Sermon: Not Ashamed of the Gospel

“Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” said Jesus.

Is it prideful to believe and insist that there is only one true, living God?

How should a Christian approach an unbeliever? What sort of presuppositions should a Christian be aware of in himself and in the one he attempts to teach?

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: How Is the Promise Fulfilled?

PonderingTo Review…

Thesis: We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.15-16)

Proof #1: You received the Holy Spirit not by works of the law but by hearing with faith (Gal. 3.1-9)

Proof #2: All who rely on works of the law are under a curse (Gal. 3.10-14)

To Continue…

Proof #3: The Promise was not fulfilled through the law (Gal. 3.15-20)

God promised that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Despite what the Jews were thinking, the special covenant Moses ratified between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai did not fulfill that promise God made to Abraham.

CancelledDid the covenant with Israel cancel out the promise? Paul says absolutely not! The law given through Moses did not change a bit of what God had promised.

Paul makes a great deal out of the phrase “to his offspring,” showing how offspring is singular and means one man, namely Christ. The promises God gave Abraham were to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ–not through Moses and the Law. Abraham lived 430 years before the Law was ever written, so God was faithfully working out His promises long before the Law came, and the Law did not change the direction of that work. When you read the Old Testament, it’s often good to think of the BIG STORY in which God works out the Seed of Abraham in such a way as to bring Jesus onto the earth “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4.4).

Therefore the Law must have served some other purpose(s), since it did not accomplish the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is why Paul begs the question, “Why then the law?” (Gal. 3.19)

  1. It was added because of transgression (3.19)
  2. It was a bi-lateral covenant between God and Israel (3.19-20)
  3. It imprisoned everyone under sin (3.22) / held people captive (3.23)
  4. It served as a guardian / tutor / schoolmaster (3.24)

How long did God intend for the Law given through Moses to endure?

  • “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3.19)
  • “until the coming faith would be revealed” (3.23)
  • “until Christ came” (3.24)

Rapt AttentionGalatians 3.21 is extremely important for us to hear and understand:

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

The little “if” can change your worldview! Paul plainly teaches NO LAW in existence can give life. Law inherently cannot redeem, save, justify, etc. Just the opposite, law condemns and binds us under judgment and wrath. Law has no mercy. In order for us to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace, we must receive it from someone who loves us and has the ability to give it to us.

It’s not as if God’s law to Israel was imperfect–it is the most perfect law which has ever been given to mankind! If any law could save, that would be the one.

Neither did God abandon the Law of Moses simply to replace it with a better law, the Law of Christ, by which we are now saved. The Bible never reads like that anywhere. Christ didn’t come to save us via a better law; He came to save us from the condemnation of the law. That’s important, and we must not miss it, because the Galatian brethren missed this point and were cursed because of it.

Why then the law? The law pushes us on to Christ! It displays the absolute holiness of God and exposes our own lack of holiness. But the law doesn’t save; for that we need Christ! “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3.29).

Galatians: Praise Jesus, Our Blessed Redeemer!

John17_LawVsGraceTruth_smPaul began defending his proposition that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16) by asking the Galatian brethren when had they received the Holy Spirit–by works of law or by hearing with faith? Of course, they received Him by hearing and believing the gospel, not by hearing and obeying a body of laws. The Jews, as a matter of fact, had lived their entire lives attempting to follow that body of laws yet, despite all their efforts, had not received justification.

Next, Paul demonstrates in Galatians 3.10-12 that those who seek to be under law remain under a curse.

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

What curse? All Jews familiar with their scriptures know the blessings and curses God built into their covenant. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they quickly came to two mountains–Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. From Gerizim they pronounced the great BLESSINGS God would give them if they remained faithful (Deut. 28.1-14), and from Ebal they intoned the litany of CURSES God would bring upon them when they wandered away into unfaithfulness (Deut. 27.15-26; 28.15-68).

Ten CommandmentsPaul gets pretty legalistic here. You might recall a few moments in Israelite history when Israel seemed to be doing okay and God was blessing them because of their faithfulness. But, in reality, the law actually demands a full, total, and perfect faithfulness to all aspects of the law in order to be considered righteous! And who has done that? Only one.

