Posts Tagged ‘Body of Christ’

The Mystery of the Church

The Mystery of the Church

© C.O. Bishop 7/28/18 Cornell Estates 7/29/18

Colossians 1:24-29; Ephesians 2:11-20; 3:3-11

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the epistle to the church at Colosse. Paul has introduced himself, explained the nature of his relationship to that particular assembly of believers, and outlined the pedigree of all believers, who are the “Body of Christ”, as well as the Credentials of Christ, the Head of the Church…the Head of that Body.

Paul continues, in verses 24-29, speaking of his own ministry; his own service, and he says that he rejoices in the sufferings that have come to him because of that service, knowing that Jesus himself had promised that he, Paul, would suffer for the sake of Christ. (Acts 9:16)

24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:

Paul rejoiced to see that the prophecy was literally being fulfilled, and that there evidently were things left for him to do; because he said he was “filling up that which was lacking,” in the afflictions he was to experience. It would be an easy error, in English grammar, to read this as saying that Jesus had not suffered enough on the Cross, and that Paul was completing the suffering. But it would be a ridiculous supposition to assume that a sinner could add to what Jesus accomplished at all, thus suggesting that Jesus was mistaken when he said “It is finished!”  This was definitely suffering that Paul experienced as a fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy. Paul not only recognized that truth, but he saw that it was for the sake of the Body of Christ, the Church, that he was suffering. And he rejoiced in it, even knowing that it was not over yet. Incidentally, in case you are thinking we have “gotten off the hook,” read Philippians 1:29, where he says, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Suffering is normal experience for the saints of God, like it or not!

25 Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;

Paul knew that he was specifically called to serve as an apostle, laying down the “foundation of Christ,” wherever he went. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 speaks to this issue as well, saying that he, Paul, as a wise master-builder, had laid down the foundation, which is Christ, and that others were building upon it. Paul had a vital part in the formation of the Church, proper. And it was a concept that had never even been revealed to the most far-seeing prophets.

The Mystery Revealed

26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:

This is a pretty big mystery! None of the Old Testament prophets knew anything about it. There is a gap of 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th “weeks of Daniel”, in Daniel 9:23-27. This is the “70 weeks of Daniel” passage, in which God gave Daniel the timeline for all the rest of Israel’s history, up until the Kingdom age…but He left out the church age. The first 69 weeks of years (483 years) take them all the way to the Crucifixion, and then he describes as the last “week” (the last seven years) what can only be the Great Tribulation. Some have tried to say that it was fulfilled in Antiochus Epiphanes’ having sacrificed a sow in the temple in 167 BC. The problem with that idea, is that Antiochus Epiphanes did not make any sort of seven-year treaty with the Jews, and break it after 3-1/2 years. Also, Jesus, 200 years after the action of that ancient, wicked, Greek king, predicted the “Abomination of Desolation” standing in the Holy Place (Matthew 24:15), and saw it as being in the distant future.

So, something other than the old defilement of the temple under Antiochus Epiphanes is at work here: 2nd Thessalonians 2:3, 4 tell us that a “man of sin” is coming who will establish himself in the temple as being God. The Revelation tells us of a seven year tribulation, and how things will suddenly change for the worse, at the 3-1/2 year mark. Also, the Daniel 9 account says that the temple will be “rebuilt in troublesome times.” Israel is desiring to rebuild the temple, today, but is having trouble because the traditional temple mount (assuming it is the correct location) is presently occupied by the “Dome of the Rock”; the Mosque of Omar, a sacred Islamic place of worship. So, evidently, that current building is going to be destroyed, or, perhaps they will decide that that is not the right location anyway, and the temple will be rebuilt without having the mosque disturbed. Either way, Israel is surrounded by her enemies, and supported by very few allies. It certainly seems as though “troublesome times” are upon Israel.

But the point is that, though that prophecy in Daniel is one of the most far-reaching prophecies in the Bible, there was no mention of the Church. All the other Prophets did the same thing: they could clearly see the future of Israel, and all the nations around Israel, but they saw nothing about the Church age. Paul confirms that it was not revealed to them. It was hidden from them.

Over in Ephesians 3:3-11 (read it!), Paul addresses the same idea, saying that it was only revealed after the crucifixion. It fits into the collective ideas of many rather odd prophecies in the Old Testament, where the Gentiles are mentioned as receiving the blessing of God, but the actual mystery of the Church, the joining together of Jews and Gentiles into one body of believers, was not revealed at ALL in the Old Testament.

