Friday, January 27, 2017

Tough Love – liL fytr in Galatians

Having a day off work is super helpful, especially when your cat has a vet appointment early in the morning the same day, because it forces you to get up early and be productive. As such, I decided to return to Galatians, and look specifically at the following question: “Is Paul really living in love when he talks harshly against the people leading the Galatians astray?”
And to be totally honest, statements that could be taken harshly occur as early as 1:8. “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him” (emphasis added). Then in 4:30, Paul says, “Throw out the slave and her son, for the son of the slave will never inherit with the son of the free woman.”[1] And then Paul goes off (for lack of a better phrase) in 5:2-12:
Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.  Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.  You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.  A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough.  I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.  Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated! (emphases added).
I hold to this statement: “The whole point of the Bible is love. Each of the 66 books in our canon emphasizes a different aspect, but they all describe and promote love.”[2] As such, I hold that the gospel of God’s love for sinful man can be expressed clearly from each passage (rightly exegeted and exposited), and I hold that the personal application of every passage should have something to do with love (either for God or man) as well. So the question for today is: “how do we apply love from the above passages that have Paul blasting dudes?”
The first thing to say is that love is not defined as telling people that they’re great no matter what they do or say. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it,” and it is better translated/interpreted, “the way you train a child is the way he will turn out.” The point being: “love your child enough to discipline them.” While discipline may seem harsh to some, it teaches valuable lessons that will prove invaluable later in life. Proverbs pulls no punches when it says, “The one who will not use the rod hates his son, but the one who loves him disciplines him diligently” (13:24). Love is therefore defined as thinking of others ahead of yourself. It would be much easier to let someone go on in their destructive behavior, especially when society says, “Physical discipline isn’t good for a child’s self-esteem.”[3] If you truly love your child, you teach them that bad decisions cause pain (and a spanking is a lot less pain then a gunshot wound to the head because lack of physical discipline led a child to join a gang [cf. Proverbs 1:8-18]).
By way of comparison, Paul is loving the Galatians enough to rebuke them and say, “You’re wrong if you listen to these other people.”  And, as will be made clear in the next few posts through his letter, theology matters because wrong thinking causes wrong living. Paul wanted the Galatians to prove that their salvation was real, but they couldn’t do this if they reverted back to the Law. Paul says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace,” (5:4). MacArthur explains, “To attempt to be justified by law is to reject the way of grace. . . . Law and grace cannot be mixed. As a means to salvation they are totally incompatible and mutually exclusive. To mix law with grace is to obliterate grace. . . . Legalism does not please God but offends Him.”[4] Earlier, he explained, “Whether before or after conversion, trust in human works of any kind is a barrier between a person and Christ and results in unacceptable legalism.”[5]
Paul doesn’t want anyone to be separated from Christ. He made this truth abundantly clear in Romans 9:1-3, “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit—  that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart.  For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.” As such, he boldly rebukes people who are apostatizing from the faith (Galatians 1:6) and pleads with them to return to the truth (5:1). It takes real love to actually be willing to tell someone that they are wrong, and to risk alienating yourself from them; false love tells people exactly what they want to hear.
“But what about the people Paul told should be accursed (1:8) or thrown out (4:30) or castrated (5:12)?” you object. “How is that loving?” And I will admit that you bring up a good point. But the first thing to note is that the recipients of this letter were not those people. Those statements were written to the deceived, not the deceivers, in order to show the deceived the gross error of their heeding the teaching of the deceivers. Paul’s love is primarily reaching out to the deceived to set them back on the right path so that they can end up at the right destination.
However, I firmly believe that Paul expected the Judaizers (deceivers) to hear/see the content of the letter. And I also firmly believe that while they probably were greatly offended at what Paul wrote, he was no doubt hoping for conversion from them. I back up this thought by quoting Titus 1:13 where Paul says rebuke is for the purpose of being sound in faith: “[R]ebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”
Considering that the most literal translation of Galatians 5:10 says, “but the ones who are troubling you will bear the judgment” (emphasis added). Paul is warning them of the fact that judgment awaits false teachers. This judgment was described in 1:8 when Paul said that the one who teaches a different gospel is to be accursed. One scholar explains that the word translated judgment “means the ‘decision’ of the judge . . . as the result of the action, the sentence. . . . Usually the decision is unfavorable, and it thus bears the sense of condemnation.”[6] As such, Paul wants the Judaizers to know that they are standing over the pit of hell, and unless they turn from that, they will be damned eternally.
A problem with many who call themselves Christians today is that they are too comfortable with the fact that millions of people are headed to hell because they don’t know Jesus. Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), and there’s nothing more loving than to tell someone that they are in danger of hell. Even secular society would agree with me; check out the following quote from atheist Penn Jillette, of the magician duo, Penn & Teller:
I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.[7]
Paul does not hate the false teachers. He hates the spiritual terrorism they are inflicting on the converts whom he loves deeply. He hates the fact that they are undermining the work of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He hates the fact that they are blind to their error. And he loves them enough to try to help them see their need for repentance. He points out the coming judgment as the curse of God, and trusts God to awaken those whom He will. Paul’s whole letter is a call to wake up, regardless of who the reader is.
