Posts Tagged ‘Law’

Obedient to the Truth?

 

The Truth of the Crucifixion

© C. O. Bishop 12/5/14 THCF 12/7/14

Galatians 3:1


“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”

Introduction:

Paul is gently berating the Galatian believers: he states that they clearly had known the truth—that Jesus had been clearly displayed among them as having been crucified— and that there was a “truth” involved to which they had been “obedient”, but now were being persuaded to disobey.

So, perhaps we need to look a little more closely, to find out what the truth was, and how they had obeyed it, and why Paul says they are now disobeying it, so that we can gain understanding for our own lives, and avoid the trap to which they had fallen prey.

How does one obey or disobey a “truth?”

When Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21), the people were under a judgment from God, because of sin. The judgment involved thousands of venomous snakes migrating through the path of the children of Israel: many people were bitten, and many died. When the bronze serpent was hung up on the pole, the command was to “look and live!” They did not magically get rid of the venom—they did not immediately have the fang-marks in their bodies healed: they simply did not die. Had they not believed God’s promise through Moses enough to look to the serpent on the pole they would have died, regardless of their best efforts.

Consider: when we hear the truth of the Gospel, we can either believe it, to the extent of personally placing our trust in the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, or not believe it…and place our trust in something else. If we choose to trust in something else, we will eventually die in our sins regardless of our best efforts.

So, what if they had looked, believing, but the pain of the snake-bite and the earnest voices of their friends persuaded them to try some home-remedies anyway, perhaps just to lessen the pain? Did God rescind His promise and see to it that they died? No—the promise was sure—but the best their own efforts could do was to alleviate symptoms. Without that initial faith, to look to God’s solution for sin, they would have died.

In our own lives, we may have at one time trusted God to save us from our sins…but later have fallen prey to some persuasive philosophy, or our own unbelief, and have come to believe that if we do not hold our hands right when we pray, God will not hear us—or that if we do not perform some other ritual correctly, or avoid certain behaviors, etc., then God will reject us after all, and that the blood of Jesus at the Cross was, in fact, ineffective. At that point, we are disobeying the truth, because we are no longer dependent upon the Grace of the living God, and the effect of His Grace is lessened in our lives, simply because we are no longer receptive to Him…we are depending on our own works, and trying to earn His favor. Human religion can alleviate symptoms, but cannot deal with the curse of Sin. Jesus deals with the curse first, and then proceeds to deal with symptoms throughout our lives.

The Truth of the Gospel

So what is the “Truth” of the Gospel, and how do we “obey it” initially…and, more to the point, how do we obey it on an ongoing lifelong basis?

Paul recites the facts of the Gospel in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, where he says that he had delivered to the Corinthians what had been delivered to Him—the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. In Romans 1:16 he states that this Gospel, being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe—whether Jews or non-Jews. Here in Galatians he only alludes to it because they already know the facts—and have already believed them. He says that Jesus and His crucifixion had been clearly presented among them…and that they had understood it.

The truth of the Gospel involves two or three main concepts, depending on how one wants to outline the facts:

  • Man is lost, and cannot save Himself (which is bad news), and
  • God is Gracious, and has provided for salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (That’s the Good News!)
  • All God has asked Man to do is to place his trust in that Gracious gift.

Every one of us here has heard that truth, regarding the Crucifixion, and has placed his/her trust in that gift. But the question is: can we, like the people of Israel, be guilty of turning our eyes away from the Grace of God and return to our own works? The answer, of course, is yes, we can.

So, let’s look at five aspects of the Crucifixion, and see how we can be “obedient to the truth”.

The Crucifixion was Personal

One thing I have run into periodically when attempting to share the Gospel, is the response that “Yes, I know Jesus died for our sins!” or “Well, of course, he died for the whole world!”, but when I try to pin it down, as to whether His blood was the payment for the sins of that particular individual, he or she hedges and reverts to “ …he died for the world”, or something similar.

That is a little like saying “everyone at work today signed a petition to recall the dog-catcher (or whatever)”…then someone asks “did you sign it?” and all they can get for an answer is “everyone signed it!” I am left to think that, either they did not sign the petition, or they are ashamed of having done so.