Compare Ephesians 2:11-20, where Paul clearly lays out the change:

11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

A habitation of God, through the Spirit! The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God, on Earth! Because of the fact that the entire Holy Trinity indwells each individual believer, in the Person of the Holy Spirit (Compare John 14:16-23 (read it!)) the Church is literally the dwelling-place of God, just as He promised Solomon that the temple in Jerusalem would be His dwelling-place, at that time. That old stone temple, made with human hands, is long gone; but God is building a new one, supernaturally using us as building-blocks.

I used to read the passage in 1st Peter 2:5  Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”, and I would think “But, I don’t want to be a piece of rock in a big building!” I was simply misunderstanding God’s Word: the comparison, there, is being made between Jesus, who is the foundation of that Temple, and the individual believers, who are the building materials: we are not (future-tense) going to be such living stones: we are living stones now (present tense), wherever we are, and whatever we are currently doing with our lives.

So, the Church began, from God’s perspective, with the sacrifice at the Cross…that is what made it possible, at least. The Church, proper, from our perspective, began at the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, because, for us to be a habitation of God, through the Spirit, He had to “move in, and dwell there!” The arrival of the Holy Spirit began the unique relationship that the Church has with God. So what was the big secret? He had promised something of that sort back in the book of Joel: He promised to pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.

But He made no mention of His binding together in one of Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Notice in the verses we just read, in Ephesians, that Paul definitely recognized the Gentiles as a separate gene-pool and not somehow secretly linked with Israel. He says that we were at that time (prior to the Cross) Gentiles: without Christ, without God, and without Hope.

But, he also says that Jesus, through His once-for-all-time sacrifice, broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile, forming a “new Man,” and we have become fellow-citizens with the saints, and part of the household of God. This was never predicted in the Old Testament, at all!

27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

So, the Indwelling Holy Spirit, and the fact that the Messiah would indwell each believer in the person of the Holy Spirit, was relatively unknown, although Joel 2:28, 29 could be taken to predict that truth. But the Jews still (probably) would have been convinced that that promise only applied to the people of Israel, in spite of the fact that it actually says, “all flesh.”

The revelation that the Blood of Jesus would take away (not cover) the sins of the whole world (not just Israel) was a stunning statement, when John the Baptist made it in John 1:29. And, the revelation that the Gentile believers would be joined with the Jewish believers in a new creation, a New Man…not Jew, and not Gentile, but the Church, was even more stunning!

Paul was the one first given the job of teaching that concept, and, though Peter was the first to actually take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts chapter 10—the story of the Roman centurion, Cornelius), he himself did not understand the concept, and was still struggling with it years later, at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). Many believers today are still struggling with this concept and mistakenly believe that we believers (Jews or Gentiles) are to go back and attempt to practice Judaism. Nothing could be further from the truth: The holiness in the Law, though laid out by God, and fully valid, was still just a “photograph,” for lack of better term, of the true holiness of God, in a form we could somewhat grasp. The whole purpose of the Law was to direct us to the reality of Christ. The old stone and gold Temple of Solomon, glorious though it must have been, was still just a very grainy, dim picture of the true temple of the living God. Ironically, we ourselves are being built together to form that true dwelling-place of God (which was never said of Israel.) We don’t often see the Glory of God in the living stones around us, because we are always distracted by the human limitations of each individual member of the body of Christ.

Macroscopic, versus Microscopic

Consider for a moment, some gorgeous “super-model” (only as a concept—I am not promoting voyeurism of any sort): we may see such a person (male or female) as the epitome of human grace and beauty and strength, and, perhaps we would be right. But: if we were to select a single living cell from that beautiful body, and examine it under a powerful microscope, none of the beauty would be apparent. That cell would appear an ugly, misshapen blob, just exactly as utterly unattractive as an amoeba! And yet (believe it or not) every bit of the genetic code that describes the potential for that beautiful model we had seen is completely included in that single cell!

In similar fashion, each of us, because we are each indwelt by the Holy Spirit, has the “code” for the whole body of Christ. All of us, collectively, once the Church is complete, will make up the whole Body of Christ, though none of us can see it yet, any more than that single cell we selected has any idea of the whole structure of the rest of the beautiful model from whom we took the sample.

We struggle with the idea, because, to us, a “temple” is a giant edifice, completely inert, and stationary, never doing anything, never going anywhere, but passively occupying space in a single location, for as long as the stones stay in place.

But God has chosen to use the believers of this age, Jew and Gentile, as His eternal dwelling-place: truly a living temple, completely holy, and completely in harmony with one another as well as with Himself.

