Paul’s ethical instructions Galatians and Romans

In his letters to the Galatian and Roman Churches, Paul the Apostle writes of several ethical instructions, or ways of living, that these Christians should take on. However, these instruction were not solely for the Christians at the time, but also for the Christians today. Paul's teaching are so effective that they also apply to our modern church life. We will explore this fact in this essay by first looking at the instructions given to the two Churches mentioned earlier and then we will look at how our modern day churches can apply these same principles and instruction for living.

Paul's Ethical Instructions in Galatians and Romans

Ethical Instructions in Galatians

Justification by Faith and not by Works

The major theme of this letter is justification by faith. In his book, G.W. Hansen explains that 'in Galatians Paul develops his argument for justification by faith in order to correct a social problem'[1] at the time. He then explains that the Gentile believers where expelled from fellowship with the Jews because they did not observe the law. It seems as though Paul was confident that they understood their salvation by grace and faith (Gal. 1:6). Yet, he re-visits this concept and speaks of justification, not through works, but through faith alone.

The Galatians received the Spirit of God through justification by faith. God did not look at their works to give His Spirit since works are from the flesh. He also explains that it is impossible to reach their goal through human efforts (Gal. 3: 3). Paul reveals the supremacy of salvation by grace through faith in Christ over the attempt to achieve salvation through obedience of the law. Donald Stamps concludes: 'the person who relies on the law to gain salvation does not receive the Spirit and life, for mere law cannot impart life.'[2] In other words, the law didn't bring life to the people, but it revealed the sin in them. Paul's instruction was that we should not seek to be justified by what we do, but we are justified by faith.

Living as Sons of God

The second major instruction Paul gives points to how one should live as a Christian. To do this, he uses the metaphor of a child and a grown person. He likens the child to the 'pre-Christian spiritual experience'[3]. Paul explains that if we live as children, we live as slaves, subject to the Law and the authority it has over us. Since Christ came, we can now live as Sons of God and we ought to live by the Spirit. The proof that God's adopted sons are the true sons of God is that they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and live by the Spirit. This is later recounted in greater detail in Galatians 5:16-26, where he speaks of the life of Spirit. Here, Paul explains how to live by the Spirit and what it means to live in the flesh. One author puts it well: contrasted to the acts of the sinful nature [the fruit of the Spirit] is a single-minded lifestyle [...]. This is produced in God's children as they allow the Spirit to so direct and influence their lives that they destroy sin's power [...] and walk in fellowship with God.[4]

This passage depicts a clear distinction between the standard of living of the Spirit-filled Christian and that of the person controlled by the sinful nature.

Ethical Instructions in Romans

Here, Paul revisits the whole concept of Justification by faith and makes interesting points, such as Abraham justification apart from works (Rom. 4). Since we have already dealt with this and similar points discuss in the Galatians are discussed here, we will move unto other instructions given by the Apostle. These other instructions seem to start from chapter, after an extensive dissertation on the ethics brought up in Galatians.

Spiritual Ethics: Living Sacrifices

The problem of ethics seems to re-surface here, as Paul implores believers to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. Paul was pointing out the importance of living as a life of holiness, pleasing God and separating ourselves from the world, for we are the temple of His Spirit. F.F. Bruce says that 'doctrine is never taught in the Bible simply that it may be known; it is taught in order that it may be translated into practice'[5]. Part of being a living sacrifice involves us being humble before God and man, not making ourselves any higher than the other. Instead, we should 'honour another above [ourselves]' (Rom. 12:10b). This is where love comes into play, and Paul says in order to have love, we must be sincere and do away with what is evil, as well as being dedicated to one another in brotherly love.

