Posts Tagged ‘flesh’

What About Israel? (Part One)

What about Israel? (Part One)

Has God Forgotten Israel?

© C. O. Bishop 2/13/16 THCF 2/21/16

Romans 9:1-13; 1st Corinthians 10:11

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans for several months. The theme of the book has been “the Gospel of God’s Grace.” We have seen, traced in the first three chapters of Romans, the utter lostness of the whole human race, both Jew and Gentile, religious and irreligious; moral and immoral; good, bad and indifferent. We have seen that God has offered only one solution to the lostness of the human race: He says (Romans 1:16) that the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as full payment for sins (that’s the Gospel of Christ, by definition), being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. And there is no other way offered. Jesus himself confirms that fact. He says “No Man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Some call that “narrow.” It is only narrow to those who reject it. To those who receive Him as Savior, it is an “Open Door”, and “whosoever will may come!”

We saw in chapter four that the perfect standing of the believer in Christ is only by the imputed righteousness of Christ, added to the believer by God (that’s Grace) through faith alone. We saw in chapter five that the believer’s position and justification in Christ provided eternal peace with God.

We saw in chapter six that our new position in Christ also ended our slavery to Sin: we no longer have to yield to sin. But, in chapter seven we saw that the only way we can lay hold of that promise is by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We cannot please God in the strength of our old nature: we still have our old sin nature, and we have to live with the burden of that traitorous old self throughout our lives, but we are no longer identified with it. God has given us a new nature, and He calls us to live in that new life, walking with Him, in the power and guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. And He no longer sees us in our old selves.

Most recently, in chapter eight, we saw that there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, regardless of background, and regardless of subsequent success or failure in “walking with God”. We also saw, though, that there is a tragic loss of potential blessing and reward, if we fail to walk with Him. But, chapter eight concludes that we are unquestionably, eternally secure in Christ.

But, What about Israel?

Chapters nine through eleven, as a group, address the question, “What about the Jews?” The promises to Israel were solid, sure promises from God, but they have not been fulfilled in their entirety; so: you may ask, “Has Israel finally been rejected by God?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” God has not forgotten his covenant with Israel, though, for the time being, as a nation, they seem to have forgotten their covenant with Him. So, where do they stand, today? How does God see them? Let’s see how Paul addresses that question:

1I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

In verses 1-3 Paul grieves for the lost estate of the people of Israel, as his kinsmen; his brothers according to flesh. This is one thing that tells me this is God’s Word and God’s Work in Paul: he does not condemn them as “blind fools”, or anything like that: He grieves their lostness, as one should grieve the loss of any soul for whom Christ died. There is no “self-satisfaction” as to his own secure position. He so desperately desires their salvation that, if it were possible, he would consider it a “good trade” for himself to be lost, if it would save them.

Notice also: He does not suggest that Israel has been “forgotten by God.” This has been suggested in the past, by God’s enemies, as it would actually call into question the character and faithfulness of God. (Who is the chief accuser, who, from the beginning of time, has questioned the character of God? Give that some thought, when you hear such arguments. Consider the ultimate source of such a statement.) There are folks today who claim that Israel has been disqualified form God’s blessing, and that the Church has replaced Israel, inheriting the blessings in place of Israel. This is absolutely false, and has the same source as the above false teaching.

No, rather, Paul points out that they have forgotten the God who promised the Messiah (that is a huge difference!). They have rejected His Grace at every turn. Paul assures us that he continually grieves for Israel, and he actually wishes that he himself could be lost, if it would save all of the other Jews. But of course, that is not an option for Paul. This reflects the heart of God, who did go to the Cross in the person of Christ, offering himself, on their behalf and ours.

The Inheritance of Israel

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

In verses 4 and 5, Paul lists eight advantages that ALL of Israel shares…take note that they are not only to ALL Israel, they exclusively to Israel. This is what is theirs by inheritance:

  1. Theirs was originally the statement of adoption (being the stated heirs of God), and
  2. Theirs was the glory of their history, of God living and working in their midst, and
  3. To them were the covenants offered and confirmed, and
  4. To them was the Law given, and
  5. To them was committed the Service of God (in the temple: the priesthood)
  6. To them were the Promises in which they had claimed to trust for thousands of years.
  7. To them alone belong the Patriarchs, and, as far as the flesh was concerned, and
  8. Through them came the

What more could they ask? The advantages that were given to all Israel are phenomenal, and they still exist today. But, for whatever reason, the majority of Jews, today, still ignore their heritage, and do not use that advantage to good effect. Let’s not become smug, though, or be judgmental in our thinking about this. As believers in Christ, we have even greater advantages today: the completed written Word of God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

(Are you using them?  Really? Are you using them to the best advantage?)

