Friday, January 31, 2014

Galatians 3:4-9 It's by faith!

Paul was flabbergasted that the Galatians, who had come to Christ through simple faith, had so easily been convinced by Judaizers, that faith wasn’t enough. In order to come to a truly deeper spiritual level, to get closer to God, they would need to observe certain rituals and religious regulations, including circumcision. Exasperated, Paul reminds them that faith has always been the basis of a relationship with God.

Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? 

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. 

In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. 

What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. (Galatians 3:4-9 NLT)

Paul is declaring that righteousness has always come by faith, even as Abraham’s faith, not his works, was what made him righteous before God. We are children of Abraham because of our faith, not because of circumcision or baptism or any other ritual, or because of our good works.

Now, is Paul saying we should not be doing works for God? Of course not! Our works show the world that we love God, and so they glorify God. Because we have received so generously from God, we naturally want to give back to Him. He is worthy of our devotion and therefore, we want to serve Him. It’s a response based on love, not out of a need to prove our own worth.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

Whether I’m leading a small group at church, grading students’ papers at home, attending a meeting at the district office, teaching a lesson on greatest common factor, or doing a load of laundry, it is all for Him, and my goal is that it is all done with a heart that glorifies Him. But none of it saves me. Only faith in Christ did that. I love what Jon Courson says:

 “. . . our walk with the Lord is not based upon works of great faith, but simply faith in a great God.” (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1186)

And better yet, what Jesus responded to a crowd seeking clarification on this subject:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Galatians 3:1-3 Don’t be a fool!

It’s not just the Galatians who needed to be reminded of God’s wonderful grace! As Paul scolds the “foolish Galatians” in this next passage, I’m sure we could all use this little kick in the butt to avoid falling into the same trap they had plunged into. Or maybe we are so far down that hole we need to grab hold of Paul’s hand to be pulled out!

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.  Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.  How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? (Galatians 3:1-3 NLT)

How important it is to remember that we were saved by grace and we are to continue to walk by grace. Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “ For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We can’t even take credit for our works. They are gifts of grace from Him designed specifically for each of us. Yet, we sometimes act as if we think God is so lucky to have us on His side! “Man, God sure got a good workhorse when He got me!”

Do you find yourself exhausted by all you are “doing for the LORD?” Are you running in circles from meeting to meeting, Bible study to choir practice, teaching Sunday school while trying to make it through three different programs to read the Bible in a year? Oh wait! Is that my calendar I’m reading from?????? What in the world are we thinking? There really can be too much of a good thing. In fact, often when we pile the “good things” onto our plates, we no longer have room for the “best thing” - the one particular thing that God has called us to.

Being someone who suffers from “helium hand” - you know, the one that goes up to volunteer whenever a need is presented - I was very grateful when, early in my walk with the LORD a wise woman told me, “The need isn’t necessarily the call. There will always be needs. But if you jump in to fill every need, you may actually be taking away the job of someone God has specifically called to it.” PHEW! That so relieved me of the guilt of NOT volunteering for every urgent plea for help!

When we begin to burn out, it is possibly because we are no longer walking in grace, but walking in our own works. Jesus came to lift our burdens, not add to them. So if you are feeling weighted down, or if you are grumbling because you are always the one doing EVERYTHING, rethink that. God is not going to love you more because you baked the cookies, organized the church picnic, wrote the material for Vacation Bible School, and served on three church committees. If He has called you to any or all of that, you will know. He will confirm it. [A good rule of thumb is to pray with your spouse about commitments you undertake] But all of those tasks you complete won’t make God love you more. He ALREADY loves you more than you can comprehend.

When we get into the works mode, it leads to pride. God hates that! Or it leads to judgmental attitudes toward everyone else. God hates that, too! Paul’s point is very clear: it’s all by grace from beginning to end. I needed that reminder!  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Galatians 2:15-21 No, not one!