Don’t be so distracted by the microscopic view that you miss the macroscopic view, and the eternal truth of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Paul’s Assignment: and Ours

28 Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:
29 Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

This is the task that was given to Paul: to present the truth of Christ, and the teaching of the Church to the world at large, and to lay the foundation of that one Church, faith in the Person of the living Christ, in as many places as God gave to him. As a result, he also was given the privilege of writing fourteen of the books of the New Testament: more than half, by count, though many were tiny letters, of only a few pages, each.

He preached the Bad News of Sin and Judgment, and the Good News of Christ, Grace and Forgiveness. He taught the difference between Law and the Grace of God; what each was for, and why both were necessary. He strove to refine the Church’s understanding, wisdom and knowledge, through clear teaching, so that it would grow straight and strong as it grew in Christ.

He continued to “fight the good fight”, laboring for that single goal of building up the church, until the day he died, executed by Rome. We have inherited the task, though at a lesser level. The Word of God is complete, and the Foundation is laid. But there are still millions, many even in our own vicinities, who have never had the opportunity to consider the claim of Christ on their own lives. No one has taken the opportunity to “introduce them to Christ.” Isn’t that a shame? That’s what Paul said, too! (1st Corinthians 15:34) “Awake to righteousness, and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”

The Lord may come soon, and, besides; any person may die and face judgment at any time. We knew a Godly young woman who slipped on ice, and fell, smacking her head in the process… and she died! She was a believer, raised in a Godly home, for which we are grateful. But unbelievers die, too, in just the same manner, and they face a Christless eternity. Do you care?

Give this some thought: Where are your priorities? Jesus said (John 4:34) “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” What is your “food?” What makes you “tick?” Those are just some things to consider.

If you understand that you, personally, as one who has been born again as a child of God, are also a living part of the Temple of God, the dwelling-place of God on Earth, shouldn’t that motivate you to behave with that in mind? To not bring shame on the dwelling-place of God through bad behavior or harsh words? To honor Him at all times, and to draw the attention of those around you to the Builder, Jesus Christ? To introduce others to Him, in fact?

These are questions we have to address personally.

I pray that will we all take these truths seriously.

Lord Jesus, re-mold our hearts into your own image, and shine through each of us, individually and collectively, as we seek to serve you and honor you with our lives. Train us to be your ambassadors, reaching out to the lost World around us.


Hebrews Chapter 2: First Warning

Hebrews Chapter Two: the first of Seven Warnings

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/17; THCF 1/29/17

Hebrews 2:1-4; Genesis 6:14-22

Introduction:

As we mentioned in the past weeks, along with the many exhortations to genuine believers, and the seven comparisons that are made to demonstrate that “Jesus is Better”, there are seven warnings given throughout the epistle to the Hebrews, which are directed specifically to those who are “along for the ride”, but have not received the Messiah as their savior. They aren’t sure, perhaps, or at least, are not committed.

There are many teachers who attempt to make this a warning to believers against losing the eternal life they now possess. The obvious problem with that is that if that “Eternal Life” is really eternal, then it cannot cease; so the only person who can “lose” eternal life, is one who never possessed it to begin with.

I hope to demonstrate what the warning really is, and to whom it really applies. Interpretation has to precede application; so, before we can rightly apply God’s Word to our lives, we need to understand what it actually says. In chapter two, here, we see the first of the seven warnings to the uncommitted; to the “dabblers”.

Don’t let the Message “Slip” Away from You

Hebrews 2:

1Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.

Given our exalted position in Christ, (provided we have actually crossed over into His life… John 5:24 says that we have crossed over from death into life) and, given the fact that Jesus really is superior in every way to the messengers who were sent to the patriarchs, it behooves us to give special attention to His Word. That is true for all believers…but the “warning” included here is not to believers. This is the beginning of the first warning in the book of Hebrews.

All of the Epistle is to the Hebrew “professing believers” of the Apostolic Age, but among them were evidently (as today) people who, while they professed faith, had never actually placed their faith in Christ as their only hope. They still were “half-in, and half-out”, feeling that they still had the option to go back to Judaism “if things don’t work out”, or if they changed their mind.  (The intended audience becomes increasingly apparent, as the warnings intensify.)

This sort of thing is common today among Gentiles, as well, because people “go along” with a church; perhaps, just to “see how things go”.

