Why spoil the gospel lump with legalism’s yeast?

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. – Galatians 5:2-15

This post will probably offend some readers just as Paul’s message offended some of his hearers. Fortunately for me, you are reading this on some digital device many miles from where I stand so you can’t easily arrange to persecute me and stone me as Paul’s hearer’s persecuted him. (more…)

Who chooses slavery when they are born to freedom?

The deception of religious human effort

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 4:21-5:1

It is a perfectly normal human tendency to want to earn what we get. We don’t like to be objects of “charity.” However, when it comes to our relationship with God, we should probably rethink that posture. Paul lays out an allegory that carries us all the way to the end of chapter 5. It is a story of freedom and slavery. Given a choice, who would be a slave? (more…)

From the slavery of the law to the freedom of sonship

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 3:21-4:7

How we live, that is, how perfectly we live a life of obedience is not what determines our inheritance. Our inheritance comes to us as a matter of promise. We then either believe the promise and receive our inheritance or we don’t. God has never had a plan whereby we would know life as a result of perfect obedience. In the garden, theoretically, it was possible that Adam and Eve could have lived in obedience long enough to have passed a probationary period and then been allowed to eat of the tree of life resulting in eternal life.

They didn’t. (more…)

Freedom when the light comes on.

Why the law serves the promise

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:15-29

When we “get” this part of Paul’s argument, we will have overcome the performance struggles that most of us have had at one time or another in our desire to enjoy a good relationship with God. God’s deal with us is one of promise, not one of law and obedience to that law. (more…)

Are you as foolish as a Galatian?

What good do your religious efforts do you?

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:1-14

Wow! Paul lays it on kind of thick here. He calls the Galatians fools and then asks them who bewitched them. Paul plasters them with the epithet of being such fools that a Judaizer could bewitch them from the truth. Again, it is obvious that Paul is a little miffed. (more…)

Who is counted as righteous and why?

If righteousness were by our efforts then Christ died for no purpose

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:11-21

Who is it that is counted as righteous and gets to go to heaven? Will I make it through the pearly gates if at least 51% of my actions in life are good? After all, I did more good than bad, right? That’s fair, isn’t it?

No, actually the standard for being counted righteous before God based on our actions is a batting average of 1.000%, perfection in “doing good.” No bad whatsoever will be allowed to pass through the pearly gates.

There is one statement in this passage that grounds the rest of it, “by works of the law no one will be justified.” In other words, our good behavior doesn’t earn browny points with St. Peter, or God for that matter. It doesn’t matter how much good you do; it isn’t enough. Why not? Because the “little bit of bad” is enough to blemish your record which must be perfect to please God based on your actions. He allows no room for mistakes. His standard is perfection.

Then what chance does a guy have?

The chance, the only chance, is that someone else has met the standard of perfection for you and was willing to pay the price for your failings for you.

There are two parts to what Jesus did for us. First, he lived for us. His life of perfect obedience was lived on our behalf, and when we place our trust in him, he credits that perfect life to our account, we are counted righteous with his righteousness. The second part is the payment of the price for our failings, aka sins. This is the part we most often hear about. He died on the cross in our place. He suffered our death so we can have his life. Think about this a minute. His dying for us was not the basis for counting us righteous; it paid the price for our guilt, death. It was his living for us that allows us to be counted as righteous. The spiritual transaction is two-fold; our sins are washed away by his death and we are counted as righteous by his life lived on our behalf; one is negative, sins are washed away; one is positive, we are declared righteous. Our actual conduct isn’t perfect, but by our faith, we are counted as righteous.

But, aren’t Christians supposed to behave well and not sin? Yes, and Paul addresses this question later on in Galatians, but at this point, he is making clear that the gospel is a declaration of what Christ did for us and not what we must do to be counted as righteous by God.

After being counted as righteous in ChristPaul emphasizes his point by saying that if we return to obedience to the law as the basis of our righteousness, then Christ died for no purpose. What a waste. Paul says we “nullify the grace of God.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to do that.

My final encouraging word is from Hebrews 13:9 “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace…”

 

How to avoid a public rebuke

Give me an undivided heart to fear your name

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. – Galatians 2:11-16

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11

The Apostle Peter is generally thought of as the brash, bombastic disciple ready to die for Jesus. He is a “shoot first and aim later” kind of guy. It was Peter who cut off the ear of Malchus in the Garden before Jesus surrendered himself to the Roman soldiers. That image doesn’t bring forth the thought of Peter being a hypocrite or a double-minded man. And yet, that is precisely what he was in this scene.

Antioch was a largely Gentile church but did have a large contingent of Jewish followers of Christ as well. Peter came to visit and see the grace of God in action in Antioch. During his visit, he ate with the combined Gentile and Jewish church together. He was not concerned about keeping kosher. But then, a group of Jewish followers of Christ came to Antioch from Jerusalem apparently sent by James as the head of the  Jerusalem church. All of a sudden, Peter wasn’t so brave and bold anymore. He was fearful that he would be disapproved of by the Jerusalem Christians if he ignored the Jewish food laws and ate with Gentiles. At this point, Paul gave Peter a severe tongue-lashing and called him out publicly for his hypocrisy.

To make up an analogy, this would be sort of like Billy Graham publicly calling out the Pope on some significant doctrinal issue. That would be on every Christian’s twitter feed and Facebook page. You couldn’t get much more front and center for a first-century church fight.

Who was right and what was the problem?

Paul was right. He was defending the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Peter was very wrong. Peter feared the possible disapproval of his fellow Jewish Christians from Jerusalem more than he feared God and the truth of the gospel. Some things are worth fighting for, and certainly, the teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was worth it to Paul.