In our passage today, Paul launches into the heart of his argument, which will be the bulk of this letter. The first verses here continue his admonishment of Peter, as he points out the futility of trying to keep the law and requiring circumcision of Gentiles:

“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles.  Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” (Galatians 2:15-16 NLT)

Paul was reminding Peter that even the Jewish believers, who prior to Christ would have considered themselves right with God (unlike those “sinners,” the Gentiles), could not be made right by keeping the law. They were, and everyone else is made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ. Not because they could keep the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.

Oh, if we could only just get this deep down in our hearts! Why do we expect others to be able to keep the law when we ourselves can’t! We put legalistic rules on those around us that we ourselves find impossible. I heard Greg Laurie on the radio last week say, “The Christian life isn’t hard - it’s impossible!” We cannot possibly live up to all that we know is good and right. We cannot do this life apart from Christ living it through us on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis. We need to be completely regenerated from the inside out. We need to be crucified with Christ:

But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not!  Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down.  For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.  My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. (vs. 17-21 NLT)

That last statement is really the heart of the matter: if we could be made righteous by keeping the law, then there was absolutely no reason for Christ to die for us. If there was ANY possibility that someone could actually keep the law, then Christ’s death was a colossal waste! I cannot be good enough! I can’t donate enough money to the church. I can’t say enough prayers or read enough scripture - even going through the entire Bible in a year won’t cut it. While those things are needful to help me grow, they aren’t what save me!

And they don’t make me more right with God than the believer who isn’t tithing or attending the Women’s Bible Study at church. God doesn’t love me more because I sit at my computer in the morning sharing His Word. He loves me with all the love He has and is because I belong to Him through faith in Christ. And even that faith was a gift of God:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

He loved me even when I was completely denying Him. He’s the One who loved first! I only love Him because He first loved me. (1 John 4:19) His love is constant, unchanging and unending.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

Amazing love! Amazing grace!  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Galatians 2:11-14 Oh, Peter!

Many of us would agree that we love Peter, because we can so identify with him! He was the passionate, impulsive disciple, who dropped everything to follow Jesus, fervently acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah, got out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus, swore he would never deny Christ, and rushed in to defend Jesus by cutting of Malchus’ ear when the soldiers came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, he’s the one who also tried to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die for us, one of those who fell asleep when Jesus asked him to stay awake in His hour of anguish, and the one who denied Jesus three times only a few hours after swearing his undying allegiance.

I love that man! He is the perfect example of our imperfection. And also the perfect example of the unlimited grace of God! Even though Peter was one of the big three apostles of the early church in Jerusalem, he, too struggled with some of the same weaknesses we all have, including the desire to please men!

As Paul finishes his defense of his own call to be an apostle, he tells the story of how he had to confront Peter over a major issue facing the early church - legalism:

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.  When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.  As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 

When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? (Galatians 2:11-14 New Living Translation)

Paul, who had been an avid follower of every Jewish ritual and tradition, knew that the gospel of Christ was a gospel of grace. He knew that we could never be made right with God by keeping the Law. So, when he saw Peter appearing to negate the gospel by following the Law, he felt compelled to speak up, because Peter’s actions, as a church leader, were stumbling others, including Barnabas. Requiring the following of the Law as a means of righteousness is in direct opposition to the truth of the gospel message, so Paul could not let Peter’s conduct slide. Remember that it was Peter who received the direct revelation from God that the gospel was also for the Gentiles. ( see Acts 10)

Think of the courage it took to confront Peter! Have you ever had to confront, face to face, someone you love and respect, maybe even someone who is in authority over you, to correct him regarding behavior? That is hard stuff. But Paul knew that there was too much at stake in this situation to overlook it. Not just for Peter, but for everyone watching him.

In fact, this entire letter to the Galatians is just such a confrontation. Paul is telling the Galatians, “Look! These false teachers who are trying to lead you astray from the truth of the gospel and to rely on your keeping of the Law to save you, are WRONG! And even Peter and the other church leaders agree with me on this! They received me as an apostle, and Peter took correction from me as a fellow apostle. So pay attention one more time as I clearly go over the true gospel that I already delivered to you!”