There are several problems with that approach:

  1. Ultimately, a person who is “half-in” is not in at all.
  2. An unsigned contract is completely invalid. A signed contract is completely binding.
  3. If you put on a uniform, it does not make you part of the armed forces…and if you take it off it does not get you out. In the same way, acting like a believer does not make you a child of God, nor does failing to act like one take you out of God’s family.
  4. The unseen danger is that when one “acts like a Christian”, one can convince oneself that he or she is “just as good as any other person”, and conclude that they are in a secure position because of their works. No one is saved by works. Saving faith produces works, but the works do not produce the relationship vital to salvation.

So, the warnings in the book of Hebrews are specifically to those who have known the truth, but have neglected to do anything about it: they are “dabblers”—dilettantes—those flirting with God, so to speak, but not realizing their own lostness. They are repeatedly warned to not fall short of saving faith.

I have “direct-deposit” for most of my pay, at work; a void “pay-check” is still given to me, every payday, including all the appropriate information regarding taxes, other withholdings, and employer contributions, etc., but it is non-negotiable—the money is already in my checking account, so the paper is only a notification. On the occasions, however, when a bonus is paid (which is not part of our hourly wages), it is not done by direct deposit: the check they give me is a live, valid paycheck, and I have to go deposit it myself. I have to take special care that I don’t lose that check. If I don’t get it endorsed and deposited, it will be worthless to me, though the payment was made to me in good faith. If I let the check “slip” into a drawer, or out of my pocket into the trash, I have lost a large sum of money that would have had real worth to my wife and to me.

We can do the same with the message of salvation. Jesus has “written a check”, so to speak, in the amount of “Eternal Life”, and signed it with His own blood, at the Cross. It is made out to “Whosoever Believeth in Him.” Each recipient is required to “endorse” that check by Faith. God then “deposits” Eternal life and, in addition, the righteousness of Christ, to the believer’s account. (In the Scriptures, this is called imputation. Abraham believed God, and God “imputed” righteousness to Abraham. We studied about this in Romans chapter four.)

When we say, “Well, I’ll think about that,” or “I’m just not ready for that, yet,” then we acknowledge that we heard the message, but that, at least temporarily, we are choosing to reject both the message and the gift…and, consequently, the Giver. The check remains un-endorsed, and the transaction is incomplete. The writer warns to not let that happen.

Don’t Neglect the Gift

For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;

The issue here is not about “neglecting” a plant, so that it finally withers and dies, but neglecting a message—neglecting to respond to that message. In any human organization, there will be people who are “along for the ride,” but not committed to the cause, so to speak. The military calls them “weekend warriors.” In any local assembly, it is possible for people to fool one another, and there will always be those who secretly feel that “I’ve always been a Christian! I’m certainly just as good as anyone else here!” They are fooling themselves and others, but not God.

That sort of thing is possible at a local level, and a horizontal level: human to human. We can fool people. In the Body of Christ at large, however, only God is keeping the records, and it is impossible to fool God; He knows each heart. He warns against such duplicity, and lets those people know that they can wait too long…that, if they are not “on the Ark when the door closes”, they will be lost, along with the world. He warns them to not miss out.

Don’t Miss the Boat!

In Genesis 6:14-22 we see a very peculiar foreshadowing of Jesus the Messiah. (Read it.) That Ark, which Noah built, parallels the person and work of Jesus in several ways:

  1. The Ark was built according to God’s instructions
    1. (Jesus fulfilled God’s prophecies to the letter.)
  2. The Ark was built to endure. (Those animals and people were in there for over a year!)
    1. (Jesus’s ministry and work is permanent.)
  3. The Ark was big enough to accommodate all that would be in it.
    1. (Jesus shed his blood for all.)
  4. God knew who was going to be in the Ark …but they entered by choice.
    1. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, and invites all to come to Him, but he knows from eternity past the ones who will respond in faith.
  5. The Ark withstood the flood of judgment and rose above the judgment.
    1. (Jesus bore the judgment for our sins at the Cross and rose from the dead.)
  6. The Ark had only one window, looking up. Noah could not see where he was going.
    1. (Our only information regarding our future is with God. We can only look up.)
  7. The Ark was coated inside and out, so as to be impervious to both the water outside and the filth inside. (What do you think those animals were doing during that year?)
    1. (Jesus was impervious to the Judgment and also is not affected by our unrighteousness. Our sin cannot sabotage God’s Grace.)
  8. The Ark had no sail, oars, nor rudder. Noah was utterly dependent upon God as to the outcome.
    1. (We have no means by which to control our eternal destiny. We have to trust God.)
  9. The Ark had only one door; only one way in or out…and God closed and opened the door. Noah couldn’t close it, and Noah couldn’t open it. God closed and opened it.
    1. (We have only one entrance into God’s Grace, by faith, and He says He will never lose us, nor leave us.)
  10. Everyone inside the Ark was safe…not necessarily comfortable, but definitely safe. Everyone outside the Ark was lost: regardless of age, health, intelligence, or even morals: they were lost because they were outside the Ark.
    1. All in Christ are safe…regardless of works or any other issues. All outside Christ are lost, because they have not believed in Jesus. (John 3:18)

