Monthly Archives: January 2011

Galatians 3:1-9-Mountaintops; January 26, 2011

Galatians 3:1-9 – Mountaintops

 

It is so amazing to me when I read the Bible and find examples of something you see constantly in the modern world happening in Bible times.  It’s like man despite his advances has changed very little since the Fall.  Paul describes a Galatian “mountaintop” experience in verse 1 when he says, “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”  Paul is not saying that the Galatians were observers during Christ’s crucifixion or even His resurrection.  Paul is saying that through his apostolic ministry they had a true encounter with the God of the universe through the message of the Gospel.  For those of you who have been in church a while or at least around it, you’ve experienced this before.  For some of you it was at a youth camp, disciple now weekend, revival service, worship concert, conference or any other event of the like.  We experience God in a fresh and real way.  We almost feel like he is sitting right next to us.  We hear Him speaking to us, we feel like He’s actually hearing us, we feel His arms enfold us in a moment of transcendent praise and truth.  We make promises of being in our Word and praying more.  We promise to live better lives and give up all the worthless things that distract us from Him.  We find ourselves at the top of a spiritual mountain and we rejoice.

 

But then we have to leave.  We go home and get back to our normal everyday lives.  We don’t hear Him like we did at camp.  We don’t feel like He is hearing us like He was at the conference.  For about a week or for the strong among us a month of being in our Word like we ought to be or praying like we should.  We might last a month in giving up those worthless activities that draw our attention away from God, but eventually we don’t see the point in trying to avoid them anymore.  We look back at that mountain from which we have descended and wish we could return to that moment.  And so we look ahead to the next event, hoping that it will bring us closer to God for a moment.

 

I’ve walked through this cycle. Living from one glorious event to another.  I’ve watched my youth group struggle to find their footing after an amazing week at camp.  I’ve watched lives, young and old alike, struggle to find God amidst the everyday struggles of life.  I’ve seen grown men rejoicing in the presence of God at a special time of worship then turn and abandon their wife and children within months of that hallowing experience.  I’ve seen teenagers profess life changing faith in a God who was made real to them at a camp or D-Now turn and say there is no God within weeks of that profession.

 

The question I was left with was “Why?”  Why did I walk through those things?  Why does God play yo-yo with us and our emotions?  Why does He seem so near and then so quickly seem so far?  As I’ve grown I’ve learned the folly of these questions.  It is not God who changes.  We change.  Last week we talked about being crucified with Christ.  If we are crucified with Him, we realize that He remains the same.  He is always near, always speaking, always hearing, always moving.  We are the ones who lose faith.  We are the ones who rebel and chase the wind.  We are the ones who search our momentary pleasures so that we don’t have to feel the sting of denying ourselves.  And in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, we push ourselves away from His side, we run from the sound of His voice, we speak to a God that we have created in our own minds because we do not truly know Him, we move away from where He is leading because it makes us uncomfortable.  May God forgive us for how we use the things meant for His glory in order to appease our guilt.  May we no longer struggle “in vain (v. 4)” searching for the next event so that we may hold fast to our own selfishness.  Instead let us hold fast to God and to His Word so that everyday may be an amazing experience with Him.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 2:15-21-Crucified with Christ; January 19, 2011

Galatians 2:15-21 – Crucified with Christ

 

In this passage of Galatians we get to Paul’s central point of his letter to the Galatians, and in reality the central point of the Gospel.  It is one of the most famous sayings in the church today.  You’ll find if on t-shirts, coffee cups, bumper stickers, books, CDs, and any other paraphernalia found in Christian bookstores or churches.

 

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

~Galatians 2:20

 

A profound and life-threatening statement that if fully grasped changes an individual’s entire outlook on what it means to live in this world.  Before we explore the ramifications of such a statement, let’s define some things in our own minds.  How do you define life?  What rights to do possess as a living being?  Most likely you’ve rarely thought about these questions.  There not exactly questions that come up in random, everyday conversations, so let’s explore a bit.  To be alive is to be a breathing, heart-pumping, “rational” thinking being.  This of course is a basic view of life, but good enough for our discussion.  So what rights do we have?  If you’re reading this sitting within the borders of the United States of America, life for you is defined largely by your individual rights.  As a living, breathing, red-blooded American you have the right to free speech, bear arms, keep your own stuff, and an overall sense of justice. If your eighteen years old, you also have the right to vote in local and state elections.  If your sixteen and have completed the proper requirements you have the right to drive.  You can buy and own whatever your heart desires based upon your resources (or for many of you your parents resources).  In this great nation you have been blessed with rights far beyond many other nations in the world.

