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Weekly Word

Monday
Oct242011

Protecting the Pure Gospel, Part 10

As we go into Galatians 6, Paul continues to "flesh" out some practical results of using our freedom to walk with the Spirit.  The list of fruit in Galatians 5 is filled with wonderful virtues, but they beg the question.  "Yeah, but what does that look like in everyday life?"  Now let me just insert at this point that the perfect and best answer to that question is, "Jesus."  He is the perfect expression of what love, joy, peace...and all the rest, look like when they are lived out.  Jesus walked in perfect harmony with the Holy Spirit and the fruit it produced is recorded in the New Testament for all to see.  It is this reality that supports the claims of Paul.  He is not just being pig-headed and wanting to control what believers believe.  Rather, he and his fellow Israelites have first hand experience of the kind of fruit that comes from law-keeping and walking in the flesh versus the fruit that comes from walking in agreement with the Spirit of God.

When an individual takes hold of the Gospel, or the Whole Truth about Jesus, by faith, then the Holy Spirit begins that lifelong task of making us over in the image of Jesus.  Of course God uses other godly people in that process and we also need to cooperate- walk in agreement with Him.  If the Galatians added Law-keeping to the Gospel then they would not come to be more and more like him.  If you ask, well where then is holiness in the Gospel?  Simple, Jesus is our holiness, and because he has fulfilled the law I am now free to walk in agreement with the Holy Spirit without the law hanging over my head.  Sure, I give myself to righteousness, but not out of threat, but rather out of a desire to be more like Jesus, which is love.  This is a vastly, different motivation that creates a vastly, different person over the long term.

Bear One Another's Burdens

Paul has been talking about freedom up to now, but here he commands them to literally "Be restoring the fallen, and Be bearing one another's heavy weights."  How do you go from freedom to being commanded?  There is a greater question that lies behind this and it is this.  "For what purposes will I use my freedom?"  Freedom should never be equated with laziness, inactivity, sloth, etc...  Those who give themselves to those anti-virtues find themselves eventually in great bondage, or anything but free.  It is in a sense a wasted freedom that is lost.  So freedom should always be connected in our minds to being able to choose the purposes to which we will employ our strength and labor.  Paul has already made the case back in chapter 5 that if they use their strength and labor to please their flesh then they will be ruined by it and disqualified from entrance into God's kingdom.  The counter point is to use their strength and labor to please the Holy Spirit, which produces good fruit in their life.

Thus the freedom of Christ is not that we have become our own master.  But that we have recognized the wisdom of Christ in the Word and in the Holy Spirit.  We listen to Him because any other counsel/couselor is folly, and that includes myself.

So it is not really Paul who commands them to carry each other's heavy burdens.  It is really Christ.  In fact we begin to see in this chapter that Paul is ultimately concerned with what we are bearing or carrying in life.  What am I using my strength to carry along with me in life?  Back in Chapter 5:10 he told them that the false teacher is going to have to "bear (or carry) his judgment."  He is using his strength to be at odds with the Holy Spirit and is also trying to draw believers away from Christ after himself.  Thus he is heaping up judgment for the things he does and when he gives account to God he will bear the crushing weight of that judgment.  Thus Paul is very clear that teaching false doctrine, which twists the Gospel, is not a light matter.

Just as the false teachers have something to bear, here Paul wants the Galatian believers to bear each other's heavy weights.  Next, in Galatians 6:5, he will point out that each believer will give account or bear their own load in life.  The argument and grammar point to the future judgment of believers.  Lastly, Paul points out that he has to bear or carry the marks of Jesus in his body.  A clear reference to the lashes and physical persecutions he has had to suffer.  This theme of bearing things naturally ties into the slavery of the law.  However, there is a deeper tie to the teachings of Christ.

Matthew 11: 28-30, "28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (NKJV)

In this passage Jesus brings up the issue of the burdens we carry in life.  He had come to a people who were weary at trying to carry the Law.  This weariness was even heavier because of the religious leaders.  Here are a few more quotes from Jesus.

Mt. 23:2-4, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselveswill not move them with one of their fingers." (NKJV)

Luke 11:46, "46 And He said, “Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers." (NKJV)

The emphasis of Jesus is not on the normal load of life that we all should shoulder, such as maturing, marrying, raising a family, working, and relating with others.  He deals with excessive burdens.  He rebuked the scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers because they added to the laws of Moses their own traditions which increased the burden the people were expected to carry.  This social pressure to conform to a certain standard had not only wearied the people, but also threatened to ground to powder any faith they might have in God.  A key theme in the gospel is that God does not wish to grind you to powder and then send you to hell for not performing.  His compassion for the frailty and depravity of man sends rest in Jesus.  Jesus came to carry the heavy burden we could not.  So that now we can get up and follow him.  Paul's point is that if, in following Jesus, you don't feel like you are carrying enough weight then help your brother with his excessive weights.

