Posts Tagged ‘Cross’

Abraham’s Saving Faith: Grace and Imputation

The Faith of Abraham

© C. O. Bishop

Romans Chapter 4

Introduction:

In Chapters 1-3, Paul has just finished explaining the Salvation offered through Grace…and the fact that it is the only solution offered by God for the completely epidemic Sin of the human race. All are involved; all are infected; all are guilty; all are condemned. So…all are included in the offer of salvation through the single sacrifice of Jesus Christ. God completely “levels the playing field”, in terms of a person’s eligibility for the gift. No one is excluded for reasons of origin, depth of depravity, or relative personal worth (as humans see worth). We are told that the whole world is condemned already. (Jesus confirmed this, and said that believing in Him is the way to accept God’s offer of salvation.)

Paul stated that justification (which means “being declared righteous”) is available strictly on the basis of faith in Jesus’ shed blood. (Romans 3:25) He further pointed out that the teaching of Grace, far from annulling the Law of God, confirms its truth and authority. The Law is what sheds the light of God’s spiritual “pathology” on the life of every human, and declares that we are all fatally infected with sin. One can either admit that truth, or deny it. We can “demand a second opinion”; but the only other sources of such information are either consciously subject to the will of God, and will cite his Law as their authority to diagnose, or they are in conflict with the Law of God, and will either attempt to set aside the authority of God or deny it completely. We eventually have to choose who to trust.

What Saved Abraham?

1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Paul raises Abraham as a case in point, through whom he simultaneously explains the principle of Grace and the principle of Imputation. He poses the question, “Was Abraham justified by works or by faith? If it was by works then he had something to boast about.” But God doesn’t permit boasting, in regard to Grace. Paul points out that Abraham was declared righteous when he believed God, not when he began doing the things he was famous for. The works were a result of faith. The faith was what moved God to declare him righteous. (See Genesis 15:6)

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
Paul follows this with the statement that (obviously) when a person works, their reward is wages, not a gift. If I work for employers, they owe me my wages. They are legally bound to pay me. I do not consider my wages a gift. But Grace specifically means “un-earned favor”. If you can do anything to earn it, then it is not Grace. You cannot mix Grace and works. Either God’s Grace is what saves you or you think you can earn his favor, and will try to save yourself by works. There is no middle ground.

What is the Weak Link?

Where I work, we build ocean-going barges. The chain “towing-bridles”,  attached to the barges, are huge… they have to be, to pull the enormous weight of the loaded barge, and not snap in heavy seas, as they are slacked and jerked taut again by the waves and the raw power of the sea-going tugboat. (How huge am I talking about? Each separate link weighs 126 pounds or more. Each link is cast in a mold that encapsulates the next link, so that the whole chain is a series of 126-pound cast-steel links. There are much bigger ones out there: these are just what we use.)

Now, consider: if I took one of those links out, and replaced it with binder twine, what would the strength of the chain be? Obviously the weak link would be the binder twine, and, in fact, it would not even hold the weight of the chain, let alone pull the barge. In fact, if I ran hundreds or even thousands of loops of the twine through the two adjacent links, it would still be impossible to approach the strength of the chain—and the twine would be decidedly the weakest link.

So what is the point of this illustration? A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If my works are, at any level, responsible for my salvation or my security in Christ, then, ultimately, my security is completely dependent upon my works, as they are undeniably the weakest link. When God says salvation is “by Grace, through Faith”, what possible value can my works add? God’s Grace, by Jesus’ finished work at the Cross is the power of God for salvation. If it is not enough, then I am lost. It is as simple as that. I cannot add to Grace by works…but I can respond to Grace by works, because of faith…just as Abraham did. Grace is what saves us…not works.

So, what is “Imputation?”

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Paul introduces a Old Testament truth, here: the idea that one thing can be “counted for” another; that, by faith, righteousness can be “added to the believer’s account.”

This is an accounting term: when I take a paycheck to the bank, it is just a piece of paper: it has no intrinsic value. But it authorizes the bank to “post value to my bank account”, and, based on that posting, I can make purchases or withdraw cash from that account. This is a fairly important idea, because there is a parallel in the salvation offered at the Cross. When Jesus died for me, he wrote a “check”, in His own blood, payable to the bearer, for the value of “eternal life, and eternal righteousness”. Now, consider: when I take my paycheck to the bank, if I fail to endorse that check, they will not honor it. The value of the check will not be posted to my account.

So how do we “endorse” the “check” Jesus wrote for us at the Cross? By faith: By placing our trust in His finished work. The facts are simple: Jesus really did write the check, if you want to call it that, in His blood, at the Cross, and he offers it to us as a gift. Now: you can do whatever you want with that check…you can toss it aside, judging it worthless; you can set it aside, thinking you may want it at some more convenient time (which still does not get you the value of the gift); or you can place your faith in that blood sacrifice, and the righteousness of Christ is instantly and permanently imputed (posted) to your account. God will eternally see you in the righteousness of Christ…He will never again see you as a condemned sinner.

Let’s look at 2nd Corinthians 5:21 “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him

This is the ultimate substitution. In Abraham’s later story, we see that God provided a substitute for Abraham’s son, Isaac. A ram was offered in his place. Throughout the Old Testament, we can see that all the blood sacrifices were a substitute for the sinner, at one level or another. And that is why Jesus was called “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He is the substitutionary sacrifice through whom we can be made righteous before God. He did not become a sinner for us: He became sin. We do not imitate him to become righteous. His righteousness was applied to our accounts by Grace through faith, and, by faith we imitate him, honor him, and depend on His righteousness in our accounts; not at all upon our own works.

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
David also described the blessedness of a person whose sins are covered…who has had righteousness “imputed” to him without works. The doctrine of imputation means that God has “posted righteousness to my account”. He has counted me righteous. Not because of anything I have done or can do…I am a sinner, and my whole character apart from Him is to rebel against the righteousness of God. God says in Romans 8 that my sin nature not only is not subject to the law of God, but it cannot be. So how could I be declared righteous?

How is Righteousness Imputed?

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
Paul takes his time getting to the explanation, but we already had a clue back in Romans 3:25—Jesus was the propitiation (the sacrifice that satisfied the righteousness of God) for our sins through faith in His blood.