Did Jesus die for you personally? Are your sins what put him on that cross? If they are not, then you are missing the point of the Crucifixion. When the nation of Israel initially celebrated Passover, the requirement was that every single person should eat of that Passover lamb. It was not enough to just be part of Israel, or even to just be part of a household that had the blood on the lintel and doorposts: Everyone was to eat of it…personally. I must personally place my trust in Jesus’ blood payment for my personal sins.

The Crucifixion was Vicarious

When we watch adventure movies, or read adventure novels, the idea is that we can experience the wild or dangerous or creepy thing that is in the book or movie without any personal risk. I may enjoy watching some athlete pole-vault over an 18-foot bar, or shoot through some terrible rapids in a kayak, but I am never going to try it myself. I experience his victory vicariously by watching. This is called a vicarious thrill, but it is a weak example:

Webster defines “vicarious” as

1:  a:  serving instead of someone or something else,  b:  that which has been delegated <vicarious authority>

2:  that which is performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another: substitutionary <a vicarious sacrifice>

3:  that which is experienced or realized through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another <a vicarious thrill>
The first two definitions are the ones we want, here: Jesus died in my place (2nd definition) because he had the delegated authority from God to do so (1st definition), therefore I died through him when I confirmed that delegation of authority, by faith. I did not have to personally be crucified, or have the full Wrath of God poured out upon me…I experienced it through Christ—he did it as my designated substitute.

The Crucifixion was Substitutionary

This is a part of the definition of “vicarious”, of course, but it carries a stronger idea. We have a hard time with this idea, because it carries the meaning that, “when Jesus died as my substitute, I died!

2nd Corinthians 5:14, 15 is a difficult passage, but critical to understanding our position in Christ: It says …”that, if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto him who died for them, and rose again.” We can either accept this as a fact, and try to learn to believe it and live it experientially, or shrug it off as a mystery, and leave it for the theologians to fight over. That may be a tempting option, but it is really not a live option for a believer, simply because the scripture is absolutely true: if you have placed your faith in Christ then you are dead with him…the substitute completed the transaction in your name, and the transaction is complete! So now, whether you understand it or not, and whether you choose to respond well or not, you have a new position in Christ…and you are dead to sin…dead to the World, dead to the Law. You cannot “fit in” as do the unsaved folk around you—because you have been permanently separated from them through death. You no longer belong to the world community. You are an outcast with Christ, and are an ambassador for Him.

The Crucifixion was Efficacious

When Jesus uttered his final words from the Cross, it included one Greek word that is pretty important to us: the word “tetelestai”. It was translated “It is finished”, which is fine enough as far as an English translation goes, but, because English has so many variable and alternate meanings for words, I misunderstood this statement for years. I thought Jesus was simply saying “It’s all over! I’m gonna die now!” I thought it was the voice of defeat…but in fact, it was the opposite. It was the voice of victory!

He was actually confirming that the job He was sent to do was fully accomplished. Nothing was left to do. All the work was done.  He had said earlier that he was sent to save sinners. John the Baptist had pointed him out, (John 1:29) saying, prophetically, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the World!” So—if that was what he had come to do, and if what he shouted from the Cross was that the job was complete, then I have to believe that it is true…that there is nothing left to do, in order to secure my salvation. There is no work that can be added to his completed work at the Cross.

Further, his blood successfully paid the sin debt for the whole world…there will never be a person born for whom He did not make full payment. I will never meet someone who is not on His “list”—he desires their salvation, and He has already paid the full price for it. That means, if I am living for Him, then I should desire it too—and not just as a “back-burner” afterthought—it was foremost in his mind, and should be for me, too.

The Crucifixion was Final

One of the things pointed out in the book of Hebrews, very strongly, is that, unlike the year-by-year renewed and repeated blood-sacrifices that continually covered sin, Jesus made a one-time-only blood-sacrifice that took away sin. Hebrews 10:3, 4 clearly states that those sacrifices were repeated yearly, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Contrast Hebrews 10:10, 12, “…we are sanctified (made holy) through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” And  “But this man (Jesus) after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

There is no further work to be done to pay for my salvation—it is secure forever…but if I am going to live for him, then I need to learn to see the World and the Church and all of Life through His eyes. I need to see my own life as completely belonging to Him. Remember? “I am Crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Conclusion: How can I obey the Truth?

