What Do I Need for Christmas?

The GiftAs I ponder the wonderful giving opportunities on December’s horizon, I wonder about all the things I already have.

My wife is following an idea this year to provide each of our children four gifts:

  1. Something they Wear
  2. Something they Read
  3. Something they Want
  4. Something they Need

Nice jingle, eh?

Each year it never fails…I lose myself thinking about all the stuff I own and all the things my children already have.

Christmas SweaterSomething They Wear
Sure, my kids have not mastered the art of folding their clothes neatly, but usually their drawers are difficult to shut because they are completely overflowing!

My own closet is packed with pants and shirts I don’t actually wear on any consistent basis. My wife gets upset because all my favorite shirts have holes in them. But the other ones don’t fit quite right, being too large, too small, too scratchy, too tight. Why do I keep them around?

Something They Read
Don’t even get me started on books. We have books. And we also have four nearby libraries we raid on a regular basis. Do we need another book in the house? (Whenever I ask that question, my wife gives me a look which makes me realize, yes, clearly we do. Apologies in advance, dear wife…)

Something They Want
What do I want? I mean, what do I want that fits into the category of I-haven’t-yet-bought-it-for-myself-and-it’s-within-a-reasonable-price-range. Because, let’s face it, if it’s within a reasonable price range and I really want it, I’ve probably already purchased it for myself.

My kids want…video games and LEGOs. And LEGO video games. My littlest son wants character figurines from his favorite video game.

Something they wantDo we usually want things that are good for us? The winning stocking stuffers are usually not pecans, apples, and boiled eggs. Usually they include lots of cocoa, butter, and sugar. Maybe that’s just at my house.

Something They Need
We must define “need” in order to clearly grasp this one. If you ask my children, their “needs” are actually wants. To be honest, it’s not just the children. What do I need? I need to get my truck a new radiator so I can drive it again. I need to finish putting down laminate flooring in my house (that one may not sound like a gift, but in a weird way it is). I need…

Let’s break down needs. Necessities. Air would qualify. Food qualifies. Clothing qualifies. As to the quality of those items, I don’t need the top of the line of any of those things. We eat a lot of organic food, but that’s actually a luxury. I only actually need one or two changes of clothing to live.

I have everything I need, and I always have.

PeacefulWhat I Really Need
After thinking through these four items, what do I come away with?

God has richly blessed me with physical things. I don’t just have what I need–I have much more than I really need. Must folks really have a healthy 401K? Must they live in a four-bedroom house in at least an average neighborhood? Most of the world doesn’t live this way. Why should I think I must live this way? If God has blessed me to live this way, I will praise Him! And if He chooses to take it away from me, praise Him! He will still give me what I need.

What I really need is to know Him and His Son Jesus. That’s where true life is. It’s not in all the stuff I listed above. That stuff comes and goes, ebbs and flows, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13.8).

What I really need is contentment–to be happy with what I have.

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13.5-6)

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Tim. 6.6-10)

Content people are grateful. Discontent people are complainers. If you and I can take this mindset of contentment (I have all I need) into the Christmas whirlwind of joy, cheer, and merchandising, we will experience peace amidst the chaos. Doesn’t everyone long for peace?

I pray for a peaceful month in which we all center our lives on Him who makes life worthwhile.

The Political Christian? World Says…Word Says

American PoliticsWORLD: “The worst possible thing that can happen is that a Democrat/Republican president is elected.”

WORD: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Rom. 13.1)

WORLD: “If my presidential candidate doesn’t win, I’ll take to the streets in protest. The other person won’t be MY president!”

WORD: “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Rom. 13.2-4)

WORLD: “I’m not going to pay taxes. Paying taxes is unconstitutional.”

WORD: “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13.5-7)

Helping HandWORLD: “I don’t like that person who is running for president. Therefore, I shall share every news story I find that tears him/her down. I like this other person, so I shall share every news story I find which builds him/her up.”

WORD: “You shall not bear false witness.” (Rom. 13.9) “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15).

WORLD: “If someone doesn’t agree that my presidential candidate is the right one for our country, I’ll let them have it with both barrels blazing!”

