Posts Tagged ‘Gentiles’

What About Israel? (Part Four)

What about Israel? (Part four)

© C. O. Bishop 4/21/16 THCF 4/24/16

Romans 11:1-36

Introduction:

We’ve followed Paul’s epistle from chapter one through chapter ten; chapters nine through eleven deal with the question “What about Israel?” “Where does Israel stand before God, today?” Paul spent chapters nine and ten explaining how they got into the mess they have been in for the last two-thousand-plus years, and what could have been done differently…and what can be done today.

Chapter 11: Where does Israel Stand Today?

1I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

So, Paul poses the next logical question: “is God all done with Israel, then? Has he cast them away?” His answer is the strongest possible negative: “God Forbid!”

God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,

Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.

But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Paul says that God has always maintained a “faithful few” in Israel, or, more specifically, among the Jewish people, who believe in Him and desire to obey him. In Elijah’s day, it was down to 7000 people. Pretty slim margin….

And it was not their works that saved them. Even the fact that they had “not bowed the knee to Baal” was not what saved them. Paul emphasizes three times in two verses that salvation is by Grace, not works, and that the two cannot mix. He states that if it is by Grace, then it is not of works…and that if it by works then it is not of Grace. He heavily underscores the fact that the two concepts cannot co-exist.

V. 7-12: Judicial Blindness through Disregard for Light.

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:

10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
11 
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
Paul says that though they claim to seek for God, they have been blinded as a nation. That may sound harsh, but consider Samson: He ignored God’s light, and the responsibilities of his own standing as a Man of God, until his sin overwhelmed him and he was literally blinded by the enemy. Did he lose his salvation? Nope. Did he lose his giftedness? No, not really. He was set aside for a time, and he was used one last time some time later.

Israel consistently has rejected the messengers God sent, including all the prophets, and even the Messiah himself. So God allowed them to drift into a self-induced sleep—he says that he gave them the spirit of slumber that their eyes should not see, nor their ears hear.

The fact is; this is a danger to anyone, saved or unsaved, Jew or Gentile. If we ignore the light of God, we will eventually become blind to it…literally unable to see the truth of God. So, there is a trap in our disregard for warnings. And Israel is living proof of that fact. But God is using their fall to enrich us (not at their expense, but in the fact that seeing them fall is a warning for us.) Simultaneously, he is using our blessing to stir them to jealousy, so that they will return to Him. The Day he reclaims Israel, they will be a far greater blessing to the World.

V.13-16 Using Gentiles to Stir up Envy in Israel

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Paul reminds us that though he speaks to the church as Gentiles, it is because he is the apostle to the Gentiles. That’s his job, in other words. And, it is his hope that the result will be that some of the Jews will be made jealous of the reality of the Gentiles’ walk with the God of Israel, enough that they themselves will investigate, and believe the Gospel. (By the way, that is why he always began with the Jews, in any new work…he went to the synagogues and offered to them the promises of their own Messiah, before turning to the Gentiles…and, in virtually every city, there were at least a few Jews who believed; thus, a remnant, who were saved.

Bear in mind that the nation of Israel has had more exposure to the Gospel historically, than any other nation on the planet. And, because of their unbelief, they have gone through more chastisement. I doubt there has been another nation or race that has been so consistently rejected by the world, and subjected to pogroms, holocausts, and genocidal attacks as the Jews have been. And yet they exist. They stand as a witness to the faithfulness of God.

The result of their being temporarily set aside as the channels of God’s Grace to a fallen world has been that the Gentile nations have been hearing the Gospel for the last 2000 years. Many millions have received the news with joy, and millions, over the centuries, have died for the sake of that Gospel. But there is coming a time when Israel will once again be specifically the channel through which God pours his blessing. The Millennial Kingdom, when Christ rules from Jerusalem in person, will see the nation Israel fully restored, and acting as a nation of priests for the entire world. The Church will not be doing that, by the way…the church is called the Body of Christ for a reason, and the Bride of Christ, as well. The Church will be in the Throne with Christ. I do not claim to understand it, but it is a fact. Israel, in their fleshly bodies, will be the ambassadors of God on earth. The Church will be reigning with Him, in their new bodies.