When we read all that the scriptures have to say about Noah, we find that he spent 120 years building the Ark…and that he was a preacher of righteousness. We assume, then, that those around him had heard the warnings. They knew the purpose of the Ark, and the reason for the coming judgment.

They may have believed that he was just a smelly old man with odd ideas about life, and may have thought, “Well, I’m obviously a better man than you are, buddy! If God is in the business of “saving people”, He’d choose me over you!” Or, it is possible that they actually heard and considered the call Noah made, but ultimately put it off too long. One way or another, we are told that Noah had no control over the door. Only God could close it, and only God could open it.

The only choice Noah and his family really had was whether to get aboard. They did, and the rest is history. Once God closed the door, the only comparison that mattered was the location of the individuals being compared: they were either inside or outside the Ark. That is true today, as well. There are unquestionably people who are better humans than I am, who reject the Grace of God, because they are convinced they don’t need it. They think it is a “crutch”, or something.

But God’s Grace is far more than just a crutch. It is the only antidote to the lostness of the human race. As a race we are lost in sin. Turn to 1st Corinthians 15:22. There are two positions, or “locations” listed here: Everyone is either “in Adam”, where, it says, “all die,” or they are “in Christ”, where, it says, “all shall be made alive.” My position “in Christ” is the only thing that makes me acceptable to God. That position is perfect, though my condition may vary all over the scale. Do you suppose Noah and his family may have been afraid or seasick, or claustrophobic, aboard the Ark? Very possibly they were. But did it affect their position? Absolutely not! All the other issues are irrelevant to the question of eternal life. My position is secure: I am in Christ. I am part of the Body of Christ. So, how did I get there?

Where’s the Door? How do I get in?

Jesus promised that the “way in” was to place my faith in Him. In John 10:7, He said that He is the door…the “way in”.  In John 3:16, he said “…that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The way to become part of the body of Christ, according to 1st Corinthians 12:13, is to be placed there by the Holy Spirit—baptized by the Holy Spirit, into the Body of Christ. This happens (whether one knows it or not) at the moment of salvation… at the moment one chooses to believe the Gospel, and place his/her faith in Jesus’ shed blood as full payment for sin.

While it is entirely possible to “fake it” on earth, and fool Christians, it is absolutely impossible to fool God. There are no false brethren in the Body of Christ at large. But there can be, in a local assembly.

I have a friend who will tell you very plainly that he faked his faith for 15 years, until it suddenly dawned on him that he was in deep trouble. He was lost. He repented, and placed his faith in Jesus as the blood-sacrifice for his salvation, and has been serving faithfully for the last 40 years or so. There is no question that such things happen. The problem is that we can’t tell for sure who is who, and they can even be fooling themselves, and be convinced that they are Christians, for a variety of reasons. The seven warnings in this epistle are to that sort of person.

God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

The writer continues to point out how much more harsh the consequences may be for those who knew the Gospel, and had heard the apostolic teaching, in person, and had seen the miracles of that age, if they ultimately failed to heed those warnings. Jesus had issued very similar warnings to the Jews in Jerusalem, and Judea and Galilee. (Matthew 12:21-24; 23:29-39)

A person who hears, understands, and rejects God’ plan for the redemption of lost humanity is in deeper trouble than one who simply never heard it, or who heard such a garbled version of it that they never understood. And, a person who pretends faith, through a self-made piety, is in deeper trouble still.

Think about it this way: a person who is not in the service (say, the US Navy), and who walks aboard one of the warships that come to this area for special occasions, is there as a guest. He or she is treated completely politely and cordially. But when the ship leaves the harbor, and the visiting opportunity is over, it is expected that they will have already gone ashore. If they were to stow away, and were later discovered, they would be taken off the ship, probably by a Coast-Guard vessel, or, if they were still in inland waters, possibly a sheriff’s patrol boat, and they would be charged with trespass. I don’t know how serious the results might be.