When Abraham first “believed God”, it was simply regarding the promise of a coming “seed”; that his progeny would be without number. But the specific singular word for “seed” is used. Remembering that Paul used and quoted the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, just as Jesus did, I looked up the word for seed in the Septuagint…and it turns out that the word used there is very specific, the promise of the land is to a specific (singular) seed, while the promise of numerous offspring is plural. It gets more specific later on, but Abraham was looking forward to Christ, just as Abel did, and as did the other men and women of faith.

We look back to Him, and we believe—they looked forward and they believed. They understood enough of the gospel and the character of God to make a decision: so do we. The book of Job was possibly the earliest book of the written word of God, and he knew about the resurrection, and the second coming, and redemption, and life after death. The Old Testament saints were not ignorant.

11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:

12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul carefully reminds the readers that Abraham was still an uncircumcised heathen when God made his promise and Abraham believed. He points out that God declared him righteous then, not 25 years later when he was circumcised. So his circumcision was an outward mark of something that had been an inward reality for 25 years.

Paul says that those who believe are the spiritual offspring of Abraham, whether or not they bear the physical mark of Judaism. In fact, the whole point is that the two ideas are almost unrelated, as there are thousands upon thousands of people (millions, actually) who bear the mark of some sort of faith, but do not have that faith. Jews who did not trust in the Messiah, as Abraham did, but only had the mark of circumcision, were just as lost as the millions today who have been baptized (or circumcised, or both) but have no relationship with the God who chose that sign. Not all Jews were saved, and not all members of churches today are saved… even if the church they attend is faithfully preaching the Gospel. It completely depends upon the individual: do you or do you not place your dependence on Jesus’ finished work—his shed blood—at the Cross?

If someone attends a church that does NOT faithfully preach the Gospel, it just means it is less likely that the person is saved…but not impossible; they may have heard the good news elsewhere, and may already have personally placed their faith in God to save them via the shed blood of Christ. One by one, God saves those who believe…not those who attend a particular church or wear a certain kind of clothing, give money, were born of a certain family, etc. He saves them one by one, by Grace, through Faith alone.

But a real believer has literally been born again, and has a new Father and a New Nature. A baby Christian is hungry for the Word of God; the milk of God’s word. So a genuine believer will not remain comfortably in a church where God’s Word is not taught. He or she will increasingly grow hungry and dissatisfied in the absence of sound teaching from the Word of God.

14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,

17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

 

Law and Grace are Separate, but they Work Together

Paul emphasizes the mutual exclusivity of Law and Grace: he says that if the promise was based on Law, then Faith is made void, and the promise has no effect, because the truth is, the Law brings judgment, not salvation. If there were no rules, there would be no consequences for breaking rules; but there are rules, and there are consequences for breaking them. So he concludes that it is by faith, not law, so that Grace is the only means by which we can receive that promise. The result is that all those who hear and believe the Gospel are saved by Grace, and Abraham has literally become the father of many nations, by faith. People from every nation on earth have heard and believed the Gospel.

19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb:

20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;

21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.

22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
He also reminds us that Abraham was no dummy—he knew the odds of his becoming a father at that age—but he rejoiced. He was strong in faith…he did not even consider the deadness of his own reproductive organs or those of Sarah, his wife…he believed God’s promise. Specifically, he believed that God was able to fulfill His promises, and that His character was such that he would do so. Paul concludes that on that basis, his faith was accounted to him as righteousness.

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;

24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;

25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Paul goes on to say that this was not written just for Abraham’s sake, but for ours, that we might have God’s righteousness applied to our own accounts, as we place our trust in God who raised Jesus from the dead. He says that Jesus was Crucified for our sins—but he was resurrected so that we could be declared righteous…the Resurrection was God’s declaration that He was satisfied with the payment. (Romans 1:4)

From the Cross, Jesus said “It is Finished!” At the Resurrection, God said “Amen!”

Conclusion:

So how will you respond to the promises of God? To begin with, you have to know what He has promised to you. But then, day by day, you can choose to believe Him…or not.

Jesus said “he that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me hath everlasting life…”; (that’s present tense: “…has everlasting life”.) Do you trust him for that promise? If so, then you have eternal life now.

What about where he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you: let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Do you believe that one, too? Just as you have been once-for-all born again by faith, and you trust in his promise to keep you, for eternity, you can daily experience His peace by faith, trusting in His wisdom and strength to guide and protect you.

Lord Jesus, grant us the Grace to hunger for your Word, and to be filled with your Spirit and your Wisdom. Draw us into an ever deeper relationship with you.

Amen!

 


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is one of the most eminently practical books in the New Testament. It is also among the most foundational books in the New Testament, meaning that the truths it teaches are foundational to understanding the rest of the New Testament, as well as to living the Christian life. The Book of Romans, as it is commonly called, has sometimes been referred to as “the Gospel of God’s Grace” because that is the theme of the book, and that theme is woven throughout the entire epistle.

In this Book:

  • The Gospel is clearly defined and explored.
  • The effect of the Gospel is examined and expounded upon.
  • The built-in responsibilities of the recipients thereof are outlined, as well.

Even in the beginning lines, we can see these interwoven ideas begin to unfold. Paul identifies himself in terms of the Gospel, and, in the same breath, defines the source and key subject of the Gospel; the person of Christ. He goes on to state the effect of the Gospel in his own life and that of the recipient believers. Finally, he begins to state his own responsibilities, in regard to the Gospel.

This is the “burden of the Gospel”. I use the word “burden” in the same sense as Paul did over in Galatians 6:5for every man shall bear his own burden.” The Greek word there is “phortion”, meaning an assigned task. This is in contrast to the word in Galatians 6:2 where we are admonished to “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There, the Greek word is “baré”, meaning a crushing, unbearable load. The Gospel is not a crushing burden, but it is an assigned task, and should become a governing passion in each of our lives.

The Person of the Gospel

 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Paul introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ; an Apostle (“sent one”), but immediately shifts the focus to the Gospel itself, which is what his apostleship is all about. I am reminded of a sheriff’s deputy, who, after briefly identifying himself as a minion of the court, immediately goes about the business upon which he has been sent: he is there neither to boast of his prowess as a lawman, nor to simply pass the time of day. He is there on business, and he immediately gets to the point. The “point” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Paul immediately says that he is “separated unto the Gospel of God”— set apart for the work of the Gospel; the Good News of God.

