Friday, January 30, 2015

Galatians 3:6-9

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and form thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3
And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6

In Genesis, God made a covenant with Abraham. A covenant is simply a promise or an agreement. The Abrahamic Covenant, as it would come to be called, had two incredibly important parts – 1) Through the descendents of Abraham, all the families of the world [people groups] would be blessed; 2) Because Abraham believed God, God counted Abraham as righteous. Most covenants were an agreement between two parties whereby both agreed to do something to fulfill the terms of the agreement. The Abrahamic Covenant was exceptional in one regard, only one of the parties in the covenant, God, was going to be doing something to guarantee the covenant. God made it clear that it was Abraham’s duty to simply believe God.
As Abraham had descendants and heirs, the covenant passed on to them. The descendants of Abraham that would join the covenant with God were to be known not as much for their genetic relation to Abraham; instead, they were to be known, like Abraham, for their faith in God. Consistently through the Old Testament, the physical descendants of Abraham acted in ways that were atrocious and disobedient to God, but all the while they claimed that because they were physical descendants of Abraham, God should bless them. God sent prophets, priests, and even kings to call them to repent and turn in faith back to God, but time and again, the physical descendants refused to confess their need for their covenant-making God.
When we arrive in the New Testament, the physical descendants of Abraham were still convinced that by blood they should receive the blessing of God. They failed to acknowledge that it wasn’t anything in and of themselves that would bring the grace of God upon them. God was willing to freely extend blessing, but it would only come to those who would obey the premise of the covenant - faith.
This was the problem with those who had come into the churches of Galatia. They argued that the physical things of Abraham were needed if someone wanted to be justified by God. In their estimation, the Galatians needed to become Jewish converts and obey the laws of Moses before they could receive the grace of God to be declared justified and freed from their sins. Paul reminded the Galatians and these physical descendants of Abraham (of which he was one) that God had declared Abraham righteous on the sole criteria of faith. Any who would seek to join Abraham’s family, must only needs come through faith. The promise of eternal life and blessing is offered, all that is needed is faith.

Food For Thought: Explain in your own words the phrase “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Galatians 3:1-5

Imagine that next year during the State of the Union Address, President Obama announced that he has instructed NASA to begin developing new technology.
“My fellow Americans, we sit at the dawn of a new age. This past year, the United States began private talks with leaders from the world’s 25 largest nations. Following recommendations from the international community, I have directed NASA to begin research and development on a global infrastructure that will change our planet for all of time. Our goal, our dream, our hope, is that by the year 2100, we will have rockets attached to the earth’s crust that will generate enough thrust to be able to rotate the Earth on its axis. Following that project, we foresee the potential to develop a similar system to propel the Earth into an orbit around the sun. As an international community, we will be investing approximately 100 quindecillion dollars over the next 85 years. In dollars, one with fifty zeros behind it may sound like a lot of money, but that is a small price to pay to accomplish such a great task for our children and our children’s children.”
That would be incredible! Technology that could rotate the earth on its axis, or send the earth in orbit around the sun, what an amazing idea!! Except for one thing…the earth already spins on its axis…and it also already orbits the sun. Spending 100 quindecillion dollars on research and development and implementation is absolute nonsense. We would be trying to accomplish something that already was a reality. How would we know if we had actually succeeded? If the earth is already spinning, would we ever be able to say, “We are now making the earth spin.”? It is ridiculous to imagine that human beings should try to match something as powerful as the rotation of the planet. I think I would be one of the seated, non-applauding snobs during that moment in the State of the Union Address.
When we arrive at Galatians 3, we see that Paul is arguing a similar point. Instead of Paul saying that the Galatians were trying to attach rockets to the planet, Paul explains that someone tricked the Galatians into thinking that after the Spirit of God converted them, they should try to perfect themselves in their own power. This was simply incorrect. Rather, the same power that brought them into salvation, now worked in them to sanctify them. The Holy Spirit had drawn them in and converted them, and had given them faith to believe the message of the gospel. Like the earth orbits the sun with power not its own, these believers had been drawn into a path of holiness and righteousness by a power that was not their own. To imagine that it was through their own wisdom and “good enough” efforts that they would become more pleasing to God, was to ignore the reality of their conversion and their current, helpless, sinful state.
Paul continued to argue that we as believers must surrender ourselves to the power and working of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, in our modern age, this concept is often confused and muddled. Just as the force that spins the earth on its axis has a specific purpose and accomplishment in the life of the planet, so the Holy Spirit works and accomplishes things with a very specific purpose in the life of the believer. In conversion, it is the Holy Spirit that opens the eyes of the unconverted to see the truth of God, that conviction of sin and repentance might come. Similarly, following conversion, the believer can rely on the Holy Spirit to continue to perfect and grow him, by illumining the truth of God as found in Scripture. The sword of the Spirit, His tool, His implement in the life of the believer is the Word of God.

