Posts Tagged ‘Law’

One Sacrifice for All Time

One Sacrifice for All Time

© C. O. Bishop 8/24/17 THCF 8/27/17

Hebrews 10:1-18; Isaiah 1:11-17

Introduction:

We have spent several months going through the first nine chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Last time we saw that Jesus is superior to the Old Testament Sacrifices, and that because of that, he is a Superior Redeemer: He has provided for us Eternal Redemption and Eternal Security in Himself. We are no longer living year-to-year, hoping that we will be able to keep walking in God’s light. We belong to Him eternally, and we are kept by His power.

But the writer is not finished with his topic: He wants us to see that the one sacrifice Jesus brought (His own blood—His own life) not only ended our fear of judgment from God, as lost sinners, deserving His wrath, but it also ended the Old Testament sacrificial system! It was truly One Sacrifice for all time, and it supersedes all that went before. Let’s start reading chapter ten:

The Shadow Show

Chapter 10

1For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.

Remember that the Law, with all its sacrifices, was only a picture—a shadow, even, of what was to come. When we watch a “shadow-puppet” show, we are amazed at how realistic the figures on the screen can appear, even though we know that the reality is just the hands of the entertainer, arranged to make shadows of animals, people, or whatever. In the case of the Law, however, it was impossible for the Old Testament believers to know all the reality behind the “shadow-show” they were given. But they had been told a great deal about that reality, so they did know enough that when the reality (Messiah) appeared in person they could have (and should have) recognized Him. But, as a nation, they not only failed to recognize him, but, even with his repeated proofs and explanations, they rejected Him.

So, the shadows were not the reality…and the shadows could not do what the real Messiah could do. They could not give life, nor could they cleanse the heart from sin. They could not make those who brought the sacrifices any better than they had been before. The best they could ever do is cover sins.

The writer points out that the proof of the ineffectiveness of the Old Testament sacrifices was in the need for continual repetition. The believer could never be rid of his burden of sin. One of the passages where Jesus’s birth is predicted (Matthew 1:21) says “…thou shalt call his name Jesus, for He shall save his people from their sins.” That is a thrilling idea. But how will it play out?

How to Remove Sins

For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.

But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.

The repetition itself continually reminded the believers that they were not truly cleansed, but only pardoned, as it were. They were saved by Grace, through faith, but the Law required that they continually bring the same sacrifice to maintain a walk with God. Ironically, those who were conscious of this fact, were positionally just as secure as are the believers today. And yet they feared the rejection of God. Why?

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.

This is a good verse to keep in mind: I remember being told by a pastor, long ago, that the Old Testament believers had a “…different way to be saved.” That is impossible, according to this verse: it is not possible that the blood of animals can take away the sins of humans. So what was really happening, there? In every single case, the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament, even though they were offered in ignorance, were looking forward by faith, to the one perfect sacrifice Jesus would make at the Cross. Sometimes the picture was quite vague, but it was always there.

Please consider, in your mind’s eye, the physical motions necessary to “dip a bundle of hyssop in the basin of blood and strike it on the lintel and the two door-posts.”  This command is given twice, (in Exodus 12:7, 22); that the believer was to “strike” the blood onto the lintel and two door-posts. Obedience to that command, inescapably, was making a “sign of the cross”, behind which they waited, hoping and believing that God would honor His promise and save their lives, when he destroyed Egypt. They were in no way “smug” about their safety. They were trembling. We should have the same consciousness of coming judgment when we consider the Cross. That sacrifice, like all the others, looked forward to the Cross. Remember that this first Passover occurred about 1,490 years before the Crucifixion of Christ. 1300 years, roughly, before the Romans invented Crucifixion. This was the plan from the beginning. This is why Jesus came into this world, as the true offering, and died— specifically—the death of the Cross. There were many forms of execution. But it had to be that one (Philippians 2:8).

Had he died by the sword, or by hanging, he would not have been the Messiah. Had he died by stoning, which was the ordinary form of execution under Israel, then he would not have been the Messiah. The Cross was absolutely necessary, which makes it interesting that some cults try to deny that it was a cross at all.

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:

The Old Testament sacrifices, ultimately, did not and could not satisfy the righteousness of God. The body given to Jesus at the incarnation (the “in-flesh-ment”—that is what the word “incarnation” means) was the specific sacrifice, planned from the foundation of the World (Revelation 13:8), and regarding which John the Baptist said “Behold the Lamb of God!

What was Wrong with the Old Testament Sacrifices?

In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.

It is interesting, to me, and puzzling, to read that the Lord “has had no pleasure in” burnt offerings and sacrifices. In the Old Testament, we often read that the sacrifices produced a “sweet-smelling savor (aroma)” to God. I can only guess that the obedience in bringing the required sacrifice, and the faith that motivated the obedience, was what really was pleasing to Him…or, perhaps, the fact that the sacrifices always looked forward to the Cross. Otherwise there would seem to be a contradiction, here, and my personal conviction is that God does not contradict Himself.

This passage (verses 5-7) is mostly quoting Psalm 40:6-8 (read it), a prayer of David, and a Messianic psalm. Even at the time of David, he recognized that the sacrifices could be offered with an insincere heart, and they often were just a show. Isaiah 1:11-17 says,

11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

God said that He was literally sick of their religious posturing, even including the entire sacrificial system. The sacrifices were just a bunch of poor, dead, charred carcasses. What He really wanted was for the people to change their hearts, and learn to do well.

Jeremiah 17:9 confirms that the heart was the problem, saying “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So, even though the people were bringing the required blood sacrifice, it was not the obedience of faith, anymore, but just religious posturing. It meant less than nothing at that point. Can we do the same with the blood of Jesus? Can we take it for granted?

What more could be done to heal the relationship between God and Man? We obviously are incapable of changing. The Law and the prophets did not change us…they only condemned us, and allowed us to get a glimpse of the awful holiness of God. But they could not produce that holiness in us.

Jesus is God’s Solution for Sin…and always has been!

Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

Jesus came in complete submission to the Father, from the fact of conception to the final death under torture. Every step of the way was in perfect obedience to the Father, and in fulfillment of the hundreds of prophecies concerning the Messiah, all of which had to be fulfilled in Him.

Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;

Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.

10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, we see that Jesus said, “but a body thou hast prepared me” This specific body, born by miraculous intervention, was the only acceptable sacrifice. The others, from our perspective and that of God, were tragic victims of our sin, only temporarily acceptable, as witnesses to the coming Christ, who could say, “I come to do thy will, O God.”

11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:

12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

The writer reiterates, here, the fact that the Messiah sat down after completing his sacrificial work as High Priest, and yet continues as High Priest. He has never stopped serving, but the sacrificial part is all done.

He also gives a “time-clause,” here: how long will He stay seated? Answer: “until his enemies be made his footstool.” So, He stood up once, at least, to greet Stephen, the first Martyr, and, in a sense, he stands before God continually, to intercede for us; but, his official position, until the second coming, is “seated at the right hand of God.”

15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,

16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;

17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. 

This is quoting a promise made to Israel regarding the Millennial Kingdom, of course. The New Covenant with Israel has not yet begun. But the portion of the New Covenant that involves the church has been in full swing for almost 2000 years; ever since the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two.

18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. 

This is a super-important concept: if our sins have been forgiven, and “taken away” by the blood of Jesus, then there is no more offering for sin. The Old Testament system of blood sacrifices is completely over—it’s obsolete! And we cannot go back to it.

People in Israel probably think they will finally be at peace when they can rebuild the temple and re-establish their sacrifices. But they are not reading the book of Daniel carefully enough. There we can see that, when the temple is rebuilt, in troublesome times, under the protection of a peace-treaty, then they will be dealing with the antichrist. They cannot go back to the Old Testament Sacrifices, and neither can we.

In this passage, the writer simply points out the obsolescence of the Old Covenant. In other passages, he says that one who attempts to abandon the Messiah in favor of the old covenant, will only face judgment, not a covering for sin. In reflecting on this concept, it seems to me that such a person is much like those Israelites who were attempting to go back to Egypt, after God had brought them out…all they will find is judgment.

So, there is no more offering for sin. Jesus was and is “Plan A”…there is no “plan B.” If you choose to reject the salvation offered by means of the Cross, then you can have no other reasonable expectation except judgment.

Conclusion: What do I do with this information?

Well…if I were still an unbeliever, I would have to seriously consider the dangerous position I am hanging onto. As an atheist, I had concluded that there was no God, and I smugly proclaimed myself to be without a fear of Judgment. The problem with that stance is that every one of us is aware, even at a human level, that judgment must come! A desire for vengeance for a wrong endured is a common passion in every culture. We know instinctively that right and wrong exist. And it follows, that, if judgment is required for others for the wrongs they have committed, then Judgment must be coming for my sins as well. And Jesus died in my place to avert that Eternal Judgment from an eternally righteous God. And all He asks me to do is accept it by faith.

As a believer, I need to consciously cast my hope and faith on the shed blood of Jesus, both for the eternal life He has provided, and for Grace to daily live for Him. But I can rejoice daily, too, knowing that my position in Him is secure. I have already been made eternally acceptable to God, through the Blood Sacrifice that Jesus offered. I have been invited to serve Him, working with Him in this life. All of us have received that invitation. I don’t want to miss out!

Lord Jesus, fill us with a sense of Godly urgency, so that we do not squander our lives, wasting our efforts on things that have no eternal importance. Help us to see the World around us through your eyes, and to share your priorities in all things.