Now this is precisely the opposite of what the false teacher has done.  The false teacher has come in among the Galatians and is trying to put a greater burden on them.  But Paul says if you are inclined to carry more weight then carry your brothers weight.  Don't put more on yourself and so fight against the gospel, and Christ.  Notice Jesus doesn't say that following him has no burden.  Rather he promises, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  Wow!  Our freedom has a yoke?  Yes.  We make a choice what we are going to be yoked to.  You will either be yoked to your flesh, which will drag you to destruction, or yoked to the Spirit, which will lead to eternal life.  The flesh is hard and heavy and without lasting reward.  But the Spirit is gentle and light with eternal reward.

Do you want to be spiritual?  Then don't make up more rules to follow or go back to rules of the Law.  Rather help those who are falling off the path of Christ and help those who are weighed down with various heavy things of this life.  Paul brings up the former condition first.

Helping those who are falling off the path of Christ, is exactly what Paul is doing in this letter.  He is modelling it for them as he tells them to do it.  You want to be spritual?  Then help those who are doctrinally weak and easily swayed by false reason or temptation away from Christ.  Here Paul continues to explore the different kind of spirituality that happens under legalism versus freedom.  Legalists tend to think of themselves as spiritual, but generally do not help anyone.  They think highly of themselves for carrying so much weight and look down on others who cannot perform as them.  Paul points them to a different spirituality, which is of Jesus.  A spirituality that, if it does look "down" on others it is for the purpose of seeing their plight and helping their need.  Restore is to put something back in its proper place.  When my brother is fallen off the path part of the body of Christ is dislocated.  Imagine the pain that occurs when an arm or knee is dislocated.  In the same way that we use our "freedom" to get that joint back in proper alignment with the rest of the body, so we ought to help one another.  We ought to feel the "pain" that God feels when our brothers or sisters are tempted out of the grace and off the path of Christ.  Paul also points out that restoration needs to have a christ-like attitude about it.  Do it gently and self-reflectively.

Gentle is when our strength is under control.  When a doctor works on a patient he can do gently or rougly.  His speech can be gentle and caring or it can be brusque and heartless.  Here we see the fruit of the Spirit.  We are not called to a Law that can be done with any attitude.  Rather the love of Christ stirs us to help our brother out of compassiona and with great care.

The second part of this is to watch ourselves less we fall into temptation.  It would be easy to see that in rescuing someone we don't want to be destroyed by the same thing that they have fallen to.  However, the warning is not just about my fallen brother's sin or temptation.  It can be just as much about my own pride in being the "rescuer, and helper."  Legalists don't always start out that way.  By helping those who have fallen a subtle, elitist, pride in our own great spiritual abilities can build up, layer by layer.  Until our prideful attitude undermines our faith in Christ.  At some point we can become proud in our own ability and have faith in our works rather than in the work of Christ.  Restoration is really the work of a truely spiritual person.  All others will fail.

So verse one encourages them to help those falling off the path of Christ and verse 2 tells them to help carry the excessive burdens.  He says that if they will do this they will fulfill the "Law of Christ."  In case you didn't know Christ had a law, then let me remind you of Paul's words in Romans 8:2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death." So there is a law to following Christ, however, it is simply the law of the Love of God and our fellow man.  So the law of Christ can only be fulfilled when we carry the burdens of our fellow believers.  There is not a contradiction between verse 2 and verse 5.  The word sometimes translated as burden in verse 5 is simply the idea of a normal load.  Whereas in verse 2 the picture of a load that is too heavy.  Sometimes people go through excessively heavy things.  It can be the result of temptation and sin or, like Job, it can just be the result of living in a fallen world where there is an enemy and a world that often does his work.  Job suffered under an abnormally heavy load.  His brothers should have come alongside of him and helped him carry that load.  Instead, they heaped up even more weight on Job's shoulders, "It's all your fault.  If you were a better believer this wouldn't be happening."

Many of us have had fairly good lives and things have gone our way.  If we were to honestly stop and try to determine, Why, we would come up with no real answer.  That's just the way it worked out.  You can say that God has blessed you and that would be true, but what about the person he hasn't "blessed" quite so much as you?  What about the believer in Indonesia who is struggling with the explanation that God just hasn't blessed them as much as you.  Why?  God is no respecter of persons.  You did not deserve it more than them.  In fact, perhaps God has blessed you so that you can help those who have not been blessed.  In that way God will be glorified.  The law of Christ here really looks back to the Matthew 11:28-30 passage and says, "Quit carrying the Law and start carrying your brother and those who are less fortunate than you."  Many of you might remember the old song, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother."  Love often carries weights that no law can command and out of far nobler purposes and to a far greater glory.

The legalist looks to the great amount of works that he has done to keep the law and thinks well of himself.  He never thinks to help his brother other than to point out what more he should be carrying.  In the end he carries no one but himself and still falls short of perfectly keeping the law.  Let me give you an example to help illustrate this.  Picture a house that has caught on fire and you are part of the fire crew showing up to help put it out.  As you arrive on the scene you see a man coming through the front door and his arms are loaded with a computer, and other electronic gadgets, he is dragging a large TV, and for comical purposes, let just imagine he is some Hercules of a guy and you can barely see him under the pile of stuff he is saving from this fire.  The guy, let's call him Hercules, gets out to the lawn and with a great smile and air of self-satisfaction sets down all the stuff he has saved.  A part of you marvels at the ability of this man to rescue all this stuff.  But then you see the door open again, and out of the house comes a small woman, let's call her Grace.  And Grace only holds in her hand one thing, a little child.  Now who is the hero is in this story and whose efforts were truly greater?  How are you judging your "accomplishments" for God?  What are you dragging out of this life?  To what is your great strength being applied, is it anything eternal?  We can tell ourself that our great law keeping is of eternal value, but God's word tells us it isn't.  The kingdom of heaven is not about what you eat or drink, it is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Grace will rejoice that she saved her child.  But Hercules may never see the deep problem he has.  He is consumed with the things of this world more than the things of God.  Hercules has deceived himself.