He tells the Galatians to throw the deceivers out (4:30) because he wants his readers to separate from false brothers. If the Judaizers were allowed to stay, then they would think that there was no need for them to change, and they would continue to harmfully influence the Galatians. By telling the Galatians to throw them out, it forces everyone involved to ask themselves, “Do I trust Christ, or my works?” Isolation gives people time to think, and Paul wanted everyone in Galatia to think about the foundation of their faith. He risked sounding hateful, because he loved them enough to counsel them for the best.
And then we come to Galatians 5:12, which I did not do enough justice to in my original post on 5:2-12. Here Paul says, “I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!” I do not believe that Paul is so angry that he is telling them he hopes they accidentally neuter themselves. Rather, I think he is challenging their assumed spirituality based on works. Cole explains,
If they are so enthusiastic about circumcision, one ‘mutilation’ of the flesh, why not go the whole way and castrate themselves, as did the indigenous eunuch priests of Asia Minor in honour of their strange, barbarous gods? That is the only possible meaning of apokopsontai, mutilate themselves. The language is bitter, but it is not merely a ‘coarse jest’, as is sometimes said. It is designed to set circumcision in its true light as but one of the many ritual cuttings and markings practised in the ancient world. True, God had once used circumcision as the ‘sign of the covenant’ in Israel; but, since he was not now using it in the Christian church, it had no more relevance to the Gentile Christians than any other of these strange customs. Indeed, the eunuch priests of paganism undoubtedly thought that they were acquiring great ‘merit’ by their action. In this sense at least, therefore, there is a real comparison.[8]
If they were to heed this advice by Paul, which no one in their right mind would, it would still accomplish nothing for them. This is yet a final attempt by Paul to say, “To add any human effort or act to God’s gracious provision through the death of His Son is to exchange the saving gospel of Jesus Christ for the damning falsehood of paganism.”[9] Trust Christ! Don’t trust works.
So, with that, I argue that Paul’s whole underlying motivation throughout the letter of Galatians is love. He wants people reconciled to God in the only way possible: the blood of Christ!
Now when I go to pick up my cat from the vet, I’ll ask him if the Judaizers really should get themselves castrated, because he’ll know firsthand what it’s like. I guarantee that he’ll say, “Meow,” which I’ll translate as “No!” And I would argue that Paul would say the same, because his point was only to show the Judaizers the foolishness of trusting the work of circumcision when other pagans were “much more devoted.”
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.

[1] If you’ve been following along from the beginning, you will remember that the analogy this verse is found in refers directly to Paul’s antagonists. If you have not been with us from the beginning, further explanation is here.
[3] Guelph Mercury, “Spanked Children more likely to have low self-esteem,” Guelph Mercury Tribune, January 7, 2011,, accessed January 27, 2017.  Excerpt from article:
“Spanking a child is not a quick fix for bad behaviour. Spanking teaches children not to trust their parents. It hurts the parent-child relationship as fear, anger and resentment builds up. Fear of being spanked along with a weak parental bond can damage a child’s self-esteem. Children who are spanked are more likely to have screaming tantrums, get into fights, hurt animals and refuse to share. Using spanking to correct behaviour distracts the child from learning to resolve conflict effectively. What he or she is learning is that when adults get mad, they use hitting as a way to express anger and solve problems.”
[4] John MacArthur, Galatians, 135.
[5] Ibid., 134.
[6] Friedrich B├╝chsel, “krivnw, krivsi", krivma . . .” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 942.
[8] R. Alan Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries – Galatians, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2008), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 203.
[9] John MacArthur, Galatians, 142.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Turning up the Heat – 5:2-12

There once was a man carrying a huge burden upon his back. He had just set out on a lengthy journey. The burden was doing nothing but slowing him down, tripping him up, and making him lose his footing. The man’s name was Christian. So it delighted him greatly when a stranger approached him and asked, “How now, good fellow, whither away after this burdened manner?” When Christian explained that he would love to get some counsel, the man replied, “I would advise thee, then, that thou with all speed get thyself rid of thy burden ; for thou wilt never be settled in thy mind till then; nor canst thou enjoy the benefits of the blessing which God hath bestowed upon thee till then.” Christian then explains that he had already been sent toward a solution by one named Evangelist. The stranger cautioned him against his advice by saying, “Thou art like to meet with in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and, in a word, death, and what not.” He continues,
“Why wilt thou seek for ease this way, seeing so many dangers attend it? Especially, since (hadst thou but patience to hear me) I could direct thee to the obtaining of what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run into; yea, and the remedy is at hand. Besides, I will add, that instead of those dangers, thou shalt meet with much safety, friendship, and content.”
Christian: “Pray sir, open this secret to me.”
“Why, in yonder village (the village is named Morality) there dwells a gentleman, whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine is from their shoulders; yea to my knowledge, he hath done a great deal of good this way; aye, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently. His house is not quite a mile from this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility, that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself: there, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, (as indeed I would not wish thee,) thou mayest send for thy wife and children to this village, where there are houses now standing empty, one of which thou mayest have at a reasonable rate: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is, to be sure there thou shalt live by honest neighbors, in credit and good fashion.”