The restoration of Israel will be a sort of resurrection. Compare it to Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Yes, that is just a vision, but God says it represented the restoration of Israel.

Now, consider: God made his promise to Abraham, and declared Abraham holy (meaning, “set apart for God”). He said that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham, and his seed. If God did not fulfill that promise through the nation of Israel, for ANY reason, (remember: it was an unconditional promise!) then it would be GOD failing, not man. And that is simply not going to happen. So, Paul reasons that if the root (Abraham) was holy, then the branches (Israel) have to be holy as well. If the patriarch was set aside as separated unto God, and the promise was made that his progeny should be holy as well, then it is impossible for God to set Israel aside permanently. Bear in mind that this is not for salvation, but for a relationship with the Holy God, and a position of service and blessing. No one in the history of the world has ever lost their salvation. Jesus said so, in John 6:39. He said that of all the Father has given him he will lose nothing, but that he will raise them up at the last day.

V. 17-25: Salvation versus Service

17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.

24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.


No it is not possible to lose one’s salvation. But! It is certainly possible for him to set aside certain “branches of the tree” as unusable, just as any orchardist prunes his trees and maintains the health of the tree by so doing. Paul says that the natural branches (some of them) have been cut out, and unnatural branches grafted in, in their place. This is not unusual, for orchardists, but usually, when it is done, a better branch is what is grafted in. I have a pear tree with fruit whose taste I don’t like. But it is a tree my mother planted, and is otherwise healthy. So I intend to graft in a variety of pear that I know I like, so as to use the strength of the roots, and preserve the tree, but also reap suitable fruit.

In this particular case, the grafted in scions are a “wild olive.” Their fruit is not known for its goodness, and no human orchardist would graft in a wild olive for the fruit…possibly for cross pollination, or some other cause, but not for the fruit. So it is a really odd thing for God to graft in the Gentiles who have never sought after God, and cut out the Jews (bear in mind, here that the issue is fruit-bearing—service—not salvation.) The Church age has seen Israel set aside as the channel of God, but the church is no longer actively doing what God sent them to do. They (“we”—let’s make this personal) have not continued to make the blessing of the world through the Gospel their (our) highest priority. So…is it possible for the church to lose its position of service and blessing? Not as a whole—the universal church is not in focus here, but the local church, and individuals therein.

The local church can be as the church of Philadelphia, who the Lord said had an “open door before it that no one could close” (speaking of service, and the outpouring of God’s grace and light, through the Gospel.) Or, in stark contrast, it can be as the church at Sardis, whom he said was dead, and whom he warned that they needed to strengthen that which remained.

Or, in the worst case, it could be as the church at Laodicea, to whom he made no plea, and gave no warning, except to say that he would “spew them out” of His mouth. He said he was going to remove their candlestick out of its place. He did not say, “…unless you repent…” as he did to the other churches. This church was all done, and their time was all gone. He went on to say that he still offered fellowship with any individual believer who would allow Him into their daily life (Revelation 3:20)…but he made no offer to that church as a group. It was being terminated. No one lost their salvation, but that particular local church had lost its position as the channel of God’s blessing, and the holder of God’s light (hence the “candlestick” reference.)

Paul points out that the danger of being removed from service is still real, for every believer. In another passage he stated that he was afraid of becoming a castaway—shipwrecked. (1st Corinthians 9:27). He was not fearful of losing his salvation, but losing his job. Remember that Balaam was a real prophet. He had a real relationship with God, and was a real mouthpiece for God. God spoke through him, and, up to a point, Balaam had been the channel of God’s truth. But Balaam sold out, (Numbers 24, 31) and lost his job, as well as his life; Sad, but true.  And we have seen many examples in our day of people who had once had a valid ministry, but through sin and self-will, they lost their testimony and shamed the Lord, as well. This was Paul’s fear, and it ought to be ours.