What About Israel? (Part Three)

What about Israel? (Part three)

© C. O. Bishop 2/29/16 THCF 4/10/16

Romans 10:1-21

Introduction:

We have begun exploring Paul’s treatise in Romans chapters 9-11, explaining the current state of Israel, and how they still fit into God’s plans. Paul has already said how he feels toward Israel, not just as a nation, but specifically toward his fellow Jews. We saw how they rejected Jesus when He lived among them, and rejected His offer of salvation by grace through faith alone. The result has been that the Gentiles who were not even looking for a savior were then offered salvation…and many have joyfully received Him.

But Israel, who claimed to be seeking righteousness, and to be waiting for the Messiah, sought to do so by works of the Law, and had rejected faith. So, when their Messiah arrived, they rejected Him out of hand, as most still do today. They stumbled over the stumbling-stone that God set up throughout all the ages. Faith in a substitutionary sacrifice has always been the stumbling point. Cain rejected the blood sacrifice, and most people do, today, as a matter of fact. Jews and Gentiles alike stumble over this issue. But the Jews are a special tragedy, since it was their king, their Messiah, for whom they had waited, who they ultimately rejected.

What is Israel’s Position, Now?

10: 1Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
So, where does that leave Israel? Has God abandoned them? Paul says they do have a zeal for God, but not based on a genuine knowledge of His righteousness; that because they are ignorant (agnoountes…without knowledge) of the holy righteousness of God, they have worked to establish their own style of righteousness, sourced in self-will; they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. This is true of non-Jews, too. We insist that we can have a “do-it-yourself” salvation; a self-righteous standing before a holy God. Throughout the Bible, when people saw God, they usually collapsed in despair, seeing their own unrighteousness compared to His eternal Holiness. Isaiah 6 says that when the prophet Isaiah saw the LORD, he said “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips!” The Apostle John simply collapsed. The prophet Daniel was in similar condition. No one who truly sees the holiness of God will ever again see himself as sufficient.

Paul goes on to further explain the plight of the Jews. He makes no excuses for their position, but also does not treat them as being “beyond hope”: Quite the contrary; his greatest desire is that they might be saved. They are his family, in the broader sense. He says that in terms of the righteousness of God (which they claim to desire), they have truly missed the point:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

The End of the Law for Righteousness

Paul declares that, had they embraced their Messiah, (as they say they will do, if He ever shows up, but in fact they did not do, when He did arrive), they would now be free from the Law of Moses as pertaining to personal righteousness.

For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, here: under the Law, it was said, “if you do these things you will live.” That is not what the Gospel says. Moses brought a Law, saying “DO THIS and live!” The Law (and most Human religions) says “DO!” (“Do or Die”, in fact.) But Jesus offers something entirely different: in Romans 7 we saw that the Law was specifically inaugurated to show us that we CAN’T “do the things of righteousness.” The more we understand the righteousness of God, the more completely we realize the hopelessness of attempting to achieve such righteousness through our own efforts. And that was the intent of the Law: that we should be driven to the Messiah as our only hope. So: Jesus died to fulfil the demands of the Law toward sinners (you and me), and said “it is finished!” Where the Law said “Do!” Jesus said “It’s Done!”

If they knew the Messiah, they would know that the righteousness He provides puts an end to the involvement of the Law in producing righteousness. Law never could produce righteousness; it could only advertise the lack thereof. The Jews constantly thought that they could produce righteousness through works, just as most world religionists insist today. God says they can’t. In fact, Paul pointed out in Galatians 2:21 that, if righteousness could be attained by means of the Law, then Jesus died for nothing.

Here, in Romans 10, he simply says that Christ is the “end of the Law for righteousness”, to everyone that believes. The word “end” is “telos” in Greek…and it simply means “the end”: “termination”…not “fulfillment”. Yes, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law; but in this passage, it clearly says he was the end of the law for righteousness. Law keeping is not even to be the outward sign of righteousness, in this age. Jesus said (John 13:34, 35) “by this shall all men know ye are my disciples”…how? If you keep the law? No: “If you have love one to another.”

But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)

Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)

But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Paul points out the sharp contrast between Law and Grace. Grace says that the word of faith, preached by Christ and all his servants, is the truth; and that “if you believe it…you shall be saved.” Notice I left out the “confess” part. Not because confession of faith is not important, but because the faith part is what saves you. Genuine faith will result in confession of that faith, but a strict adherence to the idea that “confession with the mouth” is part of what saves you would exclude every mute person in history. Jesus said that whoever believes the Gospel has eternal life now, period. (John 5:24) Paul reiterated it when he told the Philippian Jailer, (Acts 16:31) “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!”

Calling Upon the Name of the Lord

12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.

13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
What does it mean to “call upon the name of the Lord?” By the host of passages that say, “believe…and be saved”, “look, and live”, etc., I would say that believing the Gospel, and claiming Jesus as your only hope for salvation is what moves a person from “death row” to full release in Christ. It requires a conscious decision: no one is “born saved”. If anyone tells me “Oh, I’ve always been a Christian!” I have serious doubts that they are saved at all. When we talk about “repentance” (which comes up a lot in scripture), usually the Greek word is “metanoia”…meaning a “change of mind”. There is a conscious change of mind involved, in choosing to take Jesus Christ as your savior…in deciding that His blood sacrifice is the payment for your sins. Whether it is public or private, spoken or silent, that decision must be made.

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
Paul points out an interesting chain of ideas, here: He says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (quoting Joel 2:32). That implies a conscious decision…a choice. Then he poses a series of questions: “How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” This is “Missions,” friends! He is flatly telling you that if people don’t hear the Gospel they will not be saved. And that, if we are to be a part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we have to either be sending preachers or going ourselves as preachers. It can’t be any clearer. But obedience is scarce.

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?

17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Paul concludes that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. That is a pretty solid passage pointing out the necessity of hearing and believing the Gospel, for salvation. We could already have concluded such a thing by reading Jesus’ promise in John 5:24 and many other, similar passages; Jesus said, “He that hears my Word and believes on Him who sent me, has eternal life…” Sounds pretty clear, all right. The problem is the response of the people. Paul states the problem, in the next few verses: Not everyone who hears the Gospel believes it.

18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

19 But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.

20 But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.

21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
Israel, as a nation, has rejected the message of the Gospel, the messengers of the Gospel (the apostles and prophets) and the Messiah of the Gospel, Jesus Christ. So, can the Jews be saved?

Of course they can, exactly the same as anyone else! Unbelief is not the “unforgiveable sin”; otherwise every person in history would be unredeemable: we are all guilty of unbelief at one level or another. When a rebellious, proud, self-centered unbeliever (as I was) changes his mind (that is what “repentance” means) and chooses Jesus for his blood-sacrifice for sin, he is saved…regardless of his past unbelief and other sins.

Is Israel still God’s chosen people? Absolutely…but they are having a “time-out” right now. The time is coming when they will again be central to God’s rule on Earth…He says that His reign will be from Jerusalem, and that all the inhabitants of that city will be Holy to God, and they will be a nation of priests…a kingdom of priests. This is not the same as the promise that the Church will be kings and priests. We are a different group. The promises to Israel are to Israel. The promises to the Church are to the Church.

Paul points out, also, that they have had more than adequate warning. God said that the sound of the message has gone out to the whole earth, and that He would make His people jealous through a foolish nation, and through insignificant peoples (from human perspective, as they did not comprise nations, or clear-cut ethnic groups, but were simple tribes and villages.) He said that people who had made no attempt to seek the God of Israel, were going to find him, while the people who claim to be seeking God, are in fact being sought constantly by the one true God, and have consistently ignored His voice, down through the millennia…and so fail to see Him.

“Replacement Theology” is a Snare

There have been people for centuries—whole cults, in some cases—who have gotten the idea that the Church is the “new Israel”, and that God has permanently replaced Israel with the Church or even some particular nation. (There was quite a movement that believed Britain had replaced Israel, but it has lost momentum.) I don’t know how anyone can read Romans 9-11 and still believe that God had rejected Israel permanently. Perhaps, in their desire to “claim the promises” made to Israel, they honestly believe that they can seize the promises by fulfilling the Law at one level or another. But they are missing the point of relationship.

When I was a child, my father offered each of us kids $5 (a lot of money back then) to memorize a certain poem (Rudyard Kipling’s “If”). Suppose a neighbor child up the street had taken the initiative to memorize the poem, and tried to claim that prize? Should Dad have felt compelled to honor a promise he never offered to that child? There was a relationship involved: we were his offspring, and it was an exclusive relationship, whether anyone else approved or not. Could he have chosen to include them? Of course he could, but he was under no obligation to do so.

God entered into an exclusive, unilateral covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. God made the promise, and there was nothing for Abraham to do but believe it. In similar manner God has continued to broaden and extend that relationship through faith to believers ever since.

But part of the promise was to the physical “seed” of Abraham. That promise, including the land and the lineage of the Messiah, was continually narrowed, not broadened. It was narrowed to Isaac, in exclusion of Ishmael, as well as Midian, and his five brothers; sons of Abraham with Keturah. (By the way, the promise to Isaac was never rescinded.) It was later narrowed to Jacob, in exclusion of Esau. Part of the promise (the coming Messiah) was narrowed to the house of David, and then many generations later, it specifically excluded Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah, or Coniah), by name, saying that none of his offspring would inherit the crown, because of specific sin in his life. Finally, it centered upon the person of Jesus, who was the son of David through Mary; bypassing the cursed line of Jeconiah (from whom Joseph was descended), via the virgin birth. But the promise of the land remained to the children of Jacob—Israel—no other nation, or people. The Priesthood still was exclusively offered to the house of Aaron.  None of those things changed until the destruction of the temple. Even now, if Israel was to rebuild the temple, they would have to come up with some Levites, and, hopefully, sons of Aaron, to serve as priests. But Jesus is the High Priest, in heaven, and will eventually reign on earth.