I believe that Jesus died for me, personally—so that should make me aware that, when I sin (and I still do), those sins are part of what put Him on the Cross. This should not be a thing to be “taken for granted”. It is a serious issue.

I can be grateful that He acted in my place, vicariously, so that I do not have to personally experience the wrath of God.

I can daily practice the awareness by faith, that when He died as my substitute, I died—and that my life is never to be the same again. I am dead to the Law, dead to Sin, and dead to the World. That should be my daily concern, to live by faith in that fact.

I should have a genuine heart for the lost around me, knowing that Jesus paid for all their sins, and that their salvation is the primary concern of Christ for the World. We, as believers, have been given the job of being His ambassadors—his representatives—so we are to act in His behalf, and expressing His desires, pursuing His goals.

Finally; I can maintain the awareness that there is nothing to be added to the perfect and final Sacrifice of Christ except thanksgiving, worship, praise and Love. Romans 12:1-3 states that my reasonable service of worship is to offer myself a living sacrifice, so that He can live through me, and bless those around me through my life.

So: what was the issue with those believers in the province of Galatia? The problem was that though they certainly had known and believed the Gospel, they had later allowed someone to lure them away from at least some of the above five points, and were beginning to add works to Grace, and, effectively, to replace Grace with Law. Thus, all five realities of the Gospel of Grace had ceased to be a working reality in their lives. That is why Paul said in Galatians 5:4 “…ye have fallen from Grace”.  Jesus was having no real effect in their lives, anymore, because they had embraced a “do-it-yourself” plan of approaching God, whereas Jesus had said “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me!” Did it affect their salvation? Of course not! But it terribly affected their peace and assurance, and their walk with God. They were trying to “remodel” God’s work with their own works.

As believers, with the full advantage of the written Word of God, let us try to keep in mind the full implications of the Cross, and not fall into the same trap as did the Galatian believers. Guard against legalism, and strive to embrace your new position in Christ, by faith. Yes, the result will be obedience; but it will be the result of Grace and faith, rather than Law.


According to the Truth of the Gospel

According to the Truth of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 11/2/2014 THCF 11/9/2014

Galatians 2:5-18

Introduction:

We spoke a couple of weeks ago regarding the pattern of false teaching called “legalism.” Legalism can seem fairly nebulous and ill-defined, but in fact, as we determined earlier, it can be identified as “any pattern of teaching that seeks to modify the means of salvation or sanctification to be accomplished by works instead of or in addition to Grace.”

In other words, if I teach that a person is either to be saved by works of the flesh, and outward compliance to rules, instead of or in addition to Jesus’ fully completed work at the Cross, then I am guilty of Legalism.  If I teach that one is to be made holy (sanctified) through good works instead of or in addition to the Holy Spirit’s perfect and continuing work, then I am guilty of Legalism.

The Legalizers desire to coerce others to conform to their own legalistic values, and further claim that those who do not conform to them are also rejected by God. God says that is not how we are saved…and not how we serve. Let’s move on to see Paul’s final comments on this subject.

The Meeting With all the Other Apostles:

6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:

7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

Remember that Paul had preached for three years before he met any of the earlier apostles (Peter and James), and when he did it was a very brief meeting, and only served to confirm in his own mind and theirs that he had indeed been chosen by and taught by Jesus Christ, personally, and was a full-fledged apostle. It was fourteen years later that Paul finally met all the rest of the apostles along with the Church at Jerusalem.

So, when Paul finally did get together with the whole group of apostles and elders of the Church at Jerusalem, they neither added to his message, nor changed any of it. Once they saw that the same Holy Spirit was at work in Paul as had been in Peter, they recognized full fellowship: partnership in the work of the Gospel.

What is Fellowship?