For the moment, the majority of Israel is blind to the truth of God, though there are always some who believe. There are thousands of Christian Jews in the world today, and they are a terrific blessing, as a rule, adding perspective to the understanding of the Old Testament, especially, that we, as Gentile believers, would normally miss. The time is coming, however, when Israel as a nation will be grafted back into the root, as the channel of God’s blessing to the world. By that time, the true church will be complete…the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in. At that time, the tribulation will be over, and the remnant of Israel (all believing Jews) will all be in God’s service again, and all will be the channels of His blessing, as He intended. Thus, “All Israel will be saved.”

V. 26-32 The Future of Israel

26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.

29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:

31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
This verse, stating that “all Israel shall be saved”, like many passages, is frequently misunderstood. On the one hand there are those who take it as a lump, blanket-clause promise stating that all Jews are automatically saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the worst enemies of the Gospel have historically come from the Jews. Who were the real enemies of Jesus when he walked this earth? The Jewish leaders! The Romans didn’t particularly care about him. But the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the rulers of the Temple, the high priest and his followers all wanted Him dead. John the Baptist warned them of hell-fire to come. He said that they would be baptized with fire. He explained that the “chaff shall be burned with unquenchable fire”. He made no bones about it: though they were Jews, and the chief of the leaders, they were not only not thereby automatically saved, but were in direct danger of eternal punishment…they were headed for Hell (So much for all Jews being saved.)

The other ditch on this particular road is to deny this verse entirely, and teach that God has permanently cast Israel aside, and will not fulfill His eternal promise to Abraham. Such teachers claim that, on the basis of Romans chapter four, where it says that the inheritors of Abraham’s blessing are those who believe, that the Church has entirely supplanted Israel, and is now the possessors of the promise. (Sorry to disappoint those who teach this, but Romans Eleven is a specific warning against that idea.) God says that we are a temporary replacement, and only in terms of service and blessing. The nation of Israel will definitely be “grafted back in” to the root of Abraham, and will take their eternal place as the nation of God.

One good point we don’t want to miss, here, (verse 29) is the fact that God does not change his mind about His gifts. Think again of Samson: God used him after his disobedience and foolishness, in very similar manner to the way he had used him earlier—he gave him great strength. God did not remove the gift, but simply set Samson aside for a “timeout”. Israel is also in such a “timeout”. The promise is still good…but they don’t have it at the moment.

They were only reduced to the current state in order to allow the mercy of God to extend to all. Romans 3 states that the “whole world was guilty before God.” And here, in verse 32, He states that the result is that He can offer the same Mercy to all. Someone has said, “The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” I like that saying. The point is that “…there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

We tend to struggle with this whole passage. Questions are posed for which we would like to demand an answer, but for which we will have to wait on God’s timing. God’s Wisdom is so completely beyond ours that it is truly “unsearchable”, and His ways are truly “past finding out.”

Consider the plight of a child who has a physical ailment…a sore throat, let’s say: his parents take him to a doctor (possibly frightening in itself, but maybe not—his parents are there.) Then that nasty doctor sticks a swab down the child’s throat, and takes a culture, to see what is causing the sore throat. The child gags, and struggles; but his father holds him, and comforts him, though not allowing him to escape the procedure. The culture comes back positive for streptococcus bacteria, and the fever is high enough to demand a decisive treatment. An injection of penicillin is prescribed. (Now, I realize medical science is constantly changing, and possibly nowadays they don’t do this. But—I speak from experience—let me tell you! They did it this way when I was a child!)

So the child’s backside is bared, and cleaned with alcohol, and, while the father holds the child, that needle is jabbed into the muscle of his little rump, and the penicillin is injected to do its good work. What part of the whole experience is pleasant for the child? None of it! What portion can he understand? Only the fact that it is his father’s will. Does he question that wisdom? Yes! But that does not render the wisdom of the father invalid; it only reflects the immaturity and ignorance of the child. Please keep this in mind when you are tempted to question God.