The promises to the Church are different, and not earthly, as a whole. They are heavenly in nature, and while we have the privilege of serving the God of Israel, we are in a different (and better) relationship. Ironically, any Jew today who believes in Jesus as his Messiah becomes part of this “New Man”, and is no longer technically part of Israel. He has “upgraded” to being part of the Bride of Christ. He is no longer just a “guest” at the wedding feast, but a part of the Bride.

How Should We Then Respond to Israel?

Once, years ago, I unexpectedly received an upgrade from economy to business class on an airliner. I was amazed at the difference in accommodations, leg-room, comfort and food! I was on the same aircraft as before, but in a completely different area, and was being treated accordingly. At the wedding feast of the Lamb, there will be many guests…but the Bride is in a special category. Don’t try to move into the “guest” area, when you are part of the Bride.

We must recognize the importance of Israel, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem: we are called to do both. Value the Jews highly, as a group, and as individuals. Reach out to them in friendship and Love. But don’t try to become a “part of Israel”, by attempting to keep the feasts and the Law. Continue to invite them to become part of the Bride, by Grace, through Faith.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk in the reality of our blessed relationship with the King, and seek to reach others for your Glory!


What is Sin Without Law?

What is Sin without the Law?

© C. O. Bishop 10/26/15 THCF 11/1/15

Romans 5:13-21

Introduction:

We have already addressed how sin came into the world, but, as we are about to see, there is a slight theological issue there: Since the Mosaic Law was not given for another 2500 years or more, what are we identifying as sin? How can we say something is sin, if there is no law to break?

In fact, perhaps we should briefly address the question of “What is Sin?” In the first place, the Greek verb “to sin” (hamartano—the noun is hamartia) means to “miss the mark”. The New Testament offers four clear definitions of sin, which, collectively, cover every type of sin:

  1. Sin is the transgression of the Law. (1st John 3:4)
  2. All unrighteousness is sin. (1st John 5:17)
  3. If a man knoweth to do right and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)
  4. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

We are not given a list of “seven deadly sins”, or “nine nasty no-no’s” to avoid: we are given principles to live by and principles by which to recognize sin. We need to learn those principles and, on the basis of that learning, avoid sin because we want to walk with God. This is only possible for those who have been born again; born from above; born of God.

When I had only one nature, I could not please God, because the only thing I had to offer was already fully contaminated. I had already broken God’s Law and could not “un-break” it. I had fulfilled all four of the above definitions. What little I knew of God’s Law I had openly broken. I had wallowed in unrighteousness, and schemed to commit more. Things I knew were right, I had failed to do. And I certainly did nothing out of faith. I was a sinner, plain and simple.

But, in this passage, Paul speaks specifically of the Law, and is pointing out that “the Law” the Jews considered to be the “end all” (the Mosaic Law) did not even exist at the time of Adam. So, then, what was the problem? How could people be in sin?

What Law?

13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

The Law spoken of here, in verses 13-21, is the Mosaic Law. But Law, as a principle, existed before the world began. The Law, as given to Man, existed from day one of Man’s existence—but in very limited form: Genesis 2:17 “…but of the tree that is in the midst of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt NOT eat, for in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”

That is the principle of Law, sometimes called the Law of Sin and Death. But Paul is presenting a narrower scope, here: he is talking about the law of Moses, given by God at Sinai, and inscribed in the rock, literally by the finger of God.

There were things in that law, given through Moses, which had never before been addressed. Some of those things actually became capital offenses, whereas before that day they were non-issues. We need to keep that in mind as we read.

Death reigned from Adam to Moses, because of sin…but not sin as the Jews thought of it (transgression of the Mosaic Law). That Law had not been given. Death reigned, first, because of sin inherited from Adam, and second, because it was rampant in the life of every human, to one degree or another. We can read the Old Testament account and see individual examples, to ascertain that evil was abundantly present.

Paul is not suggesting that the Law initiated man’s slide into sin. It only highlighted it, and made it abundantly clear that something is terribly wrong with the Human Race. (A radar trap does not make you speed, nor do traffic cameras make you run a red light. They only reveal that you were speeding and/or that you did not stop at a light.)

Why does Adam’s Decision affect Me?

15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

There is a contrast and a similarity drawn here: The similarity is that in each case one individual made a choice as a representative of a huge group of individuals. We might not like that fact, but it is true. It can be true is a positive sense or a negative sense, even today. When a man or woman chooses to emigrate from the place of their birth, to find a better place to live, their children and grandchildren in generations to come will reap the benefit of that decision, good or bad, regardless of whether they were aware of the decision. But other decisions have lasting too:

I know a man who was the youngest of eighteen kids by one Hispanic couple. The couple was in their sixties by the time he and his next older brother were born, and, at a very young age, the two boys were left with a much older brother to raise, while Mom and Dad travelled, for their remaining years. The two toddlers had no choice in that matter. Another thing about which they had no real choice, is the fact that their older brother had, along with his wife, made the decision to speak only English in their home. So, by the time they were grown, my friend and his next older brother were the only ones of the original eighteen siblings who did not speak Spanish, and they were fairly bitter about it, as it meant they could not even converse freely with their own mother and father, who were in their nineties by that time. The choices we make affect others. That is simply a fact.

When General Lee surrendered to General Grant, it affected every single individual in the United States, for better or worse. Some members of the Confederacy may have insisted upon continuing the war after Lee’s surrender, but the fact is; the war was over—whether they believed it or not—and if they kept fighting they simply became murderers. They had no choice in the matter. There are many such tragedies in history, but it all began with Adam.

The choice Adam made affected all of his progeny, including you and me, whether we like it or not. You had no choice in that one. But concerning the choice Jesus made, to go to the cross as the representative of the whole Human race, and to satisfy the righteous demand of the holiness and justice of God, you actually do have a choice. You can choose to join him there, by faith, to eternally be found in Christ: or you can reject the opportunity, and stay where you are: in Adam.

And, as the choice of Adam brought death to all his progeny, the choice of Christ brings life to all His progeny—all those who are born again by faith in His shed blood.

Further Contrasts

Paul further explains the contrast, showing another difference between the choice of Adam and the choice of Christ.
16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

Adam’s one sin brought sin and death to the entire human race, who were not even born yet. He made that decision ignorantly, not having any understanding of the results, nor of the personal God against whom he had rebelled. Jesus knew from eternity past ALL of the sins of ALL of the human race, and ALL of the monstrous evil that would occur because of sin…and chose, before he created the world to become the sacrificial lamb that would erase that sin, and heal the world.

The result of the offense of Adam was universal, even in the lives of people who never heard of him…they are lost sinners. The result of the gift of Christ is only universal in the sense that every single person who receives him as Savior will definitely be saved. But not everyone receives him when they hear the good news…and not everyone even gets to hear it. Jesus did make it clear in John 5:24 that whoever does hear it, and believes it, HAS everlasting life. Eternal life is immediately and irrevocably given to them. They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and He, the Holy Spirit, immediately begins housecleaning and renovations.

Notice too, a small change in wording. The result of Adam’s sin was that Death, as a principal, “reigned” on planet Earth. The result of Jesus’ choice was not that Life reigns on planet earth (it still does not), but that His people reign in Life. The word translated “reign”, here is the Greek verb “basileuo”. When we get into the next chapter, we will see that we no longer have to sin. We are told to not allow sin to “reign” in our lives (same word), but we are to rule over sin.

In Genesis 4:7 we can see where that same offer was made to Cain, but he rejected it. God said “sin lies at the door, and its desire is for you (to control you), but you shall rule over it.” You are to reign in life. We will address that again at a later time, as it is also mentioned in Revelation 5: 10, as well as in other passages.

18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.

Verse 18 makes it clear that the gift was given “to” the whole human race. But verse 17 makes it clear that not everyone actually receives it.

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Finally the contrast is completed in verses 19-21: the one act of rebellion brought death and destruction as all humans became sinners: in contrast, the one act of obedience brought Eternal life and grace and righteousness, as righteousness was imputed to (“placed upon the accounts of”) all who believe in Him.

Choose your Ruler: Sin or Grace

20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:

Verse 20
could be misunderstood to say that “more sin brings more grace”. I have read of people in our age that actually teach this. They claim that the way to experience the fullness of God’s Grace is to deliberately wallow in Sin. (Remember Romans 3:8? Paul had already been accused of teaching just that…he said that their “damnation was just.”) People who teach that perverse doctrine are in deep trouble with God. It would be similar to suggesting that if you want to really appreciate how good it feels to be healthy, try getting as sick as possible—become a drug addict. Then you will see how good it is to be healthy. That is an abominable idea.

Honestly, when you see the human wreckage that is the result of such folly, you can be glad that they have “done your homework for you”. You do NOT have to experiment with that foolishness to see the results. You can learn from the mistakes of others, and stay healthy. The same is true for a rebellious spirit. If you see the result of sin in other’s lives (especially those in the Word of God, where someone is clearly telling you that “this is the sin, and this is the result”, you can choose to learn from their example and escape the judgment under which they fell. At work, or in society at large, we can see people who rebel against God, against the Law, and against any other authority. And, in general, it results in some sort of bad consequences. One can see people losing jobs through foolish rebellion, or immorality, or drug abuse, etc. If it continues, they can lose their freedom for all those same reasons. And, left unchecked, it will cost them their lives.

