By Jenny Needham
Just before the lock-down period started we were lucky enough to have the 'Unlock the Bible' team visit us at Pathways Church, to teach us about the inductive process. We used this to help us study Paul's letter to the Galatians.
The inductive process
Inductive bible study involves looking at what the bible actually says, rather than what we think it says or what we have heard in the past. It involves learning about the historical and cultural background of the book, so we can understand what it would have meant to the people at the time. Once we appreciate what it meant to the intended recipients, it is possible to draw out timeless principles that apply to our lives today.
We decided to put this process into practice and use it to study the book of Galatians, which we have done over the past term. It was quite a challenge doing this with social distancing in place! I am used to teaching the bible, but had to quickly learn how to make videos so that the information could be shared with our cell groups each week. We looked at one chapter each week individually, then shared together in our small groups over Zoom.
"I loved the video teachings and fresh insight into the letter"
I for one, had never used the inductive process to study Galatians before. I am very familiar with some of the passages such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. However, understanding the letter as a whole, and seeing every chapter as a well thought out part of a persuasive argument was eye-opening for me.
Galatians was written early on in church history at a time when the Christians were facing a theological crisis. A group of legalistic Jews known as 'Judaizers' were teaching that the Christians must still keep the law of Moses, and were even insisting that Gentile followers of Christ must be circumcised. Therefore Paul wrote this letter to correct this wrong idea, and to emphasize our freedom in Christ and justification by faith alone.
In my opinion this was a masterpiece of a letter; full of clarity on the subject of grace, but also containing wisdom on maintaining love and unity through the power of the Holy Spirit as they dealt with the controversy.
"Through reading Galatians, for the first time I properly understood why Jesus died for me."
The gospel of grace
Galatians is often thought of as the book of 'grace', because it is the gospel of grace that Paul defends throughout. It will help our understanding if we remember that grace is the power of Christ, and that this power of Christ is within us by his Spirit. In contrast to that, the word 'flesh' refers to our own effort or works (trying to do things in our own power/strength).
Paul asserts that we have been crucified with Christ, and made righteousness through Christ alone by faith. Therefore he concludes in Galatians 5:15 that it actually makes no difference whether we are circumcised or not. (This also applies to anything we might do from human effort or legalism that would seek to add to what Jesus has already done). This truly is a message of freedom if we are able to fully grasp it.
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who died and gave himself up for me." Galatians 2:20
"In my life this has been an ongoing journey. God has continuously led me to deeper revelations of grace over the years, and He has freed me from many burdens. I have discovered that the more I appreciate how much God already loves me and is pleased with me, then the more I am free to be who I was created to be and love others in the process."
Paul's life message
We were also blessed to be able to watch a teaching session by Andy Faulkner on Galatians. Andy reminded us that Paul himself had been the most ardent Jew, keeping every rule and studying the Law conscientiously. Paul knew from personal experience what it was like to realise that everything he had been taught was wrong! This was what it must have been like for the Jews in those days, as they struggled to comprehend how much everything had changed. Paul had left everything behind to follow Jesus, and wasn't going to let anyone drag the church back into the bondage of that old Legalistic system again!
As I read these chapters in context, I understood for the first time that Paul was not exhorting us to try and love one another or act in better character. He was saying that we can only love one another through grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is only by walking in relationship with God day by day that the good fruit of character will develop in our lives.
"I found that this book was all about the grace, faith and truth of the living God. We are not to follow the crowd, but live by the prompting of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each of us. We are to produce fruits as the Holy Spirit lives in us: kindness, gentleness, love, patience and self-control. We are to demonstrate goodness in all our actions."
Going back to the big picture of the controversy they were facing about circumcision: The examples in this letter would have greatly encouraged the Gentiles regarding their inclusion and freedom in Christ. It would have given Scriptural examples for the Jews to use, to help them embrace the good news. It raises the argument to a much greater glorious level. It provides a common ground that both Jews and Gentiles could unite around.
For those of us in the church today, we are usually good at accepting that we have been saved by grace, through faith. However after that is often where the trouble begins. It is so tempting for us to start adding requirements of how we should live, rather than focusing on our relationship with God, from which everything good naturally flows.
The conclusion to this matter in found in Galatians 5:25: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit"
We have thoroughly enjoyed reading Galatians at Pathways, and hope that you are inspired to read it too.
Through the reading of Galatians I have been inspired to read more of Paul's letters. I have just started reading Thessalonians this morning."
Here are our Galatians videos for those who are interested. (These were mainly just made for sharing at our small group meetings, but feel free to take a look!! They do improve in quality as the weeks go by!). This is the first video, the rest can be found on the same playlist.