In the letter to the Galatians, Paul discusses how to live in light of the astounding concept that is the Kingdom of Heaven. In this next several paragraphs of this essay, we will proceed quickly through the letter to the Galatians. You should read the Letter to the Galatians. This is not a verse by verse study, but instead a study in context. My intention is that you read the Letter as you go through this summary. Because that is my intention, I generally will not refer to specific verses as this summary progresses – instead you can read the Bible and strive to grasp the concept presented in this summary. After grasping the concept of the summary and gaining the ability to see how the Letter presents it, then you have the ability to thoughtfully decide if the Letter supports the concept of this summary.
As always, remember that Paul did not put chapter and verse dividers in his letter, the chapter breaks were added by a Roman Catholic Archbishop almost 1200 years after Paul. The verse breaks were added 300 years after that. Because everyone uses them, they are helpful for directing each other to specific statements, but they are, at best, a distraction for the serious context-based student of the scriptures. So, please avoid paying any attention to the chapter and verse separations.
In the first part of the letter to the Galatians, he states the problem that is the focus of the letter, that the Galatians are moving away from the true Gospel. Paul expresses his surprise at the speed the subject was changed back to the performance of the flesh, the rules, behavioral righteousness. He then establishes his credentials and the origin of his understanding of the Gospel, the Good News that is the Kingdom of Heaven come. His origin is direct from the master, Jesus, the Christ, the author and perfecter of true faith. Paul goes on to remind them that those who are pulling them back into the rules based salvation can’t even keep the rules themselves. As is always the case. Paul reminds them that no one has ever been or ever will be saved through the rules. Paul then reminds them that they experienced the presence of God after they believed, an action taken even while they did not follow the rules. Paul clarifies that pursuit of rules based salvation is to live under a curse. But the inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven is not earned but is a gift given as promised. He explains that the rules are very important and given by God so that we can have the only perspective from which salvation has meaning. 3:22 But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Through this all-powerful gift we are redeemed, forgiven and baptized by the Spirit of God, born spiritually as a child of God, able to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven with its fabulous wealth as carefully described by Jesus.
Then Paul goes into a section asking them why they would return to the elemental forces of this world, things that are not gods. This is a rephrasing of the question from the start of the letter, why go back to performance as the basis of relationship with God. The elemental force of this world, that famous tree. Then Paul clarifies the separation of the two methods of relationship, the 2 covenants. Paul uses a poignant parable with Sarah and Hagar. And restates that we are not children of the slave but children of the free. This is an especially poignant illustration for his Greek audience, as they are intrinsically aware of the difference between a free woman and a slave. The Greeks even used those words all the time with huge inference as to the permanent status of each.
Then Paul again restates that we are free from the slavery of the rules system. And makes it clear, as he often does, that to break any rule is to break the entire law. Those who keep the Law have fallen from Grace. “For through the Spirit, by Faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. Because in Jesus the Christ, [keeping the Law or not keeping the Law] accomplishes nothing, what matters is faith working in Love”. Change the subject.
Paul restates the words of Jesus, that all that is important is summed up in “Love your neighbor”. If you stop loving, you will hurt each other, because living by the elemental things of this world will lead to destruction of the brotherhood, the failing of the church by living in judgment on each other. He gives a list of the behavior that becomes the focus when a vibrant fellowship changes the subject back to the rules. The church that lives by such things does not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven because they have returned to slave status, biting and devouring each other as they seek retribution for every offense. I am referring to the list at the end of chapter 5. Many are willing to endorse condemnation for people with sex sin. This list of behavior problems equates differences of opinion with adultery. If Paul meant that everyone who holds a doctrinal difference with another person will not receive eternal life, then the entire realm of Christianity is doomed. And, from the behavior-is-paramount perspective, Paul’s words are difficult to reconcile with the presentation of the Kingdom of Heaven from Jesus the Christ. This is why I see Paul’s words as a connected progression, with the biting and devouring each other statement the context into which the list of misbehavior is presented. If a group of people devote themselves to misbehave in any of many different ways, and if forgiveness is not present to repair the damage, then the people have no ability to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. You can’t perceive the Kingdom of Heaven from the shade of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. How did you earn your symbolic family status? We became a child of Sarah, to use Paul’s analogy, by believing, independent of behavior. In our thinking, our concepts, we can easily change conceptual parentage back to Hagar, becoming people of slavery.
Paul continues on to say: But the freeborn people are measured by their internal status, not their behavior – the fruit of the Spirit. Subject changed. Just on the off-chance (sarcasm) that someone attempts to misunderstand what he said, Paul proceeds with a statement that makes his perspective clear. Before we look at the statement, be sure to remember the context of the whole book and associate the word “spiritual” with those people operating in the changed subject, the Sarah heritage, who have inherited the Kingdom of Heaven in their concepts. In this statement Paul clarifies immediately that “if someone is trapped in ANY sin, you who are spiritual RESTORE him”. This statement is in contrast with the previous statement “will not inherit the Kingdom of God”. It would be impossible to reconcile the statements if their actions have condemned them to hell, if “those whoDO such things WILL NOT inherit eternal life”, which is how many read that line from Paul. But Paul’s logic is clear when we keep his primary teachings in our concepts. People who have lost sight of their inheritance in Kingdom of Heaven need to be restored. And certainly will be if they listen to those to whom the subject of life is Love One Another, the children of Sarah.
