Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Galtaians 5:1-6 Thanks, LORD, I’ll take it from here!

Jon Courson, in his Application Commentary: New Testament, points out that Paul lays out his personal experience with grace in chapters 1 and 2 of Galatians, gives doctrinal instruction about grace in chapters 3 and 4, and tells us how to practically live our Christian life in grace in chapters 5 and 6. In these first few verse of chapter 5, he sums up the doctrinal argument:

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 

Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you.  I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses.  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. (Galatian 5:1-4, NLT)

The English Standard Version of the Bible puts verse 1 this way:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Hey, Galatians! The whole point of being set free from the Law was to be FREE! So STAND FIRM and don’t go back into slavery to a Law that cannot make you righteous! Paul is adamant that if you rely on your good works and all YOU can do to progress along your path with God, you have completely nullified Christ’s work of grace. In fact, you have actually fallen away from grace (vs 4)!

If we think that our service to the church, whether teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, leading a small group, or visiting the elderly and the sick are scoring Brownie points with God, making us more worthy, we are mistaken. We are NOT worthy! That’s the whole point of grace! It is undeserved! So, when we insist on working your way and carrying the load ourselves, it’s as if we are saying, “Thanks for going to the cross, Jesus, but I’ll take it from here!” It’s actually a form of pride - spiritual pride - to think we can earn more favor.

So what is the balance between faith and works? Paul begins to give us some insight in the next segment, starting with verses 5 and 6:

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 

The key, then, is that it is love that must be the motivating factor of our works - not our own growth or progress. We serve because we love, and we love because He first loved us! (1 John 4:19)

 Tomorrow we will look at Paul’s opinion of the Judaizers and then begin to unpack what it looks like to walk in the Spirit.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Galatians 4:21-30 Sibling Rivalry

There are so many lessons to be learned from the dysfunctional families of the Patriarchs! I love their stories, because they have been told with “warts and all” truth. Our patriarchal heroes are not fairy tale men who always slay the dragon and come through without a hint of smoke stench and not a hair out of place. These were REAL men, with REAL flaws. And, I don’t know about you, but it blesses me to know that God chose these ordinary people for his extraordinary plans!

Our father of faith, Abraham, received ten verses extolling his trust in God in the roll call of faith in Hebrews 11. Yet, he blew it big time more than once! When God promised him that his offspring would be more than the number of stars in the sky, Abraham believed Him. But when the promise was delayed, Sarah put forth her own plan: she encouraged Abraham to take Hagar, her servant, and have the child through her, which would then legally be Sarah’s child. From the slave came the child of bondage, Ishmael. The trouble just began there.

Abraham and Sarah’s plan to help God out introduced a whole boatload of problems for this family, that continue to this day between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac!When he was a teenager, and the true son of promise, Isaac, had been weaned, Ishmael began to taunt and bully Isaac. The solution: Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away.

In this chapter of Galatians, Paul tells us that this story is an allegory for the fight between legalism and the doctrine of grace:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.  But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.  Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.  Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:21-26 ESV)

Mount Sinai is where the Law was given to Moses. Paul tells us here that Hagar represents the Law - all of the rule and regulations of religion. It can only give birth to slaves, people in bondage to their futile attempts to keep it. But the mother of the promise, Sarah, represents those who live in the heavenly Jerusalem where there is freedom from the Law and where grace abounds.

And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac.  But you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law, just as Ishmael, the child born by human effort, persecuted Isaac, the child born by the power of the Spirit. (vs.28-29 NLT)

In the same way that Ishmael taunted Isaac, those who are in bondage to the law taunt those who live under grace. Those Judaizers that were trying to pull the Galatians back into slavery to the Law were belittling their “saved by grace” gospel. They were saying, “Unless you keep these special rituals, unless you are circumcised, you cannot be part of our spiritual elite corps. Yes, you need to believe in Jesus, but then to truly grow closer to God, to be a true child of Abraham, you need to also do these other things.”  

Even as Abraham had to send Hagar and Ishmael away, Paul tells the Galatians they need to cast out the child that represents bondage:

But what do the Scriptures say about that? “Get rid of the slave and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”  So, dear brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman; we are children of the free woman. (vs.30-31 NLT)

We are children of the promise. We are not slaves. We are free in Christ. Are you listening to the taunting of the Judaizers, wondering if you will ever be good enough, wondering if you need to “do” more to gain God’s favor and to earn more of His love, struggling with sins of the past which you are sure can’t be forgiven? If so, you will lose your joy. And joy is the hallmark of a Christian. Jesus said that we would KNOW the truth and that truth would set us FREE! Are you walking (and dancing) in that freedom?

In the next chapter, Paul will sum up his argument and then describe for the Galatians what freedom in Christ looks like.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Galatians 4:8-20 "I plead with you. . ."

In this next passage of this book, as Paul reminds the Galatians where they came from, you can sense him throwing up his hands in frustration:

Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist.  So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?  You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years.  I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.  Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws. (Galatians 4:8-12a NLT)

“You people were just released from bondage to gods that don’t even exist! Why in the world would you now want to go right back into a similar bondage?? I’m begging you: don’t do it!”

