Studying Galatians? Here’s Some Help.

There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace. To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world; and to preach this doctrine fully without verging towards antinomianism is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done.

– Archibald Alexander[1]

Alexander captures perfectly the challenge: to preach the doctrine of gratuitous pardon fully without veering into anti-law/cheap grace, pseudo-theology is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done… and I might add, even more rarely done accurately or well.

Philp Ryken provides us one of the best examples I’ve yet encountered in his commentary on Galatians. And yet, he is not perfect. As Alexander observed this, “is no easy task.” Ryken manages to get the big picture entirely correct, and to explain it an easily understood manner. He does so in spite of getting some of the details wrong. He often misunderstands the point of the New Perspective on Paul, and yet does so in the midst of making valid points about the message of Galatians.

The reason I bring that up is this: it has been those details which have caused most contemporary Christians (even Christian scholars) to get the big picture of Galatians wrong. I celebrate Ryken because he maintains the accurate big picture! However, I am concerned for the future because he fails to correct some of the details that led us to the situation now confronting us.

That having been said, I wholeheartedly commend Ryken’s Galatians commentary to you as the best layman’s explanation of Paul’s letter to the Galatians presently available.

If I were to summarize the message of Galatians, and consequently the message of Ryken’s commentary, it would be this:

Having been saved entirely by grace through faith, do we now keep the law in order to retain our salvation? ABSOLUTELY NOT! We keep the law because we are dead to it and alive to/through Christ, who is the embodiment of the law’s requirements! But we now walk in his character (walk in the Spirit/keep the law’s instructions) through grace and faith, every bit as much as we were initially justified by grace through faith.

The follow on question of, “In what manner does the law of God now instruct believers?” is a very different question.

  1. First, we must acknowledge that the law plays no process in justification other than to point out our need for it.
  2. Second, we must acknowledge that our place in Christ’s affections is never improved through law-keeping.
  3. Thirdly, we must acknowledge that the law of God continues to describe Christ’s character, and only then ought we to ask, “How does the law of God now instruct me, and how shall we now apply it?”

Most contemporary Christians never move past the second point, and consequently never ask the critical question, which would enable them to complete the Lord’s Great Commission: teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

As a complement to Ryken’s Galatians commentary, I would also strongly commend to you his book Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis.

If one wants to get into the weeds and/or attempt to defend Ryken’s reading of Galatians, in that case, the writings of Tim Hegg or R.J. Rushdoony are very helpful. But for the purpose of simply understanding Galatians accurately oneself, there is no commentary superior to Philip G. Ryken’s on Galatians.

 


[1] A. Alexander. Thoughts on Religious Experience, 1844; repr. London: Banner of Truth, 1967, 165–66.

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