But what verse 20 actually says is that God was not caught short: He did not have to “go scrape up some more Grace” because of the magnitude of human sin. He knew it all from the beginning, and His Grace reached out to remove all the wreckage of our failings.

Paul concludes the idea of the transition from Adam to Christ, from Death to Life, asd from Sin to Grace, in the last verse of chapter 5:

21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Notice it does not say that “Satan has reigned”, but that “Sin has reigned, unto death”. The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the Psalmist says…and that has always been true. But the people have been enslaved to Sin. At the Cross, Sin was deposed from the throne of the believer’s life, and Grace was put in its place, through the righteousness of Christ.

Sin is no longer to be allowed to rule in the life of the believer—Grace is the new master, by the authority of Jesus Christ. And, yet, this is something about which we are expected to make a choice, every moment of every day.

Are you willing to allow God’s Grace to rule in your life? Then you need to start looking at the scripture to find out what that means. If you want to read ahead, you can begin looking at Romans 6 to see how that concept works. We’ll discuss it more next time.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for the work you accomplished at the Cross, and we desire to walk more deeply into the river of your Grace and Love. Teach us to live by your Grace.


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!

 


Learning to Live in Liberty

Learning to Live Free

© C. O. Bishop 5/11/15; THCF 5/17/15

Galatians 5:14-26

Introduction:

Paul has spent four chapters warning against Legalism, and stating the free position of the believer; a half-chapter introducing Liberty as a life-concept, and now is having to give the “directions and warning label” for Liberty.

Unlike the legalizers, he makes no apology for the Christian having the liberty. Quite the opposite: he warns us against letting anyone rob us of it. But he does warn against the danger of misuse—the danger of allowing “liberty” to cloak licentiousness. (Verse 13). So, one might ask, how do we strike a balance? How do we live in liberty, and still not fall into licentiousness? It would be easy to smugly say something like “self-control!” or “moderation!”, but that is not what Paul preaches; He preaches the living, breathing, walking, talking love of Christ. We are free in Christ!  That is a positional truth, and a “location” truth. “In Christ!”

There was once a short time in US history during which there were some states where slavery was permitted, and some where it was prohibited. It was critically important to an escaped slave that he or she should stay in a place where it was illegal to enslave another person…because in that place he or she was free! Were they safe? No, not completely, because the laws had not become federal, yet, and it was quite common for an evil person to kidnap such an endangered soul and take him or her back into a slave state. They lived in fear that they might be taken back into slavery. We would do well to think of that, ourselves: We are only safe and free in Christ.

Satan still desires to enslave us, though we have been permanently set free. He can do it either through legalism or licentiousness. Those are the twin traps into which he tries to lure all believers. Those are the two “ditches” on every road the believer walks. Both are deadly snares; traps that are really difficult to escape. So what does it look like to be on the road between the ditches…walking with Jesus, and not wavering into license or legalism? Paul says it is to be summed up in one word:

Love—Agape Love.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions and words? Therefore, loving our neighbor with agapé love should be among our primary concerns as committed Christians. (Compare Leviticus 19:18)

Agapé love implies “Being committed to the good of the recipient of that love, without regard to the effect in one’s own life.” This is the kind of love—the only kind— that Jesus commanded; and it’s 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. Ironically, it is also what is needed for you! This is how you stay on the road where you belong.

This is how you walk with Jesus. He said in John 13:34, 35 “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” So, Paul is reiterating that the entire Christian walk is one of allowing the Holy Spirit to pour through us the Agapé love that is only available from God. That is our outreach to the lost around us, and our fellowship with the believers around us. That Agapé love is what it is all about.

15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

OK, so here is a big one: you may think, “Well, this person is already a believer, but they are frustrating me, or mistreating me, so I am free to ‘give them a taste of their own medicine!’”. No! This is precisely what He warns against! There is more damage done to unbelievers and to the credibility of the Gospel by “bickering believers” than perhaps anything else.

I have repeatedly been informed that the single most common reason for missionaries leaving their chosen fields of service is the fact that they and their co-workers were not getting along at one level or another. Sometimes they tried to hang on, and endured for years before they broke down, but the hard-heartedness that believers demonstrate toward one another (and the sins that come along with it) makes the worst possible testimony. How did Jesus say the world is to know that we are his servants? He said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples….” How? Because we are constantly fighting against one another?  No! The Agapé love applied consistently between believers is the strongest testimony we can produce.

Unity as a Result of Agape Love

And how did Jesus say the world would know that He himself was sent by God? He said in his prayer (John 17:21) “…That they may be one…that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity in the Church is the other half of the testimony of the church. In fact, if you think about it, you can see that Jesus gave the World two means by which to judge the Church: Agapé Love, and Christian Unity. Whether we like it or not, we are being judged by the World, as directed by Jesus Himself, and…we are found sadly wanting. If we allow ourselves the luxury of anger, bitterness, or self-will, then what we demonstrate to the world is that the message of the cross is false, and/or that we ourselves are not the servants of God.

In fact, even when we want to do right, we find ourselves thwarted, either for the simple cause that it takes two people to be in unity and a loving relationship, but only one wants it; or, because in our human ability we simply cannot bring ourselves to be at peace with someone because they have hurt us badly, or we don’t trust them, or, conversely, that we feel guilty because we know that we hurt them.

Either trap can be fatal.

So… what is the answer? We agree that we can’t do it, so… Who can?

Only the Holy Spirit can do it

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

It is funny that we should say that we “can’t do it”…that is exactly what God says, too! God warned the Israelites that they could not keep his Law. Paul has warned the believers that they cannot please God in the flesh. God never has given us a difficult assignment; He has almost always given us an impossible assignment! The Christian life is not difficult, it is impossible… apart from the moment-by-moment control of the indwelling and presiding Holy Spirit.

Only God can live the life that his righteousness demands.  Jesus demonstrated God’s righteousness, as “God in the Flesh.” He fulfilled the righteous judgment of the Law upon us at the Cross, and His righteousness was imputed to us (deposited in our accounts) the moment we trusted in His finished work for our salvation. But we still somehow think we ought to be able to do in our flesh what even He himself did by the Holy Spirit. (Jesus pointed out that what he did he did by the Holy Spirit.)

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

This is a very important concept. Paul has laid out the problem in stark terms, not padding the truth at all. We still have a sin nature, but we also have a new nature. The new nature is a created being; completely obedient to God, and completely in harmony with the Holy Spirit. But we still have a will, and, even now, we can choose to submit to the Holy Spirit, and “walk” (day-by-day, step-by-step) with Him, or not. There is a war going on, and we have to choose, moment-by-moment, whose side we will serve.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Remember that Paul made a similar statement in Romans 8:14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”

If you are a child of God, you are not under the Law…and, by the Holy Spirit, it should become clear to all observers that your life does not need the constraint of the Law, because you are under God’s direct control.  If you insist on putting yourself under the Law, then you are defeating the purpose of God’s Grace. So, what is the “measuring stick”, so to speak? How are we to see the difference, day by day? Paul introduces two contrasting concepts; “works” (plural) and “fruit” (singular). He pairs them with two mutually exclusive persons; the old Sin nature of every believer and the Holy Spirit of God. He says that our old sin natures produce certain traits in character and behavior that are observable to any person watching, and rejectable by all, as well. Think about this: sins of the flesh, while a source of pleasure to unbelievers, are a source of condemnation from those same unbelievers when they are practiced by believers. Why? Because, for better or worse, the World holds us to a higher standard of righteousness, and it is always looking for ways to condemn us.

But if you walk in the Spirit, there will be nothing to condemn. Doesn’t that sound attractive to you? It does to me. I read in the book of Daniel that his 120-some worst enemies, who unanimously wanted him dead, could find nothing wrong with him except his relationship with the God of Israel. My friends don’t have to look very far to find fault with me. My enemies certainly can find cause to condemn me. And I yearn for the time when I will finally be freed from my sin nature, and can rest from the war between the flesh and the Spirit.

But I remember that Daniel was living that way in his normal human body, not in some sort of “exalted state”. He simply was unfailingly doing at all times exactly what he was supposed to do. There is no evidence of his ever having spoken unkindly, or having stirred up arguments, having made accusations, or anything else of a counter-productive nature. Ironically, though, in his recorded prayer, he identified closely enough with Israel that he said “…we have turned our backs on You…” (Not “they”, but “we”.)

What will it look like?

So, what are the earmarks of the flesh-controlled life, and that of the Spirit-controlled life?

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as that of the fruit of the Spirit, and the last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural; if you are partaking in any of these, then you are in the flesh; it’s as simple as that.

But the next “list”, the fruit of the Spirit, is half as long, and is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit, singular; a fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book has been the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why the enemies of Daniel could find no cause for accusation in his life. He walked in the Spirit, and there was no cause for offense. There was literally nothing to condemn. I would love it if all my enemies found in me that same problem: nothing to condemn. But the honest truth is that my friends can find fault with me.

I did discover recently that a man I have known for 25 years, and of whom I had heard via the workplace “grapevine” (nice word for gossip) that he strongly disliked me, actually disliked me because I am a believer. That is a relief to know. I learned it, ironically enough, from another unbeliever. (He said the exact word used was “Bible-thumper”…which I guess is OK, but I do hope I did not cross some line and offend him by my words. If it is God’s Word that offended him, I am in the clear, but if I did it, then he may have had reasonable cause for offense.) I will probably never know for sure, but I don’t think we have ever had an argument, or any sort of cross words. We only worked together a short while, and I think I was always relatively friendly…but who knows? James says we all offend with our tongues. Looking forward, all I can do is to try to be vigilant to walk in the Spirit, so as to not cause offense, but, instead, to be productive for God.