So Christian turned out of his way to go to Mr. Legality's house for help: but, behold, when he was got now hard by the hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next the wayside did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still, and wotted not what to do. Also his burden now seemed heavier to him than while he was in his way. There came also flashes of fire, out of the hill, that made Christian afraid that he should be burnt: here therefore he did sweat and quake for fear.
Just then, Evangelist returned, and rebuked Christian for listening to the stranger:
The man that met thee is one Worldly Wiseman, and rightly is he so called; partly because he savoreth only the doctrine of this world (1 John 4:5), (therefore he always goes to the town of Morality to church;) and partly because he loveth that doctrine best, for it saveth him best from the cross (Gal. 6:12): and because he is of this carnal temper, therefore he seeketh to pervert my ways, though right . . .
. . . He to whom thou wast sent for ease, being by name Legality, is the son of the bond-woman which now is, and is in bondage with her children, and is, in a mystery, this Mount Sinai, which thou hast feared will fall on thy head. Now if she with her children are in bondage, how canst thou expect by them to be made free? This Legality, therefore, is not able to set thee free from thy burden. No man was as yet ever rid of his burden by him; no, nor ever is like to be: ye cannot be justified by the works of the law; for by the deeds of the law no man living can be rid of his burden: Therefore Mr. Worldly Wiseman is an alien, and Mr. Legality is a cheat; and for his son Civility, notwithstanding his simpering looks, he is but a hypocrite, and cannot help thee. Believe me, there is nothing in all this noise that thou hast heard of these sottish men, but a design to beguile thee of thy salvation, by turning thee from the way in which I had set thee.
And thus John Bunyan describes the book of Galatians in allegorical form in the opening chapter of his famous novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress.[1]
I share this because it clearly describes what Paul is seeking to prove in the eleven verses of today’s text. To leave the way of grace and promise, and to enter into the way of works and law is to desert the way of Christ. It accomplishes nothing, it leads to fear—not peace, and it removes a person from the path of life.
Paul writes in Galatians 5:2-12, “Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.  Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.  You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.  A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough.  I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.  Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!
Last time we saw that we have been set free because of Christ, and as such, we should refuse to submit again to slavery. This time, Paul elaborates, by showing what it looks like if we ignore his advice in 5:1.
Verses 2-5 discuss the futility of trying to achieve righteousness by the law. “Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.  Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”
Before diving right into the above verses, it is necessary to explain why “circumcision” pops up five times in these eleven verses while it has only occurred six times to this point in the first four chapters of the book. The earlier grouping of the circumcision discussion was when Paul was describing his time with the Jerusalem church (2:1-14). He brought it up there because this was the issue that spawned the book of Galatians. It is the issue described in Acts 15:1: “Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!’” Paul started in chapters 1-2 explaining his story—from persecutor to passionate preacher—and explained that the gospel that he had been given by Christ had nothing to do with circumcision. Then, in chapters 3-4 he described the theological proof that works of law have never contributed anything to salvation. And now he returns to the initial discussion of circumcision, before diving into a whole slew of application.
It boils down to the question, “What are you trusting in for your righteousness?” While God had given circumcision to the Jews as a symbol of His faithfulness to His covenant, “most Jews looked on it as having spiritual value in itself.” MacArthur continues, “The symbolism of cutting off the male foreskin was to be a constant reminder to all generations of Jews, for whom God desired to cut away the evil from their hearts.”[2]
So circumcision in itself is not legalism, just like refraining from alcohol, tobacco, filthy language, or dating is not legalism. However, if you look at your life and say, “I am circumcised, so now God will accept me,” or “I have never smoked, drank, or cussed; God has to accept me,” or “I haven’t dated in six years so God must think I’m extra spiritual,” you are being legalistic. And if your refraining from those things causes you to heap judgment on another brother or sister who may be struggling in one of those areas (recovering alcoholic, smoking quitter, or ex-sailor mouth) or who maybe doesn’t view those things as sinful (it is not the time to get into that discussion)[3] is definitely legalistic and wrong.
Paul here says that if you look to these things for righteousness standing before God, then you really have no need for Christ. Paul is saying that Christ can’t add anything to you. Paul is not saying that you don’t need Christ in this situation, but rather that “a supplemented Christ is a supplanted Christ. To trust in human effort is to trust in law, which is totally incompatible with grace. . . . Whether before or after conversion, trust in human works of any kind is a barrier between a person and Christ and results in unacceptable legalism.”[4]
The reason why Christ is of no benefit to this kind of person is because if you want to be a law-follower in part, Paul says in effect, “you have to be a law-follower in all.” Martin Luther said, “If we permit Moses to rule over us in one thing, we must obey him in all things.”[5] If you want to follow circumcision for salvation, you must also follow all the sacrifices of Leviticus for salvation—in addition to the rest of Genesis to Deuteronomy. The only way to be saved is to realize that you can’t perfectly keep the Law. So if you can’t do a part, you’ve broken all of it (cf. James 2:10) and need Christ and Christ alone. If, after trusting Christ alone, you revert back to trusting yourself, in effect you are saying, “Jesus, I don’t really need You; I got this,” which then returns you to the bondage of keeping the whole Law, under which you can do nothing but fail.