Communal Ethics: Submission and Responsibility

As opposed to Galatians were Paul only points out our way of living as a Chrisitan before God, here he goes further and speaks of ways of living as a Christian in the Church and the community at large. He first speaks of submission to the authorities of the land and explains that God himself is the source of all authority, and those who implement authority on the earth do so by designation from Him, and so to disobey them is to disobey God. Bruce explains:

Human governance is a divine ordinance, and the powers of coercion and commendation which it exercises have been entrusted to it by God, for the repression of crime and the encouragement of righteousness. Christians of all people, then, ought to obey the laws, pay their taxes, respect authorities...[6]

In support of Bruce's argument, one should realize that in so doing this, they are not bringing less judgment on themselves, but it is about bringing a service to God.

Paul then speaks of our responsibility towards others, as he carries in what it means to be a good citizen (i.e. paying debts). Just as important is our love for people as we treat them as neighbours, and our behavior as Christians. Although we are responsible to the government, a greater responsibility lies within the church itself. Here, Paul speaks of things that could cause division in the church. It is up to those who are strong to uphold the weak in the faith. Therefore, 'each Christian's life affects his fellow-Christians and his fellow-men'[7]. He should therefore reflect on his responsibility to them, and not simply see his own interest.

Application of Paul's teaching to modern church life

There are so many things that the modern Church can learn from these two letters. Here we look at the three major aspects of ethical instructions presented by Paul.

Realising our Salvation

The Church today should realize that is it not by works that we are saved. Rather we have been justified by faith. Justification is defined as 'the act, process, or state of being judged by God as righteous and worthy of salavation'[8]. Therefore it is not of any work that we have done, but it is because of God's grace. Justification 'denotes being in a right relationship with God'[9]. The Church should therefore not seek to boast about his salvation or think that it has been acquired through the good works it has done. Also, no one is justified who has not been redeemed by Christ from sin and its power. This applies to modern church life since there are many who believe that God will bless them because of what they do: feed the poor, give to the needy, pay tithes... However, we should realize that this is our service to God and his our duty as a Christian, not a means by which we score points with God.

Living Holy lives before God

Since we have been redeemed by Christ from sin and its power, we should live as such. This means living as sons of God and not as slaves to sin. Part of living holy lives before God is to live by the Spirit and not in the flesh. Evidence of a life in the Spirit is the portrayal of the Fruit of the Spirit. In the same way, evidence of a life in the flesh is the depiction of the acts of the sinful nature recounted in Galatians. In order to live as sons and make sure we do not gratify the flesh, we should always present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Dying to flesh then becomes a daily thing.

Living Holy lives before others

That being said, our devotion is not just to God but to people as well. Our lives as Christians is a reflection of the God we serve and the Bible we live by. Therefore it is important that the Church abides by the rules of the state and the law. One should not use excuses such as 'we are no longer under the law' to promote disobedience of the government, because to disobey the government is to disobey God who has put them in place.

Our responsibility to the brethren and others are also important. We should seek to help others and to consider them more highly then ourselves. Love operates here, as we treat everyone as our neighbor. The Church should continue to remember that these works by no means makes them more justified, for our works are just a service to God, a service we offer to Him as living sacrifices.

As I conclude this essay, I have noticed that there seems to be a cycle that portrays itself in this. First, we are justified by faith. We do not boast in this justification, but we are humbled by it, since it is not of ourselves that we have been justified. Since we are justified, we should live as sons of God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices and pleasing to God. Part of the living a life pleasing to God is to serve the government He has put in place as well as others and our fellow Christians. These works do not give us any points with God, but we do it because we have been justified and the cycle continues. This is how we should live as Christians.

  1. G. Walter Hansen, Galatians (Inter-Varsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois, 1994), 25
  2. D.C. Stamps (Ed), The Full Life Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992), 1812.
  3. Anthony D. Palma, Galatians and Romans: A Study Guide, Fourth Edition (Springfield Missouri: ICI University, 1996), 84
  4. Stamps (Ed), The Full Life Study Bible, 1819
  5. F.F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary (Inter-Varsity Press: London, UK, 1974), 225
  6. F.F. Bruce, Romans, 233
  7. F.F. Bruce, Romans, 245
  8. Palma, Galatians and Romans: A Study Guide, 260
  9. Stamps (Ed), The Full Life Study Bible, 1711

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