Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Galatians 5:24-25

The constant struggle between surrendering yourself to sinful desires and following after the Spirit of God, is a struggle that every Christian faces. This tension is what John writes about in 1 John 2:1, “Sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” On one hand there is a clear command to not sin, but that does not negate the reality that we still are not perfectly transformed into a sinless being. Paul would say that we are still bound to our flesh and the struggle will continue until we are separated from our flesh.
Seeing that the struggle goes on and on, it would almost be natural to develop a defeatist mentality of “I will never be able to fully win, I might as well give up.” This is a wholly fallacious way of viewing things. This perspective assumes that the only victory to be had is final victory, and unless you can achieve final victory over sin right this moment it’s not worth the fight. To answer this, Paul writes in Galatians 5:24, “they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” But what does that have anything to do with victory over sin?
Any who would say that victory must be a total or final victory or it is no victory at all have apparently never understood how warfare works. Every major war, the Greco-Persian Wars, the Hundred Years War, the American War for Independence, the Napoleonic Wars, The Civil War, World War I, and World War II, all were fought over a number of years, often even decades, with the warfare happening one battle at a time. Each of these major conflicts had a final resolution, a victor, who often was foreseen and indicated by the progress of each of the battles. The individual battles did not necessarily determine the final outcome, but they typically were a good indication of how the war was going to turn out.
Similarly, the final outcome and victory for Christians is sure, even though in the day to day, each believer faces constant battles. We will have ultimate victory over sin. To illustrate this struggle, the Apostle Peter uses the imagery of warfare when he writes 1 Peter 2:11, “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” This is a constant thing; the fight is a daily one.
And just as the battles in any other war indicate what the final outcome is, the battles in spiritual warfare serve as a great indication of a person’s spiritual condition. A person who moves through life with a defeatist mentality and with no effort or striving to gain victory over their flesh, but rather seems to feed the flesh and allow the flesh to have the victory, I would be surprised if the final outcome for that person truly is victory. Similarly, a person who has the assurance of final victory, John argues in 1 John 3, that this person will strive to defeat the flesh and the sinful desires through the Spirit. The war is won, but the battles indicate the reality of the outcome for each person. If one side in the battle never fights, the war is always a loss. Similarly, in spiritual warfare, it is almost unfathomable that those who do not fight against the flesh can somehow expect final and total victory.
But how can we have victory over fleshly desires? This is why Paul says the word “crucified” in verse 24. It is past tense. Paul says that in Christ’s crucifixion, the elements of the flesh – sinful affections and lusts, are already defeated foes. They have been crucified with Christ. They are not masters to my soul, their final outcome is secured – they will be destroyed. Now, day to day, I can fulfill the call of the Spirit. I can live life walking in line with what the Spirit directs me to do or be from the Word of God. Each battle can be won. And if one is lost, even today, I know that I can keep fighting, and trusting in victory offered through Christ. I am no longer a slave to my sinful flesh, now I can war, and Christ can bring the victory. No, Christ has already brought the victory.

Food for Thought: In warfare, what is a good indication of the outcome of the war?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Galatians 5:17-23

In John 16, Jesus promised His disciples that eventually the Holy Spirit would come to indwell those who came in faith, relying on nothing else for salvation but Him. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, we see the reality of an indwelling Holy Spirit mentioned again and again - 2 Timothy 1:13, “The Holy Ghost which dwells in us;” 1 Corinthians 3:16, “The Spirit of God dwells in you;” Romans 8:11, “The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you;” Galatians 4:6, “God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.”
In Scripture we find that at conversion the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the believer and begins to do His work in the heart and mind of the believer. Many myths abound as to the work of the Holy Spirit, but as we read Scripture the purpose for the indwelling of the Spirit is quite clear. The Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer to communicate to the believer the truth of God, and to facilitate the believer’s attempts to communicate with God. This ministry takes place primarily through two means: Scripture study, and prayer. Studying the pages of Scripture regularly allows the Holy Spirit to work through the Word of God to change the hearts and minds of God’s people. Through prayer, believers come before God asking what He has told them to, all the while facilitated by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit comes inside of the believer to help him do what he was previously unable to do. Before the working of the Spirit in the believer’s life, Ephesians 4:18 describes man’s desperate situation with God, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” The Holy Spirit has come and now enlightens the darkened mind. He mends the alienation, allowing enemies to be called “sons” and to petition God as their Father.
But inside of every believer is also something else constantly at work, constantly warring against the Spirit. Ever since Adam first sinned in the garden, every human being has inherited a sinful nature from him. In Romans 6, Paul tells us that before we were converted by the grace of God, we were slaves to sin. Our very nature and our consistent tendency was to do sin. We could do nothing else. Having been converted, now, we have the ability through the power of the Spirit to obey God, but the war is not over. Because we still exist in sinful bodies, with sinful minds, and sinful hearts, there is a constant war between our sinful nature (our flesh) and the Spirit at work in us.
As Paul makes his arguments in Galatians 5:17-23, he displays the difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit that comes from a Spirit-led life. Paul explains simply that if we are obedient to the guidance of the Spirit by the Word of God, then we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Paul’s argument naturally follows the flow of the rest of the book up to this point, because he has been explaining the inadequacy of trying to earn God’s favor in our own works. In this moment, he clarifies another reason for why earning right standing before God is impossible in our own strength. By nature, our flesh only produces that which is polluted and sin-laced. We must be helped by the Holy Spirit, and that help only comes after conversion.

