Does God Really Expect Perfection?

Are you good enough for God? Have you ever wondered if you were?

Just how good do you need to be in order for God to accept you? Surely He has given some indication of His standard of measurement so we can know for sure. In fact, God HAS declared a standard of measurement for those who will enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes people think God was really strict in the Old Testament but in the New Testament He relaxes His standards so we can actually achieve salvation. Isn’t that what grace is all about? Doesn’t God give us an easier time today than He gave the Jews?

I don’t deny that we live in a better time and under a better covenant, but Jesus did not come to relax God’s standards! In fact, He clarified God’s moral standards, raising them in the eyes of a people who had been lowering them and stripping them of their power and righteousness. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.19).

At the end of Matthew 5, Jesus states, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” How exactly is our heavenly Father perfect? Is He just kind of  perfect? Maybe “perfect” doesn’t actually mean perfect in the way we normally think of it. As people sometimes ask, “What does the Greek say?” The word (τέλειός) is translated through the New Testament as perfect, complete, mature. Oh good. I can see how I can be “mature” and not be totally “perfect,” so maybe I can relax the standard just a bit. Maybe God isn’t seeking full and total perfection (because, ha ha, who can achieve that standard?); maybe He just wants someone who’s “pretty good” (an admittedly fuzzy definition). But…whatever word we want to plug in there, it says to be perfect/mature/complete AS GOD Himself is perfect/mature/complete. That seems fairly unattainable!

Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1.15, “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Again, Peter compares us to God Himself–we are to be the same kind of holy as He is! How do we adjust this so we can actually meet the standard?

We are not supposed to adjust anything! What God said, God meant, and we have no business trying to wiggle around until we feel comfortable. We ought to understand that God demands nothing short of complete perfection.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting you’re not, either.

What are we do do?!

Some theorize that we can become so mature in Christ that we can go for hours, days, perhaps even weeks without sinning. Really? And what do those theoretical pockets of perfection buy for you? Are you hoping Christ returns during one of your perfect hours? That sounds tenuous at best, and most of us haven’t yet come close to that theoretical perfection. I say “theoretical” because what these folks actually do is decided on a level of comfort they call “perfection,” and they lie to themselves thinking they have gone without sinning, when, in fact, God has said, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8).

God tells us not to sin; then He says if we say we have no sin we are liars. It’s a no-win situation. We might as well give up, throw in the towel, go home and cry. Not! This is the GOSPEL message! God wants us to understand this–come to the end of ourselves–feel totally powerless and vulnerable, because only then will we give up on ourselves and cling fully and completely to Jesus Christ.

Jesus walked perfectly without sin (Heb. 4.15). He endured the cross for our sake (2 Cor. 5.14-15), and through Him God reconciles us back to Himself (2 Cor. 5.18)! How did He bring us back into relationship with Himself? He made Christ to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21)! He no longer counts our sins against us (2 Cor. 5.19), because He laid all our sins on the back of His Son, Jesus. Jesus swapped places with us–the righteous for the sinner–so God now looks at men and women who are in Christ as being righteous, holy, perfect.

But I’m not perfect. That’s right! Christ is. And God counts the perfect righteousness of Christ to my account and imputes all my sin to Christ’s account. Glory be to God! He didn’t have to do it, but He did, freely. And so I am completely saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Praise God today if you are in Christ because He has taken all your sins and counts you now as holy!

If you’re not in Christ, it’s of utmost importance that you come to Him! I pray He draws you and shows you the path to true reconciliation and freedom. Please let me know if I can help you on your journey.

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!

The Historical Jesus – Part 2

Yesterday we discussed Josephus and Tacitus, two men who were not Christians but who wrote about Jesus. Today, I’ll introduce the testimonies of Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata.

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the YoungerPliny is called “the younger” because he is Pliny Junior, son of Pliny the Elder. He wrote many letters which have been preserved for posterity, among which is one addressed to Emperor Trajan circa A.D. 112 concerning his dealings with Christians in his area. Following is his letter and the emperor’s reply.

This does not assert that Christ really lived, but it does show the early existence of the Christians and their incredible faith until death.

Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny the Younger

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

While these letters do not directly deal with the historicity of Jesus, they do show a large number a men and women who were so convinced of His reality they were willing to die for Him. And this was a mere 80 years after Jesus’ death.

 

Lucian of SamosataLucian of Samosata

Lucian was a satirist around A.D. 170. He showed himself hostile against Christians, which makes his testimony in Passing of Peregrinus concerning them quite believable. Lucian’s protagonist Perigrinus was a philosopher who decided to take advantage of some gullible Christians (in his satirical story):
 

11.    “It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine.   And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.

….

13.   “Indeed, people came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians at their common expense, to succour and defend and encourage the hero. They show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in no time they lavish their all.  So it was then in the case of Peregrinus; much money came to him from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he procured not a little revenue from it. The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.

Lucian’s testimony is over 100 years after Christ’s death, but he exposes the believes of the Christians, at least, of his time, which was that the man Christ actually lived. He calls Jesus “the man who was crucified in Palestine” and “their first lawgiver” and “that crucified sophist himself.”

The Historical Jesus – Part 1

For most of the world, Jesus is just another guy. Perhaps a wise guy. Perhaps a charismatic, gifted, insightful guy. But the world, at best, places Jesus alongside all the other wise guys and gals of history.

In a recent conversation, a friend of mine was surprised to discover I believe in a historical Jesus; I believe He was a flesh-and-blood man who actually accomplished all the things we read about in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

A number of reasons lead me to this conclusion. One is historical. Even if you discount the biblical accounts as non-historical, extra-biblical references to Christ and the early Christians certainly exist.

Josephus

JosephusFlavius Josephus, a Jewish historian born just a few years after Jesus’ death, wrote copiously of his people’s history in two major volumes: The Antiquities of the Jews and The Wars of the Jews. (See his works online or pick up a copy. It’s good stuff!) He lived to see his precious Jerusalem fall by Titus’ hand in A.D. 70. Included in his history are a few references to Christ (he was not a Christian), John the Baptist, and James (brother of Jesus and elder in Jerusalem).

The most explicit reference is this:

(63) Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities 18.3.3–which means book 18, chapter 3, paragraph 3–emphasis mine, NW)

This reference to James also mentions Jesus:

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned; (Antiquities 20.9.1–emphasis mine, NW)

For a reference to John the Baptist, see Antiquities 18.5.2

Cornelius Tacitus

Nero BustBorn in the first century (in the early 50s), Tacitus became a well-respected early-second-century historian, writing his Annals around A.D. 110. Emperor Nero had, in A.D. 64, burned Rome to the ground, but then had attempted to pin the atrocity on Christians, using them as scapegoats of a sort. Tacitus records the deeds Nero did to Christians at the time:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. (Annals Book XV–emphasis mine, NW)

Tomorrow I hope to offer two more ancient sources–Lucian of Samosata and Pliny the Younger–as additional witnesses to the historical Jesus, but for now ponder these ancient words from men who were certainly not Christians; more often they were anti-Christian. There seems to have been no doubt in their minds that such a man as Jesus actually did live and that he had been killed by crucifixion. Naturally they did not believe He rose from the dead. But who could believe such an outrageous thing?

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1.18-25)

God and State-of-Being Verbs

In my homeschool group we recently discussed a simple sentence:

“He is in the car.”

First, we remove prepositional phrases before we figure out the main sentence pattern, and in this case we removed “in the car” which left “He is.” Someone insisted that couldn’t be right–how can “He is” stand alone as a sentence? It didn’t seem to make good sense.

Divine CreationMy mind immediately jumped back to Exodus 3.6 where God introduced Himself: “I am the God of Abraham…” A little later in Moses’ fearful discussion with God, he asked God how He would like to be introduced to Israel. God responded with, “I AM WHO I AM…Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exod. 3.13-14).

I would never say “Nathan is” without a greater context. Maybe if someone asked, “Who is hungry?” I might answer, “Nathan is,” or in the first person, “I am.” But you understand I’m saying “Nathan is hungry,” “I am hungry.” There would be a qualification after the state-of-being verb to tell you just what I am.