Paul says, “you are no longer associating yourselves with Jesus, if you are relying on the Law.” To try even to be sanctified by works of the Law apart from active, real faith in Christ, is to say, “I got this on my own, Jesus. Don’t bother me. I don’t want to associate with You anymore.” Paul says that if someone has this attitude—proven because they are not standing in freedom (5:1)—then they have “fallen from grace.” This is a harsh word that sounds like Paul is saying someone can lose their salvation. However, that is not true. But, what could be true is that someone doesn’t have the salvation that they think they have.
I love Bunyan’s book for this very reason. I love the metaphor of the Christian life as a journey. Salvation is a lifelong thing. It is founded on a past event, worked out in the present, and finally received ultimately in the future. The fact that Christian was led off the path does not mean that he lost his salvation; the fact that he is pointed back to the path proves that everyone strays at times. However, it is in the times of straying that we are forced to ask ourselves, “Is this salvation that I claim to possess real?” If Christian would have stayed off the path and continued down Worldly Wiseman’s road, he would have never gotten to the Celestial City, and it would have proven that he never had salvation. For this reason, we must always ask ourselves when we stumble on tough verses like this, “Am I on the right path, or have I erred somewhere?”[6] Paul wants the Galatians to know they are in a precarious place if they go ahead and listen to the Judaizers; however, the next verse shows the alternative to justification (or sanctification) by works.
Paul says in verse 5, “We, through the Spirit, from faith, eagerly await the hope of justification (or sanctification).” I say “(or sanctification)” because both justification (positional righteousness) and sanctification (practical righteousness) must be BY CHRIST ALONE and not by works of law (the Greek word is just “righteousness”). Paul trusted the Spirit to make him righteous. Who are we trusting? If we aren’t trusting the Spirit, we are in a heap of trouble according to these verses if we don’t repent and turn back to Christ.
Take some time now to ask the Lord where your motivation for righteousness is coming from.
Verse 6 is the ultimate application of the whole letter that is expounded throughout the rest of the letter. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.” Now, before anyone says, “I thought you said 5:1 was the main point?” I must state that 5:1 is the main point. However, the way that main point is carried out is described clearly in 5:6-6:15. Paul could have written, “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. 13For you were called to be free, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.” However, he first wanted to reiterate the foolishness of trusting in works (5:2-5), and then the folly of false teaching (5:7-12), before laying out clear application for the common man (5:13-6:15).
It is very interesting that 6:15 says, “For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.” It is almost identical to 5:6. This is called an inclusio, and it means that the main point is the same for everything inside of this section: “faith works itself out in love.”
Paul says in effect here, “If you’re circumcised already, so what! If you’re not circumcised already, so what!” To parse it into modern parlance, “If you’ve kept yourself totally sexually pure, so what! If you’ve come from a shady past sexually, so what!” Paul then explains what does matter: “faith working itself out through love.” This means that whatever you used to find identity in—circumcision, uncircumcision, purity of body, total promiscuousness—no longer matters. Your identity is now Christ. You live as He lives in this world (1 John 4:17). For the formerly promiscuous person, this means that promiscuity is at an end: promiscuity is not love! Verses 13-15 (next week’s study) will elaborate greatly on this love concept. If you want some heavier, theological discussion prior, I have written extensively on the topic here.
With Paul’s argument set up to lay out a ton of application, he pauses in verses 7-12 to speak to the Judaizers. He does this in a backhanded way by questioning the Galatians, but his emphasis is on the Judaizers. “You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion did not come from the One who called you.  A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough.  I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.  Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!
This section immediately brings 3:1 back to mind. Paul there asked, “Who bewitched you?” Here he asks, “Who cut in on your race and tripped you up? You were doing well.” The rhetorical answer is the same in both instances: the false teachers known as the Judaizers. Paul answers this question himself by saying, “It is not from him who called you.” He says, “You didn’t learn this from me, the one God used to call you vocally; and you certainly didn’t learn this from God, the One who called you spiritually behind my vocals.” Paul points out that this hindrance the Galatians were now dealing with was dangerous, and the metaphor he uses in verse 9 proves this. It is a favorite metaphor for Paul to use to describe the subtlety and danger and pervasiveness of sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). It isn’t just kept in one person; it spreads to all until it rises and becomes obvious. Paul is here trying to nip it in the bud before it gets worse for these believers.
Paul makes an interesting statement at the end of verse 10: “The one who is troubling you will have to bear the judgment, whoever he is.” This is a warning to anyone who teaches the Scripture. It is a specific warning to anyone who pushes for legalism instead of Jesus Christ. If we are not pointing people to Christ, but rather telling them to try harder, do better, hold out longer, we are in danger of judgment. It may not be eternal damnation in hell, but it might be; we don’t know (see discussion on verse 4 above). So, at this point, I would point back to my post a week ago and say, “As far as the church I was a part of a year and a half ago, I am praying that they would repent. I am praying that the pastor there would come to see his error and turn back to the straight path of the simple gospel, because otherwise he should be in fear of judgment.”