Food For Thought: Why did Paul call the Galatians efforts “foolish” in Galatians 3:3?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Galatians 2:15-21

But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely, these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God.  - Council of Trent, Roman Catholic Church
After finishing his arguments against his assailants, Paul turned the message of his letter to the gospel and the nature of saving faith. When the legalist Judaizers had come into the churches of Galatia, they had not only sought to undermine Paul’s character and authority, they had labored extensively to undermine the gospel that he preached. Through deception and slander they eventually were able to turn entire congregations of believers away from the message that Paul had taught.
At first they affirmed some of Paul’s teaching, namely, the need for a man to be justified before God. Justification is the act whereby God declares wicked sinners who are his enemies to be forgiven of their sins and accepted in peace as His own sons and daughters. The legalist Judaizers agreed with Paul that Jesus died on the cross to bring us justification with God. By taking on himself the sins of those who believe in him, bearing God’s wrath as a substitution for their sins, and then by offering them his own sinless life of righteousness, Jesus accomplished justification for all those who believe. This was the message of Paul, and this point was not a point of contention with the Judaizers.
After affirming Paul, however, they attacked Paul’s premise of “through faith alone.” They, like the Roman Catholic Church, argued that the work of Jesus was “the beginning of salvation, the foundation and root of justification,” but that the work of Jesus was not all that was needed for justification before God. They argued that after one placed his faith in Jesus, he could eventually be justified by obedience to the Law of Moses. Jesus wasn’t enough. His sacrifice was good enough to get you started on obeying God, but ultimate justification depended on you.
This view is not only horribly wrong, but it is dangerously devastating. Any who would turn away from Christ alone as their only hope, and see Christ instead as a mere means whereby their own works become the method to being justified, these people are not truly justified, and the wrath of God will come on them. Only through faith in the work of Christ can we have peace with God. Faith is not a foundation out of which grows a root of justification; it is the fountain through which flows full justification in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone.
Paul argued to the Galatians that any who would say they were justified by the work of Christ, and then press on to further justify themselves by their own works were showing that Jesus did not fully cleanse them from their sin; rather, he only took them further into sin that they still needed to be saved from. Paul also argued that those who think that works are required for salvation are saying that the sacrifice of Jesus is inadequate for salvation. If His sacrifice was inadequate, then Paul argues in verse 21, it was a waste for Jesus to die. The death of Jesus is not a waste; it is the only hope for our justification.

Food For Thought: What is wrong with the statement by the Council of Trent listed above?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Galatians 2:11-14

After receiving the gospel message directly from Jesus, Paul travelled and preached faithfully for the next twenty years. In obedience to the call of Christ, Paul had taken the gospel message, evangelized, and planted churches throughout Asia and Europe. Now, after nearly two decades of declaring it, challengers had come into the churches of Galatia and were arguing that Paul and Peter were disagreeing. They claimed that while Paul argued that it was through faith alone that God extends his grace, Peter was teaching the church in Jerusalem that you must not only place your faith in Jesus, but that you must also follow the law in order to become a Christian.
Paul thoroughly disassembled their claims, but before he moved on to teach the deeper truths of justification by grace alone through faith alone, Paul leveled one last charge against the works-based Judaizers. This group of legalists idolized Peter and James and considered them to be “real Apostles,” while in their estimation, Paul was a fraud of an Apostle. Paul had answered this accusation at the very beginning of his letter, but continued to explain further how he had interacted with the so-called “real Apostles” in Jerusalem and how that he had even discussed his gospel message with them. At no point did they correct him, rather, they affirmed him and accepted him. If Paul was preaching a false gospel, then why would the other Apostles have affirmed it?
Paul continued his recounting of his interactions with the other Apostles. In the first century, the church in Antioch had become a center for Christian activity. For a while, when Paul and Barnabas were there, Peter came up from Jerusalem to visit them. This church in Antioch was the perfect picture of Christianity, ethnic walls and cultural distinction were melted away, and Jew and Gentile fellowshipped freely. The gospel was at work bringing together everyone in the church. That is, until other Jewish leaders arrived. Paul refers to these new arrivals as “certain that came from James.” These close followers of James were apparently disturbed by the intermingling of the races.
In their gospel-less racism they drew Peter away from the Gentiles there in Antioch and created a noticeable distinction between themselves and the Gentile converts. Paul explained that in their separation they even caused Barnabas to draw away from the Gentiles. This was an impressive thing since Barnabas would eventually be a missionary to Gentiles, and now he was acting racist against them. Seeing the sinfulness of the Jewish church leaders, Paul spoke up immediately. His accusations were leveled at Peter himself. The pillar of the Judaizers, Peter, was guilty of sinful separation. Separation for the sake of true godliness was one thing, but separation for fear of men, that was simply sinful. Paul rebuked Peter, and Peter was eventually restored to the Gentile believers.
Paul’s argument was clear. “I am an Apostle. I have been accepted by the other Apostles. One of the chief Apostles accepted open rebuke from my mouth about the very things on which I have been challenged.” The Judaizers were left with no more ground from which to argue their point. To press against Paul was to press against the entire band of Apostles. To argue against the power of the gospel that Paul preached was to argue against the obvious transformation that had occurred in his life. To challenge the message that Paul preached was to challenge the one who gave Paul the message, Jesus. After Paul answered the charges against him, now the Galatians could trust what he would teach them.