We will see his argument, his defense of the gospel, next. This is life-changing stuff!  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Galatians 2:2-10 The Seal of Approval

In today’s passage, Paul, continuing his defense of his calling as an apostle, explains how he, Barnabas, and Titus went up to Jerusalem to present themselves to the church leaders there to assure themselves they were on the right track with their teaching of the gospel:

I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing.  And they supported me and did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile. 

Even that question came up only because of some so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.  But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you. 

And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)  Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews.  For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles. 

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews.  Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. (Galatians 2:2-10 NLT)

I love that Paul wanted to be sure he was teaching correctly! He was humble enough to submit to their scrutiny. Paul received the stamp of approval from the church leaders in Jerusalem. They “had nothing to add” to the gospel Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. It is so important that we remain teachable and willing to be corrected throughout our lives. As a teacher, I know that, even after 22 years in the classroom, I am constantly needing to reflect on how I”m doing. I certainly don’t want to give misinformation to my students.

But how much more important it was that Paul not teach false doctrine when it came to the issue of salvation. And the ritual of circumcision, that dated back to the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17, was the one that marked Jews as God’s people. To recognize that even this ritual had no saving power was a huge shift in thinking. Not requiring it of the Gentiles acknowledged the completion of Jesus’ salvation work on the cross. It isn’t “Jesus plus circumcision,” or “Jesus plus baptism.” It isn’t Jesus plus ANYTHING! It is just Jesus who saves us.

Not only did James, Peter, and John not require anything further from Paul and the Gentiles, they “recognized the gift” and calling God had given Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. Therefore, Paul’s credentials were authenticated, and his teaching affirmed. Remember that Paul is giving us his history here because his teaching had been questioned. The Galatians were falling back into legalism, and Paul was not about to let that happen. We can be assured that his teaching on grace, his presentation of what the gospel encompasses, is truth.

Legalism constantly rears its ugly head in our lives and in the church. We are so prone to fall into its trap. We start by grace, then fall into walking in works! We will see next time that even Peter was not immune.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Galatians 2:1-2 Fourteen years??

In the second chapter of Galatians, Paul continues building his background story and his credentials before launching into the main message. It would be easy to skip over this section, but the first verse I find amazing:

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. (Galatians 2:1)

What? FOURTEEN YEARS later Paul returns to Jerusalem? What had been doing all that time? Well, Jon Courson puts together a picture of these years, some of which is from Acts 11:19-26.

Following Paul’s conversion, he spent approximately three years in the Arabian desert, where he was personally tutored by Jesus Christ. Emerging from the desert, he spent fifteen days in Jerusalem primarily with Peter. He then made his way to Syria, Cilicia, and finally back to his hometown of Tarsus - where he remained for eleven years. 

During those eleven years, outside the flow of the story transpiring in the Book of Acts, Paul labored quietly making tents - until suddenly people started getting saved in Antioch. Jews by nationality but Grecian in culture and custom, the new believers had a hard time relating to the traditional Jewish believers who had led them to the Lord. Hearing of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Antioch, leaders of the church in Jerusalem dispatched Barnabas to see what was happening.

After surveying the situation, Barnabas believed the solution lay in his old friend with the keen intellect - Paul. So Barnabas tracked Paul down and brought him back to Antioch, back into ministry. (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1168)

Paul is one of a long line of people whom God seemed to set aside in preparation for their calling. Moses was away from his people for 40 years before God called him back to lead them out of Egypt. Jacob labored for a deceptive father-in-law for 20 years before God was able to get out from under Laban’s control. Even then, he had to wrestle with God before God changed his name from Jacob, meaning conniver or deceiver to Israel, meaning one who prevails with God.

Joseph had been in Egypt for 13 years before God moved him into position as the second-most powerful man in Egypt. David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel when he was about 15, but it was another 15 years before he actually took the throne. And, of course, Jesus was 33 before he began his three short years of ministry.