This next verse is easy to miss, and nearly as easy to misread:

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

Please take note that this is past tense: Whatever the verse is about, it already happened. This is not a command to “get crucified”, or to “crucify the flesh”. It is a statement of Fact, that if you belong to Jesus, then the crucifixion is a done deal. We just need to learn to walk in the daily reality of that fact. God sees you as being permanently separated from your old sin nature. He dealt with your sin at the cross, and will no longer see you in your sins. In fact, that is what Romans 6:1-14 is all about. You are dead to sin (whether you believe it or not), and do not have to continue in it. In Romans he points this truth out and says that it is incumbent upon us to believe it and rest in that truth, taking shelter in the fact that we are no longer slaves to sin. Here in Galatians, he says we are to walk in that truth.

Conclusion:

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

This is an “it just makes sense” sort of statement. “Since you already have been saved, redeemed, resurrected and baptized into the Body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and since, in fact, you are already seated with him in Heaven…doesn’t it make sense that you function by that principle as well? That you, in fact, allow Him full ownership in your life?”

And what would that look like if you did?

Paul’s final messages in Galatians are to tell the believers how to treat one another. But if the fundamental principle is confessed and agreed to, (that, since I am spiritually alive because of Christ and Him alone, and have been joined to him by the work of the Holy Spirit, not my own works) then it is a logical necessity that I complete the transaction and walk with him.

When I was first born again, something a friend said made perfect sense to me: “If I belong to Him, I ought to work for Him.” That stuck with me ever since. And, as I look at this verse, I realize that that is exactly what Paul says. If I belong to Him, it makes sense that I act as if I do.

Spend some time thinking this over: if you see that the fruit of the Spirit is pretty thin on the limbs, so to speak, then perhaps you need to confess that you are not walking consistently, and you need to allow God to work a full repentance—a turnaround—a change of course. “Walking” must become a continuous exercise of faith, not just a series of failures, in the flesh. Bear in mind that as a toddler is learning to walk, he or she falls down a lot. That is OK…success means getting up one more time than we fall down. Eventually we learn to walk in a stable manner.

Let’s look to God to teach us to walk with Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to be sober about our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, and to confess them for what they are, without excuses. Allow us to be healed by your Spirit and so to lead others to You.

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.


Son or Servant?

Son or Servant?  Slave or Free?

C. O. Bishop 4/9/15 THCF 4/12/15

Galatians 4:19-31

Introduction:

We have been talking about the problems associated with legalism so long I am beginning to fear that folks will think that is all I want to talk about. But as we read the Book of Galatians, we can see that Paul spent the better part of four chapters outlining the difference between Law and Grace, the dangers of legalism, the trap that it sets for the new or untaught believer, and the character or condition of those who spread such doctrine. He has minced no words—he has been quite blunt.

He has pronounced God’s curse on those who corrupt the Gospel of Grace by adding works as a condition of salvation, he has told the Galatian believers that the Law has never been a means of salvation, but rather a curse, as it only reveals the lostness of the human race. He has told them that through Jesus’ fulfilling the Law, he, Paul, had been made dead to the Law, but alive to God. He has told them that if it was possible to gain a right standing with God through works of any kind, then Jesus died for nothing.

Paul has explained the issue of what it meant to be a child of Abraham, pointing out that Abraham lived more than 400 years before the Law was given, and that the promised “seed” was singular, not plural. The Promised Seed was actually Christ, and we are to be made part of Him by faith, and so we become the children of Abraham by faith—not physical, as the Jewish offspring of Abraham claim to be, and are, but the spiritual offspring, and in a completely different category. Now Paul is addressing those believers as children.

Paul’s Concern for His “Kids”:

Paul claims these believers as his own offspring, since he is the one who led many of them to Christ. But he has some misgivings about their response to false teaching, and is wondering whether they are really born again, all of them, or just going along with the group in some cases.

19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

 20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

This is a third word for “children” used here: the Greek word “teknia”—born-ones—offspring. Paul is claiming them as his spiritual offspring, and so they are, since he led them to Christ. He says that he is “in labor” again, as if they were being born again all over again. He is not sure where they stand, or who they really are. He wished that he could be there, face to face with them, and could express his heart to them more clearly. For my part, I am grateful that he could not, since it meant that we have this letter today.

Now Paul has one last major point to make regarding Law and Grace: The difference in the implied relationship between the believer and God. He uses a well-known Old Testament account to demonstrate that Law corresponds to slavery, while Grace corresponds to freedom, and son-ship. He begins by saying, in effect, “All right, then: if you like Law, let’s talk about the Law! He says:

21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

“Law-keeping” Exposed: An Allegory Revealed

Paul knows from his own experience, as well as from the Word of God, that any human claiming to keep the Law, is being very “selective” in their thinking. He knows they have not obeyed the whole law, nor do they really intend to do so.

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Now here is something we might not have seen apart from God revealing it. The only thing I could have said for sure is that Abraham took advantage of what seemed an “opportunity to fulfill God’s promise” (annnnd, coincidentally, a real opportunity to gratify the flesh: to have sex with a younger woman, not only legally, but with his wife’s consent…in fact it was her idea!) Must have seemed like a great idea at the time…. But it was NOT God’s idea, and Abraham neglected to ask whether it was right. So, he went ahead, and, in doing so, he set up the genealogy for the largest group of enemies his people, the Jews, would ever have. The Children of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, have bitterly resented the Children of Isaac, his son by Sarah (specifically the Jews), for centuries. And today they completely surround the Jewish state:  by their own admission, they seek to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. (Thanks, Abe!)

But…God was also setting up an object lesson, by which we are expected to see the differences between the miraculous work that God does through faith, and the natural work that we can accomplish on our own. God is in the business of carrying out miraculous work in the lives of believers, not simply saving us and then turning us loose to do the works on our own. The difference pointed out is the difference between work of the flesh—which any natural man can accomplish, and the work of God, which only He can do. Law-keeping fits in the former category…Grace fits in the latter.

23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

What Abraham accomplished with Hagar was completely natural…even an old fossil like Abraham could have relations with a young woman who was still of child-bearing age, and produce a child. Where’s the miracle in that? What is supernatural about an old man getting a young woman pregnant? Especially since she was a slave and had no choice in the matter? (When you think of it in that way, it is not a very attractive picture, is it? Bear in mind that this was truly Sarah’s idea, and is emulated later by Jacob’s wives. The issue was not whether it was illegal, or even immoral, but whether it was of God. Yes, it was Sarah’s idea but Abraham was definitely a willing participant.)

Sarah, on the other hand, though a free-woman, was past the age of child-bearing, and could not be reasonably expected to conceive. So, in order for that union to bear fruit, God had to step in and supernaturally rejuvenate her body…which He eventually did!

The Allegory:

The result of the paired conceptions, one natural, the other supernatural, is an object lesson for us today: and one that God set up, using human failure as the starting point.

24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

Please bear in mind that this is God talking through Paul; this is not just Paul’s opinion. God says there was an allegory there for us to see and learn. This not license to claim that every passage of scripture is allegorical, so that we can read into it whatever we want.

25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

I would never have gotten this connection: Hagar represents Mt. Sinai, and the Law (which brought bondage,) and, by extension, the natural Jerusalem which is in bondage (at that time, it was in bondage to Rome… still today it is in bondage to sin.) I never would have seen these parallels unless God had pointed it out.

26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Sarah was the other side of the equation—the need for supernatural re-birth and revival. She represented the supernatural Jerusalem, still invisible, and only accessible through faith. She is a picture of the way that God chooses to deal with believers.

27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

Ironically, she also brings out the picture of the gentile believers, because although it says the desolate woman shall bear children, it also says she will have many more than “she who has a husband”.  Sarah had a husband! Remember Abraham? She had been married to him for many years. Why would it say specifically “than she who had a husband”?  I think that it is a prophecy that there will be more Gentile believers in the Body of Christ than will come out of Israel, the “wife of God!”

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Who are the “Brethren” of whom he speaks? They are all the believers, Jew and Gentile. There is no division between believers of Jewish or non-Jewish descent. But all of us became the children of promise by faith. There is no other way.

29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

Ishmael laughed at Isaac, the heir, and mocked him, as a toddler. As a result, he and his mother were sent packing. It was a heart-rending experience for Abraham, who loved his son Ishmael, and for Ishmael, as well, who doubtless loved his father.

It was a grievous thing for Hagar, too, who had enjoyed the privileges of a wife for a time, instead of the position of a slave. But she had silently sneered at Sarah because she could bear Abraham a son, while Sarah could not (God confirms this). Sarah saw that, and wanted her out. She treated her harshly and drove her out, so that Hagar ran away. But God sent her back for the time being, and kept her there until Ishmael was nearly grown, and more nearly able to care for himself.

When Hagar was finally expelled, it was a deeply bitter thing for her and her son. And God prophesied that he, Ishmael, would be “a wild man”, and that his hand would be “against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (which is being fulfilled today.) And Paul reminds them that Jerusalem will be persecuted by the sons of Ishmael (and it is happening daily today.)

 The Separation between Natural and Supernatural

30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

Though it was a bitter, terrible parting, with long-lasting consequences, the separation was by the decree of God. It was partly for practical reasons, I am sure, as God did not want Isaac to be in competition with Ishmael for Abraham’s attention; but it was also intended to set up this specific lesson: There is a sharp, uncrossable divide between the natural and the supernatural in terms of eternal value. We see this borne out in 1st Corinthians 3:10-16, where the judgment seat of Christ is in view. Works either have eternal value or they don’t. There is no “sliding scale.”