 

So what happens when we die?  No dead person still maintains the right to bear arms or to vote.  Someone who is dead has no rights at all.  To forfeit your life while you are still alive is to forfeit your rights to anything and everything on this earth.  That is what the Gospel is about.  That is what Paul is trying to communicate to the Galatians.  When we give ourselves to Christ, we are dead.  Jesus says this same thing in Luke 9:23 when he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  It is in denying ourselves that we learn to die and allow Christ to live in us.  Now I want us to be very careful here.  This is not suggesting suicide or any kind of self-mutilation, it is simply calling us to surrender.  We must die to ourselves in order to become alive in Christ.  This is what is symbolized in baptism.  As the body is submersed under the water, the individual dies and as the body is raised, it is no longer the individual who lives, but Christ through that individual.

 

This concept of our dying and Christ living is a difficult on to grasp, especially in American culture.  Americans believe that no one can tell them what to think, where to go, what their future should be other than the individuals themselves.  Americans are not used to surrendering anything which is why we hate taxes and parking tickets so much.  Sadly, this understanding of the American way of thinking also sheds light on why so many of “Christian” Americans say they believe in Christ and live in complete opposition of Him.  We do not want to die, and in many cases we refuse to die.  So instead of dying we try and do more for God or in the name of God but we refuse to let go of our rights.  Instead of allowing Galatians 2:20 to transform our hearts, we are satisfied with simply wearing the t-shirt.  My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will break us of our pride and rebellion towards a Holy God and teach what is means for us to die and Christ to live through us.  Love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 1:11-2:16 – Justified by Faith Alone, January 12, 2011

Galatians 1:11-2:16 – Justified by Faith Alone

In our second discussion in Galatians we covered quite a bit as far as the number of verses covered compared to our usual allotment.  Don’t worry though, that doesn’t mean this is going to be exponentially longer than my normal entries. Paul’s life story comes into sharp focus as a part of his argument against the men who were teaching a “different gospel.”  Paul alludes to the fact that these men are seeking the approval of man rather than of God, thus changing the Gospel to fit their requirements.  This is a practice that is still alive and well today.  That subject, however, is not what we will focus on here.  Instead we will focus on what the Scriptures focus on, the justification of man through faith in Jesus alone.

Now we must again define what faith is according to the Scriptures.  Historically in the church, especially in the American church, faith is simply believing something to be true or knowing that something is true in the confines of the mind.  Biblically this is not the case.  Faith as it is described in Scripture is knowing and believing the truth of God’s Word while allowing the Spirit to work in you, transforming every aspect of your life.  We see this throughout the Bible, notably in the books of James, Hebrews, Ephesians, and 1 John to name a few.  So in order for us to fully understand what Paul is saying in this passage and the passages following, most of us are going to have to shift our perception of what faith is in order to fully grasp the weight of what Paul is saying.

Paul begins his defense of the Gospel by giving his personal account of how the Gospel was given to him by Christ and how his message matched the message of the Apostles even though he had no exposure to it outside of his encounter with Christ.  He even cites an example of when he publicly opposed Peter (Peter is called Cephas in the text) for falling into sin in seeking the approval of man instead of holding fast to the Gospel.  Paul was one who strongly opposed anyone who walked contrary to what Jesus taught.  Paul believed that the life of a Christian was fully surrendered to the will and call of Christ.  Individuals had no claim on what to do with their lives, just as they had no claim to the glory of their accomplishments done in their lives.  We are now going to look at two passages where Paul gives insight into his own life and where he has had to sacrifice earned righteousness upon the alter in order to be fully surrendered to Christ.

Read Philippians 3:4-7 and 2 Corinthians 11:21b-28.  In both passages Paul gives evidence of what could be called self-righteousness or credit that he has earned with God for being righteous in the eyes of the world.  In the Philippians passage Paul recounts his life prior to Christ.  Paul was a true child of Abraham, highly educated, a Roman citizen, a Pharisee of the highest order, and a persecutor of the early church out of zeal for the God that he served.  Paul had every reason to boast in the eyes of Jews due to his following the Law in every aspect.  Paul was a righteous man, far superior to those around him in respect to the Law.  If anyone could have been justified (justified means saved) through the Law of Moses it would have been Paul.  After Paul puts his faith in Christ, he is changed completely.  He leaves the Jews to be a missionary to the Gentiles, a people he had despised his entire life prior to Christ.  Paul’s life is truly a life transformed by Christ.  How else could a self-righteous, over-zealous Pharisee minister to the lawless, pagan Gentiles?

The second passage out of 2 Corinthians gives us insight into another way of thinking where people may believe that they have somehow earned their salvation.  Paul talks about his many hardships that he has had to endure for the sake of Christ.  Beatings, stonings, floggings, shipwrecks, and many other horrible trials were given to Paul to bear in his ministry.  If anyone were to be saved based on how much they had to endure in the name of Christ it would be Paul.  But again, Paul does not claim any such recognition or accomplishment.  The Gospel teaches us that the work that is necessary for salvation was done on the Cross.  And our responsibility in response to that work done on our behalf is to surrender to the will of God.  Paul’s message was one and the same.  He did not count his former righteousness as his means of being saved nor did he count his sufferings as a way of getting into Heaven.  It was Paul’s faith, his life-changing, heart-transforming faith that got him right standing before a holy and just God.  It was total surrender to God’s will and way that caused Paul to be justified before the Lord.