God often puts us in a holding pattern as He prepares us to serve. Sometimes we get frustrated because we want to be doing more faster. But He knows what training we need to what He’s calling us to do. He knows what character traits need to be worked into us. He knows that we need to have a humble heart before we can serve others. It really is only in hindsight that we can see how God has used the waiting periods of our lives to build us up and strengthen us in Him.

If you are feeling that your ministry is not happening the way you envisioned it, or you are just wondering what in the world God has in mind for you, be encouraged that God has a plan for you, and He will unfold it in His perfect timing.

I was 37 before I finally decided what I wanted to be when I grew up: a teacher. Well, actually, I did NOT want to be a teacher of children, I wanted to be a teacher of women. So when God called me to be an elementary school teacher, I was not a happy camper! I had envisioned a ministry of teaching the Bible to women. God said, “No, I’ve actually been preparing you to work with kids!” Even then, I was 42 before that became a reality! Now, after almost 22 years of LOVING this job (and thinking my "dream" ministry would never happen), I’m finally in a place where I get to do BOTH! Ye gads! I’m now 63, with a limited future ahead, saying to God, “Use me in whatever way you want for however long you want!”

So, I’m feeling very grateful for the fact that Paul, too, needed some seasoning before being sent out to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. It may be that the believers in Jerusalem needed 14 years to get used to the fact that this persecutor of believers had, indeed, become one of them. There is something to say for having credibility. And we will see next how Paul had earned the trust of the other apostles.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Galatians 1:18-24 “...they glorified God because of me.”

These days, many ministers and pastors will have a D.D, Doctorate of Divinity. As Jon Courson says, Paul had a “Doctorate of the Desert.” Courson reminds us that this is a common degree among our Bible heroes: Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus all spent time in the desert. Sometimes a desert can be a place of much growth!

Courson points out that it was while the Apostle John was exiled on the Isle of Patmos, a rocky, barren, seemingly God-forsaken island, that John saw Jesus revealed and wrote the Book of Revelation. And it was in the desert that Paul received his training from the LORD.

If you are in a place of dryness, a place in which you feel isolated, and you can’t figure out why God has placed you there, maybe the LORD wants to reveal Himself to you in a fresh way. Jesus said that we should come to Him if we thirst. The desert is the perfect place to appreciate the refreshing satisfaction that His Word gives. Dive into it to see Him in a new way this year.

After he had spent that time in the desert and Damascus, Paul finally made his way to Jerusalem to meet with Peter:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [ Peter ] and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:18-24)

Paul spent a short time with Peter and James. Don’t you wish we could see those visits? Peter must have had doubts about meeting with this man who had tried to destroy the followers of Christ. Think of his amazement at seeing the transformed life of Paul! And Paul must have loved hearing Peter’s stories about his three years living and ministering with Jesus!

Then Paul set out to preach in Syria and Cilicia. He did not need to spend time in Judea, because the gospel was already being preached there. He did not attempt to build a following where others were already spreading the good news. He had been called to preach to the Gentiles, and he knew where he belonged. Yet, even though he did not preach to the Judean churches, they glorified God because of what He had done in Paul’s life! That must have been such an encouragement to Paul.

How important it is that we give God glory for the growth we see in other believers (and for our own growth). And equally important is that we let fellow believers know when we see their transformation. Wouldn’t you love to hear that people glorify God because of the changes they have seen in your life? 

Change is one of the qualifying characteristics of life, scientifically speaking. And, surely, it is the sign of spiritual life in believers. As we move into 2014, let’s pray for the kind of transformation in our lives that makes people notice and causes them to glorify God. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our family members, neighbors, and co-workers witnessed the power of grace in our lives? Our transformation might lead to theirs!  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Galatians 1:10-17 “What are your credentials?”

When you go into a doctor’s office for the first time, you may want to know what his credentials are. You want to assure yourself that your cardiologist is board certified and went to a credible university and medical school. You don’t want to see a diploma from the AAA Automechanics School on the wall. Knowing that he graduated from Harvard for his undergraduate degree, then was in the top of his class at Duke University Medical School, and continued with his residency at the Mayo Clinic would certainly help you trust his judgment and skill level.