Perhaps it is not the main point here, but I think it is appropriate to point out that “giving the right hand of fellowship” does not simply mean they “shook hands”, nor, of course, does it mean they sat down to have doughnuts and coffee, while chatting about fishing, or golf, as it seems to mean in many churches today.

“Fellowship” means partnership—it means “having in common”. It means doing something—accomplishing something—in unity with another person. That is one of the reasons we are warned to not have fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness.” We are to have no partnership with evil. So, “…gave us the right hand of fellowship…” means that they recognized Paul and Barnabas as full-fledged apostles, and partners in the work of world evangelism. The Church has a job to do—one job, and one only—Evangelism. Peter and Paul and all the other Apostles and Elders knew that and embraced the job. Do you know it? Do you embrace it daily as the job we were left here to do? Give that some thought…. We are either in that same fellowship of the Gospel, or we are on the sidelines, watching.

The Conflict with Peter and the Jewish Believers

Paul still had to make it clear that his apostleship was fully equal to that of any of the other apostles…in fact, Paul later got in a conflict with Peter—and Peter was wrong. That was not Paul’s point, here: he simply is pointing out that Peter, too, was fallible; and that when Paul reproached him in his fault, he was approachable because Paul was a representative of Christ.

11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

Peter had come to Antioch. A Gentile church was there: Paul and Barnabas had planted that church, and had treated the believers there as equal brothers in Christ—which they were. Peter joined them and he ate with the Gentiles as was correct. But inwardly, he must have felt that he was on shaky ground, because when other Jews showed up, who were intent on keeping themselves separate from heathens (that is what “Gentile” means) he quit eating with the Gentiles and ate with the Jews who were separate.  Bear in mind that Peter had been quite freely eating with the Gentiles, regardless of how he may have felt about it. Remember too, back in Acts 10, Jesus had spoken fairly sternly to Peter about “calling unclean that which the Lord has made clean”. This is nothing new for Peter, but old patterns are difficult to break. (Which, of course, is a good reason for us to be patient with one another, forbearing one another in Love.)

13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

The other Jewish believers who had been there at Antioch were swayed by Peter’s example, and joined him at the separatists’ table. Even Barnabas gave in and separated himself. Notice that Paul uses the word “dissembled”: dissembling means pretending. They were pretending that they were somehow superior, because of Judaism. This is really an easy trap to fall into. (“I’m really a better person today than before I attended church. Therefore, I should hold myself separate from these heathens around me, even if they are really new Christians and they just don’t act like me. Let them clean themselves up, and then I‘ll fellowship with them. Sadly, there are churches that relate this way, not just individuals.)

So, how should we respond?

 

 

According to the Truth of the Gospel

14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Paul got up and walked over, in the presence and hearing of all, and confronted Peter. He said that Peter was demonstrating by his actions that unless the Gentiles became Jewish proselytes, they were not really part of the Body of Christ…they were “second-class believers”.

He made public the fact that Peter had been freely eating with the Gentile believers up until now. (Yow!)  He pointed out that since Peter had been eating with the Gentiles, he had no right to suggest that they were now beneath him, and that they should become Jews, in order to enjoy fellowship with Jewish believers. And Peter accepted the rebuke as being from God! That was a pretty rough situation, emotionally, I’ll bet. Perhaps the tenderness of Christ was evident enough in Paul that Peter, rather than being hurt or offended, was relieved to have been stopped from making a really costly error. I suspect that is the case, in fact, because, it really was the Lord Jesus correcting him, through Paul. We see later in Peter’s writing that he saw Paul’s writings as being scripture…so he recognized Paul as an apostle and spokesman for God. (By the way, that is what a prophet is: a “spokesman for God”—a mouthpiece for God’s Word.)

Peter may not have thought through the implications of his actions. I am sure that Barnabas had not considered the possible implications, as he was always a good-hearted brother, but I have no idea about the rest of the Jews who were there: they were evidently believers, as they “came from James”, but James (Acts 15) is the one who said the Gentile believers were completely justified by faith, and full brothers in Christ…so, at the very least, they too, had not thought through what they were doing. Perhaps it was just a reflexive response, and they were simply reverting to how they had behaved toward Gentiles in the past. Paul does not address this: he only points out that there was a brief conflict between himself and Peter, and that Peter had been the one to repent.