Food For Thought: How was Peter’s racist separation from the Gentiles inconsistent with the gospel?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Galatians 2:1-10

Paul had clearly and effectively dismantled the attacks of the Judaizers. They claimed that Paul was preaching a false gospel that only required that a person believe. In their estimation, Paul was at best an uninformed preacher and at worst he was a false teacher leading away thousands into heresy. With religious fervor, they took on the crusade of slandering his character and undermining his message. Paul spent all of Galatians 1 explaining that he was clearly an Apostle who had been hand-picked and called by Jesus Christ. Furthermore, in spite of the accusation that Paul was just a message-changing people-pleaser, Paul explained that he consistently taught the same message regardless of the audience.
For the last half of chapter one, Paul’s latest exhibit in defense of the gospel was his own conversion. He argued that the gospel that he preached was the same one that converted him. There was no point in changing the message. It was from God, and it clearly worked. Although Paul had clearly made his point, and could have ended his counter-attack against those who sought to malign him, instead he pressed on into chapter 2, dismantling the Judaizers argument for a works based salvation.
Paul explained that he preached for nearly 15 years before returning to Jerusalem. When he headed back to Jerusalem, he took with him Barnabas and Titus. Jerusalem was home to the Apostles Peter, James and John. This was important, because one of the key arguments that the Judaizers made against Paul was that the “real Apostles” in Jerusalem required all of the believers in Jerusalem to follow the ceremonial laws of Moses in addition to placing their faith in the saving work of Christ. To show that this was a complete misconception and a gross misrepresentation, Paul explained that when he took Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert, to Jerusalem, the “real Apostles” (Paul makes a mildly sarcastic comment about having favorites in verse 6) accepted him without forcing him to follow the ceremonial laws. (namely, circumcision)
The point that Paul was making was that when he brought Titus, a Gentile, to Jerusalem to see the church leaders there, none of the Apostles ever said that Titus was unconverted for not having followed the ceremonies of the Jews. Rather, they received Titus along with Paul and Barnabas. Furthermore, Paul explained that by receiving Paul and Barnabas, the church leaders in Jerusalem were more than willing to fellowship with Paul and Titus and to affirm the things that he was teaching. They never sought to correct his message, even though they had ample opportunity. They never told Titus that he needed to be circumcised. Clearly, the Judaizers were misrepresenting the truth of the gospel, by expecting things that the other Apostles in Jerusalem did not even require.
Paul was clearly a true apostle. His character could not be impugned. The gospel he preached was the same gospel that had drastically transformed his life. Additionally, the other Apostles affirmed both the gospel message that he preached and the converts that he had brought into the faith. The argument was clearly over. Those who came to Galatia to attack Paul had chosen to attack the wrong person. Paul was blameless.

Food For Thought: What reality did bringing Titus to Jerusalem prove for Paul?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Galatians 1:13-24