What the Galatian believers were being persuaded to embrace (works—legalism) required no “touch of God”—it required no presiding Holy Spirit. They could carry out the demands of a man-made religion strictly on their own…and countless millions in the world do just that, every day of their lives.

That is one of the distinguishing marks of both the Old and New Testaments—they both demand a degree of holiness not achievable by man, and they both provide a means of overcoming the lack that still admits no human interference. The Law demanded perfection, and said, “…the Soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It offered no way out except a shedding of blood, and the faith of the believer that God himself was the redeemer…the “goel”—the one who buys us out of our sin-debt, and sets us free. The New Testament does not change this arrangement one bit! It only concludes the long line of blood-sacrifices with the final, perfect Blood-sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which sets us free from the Law forever.

But the enmity between the natural and the supernatural was not limited to Ishmael: it is nearly universal.

The Enmity between Natural and Supernatural

Whether Jew or Gentile; those who deny this truth –especially the religious people who deny the truth of Grace—will bitterly resent the freedom inherited by the children of the Promise. They will take a stand against God and His people at every opportunity, even when claiming to be believers themselves. Remember how King Herod sought to deceive the Magi: he said “Tell me where He is, so I can worship Him too!” Far from worship, Herod intended to murder Jesus, but he pretended to be a believer, so as to deceive the real believers.

Only the Holy Spirit can bring about the real changes we hope to see in our lives. God says that the scripture has provided “…exceeding great and precious promises, that through these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” And that is how it happens. We embrace His promises by faith, and through His Word, by His Spirit, he begins to change us into His likeness. It does not happen overnight. It required growth, exercise and feeding.

Conclusion:

31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

That is the bottom line, as far as Paul is concerned: You are not a slave, but a freeborn, re-born child of God. Act like one! Don’t enslave yourself to things from which He died to set you free. Keep stepping along in the freedom He died to provide!

We keep looking to God, and, in light of His Word, in light of His holiness, we see our sin. We confess it as sin, and he cleanses us, and continues to work to change us into his likeness. But embracing a set of regulations through which we hope to “be the people God intends us to be” is a serious step backward. It puts us in the camp of the enemy, effectively, because it is exactly the opposite of what God wants.

I read a story, years ago…I have no idea whether it was true…of an old gentleman living alone in a rundown house in the commercial area of a big city. He was offered a very large amount of money for his property, and he accepted it gladly. The purchasers gave him plenty of time to find a new place to live, and to get moved out. During that time, he looked around at his shabby old house, and thought it was a shame to be selling it to the new owners in such poor shape, so he took some of the money they had paid him and renovated the house—new roof, broken windows replaced, plumbing repaired, and everything painted inside and out. The old place was really looking good, so when the new owners showed up to take possession, he happily showed them all the work he had done. They looked and listened, and finally shook their heads sadly: “We are really sorry to tell you this, but you have wasted both your time and your money: we never wanted the house at all! We are tearing it down to build an office complex, here! All we wanted was your land.”

God does not want what YOU can do: He wants what He can do in you. Ultimately, he just wants YOU. Law-keeping is something we think we can do, but no matter how good we are at it, it is not what God wants at all.

Look to the Lord to change you from the inside out, and the old ways will begin to drop away…the new nature will become more and more prominent. If you have received Christ as your Savior by faith, then you are already a child of God, by the new birth; enacting a set of rules in your life will not enhance your relationship with God. Believing His promises, and obeying his principles by faith will continually build that relationship, and you will grow more and more into His likeness.

God help us to draw near by faith, and receive your Grace as the empowering principle in our lives. Remake us into the men and women of God that you have chosen us to be.


Why is “Law vs. Grace” such an issue?

Why the “Flap” over Law versus Grace?

© C. O. Bishop 3/28/15 THCF 3/29/15

Galatians 4:1-18

Introduction:

We have worked through three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches, so far: while the first couple of chapters deal a lot with his credentials as an apostle, the central doctrinal theme began in the sixth verse of the first chapter and has been interwoven through the whole book, so far….and he isn’t done talking about it yet. The issue has been the trap of legalism.

We may wonder why it is such an important issue with Paul…but, remember that this is God’s Word, speaking through Paul: we must conclude that it is important to God, as well.

One way to look at it is that it is a “Counterfeit Gospel”. Counterfeiting in general is a fascinating subject on a human level, as so much creativity and intelligence has been poured into it that it actually seems clever, and relatively harmless. But the reality is that money, stamps, designer shoes, etc. are all valuable not because of intrinsic worth, alone, but because of what they represent.  Even a tool may carry a brand that inspires confidence in its quality and durability. If the buyer discovers that he has been cheated, and that his new equipment is not associated with the brand it boasts, he is justifiably angry. No one comforts him, saying, “Oh, well, the one you have is probably just as good!” The point is that it is not the real thing, and the buyer has been tricked and cheated. It also causes others to look at all tools of that brand with a bit of suspicion, thinking “How do I know it is real?”

If the counterfeited item is a ticket to attend a concert by a famous artist, and, at the door, you find that it is counterfeit, then you have not only lost your money; you have lost your only hope to hear that musician, as it is too late to go find a genuine ticket and buy it.

All counterfeiting constitutes a threat to the perceived value of the original item, as well as the ultimate loss of the one left holding the counterfeit. During World War Two, the Nazi regime had produced plates with which to make counterfeits of the major Allied countries’ money. They planned to flood the Allied countries with counterfeit money and collapse their economies. And it could easily have worked, had it actually been carried out.

In the US, today, it is not only illegal to make counterfeit money; it is illegal to own it. So, even if you received counterfeit money in good faith as payment for goods or services, when you attempt to use that “money”, not knowing it is counterfeit, you can potentially be in trouble. But if you realize it is counterfeit, and try to keep it as a “collector’s item” you can actually be prosecuted for knowingly keeping counterfeit money. There are some striking parallels between counterfeit money and a false Gospel.

So, What about a Counterfeit Gospel?

Clear back in Galatians 1:6-9, Paul made it clear that a counterfeit Gospel of any sort was serious business, and cursed by God. Here’s why:

  1. This divergence of trust (Law versus Grace and Self-justification versus Divine Justification) has been the issue from the very beginning. Adam and Eve blamed someone else for their sins. Cain brought the works of the flesh in place of a blood sacrifice for sin. This is not just an issue—it is perhaps the primary
  2. A person who places even “supplemental faith” in works of the Law, either to save or to keep them, displays to those around them a pattern of legalism that is attractive to some people, because they think, “I can do that!” (And the truth is, they can…at least as well as any other sinner!) So, even if this person had already been saved by faith in Christ, they are leading others astray, and helping keep people away from Christ.
  3. A person left “holding the bag” is just as lost as if they had rejected Christ out of hand…a false Gospel cannot save us. Placing my faith in a life-jacket or other flotation device that will ultimately become waterlogged and sink is simply suicide.

So, let’s move on into chapter four and see how God explains the real purpose of the Law, and why, when misused, it is so dangerous to us.

Galatians Chapter 4

1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child (infant), differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord (kurios—master) of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

We do not share the cultural pattern of ancient Rome: we have no slaves, everyone is raised by their parents or guardians, with few exceptions, and civil law dictates at what point a person is considered to have attained majority. The law of our land determines, state by state, the age at which a person can marry, drive, consume alcohol, or serve in the armed forces.  But in Roman society a son had to be publicly recognized by his father as the heir of a household. This was called “huiothesis”—the “placement of a son”. The word is translated “adoption” in English New Testaments, but it is utterly different than our use of the word “adoption”.

Adoption

In our culture it always means legally taking responsibility of one who is not your child, and giving them the privileges of being your child. In Roman culture it always meant taking someone who is your progeny, your offspring, and announcing to the world that he is your heir.

In our culture, an adopted child will never take on the characteristics of the adoptive parents because they are not genetically related. In Biblical adoption, the child had better demonstrate the characteristics of the Father, as God says “his seed remains in you”. You are literally his child, and only waiting to gain full adulthood with your new body. He says that by means of the promises of Scripture, applied by faith, we do become partakers of the Divine Nature. That would not be possible had we not already been born again by faith. But the nature of God is to become an increasingly visible and solid reality in our lives through the application of God’s Word.

So we have a hard time understanding this passage, especially in light of the fact that over in Romans 8:23 Paul states that the final adoption of sons will occur at the redemption of our bodies…and not before. The whole world is groaning together; and we with it, waiting for that release from the curse. Both Galatians 4 and Romans 8 state that we are now the sons (huioi) of God. Both make it clear that until we attain majority, we are children, and under taskmasters. But in Galatians the “paidagogon” is the Law…and no child of God is under the Law, in the Church age. The Law can serve as a mirror to show us our sin, but it cannot cleanse us. Grace cleanses us. This is why David pleaded “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me!”

It seems that positionally we are now sons of God, but that as long as we still possess our sin nature we are conditionally “children” (teknon –born ones), and not “sons” in the truest sense. For instance Romans 8:14 says, “As many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.” The logical question at that point would have to be, “Is there ever a time in a Christian’s life when they are not led by the Spirit of God?” And, to that, the honest response is “YES!” Why? Because we still have an old sin nature. And when we sin, we are not being led by the Spirit of God. If you are sin-free, then you can say you no longer have a sin nature. But 1st John 1:8 says, “If we (believers) say that we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” You can talk this one over with God…I can’t add to His statement.