Having thereby stated his business, in verse one, Paul begins to expand upon that theme in the verses that follow: explaining the character of the Gospel, and what it concerns, and so forth. He says first that it was promised from time past, through God’s prophets. (A prophet is a speaker for God—a mouthpiece; a spokesman for God. God promised the Gospel through the prophets.)

Further, it concerns Jesus Christ—it’s about Jesus—who is God’s Son, and who is our Lord (Greek kurios—“master”), and who, in terms of human origin, is of the seed of David. This was in accordance with the prophets who unanimously said he would be of the lineage of David.

He points out that God placed His own authoritative “stamp of approval” on Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God with power, by the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead. (Yes, that ought to show his authority: only one person has the authority and power to raise the dead, immortal.)

In verse 5, Paul continues talking about the person of the Gospel, Jesus himself. He states that it is from Jesus Christ that he (and others) had received “Grace and Apostleship.” Now, Grace has two aspects…he was given Grace as the gift of eternal life (as we also have been), but he further received the grace (Greek “charis” also translated “gift”) of being an apostle.

Paul evidently had a multitude of spiritual gifts, which apparently went along with being an Apostle. I personally believe that Paul is the twelfth of the twelve Apostles, and that Matthias, through no fault of his own, was mistakenly chosen by lot (drawing straws, or whatever), and appointed to be the replacement for Judas Iscariot, in Acts chapter one. All the apostles (including Paul) were chosen by Jesus, personally, except Matthias. If I am mistaken, so be it, but it seems to me as though Jesus chose his own replacement apostle in the person of Paul, and that Peter may simply have spoken out of turn. However, all the eleven were involved, and God did not correct or rebuke them, so I will not state that they were wrong. It just seems that way to me. I may be mistaken. Matthias may have been God’s choice as well. In that case, I do not know for whom will be the “twelve thrones for the twelve apostles.” But it doesn’t matter: God knows. (By the way, there are other people spoken of as apostles, too, in scripture, so this is not at all a “cut and dried” issue.)

There is no question, however, as to the apostleship of Paul. He was chosen personally, by Jesus, and given a specific task— he was made the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). The word “apostle” means “sent one”. Paul was sent to take the Gospel to all nations, which was to result in the obedience of faith…or obedience to the faith…among all nations. Paul literally became the founder of the Gentile church. The Jewish church had begun under the ministry of Peter. But the Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ; and that was revealed first to Paul, though Jesus himself had hinted to that effect, saying “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) (The Mormons attempt to use this passage to justify some of their doctrines, but the Bible makes it absolutely clear that what Jesus was predicting was the joining of Jew and Gentile in one Body of Christ. There is no other Biblical interpretation.)

Paul states (verse 6) that the believers in Rome were also among the “called” of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you believe the Gospel, you are one of the “called” of Jesus Christ as well. You are definitely called to serve God with your life. You can do some thinking about what that might entail, but this is a Biblical imperative: If you belong to Jesus, you are to serve Him.

The Effect of the Gospel

Next, in verse seven, Paul addresses the recipients of the letter:

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that the words “to be” are in italics, meaning that they were not in the original manuscripts… it means that the believers are called saints: “holy ones” (that’s what “saint” means.) It implies that being one of the holy ones of God is predicated upon being a believer in Jesus Christ, not having the approval of the Pope, or some other human. We are not made saints by people, but by God. And we are not called “to be” saints, as if it is to be at some time in the future, but now: from the moment we receive Him as our savior. Perhaps the translators only meant to imply that we are called to “be saints…and had no intent of putting it into a future view at all. We are called to be saints. That is what is supposed to be happening…we are to behave as the holy ones of God, because we are the holy ones of God. We are set aside for His purposes, and His alone. We will discuss that more at a later date.

We can further see that the gift of God is in the following order: “Grace, then Peace.” This is consistent in all the epistles to the church, throughout the New Testament. If one feels they are not dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, then they cannot have Peace with God, let alone experience the peace of God, after conversion. There are those who reject God’s Grace, hoping to “earn” their own salvation. I have had people actually tell me this. They don’t understand that such earning is utterly impossible. Just as it was impossible for Cain to please God with the fruit of the cursed ground, in Genesis 4:3, it is impossible for any human to please God with the fruit of a life already cursed through original Sin. We have nothing to offer—it is ALL tainted by sin.

A person who claims that he is dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, but who subsequently supposes that he must work to “stay saved”, is still not understanding the point of “Grace”. What does the word “grace” mean, but “un-earned favor”? If you are trying to earn it, it is not Grace, but wages. We will address this idea later on, but for the moment, please see that if you want peace with God, you receive it by Grace. If you want the peace of God, you also receive it by Grace. There are things we are called to do in response to God’s Grace, to allow his Peace to flow unhindered (see Philippians 4:6-9), but those still have nothing to do with earning Grace.

In verses 8-12, Paul expresses his own longing, to go and see the Roman believers face to face.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

He evidently knew at least some of them, as he calls them by name, in the final chapter. But many he apparently had never met. He knew of their faith, and was thrilled to know of the fruit it was having in their lives. As a result of the testimony of the Roman believers, which he had heard everywhere he went, Paul prayed for them continually, especially longing to go visit them, and add to their joy by imparting “some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established”, or strengthened in their walk with God.

I don’t know what it was he hoped to do, beyond further teaching. Perhaps he actually intended to impart a “gift of the Spirit” as listed in 1st Corinthians 12, or Romans 12, but I really doubt it. From what we can see in the scripture, the gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit, at His discretion, and apparently at the moment of salvation, though such gifts may not come to light for some time, in many cases.

There is one passage that refers to a gift being in someone “by the laying on of hands of the presbytery”, but I wonder whether that may simply be the recognition of the gift (as that is universally what the “laying on of hands” refers to. When the elders laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 13, for example, they were simply acknowledging that God had called Paul and Barnabas to the work they were going to do. The Holy Spirit had spoken (evidently audibly) to the group, telling them that He was going to send Paul and Barnabas out for a special job. All they did was to agree with God. I suspect that was also the case with Timothy (1st Timothy 4:14), and the gift of Evangelism that apparently was assigned to him by God.