James wrote, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (3:1), and Jesus said, “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
I don’t call people out for fun (and I have been gracious enough not to use names); I call people to repentance because I care for souls. Please return to the truth of the gospel! And if you’re reading this (maybe just stumbled across this page), and you don’t know Christ, please place your faith in Him! He died to save your soul, and He rose again to prove that His way is freedom from slavery!
Paul concludes the section by asking rhetorically why he’s persecuted if his ministry is a ministry of circumcision? He explains that he is persecuted for the very reason that he does not promote a circumcision gospel. He clings wholeheartedly to the scandal of the cross—a scandal because it totally undermines everything a legalistic Jew would hold dear. Again MacArthur is helpful: “The Jews were scandalized by the cross because it nullified not only the Mosaic law but also their highly revered rabbinic traditions.”[7] And Paul concludes his underhanded comments to the Judaizers by showing just how opposed he is to their “gospel” of circumcision. “They’d be quieter if the knife would slip while they are circumcising themselves!”
Paul’s gotten pretty fired up in this letter, and verse 12 probably marks the high point of his heat. He has said now that submission to the law is to deny Christ’s power, so if you submit to the law in one place you have to submit to the law in every place. However, before we all say, “Hurray! The Christian doesn’t have to follow any law,” let’s reflect on Galatians 5:14 until my next post comes out: “For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul says that our faith “works itself out in love.” How loving will you be this week?
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.

[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress (New Kenssington, PA: Whitaker House, 1973), 15-24.
[2] John MacArthur, Galatians, 132.
[3] Filthy language is just about NEVER okay. Dating is NOT a sin. Alcohol and tobacco are a tougher subject (maybe for another time), but for now, just look at Galatians 5:21.
[4] John MacArthur, Galatians, 134.
[5] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.
[6] Hebrews 6 comes to mind clearly on this point. Along with several other passages as well.
[7] John Macarthur, Galatiaans, 142.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Contemplation on the Customs of Cats

There are many ways to categorize people in this world. There are the Christian believer/non-believer categories. There are the gender male/female categories. There are the political democrat/republican categories.  There are the ice cream flavor preference chocolate/vanilla categories. There are space movie preference Star Wars/Star Trek categories. And then there are pet preference dog/cat categories. And if I would label myself through all of these six categories, I am a believing male republican who likes chocolate, Star Wars, and cats.
And even though today is inauguration day, and even though today is about 11 months before the next Star Wars movie comes out, and even though there is much confusion about gender in our society today, and even though I haven’t had chocolate ice cream in forever, the focus of this post is cats.
I have long held that I am a cat person because they remind me of my smallness before God. In fact, my family has had four cats ever since about a week before I met the Lord. These cats all live outside. Cats generally think they own the world, and have humans as their servants (not typically wanting to spend time with the humans), but if you put them outside the majority of the time then something becomes incredibly clear incredibly quickly.
Jesus describes Himself in Revelation 3:7 by saying, “The Holy One, the True One, the One who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens.” Basically, if Jesus doesn’t open a door of opportunity, it just isn’t ever going to open. As humans, we often think, like cats, that we run everything, that everyone should praise and worship us, and that if we are not the center of attention then something is wrong. But then I would think about my cats back home and say, “Stupid little fools, you need us to open up the door to let you in to be able to eat your food. You’d have nothing if it wasn’t for us.” And then my mind immediately says, “Now who’s the stupid little fool?”
Cats keep me humble. That’s the point of this post.
And then I went and got myself a cat on December 31, 2016. I keep him indoors. This cat is not like your typical cat (or maybe I’m just blinded by affection—which is totally possible, even if you just compare this post from a year ago). While most cats do their own thing, all this cat wants is to be with me. He’s extremely talkative (except for when I’m going to bed for the night), while most cats are quiet. He wants to go outside, but I won’t let him.
My cat always wants to be with me. Two verses from King David come to mind when reflecting on this concept:
“You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.” (Psalm 16:11)
“Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11)
King David was so enamored with God’s presence that he concludes psalm 16 by saying in effect, “I don’t care what else God has done for me; as long as I am in His presence I am content.” And, by way of comparison, he hits a low point in his confession of Psalm 51 by realizing, “God, You’d be totally just to remove Your presence from me; please don’t!”
It causes me to ask myself, “How much do I want to be in God’s presence?” My cat wants to be near me, or at least know that I am near, at least as often as I am home, and likely much more often. God is near me at all times, whether I am home or away. Do I take advantage of His presence, or ignore it, thus acting more prideful than my own pride-filled cat?
My cat is extremely talkative. From the moment I wake up in the morning, “MEOW,” to the moment I walk out the door to go to work, “MEOW.” Then, the moment I walk back in the door, “MEOW,” to the moment I go to bed, “MEOW.” It brings to mind 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and humbles me to the floor. Paul there writes, “Pray constantly.”
I used to think, “Well, maybe he wants food.” Food bowl is full. “Maybe he needs water.” Water bowl is full. “Maybe his box needs cleaned.” I clean it anyways.
“Well, what in the world do you want, little buddy?” (as I’ve lovingly started calling him).
“Maybe he wants attention.” I start petting him and scratching his ears, and rubbing his belly.
