Campfire Scripture: Hard, necessary biblical truth for the thoughtful, manful Christian.
Book Author and Date:
Paul of Tarsus. The legend, the bushman. Paul was tough as nails and magnified the reach of Christianity more than any other NT apostle, pushing its influence all over the Roman empire, even into Rome itself. The epistle to the Galatians was most likely written late in the year 49 A.D.
Good works, Righteousness, Salvation.
Galatians was a Roman province of Asia minor consisting of ‘Galatians’ (Celtic migrants since before 300 B.C.), and other ethnic groups in the surrounding regions. It contained an area that included Antioch, a very important location during the first Crusade.
Galatians is a fascinating and important epistle. It was written to correct a vile heresy spreading throughout the Galatian churches by false teachers. Basically they said you had to become a Jew before you could be saved, which runs directly counter to the doctrine of justification by faith. This is the perfect book to talk about the important role that ‘good works’ play in the life of the believer because it was written to condemn the false view, which was that works were required for salvation.
What I Reckon:
Paul has just spent the first five chapters arguing passionately that it is by faith alone that we are justified, not by works. The important thing is that ‘works’ here, and for most of the NT refers to works pertaining to the law. That is, the attempt to obtain salvation by meeting the impossible standards of the Old Testament law. Paul explains that just as Abraham was saved by his faith, all are saved by faith (including the gentiles). Circumcision did not save you, sacrificing animals on the altar did not save you (Christ was the ultimate sacrifice for all), obeying the law (even perfectly) did not save you, only faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and saviour.
Good works = obeying the law.
Strictly speaking, good works was not your job, or helping people, or being generous etc., they are just nice things that you do. Although these are the kinds of things Paul was referring to in the verse above, those things will not save you either.
Prancing around declaring your faith in Christ and waffling endlessly about grace, and love and peace, without actually demonstrating the love of Christ to sinners and other believers, does not mean you have faith. If you confess to believe in Christ but willingly and happily live in sin, then your confession is false and worthless. Just as Christ said:
18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. – Matthew 7:18
Giving your life to Christ necessitates a change in your attitude towards Him and the world. You cannot love and believe in Christ, whilst loving yourself and/or hating and ignoring His church, and the lost.
If you are a Christian, then your heart and your conscience will be naturally inclined towards good works and the fruit of the Spirit. You will be led by the Holy Spirit to a life of ‘good works’, which is not sacrificing animals on an altar, but is being generous, loving the poor (and the rich), defending the defenseless, sharing the faith with courage, power and conviction. It means being a hero to the unborn, the persecuted and the helpless. It means dying to self – but living for the Kingdom of God!
That’s exactly what the verse above is teaching.
We do not do good works to be saved, we do them because we are.
Finally men, don’t think ‘not loving yourself’ means no longer forging yourself into a warrior. It means that the glory goes to the Lord, not to yourself. You are still working towards personal excellence, towards self mastery. But now what you see is a purpose greater than yourself for doing so. We train, we read, we learn, we hone the edges, not for our own glory, but for His.
All Campfire Scripture passages are taken from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise stated.
John MacArthur, 2006, The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (1995 edition).