Paul further expanded on the idea of a spiritual gift by saying, “that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” What he evidently hoped to do is to enjoy fellowship with them. The word fellowship is an old English idea which only means the “status of being a fellow (something)”. The word “fellowship” has nothing to do with “two fellows in a ship” as so many modern preachers are fond of saying. Fellows can be in a ship and despise one another. (Anyone ever hear of a ship called the “HMS Bounty”? Captain Bligh, and all those jolly good fellows?) In England they have what is called the “Royal Society.” It is considered a great honor to be called an “FRS”—a “Fellow of the Royal Society”… a fellow-member of that elite group. We have fellowship because we are fellow-Christians… we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. It implies “partnership”—having in common—sharing something…participating together in something. Paul commended the Philippian believers for their “fellowship in the Gospel”…they were participating with him as partners in the work of evangelism. Paul knew that these believers were his brothers and sisters, and he longed to go spend some time with them. I can only wish that Christians felt this way about one another today, but they seldom do. We are exhorted to grow in grace and brotherly Love, increasing more and more. But it seems the Church today has gone the other direction. God help us to love one another with the Agapé love, as well as learning the brotherly love that God commands.

The Burden of the Gospel

13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Notice that in verse 13, Paul begins to explain his motivation in his travels: he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren…” (I want you to know…) that I often intended to come visit you, but was restrained, until now. I wanted to come there, in order to have fruit there, as I have everywhere else. He wanted to lead others to Christ in Rome, and to impart wisdom and maturity to the believers there. He wanted to build up the Church, there.

What had originally been an assignment from Jesus had become a personal passion to Paul. This was not a simple statement of duty, but a personal burden for the souls of those for whom Jesus died. He was determined to preach the Gospel to those in Rome just as he had everywhere else. (He hadn’t been there, yet.) He considered himself to have a debt to pay in Rome and elsewhere. Notice too, that he did not limit his ministry to “the elect”: in verse 14 and 15, he states categorically that he considered himself a debtor to all: Greeks, Barbarians, wise and foolish. He clearly understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the whole world, as did the Apostle John. John states that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:2) Paul echoes that conviction, stating that he himself was a debtor to the people around him, wherever he went: He owed them the Gospel.

Whenever God opened the door for him to go to Rome, he was ready to go. We know he eventually got there, but as far as we know he only went there in chains, as a prisoner. He was in prison there for at least a few years, and we know that he led many to Christ from that prison cell. The location had changed, but the burden was still the same.

Conclusion:

As we read through the rest of the Book of Romans, We will see that the Lord Jesus is the central figure in all of the Bible, and that he has called us to be set aside for His service. We will also see the lostness of the human race. We can see here in Romans 1:14 that Paul considered himself to owe the Gospel to everyone around him.

Do we take that assignment seriously? Has it become a guiding passion, for you, to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, and then use them as they arise? To pray for wisdom as to when to not offer the Gospel, and when to speak boldly?

Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish his work.” The job had never been just a task to Jesus: it was his burning passion from the beginning. Apparently it had quickly become the same for Paul. Where is your passion? There are multiple assignments that we all have as believers: we are to pull our own weight in every area—taking care of our needs and those of our families, making good use of our time, loving the brethren, etc. But where does the Gospel fit into the equation? Is that the passion of your life or just something you think about once in a while? Give that some thought: What is the primary “burden” in your life?

Lord Jesus, help us to share your compassion for the Lost, and to willingly take up and bear the Burden of the Gospel, for the sake of your Glory.

Amen.


Christian Liberty

What is Christian Liberty?

© C. O. Bishop 5/2/15; THCF 5/3/15

Galatians 5:1-14

Introduction:

Paul has spent much of the last four chapters talking about the trap of legalism, and rightfully so: it is warned against all through the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, though more so in the New, to be sure. Now he seems to move toward a conclusion: if Legalism, Law-works, are NOT how we are to live then how should we live? What does Christian Liberty amount to? Does it mean we are to be lawless? Absolutely not! It means we have been called to a higher law, one of the heart and of the Spirit, which sets us free from the Law of Sin and Death. So Paul is now teaching how that is supposed to work. What does genuine liberty look like, as opposed to Licentiousness which is claimed to be liberty? And how important is it, really?

Maintain your Liberty!

Galatians Chapter 5:1-14

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This is a very far-reaching command. It is a principle by which to live; not a checklist item. The things being suggested by the then-current crop of legalizers, confronting the Galatian believers, may not even be touched upon by the legalizers today. Perhaps it is the idea that one has to be baptized to be saved…or has to be baptized by a certain formulaic ritual, or into a certain church. Perhaps they are telling you that what you use for communion, who serves the communion, or the clothes you wear, or how you hold your hands when you pray… are the keys to peace with God. Do these ideas sound ridiculous? Guess what—they (and many other similar follies) have all been cited as cardinal doctrines. Churches split over tiny differences, and people try to deny one another access to God over tiny differences, too. I was in a Baptist church once where the preacher still put on a black robe even to baptize someone in a creek. (Why?? What was the message he was sending? That “Clergy” is somehow separated from the “common” folk? Or did the black robe somehow solemnify baptism?)

Sometimes unbelievers have been literally shut out because there was something in their lives that the church-folk didn’t want to be associated with. I recall an older, unbelieving friend telling me that he had quit attending church altogether, because, when his father had been murdered and he was trying to find someone to bury him, all the local churches (where they lived at the time—somewhere in New Jersey, as I recall—and 50 years ago or more) initially refused to help! Perhaps they were afraid of the publicity; perhaps some other fear—perhaps there had been some involvement of organized crime—I’m not sure; but his father’s own church would not bury him.

Were they so convinced of their own righteousness that they did not dare “taint themselves” by being involved in the funeral of a murdered man? Or were they afraid of honoring a murdered man and possibly incurring further violence toward themselves? I don’t know. But, as far as he was concerned, their testimony was ruined, along with the testimony of every other church in the world. He was deeply disillusioned about churches, by that experience.