Apparently the Judaizers were trying to drive a wedge between Paul and his Galatian converts. They must have been badmouthing Paul, who reminds the Galatians of their initial love for him when he first came to them:

You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you.  Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News.  But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself.  Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then? I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible.  Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth? (vs. 12b-16)

The Galatians had taken in the ailing Paul with great love, because he had brought the gospel to them. But now, they were being discouraged from listening to his words of truth. Notice that Paul is questioning where their joy had gone. The first thing we lose when we become legalistic is our joy! Jesus told us that the false shepherds come to “steal, kill, and destroy.” (John 10:10) Satan is a total joy-robber! And even though he disguises himself as an angel of light, we can recognize his works by the absence of our joy! If serving God has become a burden, a must-do instead of a want-to and love-to, then our joy has been stolen. We have given in to religious legalism.

Paul finds that exasperating! See his passion:

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.  I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you. (vs. 19-20)

Next time we will see Paul further argue his point using the example of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. I love looking back to the Patriarchs! So many lessons to learn from them!  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Galatians 4:1-7 "Daddy!"

Our family loves the idea of adoption. Our younger daughter, Emmy, has adopted two of the most adorable girls to join their brother, Beau, to complete the Blakely family. We could not love them any more if they were genetically related. Don and I are as much “Nanny and Papa” to them as we are to our other three grandchildren. And if Don and I had a large estate to pass on (which we DON’T), they would share equally in it. But not yet.

They are too young to benefit as heirs at this point. Should we die before they were old enough, any funds they inherited would be held in trust for them. A trustee would be guarding their inheritance until they were ready to acquire it. So, at this point, even though they technically are heirs, right now they have no more benefit than a servant in our home would have. {Man! All of this is so far from our actual world!!!}

This is the analogy that Paul uses to explain the way the Law kept guard over us until the right time, when Christ came:

Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had.  They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set.  And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. (Galatians 4:1-3 NLT)

Now, the “basic spiritual principles,” or the Law, was good. It taught us how we should live. The problem is it had no power in it to help us actually keep it! All it did was keep us in the status of slaves. Paul asserts that it was Christ who bought us out of slavery, and gave us the full status and rights of adopted children:

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. (vs. 4-7)

Okay, I don’t know about you, but it absolutely blows my mind that the Almighty God, Creator of the universe has brought me into His family and allows me to call Him “Abba,” which is the equivalent of “Daddy!” Really? Wow! And He has made me an heir to all of the promises in Christ. Not because I could keep the Law, but because His Son perfectly fulfilled it. The image of me running to my Father, with my arms open wide is a joy-filled image. This relationship trumps any religion big time.

So, having been freed from bondage to a Law NO ONE but Christ could keep, why would I choose to go back to the Law again? Why would I put myself under an impossible burden that robs me of all joy? That’s the same question Paul asks the Galatians in the next passage we’ll look at. Stay tuned.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Galatians 3:15-29 Get out of jail free!

In the final passages of Galatians 3, Paul explains the three aspects of the Law given to Moses: it’s priority, it’s purpose, and it’s problem.

First, Paul establishes that the Law is of lower priority than God’s plan of salvation by grace, because it came later, after the promises to Abraham:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Galatians 3:16-18 ESV)

God made His covenant with Abraham based on His OWN righteousness 430 years prior to the Law. When God makes a covenant, it cannot be broken.

Next, Paul points to the purpose of the Law that God knew we could not keep:

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. . . Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. (vs.19, 23-24)

So is the Law in opposition to grace? No way! It was given to protect us from ourselves! But it has one major problem: it cannot save us!

Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. (vs.21-22)

The Law is good, but we are not! The problem with it, is that it actually just imprisoned us in our sin by declaring us constantly guilty! It was given to provide boundaries to our depravity, but it could not free us from it. Only faith in Christ can do that.

And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. 

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (vs. 25-26)

Jesus provides us the way out of the prison of trying to gain righteousness by keeping a set of rules and rituals. He frees us from religiosity, and provides the gift of salvation that we just need to receive by faith. We just need to open our hearts to receive it!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Galatians 3:10-14 "But, officer, I didn't know. . ."

At the beginning of every new year, our local paper publishes a list of new laws going into effect in California. It’s always daunting to read through them! I understand that I am supposed to know and obey these laws, because ignorance of the law is no defense. I found an article online from January of 2012 that said there were 40,000 NEW laws added to the books within the United States that year alone! Imagine! And that doesn’t even come close to the total already in force. Why does it take so many? No one could possibly be held accountable for knowing and obeying all of those laws! Yet, break one and your likely to be fined or sent to jail!

So, I find it amazing that God was able to narrow His Law down to ten commandments, and Jesus managed to sum up even those ten with just two:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

And yet, we still have trouble even managing to obey just those two! The rich young ruler who met Jesus was sure he had nailed it in keeping the law:

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness,  Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:16-22)

Jesus did not try to argue with the young man about whether or not he actually had kept those laws, but He certainly had him on the first law of loving God more than anything else. The rich young ruler, like us, loved his stuff too much to give it all away to follow Jesus. This is the trouble with trying to gain righteousness by keeping the Law. We just can’t! And this is why Paul insists in his letter to the Galatians that the person trying to keep the Law is doomed to failure - even cursed:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14)

Paul wonders that anyone would choose to rely on the Law. Me, too! I’m so grateful that it is not my faithfulness to keep it that guarantees my favor with God, and I’m also so thankful that my continued walk with God is based on HIS faithfulness!

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)