Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Sting of the Scorpion vs The Salve of the Savior

In Revelation 9 we are met with two terrifying images. The first is of a conglomerate-of-beings locust army, and the second is a fire-and-brimstone cavalry army. The first is not allowed to kill anyone—just torture for a limited amount of time—and the second kills a third of humanity. And then, the last two verses summarize the situation, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk;  and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21).
So, to some extent, the simplest way to understand these plagues is that they are plagues on idolaters. These plagues only strike those who do not belong to God (Revelation 9:4), so it’s almost as if the locusts mark out who the idolaters are, and then when the sixth trumpet blows the idolaters are destroyed.
The passage about the locusts specifically has seriously stuck out to me in the last several months because I’ve gone through an intense period of depression and spiritual agony, that has unfortunately made me question whether living any longer is even worth it. I have since found great hope even in the midst of this very vague and strange vision that Jesus showed to John.
The question it puts before us is: what are you worshipping? If you aren’t solely worshipping Jesus, you are worshipping something that will ultimately torture you, or at least has the potential to. While 9:4 is very clear that these demon locusts cannot harm a believer, it should still cause us to examine ourselves. Am I on a path that could potentially lead to feeling demonically tortured by the very things I’m worshipping? Worship ultimately reveals where the heart is; so if I persist in worshipping something false, then it follows that my heart may be false. This passage seeks to serve as a warning passage in much the same way that Hebrews 6:4-8 and other similar passages serve. Examine yourself!
In fact, Psalm 16:4 says, “The sorrows of those who take another god for themselves will multiply,” and that—in a nutshell—is what Jesus is showing to John in this vision. For more information on the topic, wait for my detailed exegesis of the passage; I plan to post it to academia.edu before August 24th.
Until then, worship Jesus!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Basic Principles = Jesus Alone – 3:6-14