But… if they had also dressed themselves in the uniform of a first-class seaman, and claimed to be a member of the US Navy, there would be a much deeper investigation, and probably far more serious charges. They would at least be charged with impersonating a member of the Armed Forces, and possibly with espionage.

So the writer is putting forward his first warning that some of the professing believers among that first generation of Jewish Christians might want to stop and think about the nature of their real relationship with the Messiah. He is warning them not to “neglect the message”, but to step all the way into that relationship by faith.

What about those already “in Christ?”

As a believer, who truly has placed his/her faith in Jesus’s blood sacrifice as full satisfaction of God’s Law, you need not fear that God will ultimately reject you: Your position in Christ is completely secure. Jesus promised that of all those whom God has given him, he will not lose a single one.

These warnings are not directed at you. But! The exhortations in this book are to you! There are encouragements, teachings and promises, here, that are specifically to those who already belong to Christ. As we study together, we will try to learn how to apply them to make them applicable to our lives, both individually and collectively.

 

Lord Jesus, help us to rightly divide the Word of Truth. Help us to correctly understand your Written Word, and correctly apply it to our lives. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.

Amen!


To Whom Was the Law Given?

To Whom Was the Law Given…and Why?

© C. O. Bishop 3/3/15 THCF 3/15/15

Galatians 3:19-29

Introduction:

I remember hearing a story, years ago, about a young man whose wife was sick, so he called a doctor for a house-call (yes, they used to have those.) The doctor arrived, and the husband was sitting nearby while the doctor was asking the young woman a series of questions. The man was something of a hypochondriac, and for every symptom the doctor asked her about, the man would say, “Well, I’ve been having that!” Finally, the doctor was exasperated: he turned around and said, “Do you mind, sir? I am trying to determine whether your wife is pregnant!”

So the twin issues of “to whom was the doctor talking”, and “why was he saying the words he said” had both been overlooked by the man in the story.

We chuckle over such stories, but we fail to see that we have done the same thing—we are trying to claim or apply promises that were not made to us, and trying to obey a law, that in any case was not for us, and in every case, was not within our capacity to obey.

Things that share similarities are still not necessarily the same. It is the differences that matter, not the similarities. When I read the book of Isaiah, for example, it sounds very much as though he is talking about our country today, but, over and over, he clearly states that he is talking about Israel, before the Babylonian captivity. The similarities are definitely there, but there is no question he is speaking to his own people, the Jews, not our country.

So, as we study the differences between Law and Grace, we need to bear in mind the following question: to whom was the Law was given…and why? But Paul addresses the “why” first, so that is what we will do, as well.

Why was the Law given?

19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

Interesting! The Law was given because of sin…until the “seed” (singular—Christ!) arrived, to whom the promise was made. The Law was given through a mediator (Moses) who acted as a go-between from God to Man. Jesus is a Mediator, too, but of a different sort: he brought Grace and Truth; Moses brought Law—and the attendant curse on sin.

20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

Mediators necessarily have to go between two otherwise separated parties. Moses was one such mediator, and Jesus was another—a fulfillment of the picture that Moses made, in fact. But there was only one God involved; and only one human race (despite the many divisions, languages, nations, etc., with billions of individuals.) So, what changed between the ministry of Moses and that of Jesus? God did not change—and Man did not change either.

The two mediators work together to accomplish the will of the One God. Man had no say in the matter. Usually a mediator is requiring or at least recommending compromise from both sides in a conflict. In this case it was all about God’s will, delivered to humans by means of a mediator; two different mediators with two different tasks. In the one case, the bad news was delivered: “Man is lost and cannot save himself.” In the other case, the good news was delivered, along with a stark reminder of the bad news: “Jesus is God’s anointed sacrifice—crucified for us—by which we must be saved: and we lay hands on him, and appropriate that sacrifice by faith.

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.

Paul concludes, then, that the Law was not contrary to the promise. It condemned the sin, but looked forward to the fulfilling of the Promise in Christ. Paul does not mention it here, but in other places it is made clear that every blood sacrifice of the Old Testament, prescribed under the Law, was a foreshadowing of Christ. The Law was a “placeholder”: it maintained the holiness of God while demonstrating the utter sinfulness of Man and providing a blood-sacrifice as a substitute for the sinner (only a temporary covering) to be entered into by faith. But the result of the Law was that all became sinners:

22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

This is confirmed in Romans 3:23, 24: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God… being justified freely by his Grace…” That passage is clear: it says “all” and it means “ALL”. But as we read this passage, it is important that we pay attention to the pronouns, “we”, “us”, and “you”. They are not all in reference to the same group of people.