Food for thought: What are the two factions at war in the believer?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Galatians 5:13-16

The Old Testament Laws could be understood in two main categories - moral laws and ceremonial laws. Since God commanded both, it was required that the Jewish people follow them with fervor and strict obedience. Any who would seek to do away with the laws that God had ordained were going against the very commands of God. It is important to understand this, especially when confronted by someone who is incredibly dismissive of the Old Testament Law as if it was arbitrary and optional. Historically speaking, disobedience to God’s laws, both ceremonial and moral, often resulted in punishment by God.
So what was the difference between ceremonial and moral laws? Although the line between the two was not a perfectly distinct one, there are many clear divisions. The most encompassing way to see the separation is to realize that the moral law is a law that deals with universal justice for all people, while the ceremonial laws were a temporary set of laws meant to create a distinction between God’s chosen people and those around them and most importantly, to point the chosen people of God to their coming Messiah and Savior, Jesus.
The ceremonial laws would include circumcision, special dietary and clothing restrictions, sacrifice of animals, ceremonial feasts, to name a few. These laws helped to paint a picture of the sacrifice that Jesus would eventually make on the behalf of sinful mankind. This is what Paul would argue in Galatians 3:24 was a “schoolmaster” to bring people to Christ. He wrote further in Colossians 2:16-17 that these things were simply a shadow of the real substance, Christ. These ceremonial laws also helped to make the Jews a very distinct people. Their clothing and eating signified a separation and a physical purity to remind them that they were to be spiritually pure.
The moral laws differed from the ceremonial laws in that their application was for all peoples everywhere and described universal justice for all people. These moral laws are most plainly demonstrated in the laws about murder, sexuality, and property, and are most often referenced as they appear in the Ten Commandments (although there are certainly more than ten). The moral law dealt with the continuing relationship that mankind as a whole should have with God and with one another. Jesus summed up the moral law in Matthew 22 by saying, “Love God and love everyone else.”
In Galatians 5:13, Paul argues that while the ceremonial laws are not binding any longer, there still is an obligation to the moral law of God. He says, “You have been freed, but don’t use your freedom to commit sin (an occasion to the flesh). Rather, by love serve one another.” Here Paul closes the door on the dietary, and clothing, and sacrificial laws, but leaves the heart command of the moral law fully intact, namely, “love others.”
Paul was setting a boundary on the abolition of the Old Testament law. Lest someone would come along and accuse Paul of saying “throw out the whole law,” Paul pressed on to say, “Don’t violate the moral law of God.” Paul was not allowing for believers to sin, he was warning them that if they were truly obeying the Spirit of God, then they would strive to not commit sin.

Food For Thought: What is the difference between ceremonial and moral law? Should we still follow the Old Testament law?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Galatians 5:7-12

Faith works by love. Show me a loveless Christian, and I will show you a Christian whose faith is weak and misguided. In Romans 13:8, Paul writes, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” It was Jesus who in John 13:35 said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.” And this is what marks a true believer, their love for God, and their love for others, especially other believers.
In Galatians 5:6-7, after reminding the Galatians that believers walk by faith that works through love, Paul remarks, “and you did run well.” In Galatians 4:15, Paul had articulated the evidence of God’s grace in their lives by the Christian love that he had seen in them, now, he was affirming that faith-driven love. But Paul continues in verse 7 with a rhetorical question, “And who are those that would seek to make you disobey God’s truth?” This “who do they think they are?” statement is directed at the heart of the Galatians and rephrased so that they will be forced to think about the type of false teaching many of them have succumbed to, “who do you think they are?”
As Paul furthers his letter, he says, “this persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.” In essence, Paul is arguing that it should be clear to the Galatians that the message that the false teachers is teaching has caused them to depart from what God has called them to and what they used to follow faithfully in love. Now, because of the false teachers, the Galatians had been led away and persuaded into a lifestyle that was antithetical to the love-filled life God had called them to.
With this in mind, Paul wrote a common parable that made the point clearly, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Leaven is yeast, and when it comes to making bread, it doesn’t take a cup of yeast to make the bread rise, it takes a tiny little pinch, and before long all the other ingredients have been transformed. Paul’s use here of this parable was that the Judaizers had come in with a pinch of false doctrine, but now the entire church of Galatia was swollen with turmoil and confusion. It didn’t take much to pollute the whole church, and the indictment that Paul levels against the false teachers is one that you find throughout all of the New Testament, “he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment.” God counts it very serious for a teacher to come and pollute the people of God. False teaching will be judged, and the false teacher will receive the judgment.
Paul’s final sentiment towards the false teachers is one of exacerbation. Those arguing that the believers needed to be circumcised, Paul presses on and using the same imagery as circumcision says, “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” Paul had labored so hard to teach the Galatians the truth. He had seen the gospel of God do a mighty work in their hearts and in their lives. Now, the false teachers were coming in and confusing the young believers and devastating the church. Paul’s zeal for the strength and the growth of the church led him to say that he wished the false teachers were surgically removed from the church. He counted them as pagan, anti-God, and absolutely useless to the growth and health of the Galatians. It would be best that they were cut off.
Perhaps we can be challenged by Paul’s zeal for the other believers. We can see his fight and struggle and love for them, and respond by inspecting our own care of those around us. Do we struggle and strive for the spiritual growth and health of others, or do we move on complacently ignoring the misguided deception that creeps into their lives?
Food For Thought: How does “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” refer to the situation in Galatia?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Galatians 5:5-6