A well-known maxim goes thus: “I think, therefore I am,” expressing in a cute, philosophical way our existence. But we know there was I time when we were not, and there is coming a time when we will not be on this earth and in this body.

In the BeginningGod is (of course) totally unique and different from us! We CAN say simply “He is.” He just is. He exists. The state-of-being verb simply says God exists, and that’s all there is to it. Is there a greater context? There is NO greater context than Him!

This is why the Jews became so upset with Jesus in John 8.57-59 when they asked Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus responded, “Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” In this way, Jesus identified Himself with God, nay, as God. Understandably, the Jews attempted to stone Him for that, not stopping to really ponder the ramifications of His words or His mighty deeds.

God is. Jesus is. The Holy Spirit is. Together, they are the One “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1.4, 8; 4.8), “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1.8), “the first and the last” (Rev. 1.17; 2.8), “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22.13), “the living God, enduring forever” (Dan. 6.26), “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7.9), who has always been from “in the beginning” (John 1.1; Gen. 1.1).

We began. God instigated our beginning. He had no beginning and will have no end. He is the great singular cause of all things.

He is!

Holy Child–Awesome God!

Shepherds wonder at the sceneThe Holy Child, both God and man even in His infancy. A song our church loves to sing contains the line: “Hands that lighted the evening stars reach out for comfort in Mary’s arms.” Who can comprehend God’s awesome condescension to His people–how the Divine became flesh?

Against that thought, this passage in Isaiah struck me with extra force today, as I pondered my Lord Jesus lying in the manger. Isaiah 40.10-31 speaks of who He IS and how silly it is to compare Him to impotent and ridiculous idols.

May this passage bless you today. Make sure you read the ending!

10      Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand,
And His arm shall rule for Him;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.
11      He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.

12      Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
Measured heaven with a span
And calculated the dust of the earth in a measure?
Weighed the mountains in scales
And the hills in a balance?
13      Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
14      With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding?

15      Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket,
And are counted as the small dust on the scales;
Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.
16      And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn,
Nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.
17      All nations before Him are as nothing,
And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.

18      To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare to Him?
19      The workman molds an image,
The goldsmith overspreads it with gold,
And the silversmith casts silver chains.
20      Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution
Chooses a tree that will not rot;
He seeks for himself a skillful workman
To prepare a carved image that will not totter.

21      Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22      It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
23      He brings the princes to nothing;
He makes the judges of the earth useless.

24      Scarcely shall they be planted,
Scarcely shall they be sown,
Scarcely shall their stock take root in the earth,
When He will also blow on them,
And they will wither,
And the whirlwind will take them away like stubble.

25      “To whom then will you liken Me,
Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.
26      Lift up your eyes on high,
And see who has created these things,
Who brings out their host by number;
He calls them all by name,
By the greatness of His might
And the strength of His power;
Not one is missing.

27      Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And my just claim is passed over by my God”?
28      Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the LORD,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
29      He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
30      Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
31      But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.

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?

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!

Is Jesus Your Personal Savior?

Jesus Crown of ThornsIn The Message, which is an interpretation of the Bible and not an actual translation (so read it with great caution!), the introduction to Galatians includes the following:

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for “Logos”:

In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).

Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps “Are you a born again Christian?” (isn’t that redundant?) is even more popular, but “Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?”* definitely competes.

Can we claim Jesus as our own “personal Savior”?

In the BeginningI understand personal in the relational sense–that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship only between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and each individual.

What does the Bible teach on this?

Truly, you cannot find those exact words–“personal Savior”–in the Bible. But what about the concept? As I consider the question, my thoughts are immediately drawn to two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.

David

David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.

I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)

I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)

Jesus Holding MeCan you feel the sense of a personal relationship in David’s words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David’s God! There is something comforting and empowering in this relationship, because the relationship does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world–it’s directly between a man and his God.

Paul

Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)

You

Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have–and you either are His or you aren’t.

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts and comments–I’d love to hear them.


* I DO have a problem with that statement, but it’s not with the “personal Savior” bit–it’s with the “have YOU made” bit. Nobody makes Jesus to be his or her Savior. More appropriately and biblically, they should ask, “Has Jesus saved you?” or “Have you been saved by Jesus?”