The Eternal Consequences of Legalism

The cross was an offense to some false teachers in Galatia, against whom Paul strongly preached. Jews had infiltrated the churches. They claimed to be Christians, but they brought a twisted, corrupted, distorted gospel with them (Gal. 1.6-9) as they attempted to bind the Gentile Christians under a host of Jewish laws which Christ had already eliminated through the cross.

Circumcision is not a sin in itself. Paul was circumcised (Phil. 3.5), and he even had Timothy circumcised for practical reasons (Acts 16.3), so he wasn’t condemning the actual act. He condemned it as a religious ritual as the Jews were teaching; they commanded all Christian men to be circumcised in order to be right with God. They made it a prerequisite to salvation.

In addition to circumcision, they also insisted Christians keep the special Jewish feast days (Gal. 4.10), adding them onto the list of things necessary for salvation. In other words, the Jewish Christians wouldn’t really accept the Gentile Christians as brothers until they measured up to their list of laws and demands.

Why did the cross offend these Jews? Paul preached against circumcision for salvation; the gospel eliminated the Law of Moses as necessary under Christ! He preached that Jesus abolished the Old Law and clearly stated that salvation is by faith in Christ apart from works of the law (Gal. 2.15-16). In fact, “if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2.21), and “if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Gal. 3.21). But now that faith has come, we are not longer under the guardianship of the law (Gal. 3.25).

Christ has set us free in order that we may experience true freedom (Gal. 5.1). He has freed us from sin and law. The law actually binds us under sin, so Christ had to abolish the law in order that we might actually be free from sin! This is grace.

But grace offends the legalist (who believes he is saved by keeping a law) because grace says we are not saved by our work of keeping law; we are saved by Christ’s work of keeping the law and His awesome, powerful, sufficient sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. Just as the cross offended the Jews because it did away with their law, the cross offends legalists today because it does away with their law.

Who gets to make the list of laws which are necessary for entering into the kingdom of heaven? Only God holds that position. Is there a law Jesus expects us to submit to? Absolutely! If you don’t think so, you probably haven’t read the New Testament recently (you might refresh your memory starting with Matthew 5-7, Romans 6, James, and Galatians 5-6). But Jesus clarifies the place of law–law doesn’t save; He does. We keep His law because we are His children, not in order to make ourselves His children.

The legalist, however, so intent on keeping law, begins to make lists of actions and teachings which will keep a person out of heaven. Many such lists have been made which go far beyond gospel-level issues, and those lists divide good-hearted brethren. The legalist believes that eating (or not eating) certain meats will keep you out of heaven (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). The legalist believes that observing (or not observing) certain special religious days will annul your salvation. The legalist believes you must add this or subtract that from your life in order to be saved. Their additions divide and do violence to the body of Christ! And that’s why Paul so vigorously opposed the mindset of legalism.

Paul could have made a long list to show why he was “qualified” to be saved, but he counted all his so-called qualifications as loss, he said, “for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I my gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” (Phil. 3.2-10).

Let us refrain from binding fellow Christians to our lists of laws! If Christ said to do it, then we shall do it. If Christ said to avoid it, then we shall avoid it. But let’s not add to or subtract from what He has said, and let us not think that we are saved by keeping His laws. We’ve been saved in order that we might keep His laws. There’s a big difference, and that difference has eternal consequences (Gal. 5.4)!

God Didn’t Save Daniel FROM the Lion’s Den

Don’t you love it when a brother or sister plants a new word in you? Last night I enjoyed a brother’s comment as he shared his thoughts from Daniel. He said,

“I noticed God didn’t save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace, but He saved them in the furnace. And God didn’t save Daniel from the lion’s den; He saved him in the den.”

What an excellent and biblical thought! How often is that true?

  • God saved Noah through the flood.
  • God saved Job through his terrible losses.
  • God saved Samson in his blindness.
  • God saved Israel through the Red Sea and wilderness wandering.
  • God saved Rahab in the slaughter of her city.
  • God saved Joseph through the pit, the slavery, and the imprisonment.
  • God saved Jonah in the belly of the great fish.
  • God saved Elijah in the wilderness, through famine and drought.
  • Jesus saved His apostles in the storm.

And we could continue indefinitely.

God does not always stop the bad from happening to us. He often allows evil to overtake even His most faithful. But He saves His children through and in the difficulties, tragedies, and atrocities we all face.