Those seeking to be declared right by God have only one option – grace. He is the one who can make the declaration, and all of mankind is subject to His determination. However, grace is a very peculiar thing. At its basest level, grace is simply the free giving of a gift. The word “grace” itself comes from the Latin, gratis – mercy, kindness, pardon; and it carries with it the idea that it is something unearnable. The nature of true grace is that it is not owed to the person who receives it. There is nothing they have done to earn it or merit it, therefore it is grace. The same is true with Divine grace. It cannot be earned or merited, it is simply given of the kindness and mercy of God.
In Galatia, the believers who were turning to law-following as their only hope of receiving the grace of God had lost sight of the nature of Divine grace. If they could earn the favor of God, then it wouldn’t be called “grace,” for grace is unearnable. So then why were they working so hard? What did they hope to accomplish by following the law so fastidiously? Paul argued, that if they were seeking to be justified by their works, then they were going to accomplish nothing. It was only by the beneficence of God that they could receive grace enough to be declared just or righteous before God. They were wasting their effort on something unaccomplishable. Like a man with a glass on the beach, attempting to drink the entire ocean one cup at a time, these law-followers confidently pressed into the truly indomitable task as though they could somehow achieve it.
According to Paul, in their attempts to achieve grace they had instead “fallen from grace.” They had departed from the true nature of grace. Paul continued to explain that true believers through the Spirit, by faith, wait to receive righteousness by the grace of God. This waiting is a two-fold waiting.
First, believers wait in the sense that they do not press on like the Judaizers seeking to work to earn God’s grace. Instead they patiently wait in faith to become recipients of God’s grace. Second, believers are promised a further extent of righteousness. Whereas presently, believers receive the declaration of God over them that they are righteous, they still continue to sin. Believers know however that this is not the final state of things. In Romans 8 we find that there is coming a day when all of creation, and every believer, will be renewed and remade. No longer will there be any sin, but instead, there will be pure, sinless, righteousness. This is the righteousness that believers hope for, and this is a righteousness too for which believers must wait.
Finally, Paul argues that when it comes to faith in Jesus and receiving grace, law-following or not law-following (he uses the specific example of circumcision) accomplishes nothing. Grace is freely given, so a person’s following or not following the law is never taken into account. So what does matter? Faith. While works do not predicate grace, God willingly extends grace to those who come in faith. This is echoed in Ephesians 2:8-9, where Paul writes, “For by grace you are saved through faith.” And as James 2 reminds us, it is not a faith that remains alone. Rather, the faith that is a grace-receiving faith is a faith that is infused with a life of Spirit-led love. It is a faith that works with love, obeying God’s moral law.

Food For Thought: What does the phrase “wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” mean?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Galatians 5:2-4

After explaining that believers were made free from the bondage of the law by Christ, Paul pressed on to argue that as free children of God, we should not allow ourselves to be enslaved again by what he calls “the yoke of bondage.” With that claim on the table, Paul continues with a few more reasons why law following is inadequate when compared to Divine grace receiving.
After Abraham had made a covenant with God, a while later, God told Abraham that there was a physical sign that he and his descendants must take upon themselves, circumcision. Now, it is important to remember that God declared Abraham as righteous, in Genesis 15, before God told Abraham to circumcise his whole family and his descendants, in Genesis 17. This chronology is vitally important.
Centuries later, as Moses went to lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, he reminded them that as descendants of Abraham, they were to be circumcised. A few months later as Moses received the law, it was reiterated that those who were God’s people must follow this physical sign of relationship with him. Those, like the Judaizers in the Galatian church, who sought to follow the law perfectly to receive the favor of God used this staple sign of the law, circumcision, as the baseline for obedience to the law.
What the Judaizers were saying to the Galatian believers was that they not only had to put their faith in Jesus, but they also had to take upon themselves this physical sign before God would accept them. In Romans 4, Paul answers this argument by pointing out what we have already seen, Abraham was accepted by God before he ever took the physical sign of circumcision. To say that God extended His grace for the merit of any work (like circumcision) was inconsistent with the biblical, historical account of God’s relationship with Abraham. Abraham had found acceptance, apart from circumcision.
The Judaizers who came into the church arguing for law-following, and even for the believers to be circumcised, were not following the truth of the Bible. Paul’s leading argument against them was that if they were counting on anything in addition to Christ, they were not truly trusting in Christ. To supplement Christ was to subvert the work of Christ. Paul says it very plainly with the statement, “if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” In essence, Paul was saying that to rely on anything in addition to Jesus was to not truly rely on Jesus. Without faith in Christ, then the death of Christ was for no purpose, and the righteousness offered through Christ is not able to be received. Paul’s conclusion then is that “Christ is become of no effect unto you,” and furthermore, you have lost sight of what grace really means.