After defending his Apostleship and his motivations, Paul moved on to explain that the gospel that he preached was not a wishy-washy, flimsy, powerless message of cultural manipulation. The Judaizers wrongly accused Paul of what they did not know. He had never changed his message to appease audiences, whether in a strict Jewish context or in the loose-living Gentile culture. The gospel that Paul preached was the one that he had received from Jesus himself.
Paul further explained why he did not want to change the message. First, God had told him to proclaim it, and changing the message would be disobeying God. To Paul, obeying God would always be more important than impressing people. Second, Paul explained how that the gospel had worked in transforming his own life. Why would he need to change the message if he knew it was powerful enough to work just the way it was? To make this second point, Paul gave a bit of autobiographical information.
In his younger years, Paul had been highly successful in following the Jewish religion. As a matter of fact, at the time of Paul’s conversion he was working as a zealous volunteer to fulfill orders to seek and destroy any person who refused to obey the Jewish religion, including Christians. After meeting the resurrected, glorified Jesus, Paul had come to place his faith in Him, and was converted. Everything that he had pursued up to that point in his life was in question. Paul, the Jewish zealot, was now faced with an painfully difficult situation.
Many assume that Paul walked away from his Damascus Road experience thoroughly changed, but Paul says that simply wasn’t the case. After seeing Jesus, Paul retreated into Arabia and Damascus for three years. I imagine that for those three years, Paul wrestled with the historical and prophetic truths that he had been raised under. I think that it is interesting to note, although not expressly important, that Paul spent three years learning the truth and message of Jesus. This was the same amount of time that the other Apostles had spent with Jesus during His earthly ministry. While the specific amount of time is not necessarily of great consequence, the fact that Paul didn’t simply convert over night is. It took years to reshape and reframe his theology. Damascus Road was the start of his gospel transformation, and even as an Apostle, he would continue to grow in his understanding of the truths of the gospel.
Paul’s final blow against the slanderous attacks that the Judaizers had made was in explaining his purpose for trusting in and proclaiming consistently and confidently the gospel as he had received it from Jesus. That purpose - in the end, God would be glorified. In never caving under social pressure and declaring the gospel with little regard for popularity, Paul knew that any result achieved, any conversions accomplished, would come only from the power of a gracious, electing God. At the end of the day, Paul’s ability to give a persuasive argument for the gospel was not what converted men. Men were converted simply by the will and work of an omnipotent God. As Paul would argue later in Romans 1:16, he unashamedly preached the gospel, because it “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth,” to the Jew and the Gentile. He didn’t need to cater. God’s power was sufficient in the gospel to convert anyone.

Food For Thought: What reasons did Paul give for not needing to change the gospel to reach his audience?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Galatians 1:10-12

When the gospel-diluting Judaizers arrived in Galatia, they found that the Christians there believed that salvation was simply by God’s grace through faith. In their own minds, this was too simple. To the Judaizers, believing that God, the Holy Judge of all sinfulness, would grant forgiveness of sins and acceptance to those who simply placed their faith in the saving work of Jesus was a dangerous and confused way of teaching the gospel. In their estimation, God had seemed to require so much of His people in the Old Testament Mosaic Law (Law that was given to Moses) that for anyone to say He offered forgiveness and peace apart from doing good works was inconsistent with the character and nature of the God they had come to know and defend.
In an attempt to preserve the character of God, they sought to smear the character of Paul. Their first attack was at his authority. If Paul was truly an Apostle, he could speak and teach with inherited authority from Jesus Himself. If Paul was not an Apostle appointed by Jesus and just another preacher, then Paul’s teaching and instruction were prey to error, rendering his position on the exclusive gospel of faith alone vulnerable and unauthoritative. Paul answered this false charge at the outset of his epistle explaining that he had been called to faith and service as an Apostle by the glorified Christ.
Turning from his credentials, the Judaizers chose to attack Paul’s intentions. Perhaps from a knowledge of Paul’s evangelism method of “becoming all things to all people,” these trumpeters of malignity claimed that when Paul was with the Gentiles in Galatia, he was changing his gospel to match the audience. Their claim was that when Paul was with Jewish believers the gospel he preached was probably a law-based, works-based gospel, but when Paul was with the wild-lifestyle, licentious Gentiles, his gospel changed to be a lot less about having a right life and instead be simply about faith. Paul responded to the charges of impure motive with a simple statement, “The gospel I preached…I neither received it of man, neither was taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In effect, he was saying, “You can judge motives, but when it comes down to the facts of the gospel message that I preach, that gospel message is the one I received directly from Jesus.”
Paul was not changing his message from place to place, rather, Paul was preaching the same message he had always preached. “Becoming all things to all people” was not ever at the expense of the true gospel, it was only always for the furtherance of the true gospel. Paul further explained his motive in declaring the gospel was not to impress people. Instead, he preached the gospel faithfully because he wanted to live in a way that was obediently pleasing to God. In arguing this very point of obedience to God, Paul was teaching that the gospel does not negate personal obedience and holiness. Paul was bound as a Christian to obey the things that God commanded. Similarly, all who come in faith and receive God’s grace for salvation are then called to live in holy obedience to God. In Paul’s teaching, obedience was a fruit of conversion, not a cause.
The view that works or obedience to the laws of God are a prerequisite to justification is known as legalism. In this system, the work of Christ is not enough to save a person from their sins, there is something else that must be done. Paul taught the church at Galatia that there is not only nothing that you must do, but that in all reality there is nothing that you are able to do to earn the grace of God.