Ask yourself, Are my works like the works of Jesus?  Are the things I am concerned with the same things Jesus was concerned with?  Let's get spiritual for a moment.  Perhaps you are an elder or pastor in a church.  Is your day consumed with the things that consumed Jesus?  Was Jesus consumed with how much money they had in the purse and how they were going to make it another year?  Was Jesus concerned with fighting and protecting the physical temple or did he lay down his own temple so that many spiritual temples might be brought into the kingdom?  Are the things I'm rejoicing in really a twisted evil of which I should repent?  Do I say in my heart, "Lord, I'm glad I'm not like that loser over there.  Thanks for blessing me so much."  God forgive us that we use the blessings and strength that he gives for our own pleasures and not for eternal gain.  

So last question and I'm done, "What are you carrying?"

Thursday
Oct132011

Protecting the Pure Gospel, Part 8 & 9

In Galatians 5 Paul moves back to encouraging them to stand firm in Christ's freedom.  However he is also going to explain why freedom in Christ does not mean free to do anything you want (i.e. sin purposely).  Freedom is a concept that, if only spoken about in general terms, many will agree that it is good.  Similarly to talk about "connecting with God" in general terms sounds good to over 90% of the world.  But the Bible always details and gives specificity to what God means by what he says.  God is not vague.  He couldn't be more clear about sin than when his son's bloody corpse was hanging on a cross.  Thus Paul is going to get into the details of what it means to live in the freedom of Jesus.

Believers Should Stand Firm in the Freedom of Christ.

Paul clearly commands the Galatian believers to quit going after the "Law-Persuasion" and stand firm in the Freedom of Christ.  He also reminds them that Christ set us free so that we could live freely, not go back into bondage.  Part of the purpose of Christ's death on the cross was to purchase our freedom.  Thus to go back under the Law would be to make Christ's death meaningless.  When Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 and says that he has come to set the captives free he meant it.  This would be equivalent to special forces breaking out a prisoner of war only to have the prisoner of war pull an alarm and run back into his jail cell, locking it.  It is not just nonproductive to the mission, it questions the very mission itself.

Paul continues to keep the imagery of freedom next to bondage.  As any who have tried to keep the law or any group of laws know, it is impossible to perfectly keep them and we ultimately come to despise them.

Now Paul makes an interesting point about circumcision that some would say contradicts what he says later in vs. 6.  First he will make the point that if they circumcise themselves then they will get zero benefits from Christ.  Ouch!  That would include salvation.  However in vs. 6 he says that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision can accomplish anything.  Is this a contradiction?  Of course not.  It is only a contradiction for those who have their fingers in their ears and don't want to hear the truth.  Vs. 6 represents the principle of Truth:  circumcised or not circumcised means nothing when it comes to accomplishing God's will.  That's right, they are irrelevant.  However, in the case of the Galatians, they are being persuaded that circumcision is not just something, but something so big that they won't be saved if they don't do it.  This is only one issue.  Days of worship, feasts, and foods are other issues that are irrelevant for the believer in Jesus.  However, they can become part of a persuasion that says, you must obey the laws in order to obtain any benefit from Jesus.  In that context, the Galatians would no longer be embracing Jesus in faith.  Rather they would be putting their faith in the Law and more specifically their own works.  Thus he warns them.  For them circumcision was an act that was coming not from faith in Jesus, but faith in the Law and their own ability to keep it.  This is like trying to mix oil and water, Gospel and anti-gospel, Christ and anti-christ.  You can't do it!  Thus the warning that they will forfeit the benefits of Christ.

However, as a point for us today, here is the truth.  You do not need to circumcise your children nor do you need to fret if you were circumcised.  In fact, in WWII, many soldiers were required to be circumcised by the miltary as a way to help avoid diseases (not to say that it worked).  It is not some kind of unpardonable sin.  It just doesn't matter.  What does matter is why you do it.  If it is for medical reasons, whether actually helpful or not, then you are free to circumcise.  But if you think for a moment that a "good christian" really should be circumcised then watch out.  You are treading on dangerous ground.  Because that idea is counter to the gospel.

So in verse 3 Paul warns them that they can't pick and choose parts of the Law.  If they are putting their faith in the law then they are obligated to keep the whole law.  This is a clear challenge to them.  Theya re not free to mix the part of the law they want with the part of the gospel they want.  It is either or.  Though it is popular to say "both and" today, in this case that would be spiritual suicide.

