Posts Tagged ‘good works’

Ultimate Blessing

Ultimate Blessing

© C. O. Bishop 2019

Isaiah 4:1-6; Revelation 1:10-18

Introduction:

Last time, we completed chapter three, and saw how God was going to purge Jerusalem of her sin. We saw that it could have been referring to the Babylonian captivity, but that it certainly had reference to the Great tribulation as well.

Chapter four skips all the way past the Great Tribulation, and addresses the blessedness of the surviving remnant in Jerusalem after the Lord’s return.

When we study God’s Word, especially when studying the prophetic writings, we must look for the correct, Biblical interpretation, before attempting to find appropriate application in our own lives. In other words, we must ask: to whom is this written, or regarding whom? What are the circumstances under which it is written? When was it written? (In what time period?) Are there any clues as to when the prophecy (or promise) is to be fulfilled? Exactly what is being prophesied, or promised? Are there conditions under which things could change? (For example, if there is a warning of coming judgment “…except ye repent”, does that mean there is a possibility of escaping judgment, if the recipients change their behavior? It certainly had that effect in Nineveh, didn’t it?)

So, beginning with those standards of study, let’s read Isaiah chapter 4. (Read all of it)

To Whom is this written?

As we read, we will keep in mind that, according to verses 2, 3, 4 and 5, these promises are to Jerusalem, Judah, and Israel, not the United States, Great Britain, or some other country. There may be application in our lives at one level or another, but the interpretation is definitely to the Jews, not any Gentile nation, nor even to the Church.

Where will it happen, and When?

Chapter 4

1And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.

The prophecy in verse one could (possibly) still be in reference to the Babylonian captivity (because of the scarcity of men, after the siege and evacuation), but verse 2 makes it clear that the final fulfillment of this prophecy will be at the beginning of the Millennial kingdom:

In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel.

Verse two predicts that “in that day” the “branch of the LORD” will flourish (in reference to the returned and reigning Messiah), and that the fruit of the land would be excellent and beautiful for the remnant of Israel, who survived the tribulation. This is the “remnant” of whom God will speak over and over again: those Jews who survive the tribulation, and enter the Kingdom alive, in their natural, physical bodies.

Verses 3-6 make it clear that this is specifically in reference to the physical return of the Lord… the entire city of Jerusalem will be under the Glory of God, and every living person therein will be called Holy. When? “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion.” At that time, every single living Jew will be a believer, and will be utterly devoted to his or her Savior. Where? In Zion, the City of the Living God.

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem:

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

So the judgment that happens during the Tribulation period is for the purpose of purging and cleansing Israel, making her holy, and preparing her for the purpose He had announced from the beginning, that she should be holy, and a kingdom of priests. Remember, as we say this, that the Church is to be kings (plural) and priests. Israel is to be a kingdom (singular) of priests. The two are not the same.

What will happen?

And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

We want to be especially careful in applying these sorts of prophecies—this is only in reference to Israel and Judah, and any misapplication can result in some bad theology. The closest proper application will be that at that same time, every living Gentile will also be a believer (this is immediately after the “judgment of the living nations” described in Matthew 25:31, ff). But the Gentiles will NOT be “called Holy”, and will NOT have the special supernatural blessings that will be in Jerusalem. Life will be better than at any time in history, all over the world, but the Jews in Jerusalem will be under the special blessing of the presence of the ruling Messiah.

Are there Applications for today?

In terms of today, in the Church age, I can think of no physical application, except to say that having Jesus residing in your heart is great, and an absolutely necessary result of your salvation: but having Him presiding there—reigning there—is greater still…and is what God wants for each of us, day by day. Jesus will be physically residing in Jerusalem, and reigning from there, over the whole world. I want Jesus to reign from my heart over my whole life. It is entirely possible for a believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, by the person of the Trinity, actually, to still be in active or passive rebellion against his or her Master. This would be a spiritual application of a physical reality.

I can also see some further spiritual application: in verse 5, he says that “a cloud and smoke by day, and a shining of a flaming fire by night” will be upon every dwelling in Jerusalem. Remember that, when the tabernacle and the temple were first built, God promised that he would literally move in, and live there. The smoke and the fire from those two edifices were to show everyone that God lived there. He did move in, and the glory of God shone out so brightly that no one could come near the place. (Exodus 40:34, 35; 2nd Chronicles 5:13, 14) In the Jerusalem of the Millennial Kingdom, He will live in ALL the dwellings…how does that apply today?

(See John 14:16, 17; Romans 8:9)

John 14:16, 17
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Romans 8:9
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.

So, we can see that every single believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God…no exceptions.

Why? What is the point? And, if it is so important, then how ought the world to know it? (See John 13:34, 35; Philippians 2:15, 16; etc.)