Even in the Old Testament God justified individuals the same way He does now–by faith. Paul pulls from Habakkuk 2.4, “the just shall live by faith,” to show that God justified even the Israelites by faith and not because of their keeping of the Law (praise God)!

We are not justified by law but by faith. We do not live by keeping law but by faith. These ideas of being justified and living go hand-in-hand, for the one on whom God shows His favor has passed out of death and into life (John 5.24); the one God justifies now lives, as once he had been dead in his sins (Eph. 2.1) and under the curse (wrath of God). Law brings curse and judgment; faith brings life and justification.

How can this be? Continue in Galatians 3.13-14…

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The CrossGive us the gospel again, Paul! Hammer it into us and make us full and rich, glowing in the light of God’s truth in Jesus Christ! That’s right–Jesus became cursed in our place. God provided a substitute for us who really deserve the curse, the beating, the mocking, the nails. He hung on that tree until dead, until He had erased our eternal pain and the condemnation of the law. He bore our sin and carried our sorrow so all the people of the earth could have access to the blessing of Abraham and receive that Holy Spirit unto salvation.

And God confirmed these promises by raising Jesus from the dead.

I don’t know about you, but I’m in total awe of what God has done. Praise Him, praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer!

When and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

We noted Paul’s thesis for Galatians is Galatians 2.15-16:

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Then we asserted that God has never saved man through law.

In Galatians 3 and 4, Paul offers proofs as to why the law is powerless to save and, in fact, condemns those under it. Paul’s first point has to do with the process by which the Galatian Christians received the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3.1-9).

Sharing the GospelWhen and How Do We Receive the Holy Spirit?

Understanding when and how we receive the Holy Spirit is vital! Is getting theology right really so important? To Paul, getting this gospel right was of utmost importance! Those who got it wrong were (and are) damned, severed from Christ, fallen from grace (Gal. 5.4), and Paul wished those who taught this perverted gospel would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5.12).

So then, how did the early Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Galatians 3.1-9?

Twice Paul contrasts working the “works of the law” against “hearing with faith.”

  1. Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? (3.2)
  2. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith–just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? (3.5-6)

Notably, Paul never distinguishes between working works of the Old Law and working works of a New Law. No, he only contrasts works with faith, for the two are at odds, contrary to one another. One has to do with our own power and ability; the other has to do with trusting in God’s power and ability.

In Christ AlonePaul says the GOSPEL was preached to Abraham centuries before Christ ever came, and it’s encapsulated in the promise: “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3.8). We who are of faith (in Christ) are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith! Just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3.6), it’s exactly the same with us–we believe God and He counts it to us as righteousness today. Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to this counting as righteousness, the Holy Spirit being an evidence of our justification.

No obedience to law is necessary to receive the Holy Spirit–only hearing with faith. But doesn’t faith obey, work, and submit?! Yes, but biblical, saving faith is born in the heart of man, while works of obedience and submission flow from faith. The Galatians received the Holy Spirit by hearing the gospel and believing in the gospel. They were baptized, it says in Galatians 3.27, into Christ, surrendering only to Him. Baptism is not a commitment to a law system; it’s a commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior!

Am I saying you don’t have to follow laws any more? Not hardly! Am I saying God doesn’t want us to do any works? No! God created us to walk in good works (Eph. 2.10). Jesus and His apostles taught that we should be obedient to the laws of the land, to our parents, ultimately to God. We must understand the place of law in a Christian’s life, which is Paul’s point of contention here.

Law cannot not justify or save, so what was it / is it for? We shall continue…

Galatians: What Is the Gospel?

Reading the BibleA critical question for any Christian is “What is the gospel?” Paul taught incessantly about the gospel, claiming, among other things, that it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1.16).

Gospel simply means “good news.” What is the good news Paul would have us know?

Paul’s letter to the Galatians contributes much to our understanding of the pure gospel. At the beginning Paul identifies a cancer within the churches of Galatia–men who were preaching a different gospel (Galatians 1.6-9). It’s not as if there were multiple gospels, but they were twisting, perverting, distorting the real gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have many perversions of the gospel today, and (following Paul’s instruction) we find it paramount to seek after and vigorously defend the real gospel. How have men perverted the gospel of Christ? They do it the same way people have always perverted the word of God–by either adding to it or taking away from it. Certainly teaching that Jesus really did not come in the flesh (2 John 7) or that He was not raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.12ff) constitute gospel perversions. But that’s not the point of Galatians. Paul deals with a specific issue in Galatians, one particular insidious and spiritually destructive perversion of the gospel.