I really like the movie Hitch with Will Smith, and it’s not just because I can use it as an illustration of how men should view and treat women (don’t be a Vance Munson; if you currently act like him, please stop [but I’ll speak directly to that topic in my explanation of 3:28 and several times throughout chapter 5]!). Will Smith’s character introduces the movie by giving a speech about “basic principles for a successful date,” but then, by the end of the movie, says, “Basic principles? There are none.” The point being that if you are forced to follow a certain pattern for a relationship to be successful, then as soon as something breaks up that pattern, the relationship is doomed to failure. Smith’s character learned quickly that his “rules for a successful first three dates” were not the only way in which a relationship could blossom. Every one of his rules was broken, and the relationship still bloomed (though I won’t spoil the plot). In much the same way, in our passage today, Paul seeks to show through a contrast between law and faith that if we are forced to follow our “basic principles” we are still under a curse and our relationship with God is doomed to failure.
Galatians 3:6-14 says, Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons.  Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you.  So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.  For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.  Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.  But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them.  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.  The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
So this passage seeks to answer more fully the rhetorical question Paul posed in 3:5. “So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” He then puts forward the first option: faith like Abraham’s, followed by the second: stay cursed under the law. He uses quite a few Scriptures to explain his points, and it is quite interesting that the Scriptures he chooses all come from the Law of Moses (except for one). Paul saw the Law of Moses as authoritative, even if he didn’t believe in following it in a ceremonial sense. This is very important to remember in these kinds of discussions. It’s not that we become antinomian (anti-law) as Christians, but rather we of all people can say, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). He clarifies in 1 Timothy 1:8, “But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.” So today’s discussion is not about condemning the law; rather, it’s about how the law is no longer allowed to condemn us. There’s only one way in which this is possible, and Paul lays it out in verses 13-14.
But first, there was Abraham. Verses 6-9 say, “Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons.  Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you.  So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.” The Judaizers were saying that Gentiles had to become Jews to become real followers of Jesus. Paul counters that by talking about Abraham, the father of Judaism, who was originally a Gentile.
Paul begins by relating Abraham’s justification. It is originally told in Genesis 15:5-6. “He took him outside and said, Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them. Then He said to him, Your offspring will be that numerous. Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” God made a promise to Abraham about Abraham’s offspring, and Abraham believed it. For the human today, it is no different: believe the promise that God makes to you about Jesus as the source of eternal life (which is much more than just not going to hell when you die) and it will be counted to you as righteousness. The reason God made this promise to Abraham, that he believed for righteousness, was because God had yet to give him a child. This was ten or so years after first being spoken to by God about becoming a great nation, so Abraham naturally was beginning to wonder when it would all start happening. One commentator explains, “Engaging in something of a ‘pity party,’ Abram made seven references to himself (in the Hb) in the space of 22 Hebrew words [in verses 2-3] and twice utters the complaint that he was childless.”[1] God still showed His graciousness by making the promise that He does in verse 5, that He graciously allowed Abraham to believe in verse 6. So, even though Abraham was probably acting contrary to a man who believed God (like we do much too often), God still made a promise that Abraham’s small amount of faith was able to believe, and it led to his salvation.
Verse 7 is an introduction to the next entry. It has to do with the fact that “a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh” (Romans 2:28). It also has to do with what Paul writes in Galatians 3:15-18, specifically verse 16. I’ll give a hint right now: the offspring mentioned in Genesis 15:5, though numerous, is a singular noun. Abraham will have one offspring that is numerous. Wait til next time J
He hints at it again in the beginning of verse 8. The Scripture predicted that God would justify the nations by faith and not by works, and it is shown both in the prior quoted passage (15:5) and in what follows. Genesis 12:1-3 is the call of Abraham, which interestingly occurred before he was even justified. “The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (emphasis added).
Paul explains Genesis 12:3 by writing verse 9: “The ones by faith are being blessed with the faith of Abraham.” The ones who are truly Abraham’s descendants are those who were born of faith. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “When Abraham believed God, he became righteous and so did all his true descendants. Abraham’s faith is what blesses us if we believe as well. But basically, without letting it all get too complicated, the point is that faith is what saves. It worked for Abraham, and because it worked for Abraham, we don’t need to do anything more than have faith to be justified.
