Paul’s Pastoral Appeal


Stephen Terry


Commentary for the August 26, 2017 Sabbath School Lesson.




“I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you…” Galatians 4:12, NIV


When we read these words of Paul to the Galatians, our first impression is one of audacity. We are all too familiar with what Romans 3:23 says about us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (NIV)  How then can anyone hold themselves up as an example for others?

This doesn’t mean that people don’t try. Our televisions are full of people doing just that. They portray a style of life that is destructive and make it appear attractive and desirable. Yet, the other side of the coin is there to see as well for those willing to view it. Rehab centers, divorce courts, homeless shelters all tell the other side of the story for those who pursued the lifestyle of others they felt were glamorous and found it wanting. The simple truth according to Romans 3:23 is that everyone is on a fast train to nowhere, and simply following the other passengers does not get us off that train.

How then can Paul say “Become like me?” If we research the clothing of his time and change what we wear, if we practice similar grooming styles, if we eat what he ate, will this be enough? Is this even what he is talking about? Some believe it is. Some feel that the more literally we look like some religious mentor, the more we are on the right track. But this becomes the “different gospel” that Paul warns about. (See Galatians 1:6) Whether referring to circumcision as Paul said the Judaizers did or to other works of obedience based on self-willed righteousness, these acts of obedience are not the gospel of Jesus Christ. (See Galatians 2:11-15)

Why is this so? Simply put, no one can attain to righteousness by their obedience. We do not live by our works. We live by faith. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:17, NIV  “From first to last.” What does that leave out? Nothing. And that righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  That is why He is called the Alpha and the Omega. (See Revelation 1:8) He is the beginning and end of righteousness. He is the beginning and end of our salvation.

Does this leave room for any other way? No. Jesus Himself put it this way: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6, NIV  Notice He did not say “a” way. He said “the” way. He left no possibility for other paths to life. This might seem to be arrogant words if you or I were speaking them, but Jesus is God. That makes Him unique, and it also makes the path to life that He offers unique. These are not arrogant words from His mouth because by definition, He is well able to do what He says. He is not speaking idle boasts but a concrete reality.

How does He accomplish this? The Bible says that first He gives us repentance. (See Romans 2:4) He does this through His love for us. He has expressed that love in many different ways. Some have found that the love expressed directly to man through laws given by God through his servants was the catalyst for repentance. Others come by other means. (See Romans 2:14) But the real reason is they become aware of a disharmony between what is in their heart and what God’s love communicates to them. They discover that the beat of a human heart is not in harmony with the rhythm of the universe. That is because mankind chose to follow a false god, Satan, into rebellion against the rest of God’s universe. (See Genesis 3 and Revelation 12)

In order to try to maintain his control, Satan tells us that God will destroy us for rebelling, that He will never take us back. He paints such an ugly picture of a wrathful, vengeful Creator that many do not want to come back to God. Jesus reveals a different story. His life reveals that far from wishing to condemn us for our disobedience, God wants to give us life and hope. The Apostle John put it this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16-17, NIV  God is not seeking our condemnation.  Instead, He offers us life. But that life is not based on any good thing that we have done. It is based solely on His love and our faith in that love.

Satan wants us to continue to fight against God. He will do anything to keep us in the fight. He will lie. He will promise to fulfill our longings. He will offer us the world, just as he did for Jesus. (See Matthew 4:8-9) But if we cease fighting, if we surrender to God’s love we will find the greatest peace and joy we have ever known. Satan wants us to fight the wrathful being He has created. God wants us to flow with the ocean of His love. When we feel that love, feel our disharmony with it, we will decide on our own to swim with the current of love instead of against it.

This is why Paul said to “Become like me.” He “became like us,” fighting against God. He sought to imprison and even consented to the murder of God’s followers. (See Acts 7-9) He was a formidable warrior on the side of Satan. Don’t get me wrong, he thought he was on the right side. He thought he was actually fighting for God instead of against him. This is how effective Satan’s lies can be in misleading us. It may be surprising that we can be zealous on behalf of the church and yet be totally wrong in what we are doing. But this was Paul’s situation. In the middle of his fight, God’s love washed over him. God spoke directly to him and asked him why he was fighting against God? Paul’s answer revealed that he had been so zealous for the church that he did not even recognize God anymore.

According to Satan’s picture of God, Paul should have been destroyed on the spot. But God’s love and compassion were revealed to Paul instead, and that love drew Paul to a higher purpose, the purpose he was created for. He was created to be God’s special witness to the Gentiles, those who were not Jews. He could not fulfill that purpose until he was in harmony with God. On the road to Damascus, Paul surrendered to that loving God. As he continued to surrender more and more each day, God’s love was revealed more and more in his life.

So it is with all whether they are those under the law or those without it. (See Romans 2:14) A life that encounters God’s love and surrenders to that love is never the same. Instead of being at odds with their life purpose, they come more and more into harmony with it. That is because they do not want to lose that feeling of peace and harmony by going in opposition to God’s love.

To become like Paul is to step into that harmonious current of love. Paul never intended to be a model of behavior but a model of surrender. This was his day-to-day life. Paul found such joy with God that he gladly put to death daily what he had been to become fully what God wanted. (See 1 Corinthians 15:31) To become like Paul is to receive God’s love into our hearts. This is the law of the Spirit (See Romans 8:2), and yet it is beyond all law for this love is the fulfilling of the law and therefore is not constrained by it. There is no law against love. Inasmuch as this love dwells in us through the Spirit, law has no claim against us. “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10, NIV

Some fear that a life surrendered to God’s love and relies solely on that love in faith is somehow in opposition to the law because it is a life lived beyond the law’s condemnation. But that life that lives in God’s love is a life not of the law’s destruction but of its fulfillment.

Does that mean that the one who has surrendered to Jesus is now perfect? Yes and no. They are counted perfect, “beyond condemnation,” (See Romans 8:1) in the imputed righteousness of Jesus, but they still dwell in the flesh until Jesus returns. In their thoughts and their heart they begin to swim in the stream of God’s love and their thoughts and their hearts flow in harmony with that love. But in their bodies they cannot completely be in harmony with God’s love until Jesus comes again. (See Romans 8:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:42-54)

This is what is meant when we understand that the righteous shall live by faith - faith in that future event as well as faith in God’s presence in us through His Spirit now.





If you enjoyed this commentary, you might also enjoy this companion book on Galatians by the author of this commentary.

To learn more click on this link.
Galatians: Walking by Faith




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