I’ve come to the conclusion that he just wants to hear my voice. He calls out in an effort to know that I’m still there, that I haven’t left him, that I still love him. And it rocks me to the core, because I can hardly keep praying for five minutes on a thirty minute drive to work everyday. God wants to hear my voice much more than I want to hear my cat’s voice, but too often, I am quiet. I must remember that while I ditch my cat for 8+ hours a day to go to work, God is perfect and does not do that; He always hears me. Will I start praying more fervently, more constantly, or continue to be outdone by a little cat?
My cat wants to go outside all the time. (This is actually one of his meows that I’ve come to recognize and lovingly deny.) His previous owner lived out in the country, and as such, letting him go outside was much different. I live in the city, and letting my cat out would unnecessarily put him at risk of catnapping, accidental catslaughter, or just plain and simple lostness. It reminds me of Hebrews 12:11. “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” It again humbles me, because I realize that denying my cat exit from the house is for his own good, but I whine and complain to God that He’s holding out on me—keeping me from good things. I probably sound a lot like my cat in my prayers of complaint.
God is training me into the man that He wants me to be, even though I often feel like I’m being punished or held out on. Five years from now I’ll probably realize exactly why everything happened the way it did at this point in my life, and then I’ll thank God for it, but right now, I should recognize that God knows best, and even if it’s hard, I must thank Him for knowing best when it comes to me. Am I going to better than my cat, and trust that God has my best at heart, or am I going to whine and complain like a stupid cat?
So, with all that said, I need to love God’s presence more, I need to pray more often, and I need to trust that God is looking out for my best. If I can do all that, I will grow in godliness, grow in humility, and thank God that He gave me a cat to help teach me some lessons about myself and Himself.
And at the end of the day, I can thank God that Matthew 19:12 nowhere says, “some were made eunuchs by God,” but rather, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs who were made by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
Sorry, little buddy. ;)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Main Thing – 5:1

Have you ever received counsel that took you totally by surprise, but that later proved invaluable in a totally different situation? I sure have. It went like this: in the second half of 2012 I fell for a girl really strongly, and it did not go at all according to plan; in reflecting on the results of that situation, I detected strong idolatry I my heart towards relationships. As such, my resolution for 2013 was, “I’m not going to date for a year.” But as it goes with the typical twenty year old male, another girl popped up on the radar less than 3 months into 2013. I told myself, “I have got to stick to my resolution or else I’m not a man of my word.” I talked to my pastor about it, and he said some words that I will never forget: “Stop it. You’re a hard-wired legalist; you need to loosen up. Perhaps God brought this girl into your life to be your wife? If you stick to your self-made plan, you could seriously limit yourself. Go check out Galatians 5:1.” (It wasn’t those exact words of course, but the basic gist of his message was just that.) I read Galatians 5:1, and maybe the whole book as well afterwards, and since then Galatians 5:1 has been etched in the back of my mind.
Fast forward two and a half years to the summer of 2015 and that girl is nowhere present in my life. However, I was receiving counsel from a pastor at another church—no longer in California, but rather in Missouri—and something seemed very off about the counsel. The counsel was directly related to escaping the clutches of certain sin patterns, but looking back I wouldn’t call it counsel, I’d use a different word that starts with the letter “c.” Condemnation. Week in and week out it was the same: if I had not stood well, it would be a barrage of, “how can you know you are saved?” type statements; if I had stood well, the statements sounded as if he assumed I was a new believer as of that week. It got to the point where I was thoroughly surprised that I was even accepted as a member of the church. Depression set in as a result of the counsel I was receiving—counsel that was devoid of hope, counsel that was devoid of Christ, counsel that was devoid of calling a sinner to repentance and faith in the Gospel.
One day that summer, I sat down in the park with my Bible and a notebook and found myself in the book of Galatians. I started at the beginning and read the whole book, but the verse that stuck out to me more than any other was Galatians 5:1, and my pastor’s counsel from 2013 reverberated back through my mind, “Don’t submit to the yoke this current pastor is putting on you” (the application I discovered based on the situation and the previous counsel from my gospel-saturated California pastor). As such, I left that church in August of 2015, and it’s really been nothing but a nightmare ever since as far as they are concerned (but that doesn’t need to be delved into right now).
I share all of that to explain what Paul is saying in our passage today. It’s only one verse today, but this one verse is the hinge of the whole letter. Everything prior leads to it, and everything after flows out of it. And, as the lengthy intro hopefully proved, it was this verse that led me to study this book in the first place, along with the request of a good friend who kept me from pursuing an Old Testament book on this blog (at least so far).
Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Most commentators want to lump this verse in with 4:21-31, which is probably fine: I mean, it ends by saying, “We are not children of the slave but of the free woman,” as if to say, “You have been set free.” And then Paul concludes that section by asking, basically, “Why, then, do some of you want to go back to being like Ishmael, who was a slave, an outcast, and separated from God?”[1]
The subject of Galatians 5:1 is “Christ.” Christ is the one who is responsible for the Christian’s freedom. This is very important in this day and age where it is too easily accepted, even in Christian circles, that you gotta do your best and let Jesus do the rest. Honestly, this was the vibe I was getting from that church in 2015, and it harkened back to one of my first mentors who came out of Mormonism, who told me once that one of the Mormon’s beliefs is, “Do your best and let Jesus do the rest.” That theology has no business at all in our churches. Like really: how much time did the thief on the cross have to do his best? (And I know they have a theory about that, but my point still stands.) Paul hits the nail on the head in Galatians 5:1 by saying that it is Jesus, and Jesus alone who is responsible for the Christian’s freedom. Jesus said Himself, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), which means no thing. He said in John 8:35, “Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” Before Christ we can’t make ourselves free, and after Christ we can’t be more free. The subject responsible for our freedom is Jesus, and He is the one we must hold out to people regardless of the sin they struggle with.