And Paul proves this clearly in verses 10-12. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed.  Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.  But the law is not based on faith; instead, the one who does these things will live by them.” The law presents a curse. Our own personal principles, even, present a curse. As soon as we fail to completely live up to them, we will never be able to completely live up to them.
Paul proves this in verse 10 by quoting Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” This verse comes at the end of a lengthy passage delineating what would bring a curse on the people of Israel: things such as idolatry, dishonesty, perverted justice, or sexual immorality of various kinds—heterosexual and homosexual. And then verse 26 catches everything else in it: all 613 commands laid out from Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy must be followed perfectly. Basically, Paul here says, “Oh yeah. Guess what? If you try following the law for salvation, you’re already out of luck. If you’ve broken even one of them, you’re under a curse, and the law can’t help you.”
In verse 11, Paul explains that it is clear that the law can’t justify anyone, and he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to prove it: “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” In the original context, this is an answer from God to the prophet concerning the coming Babylonian invasion. Habakkuk was unsure about both the future of Israel and about the character of God since God was allowing the evil Babylonians to attack and conquer Israel. Part of God’s response is to say that Babylon will grow arrogant in their victory over Israel, and as such will be brought down by God eventually; in contrast, those who belong to God will prove it by humble faith and trust in God despite uncertain times. One commentator explains,
This Babylonian self-righteousness, seeking their own ends, not only leads to pride and the sinful acts of the next verses, it can also lead to death (cf. Prov. 14:12; 16:25). This death is their implied though unstated end, in contrast to the life which awaits the righteous. This desired preservation of life will come to Judah if they show faith, waiting in patient assurance that Yahweh will act as he promised.[2]
Attempts at keeping the law, in the Galatians context, only lead to pride, and Paul wants to be clear that pride will be smashed, because the truth is that faith is the only answer. One falter in keeping the law brings a curse, so why subject yourself to that curse? Faith has always been what proves a person righteous—from Abraham to the exile to Babylon—and it’s no different now—either in Paul’s day or in ours.
And Paul makes clear in verse 12 that the law is the opposite of faith. The righteous one lives by faith; the one who keeps the law lives by the law. In fact, he basically says, “the law is the opposite of faith. You can see the law and read the law and obey the law; it requires zero faith.” His quotation of Leviticus 18:5 helps prove just how much of a curse the law keeps its hearers trapped under. “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.” This is at the end of an introduction to a whole bunch of specific laws that the Gentiles were guilty of breaking. Leviticus 18:3 says, “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.” God is basically saying in this section that if you want to live you have to follow all of these commands. For the Gentiles—remember that the Galatians were not Jews—it was basically hopeless for them to know God according to this standard. They were guilty of breaking these laws. Paul is telling the Galatians—though not explicitly—that following the law will never allow them to live. He is telling them to stop listening to the deceivers that are telling them to return to the law. “Why go back to being under a curse?” he asks in effect. Martin Luther concludes of trying to be justified by works,
Men fast, pray, watch, suffer. They intend to appease the wrath of God and to deserve God’s grace by their exertions. But there is no glory in it for God, because by their exertions these workers pronounce God an unmerciful slave driver, an unfaithful and angry Judge. They despise God, make a liar out of Him, snub Christ and all His benefits; in short they pull God from His throne and perch themselves on it.[3]
And then Paul writes verses 13-14. In them, he once again presents the gospel in all its clear beauty: Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.  The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.” And thus he concludes the answer to his question from verse 5. Christians get the Spirit through faith, and the way they get the Spirit through faith was through the fact that Christ became a curse in our stead. He was hung on a tree to symbolize publicly that He became a curse. Christ bought us out from under the curse of the law by taking our place. This is what Paul means in 2:20 when he says, “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” That is crazy love right there!
And it wasn’t just shown for Paul. There are things in my life and things in your life, even today that we deserve to be cursed for. Maybe you have something you care about more than you care about God. Maybe you don’t honor your parents. Maybe you aren’t 100% honest in all your dealings with others. Maybe you don’t care for the poor and needy like you’ve been called to. Or maybe in some way or another you are sexually deviant.[4] Christ died to redeem you from the curse that those actions earned. When He was crucified, the old you was crucified also! Never return to it again. Why rebuild what He destroyed? That would be the epitome of foolishness!
So, Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our model. Jesus is our principle. Any other principles that we set above Him will only fail us. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and not fall prey to anything that seeks to take the glory from Him. Don’t pull Him off His throne!
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Jeremy Royal Howard, ed., HCSB Study Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "Genesis 15".