Paul was not telling this to discredit Peter, but to point out that Peter held no special authority, and was quite fallible, and that when he was rebuked by Paul he took it as from a messenger of God, not as from an upstart “Junior Apostle” of some sort. This is Paul’s final evidence of his own apostolic position and authority. He was not claiming to be something special, but rather giving the necessary evidence that he was indeed an apostle, “not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father”.

So, What’s the Problem With Legalism, Again?

Paul continues his argument, pointing out that the Jewish believers, who had all the advantage of the Law, by which they knew the holiness of God, still could not fulfill the Law by complete obedience, and, as believers, they knew that no man could be justified by works:

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

Paul seems to differentiate between the behavior of the believer, here, and the holiness of his God. In context, I think he is cautioning against a believer continuing in sin, but I think the deeper meaning is that the savior is not contaminated by the sin of those he saves, any more than a lifeguard is thought to be drunk, because he saves the life of a drunken swimmer.

Think back: the people and animals aboard the Ark that Noah built were all savednot because they were good…but because they were in the Ark, and, if they did wrong while they were there… (I don’t know… maybe they squabbled over some minor issue while cooped up together for over a year, say?) did that make God wrong, who saved them? Nope. Jesus is not contaminated by sinners. He saves them, he cleanses them, and they still get dirty, because they are saved sinners. But He, himself, is still utterly Holy, and untouched by the sin of those he saves.

The problem is that our sin affects others as well as ourselves. Peter’s sin could have caused the false teachings of the legalizers to be strengthened and corroborated, which would have  strengthened the hand of Satan, there in Antioch, had it not been corrected immediately.

My sin can cause other believers to stumble as well. (Give that some thought: how might your “small” sins, perhaps your language or your behavior, affect others in a “big” way?) We may leave a small obstruction in a walkway, but it can cause a terrible fall to someone who trips over it. A spilled handful of B-Bs on a stair-step, for example, could cause catastrophic damage to the person who steps on them.

The Jewish believers in this particular case, including Peter, Paul and Barnabas seem to be of good character and good intentions, but their error could have split the church, right there in its infancy. Proverbs 18:19 says “a brother offended is harder to be won over than a walled city, and his contentions are like castle bars.” They could have caused a permanent rift, there. In the intervening years, since then, many such rifts have happened.

18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

Paul’s final comment is that if he goes back to Judaism for any cause, then he demonstrates that, for all the time he seemed to exercise freedom from the Mosaic Law, he was really just a lawbreaker…a transgressor. But, the fact is; when a person is in Christ, they are no longer under the Law, period. Paul is about to expound on that theme.

Conclusion:

We need to avoid the trap of legalism, so as not to cause ourselves or others to fail to embrace God’s Grace, but we are also to guard against permissiveness in our own lives. Paul and Peter were not sinning at all by eating with the Gentile believers: they were doing right. But if a person who claims to be a believer is flagrantly sinning, we are to go to that person and correct them just as Paul corrected Peter…we are not being judgmental by doing so. We are protecting ourselves and the rest of the Body of Christ. These Gentile believers were not in sin—they simply were not Jews. They lived in ignorance of the Law that once condemned them, and probably were not even fully aware of exactly how they had been freed from that condemnation.

We will talk more about that the next time we meet, and see exactly what happened at the Cross.

 


Introduction to the Galatian Epistle

An Introduction to the Galatian Epistle

© C. O. Bishop 2014 (THCF 8/31/14)

Galatians 1:1-5

Introduction:

The letter to the Galatians is dated around 60 AD, and was possibly written from Rome (according to the Greek end-note text which may or may not actually be part of the Scripture). There seems to be a good deal of disagreement amongst scholars about where Paul was when he wrote this epistle. Some say Corinth, some Ephesus, and some Antioch. In a way, I really don’t think it matters where he was: the recipients knew it was from Paul, and they undoubtedly knew where he was at the time. One thing special about this epistle is that he personally wrote it, as opposed to having another person act as his scribe, which was his usual practice. (We will see the evidence for that in the last chapter.)