WORD: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4.29-32)

Emotions in the Face of Election Results

DisbeliefIn light of the political upset which we witnessed last night, I realize many are excited, many are bewildered, and many are upset. I appeal to you, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, to set your mind on things above, not on things here below.

The following guidance from Scripture seems appropriate:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)

So many in this country drift this way and that because they don’t have a firm authority in their lives. They rule their own lives (they think), and so their whim is their command. They have no rock, no anchor of their soul. Their emotions drift with them.

Our emotions, however, are governed by the Lord our God, as we walk in obedience to Him. We can rejoice in all things, even in election results which may or may not have gone our way. We should be careful not to fully think of it being “our way,” even if we voted for Mr. Trump, because we surely don’t stand for everything he does! We should be careful not to think of it being “our way” if we voted for Mrs. Clinton, because it seems God has decided not to place her in this position right now–surely we don’t want to stand against His will.

Christian brothers and sisters, just keep being who you are supposed to be. “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5.13). Love your neighbor as yourself–especially if they voted differently than you!

God bless you. God give our country peace. May we continually bless Him and bless others.

Fearing God Isn’t Common Sense

Marker FaceWhy should my three-year-old not use the permanent markers to illustrate his room, his bed, and himself? Isn’t it common sense?!

Why should my nine-year-old not ram her bicycle into the back of the toddler’s tricycle in order to push him along? Isn’t it common sense?

Why should my older boys take baths more than twice a month? Isn’t it common sense?

Why shouldn’t that teenage driver blow through the stop sign in front of my house? You’d think it would be common sense.

How could anybody with a brain vote for [you fill in the blank]? It should be common sense, right?

Perhaps what I think is common isn’t so common after all. When the country is divided in half over which candidate is best, where does common sense leave us? I have a sense and you have a sense about what is right, and if our senses don’t agree, can we really follow the rule of common sense?

Just Believe in Your DreamsThe spirit of the age is “follow your heart,” “do what feels right,” and “go with your gut.” As Luke Skywalker flew his X-Wing over the Death Star towards his tiny target, he heard the ghost of Obi Wan urge, “Trust your feelings, Luke.”

New Age religions are not really new. They are based on ancient philosophies. Buddha taught that divinity is within, and you find true enlightenment through your own experiences. Truth is found within yourself.

The Bible teaches the opposite. Truth is external and must be taught, coming from the Supreme and Sovereign God, Creator, Sustainer, Savior. God created us, and we are not Him. He speaks to us through His word, through His Son Jesus.

Wisdom is not something that just comes through experience, but true wisdom comes from fearing God. Notice the following from Proverbs:

1.29      Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD,
1.30      They would have none of my counsel
And despised my every rebuke.

8.13      The fear of the LORD is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverse mouth I hate.

9.10      The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

15.33    The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom,
And before honor is humility.

Read the BibleWhat is fearing the Lord? It’s listening to and obeying Him! It’s setting aside your common sense and relying on God’s sense, which may sometimes not make sense to you. It’s relying on something outside yourself–God’s word–to determine your destiny, your path, your goals.

Man’s “common sense” can become his way of following his own authority and rejecting God’s. I must teach my children not to rely on their common sense but to constantly ask, “What would God have me do? How does God discern this situation?”

The Jews in Thessalonica were called NOBLE because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17.11). They didn’t blindly accept Paul’s preaching; they verified it through studying God’s word, which was their ultimate and final guide. It didn’t matter that Paul’s preaching made sense to them or not; they double checked. If they determined the teaching to be from God, they followed it.

Man’s philosophies often make sense to us, and sometimes we accept them because they sound reasonable. But that doesn’t mean they are right. God declares what is right and wrong, and we don’t really have a say in the matter! He’s the one who rules; we don’t.

Fearing God isn’t common sense these days. But it’s still the way to true wisdom.

Is Seeing Really Believing?

Shocked EyesThe apostle John wrote his gospel in order to produce faith in his readers (John 20.30-31). How is that faith born? In the book the crowds and even Jesus’ disciples ask Him to SHOW them something so they can believe. Don’t we sometimes declare, “Seeing is believing”?