[2] David W. Baker, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries – Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2009), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 58.
[3] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, trans. Theodore Graebner, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1939; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1999), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "Galatians 3".
[4] This would definitely be the one that stings the most for me, though almost a month ago I vowed that I would not rebuild even one more stone to that condemned building. Christ tore it down, and I am free! Now I just need—by His grace—to practically prove it!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Courage Follows Encouragement

So I had a friend tell me today that she thinks I have the gift of encouragement. Perhaps she is right. However, if she is (which is where I now lean) then it means that most people know me as an encourager. Thus, if I'm encouraging by nature, it would clearly explain why I turn into such a repulsive jerk when depression begins to take over. I think back to what was going on in the beginning of March that led to my breakup, and it totally makes perfect sense why she would have wanted out of the relationship: I was undoing all my previous encouragement groundwork...

So, there's three observations that follow. The first is theological, the second is practical, and the third is personal.

First, spiritual gifts aren't necessarily known by the person that possesses them. It could very well require another person to point them out. I wasn't trying to be encouraging earlier; I was just having a texting conversation; the Spirit used my words to encourage. Until today I'd never even considered encouragement as one of my spiritual gifts, but after reflecting on it a bit, it makes perfect sense.

Second, those with the gift of encouragement encourage others, but aren't necessarily very good at encouraging themselves. They have a heart to see others joyful in God and faithful in their walks, and as such pour themselves out for others, and let themselves get drained. Until someone else comes along and pours into them, they will eventually hit an "encouraging others" wall and not be able to do what they were called to do, which could in turn lead to depression.

Third, since I have now connected my depression to an absence of my encouraging others, I need to fight the urge to dwell on depression (even if no one else is encouraging me), because an encourager can do more damage than others when they stop using their gift. Satan can quickly turn an encourager into a discourager. I don't want to be a tool in his hand.

Pray for an encourager today!