What’s the Problem with the Law?

So what harm can the Law do? It was certainly given for a good cause.

3 Even so we, when we were children (nepioi…infants), were in bondage under the elements of the world:

4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

This in reference to the Jews who had been under the Law; the Gentiles never were under the Law, and never will be in the Church age. (Notice the use of the pronoun “we” in this and similar passages.) The unbelieving Gentiles died under God’s judgment, apart from the Law. The Jews died under the judgment of the Law. We were lost for the same reason (Original Sin) and saved by the same Messiah.

6 And because ye ARE sons (huioi), God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

In this verse, Paul switches back to the 2nd person plural pronoun “ye”. He is back to addressing the Gentile church, and he says that they are already sons (heirs), and indwelt by the Holy Spirit as a seal of their position in Christ.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Paul’s Concerns

Paul underscores the change in the believers’ position, because he is building up to a point regarding their behavior. They are NOT just servants anymore (although he himself elsewhere calls himself a “doulos”—bondservant.) They are literally God’s children, and specifically children named as heirs. Paul is about to point out the inconsistency with which they are behaving. Notice again that the things he points out were specifically true of Gentile believers.

8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. (idols)

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

Paul says that these Gentile believers had escaped from the slavery of idolatry, and have been born again as children of the living God—known and accepted by God—so why in the world are they willingly becoming slaves again to outward symbolic behavior?

The Law was completely foreign to them as unbelievers and through Christ they were set free from their slavery to sin. But now, because of some ritualistic, legalistic strangers, they are entering again into slavery just as destructive as that from which they had escaped. Paul is completely baffled by their willingness to take on this bondage, when they so recently had escaped their original bondage.

11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Paul says, “I’m beginning to think I wasted my time working there among you!” He is not questioning their salvation so much as pointing out that the practical outworking of their faith should have been continuing freedom, worship and holiness, by the Holy Spirit and by faith, not by compliance to law. Instead, they have extinguished the light of Grace in their lives and have embraced a system of belief that had already been proven powerless to save, powerless to heal, powerless to cleanse, and powerless to give life.

12 Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.

Paul reminds the Galatian believers that he is cut out of the same material that they are—and yet he is living the reality of his freedom in Christ. He begs them to join him in his freedom, and his walk with Christ.

13 Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

Paul reminds them of the circumstances under which they had originally met him. In the first place, as we read through the record in the book of Acts, he had come to them after having been savagely beaten-up in another province. In the second place, apparently he had a disease of the eyes, either caused by injury in the beatings, or by infection of some sort. He was not physically attractive when he arrived, but he brought he message of Salvation and they had received him joyfully, and had loved him for the sake of the message, and the hope he had given them.

But now, because of the backbiting deception of the Judaizers, they were viewing him with suspicion, as if, rather than being God’s Apostle to the Gentiles (as he really was), he himself was the false teacher, and the Judaizers the true. That is why, back in chapter 3, he had challenged their thinking, asking, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by the hearing of Faith?” You see, these believers had received the Holy Spirit before the Judaizers ever arrived. Paul had introduced them to the real, living Christ.

Who are the Real Enemies?

16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

Paul is reminding them of who he is to them, and asking “Why have you turned against me?  I have only given you the truth, from the beginning.” The truth is not always sweet-sounding words. It has the same character as light—it simply reveals what is real—it reveals what reality is, not attempting to make it into that which is not. If that is what we really want, then we have to welcome the bad news of truth, as well as the good news.

17 They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

The NASB reads “They eagerly seek you, but not commendably, but they wish to shut you out that you may seek them.” I actually had this happen at work once: There was a fellow who claimed to be a believer, but never went to church, never read his Bible, etc. One day he came to me and asked, “Do you study the Didache?”(pronounced “DID-ah-kay”) I said, “I don’t even know what it is.” He gave me a smug, superior smile and turned away, saying “I expected you wouldn’t know….” I walked after him a few feet, asking how it was spelled, and he spelled it for me. I told him that I had seen it in print, but had not known how it was pronounced. He gave me some small bit of information about the document in question, implying that it was an important part of scripture that had been “left out” by those who compiled the canon. He acted as though he possessed some secret, desirable information that God had kept back from me. (That sounds very familiar—it is nearly exactly what the serpent–our ultimate enemy– told Eve.)

So, I went and looked the thing up on the internet, and found there were a few different versions of it, but that it was only one of the many “pseudepigraphal” (false-scripture) writings, and that, conveniently, the entire text could be downloaded in English, and printed. So I did, and skimmed through it to see if there were any definite departures from Biblical truth. I quickly found that it taught works-based salvation, to be earned; by that I could easily reject it as false. (No need for a scholarly opinion by a seminarian; we compare it to God’s written Word.) I took the printed copy back to the man who had challenged me and gave it to him, showing him the portions that were clearly false teaching. As we spoke, it became obvious that he had really never seen a copy of it before; he knew nothing about it. Then I knew that his whole play had simply been an effort to position me as an “outsider”, and claim to have special knowledge. When it turned out he had no special knowledge, and that the knowledge he had claimed to have was false anyway, he seemed quite deflated. He never mentioned it again.

18 But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.

It seems that, as in the above verse, the issue was what they were seeking, and where. The Judaizers wanted the Gentile believers to seek God (or, in reality, seek the Law) through the Judaizers. They wanted to gain followers.

Paul says it’s a good thing to seek good things…and not only when Paul is personally there to stir them up. He says that they should be continually seeking the things of God in his absence as well as when he was there…but that the people who were subverting them were not seeking their best at all. They just “looked good.”

The cults today may look pretty good, too, and some of them advertise heavily. But, universally:

  1. They deny the full deity of Christ,
  2. They deny that His blood can fully eradicate our sin-debt and
  3. They deny the inerrancy of His Word.

They claim to teach the Bible, but deny its central figure: the Biblical Christ—the Messiah. We must realize that not all teachers point us to Christ. Prior to the Cross, Judaism did point people to Christ. After the Cross, by those who persisted in the form of it, it pointed people away from Christ, as they denied his person and work.

The Old Testament definitely points people to Christ. But those who teach the Old Testament in exclusion of the New Testament are excluding the person of Christ, and so excluding the God of the Old Testament as well, because they are the same God, separated only by the mystery of the Trinity. It is good to remember what Jesus said in John 5:23 “…That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father who sent him.” If someone claims to believe in Christ, but does not offer him the same honor as the Father, then they are missing the mark. They do not believe in the Christ of the Bible, but some lesser figure, the product of their own imagination or (possibly) a simple doctrinal error.

In the case of these false teachers, Paul offered no excuse on their behalf: He said they were under a curse from God. We think that is too harsh…but it is because we do not understand the Holiness of God. He utterly rejects Sin as a whole, while, by Grace through faith, He continues freely redeeming both its victims and its practitioners.

A Counterfeit Gospel comes from your Enemy

We need to be aware that counterfeit holiness looks superficially like genuine holiness, but the motive is completely different, and it is exposed when you see how the individual responds to other people. Genuine holiness is rooted in a genuine love for the Savior and results in a genuine love of one’s neighbor, regardless of circumstances.  Counterfeit holiness is rooted in self and results in pious, but self-serving relations with others. Ultimately, far from drawing a person to Christ, it separates the practitioners from God.

The Real Gospel Comes From God

Soak in the real Gospel. Spend time meditating on the depth of God’s Word. Just as a bank teller studies the genuine currency in order to recognize counterfeitr bills, study the genuine Word of God, in order to recognize counterfeits.

Let us maintain the freedom of Grace, and seek to see the Love of God and the Fruit of the Spirit worked out in our everyday lives. Let us be sure that the message we portray to others is the Grace of God, not our personal piety, nor a system of “good works”. We do not believe in a “Counterfeit Gospel”—let’s live in such a way as to show (and share) the real Gospel.


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.


Curse, or Promise?

The Curse of the Law, or the Promise of the Spirit?

© C. O. Bishop 1/22/15 THCF 2/1/15

Galatians 3:10-14; John 14:16, Ephesians 1:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

We recently saw how Paul challenged the thinking of the Galatian believers: he asked them if what had been begun by the Holy Spirit, through faith, was now to be improved upon by human effort. His conclusion was that faith alone was the response God wanted to his Grace, and that by faith alone He had saved everyone in history who had ever been redeemed.

He used Abraham as the prime example, partly because Abraham was the ultimate patriarch of the Jews, to whom they all referred as their forefather; and partly because he is also the one regarding whom God said, “Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness.”

Paul concluded that if you want to be received on the same basis as Abraham, and truly be “his children”, then you need to respond to God as Abraham did: by faith. He demonstrates that this is how God’s promise to Abraham of an uncountable progeny would be fulfilled…through people of every nation believing the Gospel. Now he is ready to actively, sharply contrast law and faith, and thus, also, to contrast Law and Grace.

The Curse of the Law

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

Wow! That is a pretty harsh thing to say! Virtually every reference to the Law in the Old Testament tells how wonderful it is! Psalm 119 spends 176 verses extolling the virtues of God’s Law, his Word, his Statutes, his precepts, his commandments, etc. How can Paul say that it is a curse?

Why would he say such a thing? Because it is the simple truth! The passage he quotes is Deuteronomy 27:26, and is the culmination of a dozen consecutive verses of specific curses on those who fail to obey God’s Law. The fact is that God’s Law is perfect, and has the capacity to cleanse the hearts of those who willingly subject themselves to it, but only when God has already purged their sins by way of His chosen blood sacrifice. The Law does not cleanse by obedience, but via the blood sacrifice for disobedience!