The crowds, attempting to goad Jesus into giving them more bread asked, “What sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” (John 6.30)

Faltering Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14.8)

Those Who SAW

After Jesus began to work miracles,”many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” However “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2.23-25). Although they believed when they saw, it seems their believe was not really in Jesus as the Son of God. It wasn’t a belief unto salvation, a persevering faith.

Skeptical

Jesus chided the people, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” (John 4.48).

Jesus fed the 5000, and “when the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!'” (John 6.14). That sounds like faith, but just wait until  the end of the chapter: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (6.66).

After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done” (John 11.45-46).

Those Who HEARD

More than SEEING, faith comes by HEARING, as Paul writes in Romans 10.17. John’s gospel illustrates and illuminates this truth: faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.

When Jesus told Nathanael, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” He based that connection solely on the words of Jesus (John 1.47-51).

ListenThe very fact that Jesus is the embodiment of the Word shows the prominence and weight of hearing His word (John 1.1, 14)

Following Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, He spent the rest of the day teaching the whole town, who had come out to meet Him. “Many [of the Samaritans] believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.'” (John 4.41-42)

What Jesus Is Looking For

In the very heart of the gospel, the pivotal chapter, John 12, we read this indictment against the Jews: “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him” (John 12.37). And here’s the main point, as Jesus continues:

And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12.44-50)

This is why Jesus told Thomas at the end, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20.29)

Faith is not built on sight but on sound. It’s not in the seeing but the hearing that truth faith is born. True faith comes from believing the word of God, embodied in His holy Son.

Two different but inseparable questions: Do you believe in Him? Do you believe Him?

No Shame in the Struggle

I just listened to a sermon online in which the preacher stated:

“There is no shame in the struggle.”

WrestlingDo you struggle with a certain temptation? Do you wrestle a sin that seems to pierce deeply into your flesh?

Satan wants you to believe you are alone, that you struggle with something so shameful no one else will understand. Satan wants you to wonder about your very salvation.

“Am I really saved? Does God really love me since I’m still so messed up? Is the Holy Spirit really with me?”

Have you ever wondered such things? If you have,

1. It means you are a member of a special, exclusive club called “the human race.” Brother, Sister, I am right beside you in these feelings. I’ve wandered the same paths and wondered the same things.

2. It means you need to listen more to God. Satan is feeding you lies! Satan WANTS you to be unsure about your standing with God. He wants to suck away your joy, your peace, your steadfast assurance of God’s power and plan.

What has GOD said?

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8.1)

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8.31-39)

Believe God. Believe what He said!

You struggle, and that is good. Many don’t struggle, you know. The majority do what they will and feel no shame. They’re not really in the fight at all because they either don’t realize they should fight or they just don’t care to engage the forces of darkness. Of course, all those without Christ cannot hope to win against sin because only Christ gives us both the will and the power to battle temptation. Your struggle against temptation and sin is actually a sign, a confirmation, of your right standing with God.

If you have stopped fighting because you feel it’s too difficult or because you think God will save you despite your despondency, that should serve as a severe spiritual warning in your life! Cry out to God to help re-sensitize you to sin, to help you struggle again.

There is no shame in the struggle, friend. Embrace it. In the struggle we learn to trust more deeply in God and not in ourselves.

Is Our Best Good Enough for God?

working hardJesus instructed, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Peter quoted from the Old Testament, “…as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

“But God just wants us to do our best!”
someone blurts from the back of the room (without even raising her hand). “That’s all He can expect us to do.”

Why is that all He can expect us to do? Is our best actually good enough for Him?

When have we actually done our best? Think back to yesterday. Did you do your best? Did you pray at the end of the day, “Lord, I did my best today; I gave it my best shot. I hope You’re happy with me”?

Hard at WorkI confess, I can almost always think of a way in which I could have done something better, spoken more nicely, exhibited more patience, spoken up more, shut up more, desired God more.

What exactly is my best, anyway?

More importantly, is it biblical to insist “God just wants me to do my best”? I read things like…

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4.1-3)

Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5.1-2)

Walk as children of light…” (Eph. 5.8)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (Phil. 1.27)

“But God would never command us to do something we can’t do!” returns the lady, now standing red-faced beside her chair.

CamelJesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Literally impossible. For man. But not impossible for God (see Matt. 19.23-26). Did Jesus command that rich young ruler to do something he couldn’t do?

A brother (and brother-in-law) of mine, Edwin Crozier, recently made these observations:

  1. When God commanded Moses to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt, He commanded Moses to what he could not in order to drive him to rely on God’s power (Exodus 3:10)
  2. When God commanded Israel to take possession of the Promised Land, He commanded them to do what they could not in order to drive them to rely on God’s grace (Deuteronomy 9:23, et al).
  3. When God commanded Gideon to deliver Israel from Midian, He commanded Gideon to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on God’s grace (Judges 7).
  4. When God commanded Joshua and Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, He commanded them to do what they could not in order to drive them to rely on God’s grace and Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).
  5. When Jesus commanded Peter to walk on the water, He commanded Peter to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on Jesus’s grace, power, and strength (Matthew 14:28-33).
  6. When Peter commanded the lame man to walk, he commanded the lame man to do what he could not in order to drive him to rely on the name and grace of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6-7).
  7. When God commands us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, He commands us to do what we cannot in order to drive us to His mercy, grace, strength, and power (Ephesians 3:14-4:1).

I whole-heartedly agree with his observations.

Christians do the impossible every day because they rely on the power and grace of God! God has commanded what we are not able to really accomplish, but that’s okay because He can accomplish all these things in us! In fact, Jesus has already accomplished it all for us.

Our best is not good enough for God. But Jesus‘ best is perfect.

Thank You, God, for power and grace to live righteously before You today in Jesus.

Galatians: What Is the Law of Christ?

Fruit of the SpiritAs we have seen, Paul explicitly declares the Law to have no power over the Christian. One who is in Christ, being led by the Spirit, is not under law:

  • “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…” (Gal. 3.10)
  • “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…” (Gal. 3.23)
  • “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” (Gal. 4.21)
  • “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal. 5.18)

Yet Paul still speaks of us fulfilling the Law:

  • “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Gal. 5.13-14)
  • After giving the fruit of the Spirit, Paul concludes, “Against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5.23)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2)
  • “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8.2-4)

What is the law of Christ, the law of the Spirit of life? It is not circumcision, that’s for sure, since Paul spends most of Galatians condemning those who preach and practice circumcision! It’s also not “the whole law” of Moses (Gal. 5.3). Is it part of the law of Moses, then? Doesn’t the verse Paul quotes in Gal. 5.14 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) come from the Old Testament (Lev. 19.18)? Is he instructing his readers to observe that commandment but not to observe circumcision? How do we know, then, what Old Testament passages we should still keep and apply today and which ones we should understand as having already been fulfilled?

BlessedHere is where the simplicity of God’s “law” in Christ comes in. We should recognize the difference in type of law–the Law of Moses was a law of commandments written on stone; the Law of Christ is a law of faith written on hearts.

Moses went up on the mountain and brought down Ten Commandments and a host of other moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.

Jesus went up on the mountain and spoke. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus identified the two core laws upon which all the law and the prophets hung: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you strength, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the law of Christ.

No longer do we have lists of commandments which are against us; now we have core principles about how our hearts should be towards God and towards men. The New Testament avoids lists of laws, as a matter of fact. Jesus and the apostles mainly taught by example, by narrative, by principle. They gave plenty of applications to help readers discern and refine our understanding of principles given.

Returning to Galatians 5, we are to walk by the Spirit, and by so doing we will avoid gratifying the desires of the flesh. The fruit the Holy Spirit bears in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we walk in these things, we literally walk outside of law. There is no law against these things. The law of Christ truly is a law of liberty in which mercy triumphs over judgment. We are set free from sin, from the works of the flesh (Gal. 5.17-21), in order to walk by the Spirit with Christ our Lord!

Galatians: Hindered from Obeying the Truth

FreedomWhen you hear the phrase “obey the gospel” or “obey the truth,” what comes to mind?