He finally found a pastor of a local, evangelical, non-denominational church who readily agreed to serve, and he was grateful for that help…but when he shared all this with me, he had long since moved away from that area, and was not at ALL interested in anything churches of any sort had to offer. He died an unbeliever, as far as I know. That is a sad story, but it is true. Sadder still is the fact that, while all those churches collectively helped to send that man to hell, he himself ultimately made the decision to reject the God of the Bible. Their personal bondage to irrelevance had a permanent effect on his personal bondage to sin.

Unless he repented after I last saw him, he was lost…and, the blame partly lies at the feet of those churches, who loved their own reputations more than the Gospel. He was sure, the last time I talked with him, that because of his personal good works, he deserved eternal bliss with God. I was a very young believer at the time, and tried to point out to him that NO one deserves heaven on their own merit. I verbally, earnestly, included myself in that indictment, but his final words to me were, “Well, I do!” So; evidently, he, along with them, had bought into the idea of salvation by works. The pastor who buried my friend’s father had not fallen prey to that doctrine, and behaved with Grace and Mercy toward him. I just wish he could have led my friend to Christ before he left town for good.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

So…what is being taught here? Is Paul telling the Galatian believers that if they undergo circumcision (to become Jews) then they have lost their salvation? I thought he said that was impossible…?  Let’s read the next verse:

The Whole Law or None

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

The issue, here, is that one cannot choose to obey pieces of the Law, and so claim to be “keeping the Law.” If you decide that Law-keeping is the pathway to God, then you are obligated to keep all of it. It is interesting to watch and see how picky the so-called “law-keepers” become about which portions of the law they will keep. They may tithe, and they may not work on the Sabbath, or they may not eat certain foods, or wear certain clothes—but they are completely lax and very self-justifying about the rest of the Law. Paul, however, does not allow them that option. He says they are debtors to do the whole law. (Bear in mind that it is God talking, here, not just Paul!)

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The temporal, daily, living effect of Grace, then, is gone…the eternal effect is there for the believer, regardless of their later behavior and beliefs; but way back in Galatians 1:4, Paul says that Jesus also died “…to deliver us from this present evil world”…and when a person embraces Law, they shut out Grace…so that they cannot embrace the liberty of Grace. In that sense, then, Grace has ceased to have an effect on their lives.

The liberty of the believer is solidly taught in chapters four and five, but it is feared by churches everywhere, because they think it is the equivalent of license to sin. It is definitely not, and that notion is clearly rebuked in scripture, but we tend to think of it that way, anyhow. But! Notice that it is the legalizers— those who try to attain to righteousness by human effort— who are being rebuked, and to whom Paul says “ye are fallen from grace!” not those who have fallen into some sort of immorality, or other sin. This has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with a grace-filled life and a peaceful walk with God. There are plenty of passages where believers are exhorted to live holy lives…but here, the thing under condemnation is self-effort and self-justification. There is never a suggestion that the things they are doing are making them in any way more acceptable to God.

The Righteousness of Faith

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

There is coming a day when we will be completely clothed and permanently filled with the Righteousness of Christ. I yearn for that day, as my continual failures distress me deeply. Positionally, we already are completely righteous in Him. Our new natures, in fact, are completely righteous already. But we still labor under the weight of our old sin nature. Paul says (Ephesians 4:22-24) that the old nature is “being corrupted” as a continuing reality. But he also assures us that our new nature is “after God (in His own image) created in righteousness and true Holiness.” So what we are looking forward to by faith is the full reality of His image, with our old nature gone forever. We endure this life by faith, looking forward to that which is to come. We cannot earn it; it is already ours. The best we can do is to learn to walk by faith in the reality of our new natures.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

The outward symbols mean nothing. The reality of Faith, working because of Love, means everything. Putting on the outward trappings of religion does not help anything. Being transformed from the inside out was God’s plan from the beginning.

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

The believers in the Galatian churches had begun well, and had been learning to walk with God. Paul asks how it is that they have stumbled, and are now being hindered. (He knows the answer—he wants them to see that truth of the matter.) This is similar to God’s questions to Adam, in the Garden. “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the whole truth—He wanted Adam to see it and confess it. God wants us to consider our progress or lack of it, and be honest as to how we got there. Sometimes it may mean recognizing that a “friend” has not had a good effect on our life. Sometimes it means that a personal choice to feed on some religious writings or teachings has subverted our thinking. More frequently it means recognizing that our own responses to life in general have not been productive. But ultimately, it means that legalism is not from God!

Legalism is Not From God

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

This is a pretty firm statement: this argument did not originate with your Savior!
Stop and think, then: where did it come from?

Ultimately, there is only one other source. The Flesh could do it on its own, but remember: the World, the Flesh and the Devil are allied against you. If it comes from any of them, it effectively comes from all of them. If it doesn’t originate with God, you can assume it ultimately originates with the Enemy, at one level or another.

9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

This is such a tiny verse it is easy to pass it over. Paul is using a common saying to warn them that there is no such thing as a “little bit” of sin. They used to say “there is no such thing as being ‘a little bit pregnant.’” Eventually it will show up in all its glory.

Sin will eventually bear fruit. If you decide to dabble in legalism, then you will eventually find that Grace has been set aside, just as if you had whole-heartedly embraced the Law. This requires some soul-searching: I need to examine my motives: am I “serving” because I am fearful of losing my right standing with God? Or because I think that, in some way, He will “owe me something” in the way of a “good life”? Either of those is a wrong motive. If I am a believer, then my standing (my position with Him) is already perfect, regardless of my behavior: I can’t improve it, nor can I damage it. I am already seated in the heavenlies with Christ, whether I believe it or not at any given moment. Also, God does not “owe” me anything, nor will he ever. My life may be short or long, easy or hard. There are believers in the world undergoing terrible persecution: did they somehow displease God? No, usually persecution comes because believers are doing exactly what they should be doing. Jesus promised that “in the World ye shall have persecution”.

Judgment is Coming

10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

That is one thing we can be sure of: Judgment is coming. As believers, we need to realize that, though our punishment for sin was completely poured out at the Cross, we still face the Judgment Seat of Christ…and it is not necessarily going to be a pleasant thing. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 states that some of us will be saved “as one escaping through the flames”. We should think carefully about how we live, how we serve, and why.

Paul was confident, as he thought of their past walk with God, that they were real believers, and that they would respond well to this correction. But he foresaw a grim future for those who were trying to subvert them. “…he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment….”