Food For Thought: What does Paul mean by the phrase, “If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing”?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Galatians 5:1

The United States boasts of itself as the “Land of the Free.” Perhaps if you asked the average citizen what makes America a great nation, their response might be, “freedom.” While the merits of their answer are given to a bit of doubt, the reality that the American people hold vehemently to their freedom is an inarguable fact. We are a country with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble peacefully, and a freedom of religion. The list of our national freedoms goes on and on, and with that freedom comes a feeling of safety, for most.
However, with the worship of individual liberty and freedom in our country we have come up with some pretty seriously bad things like the government sanctioned freedom of women to murder their unborn children. Others, including some who call themselves “Christian”, have the government-protected freedom of speech, and sinfully act and say things that are disrespectful to their God-ordained authority and to their fellow citizens. Having been given liberty and freedom, some have failed to take the responsibility necessary to use those freedoms in good and pure ways.
Similarly, when it comes to the freedoms that we as believers have received, some have argued that if you tell people they are free from the law, perhaps many of them will go dancing on the ledge of impropriety and sinfulness. This concern was at the heart of those who sought to convince the Galatians that they still needed to follow every line of the law to earn the favor of God. These religious zealots might have been trying to keep the Galatians from living sinfully licentious lives. Sadly, to keep the Galatians from sinning, they had told them to relinquish their freedom.
But can a person be free and not fulfill all the sinful things forbidden in the law? Can a person be set free from the oppression of the law without becoming a vile and wicked person? According to the Judaizers, the answer would be, “No.” But if that were the case, why would God label those who came in faith, finding acceptance apart from the law, as “righteous?” Paul would argue that those who are free from the law are not bound to sin, rather they are free from the law and from the slavery of sin.
Whereas before, while under the law, they were slaves to sin, now because of the freedom offered in Christ, they can be free not only from the oppression of the law, but also from slavery to sin. Paul pressed on to remind the Galatians that they were granted freedom as the descendants of Abraham by faith; they should not desire to be enslaved again and leave the promise of freedom.
Many still today wish to limit the liberty of others. Acknowledging that God has not spoken in restrictive terms, they seek to lay on their own standards of limitation in the areas where God in wisdom for the sanctification of His people remains silent. Conversely, others uninterested in the holiness of God negate the clear call of God in areas where God in His loving wisdom has clearly instructed His people. Paul’s admonition to the Galatians comes to us, “Stand fast in your liberty, and don’t be entangled again with bondage.” Live in freedom, but don’t use your God-bequeathed freedom to degrade the holy nature of God.

Food For Thought: What is the danger of telling someone that they don’t have to follow the law to earn the favor of God?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Galatians 4:21-31

Paul appealed to the Galatians, reminding them of their brotherly love and the charity that they had shown him a few years earlier when he had been with them. After making this appeal to their Christian duty of love, he transitioned into an Old Testament story to allegorize the frailty of their returning to the system of law-following to earn the favor of God. Righteousness, or a right standing with God, was not something they had the ability to accomplish in and of themselves. The only way that right standing with God could be had was by faith in the work that Jesus had accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection.
The story that Paul allegorized was the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Following God’s promise to give Abraham a son, since Sarah was infertile, Abraham and Sarah devised a plan whereby Sarah’s slave, Hagar, would mother a child with Abraham. This plan was the sinful human answer to an unfathomable, Divine promise. In God’s design, a son would come through Abraham’s wife, but lacking the faith that God could cause his wife to have children, Abraham had fathered a child with his wife’s slave.
The child conceived, Ishmael, while biologically the son of Abraham, was also biologically the son of a slave. In the broken system of human bondage, Ishmael would never be regarded as a full son. Conversely, when Sarah finally did become pregnant as God had promised, the son that she and Abraham had, Isaac, was a full heir of Abraham, and the true son “of promise,” since it was he whom God truly promised to Abraham and Sarah, and not his brother, Ishmael.
In the allegory that Paul wanted to relate from this historically true story, there were two sons – one born in slavery and bondage, and the other born free by the promise of God. By comparison, those people who wanted to be in bondage to the law of Moses were never going to receive the blessings that God offered to the children born free from bondage by faith. Paul addresses those who seek to be in bondage, and argues against them. He explains to the Galatians that any child who was born a child of promise by faith should never desire to become a child of bondage by strict adherence to the law.
In addition, Paul explains that in the story of Ishmael and Isaac, the son born in bondage, Ishmael constantly antagonized and scorned his half-brother, Isaac. Similarly, those who live under the oppression of the law constantly seeking to find God’s approval through a series of good-enough works, spend inordinate amounts of time and energy correcting and scorning those who have been called into the family by faith.
Paul’s final appeal to those born of faith into the promised blessing of God is that they would realize they have been born free. They should not desire to become slaves. They should rather seek to live in the freedom granted them by God through the saving work of Jesus.

Food For Thought: According to Paul, what type of people does Ishmael represent? How?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Galatians 4:12-20

