Posts Tagged ‘Legalizers’

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.


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.


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.

 


Inside-Out Theology

“Inside-Out” Theology

© C. O. Bishop 10/25/14 THCF 10/26/14


Galatians 2:1-5; Matthew 23:13-29

Introduction:

We have come a fair way with the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians: we know what his primary concerns were, in his writing to them; namely that his authority came from God, not Man, and that the gift of Eternal Life was just that: a gift, neither earned by any sort of works, nor to be maintained by human effort.

Paul’s Message

As we begin chapter two, keep in mind that Paul’s purpose is to confirm in the reader’s mind that

  1. The authority of his message is the Word of God, not humans, and that
  2. Legalism is not from God.
  3. Those who preach legalism are also not from God.

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Paul’s first major contact with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, the remaining nine apostles, and whoever else was in Jerusalem, after his own conversion, was fourteen years after the first, minor contact. Barnabas and he had taken along with them Titus, who was a Gentile believer. Paul holds Titus up as proof that the Apostles accepted him as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace, without any outward mark of conversion.

Paul had talked privately with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, to make sure that they were not at odds with one another. As it turned out, there was no problem. The Judaizers (legalizers) did show up, however, and try to convince the leadership that the Gentile believers needed to become Jewish proselytes to be saved. It is really odd: what they were essentially saying is that it did not matter what God did inside a man—it was what people do on the outside that counted for eternity. Doesn’t that seem monumentally backward? Well it did to Paul, too.

Paul pointed out, using Titus as the example, that he had not subjected himself or Titus to their insistence at all, so that the truth would not be muddled. (Contrast this with Romans 14, 15 where the strong try not to cause the weak to stumble. These were not “weak believers” – they were false teachers…not believers at all.)

One counterpoint that gets mentioned frequently is the fact that Paul did circumcise Timothy. The difference was that Timothy was technically a Jew who had been raised by a Gentile Dad. I was unaware of this until a Jewish believer, a Godly woman, was in a Bible Study I was teaching, and informed me that, from the Jewish perspective, “Jewish-ness” is passed on through the mother, not the father. So Timothy was a Jewish young man, from Jewish perspective, and had been raised in a severely limiting environment. Perhaps Paul felt that embracing his heritage in that way would make him better able to serve. But Titus, who was strictly a Gentile had no such heritage to embrace, and was better off remaining as he was.

In both cases, the physical state had no effect whatever on the Spiritual reality. Both were Godly young men, setting out to serve the Risen Christ. Both honored God in their flesh, and neither was any closer to God because of the physical status of their body. The Legalizers desire to coerce others to conform to their own legalistic values, and 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.

So, What did Jesus say?

Do you think Jesus was silent on this matter? Think back—from whom did he encounter the most opposition? The Established leaders of the Jewish Religion, right? The Pharisees. The Sadducees hated him too, but they were the liberals of the day, and actually rejected the concept of a literal resurrection, any sort of spiritual reality, and angelic existence, for starters. The Pharisees were the conservatives of the day, and they supposedly believed the whole counsel of God, but were going to interpret it in such a way that they themselves were put firmly in command, and everyone else had to follow their lead. (Sound familiar? It happens a lot today, too, doesn’t it?)

So, when Jesus preached His Gospel of Grace, both sides hated it, but for different reasons. The Sadducees were just wrong about so much that he spent very little time on them: he exposed their error, and left them to stew in their own juice. But the Pharisees, along with their companions the scribes—the intellectually religious of the day—who claimed to believe all of God’s Word, He confronted over and over, as total hypocrites. Think about some of his accusations against them:

Inside-Out Theology

(Matthew 23:13-29) Woe to you scribes, and Pharisees:

  1. Hypocrites (seven times in this passage)…remember that “hypocrite” means an actor—a professional phony; a pretender.
  2. Blind; blind guides (five times)
  3. Fools; (two times)
  4. You close up the kingdom of Heaven against Men; you won’t go in yourselves and won’t let anyone else enter. Remember, we pointed out earlier that anyone teaching a works-earned-salvation was actually serving to keep people out of heaven. Jesus said so, right here. The Pharisees, convinced of their own righteousness, and willfully ignorant of the righteousness of God, were not only satisfied that they really did not need a savior, but refused to let anyone else have one. They were, in fact, partnering with Satan, as we pointed out earlier.
  5. You devour widows’ houses (buying up the land of the poor, leaving them with no way to earn a living) and, for pretense, make long prayers. They were making an outward show of piety, but doing things that are patently self-serving. They looked good on the outside, but their motives were evil.
  6. You practice Proselytism, but not Evangelism. Jesus did not use these words at all: he described the behavior. Even so, that sounds strange—why would one be different than the other?If I am preaching the honest Gospel of Christ, the “good news” of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, along with the truth that all God asks us to do is to believe in his chosen sacrifice for salvation, then the only thing that can happen is that, if they believe it, God makes them over into His That’s Evangelism.If I go out with the “good news” of my particular organization, church, para-church organization, etc., creed, or whatever; the probable outcome is that certain people will join the church, because they see the social advantages, but they will never believe the gospel, because, (a) I didn’t preach it, and (b) they do not see a need for a savior. They are being made over into my image, and a poor copy at that. That is Proselytism.The Jews were practicing what they considered to be “evangelism”. Jesus said they “compass land and sea to make one proselyte” but that the result was people even more confused and lost than the false preachers who led them into Judaism. They did not preach the Grace of the God of Israel. They apparently did preach His holiness, to some degree, but slyly pointed out that we can “get around” the sin issue, by “just” keeping the Law. Then, once someone was snared by this false gospel, they had to do more and more works, trying to please a God who simply was not impressed. They could not keep the law, and were even more devastated by the attempt than were the ones who trained them.Jesus said “you make him twofold more the child of Hell than yourselves” So he labeled the false teachers and those who followed them as “children of Hell.” This is nothing new: he had already called them children of the Devil…John 8:44. God was not impressed with them or their religious works, especially not their brand of “evangelism”.
  7. You diminish the Temple of God by exalting the outward trappings in place of the inward reality. This starts to get close to the real heart issue: They did not see the house of God as being as important as the gold decorations in that house. They did not see the Owner of the home as being as important as his tableware! How incredibly insulting to God, and how clearly revealing as to where their true heart was.They thought the outward trappings were more important than the inward reality. Remember that Solomon’s Temple was relatively small, but incredibly richly ornate. However, the only thing that was important was the fact that God moved in and took up residence. Also, the second temple, though far less glorious, shared that unique difference: God resided there! Even the Renovated second Temple, renovated by an ungodly King, over a period of 46 years, still carried the name of the House of God—Jesus referred to it as “My Father’s House”, but in the same breath accused the Pharisees and their companions of having “made it a den of thieves”. Incidentally, Ezekiel, in three stages, had been burdened with the vision of the Spirit of God leaving that temple, and leaving Israel; so, in the most important sense the temple was already gone, as the “home-owner” had given it up. Historically, of course, we know that 40 years later it was completely destroyed.Think though: in the sense of the Church-age, the Church proper is THE temple of God, in the New Testament, and the physical body of each believer is each individually the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. So, we have to ask: what matters more; the outside, or the inside? Does it matter more that a person wears a certain kind of clothing, drives a certain kind of car, or cuts their hair a certain way, does (or does not) do certain things on certain days, eats or does not eat certain foods, etc., or does it matter most where God is (inside or outside) in relation to that individual? And, finally, whether He is allowed to actually reign in his chosen temple? Think about that one.
  8. You Major in the Minors: You give accurately in areas that matter hardly at all, but not at all in areas that matter deeply. People put a lot of emphasis on whether a person formally and publicly prays before meals. Even that is an outward trapping. Unbelievers can do this as well as believers. People say they “pray all the time”…so do the pagans, and some more than others. Jesus was not impressed with how much of the worlds’ goods were being given back by the Pharisees, but how much of themselves were given back (or not). He said you have left out the things that matter; justice, mercy and faith. A good heart in the major things will dictate a good heart in the minor things, too. The reverse is not true. He said they were blind guides who were fastidiously picking a tiny bug out of their food and yet swallowing something that would make any normal person choke (a camel). A person genuinely concerned about the cleanliness of their food would obviously take out the biggest things first, but not fail to also remove the small things.
  9. You clean and polish the outer man, leaving the inner man unchanged. They were so concerned with the trappings of holiness, the outward symbols, that they had utterly abandoned the reality of holiness in the inner man. He said they “clean the outside of the cup” but that the inside was filled with extortion and excess.There is no way a person can put such things as extortion in a physical cup; the obvious metaphor is the human life. They made the outer man look good, but the inner man was unchanged, or even getting worse. He compared them to whitewashed tombs that looked pretty on the outside because of the whitewash, but they were ignoring the fact of the deadness within. He made it completely clear what he meant, because he bluntly stated, “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
  10. You glorify the tombs of the prophets instead of glorifying the Word of the God who sent them. This one would be easy to miss: what’s wrong with honoring the dead? Well, nothing.But let’s say I made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I lay a wreath on his grave, and I publicly engage in prayer there, shedding a pretentious tear, but in fact I was a raging racist myself? Wouldn’t the people who knew the reality be offended that I was defiling his grave by my pretense? And yet this happens every year. People who are publicly extremely racist and divisive visit the grave of Dr. King, and make a public show of mourning his death, while despising his stand for brotherhood and equality irrespective of race. The only thing they really shared with him is the color of their skin…they despised what he actually stood for.The people Jesus to whom spoke were honoring the dead prophets by building monuments over their graves…but ignoring the words for which those prophets had died. A better tribute would have been to embrace the truth for which they died.