John 13:34, 35
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Philippians 2:15, 16
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.

Notice that, in the Philippians 2 passage, Paul gives us some idea about what it means to “shine as lights in the World—holding forth the Word of Life.”

We are not just to be “fine moral examples,” or “upstanding citizens,” though those are also expected. We are to be a constant testimony to the saving Grace of God.

Jesus addressed this idea in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14-16), saying, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.

Our Love for the brethren and our good works in general ought to stand as a constant testimony to the living reality of God’s saving Grace in our lives. And, our words should match our life.

The Revelation Confirms It!

Oddly enough, in the opening chapters of the Revelation, God again refers to the churches as candlesticks. They are the light holders…the lamps. Collectively, we are called to be lights in the world…lamps, shining in a dark place. Jesus Himself is the actual source of the Light.

Revelation 1:10-18

10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.


The candlesticks (lampstands) are representing the Church at large: we are not the source of light…we are holders of the light. (Think back to Matthew 5:15; the man lighting a candle is God, in the person of Christ. Jesus is the light of the World. But where does he put that candle? On a candlestick! Each assembly of believers should be a light in their community.

In Philippians 2:15, we were told that we are to shine as lights in the world. And how? Philippians 2:16 says that we are to” hold forth the Word of life.” Who is that Word of Life? According to John 1:1, Jesus is the Word, and according to John 1:4, 5, Jesus is the Light, and the Life. The Gospel of Christ is the Word of Life we offer to the World, while we hold the light of Christ.

So the Light in the midst of the candlesticks, there in Revelation 1:13, is Christ… the lampstands, or candlesticks, are the churches (plural), and collectively, they are the Church, proper. The reason we separate the two ideas (singular and plural,) is that (as we will see in chapter 3) individual churches can fail, and be removed as lights in the world. The Church as a whole is held in place by God until we, as a whole, are removed at the Rapture of the Church.

The fact that there were seven candlesticks speaks of the completeness of the Church: there were many other churches within the Church at large. The number “Seven” is frequently used to indicate completeness, and it shows that the whole body of Christ is in view.

The Gold speaks of intrinsic value. Keep in mind, as we see the flaws in churches(plural,) that in spite of their flaws and their failings, they are still solid gold, in God’s eyes. Even when we see the stern warnings to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we need to remember that GOD said they were solid gold! When you feel tempted to be dismissive of another believer, for whatever reason, remember that they are precious in His sight.

The golden implements and vessels of the Old Testament temple were still holy to God, even when enemies had physically stolen them and used them for unclean things. (God judged Belshazzar in the book of Daniel for that very crime.) An individual church may become unusable, because of sin, but all the born-again believers in that church are still God’s holy people, and He will keep them, chastise them, correct them and recover them for His own glory, even if it means taking them home. Jesus has never lost a single lamb of His flock!  He himself makes that claim in John 6:39—“ And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Those are precious promises, aren’t they? Now, if I had to depend upon my own works to save me or keep me, I’d be lost: it is as simple as that! But Jesus says He will not lose a single one of us…and He says that we are precious in His sight. He calls us to choose holiness, and to lay our lives before him, daily, as a living sacrifice, so that every moment is to His glory.

Israel has a promise of great things to come: we have even greater blessing: we are the Bride of Christ, collectively, and are currently indwelt by His Spirit! Israel will be seen as a priesthood for God in the Millennial Kingdom, and marked, physically, by the column of smoke by day, and fire by night, from every residence in Jerusalem. We are to be priests in the World today, marked by Love and good works. We are to hold forth the word of life, and to shine as lights in a dark world, meanwhile, as it says in verse six, we are also to find in Him our only shelter against the trials of life: the heat of day, the cold of the rain, and the power of the storms of life. Find our shelter in Him, and offer that shelter, His Love and Grace, the light of life, to all those around us.

God help us to do just that!

Lord Jesus, change us from the inside, and make us able ambassadors of your Grace. Purge us of the fears and bitterness and anger that shackle us; the sins that so easily weigh us down, and free our hearts to serve you with Gladness.


Son or Servant?

Son or Servant?  Slave or Free?

C. O. Bishop 4/9/15 THCF 4/12/15

Galatians 4:19-31

Introduction:

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

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

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

Paul’s Concern for His “Kids”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Law-keeping” Exposed: An Allegory Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Allegory:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Separation between Natural and Supernatural

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

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

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

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

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

The Enmity between Natural and Supernatural

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


According to the Truth of the Gospel

According to the Truth of the Gospel

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

Galatians 2:5-18

Introduction:

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

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

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

The Meeting With all the Other Apostles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Fellowship?

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

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

The Conflict with Peter and the Jewish Believers

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how should we respond?

 

 

According to the Truth of the Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

 


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!