What an excellent word, my brother! And what a wise God we serve, for we don’t always know why He allows suffering and pain, but we always know He’s there in it to help us through it!

Work Out Your Salvation

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This conundrum is, perhaps, not such a problem for the creationist who understands that God created the chicken fully-grown and mature. But that’s not really the point, is it?

The serious Bible student will discover questions like this regarding his salvation. Which came first, God’s will or mine? Which came first, God’s work or mine?

Philippians 2.12-13 encourages us to ponder this very question:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Notice:

  1. Obedience links with “work out your salvation”
  2. The “for” stands as a “because,” so the actions in verse 12 result from the actions of verse 13
  3. God produces a will and a work in us
  4. Everything results in His good pleasure

Many use verse 12 to insist that we are, indeed, saved by our works. Besides running counter to so many other clear New Testament scriptures (i.e., Eph. 2.8-9; Tit. 3.3-7; Gal. 2.16; Rom. 11.5-6; etc.) which say we are not saved by our works, that understanding also violates the immediate context by not considering verse 13 and GOD as the ultimate cause of our salvation.

These verses do not appear in isolation; we must consider the context of the entire letter to be faithful to God’s meaning. We may back up to Phil. 1.27:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Paul reminds them (and us) that their conduct should be worthy of the gospel. “How does our conduct reflect the gospel?” we might ask. Reading the rest of the letter answers the question. So God desires–in fact demands–obedience and a “worthiness” of conduct.

But why should we obey? Why attempt to walk such a high path? Do we obey and work in order to be saved? Are we keeping ourselves saved by walking in the right way? The answer is yes…and no. God is certainly telling us to walk this way and it will result in our salvation.

Back up to Phil. 1.6 for one more insight:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

This answers the question, “How did my salvation begin?” God began it.

It also answers, “How will I continue to be saved?” God will continue to perfect it until Jesus returns.

Notice Phil. 1.11 says, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Who has been filled? We who are in Christ! Who does the filling? God!

And so “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” and “set your minds on things that are above” and “whatever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” and “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” All those passages tell us to obey, to work, to do. We now understand our obedience is a loving response to the work God has already done in us and continues to do for us.

When I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I do not work to get saved or stay saved. I’m working because I am saved and I want to show the fruit of God’s work in my life. May my life and your life result to the praise of His glory.

The Way of Man

What are you doing today? Going to work? To school? Taking a vacation? Having some fun? Getting some jobs done around the house? Helping your neighbor? Taking some food to a widow in need? Visiting someone in prison?

Why do you get up in the morning? Why did you choose your vocation, hobbies, way of life? What’s your life’s purpose?

From a biblical standpoint, God has an answer for you. From a worldly standpoint, you come up with your own answer. And, frankly, most of the world comes up with its own answer.

Jeremiah wrote many years ago:

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. (Jer. 10.23)

Do you know the main difference between Buddhist meditation and Christian meditation? The Buddhist attempts to find her center, to probe deep within herself, to discover hidden secrets locked inside her. The Buddhist believes that enlightenment is within man. The Christian, on the other hand, meditates on Scripture (Psalm 119.15, 23, 48, 78). The Christian looks outside himself to discover how he should live, because he knows he will not find the right path in himself.

The Buddhist and the Christian differ in their fundamental understanding of the nature of man. What is your nature, according to the Scriptures?

  • After the flood, God recognized, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 9.21)
  • Solomon included in his temple-dedication prayer, “there is no one who does not sin” (2 Chr. 6.36)
  • Paul wrote, “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3.10)
  • He also said “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2.1-3)
  • “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8.7-8)
  • “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2.14)

You are either a natural man or a spiritual man, according to Scripture. The natural man cannot understand God’s word and does not possess the ability to please God. The spiritual man can understand God’s word and can please God. How does a person transition from the natural to the spiritual? God performs the work of regeneration (Eph. 2.4-9; Titus 3.4-7; John 3.1-8), and we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Lord of all (John 5.24; 3.16-17; Rom. 10.8-13). It’s by grace through faith.

The true way to salvation is not within man! We must look outside and beyond ourselves for the answers to life. How did we decide what to do today? Either we are following our own path or we are following a path God laid out for us. By that, I mean we walk in our own wisdom or God’s wisdom. Which is it for you?