“We, Our, Us, and You”

23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.

Who is the “we” in this passage? If it is in reference to the whole human race, we have a problem: the vast majority of the human race has never heard any of the Mosaic Law. How could the Gentiles have been said to be “under the Law? The Law was given to Moses, specifically to be delivered to a people called out from among the human race…they were specifically separated from the rest of the human race and called to be holy. The law was not given to everyonejust Israel. And the Law, far from providing a way to become a holy people, only condemned them for their unholiness.

The only solution ever offered by the Law was a continual flow of blood at the altar, recognizing the eternal need for cleansing. But Job, speaking centuries before the giving of the Law, knew that his Redeemer lived! He knew that the “goel”—the “kinsman-redeemer”, later described under the Law, was already alive—and he predicted the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the righteous dead which will come at the very beginning of the millennial kingdom here on earth.

Therefore, since Job, speaking before the Law, knew that the security of his own salvation rested in his Redeemer, we can conclude that the salvation that was offered under the Law, by faith, through the sacrifices, was also just as secure and just as effective as the salvation we experience. Why? He made sacrifices to God, but did so without the guideline of the Law. He did so by faith.  Under the Law, the true believers followed the guideline of the Law, and brought their sacrifice, but still did so by faith. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth.

They were all looking forward to the Cross by faith, and we look back to the Cross by faith. One other difference, of course, is that very few believers in those times were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Today, everyone who trusts in Jesus’ full payment at the Cross for salvation receives the Holy Spirit the moment he or she believes…and whether he or she knows it or not. In the transition period chronicled in the book of Acts, there were frequently signs accompanying salvation—but they seemed to taper off toward the end of the apostolic age, and some think they have completely ceased. (There is a good deal of controversy around that point, so I am not going to address it here, since that argument has no pertinence to the passage we are examining.)

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Notice again the pronouns—“our, us, we”: The same individuals who received the Law and were under the Law were the recipients of the ministry of the Law.

The word translated “schoolmaster”, here, is “paidagogon”—pedagogue. (Pais = “boy”; agogos = guide) In the prevailing culture of the time, a rich father would assign an adult male slave to bring up his son—to tutor him, and bring him up to be a responsible adult. The result was to be a young man of whom the father could be proud. The pedagogue did not make him a child of his father—he only made him a respectable, responsible young man. Paul says that the Law was meant to bring “us” up to faith. Over in Romans 7:13, it clearly states that the Law was given to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Incidentally, from the moment that child was born, positionally he was a “son”—but until maturity came he would not be recognized as such, and had no inherited authority as yet.

Stop and think: over whose child did the pedagogue exercise His ministry? Was it to every kid in town, or just the son of the Father? Of course, his ministry was limited to the children of the covenant…the children of that Father. And when the time came to relinquish that responsibility, the pedagogue did so completely. The children were to approach the Father directly, and the Father could deal with the children as responsible heirs.

25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Who is the “we” in this passage? The same as the “us” to whom the Law was delivered! The Jews are no longer supposed to be under the Mosaic Law, if they have received their Messiah by faith. Paul, effectively, had “graduated” and had told it to the Jews…and they rejected the message. So, what about the Gentiles? Do they have to become Jews in order to share in the blessing? Do they have to bear the burden of the Law with its curse for failure, in order to inherit the blessing of Abraham?

So, What about the Gentiles? What about You?

26 For ye are all the children (huioi…sons) of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Ah! There is a change in pronouns! Now he is no longer saying “we”—not first person plural, but second person plural! (That’s what “ye” is, in Old English.) He says “You are sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ.” That is addressed to all believers!

I  have never been under the Mosaic Law…but I have been “concluded under Sin”, according to verse 22 of this chapter, and also according to Romans 3:23—“ALL have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (There’s that word “all” again….)

Once a pedagogue had succeeded in bringing a son up to the satisfaction of the Father, his job was done—and he was just a slave. Once the Law has completed the task of bringing a man to faith, its job is done…that man is no longer under the Law. In our culture we have no slaves and no pedagogues so it is a hard analogy for us to follow. In addition, as Gentiles, we have never been under the Mosaic Law.

The “bad news” of our sin was made clear to us by the preaching of some small portion of the Law, or possibly simply by hearing the New Testament statements of our sin. The Good News (Gospel) of Christ came in the same message, usually. But the point is clear: we are no longer under the Law, once we have come to faith in Christ. I am no longer to dread the curse of God. God no longer sees me as a sinner, in spite of the fact that I still have my old sin nature.