34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Does God need my advice? Nope. Does he get it? Oh, yeah…frequently! And, unless it happens to coincide with His eternal wisdom, it is kindly and wisely ignored. God doesn’t need us; we need him. The whole world is his creation and handiwork; it all emanated from Him, as the creator, it all is ultimately returning to his eternal dominion, one way or another, and all will eventually be to His glory. He certainly does not need my advice. I need His.

Conclusion:

We can take the experience of Israel as both a warning and a learning opportunity: While I cannot lose my salvation, I can definitely be “set on the shelf” in terms of service. If I want my life to bear fruit, and have eternal value, I need to be daily seeking God’s direction, and doing things his way. Israel is definitely still on God’s agenda, but there have been thousands of wasted years, that were not necessary. Jesus wept over their lost opportunity, but still claims them as His own. We can be both warned and encouraged by their example.

Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to seek out and obey your will in our lives. Give us your love and compassion for Israel, but let us also learn from their experience. Make us the ambassadors you have chosen us to be.

 

 


The Power of the Gospel

The Power of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/23/15 THCF 7/26/15

Romans 1:16, 17

Introduction:

When I meditate on the two verses of Scripture we are about to read, and consider their meaning, I try to think them through one word at a time: I …am not…I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ…and so forth. Every word needs to be considered:

In the very first words, I have to ask: is this true of me? Or is it just a letter from Paul? Can I say this with Paul? I count on the rest of the passage as being true for me; how about the first phrase?

Ultimately, these two verses introduce the topic and theme of the entire book. This Gospel of Christ is precisely what (and who) the letter to the Romans is about. In verse 16, Paul begins to lay out the facts about the Gospel. He first states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because it is the Power of God unto Salvation to everyone who believes it, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.

Let’s break that into bite-size chunks:

  1. I am not ashamed
  2. Of the Gospel of Christ,
  3. Because it is :
    1. The Power of God unto Salvation
      1. To those who believe it
        1. Jews first
        2. Also the Gentiles.

Am I Ashamed?

Perhaps I should save the “personal questions” for last, but Paul addressed it up front, so I think I need to do so, as well: Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Does it embarrass me to tell another person about Jesus? Do I really believe it is what God wants? And, is it important enough to me, personally, that I will take the implicit risk, and at least give others the opportunity to personally reject the Lord, instead of just going along with a whole society that mocks Him? Better yet, am I anxious to give them a chance to change direction before it is too late?

If the truth is that I am uneasy about explaining to a friend or acquaintance how they can have eternal life, perhaps I need to ask myself why: Do I really understand the Gospel myself? And, do I really believe it, myself? Do I really understand and believe that I was on death row for years, with nothing to look forward to except eternal judgment, and not even the sense to know it was coming? Do I really believe that the Holy God whose Law I deliberately broke, deliberately took my deserved judgment on himself, being executed in my place, by people just like me? Do I really believe that the God who created the people who sinned, and the tree of which the cross was made, and the iron from which the nails were forged…allowed those sinners to nail him to the cross specifically to provide salvation for the very sinners who called for His death? If I really understand that and believe it, then I need to see how vitally important it is that they hear that message. And that He has entrusted that job to me. Why was Paul not ashamed? Because of all that we just mentioned and one more thing: It is the Power of God unto salvation.

The Gospel …of Christ

Paul doesn’t give much detail here—he feeds us the facts in order, and in bite-sized pieces. But the first thing of which we should take note is that it is not just any “Gospel” or “good news”, but specifically the Gospel of Christ: the good news about Jesus.

I am going to jump over to another passage, to compare references: 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 tells me the bare-bones facts of that good news. There, Paul said “I delivered unto you as of first importance what was delivered to me:

  1. That Christ died for our sins in agreement with the Scriptures (fulfilling Prophecy)
  2. He was buried (also according to the prophecy)
  3. And that he was raised again the third day (still fulfilling prophecy).