Another thing unusual about this epistle is that it was to several churches as a group; it was not addressed to a single church and then to be passed around. The recipients were the believers across the region of Galatia, a portion of what we now call Asia Minor.  They were distinguished not only by where they lived but from whence their ancestors had come. (Schofield points out that they were relatively recent immigrants from Gaul.) Also, it was a political domain; a region determined by the Roman Empire, to which all the Mediterranean area belonged. So: unlike some of the epistles which were to one church in a particular city, this was to all the churches in the region, or province, of Galatia.

Paul had heard that these believers had been targeted by false teachers who were rapidly convincing them that unless they kept the Mosaic Law, they could not be saved. This doctrine actually had begun almost immediately; as soon as the true doctrine of Grace had been preached, the legalizers were right behind it, trying to negate the work of Grace. We saw that in the Book of Acts, but people are still doing this today. Perhaps such people think they are doing something for God, but the results are terrible. The tendency of the human heart is to desire to believe that “I can save myself!” or at least, that “I can do something to earn God’s favor”. And the result is that we invariably replace Grace with works. Why? Because Grace is specifically “un-earned favor”—unmerited favor: if it is earned, it is no longer Grace: the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Consider, too, that false teachers, whether they know it or not, are partnering with the Enemy, in trying to prevent the salvation of souls. Some may genuinely think they are helping the cause of God, but Paul makes it clear that they are definitely not helping, but rather thwarting God’s plan.

One of our deacons was present when his (then) employer (a now-deceased member of this church) graciously attempted to share the Grace of God through Christ with a client (just what Galatians teaches). The client was quite wealthy, and a member of a religious sect that favors legalism over grace. When offered God’s Grace, the client answered “I don’t need that!” He pointed to a beautiful church building in the distance: “Do you see that church? I built it! My name is on it! I don’t need a savior: my position with God is secured by my works!” He was completely serious in what he was saying. It is especially sad to hear such a thing, as that man has since died, and met his maker: Did he meet his savior, or his judge? I suppose that it is possible that he had changed his mind before he died, but my guess would be that he had not. From human perspective, he may have seemed a good man: but from God’s perspective he was a lost and guilty sinner, trying to bribe the Judge. (How does that work out in our courts?)

So the temptation of legalism is not really that it adds to Grace, but that it supplants it. There are always some who hedge a little, and maintain, “Well, we are saved by Grace, but we are kept (and sanctified) by works!” This doctrine still sets aside God’s Grace, in that the Holy Spirit, indwelling the believer, is the only one who makes us holy before God (that’s sanctification), and the one who keeps us, actually sealing us in Christ until He, himself, comes to retrieve us.

The simple fact remains that if at any point my salvation or my sanctification is dependent upon my works, then ultimately both are entirely dependent upon my works, as the works are unquestionably the “weak link” in that chain.

These are the two errors Paul was writing to correct, but he had other things to teach the churches, as well. He revealed things, here, about his personal testimony that we do not find elsewhere. He let us know how he himself received the Gospel. He gave the believers instructions as to how to walk with God.

Galatians Chapter 1, verses 1-5

1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Paul clearly states his credentials in the opening verse, and then goes on to substantiate them later on. To begin with, he says that he is an apostle. The word “apostle” means “sent one”…a person sent as an ambassador, a representative, and a messenger. So he is sent by someone and is representing someone…not even necessarily the same one. An ambassador is usually appointed, not elected, so that ambassador may be representing a nation, none of whose citizens ever personally approved his appointment, or possibly even have heard of him. (Who is the United States ambassador to Peru right now? Or to France? The fact is, they are representing your government, but you don’t know who they are, let alone having elected them, chosen them or sent them.)

But Paul said that he is not an apostle of men…not representing any humans, as an ambassador. He also says that he is not sent by man. No human sent him. He says that he was sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him (Jesus) from the dead. He is an ambassador of Christ. He has stated his credentials—he is divinely chosen, divinely appointed, and divinely sent. He will tell us more later on.