After explaining that the Galatians’ return to spiritual bondage was only going to leave them unsatisfied, Paul further explained that he was concerned about their uncharacteristic departure from the close bond of friendship and relationship that they had with him. Paul explains this concern by reminding them of the original interaction that he had with them on his first trip through the region. Here in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, we find that when Paul came to the churches in that region in Acts 13-14, there was some sort of physical malady that he was suffering from.
Paul was thrilled to see the love of the young converts. He had preached the gospel even in his weakened state, and having been converted, they received Paul with love in spite of his ailment. Paul had then stayed with them to teach them what a life transformed by the gospel looks like. During that time, the relationship between Paul and the Galatians grew to a very personal level, and they selflessly showered Paul with the love and care of true believers.
However, when the Judaizers came in and taught a different gospel message, one of the first things to go was their love for Paul. Instead of continuing to love and care for Paul from a distance, the Galatians followed after the isolationist Judaizers and scorned Paul, eventually questioning the purity of his motives and the purity of his message. In the bonds of legalism, one of the first things to be done away with was love for other believers.
Paul didn’t exclusively desire the Galatians love for himself, rather, he wanted them to love him and receive the true gospel of Christ, so that God would be glorified in them. Paul’s zeal for their relationship to be right was for gospel purposes. If the Galatians had shown love to Paul but still disbelieved the gospel, that would not have been acceptable. He sought reconciliation with them, that ultimately they might be reconciled to God. He fought for a restored relationship with them, so that he could bring them back to the joyful place of a restored relationship with God and the truth of the gospel.
At times, we, like the Galatians, can drift away from the truths of the gospel. In those moments as we turn to self-righteousness or legalism, one of the first indicators that we might be able to see is our fading and degrading love and relationship with other believers. It was Jesus who told His disciples in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if you have love, one to another.” When our relationship with Christ begins to slide, our love for other believers also begins to wane.
Perhaps, today, you inspect yourself and see how you are doing in loving the other believers around you. Loving the other followers of Christ will indicate the working of the gospel in your life. How are you doing? Are there some who have physical or personality maladies that seem to be off-putting and disgusting to you? Perhaps, you need to look past your self-righteousness and see that in the eyes of God, you too were unlovable, yet in His grace, He loved you. Instead of becoming an isolationist Christian, maybe you could push out beyond yourself and extend love to those around you.

Food For Thought: What was the end goal of Paul’s desire that the Galatians would show love to him again?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February Memory Verses

Psalm 46:1-11

1 (To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song upon Alamoth.) God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

February Written Project: Christology

Galatians 4:8-11

When Paul first travelled through Galatia on his gospel-preaching, church-planting journey he came across the pagan cultures of the ancient world. We read of Paul’s original excursion into Galatia in Acts 13 and 14, and discover that there were some serious idol worshippers, so apt to worship pagan deities that when Paul and Barnabas came through they were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, two of the most popular Greek gods. Paul resisted their desire to worship him, and as a result he was savagely beaten and left for dead by these superstitious people.
By God’s grace, Paul recovered and continued on proclaiming the gospel, eventually seeing a number of converts place their faith in the saving work of Jesus, turning from their dangerous, pagan idolatry. Eventually, trained young men came and pastored the churches in the region. Over time, however, the Judaizers followed and perverted the gospel that had originally been preached to the Galatians. Making a plea for truth and sound doctrine in chapter 4, Paul reminds the Galatian believers that when he had arrived they had been idol worshippers.
It was only after hearing the gospel, that they had turned from their idolatry to worship the true God. Now, even though they had been remade as the very children of God, they were now departing from the joy and peace of son-ship for captivity not unlike the bondage in which Paul had originally found them. Just as they had lived lives of slavery to their false gods, they turned from their relationship with God and back to the old method of spiritual enslavement. They had taken off the bright robes of the favored child and replaced them with the dingy garments of a house slave.
Paul’s indictment demonstrated how they had done this. They had begun following the religious calendars. Perhaps they had returned to Sabbath keeping as a means of earning God’s favor. Or perhaps they went back to the Jewish calendar and dug up the endless list of feasts and fasts and tightened the shackle screws of fastidiousness on themselves. They had been saved from slavery to become sons, but now as they dwelt in their Father’s estate with its rich blessings they were wandering back to the field forgetting their inheritance.
Paul finally speaks from a broken and fearful heart. “I am fearful over you.” Paul spent of himself, hazarded his own life, and endured serious persecution so that the Galatians could receive the true gospel message that God would forgive them and offer them His blessing as a Father. Now, these believers were deserting that blood-shed, pain-earned message of Paul for the heresy of the Judaizers that was not the gospel.
One thing we must recognize is that Paul was incredibly patient through this entire endeavor. From the earliest stages of his interaction with the Galatians, where they tried to kill him, Paul was determined to see the grace of God convert those who were God’s own. But why? Why not give up when people tried to kill you? I imagine that everytime a group of people tried to kill Paul, his mind could remember his former life. For years, his sole employment was to kill the messengers of God. But one day, the irresistible grace of God had come into his life and the gospel of Jesus Christ had converted him. Even in those moments of his own persecution, he could press on with confidence knowing that the there is none too wicked and no enemy too vengeful that God’s grace cannot save.

Food For Thought: Why could Paul continue to declare the gospel to those who sought to kill him?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Galatians 4:6-7