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

There seems to be the idea that perhaps the Judaizers had even tried to say that Paul was in agreement with them…and that he had just neglected to tell them this part. Paul poses the question, “If that is what I am teaching, why am I suffering persecution? The Cross would not be offensive to the Jews if I was still teaching that believers had to become Jews.”

Sometimes, even today, a false teacher comes along with something like this: “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! That is not what Jesus was trying to tell you! You just misunderstood! What He really meant was…” And then they teach some seriously bad doctrine that points people away from the Cross. By the way, when anyone tells you that there are other ways to be saved than by the Cross of Christ, you can mark him/her as a false teacher right then. Jesus himself says there is no other way. The apostles were in full agreement, saying “There is no other name under heaven, given among Men, by which we must be saved.”

A false teacher may be very popular, and preach warm, friendly-sounding messages that seem to reach out to the world with open arms. But if he offers something other than Christ and Him Crucified, for salvation, then he is helping divert people from the Cross, and sending them to a Christless Eternity. We feel sad to say such things, but far sadder to think of the thousands upon thousands who have been lost to the lure of the soft-sell, because someone was not willing to take a stand on the actual Gospel, but offered a “social Gospel” or a “self-help Gospel” instead.

Jesus spent a lot of time warning of coming judgment, and even stated that “they who do not believe are already condemned”. The bad news is what makes the Good news good. Paul said “…Christ came to save Sinners….” Jesus said He came to “call sinners to repentance.”

I have a student who recently had to skip classes because she was having a broken, infected tooth extracted. She first had to have penicillin for a few days, to kill the infection. She told me later that she could not believe how much better she felt once the infection was gone, along with the bad tooth. She had evidently suffered from the infection longer than she knew, and the penicillin gave her virtually immediate relief, capped by removal of the painful source, the rotten tooth.

So, the penicillin turned out to be great news because …what? Because she had a serious infection that was making her very sick, and possibly would have threatened her life! The infected tooth was what made the penicillin (and the tooth extraction) “good news.” Otherwise both would have been really bad news.

If sin were not a serious issue, with fatal consequences, then the crucifixion would be terrible news. If I were not a condemned sinner, then I would not need a savior. And Jesus’ death would just be a tragic miscarriage of justice. But; as it is, we see the Grace of God through the horror of the Cross, and we realize that it was the horror of our own sin that necessitated the Cross. Yes, the Cross is an offense; but not to God, and not to believers.

Contending for the Faith

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

That is a pretty grim thing for the Apostle to say: if we said it today from the pulpit we would get into trouble. He is literally saying, “I wish they’d just die, and quit bothering you.” Some translations say “mutilate themselves”, but the Greek word so translated (apokopto) usually means “removed” or “severed”. We may wish something similar, under similar circumstances, but Paul knew that their judgment was coming, and that he had to wait for the Lord to act.

In Psalm 37 David made the statement that “They (the wicked) shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb”. Now, “Soon” is always meant “soon” from God’s perspective, but, in this particular passage, the word translated “soon” means “suddenly”—as in, “without warning”. The false teachers face an awful eternity—we pray for their salvation, not their death. Jesus said “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you…pray for those who despitefully use you.” But I think that to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of the church is also in keeping with God’s word.

So, to pray that God will shut the mouths of false teachers is correct; not “un-loving”. In fact, in Titus 1:10, 11, Paul mentions this, saying that their mouths “must be stopped”. This is one of the few places where the scripture teaches contending for the faith. Corrective teaching, even to the extent that it causes disharmony, is better than false teaching, producing a so-called “harmony” that is to the detriment of the hearers. (We are not talking about simple disagreements about petty issues, here, but false doctrines that can destroy the church.)

Consider this: when a airliner is losing power, and there is a chance of a crash-landing, is it better to offer free drinks and peanuts, or, to give instructions as to how to prepare for the crash? One response may produce temporary peace and happiness, but the other offers a hope of survival. We preach the truth of the Cross, not because it is comfortable, but because it is true. We preach Grace, not to promote license to sin, but to produce liberty to serve. If false teachers are deterring believers from Grace, and substituting Law, it is entirely within God’s instruction to both apply corrective teaching and to simultaneously pray for God to close their mouths.

Conclusion:

13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Here is the key to the whole argument, in my opinion: the legalist churches fear liberty because they equate it with license. Paul warns against misusing liberty right here. Notice he makes no apology for their having the liberty…he just commands them not to abuse it.

Every time a Christian, or even someone who just claims to be a believer, falls into sin,

  • Legalists will claim he is “living proof” of the “dangers of Christian liberty;”
  • Unbelievers will rave that he is the “epitome of Christian hypocrisy” (implying that all Christians are, by definition, hypocrites); and
  • True believers everywhere will grieve for the damage done to the testimony of Christ.

God knows the truth. Any or all of them could be right, but the believers know the real cost. There will be people who will use that person’s sin as an excuse to reject Christ, and will be lost.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, even if it is only because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions, attitudes and words? It certainly should!

So: loving our neighbors (with agapé love) should be our first concern as committed Christians. Agapé love implies being committed to the good of the recipient without regard to the effect in one’s own life. It means consistently putting the needs of others before your own. This is the kind of love that Jesus commanded, and the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather.” It is doing what is best for the other person, even when it doesn’t feel good for you. Bear in mind that Jesus didn’t die for you because it felt good, or because it was fun: he did so because you needed it!

Let’s pray:

God help us to use our liberty only to serve and Honor you. Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to not serve ourselves, but rather, serve you by serving others. Make us the kind of men and women you have called us to be.


Perfected by the Flesh?

Are You Being Perfected by the Flesh?

© C. O. Bishop 1/7/15 THCF 1/18/15

Galatians 3:2-7; compare John 3:17, 18

Introduction:

You may remember we talked about the truth of the Crucifixion, and the fact that the Galatian believers had once been obedient to that truth, having placed their faith in it, but now were being disobedient to the truth of the Gospel, because they were shifting their faith from God’s Grace to their own works. They still believed (to some extent) that they had been saved by faith, but they had become convinced by false teachers that they had to add works to faith in order to “really be saved”, or, perhaps, in order to “stay saved”. I remember a woman from a particular church (I have no idea what sort; as a brand-new believer I made little distinction between one church and another) telling me that “Well, you are saved by faith, but you are kept by works!”