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, July 11, 2016

Testimony of the Galatians – 3:1-5

So I really like dubstep music, and I really like Star Wars, so when the two were combined and my brother sent me a playlist he had compiled, I ate it up. One song contains the following quote from Darth Vader found in Episode V: “The force is with you, young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet.” It got me thinking, “Can I say something similar as a Christian: ‘The Spirit is with you, young Wingerd, but you are not a Christian yet’?” Absolutely not! The definition of a Christian is one who is indwelt by the Spirit. To say that something else must happen first is to cheapen everything about Christianity. The Spirit is with me, and I am a Christian. If the Spirit is with you, you are a Christian. Since the Spirit was with the Galatians, they were Christians, and this is what Paul will prove in these five verses. They were foolish to say anything else was necessary!
Galatians 3:1-5 says, You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified?  I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?  Did you suffer so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing?  So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?”
This passage basically picks up where 1:9 leaves off. “As we have said before, I now say again: If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” He then spent almost two whole chapters explaining why he could be trusted as a reliable person to hear the gospel from. And now, in 3:1, he jumps immediately back to where he left off in 1:9. He asks who is responsible for preaching a different gospel to them. In fact these five verses read like an interrogation. So, even though verse 1 talks about Jesus, verses 2-4 talk about the Spirit, and verse 5 talks about the Father, I’m going to work through it question by question.
Paul begins by making a conclusion. He calls the Galatians foolish. Now, lest we think he’s insulting their intelligence, it’s important to see the difference between the word he actually uses and another word he could have used. The word he could have used is where we get our word “moron” from, which means foolish or stupid by necessity. The word Paul uses means more closely to “absence of mind” and insinuates “mental laziness and carelessness. . . . The Galatians had foolishly fallen into Judaistic legalism because they had stopped believing and applying the basic truths of the gospel Paul had taught them and by which they had been saved.”[1] When we start believing everything we’re told, we’re ceasing to practice discernment, and it is a sign of spiritual laziness. This is Paul’s point in the introductory phrase. He says, “Look, I have proved that my gospel was not from men and was not altered by man, and that I have torn down, and refuse to rebuild, my life according to the law. Now let me ask you some rhetorical questions to prove that you are foolish.”
Verse one concludes with the question, “Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified?” Paul’s point in this question is not so much, “Who did this to you?” but more accurately, “How’d you let them hypnotize you, considering your experience?” The word translated “vividly portrayed” refers to a public notice being placed on a wall (think, “Wanted: dead or alive”) where people can see it and respond to it. Another good example of a public notice would be in the book of Esther when Haman has the king write an edict for all his kingdom to see.
Letters were sent by couriers to each of the royal provinces telling the officials to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jewish people—young and old, women and children—and plunder their possessions on a single day, the thirteenth day of Adar, the twelfth month.  A copy of the text, issued as law throughout every province, was distributed to all the peoples so that they might get ready for that day.  The couriers left, spurred on by royal command, and the law was issued in the fortress of Susa (3:13-15).
Paul wants the Galatians to remember just how convinced they were by Paul’s preaching that Jesus Christ had been crucified. And he flat out tells them, “You’re not thinking clearly. Snap out of this trance and tell me how you could let someone deceive you like this?” It’s very interesting that this verse comes right after 2:21, because Paul concluded that point by saying, “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” He wants them to remember the vividness of the reality of Christ’s death that he had convinced them of so that they would remember that Christ’s death really happened and was really necessary, and that the legalism purported by the false teachers was undermining Christ’s death.
I imagine their rhetorical answer being silence out of shame.
But Paul doesn’t care. He writes in verse 2, “I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Paul drops the bomb on them. He asks, “How did you get into this race? How’d you become a child of God? How’d you receive the Spirit? Did you have to keep law to get the Spirit or did you just hear my gospel?”
And I imagine their rhetorical answer is, “Of course by faith.”
Then Paul responds again. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” Literally there is only one question in this verse, and it reads more like the following: “Thusly you are foolish: After beginning by the Spirit are you now to be fulfilled by the flesh?” Paul wants them to see that starting by faith—all of grace—only to revert back to the law is the epitome of what it means to be lazy in the arena of spiritual discernment.
And far too often in modern Christianity, we do the same thing, even though our reverting back to the law doesn’t look like obeying Mosaic rituals. We come in by faith, and accept the grace that washes us clean of all the junk in our past, but then act as if we have to perform now in order to stay in God’s good graces. This is exactly what Paul is arguing against here. All we’ve done in modern, American evangelicalism is westernize the law to suit our tastes.
Here’s a fictional (though completely possible) example: let’s say there’s a homosexual man (since this is basically the “unforgivable sin” in our church world today) who is truly born again in Christ. For one, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 would immediately say that he is no longer a homosexual—he used to be one. And let’s say, by God’s grace that he hates his sin. He hates that he is drawn toward men the way other men are drawn toward women. However, while he hates it, he still finds himself acting out on it (even if acting out on it goes no farther than thinking a guy looks attractive), but then feels absolutely convicted and crushed afterwards. And our modern church world of “once in, keep yourself in by following the laws” would have absolutely nothing to offer this man except condemnation.
If you want to follow the laws to stay saved, James says, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (2:10), as if to say, “once you’ve broken one part of God’s law, you’ve broken His law and are guilty eternally because you’ve broken an eternal law.” Therefore, to trust the law after trusting Christ is to tell Christ, “You’re not good enough for me.” However JESUS IS BETTER. He’s better than sin, better than the law, better than the best earthly blessing God has ever bestowed on you. And, it’s not just trusting God’s laws for salvation that is wrong. Paul condemns the whole world, even those who’ve never even seen a Bible, because they can’t even perfectly keep the laws they place on themselves. Romans 2:14-16 says,
So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.
So when we say, “I won’t do this, so that I don’t do that,” and begin to trust “this” and “that” to keep us holy instead of trusting God and seeking Him, we are making laws for us to follow, laws that prove that we aren’t righteous if we break them.
This is why Paul is incredulous that someone who starts the Christian faith by faith would ever walk away from faith to be perfected by law. It’s why we must never place extra laws on those we are trying to help break free from sin or addiction. The Spirit is our only hope, and to confound the Spirit’s work by inserting legal codes instead will never sanctify. Romans 8:13 says, “for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (emphasis added). The only way to have victory over the flesh is by the Spirit, and we’re not very good at putting sin to death “by the Spirit” because it involves faith and not noticeable actions on our part. But I digress.
Regardless of that, I can see the Galatians responding to Paul’s question by saying, “Yes. We can do it ourselves, and we will. The law gives us power.”
Then verse 4 gives Paul’s next question based on that answer. “Did you suffer so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing?” Paul’s point is that whatever they experienced was in vain if they continued down the path of rejecting grace in favor of law. However, he trusts that they have only been sidetracked for a short time, and will be back on track again soon, because he offers, hopefully, “if in fact it was for nothing.” He doesn’t really believe that their Christianity is a sham. He trusts that the God who saved him and who saved them, who chose them before the world’s foundation (Galatians 1:15-16; Ephesians 1:3-6; Romans 8:28-30), would rescue them from the hypnotization they had experienced. This tells us that we should always be hope-full in our dealings with other, weaker believers.
And I imagine their answer to be, “No, no, no. We didn’t receive God’s Spirit in vain!”
Paul concludes his interrogation with verse 5, which looks an awful lot like verse 2. “So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith?” This tells us that God is the source of the Spirit. If a person has the Spirit it is for no other reason than for the fact that God gave it to that person. No one has to do a single thing to get the Spirit and no one has to do a single thing to keep the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 1:13; Romans 8:38-39). Also important in this verse (though we don’t see specific examples in Acts) is that apparently miracles occurred among the Galatians during Paul’s time there. Paul points out and makes clear that they didn’t have to obey law for God to display His power mightily amongst them. It was all by faith.
And I imagine the Galatians saying, “Of course it was by faith,” pausing, and then adding, “Oh, I’m starting to understand.”
But that’s all for today. Paul will take his proofs for a law-free gospel (but not a law-less gospel) in a different direction next time. The point to be elaborated here is that the Gospel is believed by faith, Christian living starts by faith, and Christian sanctification continues by faith. At no point should a Christian ever revert to living under the law. Once the Spirit has been given to a believer, he or she has all he or she needs for a life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Don’t revert back to the law. Run for refuge to Christ. He alone can save, and He is better!
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria

[1] John MacArthur, Galatians, 63.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Living and Dying

So I looked at my calendar today and realized that Friday, July 1 marked my six year birthday as a born-again believer, my six year anniversary as part of Christ's bride, and my six year celebration of my resurrection from death to life. It's fitting that as June ended and July started, I get a fitting reminder of the truth of Romans 6:12-14. "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace." Also Romans 8:12-13. "So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

So, one thing I've clearly learned over the last six years is that I'm now alive as a believer. Prior to believing I was dead, even though physically alive, and coming to the realization that you're truly dead is not an easy realization to come to.

However, equally true now is that I have to die now too. In fact, the book of Galatians would argue that I already did die, and that everytime I revert back to sinful patterns I am working to bring my flesh back to life (Galatians 2:18). Instead, I'm to suffocate out the desires that repeatedly try to rise up inside me. Something that is dying cannot possibly ever gain dominion over me. I need to remember always that I am dying to live. My sin must be killed so my Spirit can thrive.

And it's been a real struggle the past six years walking this thing, because I really like to focus on the good news that I'm alive. It's comforting, and it's the gospel. However, I also like focusing on the task at hand: "this sin in me must die!" I have a very hard time focusing on both, and what normally happens is this: "sin must die, so I can know I'm alive," so I focus on it too much and fall into it; "the gospel says I'm alive, so I know I am," and I confess my sin and promise never to do it again; then in my quest to never do it again, I focus on it too much, and the cycle repeats.

The hope for freedom from this cycle is found in Romans 7:24-25a. "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Instead of focusing on myself and my miserableness in failure, or even myself and the success of my victory, I need to always look to Jesus Christ my Lord. In six years of being a Christian, I've realized that the gospel of grace: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners--and I am the worst of them" is a truth I need to reflect on constantly. I will never depart from this foundation, and the subject of that verse (1 Timothy 1:15) needs to be the subject of my life. It's not about me; it's about Him and His glory.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, July 4, 2016