All who put their faith in the saving work of Jesus on the cross receive grace enough to become the children of God. The words used in scripture to describe this reality show the inability of man and the power of God in this relationship – salvation, redemption, reconciliation, adoption. These are all things that a person has done to them by God, not something that a person can do to themselves. In Galatians 4, Paul uses the imagery of adoption to explain the truths of being forgiven and accepted by God.
Having been forgiven of our sins and received by God, Paul says that we have “received the adoption of sons.” As the children of God, however, we do not continue to live in sin as if nothing has changed. Rather, we have received a new nature. In verse 6, Paul explains that God has sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of those who believe. This indwelling Spirit serves to strengthen believers in time of need, to convict believers in time of sin, and to quicken believers to obey God, their Father.
The Judaizers had come to Galatia and told the believers that in order for God to be pleased with them and for them to be saved, they must put their faith in Christ and obey the law of Moses. Paul explains that this simply is not the case. He compares someone who is working to obey the Law for the approval of God to a slave or a “servant.” They see God as a Master, who they in fear and oppression must appease by following every nook and cranny of idiosyncrasy in the law. Like timid slaves, they constantly hover at the edges of obedience always fearful that the Master will see their ineptitude and execute judgment and wrath against them.
Paul explains that when a believer is converted, the Spirit of God comes and dwells inside of him. The Galatians who had put their faith in Christ were not left as slaves under the oppressive thumb of a domineering task-master. Rather, they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit and had become sons to God. Their relationship with Him was intimate and because He had saved them, and because He had demonstrated His love for them, as sons they sought to obey and fulfill his every desire and command. The motivation was strikingly different between sons and slaves.
We too can come to God understanding that He is not in fact a Cosmic Killjoy with a billy-club poised to crush our skull at the first inkling of disobedience. Rather, He is a loving Father who has already extended saving grace to those who are His own, and as a Father, He continually shows grace to those who are His sons and daughters. Now, because of His love that He has for us, we can obey, not out of fear or terror, but out of an obedient heart of love for the Father.

Food For Thought: Explain the difference of motive in obedience between a servant and a son.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Galatians 4:4-5

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. – Genesis 3:15

Many refer to this verse in Genesis as the Proto-Evangelium. This term, Proto-Evangelium, simply translates to mean “first gospel.” It is called that, because as we move through the canon of Scripture, it is this text which is seen as the first time the promise of the gospel is made to mankind. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned following the temptation of the Serpent. In response, God issued the condemnation that eventually the seed of the woman would crush the serpent. From that point forward, we see all of mankind in turmoil with the serpent, Satan, until the perfect descendant of the woman, Jesus, came and defeated him.
As we look to Galatians 4, there are two things that we must realize that Paul is teaching about Jesus. In verse 4, Paul says that God “sent forth His son.” In order for God to “send forth” Jesus, that means that Jesus already existed. Jesus was not a creation of God that just happened to come along when the time was right. Rather, in God’s perfect time table, the pre-existent, eternal Jesus was “sent forth” by God. But Paul doesn’t just speak of His eternal Deity.
Paul continues with “born of a woman.” What an incredible phrase to use when speaking of Jesus. There is no better phrase to illustrate the humanity of Jesus. Paul could have simply said that Jesus was “sent forth” and moved on, but instead, Paul points us back to the garden and the Proto-Evangelium promise that one day the descendant of the woman would come to crush the serpent. Jesus had now come, and He was fully God, and fully man.
Paul finally says why Jesus came, “to redeem them that are under the law.” The word “redeem” means to “ buy back” Literally, it has the idea of showing up at a slave market and purchasing someone. But how did Jesus redeem mankind? Jesus lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death so that He could redeem mankind. It was necessary also that Jesus be fully God in this work of redemption, because there was an infinite debt owed for the sin of mankind. In His Deity, Jesus could offer himself as the infinite, eternal sacrifice for sin against the eternally holy God. In His humanity, Jesus could become the substitute for mankind having been made “in the likeness of human flesh.”
The beauty of the entire redemption process by Jesus, is that we who were once estranged slaves, apart from God, now have access to Him through His son. Instead of being slaves, we now have access to God as the children of God, “that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Through the life, death, Deity and humanity of Jesus, our Redeemer, we have been forgiven and adopted.

Food For Thought: What is the Proto-Evangelium? In what way did Paul reference it in Galatians 4:4-5?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Galatians 4:1-3

In Galatia, the Judaizers had begun to disseminate the idea that in order to be truly converted, those who believed in Jesus would have to also obey the law of God perfectly. In their misguided understanding, the believers at Galatia were simple and under-taught. They had been told of faith, but they had not grown in their spiritual understanding to see that God’s approval and acceptance hinges on obedience to the law. In their estimation, you could not truly be a Christian unless you also were fulfilling all the things commanded in the law.
In a way, they sought to use verbal intimidation to convince people to turn from faith alone to a life of faith plus works. They could explain that the reason that the Galatians were not following the law was because they were immature, and had not learned the full truth. They could explain that God offered salvation to those who came in faith, and wore the right kind of clothes, and went to the right places, and were able to meet the standards that they themselves held. The intimidation came when they disparagingly derided the believers that believed that God’s grace was extended through something as simple as “faith.”
In addressing this false idea, Paul explains that the truly immature thinking is not the one that views faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ alone as the means by which we receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Rather, those who think that belief must be coupled with following the law were the truly spiritually immature ones. To express this condition of immaturity and spiritual underdevelopment Paul uses the analogy of being a child in a wealthy man’s home.
Just as a child in a wealthy man’s home does not get to fully enjoy the benefits of the wealth while the child is still immature, those who were spiritually immature under the law of Moses did not fully enjoy the riches of God that came in Christ. Christ has come and offers a great deal of blessings in His coming. Paul continued his explanation that when Christ came, those “elements” from the Jew’s spiritual childhood under the law were now matured and could be understood. This meant that the Judaizers coming in and trying to get people who have matured and grown by the truth of the gospel in Jesus to return to the law was actually not further maturing them, rather it was dragging them back into childish things.
Paul argues that there is no sense in coming back under the bondage of immaturity that was found in the law. He explains that while the law was there, it served as a good tutor or teacher in educating and maturing the people of God. But just as no one goes back to elementary school when they are 45, no one who has become a spiritually mature adult through faith in Christ should return to the elementary school teacher, the law. In Paul’s estimation, returning to law-following for salvation is not just unnecessary, it is a sign that you are spiritually immature. The immature and underdeveloped were not those who viewed faith alone as the means to God’s grace. No, the immature and underdeveloped were the ones that viewed their obedience to the law as necessary to receive God’s grace.

