If the Christian faith is true -- and it is, blessedly true -- the importance of a correct understanding of Christian truth and of the nature of the life produced by it cannot be over-emphasized. Human destiny is at stake.
Yet the popular misconception of the Christian life, everywhere prevalent in Christendom, both inside the Church and out, and that in a day of boasted intelligence and learning, is nothing short of tragic. It is both baffling and alarming. Yet, in a sense, the fact that the essential character of Christian truth should be so far beyond popular comprehension is a tribute to our Faith.
To our mind, as a result of wide observation, the most serious error of our day is the popular notion that the Christian life is a matter of CONDUCT. Do certain things; don't do certain things, and you are a Christian! This confining of Christian living to behaviour is altogether shallow, superficial, and above all else FUTILE.
What is a Christian?
The answer runs somewhat thus: A Christian is one who accepts CHRIST, especially as the teacher of a way of life; he adopts a set of habits, such as church attendance, Bible reading, prayer; he associates with other "Christian" people; he doesn't lie, steal, or get drunk; he is fair in his dealings with his fellowmen; he can be counted on to take a "Christian" attitude toward the questions of the day. A "Christian" is one who conforms to certain standards! And essential change in the PERSON, productive of such conduct, is ignored.
This is GALATIANISM in its modern, most common form. It is this against which the Apostle Paul contended with passionate conviction that it was fatal to the Christian system of truth and experience.
THE DISTINGUISHING MARKS OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN
Turning to the Epistle to the Galatians we find the Apostle Paul defining and describing a Christian in such terms as these:
- A Christian is one who has the living CHRIST living in him. (See Galatians 2:20; 4:19). He has had a transforming experience.
- A Christian is one who has the HOLY SPIRIT (4:6). He begets in the believer new characteristics that are productive of Christian conduct (5:22, 23).
- A Christian is one who has shared the Cross experience with Christ, as the basic solution of his personal problems. (see Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14, 17).
- A Christian is one possessed of a life so divine, so ideal that it cannot be pressed into a mould of external regulations (See Galatians 4:9-11, 19-21; 5:1-6)
In other words, the Christian life consists not in BEHAVING but in BEING, a life out of which behaviour naturally proceeds; not something external, but internal, the root producing the fruit. It is a LIFE that must be free to express itself; to impose regulations upon it is fatal to it.
Man in his natural state soon finds he is like the woody growth of the grape vine; running to wood, the real life is choked out. He has nothing but the external form, an empty shell of respectability.
The Purpose of This Writing
To produce another detailed exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians is entirely foreign to the purpose of this writing. Rather, our aim will be to gather from the Epistle its immensely valuable teachings for Christian living, using the same sharply contrasting presentation employed by the Apostle -- the only method, doubtless, that will arouse us, the present-day exponents of the Gospel, to the all-sufficiency we have in CHRIST for the solution of life's problems and the failure which results from any admixture of self-effort.
As a preparation for appropriating these truths we urge the reading and rereading of the Epistle. As a guide to the reading, and a stimulus to further study, we offer the following outline:
1. Chapters 1-2: PERSONAL. Paul's defense of his apostleship and the gospel he preached as authoritative.
2. Chapters 3-4: DOCTRINAL. The doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, apart from any admixture of works, expounded and illustrated.
3. Chapters 5-6: PRACTICAL. Christian living is a maintaining of the freedom we have in CHRIST and an appropriating of our resources in Him.
An Epistle of Contrasts
The Gospel of JESUS CHRIST is a distinct something, with such adequate resources as render it sufficient in itself. As such it does not admit of any admixture of law-works or of self-effort on our part, else its resources are set aside and become inoperative. To establish this fact beyond all gainsaying, not only doctrinally but practically, that we may not only believe it but LIVE IT, the apostle presents the Gospel in a PROLONGED SERIES OF OPPOSITES, things that should not be mixed because they will not mix. To attempt their mixture, as many did then and do now, is both error and failure.
These contrasts will be appreciated if we bear in mind that Paul is contending against a twofold error.
- First, that our salvation is secured partly by faith in CHRIST and partly by good works prescribed by the law.
- Second, that our perfecting in this life in CHRIST is a matter of self-effort on our part in obedience to the law.
Thus Paul sees at stake the two essentials of the Christian faith, SALVATION and SANCTIFICATION, and sets about zealously to safeguard them for all time. The difficulty with the above errors is that they leave us impotently on Our Side, in struggle and failure. They are powerless to transfer us to the abounding resources of His Side.