Freedom!!! – 2:11-21

Happy Independence Day!!! While it is the Fourth of July today, we must never proclaim political freedom as more important than our spiritual freedom in Christ. And while Paul will write in Galatians 5:1, “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Paul will introduce that concept quite clearly in today’s passage. To explain what it would be like, let me give a political example before Paul drops a spiritual example. The day is July 5, 1776, or maybe, better yet, September 4, 1783. Freedom has been declared and the victory has been officially won. However, as a country, we decided, “You know what, it’s hard being autonomous. We have way more responsibility now. Sure, we aren’t being terrorized anymore, but now we have to figure out how to run this place. Let’s ask King George to take us back.” All the lives that were lost in the cause of freedom would have been in vain, England probably would have treated us even worse, and none of the freedoms that we enjoy today would exist. Listen to Paul’s next—and final—argument from experience.
Galatians 2:11-21 says, But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.  For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party.  Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?”  We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners”  know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.  But if we ourselves are also found to be “sinners” while seeking to be justified by Christ, is Christ then a promoter of sin? Absolutely not!  If I rebuild the system I tore down, I show myself to be a lawbreaker.  For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ  and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Paul wants to say once and for all a couple of things to conclude this first section (though the second one will definitely carry throughout the rest of the letter). First, that his gospel was not given to him by man. Second, that the freedom of the gospel is at stake in what the Galatians have started believing.
Verse 11 gives the situation. “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.” Cephas is Peter. Peter is the one Paul got acquainted with for fifteen days. Fifteen days were not enough time for Paul to change his theological foundation of the previous three years. However, Paul’s point throughout this section is that even if Peter had added anything to Paul’s gospel, Paul would throw it away if it was garbage.
Now when does this account take place in the scheme of things? I mentioned last time that verses 1-10 probably occur in Acts 11:30. The next thing we see in Acts is James the brother of John being martyred by King Herod. Afterwards, Herod imprisons Peter, who is miraculously released. In Acts 12:17, “he departed and went to a different place.” That different place could very well have been Antioch. Perhaps he wanted to give a face to the name likely being reported in relation to Jesus (cf. especially the stories related in Matthew’s gospel where Peter is the obvious spokesperson; stories that would have been initially transmitted verbally). Or maybe he just wanted a vacation from Jerusalem—his life had just been threatened—because everyone wants/needs a vacation at some point. Regardless, he came up to Antioch. And when Paul says, “I opposed him to his face,” it is possible to understand the grammar of the introductory phrase as relaying the idea that “Peter may have already been there for some considerable time when the recorded incident took place.[1] In fact, as we will see, it really only makes sense to understand it this way.
But what was it that condemned Peter, that made Paul oppose him? Verses 12-13 explain, “For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party.  Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” Peter caused a rift in the Antioch church. The split was over race; the split was over religion; the split was serious, and Peter influenced many others to follow him.
In this day, meals were a form of fellowship. To show that someone got along with someone else, he or she would eat with the other person. Jesus is a prime example; it’s why the Pharisees had such a problem with him: “While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Matthew 9:10-11). Jesus accepted them; He got along with them. Peter as well, had been eating with the Jewish believers in Antioch—showing that he fully accepted them as believers in Christ on equal footing as him—but then something happened that changed it.
Certain men came from James. Cole writes,
The words ‘from James’ are not as strong in Greek as in English, but they do express controlled indignation. Paul is not implying that James of necessity sent them (indeed, James denies this in Acts 15:24); but they were certainly men from James’ circle, James’ group, within the Jerusalem church. The implied criticism is that James should not have tolerated such views.[2]
Regardless of where specifically these men came from, they claimed to have been sent from James. They claimed his authority and his level of influence. This shook Peter to the core. MacArthur comments,
The old Peter—weak, fearful, and vacillating—had come to the fore again. Here was the same Peter who under divine inspiration declared Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” but who a short time later rebuked his Lord for saying that He must suffer and die (Matt. 16:16, 22). Here is the same Peter who boldly declared he would rather die than deny his Lord but who, before the night was out, had denied Him three times (Mark 14:29-31, 66-72). Here was the same Peter who was called to preach but who disobediently went back to fishing even after he had encountered the resurrected Christ (John 21:3).[3]