If you find yourself fearful to stand unbending for the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel, then I recommend a prescription to cure your disease. It is to make Psalm 86:11 your prayer.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.

The first two lines speak of living a life of faith. It is a prayer for God to educate us in his way of life for us so we can then obey his commandments. The third line speaks of a heart that is not divided in loyalty between the fear of man and the fear of God. Lord, don’t let me have a divided heart that loves the world on the one hand and loves the Lord on the other. Let me have an undivided heart to fear your name.

The solution

I will guarantee you this. If you pray that prayer with an honest heart, God will answer it, and you will find that more and more you will want to always act in a way that is in accord with the ways of the Lord. You will have less and less fear of man and what man can do to you. You will find more and more that the Lord is the delight of your life and he alone will be your joy. This is one time you don’t want to have Peter as your role-model. (Actually, there are a few instances with Peter that aren’t exactly exemplary.)

Lord Jesus, may our loyalty be always to you and your gospel with no admixtures. Amen.

The power of a quiet and unassuming man

Just and compassionate

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed[to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25

Jesus is the focal point of all history and especially the Christmas story. It is the story of his birth, real history. Next to Jesus, Mary seems to gain most of the attention. However, today I will put the focus on Joseph. We don’t learn a lot about Joseph in the gospel accounts. It is assumed that he died before Jesus entered his public ministry at the approximate age of 30 since we don’t read his name during the adulthood of Jesus.

I like Joseph. He is my kind of man. I think we learn some significant things about him in this passage. He had essential characteristics as the step-Dad of Jesus. (more…)

To circumcise or to not circumcise, that is the question

Love rules

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. – Galatians 2:1-10

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. – Acts 16:1-5

It seems that Paul gives contradictory answers to the same question in different circumstances. Titus, a Gentile, went with Paul to Jerusalem to a church conference. He was not required to be circumcised. Timothy, also the son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother, was asked to join Paul and Silas on Paul’s second missionary journey. Timothy was from Lystra, the city where Paul had been stoned and left for dead by the Jewish uprising against the gospel. Before the mission band headed out for Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia, Paul had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews who were in those places.”  Doesn’t this seem contradictory? Is Paul of two minds about circumcision, unstable in his understanding of the gospel? Not at all.

Love rules the day.

In the first instance, the refusal to circumcise Titus was out of principle to enforce the New Covenant teaching that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The added rite of circumcision would only take away from the message of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit by the grace of God.

In the second instance, Paul, very much aware of the extreme legalistic commitment of the Jews in the region of Galatia wanted Titus’ liberty to not create a barrier to those Jews being able to hear the gospel, so he had him circumcised.

Love guided both situations.

The first, love for those who would forever be influenced by the decision of the church leaders about the relationship of the law to the grace of God. I for one am overwhelmingly grateful to Paul for “not yielding in submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for” me.

The second instance demonstrated the love of God through Paul that he would not have Timothy create a barrier to the gospel among the Jews, even the Jews who had run him out of town in Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia. This is a demonstration of the heart of love Paul had for his fellow Jews.

In both of these instances, the love of God extended in the gospel drove the actions taken with seemingly contradictory results. However, I believe that if Paul were put to the test in the cities of Galatia and were required to have Timothy circumcised, he would not have done it.Why? Because, again, the issue would have been the truth of the gospel which is the message of love to all who are separated from Christ. There are priorities even in love.

How you too can be like the Apostle Paul

Making disciples in your neighborhood

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:11-24

Neither you nor I were set apart before we were born and called to be “the Apostle to the Gentiles.” However, we do have a parallel to the Apostle Paul. We were set apart before we were born and were called by God’s grace.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important Biblical truths for us to grasp.We are taught very little in our culture and, unfortunately, very little in many churches that really builds us up and strengthens us as human beings created in the image of God. When we come to grips as Christ followers that we were chosen to be Christ followers before the foundation of the world and set apart to God in our mother’s womb to be redeemed by the work of Christ and be conformed to the image of Christ, we have an identity that anchors us. We are redeemed children of God who have been forgiven of all of our trespasses (and some of us have some pretty horrendous trespasses) and sins and have an eternal hope of life with Christ both now and in the New Heavens and New Earth. I am at a loss to think of any truth that will do more to build me up as a human being and strengthen me more to live life with all of its challenges.

Paul was called to preach to the Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. He was also informed of how much he must suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus.

The first part of his mission sounds exciting and something many of us would like to possess as our own calling. Doesn’t that sound great, preaching to nations and heads of state? That would make you a pretty famous person in the eyes of many. Think Billy Graham.

The second part of his commission from Christ, not so much; “how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Can we pass on that part?

The truth is that our calling as ordinary unknown believers in Christ is much the same as that of Paul. We all have the same three commandments: Love God, love your neighbor and go, make disciples. What about the suffering part? Jesus made it clear, “in this world you will have tribulation.” None of us get to escape that entirely even though we may not be stoned and left for dead like Paul was.

Making disciples is not hard, but it is impossible. By that, I mean that we cannot in our human effort apart from the power of the Holy Spirit make disciples of Christ. Humanly it is impossible. But we are called to make disciples. Therefore, we are called to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to make disciples. We are called to do the impossible, therefore, pray.

The formula for making disciples is simple: pray, hang out with people and love them and bring Jesus into the relationship. Essentially, that’s it. The key is to be intentional about it. Do this on purpose. Have the names of a few people on your prayer list with whom you can hang out and share Jesus. Then, when they come to Christ, teach them to do the same thing. Now you are making a disciple who will also make disciples. How cool is that?