The objectives of this lesson: (1) to contrast a focus on indulgence with a focus on attitude; (2) to contrast a change in behavior through control with a change in behavior through faith in God; (3) to recognize that attitude and faith in God profoundly affect the way we treat people.
Paul wrote congregations in the province of Galatia because of a major confusion among gentile Christians. The confusion was caused by Jewish Christians [Judaizing teachers] convincing gentile Christians that they needed to accept Jewish practices to be saved. In refuting the Judaizing teachers, Paul addressed some actual problems among these gentile Christians as they continued transition from idolatrous values to Christian values.
Emphasize that Paul wrote Galatians to specific people for a specific reason. The better we understand Paul's reason for writing, the more accurate our applications of Paul's words will become. Paul wrote to them. We apply Paul's words to our situations.
Today, Christians know those values better as "the deeds [works] of the flesh" and "the fruit of the Spirit." Please note these things: (1) These are lists relevant to these former idol worshippers. Paul wrote about their needs, and the situations they faced. The lists included things they must attend to--situations they needed to call to awareness. Surely what Paul told them is applicable to us. However, the better we understand their situation, the more accurate will be our applications. (2) The lists were not "all-inclusive." The lists targeted situations that were a part of their life in their world and their time. Because a 21st-century problem does not appear on those lists does not mean the 21st-century problem is not relevant to godliness in this age. Paul was not creating "loopholes" to excuse ungodly behavior today. He addressed the reality of their lives and situation. (3) The two lists include a series of contrasts. These contrasts serve as the core of this lesson.
Emphasize that there was a reason for Paul choosing his lists. Emphasize that the items in his lists would be relevant to those who received his letter. Emphasize Paul did not claim that the lists he used were all-inclusive. A similar list was used by Peter in 2 Peter 1:5-8.
There are and always have been problems with an ultra-conservative mindset's approach to Christianity. Problems are founded on this concept: if something is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament, there is no divine authority for including or excluding the matter. This mindset often expresses itself in a question: "Show me in the Bible where this is approved or condemned?" If the matter is specifically instructed, a Christian must do it. If a matter is not specifically mentioned, it is not to be done. Commonly the question's answer includes a generous dose of personal interpretation--"This means . . ."
Determining God's will must involve determining God's intent. Determining God's intent must involve (1) the problem/situation addressed in the writing and (2) the context of the statement. We must not be guilty of making a passage of scripture mean what we choose for it to mean. It is too easy to be so literal that we ignore meaning.
Thus determining God's will is a matter of dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's." The effect of the determination is insignificant. It is merely a matter of this: In the New Testament, is the matter specifically sanctioned or condemned? Rarely in the ultra conservative mind set does the person seek to determine God's intent by understanding (a) the situation or (b) the original meaning of the wording.
We do not determine the will of God by hopping from scripture passage to scripture passage. It is legitimate to go to different scriptures in different books, but it is necessary to first determine that the writers of those books are writing about the same problem/situation. We must not force scripture to agree with our position or say what we want it to say. We must not be guilty of using an approach we condemn others for using.
Jesus acknowledged this problem in Matthew 5:17-20. Commonly, Jesus focused on God's intent. In much of chapter 5, Jesus used numerous illustrations of (1) ignoring God's intent and (2) justifying ungodly behavior by (3) claiming technical compliance with scripture.
Emphasize that we could learn much from the way Jesus used scripture. To Jesus, divine intent was an essential part of determining divine will.
Have you noticed this fact about religion: it often focuses on the external act and ignores the internal attitude? Thus "the key" to "being godly" or doing "God's will" focuses on the physical with little regard for the inner person. If physically one technically does what is right, how he/she thinks or feels is irrelevant. Thus we become big on rituals [ceremonially correct behavior] and small on motivations [godly attitudes and reasons]. The motivation for the behavior is insignificant if the behavior technically complies with scripture.
Note that it is easy to reduce the will of God to physical acts while ignoring inner motivation and attitude. It is much easier "to do" than it is "to be."
In Jesus' words, it is the washing of a cup or platter on the outside while ignoring the inside (Matthew 23:25, 26) or whitewashing a tomb while ignoring the inner decay (Matthew 23:27, 28; Numbers 19:14-16). Cleanliness or holiness before God involves both the inner person and his/her behavior! Motives can make one unholy as quickly as can deeds!
