Posts Tagged ‘sanctification’

Dead to the Law

Dead to the Law

© C. O, Bishop, 11/21/14 THCF 11/23/14


Galatians 2:19-21;
(Compare Romans 5:1; Romans 6:1-14; Romans 7:1-6; Romans 8:1; John 5:24)

Introduction:

In the last several weeks we have been working our way through the book of Galatians. Paul’s primary three concerns, so far, have been to persuade the believers of the province of Galatia that

  1. He had full apostolic authority, that
  2. His Gospel of Grace was directly from Christ and that
  3. Legalism is not from God at all.

Paul has completed his arguments regarding his own credentials. He has laid out the separate concepts of Law and Grace, and is concluding his explanations of their stark differences with a final point demonstrating what Grace actually achieves and which the Law could never have achieved.

Dead To the Law, Through the Law

19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

This is a truly profound statement. “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law…”  How can that be, and what does it mean? How can I die to the Law, through the Law? What does the Law have to say to me, anyway? What is the message of the Law?

The very first mention of the principle of Law was given in Genesis 2:17: “But of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” This is the principle of Law. In some places it is referred to as the “Law of Sin and Death.” This is what Paul refers to as “the curse of the Law”— the principle is simple—“The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4)

In fact, that first Law, given before the fall of man, was quite concise: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” And the whole human race did die, spiritually, the moment Adam ate that fruit. The curse of that original sin still hangs over us, saying, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

I sin and am hopelessly ensnared by my sin nature. Regarding me and every other human in history, since we have all catastrophically broken the holy Law of God, there can be only one sentence from that Law. The Law clearly calls for my death, and for the death of all the rest of the human race.

Jesus died as a substitutionary representative of the whole human race. When Jesus died in our place, he was fulfilling the righteous demand of the Law. He was completing the judgment of the Law against all of us. He fulfilled the Law for himself by completely obeying it. But I have already broken that Law. The Law required my death, so, Jesus died in my place. I placed my trust in His finished work; his shed blood at the Cross. But now what does the Law say regarding me?

The answer is, “Nothing!” The Law says I am dead, now. It has nothing further to say. The Law only has dominion over me so long as I live…and the Law says I am dead! Through the Law (that is, through Jesus fulfilling the Law), I have become dead to the Law.

But why?  What is the purpose; just so that I escape the punishment? No; I am dead to the Law so that I can live unto God.

Dead to Sin

Over in Romans 6:1-14 Paul mentions the same idea, but does not fully explain what has happened: there, he spells out the results more fully. He says that since I am dead with Christ, I have become united with him in his burial and resurrection as well, and that I should live separated from sin. Compare Romans 7:1-6, especially verses 1, 4 and 6: You have died to the Law, so that you can bear fruit to God, and serve Him in the newness of life (eternal life). Jesus said “this is eternal life; that they may know Thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Notice that in His prayer, Jesus did not mention any works at all—he said that eternal life was to be found in the person of Christ. But if we have eternal life in Christ, we are dead with him, as well, and our lives should reflect our freedom from the slavery to sin.

This is a hard concept to grasp, because, the fact is, we don’t feel dead. If it helps, remember that in the scripture, death does not mean a cessation of life, but, in all cases, it means a separation of some kind. When Adam died spiritually, as he ate that fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he was positionally separated from fellowship with God…he was spiritually dead, the moment he ate that fruit. His wife, and in fact, the whole human race fell with him. Nothing happened until Adam ate…but Adam was acting as a representative of the whole human race, and we all fell with him.

Had he died physically in that position, separated from fellowship with God (physical death meaning his spirit and soul being separated from his physical body) then he would have been eternally separated from God (which is called “the second death” in Revelation 20:14). But God redeemed him, so that he was no longer separated from fellowship with God, and, when he died physically, 930 years later, he was still safe with his Redeemer.

Some people have criticized Christians for “redefining” death. But the fact is, these truths were laid out in the Bible thousands of years before Christ. A person can choose to believe that God lied when he said “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”, or they can realize this is the Word of Truth, and look a little deeper. We can see that their fellowship was instantly broken and they fled from the presence of the Holy God who called to them. But their physical death was many years later. We can either learn from this or call God a liar. Further, if death was simply the “cessation of life” then a “second death” would be impossible, without a second life. And, finally, Romans 6, Romans 7 and Galatians 2 would make no sense at all, when they speak of our having died with Christ.

So, in what way am I “dead”? In the first place, I am “dead” to the Law: as far as the Law is concerned, I died with Christ. It has nothing further to say to me, because it says that I am dead. In the second place, I am separated from the Law, in the sense that, now I am personally accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ…not just to a creed, or a book of regulations that are impossible to please.

The Law not only has no further comment regarding me, because it has been satisfied that the death sentence has been carried out, but it also has no further authority over my life. I say this very carefully, because the Law is utterly holy and righteous. But my position has eternally changed: I am in Christ. His new commandment is the one to which I am now answerable. He, Himself, stated that full compliance with the twin commands “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, soul and mind”, and “Thou shalt Love Thy neighbor as thyself”, together comprise full satisfaction of the Law. (Matthew 22:35-40)

So, His command “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34, 35) also would fulfill the Law. And, you know what? Apart from the constant leading of His Holy Spirit, I still am completely unable to comply with his Law. Only now, you see, there is no condemnation, as His blood already covered all my shortcomings and downfalls: I am free to live in Him, by His Holy Spirit, without fear of punishment. That is why Romans 8:1 says “there is now, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus…”

No Condemnation to Those in Christ

This is a critically important concept, as it has bearing on two key issues: our Peace with God and our Security in Christ. Romans 5:1 states that since we have been justified (declared righteous) by faith, we have (present tense) peace with God. That is either true or it is not. If Romans 8:1 is to be believed, when it states that there is no further condemnation toward us, then Romans 5:1 is a permanent truth. Our position has eternally changed. Further, John 5:24 (Jesus speaking) states that, having placed my trust in Christ, I will never again come into condemnation. That tells me that Romans 8:1 is also an eternal truth. I am eternally secure in Christ, and it is all because I died with Him, so that the Law has no further comment regarding me. The Law says I am dead. No further charges can be laid against me.

