holiness that God had originally planned to reveal through His children. They had learned by their efforts to keep the law how this life could not be produced through human efforts.

"What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come..." (Gal. 3:19) Again, there needs to be some way to control the corruption that tends to rise out of the fallen nature. But law-keeping could never produce the divine life of God. (Gal. 3:21) The Kingdom-life of perfect love would need to be received from the Son of God by dependent faith.

Abraham's personal life provides a spiritual example to demonstrate this principle. God promised to manifest a son through him. Because his wife was past the age when she could bear children, it was impossible for them to produce the child through their own works {efforts}. The life of the "son" would need to be received as a supernatural gift from God through faith.

Even though Abraham became confused and thought it was necessary to help God produce the promised life of the son, which is the same mistake that most Christians are now making, he still continued to believe in God's promise. In effect, "most" of his hope continued to be in God. Paul could therefore say, "He did not waiver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised he was also able to perform. And therefore 'it was accounted to him for righteousness.' " (Rom. 4:20-21)

This spiritual "type" is fulfilled in God's promise to manifest the life of His Son through our mortal bodies (2 Cor. 4:10-11) in this world. Even though it is impossible for us to do, the promise can be fulfilled by receiving an abundant measure of grace and the "gift of righteousness" through our dependent faith in the Lord. As long as we remain "fully convinced" that God is able to do the work, we too will continue to be "credited" with Christ's righteousness during the time of testing when we are waiting for Him to fulfill the promise. Like Abraham, there will be a period when we must learn to distinguish between our efforts to help God fulfill the promise and the true way of faith. God will need to put our self-sufficient spirit to death before we will be prepared to receive the promise by faith alone.

We should note that Abraham continued to obey God as best he knew how while he was waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. (Heb. 11:8) We should also note that it was not until he was "as good as dead" that he received the promise. (Heb. 11:12) As long as he had some hope in his human efforts, and still thought he could help God produce the life of the son, he was not yet in a place where he could receive the promise by pure faith. Similarly, God cannot manifest the Son's Kingdom-life of perfect love within our heart until we are "as good as dead" to the ways of human {or self} sufficiency.

This was Paul's meaning when he referred to the suffering that the Galatians were experiencing: "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh {by your own efforts}? Have you suffered so many things in vain...?" (Gal. 3:3-4 Emphasis added) The suffering that God sends into our lives during the desert testing period is designed to break our self-sufficient spirit and destroy the old self-originated form of life. And yet, these scourgings can very easily be in vain if we do not understand what God is attempting to do. Let us therefore yield to His work and permit the Holy Spirit to put our self-sufficient spirit to death so we are in a position to receive the promise of His eternal Kingdom-life by pure faith.

As children of promise, Christians must not make the mistake of trying to help God produce the life of the Son. Everyone who enters into this struggle by human effort will have to go through a longer period of suffering than would normally be necessary. And in the end, they will find that they can only produce a life that is represented by Ishmael. In other words, they will never be truly set free from the self-centered {fleshly} nature. Instead of entering into a real enjoyment of the spiritual life of promise, these believers will continue to find themselves going through a wilderness of spiritual suffering and dryness.

We should note that Ishmael was around even after Isaac was born. And as long as this illegitimate son remained in the camp, the true son of promise was in danger. Sarah began to perceive that Ishmael's presence {the self-originated flesh-life} would not only threaten their peace and happiness, but would also place the life of her God-given son in danger. To Abraham however, it was disturbing to think about completely casting out Ishmael. After all, this part of his life had come from his own efforts! Abraham would naturally have had a sense of pride in what he had accomplished through his own work.

How does this lesson apply to us? Even after we have experienced a miraculous new birth and we know that a "Seed" from the life of the Son has been planted within our heart, there is still a tendency to use our own resolutions and efforts to help produce the mature fruit of Christ's Spirit. But as we have mentioned, a spirit that is contrary to the spirit of perfect love will remain within the heart of everyone who lives by law in an attempt to make themselves righteous.

Yes, we may even build great edifices in honor of the Lord. In fact, there is a tendency to enjoy these works because we like to be honored for what we have done. But regardless of what we have accomplished, and unless we have totally seared over our conscience, we will continue to sense that something is still wrong within our heart. We will still have a sense of Ishmael {the remains of the flesh-life} causing trouble. Consequently, we will find that we are not always overflowing with Christ's divine life of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control {over the carnal nature, which will still have its "say" in unguarded or trying moments}. (Gal. 5:22-23)

The presence of Ishmael {the self-originated form of life} will continue to threaten a full revelation of the Son's divine life. Even though it will be painful, let us cast out this old form of self-produced righteousness and enter into the fullness of the promise through the way of faith.

Ishmael's inheritance was the desert wilderness. While we may be greatly distressed over the thought of truly dying out to the old self-sufficient form of life, we need to realize that keeping him around will inevitably result in an ever-returning spiritual thirst and a never-ending struggle against the old self-centered nature. This is why God has insisted that we "cast out" the old life that we created through our human efforts. "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise... What does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman." (Gal. 4:28, 30)

This casting out will entail counting everything from our self-life as loss, so we may truly look to Christ as our only hope of being made perfect in love. "For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." (Gal. 5:5) Yes, salvation from the fallen life is by grace, through dependent faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ.