For a couple paragraphs here we will take a contrary track and analyze the passage from a common alternate perspective. Many people throughout church history assert that Paul’s statement about “will not inherit” is to be viewed as a primary text for understanding the nature of salvation. In other words, it is often asserted that sin will cause you to lose your salvation. The logic is simple and clear: “Paul says in very plain language in Galatians 5:19-21 that these sins (works of the flesh) are obvious and any who do them will not be saved.” This is reinforced by a similar (but different) list appearing in his other letters. Let us put on our scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven mantle of concepts. Earlier in this letter, and in other letters, and in the words of Jesus himself, and in the words of God Most High in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), we have been told that to break any commandment is to break the entire set of commandments. And Jesus went far beyond the boundaries of the Law of Moses when defining what behavior is required for salvation through such concepts. That is the relationship between sin and salvation. Paul’s list in Galatians 5 does not go nearly far enough in some aspects, such as murder, Blasphemy, the Sabbath, the accurate Tithe, dishonoring parents, failure to perform Justice in the Courts according to God’s specific instructions, etc. etc. etc. Oh, and circumcision, which is the touchpoint of this Letter. And like Jesus, Paul goes further than the Law on other items. Two of those other items are argument destroyers: dissensions and factions. The whole letter is about dissensions and factions. Greek words that are precisely what we take them to be in the translation used here: dissensions – differences of opinions – and factions – differences of opinion resulting in associations based on the differences. Which is exactly what Paul is addressing in this letter. And the focus is on Peter, James and John. Did Peter, James and John cease to believe? Jesus very clearly says several times that the only way to salvation is to believe in him. To believe in Jesus as the Christ, the one promised to Eve as the redemption for the world, promised to undo her sin and all sin that followed. To believe that he is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. To believe in, to associate with, to conceptually consume his blood shed as the spiritual mechanism that removes sin, with irresistible force. To believe that his physical body was broken so that his spiritual body, the church, WILL LIVE. Did Peter, James and John cease to believe? Is it possible to believe in Jesus and still not grasp the Kingdom of Heaven, to continue in the inheritance from the slave instead of the freeborn? Look inside yourself and you will find the question is malformed. The question is better asked “Is it possible to believe in Jesus so much that I finally stop using good and evil to measure myself and others?” With that subject change, we see that Peter, James and John are the great leaders we understand them to be, holding to their belief in Jesus even to death. But, at least at the time of this writing, they had been teaching a different gospel, a gospel that holds the concept that obeying certain rules is essential to salvation and membership in the Body of Christ. So Paul writes this letter to clarify his side of the dissensions and factions.
Paul’s statement is “those who live by such things do not inherit the Kingdom of God”. If Paul meant by his statement that those who sin in these ways are condemned to eternal death, then he negates the very Gospel he is defending. Some people will counter that each sin must be confessed, so the “you who are spiritual restore these dissenters” means to bring them to a place of repentance so that they are once again destined for eternal life. But what about the failure to keep the rest of the Law. Like circumcision, or delivering the tithe to Jerusalem. In the “unconfessed=unforgiven” paradigm, there is absolutely no possible way to be saved (when viewed from within the concept. The Kingdom of Heaven reality is different.). Paul is clear that he did not believe that. To illustrate his side of the faction by using Paul’s later history, carefully recorded in Acts, he went back to Jerusalem, even in the face of prophecy from God that his journey would end in chains. He went back to Jerusalem because he loved the people there, including the church which Acts also records as having association with the Pharisees by that time. In the face of certain imprisonment, Paul went to the church that was promoting the alternate Gospel he is dissenting against in this letter to the Galatians. Because Paul’s Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus, who made clear, for those with ears to hear, that the Kingdom of Heaven is filled with people who do not deserve to be there. Paul’s response to the faction is to present the truth and continue to Love.
In the same way we should open our ears and inherit the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven. As we think about the list including dissenters in Galatia.
Back to Paul’s Gospel in Galatians
So Paul’s discussion about inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven is about embracing the freedom he presents with great strength in the previous chapters. This view is further reinforced by Paul’s choice of words and his extra instruction – restore the person who has committed ANY sin (think of the worst) with a gentle spirit. Be nice to them, act like you love them.
Paul expands this with his next statements: Carry each other’s burdens and fulfill the Law of the Christ (Jesus: a new commandment I give you – Love One Another). Then he says that If you think you have nothing to worry about nobody can carry that burden for you. You will reap what you sow: if you sow to the flesh, the rules based relationship with God, you will reap the decay of this world. If you change the subject and sow to the Spirit in faith and Love, you will reap life. Same message Jesus taught.
Then Paul summarizes it again – switching to rules driven life is a DEAD end. Change the subject to the New Creation.
One subject for the whole letter. Better said – one Primary subject for the whole letter. Certainly there are many other treasures to dig out as well, as one would expect from a man with Paul’s background: a zealous, self-righteous, murdering, humbled, isolated, hated, tortured, despairing, rejoicing, seeker of knowing God Most High. Who makes it clear that no one taught him his understanding of the Gospel. No one other than God. “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ”.