Well, in the rest of this chapter and most of chapter two in this letter to the Galatians, Paul lays out his credentials as an apostle. He feels the need to justify his preaching authority because those who were undermining his teaching in the region of Galatia were questioning his credentials. Paul had not attended the Jerusalem University of Christian Ministry and had not received a formal ordination from men, so these preachers of the “other gospel” were attempting to sabotage his work. So this morning we’ll start to look at Paul’s defense:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel.  For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:10-12)

Paul’s goal in life was not to please men! His heart’s desire was to honor God and to obey the call of God on his life. He was responsible only to God for his teaching. Paul reminds the Galatians that the gospel is not man’s gospel. It is God’s plan of salvation. And Paul was not taught it by any man. He did not receive it through a masters program. He received it directly from the Lord Jesus, who stopped him dead in his tracks on the road to Damascus. (See Acts 9:1-31 to read about his conversion)

Now, this is not to say that Paul was not educated in the scriptures. He was taught the Jewish scriptures from his childhood, studied under the great teacher of his day, Gamaliel, and obviously was very bright. And, while Paul’s intent is not to boast in himself, he does feel the need to remind the Galatians of his background:

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (vs.13-14)

Paul loved being Jewish. He loved the rituals and the traditions and was passionate about keeping the Law. He had been at and gave assent to the stoning of the first church martyr, Stephen, because he believed that these new believers in Jesus were blasphemers. He was on his way to Damascus to destroy those who were followers of Jesus. But when Jesus grabbed ahold of him, his life’s direction was turned completely around. Instead of going immediately to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of the other apostles, however, he did some personal training with Jesus:

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (vs.15-17)

Even though Paul knew his Scriptures backwards and forwards, he needed to study them all over again with spiritual eyes. He needed to have the Holy Spirit’s training to see how it was Jesus who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, and to see that justification before God had always been by faith. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes this statement:

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:3)

No man’s teaching convinces someone that Jesus is Lord. It must be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. It’s as if the Holy Spirit gives us new eyes to finally see. If you have never really grasped the gospel of grace, ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see it. When Paul described his conversion he talked about how the “scales fell off” his eyes. He had been blinded to the simplicity of the gospel with years of indoctrination in rules and rituals. But when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, it became as clear as day. It can be that way for us, too. Instead of relying on the teaching of men, we need to look at the Scriptures through the Spirit’s eyes. Ask Him to help you see what God has for you each time you study His Word. HE is the best teacher of all.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Galatians 1:6-10 A different gospel?

In chapter 6 of this letter, Paul wrote about gently admonishing someone who needs correction. He practiced what he preached here in today’s verses. As hurt and discouraged as he must have been to learn that the Galatians were being lead astray, he refrained from belittling them, and instead turned his anger toward those who were deceiving them.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Paul was flabbergasted that anyone who had tasted grace could be lead away so quickly. The Galatians had been called in the grace of Christ, but had turned to a different gospel. The word gospel means good news. Why would someone turn away from “good news?” Paul insists that this other “good news” is not really “good news,” but rather a distortion of the truth.

Paul’s anger at anyone who would distort the gospel is clear. In fact, he repeats for special emphasis that if ANYONE should deliver a message other than the gospel Paul originally delivered to them, then that person should be accursed. Even if it were Paul himself or an angel from heaven. So this begs the question: just what IS the gospel?

Thankfully, Paul was pretty explicit about this in his letter to the Corinthians (another church that needed redirecting).

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)

So basically, the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, He was actually buried because He was really dead, and then He was resurrected - and Paul was certain of it because a bunch of early believers and Paul himself saw Jesus and knew, without a doubt, that He lives! And Jesus died for our sins because we NEEDED a Savior. We could not save ourselves by any other means. Even Mary, his mother, in her song of praise, known as the “Magnificat,” acknowledge her personal need for a Savior, when she exclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Our salvation is a gift of grace. Period. There is nothing that can be added to what Christ accomplished on the cross, for if there were more, it would take the power out of the cross.