He Saved Us: Block Diagramming Titus 1.1-4

Have you ever heard of block diagramming? Here’s a small demonstration using Titus 1.1-4 as an example:

Block diagramming is a method of writing out the verse in such a way as to expose the meaning more clearly–in visual terms. You can see that most of the passage above is concerned with introducing the author of the letter–Paul. In fact, the first four verses of Titus do not compose a complete sentence but an elaborate salutation.

Paul wants his readers to know two things about him: (1) he’s a bondservant (slave) of God and (2) he’s an apostle (one sent out) of Jesus Christ. Throughout the letter Paul overlaps the names of God and Jesus, treating them with exactly the same reverence, honor, and respect.

Paul serves as an apostle (1) in order to build the faith of God’s elect and help them see the truth. The truth is not merely an intellectual exercise; it has to do with godliness, which is a life-attitude of thinking and acting toward God. This letter has a lot to do with explaining godliness.

Paul also serves as an apostle (2) standing upon the hope of eternal life. That eternal life is a major core teaching of the gospel. Paul says God (a) promised it before time eternal and (b) manifested it through the apostles’ preaching.

By repetition, Paul introduces a major theme of his letter: God is our Savior; Jesus is our Savior.

Oh glorious truth:

HE SAVED US!

How Dead Were You?

Walking Dead

How dead were you?

When “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2.1), just how dead was that? Dear Christian, do you recall being dead? Oh, you functioned well enough, as you “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). Remember when we “formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph. 2.3)? We were just like the rest of the world, which walks in the darkness even until now. Just how dead were we?

We were dead to God, dead in spirit. We were not sensitive to spiritual matters and couldn’t tell right from wrong. We may have understood there was a right and a wrong, but we couldn’t explain what it was, and we surely weren’t walking in truth. We directed our own path, guided our own steps, called our own shots–totally and completely divorced from the one relationship which matters most.

TombsDead people are incapable of living. That may strike you as funny, but isn’t it true? Paul used this language of spiritual death on purpose because he wanted us to realize the absolute powerlessness and tragedy of stumbling around dead in our sins–spiritual zombies. We couldn’t make ourselves alive. Dead people can’t reverse the process.

We didn’t even know we were dead–that is, not until God told us through the gospel. I can preach the gospel to my dead neighbors, but it might not wake them up. Many (most?) simply laugh because it seems so ludicrous to them. “You think I’m dead? But look at the life I’ve made for myself!” But God can wake the dead, and He does! Every Christian can attest to this fact–God does, indeed raise the dead. Praise God!

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2.4-6)

In some mysterious, deep, and supernatural way, God breathed into our immortal souls and granted us…LIFE! It’s a life alongside Christ Jesus our Lord, as we sit with Him in the heavenly realms.

How dead were we? We were totally, completely, irreversibly dead, without hope in this world. But for the grace of God, we’d still be dead.

Narrow-Minded Christians

One WayIn the way the world defines narrow-mindedness, Christians fit the bill!

As long as you don’t say Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation…as long as you don’t insist in a ONE TRUE GOD who revealed Himself only through the Bible…as long as you don’t stand against sin ABSOLUTELY…then the world will accept you as an open-minded Christian. And the world loves open-minded Christians.

We have a tiny problem, however, and that is–or, rather, He is–Jesus.

Yes, Jesus claimed to be the ONLY way by which to access the Father: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14.6). Jesus taught there is only ONE GOD (Mark 12.29). Jesus preached ABSOLUTELY against sin (see Matthew 5.21-48, which ends with “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”). Jesus traced sin to the recesses of the human heart:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7.20-23)

Love your neighborHowever, He taught us not to be narrow in choosing who we love. In fact, we should liberally love all those around us, no matter their sins and no matter their station in life. Didn’t Jesus present the story of the good Samaritan in order to show us love crosses all ethnic, social, and whatever other boundaries?

So, dear neighbor, I cannot condone your sinful habits, but I attempt to love you like Jesus loves you. I cannot amiably accept your god, but I can still do what is right towards you. Because I love you, I’ll tell you about the One True God comprising the Holy Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

This world hates that kind of narrow-mindedness, but God loves it because it’s the truth. I’ll stick with Him, not the world.

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4.18-20)

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5.29)

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: 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).