In case he hasn't been understood up to this point, Paul makes his case stronger.  Some of them were already alienated from Christ and had fallen from grace.  I am not going to get into the theological battles that can wage around verses like this for Calvinists and Arminianists.  However, he is making the statement that they haven't just sinned and need to repent.  He says they have become foreigners to Christ and fallen out of grace.  Picture if you will a Sumo wrestling match.  The object of this sport is to stay within a circle in spite of the attempts of your opponent to knock you out.  Thus the earlier command to stand firm in the freedom is also a command to stand firm in the Grace of Christ.  Don't let the enemy through whatever means knock you out of Grace and away from Jesus.  In their minds they weren't denying Christ but in reality their actions were actions of unfaithfulness, and spiritual adultery.

Paul reminds them in vs. 5 that the true believer is waiting for the Hope of Righteousness by faith.  Now Paul surely understands and has taught that we are made righteous in God's sight at salvation, because of our faith in Christ.  However here he is looking forward (Hope) to a future time.  Paul understands that part of the "persuasion" of going back under the law is that we don't trust grace.  We like the false sense of security that comes from attempting to keep laws.  Especially when we can compare ourselves to others who aren't as good as us at keeping the laws.  Paul is saying that if they are true believers they will not only realize that their attempts to keep the law are pitiful, but they will also realize that God has offered to make us righteous in actuality.  Let me be clear hear.  At salvation we are righteous because of our faith but we all feel the inadequacy of our actions.  We are given the freedom to fight against sin in this life because it's threat over us has been neutralized.  We find that our own flesh is our worst enemy in this battle.  Its lusts continually spring up no matter how much weeding we do.  In the resurrection God will purify this flesh as he brings forth our glorified bodies and makes us righteous in faith and in deed, that is, like Christ.  This is the true Hope of every believer.  Not that I can do it now that I have Jesus.  But rather, Praise Jesus that he has provided for me the Hope that one day I will stand before Him and be like Him.  Praise be to God alone!

This leads to a statement of the Gospel Truth:  Our actions in the flesh are not what justify us, only our faith in Christ.  However Faith in Christ will always express itself in loving actions towards others.  Thus, in many things, it is not the action that is sinful or righteous, but the faith or lack thereof that is.  So quit looking for the things that you are supposed to do and start trusting Jesus to teach you how to truly love and serve others.  Follow him, be his disciple.

Paul then goes back to warn them about those who are stirring them up towards the Law.  Paul had given them the gospel and they were running well, the long distance race of faith.  But, vs. 7, someone not only cut in on them, but did so in such a forceful way that it has knocked some of the Galatians off the track and now they were like Charlie Brown who thought he was winning the race, but in reality he had run off the track and was out in the woods.  Paul asks the question of Who is the cause of this tragedy?  Who is persuading you in another direction?  They are not being led nor sent by God.  They have at best sent themselves and at worst are willing tools of satan.

In verse 9 Paul uses the analogy of yeast or leaven.  Just as only a little yeast is used for a whole batch of bread, so a little antichrist doctrine, if not removed, will puff up and ruin the Galatian believers.  These false teachers will be judged by God, no matter who they are.  Jesus warned about this in Matthew 18:6-7, "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.  Woe to the world because of offenses!  For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes." 

Paul reminds them that if he taught this same perverted gospel he would no longer be persecuted.  The message of the cross offends people, but it especially offends those who think they are something in the flesh.  The cross says "God died that you might live: that's how bad your sin was.  Now walk in his righteousness, not your own."  We must be careful not to remove or ameliorate the offense of the cross.  All who come to God must do so through the scandal of the cross.  It cannot, nor dare not be avoided.

Paul's passion in this matter is so great that he takes the picture of circumcision and wishes those who teach such things would not only circumcise themselves but also castrate themselves.  Paul is clearly not talking literally here.  He doesn't wish them bodily harm.  Rather, he is speaking spiritually.  A castrated person would be unable to produce offspring and herein lies the problem.  These guys are not content to circumcise themselves and leave others alone.  Instead they want to "have children" or followers who believe in their teachings.

At this point Paul begins to detail out what it means to walk in the Freedom of Christ.

The Freedom of Christ is Our Faith Expressing Itself Through Love to Others.

Paul first starts out in verse 13 by describing the purpose of freedom and how it can be abused.  It should not be used to give our flesh opportunity.  Jude vs. 4 refers to this as changing the grace of God into ungodliness.  The lusts of our flesh seek to be satisfied whether they are sexual, social, religious, or whatever.  It is always looking for leverage against our will to get its way.  We must not think that it is acceptable to use the freedom that we have in Christ to satisfy those desires.  Do we fail at times?  Sure.  Is there forgiveness in Christ?  Of course.  But that is not Paul's point.  He is speaking to the purpose of our freedom and it is clearly not in order for us to freely sin.

Rather, we are to serve one another through love.  Although he doesn't mention faith at this point it is the basis by which we can love one another.  If we have no faith in Christ then we will have no ability to truly serve each other through love.  Here he reminds them of the "2nd Greatest Command,"  love your neighbor as yourself, and the fact that their Lord had commanded them to do so.  If their is a law we should obey it is the law of Love.