But what entitled the Jews to take part in those promises? We can see that some did and some did not.  What made the difference? All through History, we can see that some were privileged to take part in the promises, while others were disqualified. What makes a “Jew”, born of the house of Israel, a “real Jew,” from God’s perspective?

The Heredity of Israel

Paul points out that Israel was not just a “breeding stock” that God turned loose to graze, and, wherever it wandered, or whatever brood it produced, He approved of it. His Word is complete, and His will is perfect. Read what he says about the heredity of Israel. It is not strictly physical.

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

In verses 6 and 7 Paul begins to touch on the idea that not all who are physically born of the lineage of Abraham are actually his heirs. He begins by pointing out that in spite of Abraham having had two sons (Ishmael and Isaac, at that time), God said, “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” Ishmael, though he was equally “of the seed of Abraham” according to the flesh, was not the heir. It seems that there is a spiritual principle involved. Paul goes on to explain:

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

In verses 8-13, then, Paul reminds us that it is not the children of the flesh who are heirs of God, but rather the children of the Promise. There are two points to notice in the promise: He says “at this time”, so we can see there was a timing issue from God’s perspective: His timing, not theirs. He further says that at that proper time He would come. It was to be God’s work, not theirs.

Isaac was born of a miracle, as promised by God. In sharp contrast, Ishmael was born of a scheme of an old man and his wife, who were trying to short-circuit God’s Grace, and force the hand of God. (Is that maybe not quite the same?)

I have deliberately worded the story in rather blunt terms, to show the “seamy side” of this history: Sarah was definitely not following the leading of God: she was scheming by offering Hagar to Abraham. Abraham (as might most men) jumped at the idea of committing “legal adultery”, at his wife’s suggestion. But God makes it abundantly clear that it was not from Him.  The long-term results have been horrendous, and we are still experiencing that destruction today. Almost daily, now, we hear of more attacks by Islamic terrorists who correctly call themselves sons of Ishmael. The long-term effects of Abraham’s unbelief and sin are being inflicted on his offspring, particularly, and the rest of the World, as well; and it is increasing in frequency and magnitude. Interestingly, that is exactly what God predicted in Genesis 16:11, 12. “He (Ishmael) will be a wild man, and his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him, and he shall live in the midst of all his brethren.” (Thanks a bunch, Abe!)

(Oddly, this is one aspect of the Bible that actually adds to my conviction that it is truly God’s Word, not od human origin: Humans tend to gloss over the flaws of their heroes. God does not put the heroes of the faith on a pedestal. He shows them for exactly what they were: deeply flawed individuals through whom He showed His strength. Abraham made a mess: God says so. God is cleaning up that mess, in His way and in His timing.) And there was no condemnation for Abraham. Sound familiar?

By the way, after Sarah’s death, “good old Abraham” remarried (Genesis 25:1-4), and had six more boys by Keturah, his new wife (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.) Though we don’t know what happened to most of them, the few whose names we do recognize were enemies of Israel, later in history. The flesh has always warred against the Spirit. That was not something new in Romans 8:7, or Galatians 5:17. The offspring of Ishmael, Midian and Esau remain enemies of Israel to this day. So are the offspring of Lot.

Rebecca was a similar example, showing that the obvious human choice does not necessarily inherit the blessing of God, but rather, the choice of God will stand. God foreknew Esau’s choice to despise the birthright, trading it for a meal; and He foretold the result: “the elder shall serve the younger.” About 1000 years later He remarked, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated”. (Malachi 1:2, 3) Was it just arbitrary, or capricious on His part? No, it was simply a recognition of the kind of person Esau turned out to be, and a statement that God knew it before it happened.

God knew who they were and what they would do, long before they physically existed. They were both sons of Isaac and Rebecca…they were fraternal twins, in fact—but one valued the birthright, and the other did not. One saw the things of God as being valuable—the other saw them as a waste of time and energy…and God responded in kind.

You do not “inherit godliness” from your human parents. You inherit it from your Heavenly Father, as a re-born Child of God, and you grow in it, by walking with God in obedient service. Every child of God has the capacity to become a Godly person: a man or woman of God, walking with Christ, and becoming a blessing to all around him or her.