Among the Galatian churches certain Jewish teachers insisted the gentiles (non-Jews) be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul unconditionally denounced this form of teaching, in the process clarifying for us what the true gospel is. Paul’s thesis may be found in Galatians 2.15-16:

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

GavelClearly the issue encompasses justification. To be justified means to be declared righteous. It does not mean the person is made righteous in the sense that he no longer sins and is completely holy within his own person. It may help to understand that the opposite of justification is condemnation. Before God declares you righteous, you stand condemned before Him, under judgment because of your own guilt. But when God declares you righteous, there is no condemnation (Romans 8.1); God no longer considers you guilty because He lays all your sins on His Son Jesus Christ who has already paid the penalty for your sins! This is the good news of the gospel.

So the perversion of the gospel in Galatians has to do with how a person stands justified before God. Paul gives two options throughout the letter:

  1. You can be justified by keeping the Law (specifically the Law of Moses is under consideration, although the principle applies to all law)
  2. You can be justified through faith in Jesus Christ

In his thesis (Galatians 2.15-16), Paul lets us know up front which is the actual gospel, explaining that a person IS NOT justified by works of the law! Let that be clear in our minds. Seeking to be justified before God by keeping law is actually a path to condemnation, misery, and slavery.

I plan to continue to flesh these ideas out over the next few posts, but in the meantime why don’t you study the letter to the Galatians to discover how Paul explains and supports his thesis? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Superstar Suicides and the Secret to Happiness

ElvisOver the years, an astounding number of intelligent, gorgeous men and women have committed suicide.

  • Maralyn Monroe overdosed on barbiturates and was found dead in her bed clutching a telephone receiver on August 5, 1962.
  • The king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, overdosed on prescription drugs on August 16, 1977, and died of cardiac arrest.
  • The king of pop, Michael Jackson, overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants and pain killers and died on June 25, 2009.
  • Robin Williams was found on August 11, 2014, hanging by a nylon belt with wrists partially slashed after having dosed himself with antidepressants, caffeine, and a drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Robin WilliamsThe world loved (and many sill love) these icons for their ability to perform, entertain, shock, and amuse. All were top of their game, making headlines, and amazingly successful as this world counts success.

What went wrong?

Obviously drugs were a major factor in each and every case.

But why the drugs? These were not illegal drugs; they were prescription. After brief consideration, you may easily observe that these women and men were not happy with their super-successful lives! In fact, we might conclude they were actually not successful in life.

These folks were, evidently, seeking happiness in all the wrong places. They did not find joy in their beauty, sexuality, money, or fame–yet upon those things it seems they centered their lives. They built upon a shifting foundation of lies.

From where, then, does true worth and abiding happiness come?

Happy KidsActual joy and peace can only come from the presence of the one true and living God, Yahweh! Notice Psalm 16.7-11, especially verse 11:

    7   I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
         My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
    8   I have set the LORD always before me;
         Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

    9   Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
         My flesh also will rest in hope.
    10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
         Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
    11 You will show me the path of life;
         In Your presence is fullness of joy;
         At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It saddens me to think of all in this world who are so far away from true spiritual blessing. How gracious God has been to me in showing me this path to peace, for I surely don’t deserve it. To be allowed into God’s presence boggles the mind, doesn’t it? For Him to forgive our sins and give us the opportunity to experience the fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures, does it not fill you with inexpressible delight, humble thanksgiving, and the motivation to serve Him forevermore?

Happy ChildrenSo spread the gospel, the good news of our Savior, who makes it possible for us to approach God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4.16), because millions of fellow men and women are searching for their lives’ meaning. They won’t find it in themselves, in their friends, or in their fans, and they certainly won’t find it in those pills they pop every day to mask their pain and depression.

Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6.68-39), and He has commissioned us to spread it. Let’s get to work!