Paul warns them with the grotesque imagery of canibalism to not destroy each other.  It is clear that he intends them to understand this as a result of giving opportunity to the flesh.  It will not only destroy you but others around you.  So to satisfy the lusts of your flesh leads to obeying the command, Consume one another.  But God has called us to Love one another.

So the purpose of our Freedom is clear, to serve one another through love.  Now Paul speaks to our motivation.  What is driving how we use our freedom?  In verse 16 he commands them to walk in step with or in agreement with the Holy Spirit.  If they do this it will protect them from satisfying their flesh and consuming one another.  So our motivation isn't to stamp out all our fleshly desires, but rather to go after the godly desires promoted by the Holy Spirit.  The life that results from this motivation will keep us from satisfying the lusts of the flesh.  Notice he doesn't say they will cease to exist and you will never have a problem again.  Nor does he say it will be an easy battle.  However, in the end our motivation in expressing the freedom of Christ needs to be walking as the Spirit directs us.

Now Paul points out that the Spirit of God and our Flesh are opposed and hostile to one another.  You cannot trust your desires.  No matter how good they may look to you they are vicious enemies of God and will lead you away from him.  You need to go to God's Word and the Holy Spirit to see what you should desire.  It is a work that the Holy Spirit does in our life as we crucify our desires and yield our will to the desires of the Spirit.  So that when I don't want to forgive someone who has offended me, I must crucify that desire and yield my will to forgiving them.  That doesn't mean we can't confront them, but we must do so as the Holy Spirit would have us, not how our flesh would have us.  If we let the flesh lead it will destroy us.  If we let the Spirit lead he will heal us.  This brings us to two lists.  The first one demonstrates the fruit or works of giving opportunity to our flesh.  If you listen and satisfy the desires of your flesh it will lead to these types of activities.  Paul's main point is that this isn't rocket science.  It is not a mystery whether we are following our flesh or the Spirit.  Each believer can clearly see the evidence of what he or she is walking with, flesh or Spirit.

Adultery,

Fornication (basically sexual immorality-any sex outside of marriage)

Uncleaness (another general term that all of the list would be)

Idolatry (Faith in anything above God/Jesus)

Sorcery (any attempts to connect to the spirit world outside of God himself)

Hatred (hostility, enemity)

Contentions (quarreling and strife)

Jealousies (hot desires for the things of others)

Outbursts of Wrath (hot-headed, quick tempered)

Selfish ambitions (literally politicking or electioneering)

Dissensions (causing divisions and disunity)

Heresies (factions and camps around individuals and their interpretations)

Envy

Murders

Drunkeness

Revelries (drinking parties, carousing)

This list is clearly not exhaustive as he ends with, "and the like."  Paul makes the clear warning that those who "practice" these things WILL NOT inherit the kingdom of God.  Even if you say you believe in Jesus and his blood covers your sin, you cannot then continue to practice these kinds of things which are evidence that you are rejecting the leading of the Holy Spirit and letting your flesh lead.  Our eternal salvation is at stake.  So you are free in Christ.  But if you use your freedom to satisfy the flesh and reject the Spirit then you will end up destroying yourself.  Unless, of course, you repent and turn back to the Holy Spirit and Jesus.  This same point is made in other letters by Paul.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolates, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."

Now Paul shows us the difference of the life that is being led by the Holy Spirit.  It has different kind of fruit.

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Self-Control

When Paul says, "there is no law against these things," he is showing the Galatian believers that Freedom in no way means being lawless.  If we use our freedom to follow the Spirit we will see the fruit of God's righteousness growing in our life.  Not by our power but by the power of the Spirit as our faith trusts and follows him.

Now the bottom line for Paul is that those who truly belong to Christ have crucified their flesh.  That is they have come to a place where they agreed with God that their flesh deserved to die.  Of course we must put it to death daily, even moment by moment as its desires surface in our life.  His point being that no one can belong to Christ who hasn't turned their back on the flesh.  Again, I say, do we fall to temptation at times?  Sure.  Is there forgiveness?  Of course.  But Paul's earlier use of the word "practice" implies more than a one time mistake here and there but a pattern of giving ourself to it.  What is the arrow of your desire?  Do you desire the things of the Spirit or the things of the Flesh?  More importantly which of these two is in the driver seat of your will?  If you continue to let the flesh drive it will destroy you.

In verse 25 Paul challenges them.  If you live in the Spirit, that is say you are spiritually born again, then walk with the Spirit, that is let the Spirit direct your desires and actions.  Don't just talk about Jesus but walk with the flesh.  Let your walk match your talk.  You might think, how is this different from following the law?  Well first of all much of the law dealt with the sacrificial system and ceremonial cleanliness.  They weren't commanded because they were morally right but because they were symbolically right.  The sacrificial laws were intended to teach us about what Jesus did for us at the cross.  The ceremonial cleanliness laws were symbolically to teach us that things in this life can make us unacceptable to God.  Even the part of the law that was moral and ethical, you shall not murder, could only work on actions.  How do you enforce a law that says, you must not think murderous thoughts towards your brother?  You can't.  At least science isn't there yet.  We are not obligated to keep the symbolical laws of the Old Covenant.  But we are free to obtain wisdom from why God designed them that way.  But even if you say, "Yes, but we must keep the ethical commands of the Law."  Herein is the problem, if you focus on the law you will be obligated to it and condemned by it.  But if through Christ you listen to the Spirit he will begin to change you from the inside out.  A far more powerful work that produces real righteousness not fake righteousness.  And, that is why Paul ends with the exhortation.