Jesus condemned those who cleansed the outside and left the inside untouched. To make "the seen" attractive while ignoring "the unseen" [to humans] is to neglect something important to God. God is as concerned with "why" we do something as with "what" we do. It is not a choice between "why and what." Both are important to God.
The contrast called to your attention is the contrast between indulgence and attitude. The works or deeds of the flesh focus on indulgence. There are at least four forms of indulgence mentioned: sexual indulgence; the indulgence of spiritual perversions; the indulgence of hate responses [focusing on the wrong enemy]; the indulgence of personal excess. All these forms of indulgence are focused on personal behavior.
The challenge IS NOT to find a creative way to justify an indulgence. The challenge IS to allow God through Christ to transform our attitudes.
The attitudes, the fruit of the Spirit, are focused on motivation. If the person is a person of love, or patience, or gentleness in attitude, he or she will also be a person of love, or patience, or gentleness in behavior.
Godly motivations result in godly behavior. Godly acts do not necessarily produce godly attitudes.
In one the focus is on the external. In the other the focus is on the internal. The Jewish approach to godly behavior [which Jewish Christians championed] was behavior control. Paul's approach to godly behavior was attitude transformation. Some Jewish Christians declared [convincingly] that the key to godly conduct was understanding the law which God gave as Israel's covenant. Paul said the key to godly behavior was understanding Jesus Christ. The attitudes Jesus taught did not conflict with Jewish law.
God is focused on both the external and the internal (Romans 12:1,2)--both the presentation of the body and the renewing of the mind.
This is quite relevant to common approaches to godliness today. Is it just a matter of outward control? Or is it a matter of internal transformation? Must one just do godly things, or must he or she be a godly person?
Attempts to separate "who I am" from "what I do" are artificial and flawed. This is not an attempt to suggest Christians must do the impossible--be sinlessly perfect. It is this recognition: there is a critical spiritual disconnect when a person seeks to justify the combination of a deliberately evil mind and commanded acts. See Luke 20:46, 47 for this unacceptable condition.
The problem can be illustrated in these ways: What is the solution to abortion? To drunkenness? To improper sexual conduct? To the unethical treatment of people [such as abuse]? To the exploitation of people?
Problems that concern a Christian mindset are abundant in every age. Often Christians are driven more by fear than by faith.
Is the problem solved with control ["we need to pass a law"]? Is the spiritual solution exercising control over people who are not troubled by abortion, or drunkenness, or lewd sexual behavior, or abusing people in vulnerable circumstances, or exploiting people who cannot protect themselves? Is it just a matter of controlling people who have values you reject?
When problems grow faster than people are transformed, it is easy to seek non-faith solutions. It is easier to seek control than it is to seek transformation. Transformation is essential to Christians being leaven in our society. We seek to be in contrast to society, not to control society.
OR is the solution based on the inner person? Is it a matter of faith rather than control? Must attitudes from God toward people be changed to redirect human behavior?
We need to make all Christians aware that Christianity involves who we seek to be as a person in Christ as well as what we seek to do. The Christian is constantly dedicated to "being" and to "doing." Both are continually a part of transformation in Christ.
Are Christians willing to swap control for faith? Compliance for godliness? How relevant is God's great concern for people?
Never should we swap God's objectives for our objectives. God wants us to seek our potential in Christ. He wants us continually to become a more godly people. He wants our actions to be the result of who we are in Christ. Faith is a commitment to becoming as well as to doing. Obedience involves both a dedication to being as well as to doing.
For Thought and Discussion
Paul wrote to Galatian Christians who were primarily gentiles. Paul wrote them because gentile Christians were confused when Jewish Christians insisted that gentile Christians must accept Jewish practices to be saved.
The explanation should include this understanding: the ultra-conservative approach to Christianity is commonly an oversimplification for determining what is godly.
The discussion should include this fact: Jesus commonly focused on God's intent by His instruction.
Paul's basic contrast is between indulgent behavior and godly attitude. Godly attitudes produce godly behavior.
Behavioral control [in adults] declares that God's will can be done if outward acts are correct. Faith in God declares that God's will is done if the acts are the result of godly attitudes.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 10
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