Food For Thought: Where does Paul say that he received the gospel message that he preached? How should this silence any opposition once and for all?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Galatians 1:6-9

"For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."- 2 Nephi 25:23, The Book of Mormon
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” – Articles of Faith 1:3, Church of Latter Day Saints
"If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema." – Canon 9, Roman Catholic Council of Trent
"Yes, there are various things involved in getting saved. We must take in accurate knowledge of Gods purposes and his way of salvation. Then we must exercise faith in the Chief Agent of salvation, Jesus Christ, and do God's will the rest of our lives.” – “What must we do to be saved?”, The Watchtower, Sept 15. 1989

As we scan the scope of religion, there is a consistent hum of a motor that turns the gears of oppression and slavery in the hearts and minds of those who are being told that there is something they must do to be saved. Instead of seeing the plain testimony of Jesus and the New Testament authors, for centuries men in either willful deception or in inadvertent ignorance have tightened shackles on the wrists and ankles and necks of those who would be converts to their religious structure. When Paul wrote the book of Galatians, the shackle-forgers were already fast at work in the very churches that Paul had previously declared the true gospel.
Thankfully, we have been afforded the actual sermon Paul preached to the Galatians in Antioch in Pisidia. In Acts 13:38-39, Paul proclaimed, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man [Jesus] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe [faith] are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. [works]” Paul’s argument was that it is only through faith that a man can receive the grace of God to be justified.
In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul now warns the Galatian churches, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” All those who would seek to say that we are saved by anything besides the grace of God through faith alone, is not only wrong, but is purely wicked and cursed of God. Those who would add works to faith preach something that is anti-gospel.
It is for this reason that the phrase, “after all we can do” in the Book of Mormon, and “by obedience to the laws and ordinances” in the Latter Day Saints Articles of Faith, and the Council of Trent’s attack against faith alone, and the Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower declaration that we must “do God’s will the rest of our lives,” are anti-gospel. When you have changed the gospel, Paul would argue that you no longer have a gospel. When the work of salvation rests on your shoulders, you have departed from the realm of good news. The slavery and bondage of works will bind you until your eventual death and damnation. Faith plus works is not a gospel, no, this pollution of grace is simply anti-gospel.

Food For Thought: Pick one of the above heretical sources and explain in your own words using Paul’s arguments in Galatians 1:6-9, why these are not the true gospel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Galatians 1:1-5

When word reached Paul that the churches in Galatia were being misled by false teachers, he took pen and parchment and crafted his warning. In comparison to Paul’s other epistles, the Epistle to the Galatians starts with a very different set of opening comments. Typically, when Paul began a letter to a church, he would start with praises of what the church was doing, and then move on to a prayer that he was currently praying for them. As we begin reading Galatians, we find that Paul takes no time for any of that. The danger is imminent, and Paul answers with urgency, skipping over the usual formalities.
Apparently, when the false teachers had attacked, they had not only taught error; they systematically sought to remove Paul’s credibility among the Galatian believers. They argued that since Paul was not converted until after Christ had risen and returned to heaven then he could never have been personally commissioned by Jesus, and never have seen the resurrected Christ. According to them, without those two things, then Paul had no authority as an Apostle. But their arguments were unfounded.
In Acts 9, Paul (called “Saul” at the time) was persecuting the church when he was interrupted by the bright and shining glory of a resurrected Jesus. Paul’s entire conversion hinged on the truth that Jesus personally intercepted and called him to follow Him. Paul was eventually confirmed and sent out by the other Apostles in Jerusalem, further validating what was already settled on the road to Damascus. Any who would deny that Paul was a true apostle, either did so from ignorance or from willful deceit. Whatever the reason for these claims, the problem was that the false teachers were not only undermining Paul’s authority, but that they were undermining the very gospel that Paul had preached.
As Paul starts his epistle, with ferocity he devastates the claims against his apostleship - “Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father).” In other words, “When you challenge my authority, you are standing in opposition to Jesus, Himself.” The Apostles were the authoritative representatives of Jesus in the early church. Paul may have come a bit later than the others, but his conversion on the road to Damascus had secured him a place as one of the Apostles.
As Paul continues his introduction, he attacks the heresy that had begun to creep into the Galatian churches. He does this, not by first naming the error, but rather, by first naming the truth. Up against the things that Paul has already taught the Galatians, the lies of the false teachers stand in glaring contrast. Paul begins with, “Grace and peace have come from God, and from Jesus, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us…to whom be glory forever and ever.” The false teachers taught that the believers must add things to the work that Christ had already accomplished. Paul, however, reminds the believers in these first few verses that God has already done everything in Christ that we need for forgiveness and peace. Finally, in Paul’s estimation, only God and Christ deserve the praise and glory for our salvation. If we saved ourselves, we would be able to brag about our power. By simply preaching the truth, Paul drew a clear distinction between truth and error. Paul will eventually attack the heart of the problem, and eventually will appeal to the Galatians to return to the gospel truth that he originally delivered to them from Christ.