Do not become conceited and envy one another.  The law promotes a system of conceit in those who are better at keeping it and an envy in those who are not.  These are obvious works of the flesh that destroy us even as we attempt to please God through our own strength.

Christian, don't be troubled by those who say you should be going to church on Saturdays not Sunday.  Don't fear those who say if you worship on Sunday you have taken the mark of the beast.  Don't be persuaded by those who say you are in error if you don't keep the feast days of the Old Testament and other such remnants of the Law.  Instead, continue to follow Jesus and serve others through the Love that God has given us in Christ.  As Christ has sacrificially love you, so you should sacrificially love others in your life.  Through that the Spirit will make you over until you eventually stand before him and look like him.  Amen!

 

 

Tuesday
Oct112011

Protecting the Pure Gospel, Part 7

As Paul has finished with the powerful metaphor of the false teachers seducing the Galatians away from Christ, now he moves to another powerful analogy found in the Old Testament, that of Ishmael and Isaac.  This metaphor has particular power precisely because the people of Israel considered this story to be proof that God had chosen them over Ishmael.  They were God's people through biological ancestry.  However, Paul is going to turn this on its head as he turns it into an allegory-allegory is the actual Greek word translated in verse 24 as, "figuratively," "symbolically," and "illustration."

This highlights the reality that the life of the patriarchs and the events of them were often illustrations or allegories of things that God was going to do in the future.  The events were real but God allowed them and even orchestrated parts of them because they had deeper significance that pointed to things God would do in the future.  An example of this is when Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac.  It is clear God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice his child.  But the whole event is an allegory depicting the heart of God that would one day sacrifice his willing child as the lamb of sacrifice for the sins of the world and in fact in the very place tht Abraham did it.  You could say that through Abraham, God put the spirit world on notice of what he intended to do in that place.  So that late when it happened they would look back and realize the significance of that earlier event.  It is a powerful picture of God's sovereignty and love.

So as we approach this allegory, Paul's main point is that Isaac and Ishmael are a picture of  those under grace and those under the Law.

Ishmael the picture of those born under the Law

Paul points out their desire to be under the law and warns them that they first should listen to what the law says.  Now here Paul is using the term Law to refer to the whole Pentateuch, or first 5 books of the Bible.  They were often collectively referred to as the law even though Genesis doesn't record the law.  It is the genesis or beginnings of God's calling a people to himself in order to receive the law.  So why would they desire to be under the law?  Perhaps fear is a motivating factor, fear that they are not pleasing God unless they perform the law too.  Also, the law gives a certainty of expectation.  I am supposed to do this.  Its commands are by in large external.  And it gives a sense of accomplishment to those who are better at it than others, by comparison.  Obviously these are not good reasons, but then their desire to be under the law is itself not good.

Paul points out different elements of Ishmael's story in the natural so that he might show the spiritual significance.  God had promised Abraham and Sarah a miracle child.  A miracle child because in the natural it was simply impossible for them to have children.  They were too old.  Tired of waiting and in order to do what God promised, Sarah hatches the scheme to give her servant Hagar to Abraham as a proxy, in order to have a child on her behalf.  Thus Abraham would have a son.  Paul's first point is that Ishmael was born by the will and intention of man.  Also, he was born of a woman who was by nature a slave.  Now it is here that Paul begins to turn to the allegory.  Hagar is a picture of what happened at Sinai and what Jerusalem then represented in his day.  At Sinai a nation was "born" to God who would be his "first-born."  However, just as Ishmael was born to a slave woman, so Israel was born under a covenant that was by nature slavery.  Though God loved them and they had a place in his house, they were still slave children.  They represent the works and will of man to do in the flesh that which would please God.  Jerusalem with its temple represented the "fruit" and current representative of that which was birthed at Sinai.

Notice in verse 25 that Paul says the "Jerusalem that now is."  Paul hints at a distinction between the Jerusalem of his day and some other Jerusalem.  It would be easy to think that he is looking ahead to the restoration of Israel in the last days, precisely what we are seeing today.  But when you look at Paul's argument you see that he is going from the natural literal story to a symbolic spiritual meaning.  Thus as Hagar is contrasted with Sarah, so Sinai is to be contrasted to Calvary or Golgatha.  Also the natural Jerusalem is to be contrasted with what John saw in the book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven.  This is the city that is not built by men on this earth.  All the cities and nations of this world are rejected by God, even America.  He will bring a miracle city down to earth just as he birthed miracle children at the cross.  But I get ahead of myself.