What has Christ done for us according to this verse? Christ has made us free. Luther explains,
There is also another kind of “liberty,” when people obey neither the laws of God nor the laws of men, but do as they please. This carnal liberty the people want in our day. We are not now speaking of this liberty. Neither are we speaking of civil liberty.
Paul is speaking of a far better liberty, the liberty “wherewith Christ hath made us free,” not from material bonds, not from the Babylonian captivity, not from the tyranny of the Turks, but from the eternal wrath of God.[2]
When I argue for the utmost importance of the liberty that Christ has brought us, I cannot emphasize enough that this liberty does not mean that drunkenness, sexual deviance, or using filthy language are allowable for the believer. John Calvin said, “Our adversaries raise a prejudice against us among ignorant people, as if the whole object of our pursuit were licentiousness, which is the relaxation of all discipline. But wise and skillful persons are aware that this is one of the most important doctrines connected with salvation.”[3] Paul will go on to say that this freedom cannot possibly excuse a Christian to live in sinfulness (cf. 5:13). In fact, given that the Galatians had never been under the Law prior to being converted, when Paul says, “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (emphasis added), he is actively calling their pagan practices an enslaving yoke that needs to be kept off.[4]
When I had voiced my concern to the judgmental pastor a year and a half ago, I was told that I was wrong, because putting  more emphasis on my status as a believer in Christ would mean that I could justify my sin and would not take it seriously as a result. Paul would be incredulous at such a response, because Paul is here teaching, “Christ set you free! Don’t fear God as your enemy any longer! Cling to Him as your Father!” Paul would emphasize freedom, not law, because freedom proves Christ’s victory and law only repeatedly shows us our failures. Knowing Christ is victorious is a much better motivator to holiness than fearing that I will mess up again!
Paul writes “to be free,” repeating the word free because he wants to engrain it in our minds. The Galatians are free. We are free. They didn’t need Judaism to help them be free. We don’t need lists of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” to be free. We are in Christ and He won our freedom with the purpose that we might be free. The question is: have we started truly living in this freedom? Spend some time reflecting on that today. What enslaves you? A sin? Maybe a good, spiritual thing done for the entirely wrong reason? Christ is our hope! He set us free. Let’s live in that freedom.
Paul brings in a “therefore,” which proves that we needed the first four chapters to know what this is here for. And, as such, it made my study of this book—verse by verse—absolutely vital to doing this passage correct justice today. One commentator said, “If Galatians is the Magna Carta of Christian liberty, then [Galatians 5:1] has reason to be considered one of the key verses of the epistle.”[5] A short review will suffice to prove this point.[6]
The introduction proves that Christ gave Himself so that we can be free—rescued “from this present evil age” (1:1-5). The next verses clearly show that the Judaizers’ changing of the gospel is opposed to standing firm in freedom (1:6-10). Then, in the first section of Paul’s detailed chronology, we see that the faith Paul preached was agreed upon by the church, and is the Gospel that is presented throughout this book (1:11-24). Paul’s second section of detailed chronology explains that he withstood all attempts to overthrow Christian freedom (2:1-5). Paul’s third section of chronology proves that even the apostles agreed with Paul’s gospel of freedom (2:6-10). Paul’s final section of chronology explains that Paul opposed anyone who undermined the gospel’s freedom and availability to all, regardless of their “status” (2:11-14). Paul then goes on to explicitly claim that freedom comes through justification which is found in Christ and not in the Law (2:15-21). Paul asks a rhetorical question in 3:1 that proves someone was guilty of placing them in this yoke of slavery. Paul spends a lengthy amount of time differentiating between faith in the promise and works of the Law (3:2-14). Jesus is the promise about whom the Old Testament Law spoke (3:15-18). The Law enslaves, but Jesus frees (3:19-26). Slaves don’t inherit, but free people do (3:27-4:7). Everyone is a slave of something, and for that reason, everyone needs Jesus to free them (4:8-11). Paul tells the Galatians they have to deal with God, not him, if they stay enslaved (4:12-20). Finally, Paul even quotes the Law as proving it is better to be free (4:21-31). And thus we arrive at 5:1.
Paul then makes a command, the first one that would have a visible result (see 4:12 and 4:21 for the only other two commands, but notice the difference between those and this one). I see this command being yelled by Paul: “Stand!” In understanding the force of this command, Martin Luther is again helpful. “‘Be steadfast, not careless. Lie not down and sleep, but stand up. Be watchful. Hold fast the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free. Those who loll cannot keep this liberty. Satan hates the light of the Gospel. When it begins to shine a little he fights against it with might and main.[7] Calvin adds, “It is an invaluable blessing, in defense of which it is our duty to fight, even to death; since not only the highest temporal considerations, but our eternal interests also, animate us to the contest.”[8] If we stop fighting for freedom in Christ, it is to our detriment. If we sit down in this fight, the Devil will overtake us and bind us down again. We must watch out for legalistic pressure and also licentious pressure, refusing both extremes, because both destroy our freedom.