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

This statement is also addressed to “you”—all believers. But, the baptism here is not water—it is the Holy Spirit. 1st Corinthians 12:13 states that the Holy Spirit has baptized (past tense) all believers into one body…that of Christ. That baptism is also referenced in Romans 6—no water is in any of these passages. It is the Holy Spirit in view, here…not water.

Water baptism is only an outward demonstration, symbolic of an inward reality, just as communion is a commemorative feast, declaring what Jesus has done for us. Because water baptism is something that we can do, it is also something that can be faked by an unbeliever, just as an unbeliever can take communion. But there is no faking the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We can’t see it, and there are no outward signs, necessarily. Either you are or you are not in the body of Christ—and if you are, you got there by faith, and by the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is no “litmus test”: I can’t prove that someone is, or is not, a believer. We hear the testimony of faith, and see the testimony of obedience. A serious shortfall in either one may be cause to doubt the truth of the testimony, or the source of the obedience. When we fellowship with real believers, enthusiastic about God’s Word, and earnestly seeking to obey God’s Word, then the result is genuine unity, made by God, not man. All the ecumenical “unity” that we see today, built upon compromise and humanism, has nothing to do with the Unity of the Spirit.

People who set aside the written Word of God, trying to dissolve doctrinal disunity and create artificial unity are completely ignorant of the unity that Christ, the Living Word, produces. Lives changed by the Holy Spirit grow closer together, not further apart. Consider an old-fashioned wooden wheel. If Christ is the center of each of our lives— the hub, so to speak— then as we (as “spokes”) draw closer to Him we cannot help drawing closer to one another as well. On a wooden wheel the spokes converge until at the center they are joined…actually touching one another all the way around the hub. There is coming a day when all believers will be in full unity at the Throne of Grace, and there will be no division between us.

We have unity now—we need to maintain it.

Unity in Christ

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Notice the pronoun “ye”, again: this is still addressed to all believers. He says that we are (present tense) all one in Christ. This is genuine unity. It is made by God, not Man: we are only told to maintain it, not create it. (Ephesians 4:3 says we are to endeavor “…to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace.”)

There are certainly differences from one person to another, by human standards, in terms of ability, social status, age, etc. Even under God, there are differences of gifts, and differences of maturity, along with different responsibilities and authority. But in terms of value, especially before God, the ground is absolutely level at the foot of the Cross. We need to see, here, that the differences do not in any way affect the value of the individual, nor our responsibility to maintain unity and fellowship with them.

29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Notice the continuing use of the plural pronoun, “ye”. If you are a member of the body of Christ, having been born again by Grace, through faith, and placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, then the promise that the nations would be blessed through Abraham has been partially fulfilled in you, and, more to the point, because you are in Christ, you are literally part of that promised seednot a part of Israel, or Judaism, but a living part of the Messiah, himself: a part of the Body of Christ! He is the one Seed of Abraham…and we are part of Him forever.

But, as long as we are here in Galatians 3, look back at verse 26: please don’t fail to see how one becomes a Son of God. It is “by faith in Christ Jesus”: there is no other way. Faith is the only approach to God. I cannot get to God by church attendance, by Law-keeping, or by reciting a creed, however sincerely I may do all these things. If I am not placing my conscious trust in the fact of the Cross, then I am still seeking to achieve a “do-it-yourself” relationship with God, and it simply cannot be done.

Folks say “But all people are God’s children!” We see from the scriptures that Jesus disagreed with them; he stated that “…ye are of your father the Devil, and his works will ye do!” (John 8:44). So, not all people are children of God. In fact, in Ephesians 2:3, we see that none of us start out that way, and here, in Galatians 3:26, God says we can only become a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

Over in John 1:12 John states that “as many as received him, to them gave he power (exousia—authority—the right) to become (the Greek means “be born; generated”—genesthai) the children (teknaborn-ones) of God. That is the only way it can happen. That is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that “You must be born again!”

If you have heard the bad news of your sin, and confess that you cannot save yourself, and have placed your trust in the Good News of the Person and Work of Christ, then you are permanently a child of God, and He will continue to correct you and draw you to Himself.

Trust Him, and give Him time to work!

Lord Jesus, focus the eyes of our hearts upon you. Draw us to walk together with you in faith, love and obedience. We confess that we cannot save ourselves, nor even see how to walk with you: We need the light of your Word, and the guidance of your Spirit. Give us Grace to live for you, by your Name and by your Spirit.