I had just been given a New American Standard Bible, at the time, and had just read Romans 6:23, so I recited the fact (quoting the NASB) that the “free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus.” She disputed the word “free”, saying that “it only says ‘gift’”. I was puzzled, because I thought “if it isn’t free, then it isn’t a gift!”, but I opened my new Bible, and showed her that it did say “free gift”. She glanced at it, then looked at the cover and said, “Well, that’s not the Bible!” (I had never run into that argument, before, either…apparently they admitted no other translation beside the King James Version…which is sad, because, in the first place, it cuts out every other language except English, and, in the second place, it denies that there will ever come a time when English as it was spoken 400 years ago might be sufficiently obsolete that we require a new translation in order to readily understand God’s Word.)

Since that time, I have repeatedly run into people who were adamant that unless you somehow prove that you are worthy of salvation, deserve salvation, or have earned salvation, then Jesus’ blood and Grace will not save you. So, who should we believe?

Scriptural Evidence

This sort of question was plaguing the new believers in the Galatian churches, too. The legalizers told them that Jesus’ blood was not enough, and gave them “logical” arguments to back their claim. But, God’s Grace is not dependent upon Human Logic. God’s Grace is dependent upon the unchangeable character of God Himself.

Who should they believe? The legalizers came to them looking good and sounding good. Paul had come looking very beat-up and half-blind, besides. He preached only Christ, and appealed only to the written Word of God. They claimed they did, too, but they insisted on turning aside to human reasoning, in order to back up their conclusions.

I knew a man who insisted that “Jesus only died for the Elect”. When I pointed out 1st John 2:2, where it specifically states that He died for the sins of the whole World, he would say something like, “But think about it! That doesn’t make sense! Why would he pay the price for the sins of people who he knew were going to reject him?” The fact is; I do not have to “make sense” of what God clearly says: I only have to preach it faithfully. But, Jesus himself explained that particular idea (John 3:17, 18): He said “God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the World through him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The sins of the Whole World were paid for at the Cross. The “Whosoever will, may come” promise is true! But those who refuse it are already condemned; not waiting to be condemned. As an unbeliever, I was already headed for Hell. When someone shared the truth of Jesus’ Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection with me and (eventually) I believed it, I was saved by God’s Grace…nothing else.

Paul is turning their eyes back toward God’s Word. He offers proof from the scriptures, that the Gospel they had received was the whole truth, and sufficient in itself to save them. He also reminds them of what they had experienced before the legalizers arrived. They had already been born again, and they had already received the Spirit before the Legalizers ever arrived. He asks them, then, in verse two:

2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Paul confirms that these believers had received the Holy Spirit and implies that they themselves knew this was true. He then poses the question, “How was it that you received the Spirit: by keeping the Law?” Obviously, as lost sinners—Gentiles, to boot—this was not what had happened, nor could it have happened. They knew nothing of the Law, nor had they made any attempt to keep it. And in addition Paul had preached the Gospel of Grace—the Cross of Christ; he certainly did not preach the Law. He contrasts the concept of Law-keeping with the opposite—the hearing of faith. They knew three things:

  1. They had originally been offered that true Gospel, as Paul preached it;
  2. They had believed it, and
  3. They had received the Holy Spirit,

ALL without works—just by Grace, through faith. As we have seen earlier, that is the only way that anyone in the history of the world has been saved: it has always been by Grace, through Faith. There are no exceptions. Now, with that truth as the backdrop, Paul holds up their current error to show it for the folly that it is:

3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

He says, in effect, “How can you be such fools as to think that you could begin by the Holy Spirit, but improve upon your position through your own works, and somehow, through your own effort, “perfect” your relationship with the God who gave his life to save you? You imply that His works were not enough, but that— somehow—yours are!  What incredible folly!”

In fact, as I think of it today, it seems utterly blasphemous to suggest that “Well, poor old Jesus made a nice try, but He really couldn’t manage the job! So I’ll just step in and show Him how it should be done!” That is incredible arrogance, and actually denies the Deity of Christ, because if God, by definition, is All Wise and All Powerful, then Jesus could not be God in the Flesh, and fail to accomplish what, from the Cross, He claimed to have completed. When He said, “It is finished!”, that statement included the purging of all the sins of the whole world. Otherwise his original mission statement (John 3:17) was false. He said “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the World through him might be saved.”

We need to turn our eyes to God’s Word, and believe Him. Paul turned the Galatian believers’ eyes toward God’s Word; Paul was the faithful witness, and the Legalizers were the false witnesses. All through this letter, Paul reminds the believers of Old Testament truths that pointed to the New Testament realities of the Church age. Let’s follow the rest of Paul’s argument:

The Negative Evidence

4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

Now, I am not absolutely certain what “suffering” he is referring to, here, but I suspect that they had been mistreated for their faith by unbelievers, both Jew and Gentile. In the book of Acts, we read of riots and revivals happening nearly everywhere Paul and his entourage went. We can see in Hebrews 10:34 that at least some believers had their belongings confiscated by civil or religious authorities because of their faith. And those in that passage endured that indignity joyfully, knowing that a greater reward was coming. (We see these changes coming in our own society, and are fearful because of it.)

These in the province of Galatia evidently had suffered for the name of Jesus as well, but now had doubts as to whether the name of Jesus was sufficient. I am reminded of Peter’s comment in Acts 4:12. He said, “…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved!” The evidence is clear: Peter preached the name of Jesus as the only means by which we must be saved. When Paul was in Philippi, the jailer asked “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30, 31) Paul’s answer was “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved….” He did not add any sort of works to the mix, though it might have been tempting, since Paul was in prison, with bleeding whip-marks on his back, and manacles on his hands and feet. But he added nothing to the truth of the Gospel. We are saved by faith in the Christ of the Bible—the God-in-the-flesh, only-begotten-Son, Lamb-of-God who takes away the sin of the world! That is who Paul had preached, with the results being riots and/or revivals, virtually everywhere he went.

The revivals began small, as he first offered the Gospel to whatever Jews were in a town. If there was a Synagogue in town, he began there.  It took ten Jewish families to begin a synagogue, so there had to be at least that many, or there was no synagogue. Within those synagogues, there were usually a few Jews who responded in faith, but the majority of them rejected the Gospel.