Israel had some great promises. We have better ones. Israel also had the opportunity to walk with God. When they did so, they enjoyed His blessing. When they did not, times got lean. We can experience a leanness in our own souls when we neglect God’s Word, and ignore the leading of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want that, though. 1st Corinthians 10:11 says that all the things ancient Israel experienced were for examples, and for our admonition; an object lesson for us. Let’s learn from the failures and successes of Israel, and inherit the blessings promised to us. Their blessing is not lost; it is just postponed.

Lord; let us learn your Word, believe your promises, experience your Grace and Blessing, and become the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. Amen!


No Condemnation (Part Two)

The Enemy Within

© C. O. Bishop 1/6/16 THCF 1/10/16

Romans 8:4-13

Introduction:

Last time, we noted that, due to our new position in Christ, there is no condemnation awaiting us. This is “Positional Truth”: entirely dependent upon the fact that we are in Christ, and not at all dependent upon “how we are doing” in our walk with Him. This is an important distinction, because we tend to be far more conscious of how we feel or how we are acting at the moment—our condition—and we assume that God sees us the same way. Nothing could be further from reality…that is exactly the reverse of the truth. We see ourselves inaccurately, while God sees us clearly, and we need to adjust our thinking to match His, not the other way around.

The Christian has three major enemies. We frequently list them as

  1. The World,
  2. The Flesh, and
  3. The Devil.

That is true, but it doesn’t give any information by which we may defend against those enemies.

“The World” (Greek kosmon), as used in scripture, can refer to the people, but in this context, it is the system of thinking and behavior that influences us all from outside our bodies. It may include peer pressure, advertising, propaganda, philosophy, human reasoning and entertainment of all sorts, none of which are evil in themselves, but all of which can be used to feed our natural bent to turn away from God and pursue our own interests and desires. It is mostly visible, though sometimes very subtle, and it is outside the gate, so to speak. It is all around us, some good and some bad; we are immersed in it, to one degree or another, and we are heavily influenced by it; but it is still outside us. It is the Enemy without the gate, so to speak.

The Devil, or Satan, is the Spirit controlling the pattern of the World’s thinking; he who desires to destroy all the works of God in us. He is the unseen hand behind the evil of the World. We can see the result of his influence, but we cannot see him. He will play along with us, and lure us to destruction through the World and the Flesh. But we don’t see him. He is the Invisible Enemy.

The Flesh (Greek sarka) is the Enemy within. Today we will focus on this enemy, and try to shape our thinking to match what God says.

Defining the “Flesh”

To begin with, I think it is appropriate to remind ourselves that the “flesh” in this case, is not the physical body. At other times in history, people have referred to this entity as their “lower nature”, as if it were some link to the animal world, but that is not appropriate, either, because, ironically, animals do not suffer from this affliction of sin. Animals (with the exception of the serpent, who was under Satan’s personal control) were not involved in the fall. They did not sin; they have never been given a free will with which to rebel against God.

In the Old Testament, Jeremiah 17:9 refers to the flesh, the Adamic nature, as “the heart”. It says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” Do you think that the scripture means the “central circulatory pump”, when it says “the heart is wicked, and deceitful?”  Of course not…but neither is it speaking of the new creation which God describes, when He promises, “I will take away your stony heart and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) The heart God proposes to give is a new creation—the same as the New Testament promises. Language being what it is, then, with all the possible ambiguities, it is important that we carefully read the rest of scripture, and carefully consider the intent, before we jump to conclusions that may wrongly use the Word of God.

The scripture consistently calls the Sin Nature the “flesh”, but contrasts it with “our bodies”. In this chapter, we are told that the “flesh” cannot be subject to God. The body certainly can be, however—it does exactly what we choose to do with it, and, in Romans six we were told that we are to yield our “members” (physical bodies) as “instruments of righteousness” for God to use to His own glory. That would be impossible if the physical body cannot be subject to God.

In Romans five we are informed that we were once “enemies” of God. Now why would that be? How could we become God’s enemies? Ephesians 2:3 says we “were by nature, the children of wrath”: We were born that way! But God intervened and provided a substitute, so, instead of every sinner dying for his or her own sins, one perfect sacrifice forever satisfied the righteousness of God, and allows us access to God through faith in that blood sacrifice. Believers were each given a new nature, created by God at the moment of saving faith, and that is our “new identity”. God no longer deals with the identity of our old nature (our Adamic nature; our Sin nature) though it is still there. He calls it the “Old Man” in Ephesians 4:22, and confirms that, even in a believer’s life, it can neither be redeemed nor repaired. It is irreparably corrupt, and just continues to get worse, if we feed it. What a hopeless situation it would be if we were left to fight this battle alone, like a toddler left alone to fend off the attack of a rabid skunk.