Food For Thought: If Paul was converted after Christ had returned to heaven, how could he call himself an Apostle?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Introduction: Epistle to the Galatians

During the lifetime of the Apostle Paul, there was a region known as Galatia in the center of Asia Minor, where modern day Turkey exists. The entire Province of Galatia during the reign of the Roman Empire was comparable in size to all of the land of Palestine. At the time of Paul, many of the people of Galatia were descended from Celtic invaders who had conquered the region around 300 B.C. The name “Galatia” comes from the Latin, Galli, which is more commonly transliterated as “Gauls.” As a people group the Northern European cousins of these Asia Minor Gauls have received a bit more historical recognition because of their constant attacks against the powerful Roman Empire, including most famously a series of wars against Julius Caesar.
In Scripture, the first time that we meet the people of Galatia is in Luke’s account of “The Acts of the Apostles,” or simply, the Book of Acts. In Acts 13 and 14, Paul traveled and preached the gospel through Antioch in Pisidia (a different Antioch than the one where Paul and Barnabas were commissioned for missionary work), Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. These cities all fell within the boundaries of what the Roman Empire designated as the Province of Galatia, although whether or not Paul actually preached to any ethnic descendants of the Gauls is still debated.
While there may still be a matter of debate about the audience to whom Paul was speaking, there is no debate that he and Barnabas travelled through Galatia declaring the good news of the gospel to those who lived there. The message that Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch in Pisidia was at first rejected by the Jewish inhabitants of the city, but when the Gentiles of the city heard it they gathered the whole city together to hear the gospel. Luke writes in Acts 13:48-49, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published through all the region.
Paul and Barnabas would eventually be chased out by the Jewish leaders in that city, but their work had begun. They had been able to share the good news of the gospel to all those who lived in the region. Although Paul would travel away, he never would forget the churches that he had helped to start, and the believers that he had seen converted in the region of Galatia. Eventually others would come along behind Paul and seek to undo what Paul had taught. They were not satisfied with the gospel that they heard, and they desired to teach a new message.
When news of this subterfuge reached Paul, he made it a priority to pen an epistle of warning to the Galatians. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote a letter admonishing the Galatian believers to hold firmly to the message he had taught them. He warned them of the false teachers who would ruin them, and encouraged them to love one another and continue in the faith. Many of the warnings that Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago are incredibly applicable today. With the rise of cults and the prevalence of false teaching, it is important that we hold firmly to the truth of the gospel.

Food for Thought: Where did the Province of Galatia get its name?