Paul writes in Galatians 5.7, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Context is everything, so let’s back up a bit to examine our immediate surroundings:

1 Stand  fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

Paul here deals with circumcision as a MEANS to obtain justification. He is not outlawing the physical act of circumcision, saying that anyone who has been circumcised has no hope of salvation. Far from it! Paul himself was circumcised–a procedure which was at that time impossible to reverse–and he most certainly was saved. Just don’t attempt to be saved by circumcision–that’s his point.

Free to PlayIndeed, if you attempt to obtain God’s grace by keeping the law of circumcision, you bind yourself to keep the entire law–and no one can do that! Remember Galatians 3.21: “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by law”? Those who were preaching circumcision as a means of obtaining a right standing with God “do not themselves keep the law” (Gal. 6.13). “The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

What’s worse, if you attempt to justify yourself through keeping the law, you are severed from Christ, fallen from grace! The cross of Christ has no meaning any more. Paul claims that if he still preached circumcision he would, in reality, remove the offense of the cross (Gal. 5.11). What is the “offense of the cross”? The gospel message is written in Galatians 1.4: Jesus “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.” We don’t deliver ourselves; Jesus delivers us through His death–through the cross. Jesus “gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2.20) and “we are justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16).

Christ on the CrossBrothers and sisters, if you lean upon law-keeping as the means for your justification, you fail to obey the truth and are in a state of grave spiritual danger! Paul does not contrast the Law of Moses with the law of Christ; he contrasts

  • the Law with faith,
  • circumcision with the cross,
  • the works of man with the work of Christ.

In which do you trust?

Obeying the gospel, in the New Testament, is equal to (truly) believing in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10.14-17 and 2 Thessalonians 1.3-10). The mark of true obedience is “faith working through love” (Gal. 5.6). It’s a freedom from the law, but only because our flesh has been crucified and we now walk by the Spirit and in the Spirit (Gal. 5.13-26). Law still exists, and most of the world still stands condemned by the law, but those in Jesus Christ who believe in Him and have been sanctified by His blood will not be judged by the law. We have obtained mercy! Let us not return to the law but let us exercise our faith, through love serving one another.

What a blessed life, and what an amazing opportunity God has given through Jesus Christ!

Galatians: We Are Children of Promise!

ABCsIn Galatians 4, Paul writes of the “elementary principles of the world” the “weak and worthless elements” (ESV). The NKJV translates as follows:

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. (Gal. 4.3)

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? (Gal. 4.9)

Notice the slavery / bondage aspect to the elements. These “elementary principles” are like the ABCs, the basic building blocks of religious activity. Paul here writes of the Jewish religion, originally mediated and recorded by the hand of Moses. Although the law contains the greatest expression of God’s holiness the world has ever seen, Paul still considered it “weak and worthless” because of its inability to deliver from slavery. In fact, people were enslaved to those elementary things.

God never intended for us to stay in the ABC stage, though, and when the fullness of time came, God sent Jesus to live according to the law in order to deliver everyone from the law. The result? We become the actual adopted sons of God! No longer does the tutor watch over our every move; now we enjoy great freedom in Christ!

SlaveryWhy, then, Paul asks, would you go back to those elementary principles? Why return to the ABCs if you have already graduated? You want to become slaves again?

At the end of Galatians 4, Paul allegorizes events from Abraham’s life. Abraham had two wives. Sarah was his free wife, and Hagar was his slave wife (concubine). Each wife bore a son. Hagar had Ishmael and Sarah had Isaac. Notice Paul’s train of thought:

  1. The son of the slave woman was born according to the flesh (by the forethought and will of man). The son of the free was born through a promise (by the forethought and will of God).
  2. The slave child represents the Jerusalem below, tied to the image of Mt. Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments, the Law of Moses. The free child represents the Jerusalem above, which is free from the Law of Moses.
  3. Those in Christ, like Isaac, are children of promise. Those outside of Christ are children of bondage.
  4. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so now the children of the flesh persecute and afflict the children of the promise.

Paul ends the analogy with a quote: “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4.30). Paul finds this business so serious that he will not even allow the free to live side-by-side with the slave. And who are these? The free is he who has been released from the Law in Christ; the slave is he who continues to trust in his keeping of the Law for salvation.

Brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman! We are children of promise, born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13).