Paul concludes the verse by telling the Galatians to not “submit again to a yoke of slavery.” There are two things to say about this. The first is related to how a person gets in a yoke of slavery, and the second is about the yoke itself.
First, the verb translated “submit” is in the passive tense, meaning the subject, the implied “you” Paul is speaking to, is being acted on instead of doing the action. For this reason I prefer to translate it as, “be placed in.” Slavery is something that is done to a person, not something that a person chooses. However, as is clear in this context, Paul is warning the Galatians that the only way to avoid being enslaved again is to stand. We must stand firm and not allow anyone to place a restrictive, condemning collar around us.
The “yoke of slavery” Paul is talking about avoiding at all costs is directly contrasted to another yoke mentioned in Scripture. Jesus tells of it in Matthew 11:28-30. “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” This is the yoke the believer in Jesus is to wear. The burden Jesus speaks of is the burden of walking rightly as a light in this fallen world. But this burden is light, because He is yoked with us, walking with us and enabling us to accomplish the task. If left to our own strength, we would fail. Paul says, “Don’t submit to a yoke of slavery, because that yoke will kill you—fear, depression, hopelessness. Instead, submit to Christ’s yoke which is easy and freeing, especially in comparison to the yoke of slavery.
So with all that said, how do we stand? How do we not let ourselves be placed back in slavery? We must preach the Gospel to ourselves everyday. But here’s my question for you: do you know the Gospel well enough to preach it? It can be as simple as quoting Romans 5:8 and 10:9 and recommitting yourself each morning to an active lifestyle of saying, “The gospel is true about me because Jesus is my Lord!” or it can be as detailed as the answer another of my California pastors gave me when I conducted a survey this week. He said the following,
The gospel is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is set against the bad news that all of humanity has sinned and has fallen short of God's glory. We all sin in various ways, and are therefore guilty before God and are at war with Him, even if we don't realize it. Jesus came to remedy this. He is the 2nd person of the Trinity, who came down as a man, born of a virgin (thus not inheriting the sin nature), and lived a perfectly obedient life to God. On the appointed day, He traded places with sinners by dying on the cross. There, the Father poured His wrath on the Son for our sins. After Jesus paid all the debt of everyone who would ever believe in Him, He died, thus completing the transaction. On the third day, He rose from the dead, was glorified, and later ascended to the right hand of the Father. Everyone who places their trust in Jesus and surrenders to Him as Lord will be saved. So the fornicator can get right with God by simply trusting Jesus for salvation, and believing that Christ truly paid His debt and truly conquered death. If the fornicator gives his heart to the Lord, then his sins will be forgiven.[9]
The Reformation claimed that salvation was in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. The emphasis of our gospel preaching must be on faith. It cannot be on the visible repentance that necessarily follows true faith. If we preach and teach about true belief, people will understand true repentance. If we had to repent before we could be saved, then we’d never be saved because the Christian life is a life of continual repentance. Until my dying day, I’ll be repenting, but it is my faith, placed squarely in the finished work of Jesus—who set me free—on July 1, 2010, that made me right with God. True faith leads to freedom, and true freedom is held onto by repentance, and true repentance is the other side of the coin that is faith.
The answer to the question, “How do I get right with God?” does not change if someone has two decades to live as opposed to two minutes. Belief in the finished work of Jesus is all that is required. Anyone who teaches otherwise needs to be thrown out of their pulpits, question their calling to ministry, and ask themselves, “Have I really placed my faith in Christ alone for salvation, or am I secretly also trusting myself?” This is why I left that church a year and a half ago: they weren’t pointing me to Christ’s yoke, but rather to a yoke of slavery. If you’re in a church that is similar, find one that places Christ primary, that preaches the gospel, and that pleads with people to believe. Only then can you stand safe against a possible lapse under a yoke of slavery.
I conclude with lyrics from Hillsong’s song, “Christ is Enough.” The bridge says, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”[10] That’s my anthem. Is it yours? I pray it is, as I pray that it becomes such for every church in this nation that we call America.
Til next time.
Soli Deo Gloria. Solus Christus.

[1] John MacArthur, Galatians, 128.
[2] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.
[3] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians.
[4] J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, 185. Commenting on “again”: “Having escaped from the slavery of Heathenism, they would fain bow to the slavery of Judaism.”
[5] Quoted in David Platt and Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition – Exalting Jesus in Galatians, ed. David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, Tony Merida, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2014), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 96.
[6] I will stick to sections, even though I could argue almost verse by verse at points how everything in this letter screams, “5:1  is the thesis statement.”
[7] Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.
[8] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians.
[9] Stephen Feinstein, in an email to the author, January 11, 2017.
[10] Hillsong Live, “Christ Is Enough,” (© 2013 Hillsong Church), 4:16.