 

Jesus spoke to a group of false teachers, the Pharisees, and condemned them for their hypocrisy, their blindness, their folly, and their evil, unbelieving hearts. Paul echoed that teaching, here in Galatians, as he pointed out the hypocrisy, blindness and folly of the legalizers who attempted to force the Gentile believers to become Jews in order to please God. They too are false teachers, and he has already warned us as to where they stand with God: they are accursed!

Conclusion:

We will constantly be tempted to engage in legalism at one level or another: it pleases our old sin nature to believe that “I can do good things for God on my own!” The fact is we cannot…the old nature is completely opposed to God, and cannot be subjected to Him. The new nature is born again in the image of God, and knows it cannot achieve right standing before God. That right standing is what Jesus supplied at the Cross. There is nothing I can do to improve it.

Think: as your first-born child began to learn to walk, was he or she any less or more your child? Did you love him any more or less because he was learning to walk? Of course not, but you were pleased at his infant efforts, and saw it as evidence of healthy growth. God sees our efforts in a similar vein. I am not more pleasing to God because of my efforts to please him. And, if those efforts became my primary focus, instead of seeking to know him and worship him, then my relationship with Him would be set aside, and my relationship with the Law would be all that was left. This is what Paul warned against.

The Judaizers and legalizers who preyed upon the infant church sought to enslave it, not set it free. Paul was determined that it should remain free. We have to watch our own hearts to stay free from legalism, even today. It is so easy to think, “Well, I know I have a better walk with God than he does, because I (…fill in the blank).” The fact is; if your relationship with God is all about works, you may not even be a believer. If, on the other hand, your works are all about Jesus, and responding to him, then the peace of God should be seen in your life, as well.

If that is not the living, growing reality, in your life, then perhaps you need to re-examine the core issues.

God help us to recognize the difference between zeal for the person of Christ, and zeal for the trappings of orthodoxy. Help us to be ambassadors of Christ, not sales representatives for a church. Help us to feed on your Grace daily, and offer that Grace to the World around us in the Person of the Savior.

