We are one-third of the way through Galatians!! Two chapters down, four to go! There is something extraordinary that happens when you read a letter/book of Scripture in its entirety. You get the complete feel of the letter from start to finish. I am not yet reciting the whole book, but the same continuity shows itself even between two chapters.
The Bible was not written with chapters or verses in its original state. These divisions came first by way of chapters when Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury, established them in 1227 A.D. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first edition to use his chapter pattern.
The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in 1448 A.D. Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses, in 1555 A.D. Stephanus essentially used Nathan’s verse divisions for the Old Testament. Since then, beginning with the Geneva Bible, the chapter and verse divisions employed by Stephanus have been accepted into nearly all the Bible versions.
Don’t worry–I have a very good reason for going down that rabbit trail…
To be honest with you, I have already memorized chapter three. I memorized it last summer during a bible study through Galatians with some of my favorite people in the world. I challenged them to memorize it and consequently I had to be willing to do the same. Since God graciously allowed me to retain it, I have actually started chapter four in my memory work this week but will continue to blog through portions of the text until we complete the book together!
I say all that because I need you to know that I have been reciting Galatians 3 by itself for almost a year now. Just this past week, I connected chapter two and chapter three AND THE SCRIPTURES CAME ALIVE!! Since there was no break when Paul originally wrote it, it makes sense that his thought continues to flow into the next chapter.
I am going to include 2:21 along with 3:1-6:
21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
Please remember the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches: he is exhorting them to again embrace the truth that Jesus is enough! He is reminding them of their freedom in Christ Jesus through the grace that He offers through His bloodshed on the cross.
The last verse in chapter two, noted above, is Paul’s very piercing argument: If you can do it on your own, if you can earn righteousness by your own good works, if you can satisfy the wrath of God by being good enough, THEN CHRIST DIED FOR NO PURPOSE! Soak that in. The moment that you think that you can earn or lose one iota of your righteousness is the moment that you completely devalue Christ’s death. One more time–hear me: If you think your righteousness comes by being good enough or by not being quite bad enough, then you nullify the grace of God and His free gift-righteousness, and Christ died for nothing…I really don’t think I can say it enough.
Now, let’s get to how 2:21 and 3:1 blew up off the page at me this week…
Paul has some very harsh words for the Galatian believers in 3:1. Did you feel the weight of them as you read, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?! It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified!”?
I believe this is Paul’s point: “When you choose to believe that Jesus isn’t enough, when you choose to believe that keeping the Law saves you, then you nullify the grace of God and you nullify the death of Christ! BUT you saw the death of Christ with your own eyes–you saw the CRUCIFIXION of the Lord Jesus Christ–you saw Him as unrecognizably human from all the beatings and scourging–you saw them spit on Him–you saw Roman soldiers force Him to carry His own cross–you saw Him stumble and fall on the road to Calvary–you saw Him hanging on a tree–you saw Him give His mother to His best friend–you saw Him scream out forgiveness–you saw Him struggling for every single breath–you saw Him breathe His last–you saw them shove a spear in His side–you saw them take His lifeless body down from the cross. YOU SAW with your own eyes! How can you say that what YOU SAW meant NOTHING?? How can you tell me that He went through what YOU SAW for NO PURPOSE?? Have you forgotten WHAT you saw?? O foolish Galatians, REMEMBER WHAT YOU SAW!! Only when you remember will you THEN rightly understand grace again…”
Verses began to flood my mind that absolutely support Paul’s highest esteem for the crucifixion of Christ Jesus:
“…but we preach Christ crucified…” 1 Corinthians 1:23a
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3
It made such perfect sense to me…the Galatians had forgotten Christ crucified and in so doing, they forgot His grace.
When I lose sight of Christ and Him crucified, I begin to focus on me and what I need to do or not do for my righteousness. When I lose sight of God’s perfect love shown to me on the cross, I begin to focus on what I can do or not do to make Him love me more. When I lose focus on His sufficient grace, I begin to try to make myself acceptable in His sight. When I forget the cross, I forget the ultimate sacrifice that was made to redeem a wretch like me…and I try to redeem myself, nullifying God’s grace and Christ’s death. Oh, forbid it, Lord…
Is that you too?