Why Galatians – Introduction to Galatians 101 Study
A Fall From Grace
In August of 2006, I began emailing with a pastor named Cletis Clayton. Cletis lived in South Dakota at the time and I was in Wisconsin where I received a weekly newspaper from his town of Hot Springs. I had been reading his series called “Jesus is Jehovah” in the church section of the paper. He became aware of the confusion I was in as a former Jehovah’s Witness unable to rid myself of their doctrine. Pastor Cletis continued to pray for me and entertain my questions through a flurry of emails.
Six months had passed and I sent this “breakthrough” email to Cletis on February 20, 2007
Nevertheless, those who receive instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. –Galatians 6:6
Good morning Cletis,
Actually the sun is beckoning my dog and I to share a walk, but first things first!
You suggested I re-read the Israel of God discourse you prepared. I did and once again couldn’t help but be the devil’s advocate and slip my Watchtower indoctrination in the sidebars. I think this is good though as it’s really shining the light on the powerful hold the cult has on its adherents. Much like an addict having to come to that point of admitting his weakness before he can accept help, I have to continually bring this weakness to Jehovah and seek His truth on it. The Israel of God to a JW is only the 144,000 anointed ones, so when a JW reads about the Spirit indwelling or being born again it is only attributed to the Israel of God (the New Jerusalem, the anointed, the heavenly class, the remnant, blah, blah, blah). And my mind still follows that pattern in some warped logical reasoning. But it gets me mad and gets me thinking. It got me mad because I was being very encouraged by recent Bible reading (a lot in Romans) that had me crying thank you’s to God because the verses were reaching me personally as an adopted child. When the Watchtower’s reasoning reared it’s ugly head I sensed that loss of grace I’d been enjoying and went into guilt mode (such as “all things in Jude apply to me, an apostate”). So back to work I go. Work, I say, as in committing to prayer and reading this subject of ‘who is the Israel of God?’ So I have a little notebook to collect verses and insights on the subject of the Israel of God. Thought I’d share some with you.
2 Cor 5:17 says if ANYONE is in Christ, the new creation has come. And then goes on to say how God was reconciling the WORLD to himself in Christ. There is no two class system in this like what the Watchtower teaches. Anyone is just that, ANYONE, the world. If it only meant the 144,000 it should say so!
When Jesus teaches that we must be born again of Spirit and water, the average JW today is left out of this (they claim there are only about 8,000 of the spirit anointed brothers left on earth today and they’re all in their 80’s and 90’s now which is another indication that the end is near.) So when I read Romans 8 and know in my heart that Jehovah’s Spirit has gripped me and feel constantly led by that Spirit (Ro 8:14-17), I have conflicts with my old understanding arguing that even though I am not one of the 144,000 I have indeed been adopted and am a child of God (and that is said with a little Watchtower guilt still). Can you understand the hold that organization has on people? Jehovah reaches out and clearly says ‘I love you’ and ‘I want you in my family’ and everything inside screams that that is blasphemy against ‘the truth’. Yes, I see the craziness of it. And I need to see it that way, not only for myself but to one day minister to others in this trap if God allows. There is an unhealthy Watchtower-instilled guilt involved in coming to Christ and believing we are adopted as children of God because that is a privilege reserved only for 144,000 spirit anointed ones.
I appreciate John’s forceful wordings in John 1:12 to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Yes, the right, I like that.
So this morning I got started in Galatians with a prayer to be enlightened more on this identification of the Israel of God. Well, Galatians is a book now isn’t it? Whew. In Gal 1:11-20 Paul is explaining his conversion and a thought occurred to me. Traditional Christianity and the Watchtower agree that that the church began at Pentecost in 33 C.E. right? There Holy Spirit anointed the true church. The split in belief is that JWs affirm that the church would comprise only 144,000 and the rest of us could believe and follow but are not anointed and not in the heavenly class which is New Jerusalem. So the true church was spread starting with these ‘Pentecostals’. Peter was a representative of this (one of the original 144,000) and thus converted Cornelius. Philip was a rep and thus converted the Ethiopian eunuch. But I find it incredible that Paul was called alone by God. No one laid hands on him nor was he taught by humans (Gal 1:12) in fact the apostles were mistrustful of him. And yet, he says God’s Son was revealed in him (Gal 1:16). That poses a problem for a JW mindset. JWs will acknowledge that Paul is a new creation led by God’s Spirit identifying him as an adopted son, etc. but I am pondering how they explain his solitary conversion unaided by the representatives of the one true church. This is not allowed today, ya know, no one encounters the true God except through His one channel…His spirit anointed channel…the Watchtower Society. To think otherwise is apostasy. I am one happy apostate I guess because I believe Jesus to be that channel.
Further reading in Galatians says we receive the Spirit by believing (Gal 3:2) and I love the personalization of Christ living in ME and dying for ME in Gal 2:20. Again, the fact that ALL who have faith are children of Abraham and children of God is brought to the fore in Gal 3:7, 26. If this Spirit is only for the 144,000 then we are not children of God and have a false faith. Galatians 4:21-31 brings it out perfectly then in the symbolic covenants of the two women, Sarah and Hagar. In verse 26 when Paul says the Jerusalem above is free it refers to the children of the promise not enslaved to the law. The promise is that of Christ residing in our hearts–this new law or new creation in us. If the New Jerusalem then only means the 144,000 and they alone are the children of promise, the children of the free woman….then that leaves everyone else as children of the slave woman still enslaved to law. Boy if that don’t paint a picture of the Watchtower experience! JWs are very oppressed and still under law. And they are not ashamed to present this teaching that Sarah is NOT their mother (except to about 8,000 old farts in the Tower). No JW at your door, Cletis, can say they are children of the free woman (Gal 4:31). Whose children are they?