But We Are Not Alone!

No such thing has been suggested: Jesus promised, “I will not leave you comfortless.” (We are not alone!) He promised that he and the Father would make their abode with the believer, and that the Holy Spirit would indwell each believer personally. (John 14:16-23read it!)

One may wonder, then, why the believer ever has a problem with sin: the answer is: In terms of day by day choices, the Lord has not reneged on His gift of a free will. He longs for our fellowship, but will not force himself upon us.

With all the above information as the backdrop for the message of Paul, we are invited to examine the source of our struggles in detail: We are told that Jesus condemned Sin in the Flesh by living a perfect life, and dying a perfect sacrifice, and we are told why:

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

So, the result of our being set free from our enslavement to sin is that the righteousness reflected in the Law of God (not the condemnation, and guilt) could be showcased and fulfilled in us. We are free to serve; but we can only do so via the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Why is it so Hard to Live for God?

Because the old nature is actively sabotaging our efforts! And it always will!


For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

 

I don’t like to keep hammering on this point, but: in case anyone has missed it; the concept of “death” in the Bible is a little different than how we think of it in our culture. We have been taught to believe that “when you’re dead, you’re dead!” …which doesn’t really explain much… but the fact is, when we are physically dead, our spirit and soul have been (usually permanently) separated from our physical body. When Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, he and Eve died instantly, as promised, but it was not physical death. There we saw the first example of spiritual death—the spirit and soul of Adam and Eve were separated from God. Were they happy about it? No; they could no longer even stand to be in the presence of God. They fled from Him because they were guilty sinners; no longer the innocent creatures they had been. Not happy!

So…which kind of death is warned of, here in verse 6? Is Paul warning that if you sin, you will lose your physical life?  Obviously not, because he just finished telling us of his own struggle against sin, in chapter seven. He did not die, physically, but he begged to know how he could be delivered from “the body of this death!” (What body? What death?)

As long as we live in these mortal bodies there exists the possibility of sin, and, with it, the repeated separation from fellowship with the living God; so that, far from loving His presence, we flee from Him, either in fear or resentment. That is separation from God, though it is a temporary condition, and, here in Romans Chapters 7 and 8, as well as other places, it is called “death”. And notice that in verse 5, he states that those who are living in the flesh focus their minds on the things of the flesh—they pursue their old carnal concerns and desires. Many of those old ways seem no different than the new; for instance, I still go to work when I am in the flesh, as well as when I am walking with God. But my motives are not the same. I am blind to the opportunities to honor God when I am “minding the things of the flesh.”

What’s the Problem?

In Romans 8:7, 8 we see why this is true:
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The old nature has not changed its allegiance! Remember, it was an enemy of God by birth: that is where we got our old nature: Being born of Adam, we received the Adamic, fallen nature. Being born from above (born of God, born again), by Grace, we have received a new nature. But the old nature remains unchanged and unrepentant. The result is that as an unbeliever still “in the flesh” (positionally, that is—still unsaved) I cannot please God…period.

And, when I revert to sin, even as a saved man, I am functionally “in the flesh” again, though I already have been permanently transferred to the kingdom of God’s Son. Remember, God no longer sees me in Adam! He sees me only in Christ. He says that the Adamic nature is no longer the person He will deal with. The old nature has been separated from me as far as identity and authority, but not residency; just as Adam and Eve were separated from God in terms of fellowship, but not physical presence. They wanted out of His presence, because of their sin. I want to be separated from my old sin nature, just as Paul wanted to, and for the same reason. But God says it is already a “done deal”.

How Can We Escape our Bondage to the Flesh?

But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

Here again is the issue of “positional truth:” If you have the Holy Spirit, then you have a new nature; and that new nature is the only one God chooses to address: He says that you (the new creation) are under the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit.  Paul addresses this issue a little differently over in 1st Corinthians 3:3. There he is speaking to immature Christians who are allowing the old nature to control their lives and their decision-making: he says they are “carnal”—fleshly. (The NIV translates this to say “worldly”, but the Greek word is “sarkikoi”, from the same root as “flesh”—“sarka”. “The world” is a different enemy, though it is certainly in partnership with the flesh and the Devil.)

He goes on to state that if you do not have the Holy Spirit, then you are not saved…you do not belong to Jesus. Every believer has been baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and has become a permanent part of the Body of Christ; the Church universal. Corresponding to that position, every believer has also been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus says He will be with us forever. (John 14:16) Our gifts are often different, but our position is the same: in Christ.