Amen


God’s Curse on Preachers of a false Gospel

Amazing Folly and an Awful Curse

© C. O. Bishop 9/12/14 (THCF 9/14/14)

Galatians 1:6-9;

Introduction:

One of the things we can see, early in the preaching ministry of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:42-45, 50; Acts 14:4, 5, 19; Acts 15:1, 2, 5-11; etc.) is that the unbelieving Jews were violently opposed to the preaching of Grace, especially since it was associated with the person of Jesus Christ. They felt quite sensitive, nationally, regarding Jesus. They were keenly aware that as a nation they had given him over to the Romans, to be crucified. But even the Jews who claimed to believe the Gospel were pretty insistent that the Gentiles had to effectively become Jews to be saved—undergo circumcision, and keep the Law.

Today, we might be inclined to think that this was specifically a Jewish problem, because, after all, why would a Gentile, to whom the Law was never given, try to make everyone keep it? But the fact is: the problem of legalism is universal among humans. We all want to believe that we can please God in our flesh—that we can clean up our lives and devise our own means of approaching God; and that He, on His part, will be ever so grateful that we humans have deigned to give Him our attention. Doesn’t something sound wrong about that?

Doesn’t that sound, in fact, quite backward? If God is really the sovereign master of all things, doesn’t it follow that HE, not we, should determine the “rules”, so to speak? When you go into a human courtroom, do you tell them how it is to be run, or do they tell you? When you hire on with human employers, do you tell them how their business is to be conducted, or do they tell you your job? Pretty silly questions, are they not? And yet, for some reason, we humans think we ought to be able to make up our own “truths” concerning God, and that He should then toe the line and be whatever we imagine Him (or her?) to be. Cain thought he could make the rules, too, even though he knew what God had decreed. King Saul kept fudging the truth, and twisting the words of God, to justify himself. This is the “default value” for the entire human race. We think we are in charge, and will, at the very least, “rewrite the script” so that we can seem righteous.

The fact is, God does tell us how things really stand between us and Him: and it isn’t a good story. That is the “bad news”, in fact, that makes the Gospel “Good News”. He says, “…all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God” Romans 3:23 (That’s bad news!). He also says, “The wages of Sin is Death…” (More bad news!) Fortunately, He further says, “…but the gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) That is the bad news and the Good news, and both are pretty clear:

  1. We are all condemned to die, because of sin, and
  2. Eternal life is only available as a gift from God, through Jesus Christ…period.

That is simple enough for anyone to understand and for any of us to share. And that is the message these folks had already heard and believed.

Amazing Folly

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

The folks to whom Paul was directing this letter (remember, it is to us, too!) had all originally heard and understood  and believed that Gospel message; that is why he calls them “brethren”, in verse eleven and other places. He clearly states (later on) that they had received the Lord by faith—that they had been saved by the Grace of God. And his question comes straight from his heart: “Why on earth would you toss aside a precious gift like that and try to build your own salvation?” He says, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you unto the Grace of Christ, unto another Gospel!”

Paul could have been referring to the fact that he himself had called them via the True Gospel of Grace, but I tend to think he is referring to God, possibly in the person of the Holy Spirit. He told the church in Ephesus that there is only “one hope of our calling” (Ephesians 4:4)—so I think that if the hope of the calling is the same for all believers, then the caller has to be the same for all believers, as well. Romans 8:29, 30 states clearly that every believer is called by God. If God called you to Himself, to receive eternal life by Grace, though faith, then to turn your face in any other direction is to “turn away from Him who called you”. Paul was shocked to hear that they had already fallen prey to the legalizers who had followed him and Barnabas around, trying to dilute or supplant the message of Grace. (There is a God-given purpose for the Law: we will see later what that purpose is: but it cannot save. Only grace can save!)

Paul points out right away that there is really only one “good news” that is from God.  The people preaching “Grace plus Law”, or “Law instead of Grace”, or whatever combination they came up with, were not really bringing a “different gospel”—they were subverting the faith of believers who had been on a right pathway, and perverting the Gospel of Grace so that it was no longer good news at all.

So what happened? How could anyone toss aside a great offer like that?

As it turns out, the idea that “I can (and/or must) do something to please God in order to be saved” appeals to our sin nature. We like the idea that we can control our destiny. People write poetry about it. (“Invictus”, by William Henley, is a prime example, where the writer grimly boasts “I am the master of my fate –I am the captain of my soul!” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! But we want to believe it. This is nothing new.

Consider Genesis 3:7-10

We saw in the Garden that the very first response of Adam and his wife, when they discovered that they had become sinners, was to attempt to cover their own sin with the works of their own hands. (Remember the fig leaves?) They saw that they were naked (awareness of guilt), and they sewed together fig leaves to make aprons with which to cover their nakedness. On a horizontal, strictly human level, as they saw each other, they may have felt that the effort was quite successful…perhaps they even congratulated themselves that their new outfits were “…quite stylish…definitely an improvement over plain skin, don’t you think?.”

But what happened when God showed up? Remember, they “heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day” (by the way, as we discovered earlier, that was the pre-incarnate Jesus, in person)…and what was their response? They ran and hid. Why?

They themselves answered that question: “We were afraid, because…we were naked.” The human works accomplished nothing at all, when God was in the picture…they were still naked in His sight…and they knew it. By the way, God is always “in the picture!” We are never hidden from His sight. The only covering we can ever have is the one He provided, at the Cross. When we sing the Hymn, “The Solid Rock”, we say “When Christ shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!” We need to be clothed by Him. Adam and Eve believed God, and He clothed them in the skin of the first blood sacrifice, looking forward to the Cross, still 4000 years in the future.

God warned the believers at Laodicea (Revelation 3) that they were poor and wretched and naked. They were believers…but had become accustomed to clothing themselves in their own, home-grown, self-justifying self-righteousness. And Jesus was warning them that they were just as naked as if they weren’t saved at all. It is even possible that some of the “members” there were not believers. But the warning was to a church, not a city council. We have to assume that the majority of the people he was warning were simply backslidden Christians.

God is Very Serious about the Gospel

What does Paul say about these folks who want to “re-write the Gospel” to make it read, “Well, yes, sin is pretty bad, all right; so you need to do a lot of good works to make God accept you.”? Or those who say, “Well, yes, Jesus died for your sins all right, but if you expect Him to keep you, you’ll have to do enough good works to earn your keep.”? Here is what He says:

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Accursed!

This is a pretty strong statement. Let’s think through what he is saying, and consider why He says it. We have already determined that Paul was speaking to the believers in the province of Galatia. Actually, as we read through the missionary journeys of Paul, we can see that Paul probably led a lot of these people to Christ—his second missionary journey led through their area, at least, and some of the towns he preached in were definitely in that area.

He knew they started off with the pure Gospel, because he himself had personally delivered it to them. The Gospel he preached was the good news that:

  1. Jesus Christ died as full payment for their sins, and that
  2. He was buried, and that
  3. He rose again the third day, and that
  4. All God was asking them to do was to believe His word regarding that full payment, and trust in Him for salvation.

So, how can someone be deceived, and drawn away from such a clear message? Why would someone find legalism attractive at any level?

The Legalizers

The fact is, we are the willing victims of our own sin, and we are willingly deceived:

  1. by our own deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9),
  2. by the Evil World in which we live, (1st John 2:15-17) and
  3. by Satan himself, the original Deceiver. (Revelation 20:7, 8, 10)

We are not able to save ourselves, nor can we even bring a clean sacrifice to a Holy God. Everything we touch is contaminated by our sin. But we don’t like to admit that; not even quietly, to ourselves…especially not to anyone else.

So when someone comes along and says that we have to do something special for God, in order to be saved, we jump to believe it. It makes sense to us. Everything has a price, after all! But we do not realize the unfathomable riches of God’s Grace, and the fact that the price we offer, no matter how dear, is a laughable pittance, contaminated by sin at best, and an mortal insult to One who gave His only begotten Son for us.

Consider how you would feel, had your son or daughter willingly sacrificed his or her life to save someone else from death, and that person later offered you money: not as a gift of thanks, but to “pay for” the life of your child. What value could you settle on as being a “right price?”  (Give that one some thought!) To a good parent, there is no amount, as a payment, that would be satisfactory, when their life had been given as a gift. It is an insult to even consider such a thing. It cheapens the gift, and despises the giver. Would you ever be able to forgive a person who tried such a thing?

As a matter of fact, God does offer forgiveness even for that sin…but he does not take kindly to folks who deliberately lead others astray, and thus keep them from receiving his Grace. He sees it pretty much the same as we would. People whose children have died from drug abuse do not think kindly of drug dealers, do they? And God has seen every single one of the human race who are precious to Him, dead because of Sin. He has given his own life to save them, and here is someone trying to turn people away from His Grace? What would your reaction be?

The fact is that God has placed a curse on anyone who ispersuading people to:

  • Deny their sin (saying that Jesus died needlessly, in his/her particular case)
  • Replace Grace with Works (thus offering a payment for His gift), or
  • Adulterate Grace with Works (thus denying that the gift of Christ was enough).

He minces no words, here! If you teach some other Gospel (one of those three listed options) then you are in deep trouble with God. God makes the rules! No one has the right to change them. Also, don’t get the idea that the “rules changed”, in moving from the Old Testament to the New:

  • No one has ever been saved by works. Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. Adam believed God, and God clothed him in the skin of a blood sacrifice.
  • No one has ever been kept by works. Ezekiel says that if you depend on your own righteousness, then the day you sin, all your righteousness will be rendered void, and you will die for your sin. (Ezekiel 33:13)
  • The only thing different is how people are to express their faith. The Old Testament believers looked forward to a coming sacrifice they only vaguely understood. They offered the required blood sacrifice for sin, believing that God would honor His Word. We look back with a completed revelation, to a sacrifice we still only vaguely understand. We believe that God will honor His Word, and we, too, trust in Jesus’ blood at the Cross.
  • Both groups—Old and New— are utterly dependent upon the Grace of God. Both are saved by that Grace…through Faith.

God says if it is byGrace, then it is not by works—and if it is by works, then it is not by Grace. The two are mutually exclusive. (Romans 11:6) The only good works that God asks of us are as a result of having already received His priceless gift. The gift was not to be earned by works, neither is it kept by works. It is all by Grace. We only serve out of Love and thanksgiving.

Conclusion:

We saw earlier that whenever a person preaches against Grace, and supplants it with Law; that person, whether they know it or not, is working with Satan to prevent the salvation of lost people, and to prevent the effective service of believers who have already trusted in God’s grace.

Can you see why God would feel strongly about the practice of mixing Law with Grace for either Salvation or Sanctification? It cannot result in either Salvation for the unbeliever or Holiness for the believer. In both cases, it results in slavery to outward demands of legalism, and in the unbeliever’s case, it results in eternal loss in the lake of fire. What a horrible thing to do to other people!

So, how can we apply this idea? The most obvious thing is that when someone comes to my door telling me that I need to approach God differently than what it says right here, I will know that they are under a curse. I will not believe them, nor “study with them”, or anything else they want me to do. They are under a curse, and all I can offer them is the Mercy of God through the Cross.

We also need to be wary of “human wisdom” that suggests a “sure-fire plan” by which we can make ourselves acceptable before God. There is no such thing. God’s plan is very simple, and (possibly) boring: We are to trust God for salvation, through Jesus’ finished work at the Cross. We are then to trust him daily for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we study His written Word, and learn obedience. No magic, here, folks…the song “trust and obey” pretty well says it all.

In my own life, if I catch myself thinking that the things I am doing are somehow “making me OK with God”, then I can back off and remind myself that the Blood of Jesus is the ONLY thing that can make me acceptable in His sight.

Finally, if I find myself judging other believers because they “aren’t living up to my standards”, I can be reminded that they, too, are under the Blood, and that God is able to make them stand. They are serving Him, not me.

May the Lord help us to recognize Law and Grace, and keep the two concepts separate. Amen!