Food For Thought: Who is acting like a spiritual child, the one who believes in faith alone or the one who believes in faith plus works?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Galatians 3:26-29

After explaining that not only was the law never capable of bringing righteousness, but also it wasn’t ever meant to bring righteousness, Paul further explained that righteousness only comes by the grace of God, through faith in Jesus. The law was not a means of justification, it was simply a means of condemnation. It served the purpose of showing how far short of God’s glory every man, woman, and child that has ever lived is. Compared to the standard of God’s holiness demonstrated in the law, all of mankind fall’s short.
Historically, there are two interactions that mankind has made in regards to God’s law. Many people, after seeing the law of God, imagine if they tried hard enough, they could be able to perfectly obey it. Many others, being faced with the indomitable task of perfectly obeying God, turn away in self-abasement, acknowledging that there is no way they will ever be able to fulfill the things required in the law. Both groups condemn themselves in the end.
The self-justifiers ultimately condemn themselves in their constant pursuit of being better and better. By the very nature of their needing to be better and better, they admit that they are not in a state of perfection, and therefore must work harder to meet the standard of perfection. Sadly, they will never reach perfection before their pursuit of it is over. This means that in their constant effort they acknowledge they are not righteous and therefore will not be declared righteous by God.
The second group, by surrendering to complacency after being faced with such an impossible task, admits that they too are not righteous enough to stand before a holy and perfect God. Whether they are pursuant of God’s favor through the law, or if they are defeatedly surrendered to the impending judgment brought on by their indifference to the law, any who view the law as a means of earning God’s favor will always end up far short of being declared righteous by God.
To this disappointing reality, Paul presents the gospel. The gospel is the good news in the face of such horrible news. After hearing that the law can never bring righteousness, we must resolve that either righteousness can never be had, or that there must be some other means than the law that can bring righteousness. In the gospel, we find that there is some other means by which righteousness comes. And this righteousness is not our own, because we have already understood that we are unable to do what is expected. It must come from someone else.
In the gospel, we find that there was someone else, Jesus. We find that He came, lived perfectly, died, and resurrected, and now offers His own personal righteous account to all those who come in faith to Him. When we place our faith in the saving work of Jesus as our only hope for receiving righteousness, then we can be called the children of God. The good news of the gospel is that it is for everyone and anyone. All who come in faith to Jesus can receive the grace of God.
Paul finishes this thought by taking us back to a key point. Receiving God’s grace and righteousness by faith is not a new thing. Again, we need to remember this is what God has always expected. We can see this as far back as 2,000 B.C. when Abraham came in faith and was declared righteous. Now 4,000 years later, we can come in faith and become heirs of that promise by receiving the grace of God and being given a righteous account that is not our own.

Food For Thought: If the law wasn’t meant as a means of justification, then what purpose did it serve?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Galatians 3:19-24

If faith is all that is needed to be declared righteous by God and receive eternal life, then why did God ever give the Law? If God only wanted people to believe, then why bother with bringing up an insanely long list of things to do and not do? Wouldn’t it have been easier and less confusing if instead of giving the law, God instead gave one command – “believe in me”? As Paul argues that the law was never the means by which mankind would be able to justify himself, he arrives at this quandary, “Then why do we have the law?”
It seems at first like a pretty rational question, except that it has built into it a couple of presuppositions that are incorrect.
1) The first incorrect assumption is that the law only exists as a means of earning righteousness with God. The Judaizers and many since them incorrectly view the law this way. They falsely assume that they are supposed to follow it perfectly in order to receive eternal life. The sad truth is that all those who sincerely try to follow the law perfectly, find themselves frustrated and ultimately inadequate. It is because of this failure to completely follow the law that Paul labels these attempted self-justifiers as “cursed.” They have chosen a path by which they will never succeed. It is wholly incorrect for them to assume that the law was ever given so that they could earn justification with God.
2) The second incorrect assumption is that if the law isn’t a means for earning righteousness before God then it should be done away with, as if it can’t serve another purpose. This bifurcation of “if we can’t be justified by the law then we should get rid of it,” is another erroneous way to view the law. It assumes that there isn’t anything else that the law could have been meant to accomplish. Those who heard Paul say, “the law was never given to justify a man before God,” would retort, “then we shouldn’t even have a law!” This false division between “it justifies us” or “if not, then we should throw it away” is not one that is consistent with Scripture.
Paul argues that the law was incredibly necessary. In his own words, the law was meant to be a sort of “schoolmaster” or “guardian” that would bring the simple people of God into the realization that they were sinners in need of justification. By setting the law of God so high that they could not attain to its standard of perfection, people would realize that there would have to be something else besides their own attempts. Paul explained that when Jesus came along and fulfilled the law perfectly then it should have become apparent that He was the one in whom they should place their faith.
As a schoolmaster, the law should have taught everyone that they were never going to be good enough. They should have noticed that they were inadequate and surrendered themselves to the reality that their own attempts at righteousness would always be failures. They should have noticed that Abraham had been justified and declared righteous by God through his faith, 430 years before the law was even given, and they should have followed his example. Now, knowing their inadequacy, all that was left was to turn in faith (like Abraham) from their own self-justifying attempts and rest completely in the perfect righteousness of a sinless Jesus as their only hope of being justified.