I meditated on your last letter explaining some points from Acts and the baptism of John and baptism of Jesus. I found it startling that the repentance involved a changed view of Jesus. Up until then, I only considered repentance as grieving over some unlawful act like adultery or greed. Something similar caught my attention in reading Gal 5:4 in Paul’s use of the phrase “fall from grace”. Up until today, I thought of a fall from grace as meaning falling into another unlawful act such as mentioned earlier. But here it is clear that a fall from grace is just that, turning away from GRACE, the undeserved kindness of God. Paul’s whole reasoning here is about those turning back to rules and regulations of the law! So a fall from grace doesn’t mean getting involved in some obvious sin, it could mean doing some really good works actually (with a wrong heart motive). And he dignifies them with that they did at least start out in grace……but they were falling from that grace and back into works of the law. I can relate to this. Grace came to me years ago, but I fell from it once I got into the Watchtower. When I began missing meetings at the Kingdumb Hell (hee hee) a concerned sister called and used Gal 5:7 on me: “you were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” Of course, “the truth” means “the organization” and the obedience meant my failure to attend meetings and the door-to-door ministry. But today I read Paul’s words and he is saying the truth is grace. Obeying the truth means living by faith not law. Those who cut in and keep us from obeying truth (Jesus is the truth) are those who seek to turn us back to law and this ultimately alienates us from Christ. No wonder I was running away. Those who follow law are still old creatures, not a new creation. So those who follow this rule (the rule of grace) are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). Oh, I get it! The old creature needed to live by law and be circumcised in flesh. This new creation boasts in the cross where they’ve been crucified to the world (Gal 6:14). If only 144,000 are the new creation how can the rest be crucified to the world? They are yet worldly then and living under the fleshly law. Sadly, this would include every JW I know. They are yet worldly. And a very common complaint made by active JWs (in hushed tones) is they can never do enough, never please Jehovah enough. They really do preach a different Jesus. Their facts on his fulfilled prophecies lured me in, the promise of His kingdom kept me there, but there is no helmet of salvation to wear in the armor and that made my brain mushy!!!!! Their Jesus won’t even give them a helmet til AFTER the battle is over!!!! That’s a lot of blows to the head!! I have to admit it, I fell from grace. What a revelation that anyone could have all the Bible facts in the world and a good, clean record of morality and still be considered to have fallen from grace!
Love is patient. A brother at the Kingdom Hall once read 1 Cor 13 inserting Jehovah every place it says Love. Jehovah is patient (1 Cor 13:4) and He’s still working with me. I still don’t understand why there is this specific number of 144,000 spoken of in Revelation then, but in time He’ll let me in on that mystery too I guess. For now, His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9)
Thanks for being there Cletis!
Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie
My dearest Julie!!
I just this minute received and read your letter. It inspires me sooo, that I must ask you a question. You made the following statement: “And I need to see it that way, not only for myself but to one day minister to others in this trap if God allows.” Julie, it isn’t only those in the Watchtower who are in this trap. They are in the Church of Christ, the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Wesleyan Church, ad infinitum. Many, many, many, who profess to be Christians, are in this trap. Now having gone all around John Brown’s barn, here is my question. Do you object to me reading your letter to about 12 or 15 people Sunday morning. In your letter, you give some insights that the world needs to hear. If you feel that your letter is too personal and you don’t want me to share it, I respect that. I will in no way violate our confidentiality without your permission. But, if it’s OK, I want you to minister to a few Sunday Morning.
May God continue to bless you in your studies!!
I love you, Cletis
That correspondence was from 2007. Since that time I’ve talked with many former Jehovah’s Witnesses like myself who had left behind their religion, but it had not left them. I wanted to see them loosed from bondage and know the freedom of Christ. But where does one begin with someone who already believes in God and is familiar with the Bible yet entangled and asking for spiritual direction?
The letter to the Galatians was written to sincere believers who had been thrown into confusion by the misuse of God’s word. This relates well to many who have also been trained by their religion to believe their performance or sacrifice is what reconciles them to God. This epistle gets right to the heart of legalism within the first two chapters. Even within the first 10 verses the reader is prompted to examine whether they have the known the true gospel or been deceived by a distorted version! If someone claims to share the gospel in their evangelism activities, are they sharing the original gospel as the Galatians had received or are they spreading the “different gospel” Paul warned about in this letter?
Over the past several years of internet group and one-on-one phone studies with persons affected by legalism, others have asked if there is a lesson plan I could offer so they could provide the same type of ministry. As Pastor Cletis noted, this is not just needed for those in groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, misconceptions abound also among others professing to be Christians. And so, I am using my notes and experiences in helping Jehovah’s Witnesses to also equip the Church to “be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15)
The writer of Hebrews said Christians had become “dull of hearing” and declared “by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:11-12) Jehovah’s Witnesses take great pride being sent to teach others through their free home Bible studies. Are members of our local churches prepared to teach them the gospel? If we are to mature as Christians who “ought to be teachers” then we need to first lay a foundation of “the elementary principles,” one of which is “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1). I believe Paul’s letter to the Galatians was intended to help us to do just that.
It is my prayer that as we study the book of Galatians and are refreshed in God’s grace, His Spirit will lead us to repent of any attachments to dead works. And as we grow to maturity knowing the one true gospel, may we be equipped to quickly discern when someone presents to us a distorted version of it and be eager to teach them the good news of justification by faith in Christ alone!
Keep yourself in God’s love,