Friday, January 16, 2015

John 21:24-25

As the Gospel according to John began, we used the illustration of a courtroom to understand what the Apostle John’s goal was. He was seeking to give undeniable proof to the fact that we find in John 20:31, that “Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Systematically, John presented the evidences, one after the next, to demonstrate that beyond a reasonable doubt, Jesus truly was the Messiah.
Through accomplishing the miraculous, through His own testimony, and even through the testimony of those around Him, it was clear that Jesus was the bodily fulfillment of the promised Messiah. Jesus demonstrated inexplicable power over the natural element of water, converting it miraculously to wine. Jesus showed that He had power over disability and disease when He supernaturally healed the man who had been lame for 42 years. Jesus exhibited again inarguable ability over nature when He took five loaves and two fishes and unbelievably converted it into a massive feast that fed thousands. He revealed His unearthly wisdom as He stood amongst the greatest scholars and scribes of His day and left them bewildered and even at times frustrated because of His overwhelming command of the truth. It was from the spittle and mud on the fingertips of the powerful Jesus that for the first time one born blind would receive his sight. With His words He raised a dead man back to life. On the back of a donkey He rode into Jerusalem under the praises of the people. After being savagely beaten and dying, He overcame Death by resurrecting victoriously over it.
His works spoke for themselves. But arguably more powerful than His works were His words. In teaching, He had demonstrated that none could argue with His understanding of the Law. The precision with which He could think and illustrate brought challenger after challenger, all of which agreed that they could not best Him. With that impeccable reason and clarity of communication, He had stated that He was without a doubt the Son of God. He had come to be the Messiah who would save the world by dying on the cross for sinners. His life met His teaching, and eventually the testimony of all those around Him would match the reality of His life. Even as Jesus stood before John the Baptist, the prophet, He had been introduced in redemptive language, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Those around him would have to admit that He was indeed the Messiah.
As John closes this great testimony, we see a sort of witness statement. He says, “I’m the disciple which testifies of these things, and writes these things.” In effect, “Perhaps you noticed at each of the stories there was a disciple that followed along and witnessed it all. That disciple is me.” This was not a list of hearsay events. This was not a list of wives fables that were handed down through misguided and myth-birthing centuries. This document, this Gospel account, this entire treatise that we just heard came from the mouth of a first person witness to these events.
The evidence is clear. The testimony is sure and without flaw. Now, what we are left to do is what John set out for us to do: believe, and that believing we might have life through His name. Jesus is indubitably the Messiah who came to save the world. We would do well to see the witness and believe.

Food For Thought: In John 21:25, John claims that there are limitless other stories that he could tell about Jesus. Why do you think John didn’t write any more of the things that he had seen?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

John 21:18-23

According to Jesus, the duty of a true disciple and follower is to share the gospel with others and to make disciples out of those who are converted. With this formula having been extended, Jesus looked to Peter, and made a chilling prophecy. With just a few words, Jesus explained to Peter that the day would come when Peter would be killed for being a follower of Jesus. This must have been disconcerting to say the least, but the discomfort must have met with a sense of hope.
The last time that Peter had been put to the test of his faith, he had fled and denied Jesus. Now, Jesus was telling him that the day would come when in the face of persecution Peter would stand his ground, never depart from the faith and ultimately join Christ in suffering a martyr’s death. It must have been reassuring to Peter who no doubt wondered what would happen if he were ever put to the test again. The last time, before the arrest in the midnight garden, Peter had been so emphatic about how he would be willing to die for Jesus and that he would never leave the side of Jesus. When Peter’s zealous imagination was met with the flash of torches against cold steel, his heart melted as he retreated into the night with curses and lies. Now, on the bank of the Galilee over a fish breakfast Jesus himself had said that Peter would never back down again. What a reassuring reality.
But with this confidence came the reality that Peter would one day die for his faith. There was no turning back. There was no abandoning. Jesus had declared it there in front of several disciples, and Peter would eventually feel the nails and beams of a Roman cross. Peter never looked back. Until his death, his boldness and faith was unmatched. Not only was he part of the church, Peter was called to the role of leader in the Jerusalem church. Peter would preach, and train others, and would ultimately fulfill the command to “follow me” as Christ had commanded, by making disciples of those he saw come to the faith.
Hearing the sharp truth from the mouth of Jesus, Peter looked at John, and asked Jesus if John would die the same way. Jesus answered very quickly, and apparently in a way that others would misinterpret later on. In effect the answer that Jesus gave was this, “What ever I will, is what will happen to John. What you need to be concerned with is what I have told you.” This is consistent with everything else that we learn from scripture. The call of God on us is to love and obey him, not to inspect the hidden will of God for the lives of others. Jesus knew that Peter’s knowing what would happen to John would not help Peter to follow him any better. Instead, Jesus reissued His call on Peter, “Follow thou me.”
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the successes and designs of other people’s lives. We often try to template our lives, imagining that although we have a completely different set of God ordained circumstances and personal characteristics, somehow we could make our Christian life or ministering exactly like someone else’s whom we idolize. The call of Jesus goes to all of His disciples the same, “Follow me.” Jesus was not bound up in the compare and copy technique of ministering. He saw the goal of loving others, and glorifying God as the fuel that drove him. We would be wise to see only His example as the perfect one to follow.