Food For Thought: If we are justified by faith, is the law useless? Explain your answer.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Galatians 3:13-18

“There is none righteous, no not one.” No one is good enough. Regardless of effort, or intention, or desire, there is no person who can ever perfectly obey the law of God. Even if at the surface level, they were able to set enough barriers to obey the law externally, the reality is that internally they would still violate the law. By nature and action, every human being is a law-breaking sinner. And this is a grave reality, since anyone who seeks to find acceptance with God through their good works, has chosen a method of acceptance that is sure to fail them. Paul explains in Galatians 3 that those who seek to justify themselves before God by doing good works are not ever going to be justified, rather instead of being declared righteous, they will be declared “cursed” or condemned.
However, Paul further explains that mankind is not left without hope in that cursed and condemned state. Even though we could not un-curse ourselves by obeying the law perfectly, Jesus came and after living perfectly and sinlessly offered himself as a curse for us to save us from our condemnation. In Galatians 3:13, Paul writes, “Christ has redeemed us.” The word “redeemed” literally means “to buy back, or purchase.” Jesus spent his righteousness life as a payment for our unrighteous, cursed life. Paul continues by explaining that he did this so that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to all the nations of the world.
With Christ as a substitute for us, we now have access to the covenant (or promise) that Abraham had received. Others would argue, “Then why was there ever a law given if we weren’t supposed to obey it fully to receive the acceptance of God?” In response to this point, Paul says in verses 16-18, “When men make covenants, they keep them and never change the guidelines and agreements in the covenant. If God made a covenant, it only stands to reason that no matter what the future held, He would continue to abide by the guidelines of the covenant he had made.” The covenant that Paul is talking about is the one that God made with Abraham, whereby God declared Abraham righteous because of Abraham’s faith. When God gave the law, 430 years after making a covenant with Abraham, He was not revising the covenant and adding works to the faith He had expected from Abraham. Rather, God was still holding the descendants of Abraham to the same covenant standard that He had originally given, namely, faith.
Paul’s point was that acceptance with God has always come through faith, and works has never been a method of receiving God’s forgiveness and being declared righteous. Those who were the Judaizers argued that the Christians departed from the true religion that God had instituted. Paul’s argument showed that the Judaizers who followed the law to gain the acceptance of God were actually the ones who had departed from the details of the Abrahamic Covenant that God had extended to his people. As believers, we become heirs of the covenant God made with Abraham when we come in faith, believing in the redeeming sacrifice Jesus made for us.

Food For Thought: What argument does Paul give for why the law was not a change to the covenant that God made with Abraham?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Galatians 3:10-12

Paul began chapter 3 explaining that the Spirit is the one at work in our conversion. We could trust Him to do a complete job of converting us and drawing us into faith. Furthermore, having now been brought into the family of faith, we don’t need to get “more converted” by following the things in the law. Paul then explained that it was by faith that Abraham was declared righteous in Genesis 15. Similarly, all those who would come after Abraham could be justified or declared righteous in the same way – by faith.
From there, Paul moved from a positive argument to more of a negative argument. From a “this is how it is possible,” to a “this is why it is impossible” argument. Paul turns his focus to the law itself. The Judaizers sought to attach law-obeying as a precursor to true conversion. After arguing that conversion was a work of the Spirit apart from human effort, and giving the historical demonstration that Abraham was justified by faith alone, Paul took the Judaizers to task by inspecting the law itself. Deuteronomy 27:26 says, “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them.” In essence, “You are cursed if you do not follow every word of the law perfectly.”
A curse is a condemnation or a pronouncement of judgment on someone. What Moses said in the Law was that if you did not fully obey the law, then you were under a curse. The only way that you could get out from under the curse was if you followed the law perfectly. So who has followed the law perfectly? No one. At some point, everyone has violated some aspect or many aspects of God’s law. Paul’s point then, is that everybody who tries to fulfill the law is simply self-deceiving and living under a curse. No one can live perfectly. There isn’t a single person that can follow the law perfectly. Paul then presses on to the make the point, that if no one follows the law perfectly, then to say that God justifies people and accepts them based upon their ability to perfectly keep the law means that God has never justified people or accepted them.
But scripture has taught us that God has declared people righteous. Scripture shows us that God accepts people and communicates with them. But why? Paul continued on, quoting this time from the prophet Habakkuk. “The just shall live by faith.” This phrase was a key phrase of the Reformation can be reworded, “Those that will be justified and will receive eternal life, will do so through faith.” Any who said that God expected the Galatians to follow the law perfectly as well as have faith had missed the testimony of the Scriptures.
Paul finally explains that you pick one or the other, faith or works. You can’t say that you have both. The Judaizers claimed that you needed works to bolster your faith. Paul had just explained that if you were doing works, you couldn’t claim that you had faith. Your attempts at self-justification had demonstrated that you did not have faith in the sufficient work of Christ, but rather in your own ability to obey the law of God perfectly. Sadly, since no one can obey the law of God perfectly, any who would seek to justify themselves by the keeping of the law would find themselves under the eternal curse and not justified.

Food For Thought: Why is law-keeping a horrible way for mankind to seek to be justified before God?