The Importance of Context To Application

READING GALATIANS
Please read Galatians 5-6

It’s hard to take a fresh look at familar passages that have been misused and misinterpreted. This is certainly one of those. I’m writing this blog chiefly for women who want to think as they read the Bible. Not to toss out feelings, behavior, life and heart issues but to figure out the doctrine first and then apply it to all those areas. Doctrine first; then experience.

Doctrine simply means “teachings.” This includes looking for what the Bible says about its major themes of redemption and God’s gracious sovereignty. Over the last thirty years, I’ve heard a lot of things taught from these chapters that violate looking at the theme of Galatians and that of the Bible as a whole. This omission has resulted in jumping into subjects that are not covered in this letter. It has been said that John Calvin had the ability to go as far as a passage allowed, and remain quiet on what was not clear. To be silent where the scripture was silent. Failure to do that has led many into applying “stretches of the truth,” leading to mistakes in application to the heart and life. It is hard to put those teachings out of our mind when we study a passage for ourselves.

This is our eighth lesson on Galatians. By now, saying that Justification by Faith Alone is the theme of this book is redundant. It’s clear, isn’t it? So any application made here must relate to this theme. In chapter 5, Paul does get into application. He is telling them to be careful how they stand up to false teachers. To watch their own attitudes and words and actions. He wanted them to be led by the Holy Spirit and to note the difference between Christian behavior and that of the person who doesn’t have the hope and promise of the Spirit’s presence (Galatians 5:15-26). The promise of the Holy Spirit’s work in their life has been a sub-topic all along, and he gets into the Spirit’s work in our lives toward the end of chapter five. But, this is not a treatise on sanctification or how we are made more holy in this life. It is in the context of how to act and be while standing firmly on the doctrine of justification.

Taking verses out of context, isolating them so to speak, can lead to major error. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). This is a classic one to take out of this context on justification. It has been used over the years by those who sever the Old Testament from the New. “You’re not under the law,” they say. “You are freed from all that. We live in a different time, a new dispensation. Just listen to the Spirit; he will lead you to do what is right.” Now you know this passage is about not adding one little thing to what Christ Jesus has done on the cross for us, not about whether the Old Testament is useful for today or not. In fact, Paul uses the Old Testament examples to prove his points about Justification by Faith. To tell us to belittle the Old Testament into just a historical book of the Jews violates even using it like Paul did here. But, to say you can do what you feel like is also way out of context.

Another frequently mis-used verse is, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). His point is to encourage us not to gratify our own desires while standing firm on the gospel. He is not counseling us to toss out the Old and do what we wish in a new era. But, if you take that verse out of the chapter and quote it, you could conclude that all you need now for life and Godliness is the Spirit’s leading disregarding the Old Testament or even the Ten Commandments.

Paul tried to make the point here that in standing up to false teachings we need to be very careful and watchful of ourselves. Not to seek gratification of our own desires (such as a desire to look smart), but to think of others and to remain kind, gracious, providing for gospel teachers, doing what is good. Christians have the hope of being gradually renewed by the Spirit, but these warnings about sin are very real. The Bible’s themes of Renewal and Redemption are a backdrop to Galatians’ theme of justification through faith alone. One day the universe would be renewed back to how He created it in the first place. But, in the meantime, we need to be carefui how we act, think, and what we desire–even when opposing wrong teaching. He acknowledged how the need for grace remains even though we have the promise and hope of the Spirit. Paul ended this letter on that note: “Grace …be with your spirit..”

My reason for bringing all this up is I want you to think as you read the Bible. To reconnect with historical Christianity and the faith of the Apostles. Don’t take a verse out of its context, memorize it, and then use it as a sword against others or yourself. Instead, do your best to grasp the meaning of the writer before you apply the passage to how you feel, think, act, worship, live. Spiritual experience follows right thinking, not the other way around.

Paul wrote Galatians five to seven years before he wrote to the Romans. His theme in Romans is the same as Galatians, and just as clear. That is why Martin Luther was so struck by the contrast between his works-oriented Catholicism and Justification by Faith Alone as he read Romans. There is more detail in Romans, and a careful study of it would benefit you now after this Galatian study. May I recommend Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ multi-volume set or one book from it?

I hope these lessons on Galatians profited you. Perhaps a reading of Matthew Henry’s commentary on Galatians would help you with your applications. He died before getting to Galatians, but a group of like-minded men followed his technique and finished the New Testament for him. It has been widely used since the early 1700’s.

My belief is that we, as Christians, do best when we study a specfic book while we are reading other portions of Scripture. That is why I like the system of Bible reading put out by Banner of Truth. You have to adapt it to your current lifestyle and pressures and do what you can. But, this system works to help you think and feel and apply as you read.

Grace be with your spirit.

About Carol Brandt

I earned a B.A. in History from Florida State University and M.Ed in.Higher Education from Florida Atlantic University. I taught high school social studies before "retiring" to full-time homemaking and raising two daughters. Now I love being a grandmother to four boys and a girl. I have also raised five collies. My husband, John, was an optometrist, who worked tirelessly for his profession through private practice and as a consultant, and served on the Board of Trustees of Illinois College of Optometry for twenty years. Ernest Reisinger was my chief mentor in this warm-hearted application of Calvinism. He gave me many books! The Founders Journal and Founders Conferences, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Charles Spurgeon have been other sources of Reformed thinking as well as the other warm-hearted ones listed in my book, "Warm-hearted Calvinists."

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