Peter was often afraid of people, and here it almost caused a disaster; in fact it had already caused a church split—Jew vs. Gentile. And this is where Paul comes in with verse 14, in the spirit of Titus 3:9-10: “But avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning,  knowing that such a person is perverted and sins, being self-condemned.” Thankfully, Peter was corrected on his first warning, because when we see him next—Acts 15—he’s on Paul’s side.
Galatians 2:14-21 contain Paul’s speech to Peter, though in the Greek it is hard to tell exactly where the quotation ends. Some translations end it in verse 14; some end it in verse 16; some end it in verse 21. The HCSB, which I normally follow, ends it in verse 14. However, I think it is best to understand it as going all the way through verse 21. The NASB reads, “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?  We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;  nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.  "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.’ ”
Paul’s reason for confronting Peter publicly was to show him that, ultimately, his decision to separate from the Gentile Christians was basically to say that Christ’s death didn’t need to happen. Just like if we told England that we wanted back under them after the Revolutionary War had ended, all the soldiers who had shed their blood for our freedom would have died in vain, so if we want to return to living under the Law Christ would have died in vain.
Peter was a Jew, who lived like a Gentile for a while after his experience in Acts 10. People knew this. They also knew that he had stopped living like a Gentile, and was now expecting Gentiles to live like Jews. Paul called this hypocrisy in verse 13, and explains his meaning explicitly to Peter in verse 14.
In verses 15-16, Paul drops a theological bomb. He says, “We’re Jews; they’re Gentiles; so what? The only way to be right with God is to believe in Jesus and trust His faithfulness in keeping the Law for the 33 years He lived on earth. It is the faithfulness of Christ that makes us righteous, not our own righteous deeds, or even our faith in Jesus; it is all of grace.” The phrase that occurs twice in Galatians 2:16, translated “faith in [Christ Jesus]”could also be translated “faithfulness of [Christ Jesus].” I think, to keep the conversation as simple as possible, it is best to render it “faithfulness of Christ Jesus” because Paul’s point here is to prove that we as a human race are not faithful to keep the Law, and that only Jesus will ever fit that bill perfectly.
Verse 17 solidifies this point. If seeking to be justified in Christ, as Paul teaches, really is just an excuse to break the Law, and thus leaves people guilty of sin, then Christ is leading people into sin. Cole helpfully explains it just a little more clearly by paraphrasing Paul, “If, at the very moment when we say that we ourselves are justified by faith alone, we turn out to be preaching to others that ‘faith alone’ is inadequate, but that they must keep the law as well, does that not mean that trusting in Christ is only leading them into sin? for it is teaching them not to trust the law.”[4] Paul exclaims, “That’s blasphemous to even think!” Therefore, Christ’s faithful law-keeping is the only hope we have for salvation.
Paul explains what conversion means in verses 18-20. Paul says that he tore down living a life under the law, but that if he then decided—like Peter had done—to return to living under the law, he would be guilty of sin. Living under the Law had been Paul’s sin of choice before being saved. Paul says that that is no more. He now lives to God. He was crucified with Christ—living under the Law was crucified with Christ—and he now lives by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s the same with our sins of choice prior to salvation—and, in context, for Peter’s as well. Paul wants us to know that whatever held us back from totally committed service to God was crucified with Christ, and that since we no longer live, that thing was crucified when Christ was crucified, and Christ is now the one who lives through us. Since Christ lives through us, we never have to return to cowering before people, we never have to return to yelling and fighting and anger at those we are supposed to be closest to, we never have to return to gazing at images on a screen. Christ died and the old me died with Him. It’s the same for you if you are in Him. Don’t be found a transgressor because you are rebuilding the things you tore down!
I say, “if you are in Him,” because someone here may be reading and not be in Him. Look at the end of Galatians 2:20: “who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The giving of Himself was the physical example of His love for you. He loved you so much He didn’t even consider His life worth keeping so long as He could have you for eternity. Think about that, believe that, and let thoughts of worthlessness, depression, and loneliness die. Jesus loved you. He gave Himself up for you. Put your trust in Him today. Tear down the strongholds that are being rebuilt in your life. He is powerful.
Paul concludes his message to Peter by summing up his first argument. Experientially, he says, “I don’t set aside God’s grace, because if I do, Christ’s death was in vain.” Christ died for our freedom. Run to Him. Don’t run to the Law. Don’t run to sin. RUN TO HIM. Everything else is slavery. On this Independence Day, celebrate spiritual freedom!
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria

[1] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 114.
[2] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 117.
[3] John MacArthur, Galatians (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1987), 51.
[4] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 123.