The Prophecy of Isaiah 54

Paul quotes a passage from Isaiah that brings up another metaphor that is common in the Bible and that is the metaphor of the barren wife and the fruitful wife.  Of course this is a natural connection because Sarah was such a stigmatized wife, she was barren.  However, Hagar easily conceived.  God had revealed an amazing and powerful truth to Isaiah.  That which is fruitful in the natural is in the end barren in the spirit.  But that which is barren in the natural has potential to be fruitful spiritually.  We see this with the story of Hannah and her miracle child Samuel.  Also in the struggle between Jacob's wives, Rachel and Leah.  Rachel literally killed herself trying to give Jacob children in the natural and still failed to compare to Leah in the flesh.  However Jacob's heart was still towards her and in the end, her son was the salvation of Israel in Egypt who kept Israel from being destroyed.  In fact, all the nation of Israel from then on considered the fruit of Joseph's faith in God and his heart for God.  The reason Paul brings this up is because the Law is fruitful in the natural.  It's punishment and reward system is effective in increasing the amount of "righteous" acts.  Israel looked down on the other nations who did not have the law and their societies were filled with all manner of evil things.  The Gentiles were of the barren birth of God's grace.  God had "overlooked" the rampant sin of the nations.  Yes he intervened from time to time, but generally as they interacted with Israel.  At the Cross the barren wife named Faith was made to be fruitful in the spirit.  But the "fruitful" wife of the Law was revealed to be spiritually barren.

This is what Isaiah celebrates.  He rejoices with the broken hearted barren wife who suddenly finds she has a child and names him laughter, Isaac, a miracle child!

Isaac the picture of those born by faith, through Grace, from above

Paul now turns to Isaac to press home the point with the Galatians.  Isaac was not born at or by man's determination.  He was born by the will of God at God's point in time.  He is a picture of what John speaks of in John 1:12-13.  Christians are saved through their faith in Jesus but that "work" of being saved is done completely by God.  We would have nothing to believe in if God had not sent Jesus, the ultimate miracle child.  Our belief in Jesus would do us no good if he had not taken our place on the cross and suffered in our stead.  And our belief in Jesus would have no hope of a future if it were not for his resurrection and current intercession on our behalf.  The Church was raised up not by the will of men who created a new cult.  It was raised up by God in a miraculous way, like Isaac was.

Isaac is born to the free woman and so is by nature free himself.  Thus those who come to God by His grace have no connection to the law and its slavery.

The hostility between the Law Born and the Grace Born

Here is Paul's final point.  His point is not that no one was ever really saved in the time of the Law.  Ishmael was in Abraham's house along for 13 years before Isaac was born.  Then they both dwelled in the house together for a short time.  But at some point Ishmael began to persecute and be hostile towards Isaac.

Most likely this was planted in him by his mother Hagar.  There was friction between her and Sarah.  Even though she was technically still a slave, she was proud of her ability to give Abraham a child and despised Sarah.  She forgot her place and thought more highly of herself than she should have.  This apparently infected her child and he began to persecute Isaac.  This picture was to show the Galatians that those under the law would persecute those under Grace.  In fact we still see that today even in the church.  There has been an incredible tendency of the "Church" throughout history to be drawn back to keeping the law instead of walking by faith through Grace, following our Lord.

Let me challenge you with this today.  The problem occurs when those who believe in Jesus continue on to do sinful things.  The tendency is to retreat into the law and basically tell people that they can't be saved if they don't do certain things from the law.  If gives a certain sense of comfort when we can point to things we do by our own will and power.  However, we are in danger of losing sight of the grace of God, which Paul will demonstrate in the next chapter.  No matter how "good" a life you live in Christ it will never merit salvation.  Be careful that the subtle pride that rises in your heart because of good performance doesn't lead to you being cast out of the house.  To those who have had trouble performing.  Be careful that you don't let the persecution of those who point out your faults and put you down harden your heart to God.  He cares about you and if you truly put your faith in him he will not only save you from your sins, but will teach you through life to let go of them.

How do we follow Christ?  Dieing to our flesh.  "Pick up your cross and follow me!"

Galatians 4C

Wednesday
Oct052011

Protecting the Pure Gospel, Part 6

Today we are going to be looking at Galatians 4:8-20.  Paul has just finished elaborating on the analogy that Israel under the law was like the child heir of an estate who is under the tutelage of tutors.  It is at this point that Paul begins to drive home his fears for the Galatians and the dangerous situation that has developed around them.

The Previous Bondage

Paul begins in vs. 3 to widen the scope of his argument because even Gentile believers were being tempted to listen to these false teachers. Thus, though this book seems to apply specifically to Christians with a Jewish background under the Law, it is applicable to Gentiles who were in different circumstances, yet in the same condition, under bondage.  The Gentiles were under bondage to their sin, their false gods, and the elements of this world.  They strove and worked to appease gods that they believed existed and, for those who didn't believe in gods, they strove with how to get out of life what they want.  This bondage to sin and the elements of this world is where Paul is going to hammer home his argument.  Now the Jews themselves also served under the Law, which is not God.  Thus they were in bondage to something that wasn't God as well as being in bondage to their sin.  So the Gentiles and Jews were in the same condition.