2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:

Paul continues his formal greeting in the same general format he always uses (“Paul [and whoever else] to [whomever is receiving the letter]”). This was a pretty standard salutation in letter-writing at that time, though it may seem odd to us. We have other examples of letters in the Bible, written at about the same time and in similar location, and they all follow a similar style.

Paul has already listed himself as the speaker, and now he lumps the rest of the people with him into one group greeting the recipients: “all the brethren which are with me”.  We don’t know the names of the brethren who were with Paul at that time. Paul was not being personal here; he was being polite. But who is the letter to? This epistle is slightly unusual as it is clearly directed to all the churches in a general area, rather than a single church. We will also notice that in the closing, in chapter six; rather than passing along greetings to individuals as he frequently did, it is entirely impersonal, beyond the fact that he addresses them all as his “brethren”, thus recognizing that they are born-again individuals.

It may or may not be important to remember that the churches were each autonomous…self-supporting and self governing: he did not address himself to the “Abbot of Galatia”, or the “Archbishop of Galatia”, but to the Churches, plural. There was no central authority over a group of churches. Jesus is the head of the Church, period! And the Church universal is made up of all the believers from all the local assemblies in history.

Furthermore, we discover in other passages that when he gave the assignment to Timothy and Titus to “build up” the churches and “set things in order”, he said to “ordain elders (plural) in every church (singular)”. So all the churches to which Paul was writing had multiple leaders, and he did not address this letter to any of them. He addressed it to the churches: the assembled believers. The elders and deacons were simply part of those churches. There was no special hierarchy whereby the leaders got special attention from apostles. To put it bluntly; if you are a born-again believer, today, then this letter is to YOU. Take it personally!

Grace and Peace

3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,

Even though, in every case, the people he was writing to were already believers, Paul always listed these blessings in this same order… in every case it is Grace, then Peace. That is the order in which we receive those two. In Salvation, we receive God’s Grace (which was extended to us in the person of Christ) through faith, and, as a result, we are permanently at peace with God. (Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:8, 9) This is a positional truth: Once you have placed your faith in him for salvation, the Grace of God is permanently and unconditionally applied to your life, and you have Peace with God, forever. Believe it!

As believers, we place our trust in Christ daily for wisdom, guidance and sustenance…or we don’t. He sustains us daily by His Grace, and we have the peace of God…or we don’t: the choice, daily, moment by moment, is our own. (Philippians 4:6-9) Those two are intertwined, but the order is always “Grace then Faith, resulting in Peace”. In the believer’s daily life, they are always conditional upon continuing faith and obedience. The Peace of God is Conditional.

We will soon focus on the second aspect of Grace, but it may be good to remember at this point that, while the Law came through Moses (John 1:17), Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. And Peace always follows Grace. So how would the recipients of the Law have found Peace? They could only find Peace through Grace, even in the time of Moses. Noah, roughly 1500 years before Moses, found Grace in the eyes of God. That is where his peace came from. The Law had not been given…but Grace had preceded the Law. And it has been the only path to God ever since the Fall of Man.

Adam lived long before either Noah or Moses was born: long before the giving of the Mosaic Law. The only Law he had known was the one command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (“In the day that thou eat it, thou shalt surely die.”) He broke that one command, and plunged himself and all his progeny into ruin. Spiritually, he died on the spot. God says in Revelation 13:8 that the preparation had already been made for the salvation of the Human Race: Jesus is the Lamb slain from the Foundation of the Earth…not from the Fall of Man.  So how was Adam saved?

Genesis 3:7-20 God responded to the Sin of the human race with the Curse—it affected the snake, proper (no more legs, no more nice food; permanent enmity between snakes and people…as a rule) it affected Satan the “Old Serpent” in a way a little harder to see, but you will notice that the Promise of the “Seed of Woman”, coming to crush the Serpent’s head, is not directed to the offspring of the snake, but to the Serpent, proper. (“He will crush YOUR head!”) It affected the woman, causing pain in childbirth AND an ongoing struggle between the woman and the man…the “desire” mentioned here is not an affectionate or a passionate desire, but a desire to control…and it has had a permanent affect on history. The Curse affected the Ground, for Adam’s sake; it would no longer easily bear fruit for the human race. And, finally, it affected Adam along with the whole creation; death had come, and all things were now destined to die.