Eventually, those who rejected the good news rose against Paul, accusing him of heresy. (Remember: he faithfully used the Old Testament to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel…they had no excuse for not believing the Word; they just didn’t like his conclusions.) At that point, upon their rejection of the good news, he would turn to the Gentiles of the region, who were generally more receptive. But, to the angry Jews, that was not acceptable either …and that is when the riots began. Sometimes things got really rough, so that he had to leave town almost immediately, both for his own safety and that of the new believers. Sometimes the Gentile civil authorities ignored the fracas; sometimes they joined in persecuting the believers. Occasionally, God used the civil authorities to defend the believers (same as today), but not often.

So, perhaps some of these believers had been persecuted for their faith; I can’t say for sure. But, you see, they would never have been mistreated by the Jews for trying to keep the Law—that, in fact, would have pacified them, which is why Paul asks, “Did you suffer all that for nothing?”

Even today, people of most of the world’s religions are not under attack—it is those who actually believe the Gospel and trust in the person and name of Jesus Christ who are universally maligned. What does that tell you about your faith? If all the enemies of God, religious and secular, condemn it, then I have to conclude that it must be a good thing: God’s enemies have become my enemies; which means I have been moved to a position with God. (Give that some thought!) There are four means by which we usually judge a person’s character:

  1. What they do: this is easiest to see, and usually pretty accurate.
  2. What they say; compared to what they do: (Do they match? If not, why not?)
  3. Who their friends are: Who are they most comfortable with? (“Birds of a feather…”, etc.)
  4. Who their enemies are: Who is it that can’t stand them? Would I rather be amongst their enemies or their friends?

Paul is stating that the persecution they have received is evidence of the truth of the Gospel, specifically because it was unjust persecution for faith, not for evildoing. (There have been modern-day cults who claim they were persecuted for faith, but the historical fact is that they were persecuted for immoral deeds that they committed as a result of their beliefs.)

The Positive Evidence

5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

On what basis does God administer (the Greek word means “supply”) the Holy Spirit to you? By what means is He working miracles among you? Notice that in this verse the three verbs, “minister”, “work” and “do” are all present tense. I checked in the Greek, to make sure, and it turns out they are all present tense in the original as well. Why is that important? Some commentators believe that Paul is only reminding them that when he, Paul, was among them (past tense), they did not receive the Spirit by obeying the Law, but by believing the Gospel. And that is certainly true. However, that is not what he is referring to, at all, here: Paul is not there, and is not doing anything among them…but God is! The people who believe the Gospel still receive the Holy Spirit in Paul’s absence, both then and today. They do not do so by keeping the Law, and never have!  Paul goes on to show from Scripture that this has always been the case:

6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

This is not the only place where Paul uses this argument, citing Abraham as an example (see Romans 4:1-25). In both cases, he is referring to Genesis 15:6. God called Abraham out to look at the night sky: He said, “Try to count the stars! If you can count the stars, that is how many your progeny will be!” It goes on to say that Abraham believed God and God accounted it to him as Righteousness. He imputed Righteousness to Abraham on the basis of faith. Paul says:

7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

Bear in mind that the Jews thought they were the children of Abraham, because they were physically of his lineage. Jesus himself debunked that idea, saying (John 8:39) “…if you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” I am sure that was a shocking idea to the Jews, and utterly offensive, as their whole hope was in their physical kinship to Abraham and their own keeping of the Law. But Jesus was warning them that their bloodline was not enough to save them. In fact, in that same passage (v. 44) he told them “you are of your father, the Devil, and his works you will do…” (Yow! Do suppose that might have gotten their attention?)

8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. (My emphasis….)

This one is actually referring to Genesis 22:18. Remember back in Genesis 22, Abraham had proved his faith, at least thirty years after the initial promise back in Genesis 15, by attempting obedience, in offering Isaac as a burnt offering, as commanded. On the basis of this attempted obedience (remember, faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth) God made an additional promise—the beginning of the Good News that we preach today. All nations have been blessed at one time or another and to one degree or another, through the person and work of Christ, the “Seed of Woman”, also identified as the Seed of Abraham. And all, in varying degrees, have at some point eventually rejected that blessing.

But faith is on an individual basis: Do you remember Rahab? She was a member of an already condemned nation. She was commended for her faith; and through her initial faith and obedience, her whole family was salvaged out of the destruction of Jericho. Ultimately, she married a Hebrew man named Salmon, and the two of them had a son named Boaz. Does that sound familiar? Not only was Rahab saved by faith; she was entered into the genealogy of Christ, just as we are saved by faith and are placed into the Body of Christ.

Paul’s Conclusion

9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

Paul concludes that the blessing of God—His Grace, in fact—is entirely dependent upon faith, not works, as he points out in Romans 4, since the Promise Believed was thirty years earlier than the obedience which brought the blessing of the Promise Expanded. Abraham had enjoyed that blessing for 30 years before his ultimate test came about. And now the Grace of God is extended to the whole world, through faith. Do you desire the blessing of God? Then enter in by faith.

We are admonished to understand our new position in Christ, and not allow false teaching to deprive us of the blessings of Faith.

We are reminded that, while Godly behavior (obedience) is the expected result of Faith, it is never achievable by the Flesh. Righteousness (a right standing with God) in both salvation and service, is attained by faith, not works.

Faith always results in Godly good works, but good works are not always from faith. They could be from vanity, self-will or even false teaching.

We have to examine our motives and make sure we allow the Holy Spirit to rule in our lives. Later on, (Galatians 5:16) God makes the promise that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the Flesh. Let’s strive to see that fulfilled in our daily lives.

Lord Jesus, Help us to walk with you by faith, obey you by faith, and examine our motives in all things. Help us to mature as believers, and become the men and women of God you have called us to be. Amen.


Have we Circumvented the Cross?

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond theirs that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12) Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as a race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works to expiate all the bad works (penance, alms, service). God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; if you place your faith in a false God, or a false religion, or a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can choose. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same. Preach the cross of Christ. Do not make the Gospel more palatable by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The real Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross, even 1500 years before Christ, was the salvation God prescribed. Do we like that? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners. Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. Sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.