Posts Tagged ‘works’

What Examples do We Follow?

What Examples do We Follow?

© C. o. Bishop, 2/9/2018 THCF 2/11/2018

Hebrews 13:7-9

Introduction:

We have been slowly working our way through the Epistle to the Hebrews. We have finally reached the last chapter, and we are reading the writer’s instructions to the Hebrew believers. The epistle has presented a series of comparisons, where Jesus is compared to the Old Testament figures of the Messiah—foreshadowings of the real person who was to come. There were the Prophets who spoke the living Word to the people…and were usually ignored, and eventually killed. There was the Temple and the tabernacle, each of which was loaded with pre-figures of the redemption that the coming Messiah would deliver to the World. There were Angels, revered as the messengers of God, above whom the Messiah is recognized to be not only their Commanding officer, but their actual creator…God himself!

A total of seven such comparisons were made, and, in every case, Jesus was shown to be infinitely superior to the Old Testament pictures, just as virtually anything we can see is far superior to a grainy, scratched, black and white photograph, from an old-time “Brownie” camera.

But the writer in making no more comparisons.

A total of seven warnings were also given, evidently to those unsettled in their faith… specifically, to those dabbling in faith, but convinced in their own minds, that, “If things don’t work out”, they could still go back to the Jewish religion of the Law. The writer makes it clear that, if they reject the real Lamb of God…the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, then there was no animal sacrifice they could turn to, for redemption.

They must either make a clear “step” from believing in the old sacrifices as being God-ordained (and they were!) to placing their faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and pictures, or…they would have nowhere to turn. Seven such warnings were given, becoming more stern and serious as they progressed.

But the writer is offering no more warnings.

He is only offering instructions for real believers, now: He began in Hebrews 12:1, and continues to the end of the epistle. We are in Hebrews chapter 13, now, and considering just three verses, today; Hebrews 13:7-9.

The Example of the Church Leaders and Teachers.

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

This in an admonition to look to the local church leaders and teachers—the elders, or overseers—the shepherds or pastors—as examples of how to live our lives. We are to learn from them a living faith, not just a head-knowledge of appropriate doctrine. The writer says to consider the results of how they live. I take this as a warning, personally, that I am to live in a way that will not lead someone else astray. Peter also said that the elders were to live as examples for the flock. (1st Peter 5:1-3) Quite honestly, I find that command very intimidating. I don’t know whether I can fulfil that command. All I can do, again, is to throw myself on the mercy of God, and seek his guidance daily.

Have there been shepherds who did a good job? Certainly, there have been. Moses was an excellent example. Was he perfect? Nope. God never said he was. But he did say that, among all the people of God, “Moses was faithful!” That is quite a testimony, coming from God.

Joshua, whom Moses trained, was also an excellent example. There were only two times when he should have asked God’s direction and failed to do so. The first was disastrous, the second only a continuing burden for Israel. But there was not a single recorded instance of his disobedience to God. Joshua was the first (and best) of the Judges.

Samuel was the last of the Judges, and was right up there with Joshua. There is no record of any disobedience on his part…only that he failed to raise his sons in a godly manner. (Actually, only that they turned out rather badly. God does not say, (as He did in the case of Eli) that Samuel had done a bad job. Most of the Judges had some personal problems, in spite of their faith and service.

Moses followed God. Joshua followed Moses’s example, and learned, in his own life, to follow God. That is the kind of example God calls the elders to provide. In fact, he gives a peculiar assignment, to the elders, to go along with the command to live as examples for the flock: he tells then to find reliable men and deliberately disciple them, training them to follow along and feed the flock as well. (2nd Timothy 2:2) The elders are to produce other elders, as well as shepherding the flock.

Leaders are not “made by” seminaries and Bible colleges, though such institutions can help with schooling. Many men and women, however, who completed theological training subsequently have fallen prey to the enemy, through temptation of one sort or another, and become shipwrecked…a castaway: still part of God’s flock, but no longer able to serve. Church leadership is trained up within the church. Human credentials are neither part of the qualifications nor part of the responsibilities.

He says we are to consider the “end” of the lifestyle of the elders: does it honor God, as a general result? Then it is a good thing to emulate. Does it consistently point you to the Bible for authority, rather than itself? Does it always point you to a better walk with Christ? Then it is a good example to follow.

The Example of Jesus

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. 

I’m not completely sure why this verse is here…the only thing I know to do is to connect it with the previous command, “…consider the end of their conversation”. The result of a consistent walk with God should be that an observer sees the person of Christ in the believer’s life. And Jesus has not changed, throughout the ages. The character of the believers’ lives in the time of Abraham was the same as it is supposed to be, today. Godliness is not just a matter of piety, but rather the Agapé love of God, along with His righteousness, and holiness, flowing through a believer into the World around them. He hasn’t changed.

Once, when I was in Bible School, I was struggling with the concept of having a love for God. He still seemed too abstract for me to love, not to mention the fact that I still had no concept of what the Agape love really was. I was looking for a feeling of “loving God.” As I was pondering this lack in my life, I was praying while I studied the scriptures, and it occurred to me to say, “I have a hard time loving what I can’t see!”  (Actually, that is quite Biblical, though I didn’t know it!)  But as I prayed, it suddenly occurred to me that I could see Jesus in a somewhat older fellow student who had kindly taken me under his wing, and was lovingly drawing me along to a more stable walk with God. He offered no condemnation for my worldly, foolish former life, but just encouraged me to move forward. The man’s name was Bob Mulloy, and he has served for nearly 40 years now in Indonesia, as a missionary. That memory is still precious to me, because I am now aware that his loving example was what drew me along, specifically because I could see in him the living Christ.

On a personal level, I think it is important to constantly self-examine: 1st John 1:5, 6 says, “this, then, is the message which we have heard of Him and declare unto you; that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” If I am not walking in the light, then I am not in fellowship with God. He goes on to say, in verse seven, “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” This is something to strive for and to maintain.

Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. 

This is a warning, peculiar to believers; there will always be those who teach “strange doctrines”. They come up with odd, obscure references and interpret them in such a way as to bring believers into bondage regarding food, clothing, and rituals of various sorts. None of those things have any real effect on the believer’s life. Grace, not external trivia, is to be the core issue for us. The writer points out, in passing, that the Jews had the dietary laws, and kept them, but it did not profit them. That is important to see: it did not profit them! None of their self-efforts were profitable. Maybe the Jews didn’t do a great job of obeying God’s Laws, but they surely did it better than I do: And it did NOT have a good result! It was NOT profitable!

Most frequently, when a cult adds legalism to the Grace of God, it draws its treasured trinkets from a limited understanding of the Jewish Tabernacle and Temple rituals. Remember, those were only a foreshadowing of the reality to come, which is Christ. We have the reality, now and forever; why do we need a grainy, limited-quality photograph, when we have the living Christ?

Think for a moment about who the people were who gave Jesus the worst trouble during His earthly ministry: It was not the common people, with their goofy, misguided thinking about things in general. It was not the Gentiles, as a rule, though they got involved at the end. It was not even the blatantly ungodly sinners among the people who gave him the fierce, consistent resistance: It was the religious leaders! Specifically, it was the religious leaders within Judaism, which was truly ordained by God.  They had all of God’s Word at the time: the whole Old Testament. They had the Temple, and the memory of the tabernacle. They were conscious of the miraculous history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. They knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah…but had locked in on one aspect of His coming that they really liked, and were ignoring all the rest.

Their doctrine had begun correctly, but had become nothing but legalism. And it was not profitable, either for individuals who attempted to live it, or for the nation. It resulted in their utterly rejecting the Messiah when he finally came.

Later on, both Peter and James (see Acts 15), when confronted with the demand from the Judaizers, that the Gentile believers should be forced to become Jews, responded by saying “Neither we nor our forefathers were ever able to carry that burden: why do you suppose the Gentiles would ever be able to do so?”

Jesus has not changed, and humans have not changed. He is still holy, and pure, and is still holding out the gift of eternal life to anyone who will receive it. We, as humans, still want to add to it, take away from it, twist it and deny it. So, how can we avoid the traps of false teaching?

The Example of God’s Word:

Avoiding the Snares of False Doctrine

There are a couple of keys, here: One is the command, back in verse seven: “Consider them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God.” What kind of doctrine are they teaching? As we asked before, “Are they turning your eyes to the Bible for answers?” That is a good place to start.

Within that answer, though, is a caveat, a “beware sign”. The writer says your heart should be strengthened by Grace, not what you eat. He used “diet” as a single example of the kinds of wrong focus that bad teaching produces. Jewish dietary laws are one of the things that many cults latch onto, because they think they can do it! “Here is something I can do to make God approve of me: I don’t eat this, I do eat that!” But that is characteristic of all legalism, not just the dietary law of Judaism, which was specifically for them, no one else.

Any teaching which tends to point me away from God’s Grace (even when it seems to be coming from God’s Word), and which makes my relationship with Him dependent upon outward “trappings of faith,” or “acts of piety” instead of an actual, active, living Faith in the Grace of an actual, active, living God, is likely to provide a snare for my soul. Such teachings turn us away from the actual source of living water, the Person of Christ, and encourage us to “dig out cisterns” (our own works) in which to store our own supply of “water.”

Please turn in your Bibles to Jeremiah 2:12, 13

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
13 For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

Two Evils!

  1. They forsook the LORD—the God of Israel—who alone is the source of righteousness, and eternal life…and
  2. They turned to their own works, as a replacement.

The Lord calls Himself the fountain of living waters. Compare this to John 7:37-39 where Jesus said that those who came to him in thirst would receive an indwelling fountain of living waters…and it goes on to say that he referred to the Holy Spirit, which at that time was not yet given. The Holy Spirit is God! And, God is the one who offers the living water! In the desert, Moses was told to command the rock, and it would bring forth water for the nation. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 10:4 that “…that Rock was Christ.” (Wow!)

So, in Jeremiah, we see Jehovah God as the source of living waters. In John, we see the Holy Spirit as the indwelling source of living waters. And in 1st Corinthians, we see that even back in the desert, 1500 years before the first advent, the Rock—the source of the water—was Christ!

So: humans ignoring God’s command to allow him to provide, and to guide, and to bless, is a pretty major abdication, to begin with. But having the total audacity, and arrogance to suggest that “…my water is better, anyway”, when we can’t even produce water, let alone store it, is beyond imagination. It is utter insanity! And yet we do it! We choose to look away from God and His Spirit, and His Written Word, and His final eternal payment for sin, at the Cross…and look to our own works, our own philosophies, and smugly say, “I have my own way!”

Jesus said that He himself was the only approach to the Father, and that He himself was the only sacrifice for our sins.

So…any teaching that wanders away from those central ideas, and turns us away from Grace, to legalism, is something to be avoided. Any teaching that turns us away from God’s written Word, which he says we are to focus on, as unto a light in a dark place…is to be avoided. Any teaching that tends to marginalize or minimize the preaching of the Cross, is to be avoided. These things are all central to a relationship with God. And the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says for us not to be “…carried about with strange doctrines.” We can only obey that teaching by deliberately choosing to follow the teaching of God’s Word…learning from the examples of our teachers, and remembering that Jesus himself has never changed! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

Lord Jesus, we are utterly dependent upon your immutability—your unchanging goodness. We know that you have never changed, and we ask that you teach us to follow your Word, so that we are not drawn away by false teaching, or odd practices. Teach us to rely upon your Grace.


A General Warning and a Personal Example

A General Warning and a Personal Example

© C. O. Bishop, 2/9/2018 Cornell Estates 2/11/2018

Philippians 3:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Philippians, for several months, and have seen that it is a very personal letter to a group of people in Philippi, with whom Paul shared a close relationship. They had served with him, and suffered with him, and they had supported him in his work. The epistle is noteworthy because it does not have any “corrective” teaching, and certainly no rebuke. There is encouragement, and thanksgiving, and teaching, some of which they may have heard before. We teachers do tend to repeat ourselves, because we are forever teaching the same concepts, sometimes to different pupils, sometimes a mixture of old and new. The teaching has not changed, and sometimes we hear a concept more than once.

Paul was aware that they had heard at least some of these things before. He begins by encouraging the believers to continue rejoicing “in the Lord.” He absolutely does not say that all our circumstances will be happy ones: he says, rather, that we can rejoice in the person of Christ.

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

Saying “finally,” Paul seems to begin a conclusion, but, in reality, he is just turning to a final set of exhortations. It seems significant to me, that he prefaces a series of warnings with an exhortation to rejoice in the Lord. He goes on to suggest that what he was about to say was probably nothing new to his readers, but that it did not bother him to repeat himself, and that it provided a margin of safety for them, much like a warning sign on a road. It doesn’t hurt to hear it again.

A Strange Warning

2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

This is a strange comment: who are the “dogs”; who are the “evil-workers,” and who are the “concision”?  I would have jumped to the conclusion that the “dogs” were simply heathen, who could not be trusted entirely, simply because their agenda is completely different, and their values are co9mpletely different, than that of a believer. I still suspect that this may be the best understanding. Dr. McGee states that the “dogs” are false prophets, citing Isaiah, where God described the false prophets as “dumb” (speechless) dogs…watchdogs who don’t keep watch, and don’t sound the alarm when there is certainly cause to do so. Possibly he is right…but it doesn’t seem to fit this context. John Walvoord thinks it was the Judaizers against whom he raised the warning. But it seems likely to me that the “concision” were the Judaizers, who were physically “mutilated” as if they were believing Jews, but whose hearts were at odds with the Gospel. Evil workers would seem to be a catch-all term, at first glance, as there are evil workers everywhere. C. I. Scofield seems to think that all three were in reference to the Judaizers. But let’s take a look at all three in order:

  1. Dogs: If this is the heathen, simply unbelievers (and this is a term the Jews used to use, referring to heathen—gentiles—us), then they (unbelievers) are simply to be viewed with some caution at all times, knowing that their goals are completely different than those of the church, as are their values. This is still in keeping with the sure knowledge that these are souls for whom Christ died. We do not condemn them: we reach out to them. But we maintain an awareness that they are “not on our team.”
    An example, at a national level, can be seen in the history of our business dealings in Asia. Westerners frequently find that they have been “cheated”, when the reality is that the Asians are simply playing by a different set of rules, and cheerfully take advantage of our naiveté.
    Churches are frequently duped by unbelievers who seem to be “offering the church a special deal”, but in reality, are cheating churches. Does that mean we shouldn’t have any dealings with unbelievers? No! It is simply a warning to be careful.
    A church with which I was vaguely familiar told how a local businessman began attending their church. They were glad to have him, and when he said that he needed cash, and change for his businesses, and offered to give them a check each week, to the exact amount of all the loose change and bills in their offering, they saw no harm in it, and, yes, the check cleared, every week. But, early the next year, they got a letter from the IRS asking whether this individual had really been giving them all these donations! He had been claiming those checks as charitable giving! From his perspective, he was being clever. But it was a scam, pure and simple!
  2. Evil workers: This could refer to people who claim to be believers but whose lives demonstrate the opposite. I am not suggesting that because a believer has a sin nature and occasionally proves it, he or she is not really a believer. I am referring to those who can recite a believable testimony, but their whole pattern of life outside of church meetings is blatantly ungodly. We have probably all known individuals like this. They are perplexing, because we want to accept them as a brother or sister in Christ, but all their behavior suggests they may not be one. We just have to be careful. I have known several people like this at work. Some, as far as I can tell, were probably believers. Some turned out to definitely be “false brethren.”
  3. The Concision: (The Greek word, here, literally means “mutilation.”) If this term is in reference to the Judaizers, then the whole trio fits together as living examples of the three enemies of the Christian: “the World, the Flesh and the Devil”, as
    1. “The World” is certainly represented in unbelievers as a whole;
    2. “The Flesh” is the old sin-nature, which every believer still does have. And “evil-workers” are those who habitually obey their sin-nature, whether believers or unbelievers; and, finally,
    3. Satan does his most dangerous work through false religion. (This was true in the time of Christ, through the Pharisees and scribes and the corrupt priesthood, but today is perhaps best exemplified in various world religions and cults, and even in good churches that have gone bad. (It happens!)

There is a fair amount of controversy over these three, but this interpretation seems to resonate well with the rest of Scripture. I do not claim it to be the only way to understand the passage.

What is the True Circumcision?

3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Paul mentioned this concept in Romans and in Galatians: the “circumcision” that God approves is the setting aside of the “flesh”—the old sin-nature. We can’t “get rid of it,” completely, but we have turned away from it, the day we chose to believe in Jesus as our savior, and we continually choose to “set aside the flesh” when we worship and serve God in the person of Christ.

We find our Joy in Him, and have ceased to have confidence in our own ability to understand, our own capability to will or to do, apart from His direction. We think more, and scheme less, as a result. We are willing to follow His lead, and we do not demand that he explain every part of his every decision, as if His will must have our approval before it can proceed.

Do we still complain and act out in unbelief sometimes? Certainly, we do, which is simply a demonstration that we still have our old sin nature. The sin nature cannot be corrected, or improved upon. It feeds upon sin, and Ephesians 4:22 states that it is actively corrupt by nature. It is not subject to God, and cannot be, according to Romans 8:7.

This “flesh”, not our physical body, is what must be set aside, if we are to walk with God. We set it aside once for all, when we first trusted Christ as our redeeming sacrifice. We continually “set it aside” when we choose to ignore its prompting, and obey Jesus instead.

What about Human Credentials?

Paul certainly had great credentials to which he could point, if he chose to do so, He says:

4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

If there was anyone who would have had the “right” to trust in his own natural ability, education or birthright, it was Paul. He “had a lot going for him”, as the saying goes today. He lists a few of these things, here:

5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

But when he trusted Christ as his savior, all the things he had once trusted in became a potential liability, rather than an asset. In fact, he considers the whole world a potential snare, rather than a gain. It is all on the “wrong side of the ledger,” now—debit, rather than credit. These credentials are what the World approves, and, while they may have some value, the only real and eternal value is in our relationship with Christ. The World is temporary,

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

It must be pointed out, here, that Paul is not suggesting that the way to “win Christ” is to “suffer the loss of all things”. One does not “buy” a relationship with Christ. Paul’s relationship with Christ had cost him all of the things he held dear, including his social standing. He had been “climbing” a social “ladder”, for most of his life, if we can read between the lines a bit. A Jewish student shared with me that the seats in the ancient schools (that of Gamaliel, for example, whom Paul claimed as his mentor), were arranged in tiers, radiating from the teacher’s position outward toward the door. Those “sitting at the feet” were the choice students who had “arrived”, so to speak. Newer students or those less approved sat at the back, or stood beyond the furthest seat. So Paul had “arrived” socially. Still today, Jewish students read the teaching of Gamaliel, whom Paul claimed. But he lost that status, and was considered a “reject”, a failure, because of his relationship with, and his service toward Jesus. And he counted it a cheap price to pay…but that is still not how he gained Christ. The losses were a result of the relationship, not the other way around.

Don’t Attempt a “Do-it-yourseff” Righteousness

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

This is a key point: In Romans 10:3, 4, Paul points out that the Jews were “ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness”. He evidently included himself in that indictment, and he was grateful to find that he had lost his own false, contrived, self-made righteousness, and gained the real, imputed righteousness of Christ.

I think it is a common failing among both believers and unbelievers, that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we still think we can “make ourselves better.” Self-help books, and self-improvement books are among the best sellers in the supposedly “non-fiction” market.  And yet, ultimately, they tend to be “fiction” anyway, as the truth is, we cannot help ourselves, or improve ourselves in the arena of sin and righteousness.

When Isaiah said “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” he wasn’t exaggerating. He was simply stating a fact; that “we are as an unclean thing.” Once, as a small child, I read a story about some children finding a rusty iron pot, at the beach, and cleaning it with sand. I didn’t understand that the “cleansing” they accomplished was only to remove the worst of the rust…that the sand was only an abrasive, and accomplished nothing in terms of hygiene. But it stuck in my young mind that “sand equals soap”. So, a few days later, when my mother told me to wash my hands for supper, I happily walked outside and decided that, in the absence of sand, dirt would surely suffice, and I washed my hands in mud, rinsed them in water from the garden hose, and walked back in feeling very clever. Mom asked me if I had washed my hands, and I cheerfully told her, yes, that I had washed them in the dirt, in the garden! Understandably, she sent me off to the bathroom for a “soap and water” scrub…up to the elbows.

The point of that story was that I did not understand that dirt could not make me clean, physically—dirt was what we wanted to remove, along with the bacteria that are in the dirt. (Years later, I met a cousin of mine who had actually lost an arm to an infection originating in the soil of his back yard…and nearly lost his life in the ordeal.)

Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering to God. The problem was not the vegetables; the problem was sin. The ground had been cursed because of sin, so, despite the healthful character of the vegetables, fruit, or whatever it was, it was unacceptable as a sin offering, and, without a prior sin offering of blood, it was not even acceptable as a worship offering, though after a blood sacrifice for sin it would have been completely acceptable in worship.

Cain was “ignorant of the righteousness of God”, and was “going about to establish his own righteousness.” Even believers can easily lose sight of the cross, and begin to believe that because they adhere to certain practices, (whether church attendance, reciting prayers, a catechism, a creed, giving, or some other activity) that they have by those actions become acceptable to God. The fact is that I am only acceptable to God “in the beloved” (in ChristEphesians 1:6). We cannot cleanse ourselves. God has to do it.

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. Being found “in Him,” his standing with God was forever made secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin.

What can I learn by his example? That I need to stay near the Cross, mentally. I need to remember daily that I am saved from sin…I did not climb out of that pit on my own, nor can I claim any credit for my perseverance. God is the one who keeps me. My own works, tainted by my ever-present old nature, can never improve my standing with God. Only Jesus’s blood at the cross has that capacity. I can’t hope to improve by “washing with dirt.”

Lord Jesus, fix our eyes upon your Cross, and help us to trust in the completion of your work there. Turn our eyes away from our own efforts, and help us to rest in your finished work. Raise us up as an army of men and women freed by your hand, and living to serve you from that perfect position in You.

 


Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

Why Don’t I “Give an Invitation?”

© C. O. Bishop 1/20/2018 Cornell Estates 1/21/2018

John 5:24; 1st John 5:11-13; Romans 3:23; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17

Introduction:

A month or so ago, I was asked, privately, “Why don’t you give invitations at the end of your sermons?” Well…that’s a good question, and, after some thought, I have decided that it should be answered publicly.

There have been times during the last 40-odd years, when I have asked a person how they became a Christian. They replied with one of the following: “I went forward in church; I raised my hand in a youth-group meeting, I prayed with a missionary who visited our church; I was baptized…” or something along those lines. Notice that every one of those statements began with “I (did something).” Isn’t it perhaps more important that God did something? Were they depending on their prayer, their public confession of sins, or some other action on their own part? I can’t tell. Were they even saved? I have no idea! I can’t see into their heart! I can’t examine the witness of their soul before God. The Holy Spirit is just as invisible to me as He is to everyone else! The real question we all need to answer is “How does God save people? How can we be certain that we have eternal life?”

How can we be saved?

The Philippian Jailer asked this very question in Acts 16:30. He asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” You see, he had the same idea: There must be something God wants us to do in order to earn eternal life! But they answered “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!” (Believe….)

The people in John chapter five, whom Jesus fed with bread and fish, confronted him in chapter six (John 6:28) asking “What should we do that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered in verse 29: “This is the Work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.”

I don’t know how the people in John 6 were responding, but the fellow in Philippi was about to commit suicide, if you remember the story: his life had effectively just ended, had Paul not called out and assured him that all the prisoners were still present. So Paul really could have told him anything, and the man was ready to do it. But instead, Paul and Silas told Him that all God was asking him to do was to believe the Gospel: to place his trust in Jesus as his Savior. He was evidently willing to do, or attempt to do, all the works any person could do. But all he was asked to do was to believe! That is very odd, isn’t it? Why did Paul not “lay on him all the demands of God?” Why did he not quote the Ten Commandments? Or tell him he had to be baptized, at least? (By the way, he and his family actually were baptized after they believed, but that is not what was required of them.)

It seems that believing is at least the “key” response that God is looking for. The Pharisees had lots of good works, but didn’t believe in Jesus as their Messiah. We Gentiles look like total heathens to any orthodox Jew (that’s actually what “Gentile” means!), but God isn’t judging us by our works. He is offering His Grace, on the basis of Faith (believing.) And that is the only way he has ever saved sinners, throughout all history. But what was the second question?

Can I Know that I Have Eternal Life?

I have also been emphatically told, many times, over the years, that “It is impossible to know that you have eternal life.” That, you have to “wait until you die to find out whether you were good enough:” …to find out whether you “made the team.” Or, simply, to find out whether you are “One of the Chosen.” I can’t understand how anyone would be comfortable with that idea, personally.

So, what’s wrong with that idea? Is that really what God says? Does he offer us no more secure hope than that? Let’s see what God actually says about that particular issue. (Remember that Jesus is “God in the flesh.”) So, in John 5:24, Jesus (God in the Flesh) made a very important promise:

Verily, verily (truly…it’s a promise), I say unto you, he that heareth my words, and believeth on Him who sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Every word, there, is important: We can see, back in verse 19, that Jesus is the one talking, even if we don’t have a red-letter edition Bible. So the first thing Jesus does, is to assure us that this is really true: That He is making a promise! He says, “Verily, Verily, I say unto you…” It is a personal promise from Jesus! And it has two conditions:

The Conditions

He that heareth and believeth…” This is a “Whosever will”-type “invitation.” An invitation to what? To “go forward in church”, or to “sign a tract”, or to “make a commitment to Christ?” No! This is an invitation to hear the Gospel, and believe it: to place your personal trust in Jesus as your Savior! Nothing more or less! If I have heard that God is Holy…that I am a sinner…and that Jesus paid the price of my sins at the Cross, I have fulfilled the first of the two conditions. The day I placed my trust in His shed blood for my salvation, and began looking forward to His coming again, I fulfilled the second condition. And, on the basis of those two conditions, Jesus laid out a three-clause promise:

The Clauses

  1. If the two conditions have been met, what does Jesus say is the immediate (not eventual) result? “He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent me…what?” Does it say they “will have” eternal life? No! It says that this individual, on the basis of having heard the Gospel of Christ and believed, has everlasting life now! This isn’t my opinion: this is the promise of Jesus! The moment I saw the truth; that I was a lost sinner, and that Jesus’ blood at the Cross was God’s only offering for my sin, and I believed; trusting God’s promise for my salvation, then, from that moment on, I have had eternal life! How long is eternal? Silly question, right? But Eternal means everlasting…forever!
  2. What else did Jesus promise? We saw that the first clause of the promise was present tense; but what about the second clause? “…and shall not come into condemnation…” What tense would that be? That’s right! It is future tense! It means I can look into my future as far as forever, and know that God will never condemn me for my sins again! In fact, clear back in Psalm 103:12, He says that he has removed our iniquities from us “as far as the East is from the West”. I think it is great that he said “east from west”, rather than north from south: You can start at the North Pole and go south only until you get to the South Pole. But you can start anywhere, and go East or West forever, and never “get there!” My sins have been eternally removed from my ledger before God, and He will never judge me for my sins. I shall not come unto condemnation. My future is secure.
  3. And the final clause? “…but is passed from death into life.” Some Bibles translate this “…but has crossed over from death into life.” …which is also fine. But the best the English language will give us on this verse is that it is “past tense.” The fact, however, is that the Greek verb is in perfect tense: “a completed action which occurred at some point in the past, with permanent results for the future…” Do you see how important that idea is? It means, “This is a done deal!” It means “You have been born again, and you cannot be un-born again.” It doesn’t lend itself very well to translation in English, unfortunately, but that is the intent.

So…that was Jesus’s promise to anyone willing to hear Him and believe Him. He covered their past, present and future, with a single promise. Do you believe it? On the basis of His promise, then, do you have eternal life?

I could pose a second question: Does God want you to know that you have eternal life? (Notice I am underscoring the word “know”, here…) If He did, wouldn’t He tell us how to know it? Let’s see what He says:

A Parallel Promise

1st John 5:11-13
11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

So, let’s break this one down as we did the previous promise:

  1. The record (God’s Word) states that God has given (past tense) eternal life to us, and
  2. This eternal life is in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. If you have the Son (have received Him by faith), you have eternal life.
  4. If you do not have the Son (have not believed—have not received Him by faith), you do not have eternal life.
  5. The purpose of this being written is that you who believe (trust in) the name of the Son of God (Jesus), may Know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe on the name of the Son of God! That is the purpose-clause of this portion of this document! God wants you to know (now) that you have eternal life!

So, the question we posed a few minutes ago, was “Can I know that I have Eternal life?” According to the two faithful promises we just read, I would have to emphatically state that not only we can know that we have eternal life, but that God wants us to know so! He is not interested in a “hope-so” relationship. This wedding ring on my finger does not mean “I hope I got married 36 years ago, to a wonderful woman who is my best friend today:” It means I KNOW that we were married, and I am not going to forget it!

God gave us his written Word for assurance, so that we have it in writing. He also comes to live in the bodies of believers, on an individual basis, at the moment of salvation: whether I knew it or not, he came to indwell me, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the moment I believed. I may have only learned about it later, but He keeps His Word, and that is also part of His promise. So, with all that background as the foundation, why would I hesitate to give an altar call…to give invitations to “come forward in church,” or anything similar?

Why I Hesitate

When people tell me “I went forward in church when I was twelve,” I begin to ask questions, to find out whether they actually believed the Gospel. I may say, “So, that is when you saw yourself as a lost sinner, needing a Savior?” That doesn’t always go over well! As it happens, some have never seen themselves as a “lost sinner, needing a Savior!” In fact, the idea is repulsive to them: I recently had a young woman adamantly tell me “I am not a bad person!!” OK! As people go, I would say that was a fair assessment. But—does it come up to God’s standard? Let’s see: Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and come short of the Glory of God;” (Hmm…)

Sometimes I approach it a different way: I say, “If you were to die today, and God were to ask you ‘Why should I let you into Heaven?’ what would you say?” I have had answers such as “I have done my best,” “I haven’t done anything really bad,” or, “…maybe I could just squeeze in the door?”  Bu the fact is, the rules were laid down in God’s Word: all are sinners; Jesus paid for all our sins; all those who have received the Son have life; and all those who haven’t do not! If my answer to God is not “Because Jesus died for my sins! He is my only hope!”, then according to God’s Word, I have zero chance of being accepted with God. But if he is my Savior, then, according to His Word, I am already accepted with God. I didn’t make those rules; but quite honestly, they seem more than fair, to me!

So, if I ask someone to come forward and “pray for salvation”, and they do so, they may go away thinking they have “done something” to get eternal life…when the truth is that there is nothing we can do to get eternal life! Jesus did it all at the cross! If they actually came because they believe that Jesus is the full payment for their sins, then the prayer didn’t hurt anything, of course. But if they came because they thought they could win merit thereby, they go away inoculated against the true Gospel. They say “I already did that!” And, sadly, I have had many people tell me just that. But when I ask questions, I find that they have never believed the Gospel! They do not believe that they are a lost sinner. They do not believe that Jesus’s Blood was full payment for their sins personally. And they are resting their hope for eternity on something they did, instead of what Jesus completed at the Cross.

Having seen this so often, and being aware that there is not a single example of an “altar call” or an “invitation”, beyond the “Whosoever will may come…!”, I am hesitant to give people a false hope based on their own actions, when the only true hope is the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But is there an invitation? Yes!

The Invitation of God

So! Having said all that, here is the invitation:

In John 3:16, Jesus said that he came “…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is an invitation to you! How can I say that? Because He said “whosoever!” Had he actually called you by name, here in the Bible, there may be someone else by that same name, and He could have meant them, not you! But He said “Whosoever!” That means He is inviting you to believe, and be saved! Right where you sit, He is asking you to believe in Him, and trust in Him alone for your eternal salvation.

Clear back in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 55:1, the principle was laid down: He said, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!” That must have boggled the minds of those who read it! But He reiterates it in the very last chapter of the Bible. In Revelation 22:17 he says, “And the Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life, freely.”

So—the invitation given by the Holy Spirit, is to come to Jesus, the eternal source of living water…the Author of eternal life!

The invitation given by the Church is the same. He says those who hear (That’s us, folks!) should echo that same invitation to those around us: “Come to Jesus. Own Him as your personal Savior! Take the Eternal life that is freely offered to you!” The invitation says “…anyone who is thirsty is to come!” and finally, “Anyone who is willing is to come!” You do have to be willing!

You don’t need me, or a church, or a religious experience of any kind. You need to trust Jesus as your Savior, and learn to walk with Him. This invitation has been there in the Scripture for thousands of years; but each of us are limited, in terms of time. Don’t wait! If you know you need a Savior, then believe in Him, and have eternal life, today.

That is the invitation—it is from God, not me. Answer it as you choose. You alone can choose!

Lord Jesus, help us to see ourselves clearly, so that we can receive your promise, believe your promise, and learn to walk with you. Teach us to extend the invitation to those around us, too.


Learning to Live in Liberty

Learning to Live Free

© C. O. Bishop 5/11/15; THCF 5/17/15

Galatians 5:14-26

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Love—Agape Love.

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

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

Agapé love implies “Being committed to the good of the recipient of that love, without regard to the effect in one’s own life.” This is the kind of love—the only kind— that Jesus commanded; and it’s the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather”. It is doing what is best for the other person. Ironically, it is also what is needed for you! This is how you stay on the road where you belong.

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

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

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

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

Unity as a Result of Agape Love

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

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

Either trap can be fatal.

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

Only the Holy Spirit can do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will it look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

And what would that look like if you did?

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

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

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

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

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

Amen


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.


Perfected by the Flesh?

Are You Being Perfected by the Flesh?

© C. O. Bishop 1/7/15 THCF 1/18/15

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

Scriptural Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Negative Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Positive Evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul’s Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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!