This provides a better understanding of Paul's message about the cross. There was only one way for him to become qualified to preach the Gospel. He too had to follow His Lord's instructions to deny himself and take the path of the cross. It enabled him to "find" the Lord's Kingdom-life and become an effective minister of the Gospel message. "It pleased reveal His Son in me." (Gal. 1:16) "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)

Paul, as one who preached the true Gospel, knew how important it was to reveal the saving life of Jesus Christ before the eyes of his hearers. He could say, "For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God." (Gal. 2:9) This visible display of a self-sacrificing life - the Lord's "light" from heaven - will always bring deep conviction within the hearts of fallen man as the implications of the Gospel are being revealed through the Word of God. In other words, this display of selflessness will place a conviction on the hearts of those who still possess a self-centered nature.

There is only one means for preaching the word of God in a way that leads to a deep conviction within the heart of self-centered man. We must first receive a power from on high that enables us to display the self-sacrificing life and nature of Jesus Christ. It was in this sense that Paul could say to the Thessalonians: "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake." (1 Thess. 1:5 Emphasis added) As the Thessalonians observed a visible display of the Gospel message in the life of Paul, the word of God worked powerfully within their hearts.

Paul had discovered the secret that had long been veiled in the Old Testament Scriptures. The mystery was that Christ Himself would begin to reveal the light from His Kingdom-life through the saints, so that others would see the true salvation of the Lord and sense the need to surrender to the same light of life. When Christ is not able to reveal His glory - His life of perfect love - through the members of His body, the world will never see this great mystery of true salvation.

It is the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory {the hope of revealing God's Kingdom-life of perfect love}. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all {spiritual, not earthly} wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Col. 1:26-28 Emphasis added)

It is not the words we speak that will have the greatest impact on the world. This is why a "law-keeping" form of salvation has very little impact. The world can see the conflict between what we teach and how we often act in a spirit that is not perfect in love, a spirit that still evidences the remains of a self-seeking and self-indulgent nature, which is easily detected by others. The people we are teaching must see the Kingdom-life of perfect {self-sacrificing}love being expressed through our lives before they can understand the true Gospel message and be drawn into the same light of life. What we say will matter, but what we "are" is what enables the Spirit to truly convict those who have seen the light.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk {just words to give intellectual assent to} but of power {the "power of an endless life"}(1 Cor. 4:20 NIV)
For the kingdom of God is...righteousness {divine love} and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:17)

Some people think it would be possible for them to be a better Christian if their religious upbringing would have been a little better. Others tend to think that a better God-centered religious education would help them improve their spiritual life. There are others who think that more zeal for God would enable them to accomplish more for the kingdom of God. While there is nothing wrong with these things, we need to note that they are exactly what Paul had to count "as loss" in order to fully depend on Christ and live in the resurrection power of God's Spirit. By turning from a dependence on all these things, he was able to find the Kingdom-life from heaven. Let us not turn away from the true hope of glory, which is Christ's indwelling presence, by acting as if some other means would improve our spiritual life.

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so; {based on such thing as a good moral upbringing, a good religious education and a tremendous zeal for God; and}...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... (Phil. 3:4-10 Emphasis added)

Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. (Ezk. 36:23 NIV)

The message of Galatians, in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures, is all about receiving a whole new form of life from Jesus Christ by following Him through the cross. Like the Galatians, we make a serious mistake when we begin to place our emphasis on living by certain standards that we equate with true righteousness. It naturally leads to a concentration on the standards we have chosen to amplify rather than on the life of perfect love we need to receive by uniting with Christ at the cross.

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world {and all of its self-originated ways} has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal. 6:14)

Everyone who will take the way of the cross is assured of finding Christ's Kingdom-life of perfect love. (Matt. 16:24-25) It is only through His "exceedingly great and precious promises" that we can become "partakers of the divine nature" and escape "the corruption that is in the world through lust" – {desires for things temporal}. (2 Pet. 1:4) Thus, it is by faith. Yes, "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life {so we may be a display of His Kingdom-life from heaven} and godliness." (2 Pet. 1:3) Let us therefore praise the Lord for what He has already accomplished for us and look to Him for the fulfillment in our own lives.

At the same time, we must not forget about the need to yield to all truth as we prepare the way for the Lord and His life of promise. James describes this as the faith that works. (Jam. 2:14-26) God will be testing our willingness to become like Jesus. He expects us to fully submit to being led by His Spirit. It will be necessary to yield to the ways of the Lord during this time of testing. There is no other way to be led into the fullness of the blessing.

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, {self-sacrificing} love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. (2 Pet. 1:5-9)

This preparation that demonstrates the true fruit of repentance is a necessary part of the six days of man. God is looking for a yielded heart that is willing to prepare the temple according to His specifications. But in the end, we are still dependent upon Him to manifest His glory within the temple of our body. There is no other way to reveal His life of perfect love in this world. We should therefore never rest short of the promised "Sabbath-rest" where it is possible to "cease" from our own works and begin living through the promised Kingdom-life of our Lord.

Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life {the first-fruits of the life of heaven} which the Lord has promised to those who love Him {to those who submit to His ways}. (Jam. 1:12)

Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:10-11 Emphasis added)