Finally, he says, since Jesus Christ is in you (via the Holy Spirit, you are actually indwelt by the entire Trinity), then the body alone is subject to death: you (the new creation) have eternal life, and your spirit is alive with the Holy Spirit, and is forever separated from the death of the old sin nature. He also reiterates that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to your account. He says that the “Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Whose righteousness? That of Christ!)

Again, Paul is quick to let us know that the “flesh”—the old sin nature—is not the same as our physical bodies, as we noted in the introduction. He says:
11 
But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

The word “quicken” means to “bring to life”. What would be the point of condemning the body, only to bring it to life again? It is the physical “mortal body” to which God will again grant life. The old Adamic nature is lost and cannot be redeemed. It remains the enemy of God.

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

You don’t owe your old self anything. You can’t improve it in any way, though it can temporarily look as though you did. The core issue remains the same: the old nature is not subject to God, and it cannot be made subject to God, no matter who does the re-training. Also, you cannot hope to “get it out of your system” by succumbing to its demands. That is like “eating all the brownies so they won’t tempt you.” That really doesn’t help! Don’t give in!

13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

When I am living according to the desires of the enemy within, in terms of fellowship, I am currently separated from God. 1st John 1:5-7 says I cannot walk in darkness and simultaneously have fellowship with God. That is the “body of death” from which Paul begged to be freed.

But notice how he says we are to be freed: He says “Through the Spirit” we are to mortify the deeds of the body…the “body of this death” from which Paul sought freedom.

And that is the key to Romans chapters 6-8: Faith in the indwelling Holy Spirit! Please notice that we were not admonished to “change our ways”, “get right or get left”, “turn or burn”, or any other such tripe. People have smugly quoted these and other pious warnings for centuries, and such thoughts define the heart of religiosity; but they have nothing to do with either salvation or sanctification. It is only the self-satisfied prattling of the self-righteous religionists…not the voice of God. It is based on works, not faith; Law, not Grace.

What Shall We Do, Then?

Jesus originally called us to place our faith in Him for Salvation, by Grace. Now He calls us to confess that we cannot produce righteousness on our own, any more than we could save ourselves from sin. John 15:5 says, “…without me ye can do nothing.” He didn’t say “without me you can’t do as much.” He said “…without me ye can do nothing!

We are called to allow the Holy Spirit to live through us, by faith…and He will produce the Fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:16, God says “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” Remember, it’s a blanket promise: if the Holy Spirit is in control of your life, then the old sin nature will have no say at all… you will do the things God has called you to do.

Lord Jesus, by your Holy Spirit, enable us to do the things you have called us to do, and to be the men and women of God you have called us to be.

 

 

 


Learning to Live in Liberty

Learning to Live Free

© C. O. Bishop 5/11/15; THCF 5/17/15

Galatians 5:14-26

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

Love—Agape Love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unity as a Result of Agape Love

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

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

Either trap can be fatal.

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

Only the Holy Spirit can do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will it look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

And what would that look like if you did?

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

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

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

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

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

Amen


Christian Liberty

What is Christian Liberty?

© C. O. Bishop 5/2/15; THCF 5/3/15

Galatians 5:1-14

Introduction:

Paul has spent much of the last four chapters talking about the trap of legalism, and rightfully so: it is warned against all through the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, though more so in the New, to be sure. Now he seems to move toward a conclusion: if Legalism, Law-works, are NOT how we are to live then how should we live? What does Christian Liberty amount to? Does it mean we are to be lawless? Absolutely not! It means we have been called to a higher law, one of the heart and of the Spirit, which sets us free from the Law of Sin and Death. So Paul is now teaching how that is supposed to work. What does genuine liberty look like, as opposed to Licentiousness which is claimed to be liberty? And how important is it, really?

Maintain your Liberty!

Galatians Chapter 5:1-14

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

This is a very far-reaching command. It is a principle by which to live; not a checklist item. The things being suggested by the then-current crop of legalizers, confronting the Galatian believers, may not even be touched upon by the legalizers today. Perhaps it is the idea that one has to be baptized to be saved…or has to be baptized by a certain formulaic ritual, or into a certain church. Perhaps they are telling you that what you use for communion, who serves the communion, or the clothes you wear, or how you hold your hands when you pray… are the keys to peace with God. Do these ideas sound ridiculous? Guess what—they (and many other similar follies) have all been cited as cardinal doctrines. Churches split over tiny differences, and people try to deny one another access to God over tiny differences, too. I was in a Baptist church once where the preacher still put on a black robe even to baptize someone in a creek. (Why?? What was the message he was sending? That “Clergy” is somehow separated from the “common” folk? Or did the black robe somehow solemnify baptism?)