Adam could have just collapsed in the glare of God’s wrath, and died without hope…but he saw hope in the wording of the Curse, and he believed God. He named his wife “Eve” (mother of all the living) because he believed in the Coming Savior—the Seed of Woman! That is faith! In fact, it was specifically saving faith. God recognized it and covered their sins with a blood sacrifice. He killed animals in place of the humans, and clothed them with the skins of the dead sacrifice.

Abel understood the family history correctly, and he brought a blood sacrifice. So have all the believers in history. Those of the Old Testament were all looking forward to a coming Savior, ultimately looking forward to the Cross, though probably (mostly) they did not really understand what was to come. We believers in the New Testament era are looking back to the Cross, and our blood sacrifice, like theirs, is the Person of Christ. My opinion is that we probably don’t completely understand what happened at the Cross, either—but we believe God, and trust in the shed Blood of the Savior. He extended His Grace through the Cross—and that is the only way He has ever done it. We humans have always been saved by Grace, through Faith, plus nothing.

So what about Jesus’ death at the Cross?

What really did happen there? What was accomplished? What was the intent?

4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

We know that He died for our sins, and we frequently act as though it was just to save us from the eternal consequences of our sins…but here he says that he died for us that he might deliver us from this present evil world (or age)…and that this, in fact, is the will of God, our Heavenly Father. If that is so, then in order to fulfill God’s will in our lives we should see the grip of this World loosening its hold upon us; and our lives more and more reflecting the Person of Christ.

If all Jesus has managed to do in your life is to save you from Hell, then God’s Will is not being carried out in your life. I’m not being critical…this is what God says about the crucifixion.

Have you been born again? If so, are you also being delivered from the grip of the World on your life, your thoughts, and your morals? There are three aspects of salvation:

  1. The first aspect, we already mentioned…we have been saved (past tense) from the eternal penalty of sin. God will never again seek to administer judgment for our sins, as His justice was fully poured out at the Cross.
  2. The second aspect doesn’t get talked about as much, but it is just as real, and here, remember, he clearly states that it is the will of God, who has already saved us and made us his children: He wants us to be saved (present tense) from the power of sin in our lives—to be delivered from the present effect of Satan, the World, and our old sin natures. That is why we need constant direction from the Holy Spirit, constant feeding on God’s Word, and constant shepherding by Christ himself.
  3. The third is the one we are all looking forward to: He will eventually (future tense) save us from the presence of sin, so that we are no longer tormented, and will finally live in the full reality of the holiness that he has placed upon us.

Conclusion:

I can see all three tenses of salvation listed in John 5:24 “Whoever hears my words and believes in Him who sent me has (present tense) eternal life, and shall not (future tense) come into condemnation, but has crossed over (past tense…perfect tense, specifically) from death into life.”  (Perfect tense implies a completed action at a past point in time, having permanent results for the future.)

If I have believed in Jesus’ shed blood as full payment for my sin, then I have eternally been saved from the penalty of sin. I have crossed over from death into life. The result for my future is that I will never be condemned by God. Please notice carefully that there are no “qualifiers” listed here: nothing that says “unless, or except”, or anything of the kind. I have eternal life, and God expects me to be living as one resurrected from the dead. He says this “is the will of God and our Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”

5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

You know, given the facts he has just alluded to, and which we have discussed a little more directly, it seems impossible that anyone would not want to give Glory to God for the things he has done. He has poured out his Grace, unearned, and undeserved, upon us. Though we continually rebel against His Grace and His righteousness, He continues to Keep us, and cleanse us, and use us for His Glory. We can either honor Him with our lives, day by day, or fail to do so.

Keep that in mind when you sing hymns of Praise…He is worthy of every bit we can offer, and far, far more. (Amen!)

Father, change our lives into the likeness of Christ and cause us to live for your Glory. Amen!