Don’t we need to do good works, too? Certainly! They show to the world that our lives have been changed, and they glorify God. But they don’t save us. Not even baptism saves us. Paul made it very clear that baptism was not part of the gospel that he delivered when, in 1 Corinthians 1: 17 he proclaimed the following:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

So, when anyone comes and tries to add to the gospel, claiming our salvation is in Jesus PLUS something else (join our church only, say these particular words, go through this ritual, etc.), that person has distorted the gospel.

After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus was approached by a crowd who wanted to know what they should DO. Jesus response is clear:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

Believe in Jesus. It’s not what WE do, it’s what He has DONE! Hallelujah! That is Amazing Grace!  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Galatians 1:3-5 What’s the big deal?

One of the challenges of teaching writing to fifth graders is to train them how to write a cohesive paragraph that has a thesis statement which tells immediately what the main idea of the paragraph will be. Conversely, in their reading they are being taught to find that main idea and the supporting details in passages we read. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, his thesis is clear from the outset: we are saved by grace. Paul was writing to redirect the Galatians back to the original gospel message of salvation by grace. So, even from the initial greetings in this letter, we can sense Paul’s passion for the simplicity, yet magnificence of God’s grace.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

Paul regularly included the phrase “Grace and peace” in his greetings. Without grace, there is no peace. Unless we understand the magnitude of the unmerited favor God has given us, we will never know true peace. Grace has often been described as getting what we don’t deserve, while mercy is NOT getting what we DO deserve. Truly there is nothing in us that deserves what Christ did for us!

Notice that grace and peace come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. These are GIFTS! In fact, Paul remind us that Jesus gave himself for our sins. God is doing the giving here. He is not receiving our good works to guarantee peace and grace, but rather giving Himself to secure our salvation and peace with God. There is no amount of good works I could do to earn my salvation. 

Think of a balance scale with the weight of your sin on one side, pinning that scale to the floor with its mass. Now imagine trying to even budge that scale at all with your puny works added to the other! Impossible! They wouldn’t even have the weight of the period at the end of this sentence. The only thing that cancelled out that load of sin was Christ’s death. It astounds me that He was willing to leave His glory in heaven to come down here and live fully as a man in a world that rejected and despised Him, so that I could be forgiven!

I know that it won’t be until I see Him face to face that I will be able to grasp the magnitude of His grace and forgiveness! But it so humbles me and frees me. I remember that when I first committed my life to Christ, I was overwhelmed by a sense of that weight being lifted - while, just minutes before that I did not even acknowledge that I was carrying the weight of my guilt, because I had so denied it. There is no way prior to my conversion that I would have considered myself anything but a “good person.” Sure, I made “mistakes,” but sin? What an outdated, hellfire-and-brimstone concept! So, when that weight was actually lifted as I received His grace into my life, I felt like I could soar, because that burden was GONE!

But, grace isn’t just something which saves us from Hell and guarantees our entry into Heaven. It’s not just about the hereafter. No, Jesus died to also deliver us from this present evil age. His death on the cross made possible our walking in victory even now. We have ALREADY passed from death to life. He has given us everything we need to be transformed in THIS life. He’s given us, through the work of the Holy Spirit living within us, the power to walk in His righteousness rather than be held back by our past. We have the power to love and forgive those who have hurt us. We can experience freedom from bondage to alcohol, drugs, sex, the need for the praise of others or whatever holds us captive. We can actually live as He sees us! Oh, yes. To Him be the glory forever and ever !!!!!

So, when you have experienced grace of such indescribable worth, you get why Paul made such a big deal about the doctrine of grace, and you will see why he was so passionate in his defense of it. He had delivered this gospel to the Galatians, he had nurtured their beginning in Christ. So when he saw them slipping back into bondage, he was compelled to admonish them. And that’s what this letter is all about!

Can’t wait to go on!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Galatians 1:1-2a By whose authority?