Why am I underscoring the fact that Jesus fulfilled prophecy at every step of the way? Because the fact that God can accurately tell the future, (he who tells the end from the beginning) is the pedigree of God’s word and His authority and His reliability.

That little outline Paul gave is the core of the Gospel: it assumes the bad news is understood—we need a savior because…we are lost sinners. Paul is about to give us all the bad news we can stand…and more, probably; but he is stating the good news first: Jesus saves! And the Gospel is how He does it!

On several occasions I have heard a preacher say that he was going to “really give them the Gospel!”, and then I listened very carefully, and was dismayed to find that they not only failed to “really give ‘em the Gospel”, but they did not even mention any portion of it.

  • No mention of the Holiness of God,
  • No personal guilt for sin,
  • No coming judgment,
  • No need for a personal Savior,
  • No Cross,
  • No Grave,
  • No Resurrection!

What Gospel? It was certainly not the Gospel of Christ!

When I share with someone, I try to remember to explain all three points of the good news, as well as at least the core of the bad news…We need a Savior because we are Lost! And, quite honestly, sometimes I look back and realize that I left out one or more points of the Good News, and maybe all the “Bad News.”

I need to bear in mind that the message we are called to carry is specifically the Gospel of Christ; not “an enhanced life”, “great inner peace”, or any of the other social gospel “motivators” we try to share with others. If I am not telling people the bad news of coming judgment for personal sin, and the specific points of God’s power to save through Christ, then I am not “giving them the Gospel”. And I may even be causing such confusion that they will be driven away from Christ. It is a very simple message: I need to learn it, memorize it, and simply recite it if necessary…explain it if I am allowed to do so.

The Power of God:

Why would Paul say that the Gospel is the “Power of God unto Salvation”?  How can that be? Why can’t He just “reach out and save people”? In Genesis 18:14, God even poses the rhetorical question “Is anything too hard for Me? (The implied answer being “No!”)

So what is the limiting factor, here? Is it our sin? Nope! There is no sin too bad for God to overcome and forgive, and heal. The limiting factor is the Righteousness of God, himself, which demands Judgment for sin; and the Holiness of God which says that God cannot compromise Himself. He cannot “wink” and look the other way. He is Holy! He cannot have partnership—fellowship—with Sin at any level. So, how can the Gospel give Him the power to reach past His own Holiness and Righteousness, and save a lost Sinner? Why is it called “the Power of God unto Salvation?”

The Greek word here is dunamis—it is the “can-do” power of God: God’s ability to accomplish a task. We use that word as the root-word for “dynamic”, “dynamo”, and other words regarding “power to accomplish something.” But there is another word, too, that is also frequently translated “power”; it is the Greek word exousia. Exousia is the authority to do something. When Jesus said “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth…”, He used the word “exousia”—all authority is given unto him in heaven and earth. (Matthew 28:18-20) So what did he say on the basis of that authority? “Bow down and worship me? Bring me all your money? Go attack my enemies?”

Nope, He said “Go ye therefore (because I have all authority in Heaven and in Earth) and teach all nations…” He used his infinite authority to tell us to take his “ability to save” (the Gospel) to the whole human race. Did you know that the Gospel of Christ is the only thing described in the Bible as being “the power of God to save” those who believe it? That is what Paul says, right here. He does not say it is “a” power of God, but the Power of God. This is it! This is Plan A, and… there is no Plan B.

To Save Those Who Believe:

It is interesting, too, that God did not direct his offer to those who could do something for Him, or who would swear loyalty to his cause, or who were specially deserving, or some such thing: He offered it to anyone who would take his offer…those who will take Him at His Word. When people asked Jesus (John 6:28, 29) “what must we do to work the work of God?” he said “this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Again, this is it! This is Plan A—and there is no Plan B!