It would seem strange for a Jew to say to other Jews that they did not know God.  But Paul puts himself in this same camp.  We thought we knew God.  We thought we had the knowledge of God while the Gentiles were in ignorance.  However, the litmus test of Jesus proved they didn't know God.  What seemed obvious to the Jews about the Gentiles was not obvious to them about themselves.  The Law attempted to train them to know God when he showed up and some did recognize him.  But it was only a remnant.  Herein is the difference between the law and the gospel.  To hear and know the Gospel is to know hear and know God.  But to hear and know the Law is to be driven to our knees begging for God's mercy. 

Verse 9, but now that they have embraced Christ and thus come to know God, why would they try to go back to a relationship with the tutor?  Notice Paul quickly asserts that it is probably better to understand that we are known by God (i.e. found by him) than to pat ourselves on the back saying that we know God.  But this seems to be more a passing notice.  His main issue is that they now have a relationship with the Father and they are instead turning back to the tutor.  Let's look at the terminology he uses: Weak, Beggarly elements.  The elements of the law were weak and poor in that they could only focus on the external activity and not the internal heart.  There was no power to change a person's heart.

Are we turning to weak and poor things here in America?  Too many preachers and churches are looking to the weak, beggarly things of this world to enhance their religious life.  Whether it is through the conspiracy theory angle that says the early church used to keep the Feasts and worshipped on Saturday, thus we need to go back to doing that.  Or, it is those who want to continue in bondage to sin and thus they promote an easy grace that absolves us from any worries.  Do what you want and Jesus covers it (a type of spiritual credit card that daddy will pay off).  The external observances of the Law will be exalted at the detriment of the Church and its spiritual life.

Paul begins to specify some of the things they were trying to add to Jesus.  First they were observing days, months, seasons, and years.  This is a clear reference to the Sabbaths and Feasts of Israel.  They felt a need to observe these old feasts out of an attempt to please God.  These things have no strength nor money(beggarly) to pay off our debt to God.  Quit adding to Jesus.  He alone is rich enough to pay your way and strong enough to carry away your sins.  These calendar issues were merely shadows of the reality believers have in Christ.  The sabbath day points to the rest we have in Christ.  We no longer have to strive under the law.  Quit working and start resting in Jesus.  In verse 11 he points out that to forsake the grace of the gospel is to put yourself in danger of forsaking Christ.  He worked too hard to bring them to Christ to let them be pulled back into a relationship of bondage to another.

Paul's Previous Time with Them

Notice Paul is not just persuading them with the Scripture, but also appeals to the relationship he has with them.  Paul had become one of them in order to win them to Christ.  He had spent time among them teaching them the doctrines of Jesus.  In a gracious way, he says in verse 12 that he takes no offense to their turning from his teaching.  Why?  The tender relationship they have.  Paul had an infirmity when he first preached to them.  We are not told what it was, but some believe Paul had a lingering problem with his eyes.  Though his eyes were healed in the sense of sight, it may be that some type of watery, weeping eye problem continued with him, perhaps with puffy eyes.  This unsightly problem would definitely not present a great man of God.  But the Galatians had not rejected him.  In fact quite the opposite, they treated him as if he was an angel from God.  What blessing did they receive that led to such love?  In fact, they loved him so much that they would have been willing to give him their eyes if such a thing were possible.  Here is the zinger in any relationship.  How easy it is to be angry with those who know us most and love us most.  Why?  Precisely because they know to much about us and may call us on our sin from time to time.  Paul challenges them with this.  Am I your enemy because I tell you the truth? 

The False Suitors

This brings Paul to these false teachers.  Though Paul doesn't explicitly lay out the analogy, the terminology he uses presents a courting scene.  The Galatian believers have been wed to Christ, but there are others who have zealously (heatedly with passion) courted them.  This will not lead to a good thing which leads us to a play on words.  The term for church in the Greek is ecclesia and means "called out ones."  Here Paul says that these suitors have come into the ecclesia in order to eccleio them, "to shut out or exclude."  It as if they are drawing the bride of Christ away into another room and shutting the door in order to have them be heated back towards them.  Clearly adulterous language is being used here.  This clearly points out a situation of being excluded from the called out ones (the church), ouch! 

Paul reminds them that zeal and passion are only good if they are applied to a good thing.  Thus Jesus was zealous for the house of God that it be a house of prayer not commerce.  But the zeal of the false teachers and the Galatians was leading them into spiritual adultery and exclusion from the body of Christ.  Quickly Paul turns to more tender words.

He calls them little children.  He had led them to Christ, wed them to Christ and still he labors (double meaning) until Christ is formed in them.  This is not some New Age concept.  It basically means that the character, mind and activity of Christ is what marks them.   Paul's heart is in contrast to the suitors.  Paul is not trying to draw them off to himself, but rather to keep pointing them to Jesus that they may be zealous for him.

May the Lord help us in these last days to keep our eyes on Jesus.  That our passion be about him and him alone.  That we are zealous for the things Jesus for which he was zealous.  That we are not easily led astray by ever wind of doctrine that blows into the church, whether it be adding works to Jesus in some way, or it be promoting another gospel that removes sin and repentance.  May we stand in Jesus upon the sure Word of God.

Galatians 4b