Sometimes unbelievers have been literally shut out because there was something in their lives that the church-folk didn’t want to be associated with. I recall an older, unbelieving friend telling me that he had quit attending church altogether, because, when his father had been murdered and he was trying to find someone to bury him, all the local churches (where they lived at the time—somewhere in New Jersey, as I recall—and 50 years ago or more) initially refused to help! Perhaps they were afraid of the publicity; perhaps some other fear—perhaps there had been some involvement of organized crime—I’m not sure; but his father’s own church would not bury him.

Were they so convinced of their own righteousness that they did not dare “taint themselves” by being involved in the funeral of a murdered man? Or were they afraid of honoring a murdered man and possibly incurring further violence toward themselves? I don’t know. But, as far as he was concerned, their testimony was ruined, along with the testimony of every other church in the world. He was deeply disillusioned about churches, by that experience.

He finally found a pastor of a local, evangelical, non-denominational church who readily agreed to serve, and he was grateful for that help…but when he shared all this with me, he had long since moved away from that area, and was not at ALL interested in anything churches of any sort had to offer. He died an unbeliever, as far as I know. That is a sad story, but it is true. Sadder still is the fact that, while all those churches collectively helped to send that man to hell, he himself ultimately made the decision to reject the God of the Bible. Their personal bondage to irrelevance had a permanent effect on his personal bondage to sin.

Unless he repented after I last saw him, he was lost…and, the blame partly lies at the feet of those churches, who loved their own reputations more than the Gospel. He was sure, the last time I talked with him, that because of his personal good works, he deserved eternal bliss with God. I was a very young believer at the time, and tried to point out to him that NO one deserves heaven on their own merit. I verbally, earnestly, included myself in that indictment, but his final words to me were, “Well, I do!” So; evidently, he, along with them, had bought into the idea of salvation by works. The pastor who buried my friend’s father had not fallen prey to that doctrine, and behaved with Grace and Mercy toward him. I just wish he could have led my friend to Christ before he left town for good.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

So…what is being taught here? Is Paul telling the Galatian believers that if they undergo circumcision (to become Jews) then they have lost their salvation? I thought he said that was impossible…?  Let’s read the next verse:

The Whole Law or None

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

The issue, here, is that one cannot choose to obey pieces of the Law, and so claim to be “keeping the Law.” If you decide that Law-keeping is the pathway to God, then you are obligated to keep all of it. It is interesting to watch and see how picky the so-called “law-keepers” become about which portions of the law they will keep. They may tithe, and they may not work on the Sabbath, or they may not eat certain foods, or wear certain clothes—but they are completely lax and very self-justifying about the rest of the Law. Paul, however, does not allow them that option. He says they are debtors to do the whole law. (Bear in mind that it is God talking, here, not just Paul!)

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

The temporal, daily, living effect of Grace, then, is gone…the eternal effect is there for the believer, regardless of their later behavior and beliefs; but way back in Galatians 1:4, Paul says that Jesus also died “…to deliver us from this present evil world”…and when a person embraces Law, they shut out Grace…so that they cannot embrace the liberty of Grace. In that sense, then, Grace has ceased to have an effect on their lives.

The liberty of the believer is solidly taught in chapters four and five, but it is feared by churches everywhere, because they think it is the equivalent of license to sin. It is definitely not, and that notion is clearly rebuked in scripture, but we tend to think of it that way, anyhow. But! Notice that it is the legalizers— those who try to attain to righteousness by human effort— who are being rebuked, and to whom Paul says “ye are fallen from grace!” not those who have fallen into some sort of immorality, or other sin. This has nothing to do with salvation, and everything to do with a grace-filled life and a peaceful walk with God. There are plenty of passages where believers are exhorted to live holy lives…but here, the thing under condemnation is self-effort and self-justification. There is never a suggestion that the things they are doing are making them in any way more acceptable to God.

The Righteousness of Faith

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

There is coming a day when we will be completely clothed and permanently filled with the Righteousness of Christ. I yearn for that day, as my continual failures distress me deeply. Positionally, we already are completely righteous in Him. Our new natures, in fact, are completely righteous already. But we still labor under the weight of our old sin nature. Paul says (Ephesians 4:22-24) that the old nature is “being corrupted” as a continuing reality. But he also assures us that our new nature is “after God (in His own image) created in righteousness and true Holiness.” So what we are looking forward to by faith is the full reality of His image, with our old nature gone forever. We endure this life by faith, looking forward to that which is to come. We cannot earn it; it is already ours. The best we can do is to learn to walk by faith in the reality of our new natures.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

The outward symbols mean nothing. The reality of Faith, working because of Love, means everything. Putting on the outward trappings of religion does not help anything. Being transformed from the inside out was God’s plan from the beginning.

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?

The believers in the Galatian churches had begun well, and had been learning to walk with God. Paul asks how it is that they have stumbled, and are now being hindered. (He knows the answer—he wants them to see that truth of the matter.) This is similar to God’s questions to Adam, in the Garden. “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the whole truth—He wanted Adam to see it and confess it. God wants us to consider our progress or lack of it, and be honest as to how we got there. Sometimes it may mean recognizing that a “friend” has not had a good effect on our life. Sometimes it means that a personal choice to feed on some religious writings or teachings has subverted our thinking. More frequently it means recognizing that our own responses to life in general have not been productive. But ultimately, it means that legalism is not from God!

Legalism is Not From God

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

This is a pretty firm statement: this argument did not originate with your Savior!
Stop and think, then: where did it come from?

Ultimately, there is only one other source. The Flesh could do it on its own, but remember: the World, the Flesh and the Devil are allied against you. If it comes from any of them, it effectively comes from all of them. If it doesn’t originate with God, you can assume it ultimately originates with the Enemy, at one level or another.

9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

This is such a tiny verse it is easy to pass it over. Paul is using a common saying to warn them that there is no such thing as a “little bit” of sin. They used to say “there is no such thing as being ‘a little bit pregnant.’” Eventually it will show up in all its glory.

Sin will eventually bear fruit. If you decide to dabble in legalism, then you will eventually find that Grace has been set aside, just as if you had whole-heartedly embraced the Law. This requires some soul-searching: I need to examine my motives: am I “serving” because I am fearful of losing my right standing with God? Or because I think that, in some way, He will “owe me something” in the way of a “good life”? Either of those is a wrong motive. If I am a believer, then my standing (my position with Him) is already perfect, regardless of my behavior: I can’t improve it, nor can I damage it. I am already seated in the heavenlies with Christ, whether I believe it or not at any given moment. Also, God does not “owe” me anything, nor will he ever. My life may be short or long, easy or hard. There are believers in the world undergoing terrible persecution: did they somehow displease God? No, usually persecution comes because believers are doing exactly what they should be doing. Jesus promised that “in the World ye shall have persecution”.

Judgment is Coming

10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

That is one thing we can be sure of: Judgment is coming. As believers, we need to realize that, though our punishment for sin was completely poured out at the Cross, we still face the Judgment Seat of Christ…and it is not necessarily going to be a pleasant thing. 1st Corinthians 3:10-16 states that some of us will be saved “as one escaping through the flames”. We should think carefully about how we live, how we serve, and why.

Paul was confident, as he thought of their past walk with God, that they were real believers, and that they would respond well to this correction. But he foresaw a grim future for those who were trying to subvert them. “…he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment….”

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

There seems to be the idea that perhaps the Judaizers had even tried to say that Paul was in agreement with them…and that he had just neglected to tell them this part. Paul poses the question, “If that is what I am teaching, why am I suffering persecution? The Cross would not be offensive to the Jews if I was still teaching that believers had to become Jews.”

Sometimes, even today, a false teacher comes along with something like this: “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! That is not what Jesus was trying to tell you! You just misunderstood! What He really meant was…” And then they teach some seriously bad doctrine that points people away from the Cross. By the way, when anyone tells you that there are other ways to be saved than by the Cross of Christ, you can mark him/her as a false teacher right then. Jesus himself says there is no other way. The apostles were in full agreement, saying “There is no other name under heaven, given among Men, by which we must be saved.”

A false teacher may be very popular, and preach warm, friendly-sounding messages that seem to reach out to the world with open arms. But if he offers something other than Christ and Him Crucified, for salvation, then he is helping divert people from the Cross, and sending them to a Christless Eternity. We feel sad to say such things, but far sadder to think of the thousands upon thousands who have been lost to the lure of the soft-sell, because someone was not willing to take a stand on the actual Gospel, but offered a “social Gospel” or a “self-help Gospel” instead.

Jesus spent a lot of time warning of coming judgment, and even stated that “they who do not believe are already condemned”. The bad news is what makes the Good news good. Paul said “…Christ came to save Sinners….” Jesus said He came to “call sinners to repentance.”

I have a student who recently had to skip classes because she was having a broken, infected tooth extracted. She first had to have penicillin for a few days, to kill the infection. She told me later that she could not believe how much better she felt once the infection was gone, along with the bad tooth. She had evidently suffered from the infection longer than she knew, and the penicillin gave her virtually immediate relief, capped by removal of the painful source, the rotten tooth.

So, the penicillin turned out to be great news because …what? Because she had a serious infection that was making her very sick, and possibly would have threatened her life! The infected tooth was what made the penicillin (and the tooth extraction) “good news.” Otherwise both would have been really bad news.

If sin were not a serious issue, with fatal consequences, then the crucifixion would be terrible news. If I were not a condemned sinner, then I would not need a savior. And Jesus’ death would just be a tragic miscarriage of justice. But; as it is, we see the Grace of God through the horror of the Cross, and we realize that it was the horror of our own sin that necessitated the Cross. Yes, the Cross is an offense; but not to God, and not to believers.

Contending for the Faith

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

That is a pretty grim thing for the Apostle to say: if we said it today from the pulpit we would get into trouble. He is literally saying, “I wish they’d just die, and quit bothering you.” Some translations say “mutilate themselves”, but the Greek word so translated (apokopto) usually means “removed” or “severed”. We may wish something similar, under similar circumstances, but Paul knew that their judgment was coming, and that he had to wait for the Lord to act.

In Psalm 37 David made the statement that “They (the wicked) shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb”. Now, “Soon” is always meant “soon” from God’s perspective, but, in this particular passage, the word translated “soon” means “suddenly”—as in, “without warning”. The false teachers face an awful eternity—we pray for their salvation, not their death. Jesus said “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you…pray for those who despitefully use you.” But I think that to pray for God’s intervention on behalf of the church is also in keeping with God’s word.

So, to pray that God will shut the mouths of false teachers is correct; not “un-loving”. In fact, in Titus 1:10, 11, Paul mentions this, saying that their mouths “must be stopped”. This is one of the few places where the scripture teaches contending for the faith. Corrective teaching, even to the extent that it causes disharmony, is better than false teaching, producing a so-called “harmony” that is to the detriment of the hearers. (We are not talking about simple disagreements about petty issues, here, but false doctrines that can destroy the church.)

Consider this: when a airliner is losing power, and there is a chance of a crash-landing, is it better to offer free drinks and peanuts, or, to give instructions as to how to prepare for the crash? One response may produce temporary peace and happiness, but the other offers a hope of survival. We preach the truth of the Cross, not because it is comfortable, but because it is true. We preach Grace, not to promote license to sin, but to produce liberty to serve. If false teachers are deterring believers from Grace, and substituting Law, it is entirely within God’s instruction to both apply corrective teaching and to simultaneously pray for God to close their mouths.

Conclusion:

13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Here is the key to the whole argument, in my opinion: the legalist churches fear liberty because they equate it with license. Paul warns against misusing liberty right here. Notice he makes no apology for their having the liberty…he just commands them not to abuse it.

Every time a Christian, or even someone who just claims to be a believer, falls into sin,

  • Legalists will claim he is “living proof” of the “dangers of Christian liberty;”
  • Unbelievers will rave that he is the “epitome of Christian hypocrisy” (implying that all Christians are, by definition, hypocrites); and
  • True believers everywhere will grieve for the damage done to the testimony of Christ.

God knows the truth. Any or all of them could be right, but the believers know the real cost. There will be people who will use that person’s sin as an excuse to reject Christ, and will be lost.

If you know that your sin could result in someone else spending eternity in Hell, even if it is only because they used your sin as an excuse to reject the Lord, shouldn’t that make you more conscious of your actions, attitudes and words? It certainly should!

So: loving our neighbors (with agapé love) should be our first concern as committed Christians. Agapé love implies being committed to the good of the recipient without regard to the effect in one’s own life. It means consistently putting the needs of others before your own. This is the kind of love that Jesus commanded, and the kind He demonstrated at the Cross. It has absolutely nothing to do with feelings, but is entirely about doing. It is “commitment with shoe-leather.” It is doing what is best for the other person, even when it doesn’t feel good for you. Bear in mind that Jesus didn’t die for you because it felt good, or because it was fun: he did so because you needed it!

Let’s pray:

God help us to use our liberty only to serve and Honor you. Help us to see ourselves through your eyes, and to not serve ourselves, but rather, serve you by serving others. Make us the kind of men and women you have called us to be.


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.