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—  and all the brothers who are with me. . . (Galatians 1:1-2a)

Paul usually began his letters with a descriptor of himself. He either referred to himself as a servant of Jesus Christ, or, as he does here in Galatians, as an apostle. Jon Courson points out that Paul used the word “apostle” when there was a need to defend his authority or assert his authority to do some correcting, or, as in his letters to Timothy, to bolster Timothy’s awareness of his own authority. Certainly it was not to boast.

There were religionists in Galatia who were undermining Paul’s teaching, as they were bringing into question Paul’s understanding and authority. Courson defines “religionists” as those who teach the “three R’s of religion”: rules, regulations, and rituals. (Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P. 1161) These had added something more to the gospel. They were insisting that belief in Jesus was not enough.

So, in this letter to the Galatians, Paul felt compelled to let them know from the outset that he was indeed called to be an apostle, not by any man or religious body, but by Jesus Christ Himself. And where did Jesus get His authority? It was given by the Father and confirmed by His resurrection.

In fact, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus claimed, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” That is some outrageous claim! It is either the ravings of a lunatic, the fraudulent claim of a charlatan, or the truth. The proof of His claim was in the resurrection. And Paul claimed that Jesus was the one who called Paul to be an apostle. We will see that Paul continued his argument in subsequent verses, but we know by the fact that Paul authored most of the New Testament, that his authority as an apostle was certainly accepted by the Church. He was a champion of the gospel of grace. And that will be the next topic! Stay tuned! I’m hoping we will catch what is so AMAZING about this amazing grace!  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Galatians: Introduction

Happy New Year! The start of a New Year is always exciting, because it brings a fresh sense of anticipation. What does the LORD have for us this year? What will He bring to challenge and strengthen us? How will He bless us with a new awareness of His presence and working in our lives? 

Seeing the date of 2014, I’m also somewhat amazed that we are already this far into the new century! When I was a little girl and looked ahead to this “science fiction” era, it seemed so very far away. Yet, I’ve barely blinked and have been carried along to this latter part of my life in an instant! I’ve so little time ahead to really grasp what the LORD has called me to become. I don’t want to miss a minute more!

I decided several months ago that I wanted to start this year in the book of Galatians. I’m anxious to get into Paul’s letter(s). Not sure where we’ll go for the entire year, but it may be that we will look through all of his letters. This one has its special challenges, and I was facing it with some trepidation, because it is so strong with conviction. But I’ve decided that there can be no apology for Paul’s directness. This is the inspired Word of God, and, as Paul wrote to Timothy:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:16-17)

Don’t you want to be taught and prepared for everything God has for you, even if it means you may have to endure reproof and correction?? I do! So, with humility, I am going to jump into this book (after downloading several commentaries onto my iPad yesterday to read every possible opinion on Galatians, including Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Matthew Henry). The funny thing is that after reading them all, I found such agreement, and decided that Jon Courson’s commentary is actually the best expressed!

All agree that this is a book written to defend the pure and simple gospel of salvation by grace. I wrote in the margin of my Bible that in this book, probably the first letter written by him, Paul is “fighting the ‘Jesus Plus’ gospel.” There were already men working within the church to turn the people of Galatia away from the gospel Paul preached to them (we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) to a different “gospel” that relied on Jesus PLUS the need to keep Jewish laws and rituals.

In response to this threat to undermine the work of Christ, Paul sends this letter to firmly remind the Galatians of just what Christ actually accomplished on the cross - something that all of the good works we might attempt could NEVER do!

Galatia was a region which included Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities visited by Paul in Acts 14. The people there were a fickle crowd. After a lame man was healed through their ministry, the people bowed down to Paul and Barnabas and worshiped them (which appalled these ministers, so they quickly pointed them to the living God). But by evening, their opinion had been turned by some Jewish agitators and they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead! A capricious crowd indeed! So, when Paul heard that they were turning away from the simplicity of the gospel he delivered, he felt compelled to squelch the heresy immediately. This is where we will pick up as we begin this book. Paul’s passion is unmistakable! I’m hoping we will feel that same excitement as we look into this marvelous doctrine of grace.

May the LORD open our hearts to receive what His Word teaches so that we may walk in newness of life into 2014.