Food For Thought: Why did Jesus tell Peter not to worry what would happen to John?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

John 21:12-19

Peter and the other disciples hurried to the shore to be with Jesus. As they came close, Jesus offered some breakfast to them. John makes sure to mention that no one had to ask who it was that they were eating with; rather, all the disciples were thrilled to be with Jesus again. Settling in after the meal, Jesus looked to Peter and asked him a very pointed question- “Simon, lovest thou me more than these?”
What the “these” are in context is not absolutely certain, but the text does seem to indicate that Jesus was talking about the fish that they had just caught. I would say this for a couple reasons. 1) It doesn’t seem right to ask Peter if he loves Jesus more than the other disciples, this would not be a standard that Jesus would expect from any one disciple. Rather, every disciple should give full devotion and love to Jesus. 2) The second reason I could see in context is that John spent quite a bit of time describing the fact that Peter was fishing, and that Peter had brought the fish (John points out specifically 153 of them) up to share them for breakfast with Jesus. I think a bit of inspection of the text really seems to indicate that Jesus was asking Peter, “Do you love me more than you love these fishes?” So if that is what Jesus was saying, what did He mean by it?
Perhaps, since Peter had left off as a disciple and had returned to his previous job, Jesus was probing Peter’s heart to see if he really wanted to abandon the gospel ministry and return to fishing. Now, with fishes and Jesus directly in front of him, Peter is forced by Jesus to choose which is more valuable and more worth pursuing - Jesus or fish. Peter could spend the rest of his life doing what he had grown up doing, mending nets and catching fish, or he could press on to more lasting things ministering the gospel to other people.
I think with this view of the text, the words of Jesus seem a bit clearer. “Peter do you love me more than these fish? Then feed my sheep. (take care of those who are my own)” He had already called Peter to be His disciple, but now, He was telling Peter it was his task to share the gospel and make more disciples out of the other followers of Jesus. Being a true disciple did not mean that Peter had received the gospel from Jesus and simply returned to work as if nothing had happened. Being a true disciple meant that Peter’s life and ambition and goals must change. Finally, Jesus reissues his call to Peter, “Follow me.” Just as Jesus made disciples, it would now be Peter’s job to preach the gospel and to train disciples.
The call to Peter is extended to all those who would truly be the followers of Jesus. A true disciple is marked by these things: a love for Jesus, a desire to communicate the gospel, a desire to make disciples (and not just converts). While Peter became a full time minister fully-devoted to teaching and training others, you would not necessarily have to do the same to obey the call of Jesus on His disciples. No matter where you go, or what you do, hear the call of Jesus to follow Him.

Food For Thought: What perhaps were the “these” that Jesus was talking about in “lovest thou me more than these?”

Monday, January 12, 2015

John 21:1-11

Now when he [Jesus] had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake…And Jesus said unto Simon, fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. - Luke 5:4-6, 10-11
When Jesus found the disciples, several of them, especially Peter, James and John, were fishermen by trade. After demonstrating His divine power over nature to them, Jesus called these fishermen to forsake their way of life and follow Him. It was obvious that if they followed Him, He could provide for them. It was abundantly clear that Jesus was worth following. Never before in their lives as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee had they seen anything like this. With such incredible power having been displayed, the disciples “forsook all, and followed Jesus.”
Years later, Jesus had been killed by the Roman soldiers and the Jewish leaders. The disciples had scattered in fear, knowing that if they were caught, they too might become the objects of persecution. However, as they sat trembling in an upper room a few days later, Jesus appeared to them and explained that He was no longer dead, but had resurrected. According to Matthew 28, He gave further instruction that they should go to Galilee and He would see them there. We don’t know how long it took for Jesus to eventually come to Galilee, but by the time He arrived it seems that some of the disciples had sort of given up on the call He had given them.
Whereas in Luke 5, they “forsook all,” now they had returned to their fishing boats and the livelihood they had known before Jesus. He had called them to minister the truth to those around them, but in His absence, they decided to go back to their previous lives as fishermen.
After their first fishing trip produced a fishless night, the disciples were surprised the next morning by a man on the shore who asked if they had caught anything. When they answered, “no,” he told them to cast the net on the other side of the boat. Obeying, instantly their net was filled with an impossible number of fish. Immediately, John recognized the work of Jesus. Pointing this out to Peter, in haste, Peter jumped over the side of the boat and swam to the shore to be with Jesus.
Jesus had not forgotten them. Here He was, with them, inviting them to come sit and talk, and learn one last time. He would not abandon them. Just as He had demonstrated the first time He called them, He would provide for them. He would take care of them. They didn’t need to turn back from their calling. They needed to trust Him, and press on. In the same way that He had given them confidence when they first met, He gave reassurance in these, His last days with them. Now, they should never turn back. They should never quit. The story had started with Jesus and a bunch of fishermen. The story couldn’t finish with these fishermen unchanged. They had been with Jesus, and now nothing could ever be the same.

Food For Thought: John makes a point of saying, “this was the third time Jesus shewed himself after that he was risen.” What were the other two times?