So what does that plan entail? Jesus promised (John 5:24)”He that hears My Word, and believes on Him that sent me, has everlasting life (Now! Not “someday when you die!”), and shall not come into condemnation (Ever!) but has passed over (Permanently!) from death into Life!” No works are involved. In another passage (Ephesians 2:8, 9) He says we are saved by Grace, through Faith. Grace means it cannot be earned…at all. If you think you have earned it, it isn’t Grace and it isn’t from God.

“Faith” means being persuaded… believing… trusting. When you make the decision to believe the “Good News” regarding Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and you trust His blood as full payment for your sins, then according to His promise, you are eternally saved from that moment forward. That is the Power of God to Save! And it is only effective for those who believe.

To the Jews First?

Well, what’s that about? I thought we were all equal in Christ! Well, we are… but, in fairness to those who had already waited for 1500 years to receive the promise of the Messiah, it was offered to the Jews first, wherever Paul went. He first located the local Synagogue, and he sat down with the elders, sharing with them from the Old Testament the prophecies they already knew, then showing how Jesus completely fulfilled all of them, including the death and burial and resurrection, as promised in the Prophets and writings. When they rejected the fulfilled promise (as they did for the most part), Paul immediately moved to the Gentiles and shared the same message with them.

As a rule, though, some of the Jews responded in faith, and some Gentiles did as well, collectively forming the nucleus of the infant local church. He spent as much time as he could with them, teaching and preaching. In some cases the local resistance was so violent that he had to leave before his presence became dangerous to the believers. (Thessalonica is a prime example—Acts 17:1-10) But that is how the local churches were founded, in virtually every case: Jews first, then Gentiles. It was the only fair way to approach the issue, at the time. And as a matter of practicality, the Jews who believed had already mastered the scriptures to some extent, and could rapidly grow, as believers, to a level of maturity enabling them to function as leaders and shepherds to the poor, ignorant Gentile believers. This was an ideal “soil” into which to plant the “seed” of the Gospel. To be sure, most of the Jews were hardened against the truth. But those who actually believed, and received the truth, immediately took hold and began to grow. So the Good News came “to the Jew First, and also to the Greeks.” He wasn’t holding out on the Gentiles. He was only doing things in proper order.

The Righteousness of God Revealed “From faith to faith

Further, Paul states that the Righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. Our understanding of his righteousness begins as we place our faith in his character, but our understanding continues to grow as our faith grows. He says that the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel from faith to faith…as our faith increases, so will our recognition of and our understanding of His righteousness.

Conclusion

Paul sums up the concept by stating that “The just shall live by faith.” This is actually a quote from Habakkuk 2:4, in the context of judgment coming on Israel, and stating that the righteous people would “live” (that is, survive) on the basis of faith. And, in truth, that is an eternal reality. Habakkuk was facing the physical destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. Those who believed God (and were thereby declared “just” or “righteous” by God) would physically survive (though not necessarily thrive…it was rough all the way around!)

Throughout the history of the Human race, it has been the same: the whole human race having died with Adam, those who believed God, survived the Fall of Man, and rejoined fellowship with God. Those who did not, since they were already dead in Adam, simply passed into a Christless Eternity and were lost. And that is what happens today as well.

Before I was a believer, I was already dead in Adam…already condemned, because I had not believed in Jesus. I was on “death row”, awaiting execution. Jesus had already taken my punishment at the Cross, but I was 18 years old before I placed my trust in His finished Work. Now I am safe in Him. I no longer face God’s Judgment. I already have eternal life. So I now have something truly precious to share with others, and a responsibility to do so.

If they refuse to hear, I am not accountable for their rejection, unless I caused it by my sin. But I am truly a debtor to all around me. I owe them the Gospel, and I owe it to Jesus to pay that debt.

There is no other way…this is plan A, and there is no plan B. And God says He will save all those who believe. We have to try, folks! This is all we can do.

God help us to be the faithful witnesses you have called us to be, praying for the lost, loving one another, loving the lost, and sharing with them in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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.