The reason Abel was accepted by God was because he recognized his own unacceptability and brought a blood sacrifice as a substitute for his own life. God accepted him on the basis of that blood sacrifice. He rejected Cain’s non-blood sacrifice, because a non-blood sacrifice demonstrates that the giver is already purged from the guilt of sin, and is free to worship. Cain chose to bypass that blood, and bring worship without atonement.

Abel could (and undoubtedly would) later have brought other offerings as worship offerings…but he first brought the blood as required by God. We are not told what he did later, beyond the fact that he was accepted by God, and later murdered by his elder brother.

In Hebrews 9:22 we see that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.” So the way people were saved under the Law was to recognize their own condemned state, and, by faith, to bring the required blood sacrifice. We do the same thing: we hear of God’s righteous judgment, and are convinced of our own guilt. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God, through the shed blood of Jesus, and depend on that blood sacrifice as our only hope for salvation. God receives us as he did Abel, and we are declared righteous through faith, as was Abraham. Then we are free to come to Him in worship.

11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Here we go again: the verse he is quoting is Habakkuk 2:4…and, by the way, he was not using that phrase lightly, as we sometimes do, saying, “Oh, they’ll just live by faith”. In Habakkuk, the idea was that the righteous ones would survive by their faith. He was predicting the destruction of the nation of Judah, under Babylon. He clearly stated that the righteous would “live”—as opposed to dying in the siege—“by his faith”. God knows our hearts—he knows who believes His Word. And their faith was the deciding factor as to whether they would live or die.

12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

The Law was strictly obedience: the sacrifices were Grace, by which God saved the disobedient sinners who confessed that they could not fully obey: That sacrificial animal died as a substitute for the guilty sinner. If a person wants to live by the Law, he/she must hear what Paul is saying: Law requires 100%, flawless, unfailing obedience. And no one but Jesus ever came close. So, without the Grace of God, the Law is strictly a curse.

The various cults who teach people to obey various segments of Law as a means to Godliness are ignoring this fundamental principal: if you choose Law over Grace, you are a debtor to obey the whole law—not just the parts that appeal to you. Sabbath and diet are not the whole law…sorry. And even those who think they keep the Ten Commandments are usually ignoring the last one—a matter of the heart. Covetousness is not something we do with our bodies but with our minds.

By the way, the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus(Mark 12:29-31), are not even in the Ten Commandments: He says that “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind”, and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” are most important. The first one has to do with being committed to God above all things, and the second has to do with being as committed to your neighbor’s well-being as much as you are your own. Those two concepts don’t even come up on the horizon of people advocating salvation by works. Their concerns are primarily outward…God’s concerns are primarily inward!

Redeemed!

13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (who is “us”?): for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we (who is “we”?) might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Redeemed means “bought back”: we have been bought back out of the marketplace of sin, for the purpose of being set free. Remember that the Gentiles had never been under the Mosaic Law (just as Abraham was never under the Law.) So the “us”, here, is primarily in reference to the Jews. The Law came after the promise, and confined the Jews to certain behavior. It showed them that, apart from God’s grace, they were lost. They brought the blood sacrifices; daily in some cases, and many times per year, at best. They could not be done with sacrifices for sin, because they kept on sinning. And, if Gentiles wanted to approach God through the temple in Jerusalem (remember, Abraham never saw the temple), then they had to subject themselves to that same Law. And, effectively, they were then under the same curse.

Jesus’ sacrifice made a complete and permanent solution to sin, and made it possible for Gentiles to approach the throne of Grace apart from the Law. Prior to that, though all through the Old Testament there were examples of Gentiles being saved by faith, if a Gentile wanted to enter into the covenant of Israel, he had to become a Jew, ritually, and by adherence to the Law. But remember: he could never become genetically Jewish!

A child of God can rightly claim God as his/her real father. The Apostle John states (1st John 3:9) that “his seed remains in you”. You are not just placed into his family, you are born into it. That’s what Jesus meant when He said “You must be born again.” Nicodemus, whom he addressed, was the consummate Jew—a child of Abraham by physical birth; a zealous, diligent adherent to the Law. But he had to be born again as a child of God, just like you and me.

Notice, here, that Paul has again pointed out the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death: He became a curse for us. He died in our place. 2nd Corinthians 5:21 states that “he became sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” He, who knew no sin, did not become a sinner—he became sin for us. He became a curse, and had the righteous wrath of God—all of it—poured out upon himself.

The passage Paul quotes is from Deuteronomy 21:22, 23; if a criminal was executed by stoning, and his body was hung up on a tree (or “timber, wood, or gallows” as the Hebrew word “ets” can be translated), as a lesson, a warning against further evildoing; then they were to take his body down before dark…hanging up the body was a statement that the man had been cursed by God. It had to be taken down by dark, so that the land would not be defiled. I don’t know if this was the physical defilement of a rotting corpse, or some sort of spiritual defilement. Either way, in Hebrew history, the executions were typically by stoning. The hanging up on a tree was a statement of their national rejection of sin. In Jesus’ case, he was executed by the Romans, at the urging of the Jewish priesthood. They were not allowed to execute criminals, under Roman law, so they incited the Romans to do their work for them. Crucifixion was a Roman invention.

That We might receive the Promise of the Spirit

The first-person plural “we” as used in these few verses seems to be primarily in reference to the Jews, who had been in bondage to the Law, and who were now set free by faith. The “we” in verse 14, the last half, includes all believers. All believers receive the promise of the Spirit through Faith alone. The Jews had known of the Promise of the Spirit for many years…say, 500 years at least. They had waited to receive the Promise, but they only connected it with the coming kingdom, and did not imagine that they themselves would be the recipients, in their lifetime. Further, though they knew that the Gentiles were promised to be “the inheritance” of the Messiah, and that God’s blessing would eventually come upon the Gentiles, they had not imagined it would come now, by faith alone; not by the Law.

The promise that Paul and Peter both mentioned is in Joel 2:28, 29, and refers to a time after the Lord’s physical return, and His restoration of Israel. The Jews knew this was coming. That promise is still awaiting the Messiah’s reign on Earth: it is a gift to the national and ethnic Jews. The whole nation of Israel, after the return of Christ, during the Kingdom age, will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. There will be no need for evangelism anywhere on earth, because God says that “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

But for right now; the promise of God during the Church Age is that believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In fact, in Romans 8:9, Paul states that if you do not have the Spirit, you are not saved. That is pretty strong stuff!

Here in chapter three, Paul has pointed out that as they had received the Spirit by faith, it made no sense to hope to “improve” God’s work by human efforts.

So, how can we avoid Legalism? And how can we appropriate the promise of the Spirit?

When anything or anyone says, “Do this, or else!” I look carefully at the commands associated with it: Are they, in fact, directed at the church? Not every command in the Bible is to the church, proper, and not all of them are applicable under all circumstances. I like to use the rather ridiculous rhetorical question: “When Jesus said, ‘What thou doest, do quickly’ does it mean I should always be in a hurry?” Of course, we realize that he only said that to Judas Iscariot, telling him, “Now that you have made your decision to betray me, get moving! Do it!” It has no bearing at all on anything I do, but it was a command from Jesus. It just wasn’t directed to me. So, since the heart of the scripture says that I have been justified (declared righteous) by Grace through Faith, and that God is at peace with me, and that I should have no further fear of condemnation, I should be very suspicious when someone says “If you do not conform to this norm, you cannot know God!”

Review in your mind how Jesus said you could be saved: “He that hears my words, and believes on Him who sent me has everlasting life…” He didn’t add anything to those two conditions. Neither did any of the Apostles. But: Is obedience necessary to a life of fellowship?

Ah! That is another matter! (1st John 1:7, 9) God says “If we walk in the Light (that’s obedience) as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” If we sin, he says confess it to restore fellowship—then obey and maintain fellowship. And, the commands he says to obey are to love; “Love God; Love one another”…pretty basic stuff.  Even the Old Testament (Micah 6:8) says “He has shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee but to do justice, to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”  That is fairly simple. It is difficult to consistently do, but, as a concept, it is simple.

In Galatians 5:16 a promise is made: “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” There is a lot of explanatory material offered, as well, which we will explore another day. We know that God’s Word tells us how God sees things: what His perspective is. He just wants us to see things His way, and walk with Him. Amos 3:3 poses the question, “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” It is a rhetorical question, with the implied answer being, “No!” That is why 1st John 1:7 says, “Walk in the light as He is in the Light”.

Learn to see the World, Righteousness and Sin from God’s point of view, by studying His Word, by prayer, and by meditation on his Word. Learn to literally walk with Him. It is just “day-by-day plodding along”—it is faithfulness—nothing flashy about it, nothing “glorious” from the World’s point of view. But God is building something glorious. We need to trust Him, and walk with Him, and allow him to continue his work.

Let’s learn to walk by faith, embracing the Promise of the Spirit, and avoiding the Curse of legalism. Let us not try to apply Law to ourselves nor to one another, but embrace the Grace of God as a principle for living. Apply His Grace to those around you: especially to those you find irritating, frustrating, or unpleasant: they need it the most. Apply it to yourself: believe God’s promise: the Holy Spirit will stay with you, guarding your heart until the day He comes for you.

Lord Jesus; fill us with your Love, and allow us to learn your Grace. Help us to avoid the trap of legalism, either as applied to ourselves or as applied to our brothers and sisters. Teach us to walk with you by faith. Amen!