According to Romans 6:11 it is now my daily assignment to place my trust in the fact of my death with Jesus, and live in the new freedom He has provided, using that freedom to live for his honor and glory. The reason it can work is that I have been separated from my old sin nature, just enough that I can act independently of it, if I allow the Holy Spirit to guide me and control me. If I decide that I can “do it on my own”, then my sin nature immediately reasserts itself, and, for the moment, by choice, I have again become a slave to sin. This is strictly by choice. No one can make me sin. They may plot to cause me to stumble, or even do it inadvertently, but the fact is, with the Holy Spirit living in me, the only way I can sin is by choice.

Crucified with Christ

20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

So what does it mean to be “crucified with Christ”? Does it mean that I should have some veiled memory of the cross, or that, in some mystic way, I myself have suffered with him? Nope. I don’t think it is anything quite so mysterious. I think it is pretty practical. This is the new position of all believers. We can say with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live: Jesus Christ now lives in me.” It is true, in spite of the fact that, along with Paul, we also confess that our old sin nature is still present, and causing all sorts of trouble. He’ll tell us what to do about that later on.

But while we are talking about this positional truth, we need to think of the truths that accompany it. Romans 6:1-14 clearly states that since I have been crucified with Christ, sin no longer has authority in my life, either. It is one thing to assert that the Mosaic Law is no longer your taskmaster, but entirely another to state that sin no longer has rule in your life. The problem is; it is true!

Sin no longer has any legal authority in your life. You do not have to sin. You have a new nature which God says is righteous and holy. (Incidentally, from God’s perspective, this new nature is the “real you” now. Your new nature is a new Creation, created to serve God willingly and joyfully. God will not do business with your old nature at all. By the way, the new nature is not the Holy Spirit: The new nature is a created being, and the Holy Spirit is God—he is NOT a created being. The new nature is the new you, created in Christ, Holy and Righteous.)

When you do sin, whatever the issue; anger, gossip, lust, or anything else; you have made a choice at that moment to submit yourself to sin instead of to the Holy Spirit living in you. And until that lapse is confessed, and cleansed, you are, for all practical purposes, back in the flesh, and a slave to sin. It is an ugly thing to say, I know, but it is the sorry truth. We have two natures, and we must learn to walk with God, allowing the new nature to be in dominance.

Created Unto Good Works, not By Good Works

Over in Ephesians 2:10 we saw that “…we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” So often we twist that concept around and assume that it is by good works that our new nature has been created. Nothing could be further from the truth! The preceding lines make it clear: “By Grace ye have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it (the salvation) is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.”

We are a new creation of God, in Christ, for the purpose of good results that he has planned in advance for us. All we have to do is daily make ourselves available to him, as a tool in His hands. We cannot produce righteousness through our works, God produces righteousness, and we walk in it by faith.

Paul’s Conclusion:

21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

This is the bottom line, regarding works of the Law: If you decide that you can produce ANY sort of righteousness through keeping the Law, then you are declaring that “Jesus died for nothing!”  That is a pretty heavy statement. Give that some thought: are you really willing to make that statement? If not, then think very carefully about how you view works versus grace: what you decide about those two concepts will demonstrate what you really think about Jesus in His crucifixion. Works are to be a result of Grace, not a replacement or a supplement.

We struggle with the concept, because everything in our lives teaches us that anything good costs something. And that is true! But, in this case, the cost was infinitely beyond our reach. Jesus paid the price in our place, and offers a perfect, eternally secure, right standing with God through faith in his blood.

I wish I could say that the Christian life was trouble-free, but in fact, the opposite is true. We are in a war with an invisible enemy, and only God can direct our steps. The Christian life is not hard: it is impossible, apart from God’s indwelling Holy Spirit. Keep that in mind. When we get to chapter five, Paul will have a lot to say about how to live the Christian life.

Meanwhile, let’s rest secure in the knowledge that Jesus’ blood was the perfect, permanent payment for all of the sins of the whole world. All he has asked any of us to do is to place our faith in His finished Work.

That step of faith places us in his care and under His authority. Our new position in Christ is completely secure…but not always comfortable. God takes personal interest in our personal development, just as a doting parent takes personal interest in the growth and development of a little child. Sometimes he puts us through uncomfortable experiences to make us grow into His likeness. Give Him time: believe it or not, He knows what he is doing and will continue His perfect work until the day he takes you home to be with Him. (Philippians 1:6)

Review these passages and meditate upon their teaching. This is not an easy idea to grasp, in my experience. But if you can understand the truth that you are dead with Christ, and begin to place faith in the amazing results that truth has produced, I believe you will find it more and more natural to leave behind the old patterns of life, and embrace the life of Christ in you.

Consider this, too: we often stress the fact that the believer is to feed on the Word of God, and that is certainly true. But we are also to feed on experiential obedience. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work!” (John 4:34)

Let’s learn from Him how to feed on Him.


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!


Introduction to the Galatian Epistle

An Introduction to the Galatian Epistle

© C. O. Bishop 2014 (THCF 8/31/14)

Galatians 1:1-5

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians Chapter 1, verses 1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what about Jesus’ death at the Cross?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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