Can we say that about ourselves?  Can you say that about your salvation experience? Or are we still trying to buy our way into Heaven by making sure our good deeds outweigh our bad ones when we die?  If our faith is in anything other than Christ, we are not justified, we are not saved and we have no part in the reward of being with God forever in Heaven.  If our faith is truly in Christ alone, we will see the fruit of that in our life.  We will see our hearts transformed.  We will have a desire for the things of God and not the things of this world.  We will want to be in God’s Word.  We will want to be in prayer.  We will want to be around the body of Christ, the church. We will want to share what we have been given with those around us.  Allow the Lord to examine your heart and your motivations, and then let Him change you.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Galatians 1:1-10 – The Gospel, January 5, 2011

Galatians 1:1-10 – The Gospel

 

Happy New Year and welcome back to the blog.  Sorry for such a long absence from our little discussions, things got crazy and then a little crazier.  I’m hoping we can get things back to normal and keep things going for a while.  We’ve started the book of Galatians on Wednesday nights and thus will be discussing Paul’s letter here in the blog.  As always I encourage you to read the passage that we will be discussing before you read the blog so you have a better understanding of what we are talking about.  Here we go.

 

Paul writes his letter to the Galatians in response to reports that someone has led the Galatian church away from the gospel that Paul preached to them on his first missionary journey.  We will find out more about this “different gospel” as we progress in the book, but before we continue it is vitally important that we define what the Gospel that Paul is defending and that he, along with the other apostles, would eventually die for.  This Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ, that Christ being fully God and fully man, died on a cross to take the punishment meant for sinful mankind and was raised from death in order to bring true life to the world.  This life is granted to those who submit their lives and will to holy God.  Christ is the initiator of salvation and has done the work that we could not do in order to bring salvation to the world.  Man’s response to this initiation is belief in Christ (John 3:16), denial of self (Matthew 16:24), obedience to God through the transformative work of the Spirit (John 16:13-15), and an unselfish love for God and mankind (Luke 10:27).

 

This Gospel that was established by Christ on earth and then preached by the apostles, which included Paul, was extremely counter-cultural and flew in the face of Jewish legalism which said that you must follow the Law in order to be saved.  This “different gospel” that Paul was speaking against tried to redefine what the Gospel was so that man might be the central component instead of Christ.  If human beings could do enough good things that we could be saved, if we could try hard enough or be good enough on our own, we would have no need for Christ or the Cross.  Mankind has been attempting to redefine the Gospel ever since the first Messianic prophecy in Genesis chapter 3.  Human beings constantly struggle war against the foundations of the Gospel in order to maintain some sort of control over their salvation.  It is not in human nature to surrender fully to God and follow Him whole-heartedly.  We are selfish, broken beings who would rather seek after our own wills and dreams than submit them to a holy God whose concern is for His name and glory.

 

This message is one that is extremely relevant today.  Man has created so many different “gospels” it is hard to keep track.  There’s the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, the Gnostic gospel, and many others that don’t have official titles, all of them are false and lead people to Hell rather than salvation.  The Gospel preached by Paul was not one defined by mankind, it was defined by God Himself.  All these others, including the one that Paul is denouncing in his letter, were defined by human minds.  And whenever mankind attempts to define absolute truth apart from the God who is Truth, he falls painfully short and condemns himself to eternal separation from God.  Paul says in Galatians 1:10 “Am I still trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” (HCSB)

 

There are two responses to the Gospel of Christ.  One is total acceptance and the other is total rejection, but too often both responses look the same.  James warns of this in the book of James.  Feel free to look at our discussion on that in the archives.  James argues that there is not difference between most people who call themselves Christians and the demons who do the work of Satan.  The demons believe and know that Christ is the Son of God, He was raised on the third day, He has conquered sin, death and Satan, but there lives are lived in rebellion to Him.  This same scenario is played out in the lives of people everyday, especially people who go to church in America.  There is no middle ground when it comes to salvation.  Which is why Paul calls himself a slave.  He is not a hired hand who comes and goes as he pleases.  Paul has been “bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), purchased into slavery of a holy and righteous God by the blood of Christ shed on the cross.  We are going to be wading through some thick issues and subjects as we continue through Paul’s letter.  Please feel free to ask questions by either commenting on this blog, texting me, emailing me or catching me after church sometime.  I would love to help you understand God’s Word as completely as you can.  Not that I have all the answers but this is a journey that we are on together.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT