Monthly Archives: March 2011

Galatians 5:1-15 – Freedom; March 23, 2011

Galatians 5:1-15 – Freedom

 

As we continue to look and digest Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we must again define some terms.  Specifically, what is freedom?  I’m sure many of us have had discussions about the word, heated debates with parents or teachers about our right to be free and be who we are and pursue what we want.  This is not what Paul is referring to.  Paul is not an advocate for American democracy, personal freedom or your right to pursue your own happiness.  Freedom, as it would be defined by Paul, is our ability to walk in how God has created the universe to be.  Freedom is our ability to abide in Him (John 15) and in Him find Life.  So when Paul says it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, it is not a pass that allows us to pursue anything we want to do but rather an opportunity to pursue Christ unfettered by our own attempts at righteousness.

 

Here in America, we have made Galatians 5:1 this really goofy thing.  We have used this verse to justify not reading our Bibles, not going to church, not serving or loving others, and not feeling obligated to share the Gospel because our personal freedom allows us to interpret the Bible how we want and only do what we feel like doing.  This is completely contrary to Paul’s use of the word “freedom.”  Let us refresh on the context of that leads us to Galatians 5:1.  Paul has been contrasting the slavery of the Law to the freedom found in faith in Christ.  Paul uses slavery as an analogy for man’s effort to save himself, in essence of earning his own salvation.  The “freedom” then comes only through faith in Christ who has done the work of salvation on the Cross and offers us Life in Him.  The slavery in it’s context means slavery to the Law, but the application of the text would allow this “slavery” to apply to any type of man-defined salvation, like the one described above.  The moment that we believe that we can define for ourselves what is necessary for us to do or not do in order to be saved is the moment that we allow ourselves to be made slaves to the flesh.  Scripture, through the help of the Holy Spirit, defines salvation for us and what we are to do and not do.  Many Jews in this period in history had the Scriptures but did not allow the Spirit to define the truths in them.  Instead, they used their own intellectual abilities to reason with the Scriptures and in doing so misinterpreted them believing the Law to be a means of salvation.  So the Jew believed that it was through our own effort that we are saved.  Paul is calling the Galatians back to the freedom that is in Christ.  Freedom to follow Him without the weight of the Law bearing down on you.  For in Christ there is grace, mercy, forgiveness and love.  With the Law, one misstep would bring condemnation, shame, guilt, and ultimately death.

 

Paul sums up his thoughts on freedom in Christ by pointing us back to the Law.  An interesting alignment.  Paul always points us to our faith as what saves us and then to obedience as assurance for our salvation.  John does the same in 1 John.  Peter does it in 1 Peter.  You would be hard-pressed to find a teaching passage in the Bible that does not align faith with obedience.  Christ always points us back to obedience in His teaching.  This for many seems contradictory, but that’s because people either want to find something wrong with the Bible or simply don’t want to be obedient to the God.  For as we pursue Christ and experience the freedom that He brings, we will find ourselves following the Law of God.  We cannot help it.  Christ is the fulfillment of the Law, not the destroyer of the Law.  Obedience is how we know we are loving Him as we ought.  Our motivation for that obedience is what changes with faith in Christ.  We no longer obey because we want to be accepted by God.  We don’t obey to earn His love.  We don’t obey so that He will be nice to us.  We obey as a response to being accepted by Him.  We obey out of love for Him.  We obey because there is no greater joy that we find in this world then loving Him through our obedience.  Now let me be very clear, I am not saying that obedience is easy or that having faith in Christ makes everything warm and cozy.  It goes much deeper than that.  It goes beyond our feelings and emotions and cuts to the core of who we are.  Obedience is found in the heart of a person, in the very essence of who they are, not in the outward actions.  It all begins with faith.  Through faith we love and begin to know God.  When our hearts are changed and He shows us how to love Him through His Word, we begin to obey Him.  That is what freedom in Christ is all about.  We are made free to love Him unrestrained by our brokenness, and in loving Him we obey Him.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

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Galatians 4:21-31 – Children of Promise; March 16, 2011

Galatians 4:21-31 – Children of Promise

 

Before we get into the heart of this portion of Paul’s letter I want to make something very clear.  Paul in this passage uses an Old Testament story allegorically to illustrate his point.  It is my hope that you are reading the Bible for yourself and learning how to apply it to your own life.  One major pitfall that many people find themselves falling into with the Scriptures is one of “treasure hunting.”  By “treasure hunting” I mean that some people will try and find hidden meanings in Scripture that may or not be there.  People do this with all kinds of things, numbers, phrases, stories, names, and so on.  I am not discrediting all allegorical interpretations, I am simply warning you that it can be a dangerous game that can lead to misinterpretations and a mindset that you are what defines Scripture instead of Scripture defining you.  That was free.  Let’s get back to Galatians.

 

In this passage, Paul again makes the distinction between faith in Christ as our salvation and the slavery of the Law.  Paul interprets the story of Sarah and Hagar as allegorical of this distinction.  Hagar represents the effort of the flesh to bring salvation, in the case of the Galatians attempting to save themselves by following the Law.  Sarah then represents the promise of God to do what He has promised without the need for human effort.  The emphasis of course is not that we must be from the line of Sarah or as the Jews would put it, Children of Abraham.  Instead the focus is on God and His fulfillment of His promises.  God has promised salvation to all those who would put there faith in Christ, just as He promised a child to Abraham and Sarah.  The work of salvation is done by the Spirit in the hearts of those who believe apart from the effort of man.  Abraham cast out Hagar and Ishmael because they could not inherit the promise along with Isaac, even though Ishmael was the firstborn.  So it is with the Law.  The Law was never meant to lead us to the promised salvation.  Man’s effort cannot attain salvation on it’s own merit.  Just as the offspring of Hagar could not attain the inheritance even though he preceded the offspring of promise.

 

Let’s try and bring this into perspective for 2011.  As I’ve said before in several posts, most of us don’t fall into the sin of believing we must follow the letter of the Law of the Jews.  Most of us aren’t struggling with trying to be more Jewish in our everyday lives.  Instead, most of us will fall into the lie that we are good enough already and as long as we continue to do good things, we will be saved.  At least the Galatians were falling back on something that predated Christ instead of a relatively new idea.  Now I’m not saying that an arrogant self-reliance leading to one’s personal salvation is a new idea, simply that it has crept into Christianity is somewhat new.  And by somewhat new I mean the last hundred years or so.  We’ve become so self-delusioned by our culture and personal insecurities that we fail to see the true state of our hearts and see our sin for what it really is.  Many of us lie to ourselves everyday.  Telling ourselves we’re not that bad.  Telling ourselves, “At least I’m not like that person.”  All of which drive a wedge between us and the God we say we are serving.  We see things like reading the Bible, prayer, repentance, and submission to Christ as things that other people need to do instead of necessary parts of our sanctification.  We don’t need them because we are “good” people.  And God should be satisfied with our “goodness” without demanding us to surrender our lives to Him.  We much prefer our slavery to His adoption.  We much prefer our momentary pleasures in this life to the discipline that comes with being a Child of God.  It is my prayer that we acknowledge our limited view of God and our own condition and trust the truths of Scripture.  We are all fallen.  Our righteousness or our “goodness” are like filthy rags before an Almighty and Holy God.  We are not “good.”  And until we realize this, we are not Children of Promise.  We have no part with Christ, no part in Salvation, no hope of reconciliation with the Father.  I don’t care what church you go to, who your parents are, how long you’ve known about God or how many people you’ve “led to Christ,” if you don’t recognize your complete helplessness in saving yourself from the sin in your life, you are bound in slavery.  It is a constant battle.  One that we must face every day.  Our only hope is Christ. Our faith is in Him and Him alone.  He saves, He restores, He does the work that we cannot do on our own.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 4:12-20 – Making Much of You; March 9, 2011

Galatians 4:12-20 – Making Much of You

 

One of the things I enjoy about the Apostle Paul is his ferocity when it comes to preaching the Gospel.  This cat was bold.  He was in your face and would unapologetically go after blatant sin in the lives of those entrusted to him in ministry.  Honestly, it is one of his most Christ-like characteristics.  Of course, I don’t idolize Paul and he is not the one who I model my life around, but if I would have done life with him.  I would have wanted to travel with him, to learn from him, and even have him teach me about what it means to be a true follower of Christ.  In this passage in Galatians we again see Paul going deeper then just the external issues that were going on in the Galatian church.  In verse 17 Paul exposes these wolves who have infiltrated the flock for what they really are, glory hoarding, self-righteous, bigots who care nothing for the Galatians or the worship of God.  Paul will briefly discuss his wishes for these “wolves” in chapter 5, but here he holds the Galatians to account for their part in wandering from the Truth.

 

These teachers of the false gospel used flattery and half-truths to make much of the Galatians.  This type of preacher still exists today, he’s just had to change his clothes to adapt to our materialistic and anti-religious culture.  Nowadays these guys instead of focusing on laws and Jewish traditions will, for the most part, focus on God wanting you to be happy, healthy, and comfortable and how all you have to do is follow these steps or give this much money and God will “bless” you.  They don’t want to talk about sanctification.  They don’t want to mention the wrath of God towards sin.  They don’t want to make you uncomfortable in any way whatsoever.  They simply play into everyone’s favorite subconscious comfort zone, making much of ourselves.

 

Fallen humanity cares little about the people around us or the call that God has placed upon our lives.  We are way more concerned with the stuff we can get, the people we can get to like us, and how good we are compared to that one guy or girl we know.  And many preachers today are happy to keep you in that place in the name of their god.  Ultimately, the message of this false “gospel” is one of control.  Both the “wolves” of Paul’s time and the ones today take the control of our lives out of God’s hands and put it in ours.  In Paul’s day the teaching was that you can control salvation by doing certain things, in their case following the Law.  In our day, the message is you can control God’s blessing by doing certain things.  Both are lies and have no place in the Gospel.  The truth of life is this:  Good things are going to happen to you, but bad things will happen too.  In fact, Jesus tells his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33)  There is nothing we can do to avoid there being hard times in life, especially when we are truly pursuing Christ.  Last week we saw untold destruction wreaked upon the islands of Japan.  Men, women, and children were killed in the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the nation.  If we were to listen to some of the most famous preachers of our day, there should not have been any “Christians” affected by that disaster.  I’m sure there were people who lost everything, including their lives, who were faithful in giving to their local church, who lived giving God glory for what they had, who maybe even contributed above and beyond what is asked of us.  And they woke up that fateful morning and perished.  Or perhaps they were spared and now must struggle to rebuild their homes and lives.  My hope is that anyone who has believed a lie about the Gospel would have their eyes and ears opened.  The Gospel does not make much of you.

 

There are people in our world everyday who are ferociously pursuing Christ with every waking moment who wake up one morning only to be arrested or worse for their faith.  There are those who are abiding in His love who wake up one morning and lose their jobs, who have a loved one get sick our worse.  There was this one guy who was called the greatest man born of woman by Christ Himself, who woke up one morning in a dungeon after living a life fully surrendered to the call God had placed on his life and had his head cut off because some teenage girl demanded it.  Living for Christ does not guarantee a comfortable, happy life.  Christ did not die to make much of you.  He died so that we could make much of Him.  Beware of any teacher who avoids the fact that we are fallen, broken, sinful beings whose only hope is the great mercy of a Holy God.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 4:8-11 – Habits of the Mind; March 2, 2011

Galatians 4:8-11 – Habits of the Mind

 

Today we are going to tackle a relatively small portion of Galatians, but one that we must unpack in order to understand the fullness of it.  One verse in particular holds so much, to begin to unpack it is like opening the door to a clown car at the circus.  It’s full of truths that are difficult to see at first glance.  Verse 9 is full of truth that most of us would rather not uncover, lest we be found lacking in regards to how we live and think.  Paul has been addressing the issue of being slaves to sin held under oppression by the Law which drives us further into slavery if viewed from the wrong perspective.  The Galatian church had begun to view the Law as a means to salvation instead of pointing us to our need for a Savior.  Thus the Galatians were living as slaves to the Law and ultimately to sin.

 

In verse 9, Paul begins to undress why this has occurred.  The Galatians had “turned back” to their old ways of doing things, trusting their own righteousness or “goodness” to save them and bring them right relationship with God.  Despite the fact that Paul had ferociously taught the contrary even to the point that Paul says, “It was even before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” (Galatians 3:1) Meaning that the Galatians encounter with God had been real and genuine.  God had revealed Himself to them in an undeniable way, and yet they had turned from Him and returned to slavery.  Paul is speaking to the basic habits of the mind.  Paul is pointing out to the Galatians and to us that we, as fallen human beings, habitually turn from God and embrace sin as our master even when we have experienced God.  The habits of our mind are bent towards sin and even though we may accept that God is God, Jesus is His Son, Jesus died and rose again, and so on, we never come to a place where we are then willing to be changed by the Holy Spirit.  We acknowledge the truths of God in our minds but never let them transform us or take over our hearts.

 

So what is left in the Galatian church is a group of people who have experienced God and even know the truth about Christ, but live a life contrary to that knowledge.  The people’s faith is never transferred from themselves onto Christ.  This is where we all, at some point, find ourselves.  We have been touched by the Living God, He has revealed Himself to us in a real and undeniable way.  We say to ourselves, “Wow… What a good God He is!” and then go out and try and be better people, doing all the good things that God tells to do, but never surrendering our lives to Him.  Our hearts are not changed, our affections remain fixed on what we want and what makes us happy, and we live our lives lying to ourselves that we are Children of God when in reality we are slaves to sin.

 

We live in an age where we are without excuse.  The Galatian church members didn’t have the luxury of having four Bible per family.  They didn’t have Christian Bookstores where they could go and pick up the latest version of the Bible or pick up the latest commentary.  But Paul still brought them to account for rejecting the Gospel and returning to sin.  I think Paul would have much harsher words for us today.  Most of us have access to a Bible in our home.  Let’s be honest, most of us have one with our name printed on it.  Some of us may have multiple versions, study Bibles, commentaries, concordances, and reference materials.  Some of us even have electronic versions downloaded on our phones.  We have access to the Words of Christ in our pockets and we still are just as guilty of rejecting the Gospel and submitting our hearts to the slavery of sin.  Honestly most of us don’t even try and read the Bible on a regular basis.  And those of us who do, often don’t allow it to read us.  What I mean is that we read about things but never believe that it has application for our lives.  We’ve even made God’s Word about us and not about Him.

 

At the heart of Paul’s message is a call to repentance.  A call to return to the truth and surrender to God.  That means that we no longer do things as we have always done them.  That means that we allow the Holy Spirit to change us.  There are many preachers out there who preach that we don’t need to change, that we can stay the same and as long as we say we love God we are OK.  My friends, that is a lie and we must begin to recognize the places in our lives that we return to sin instead of surrender to Christ.  We cannot say we are Children of God while living in open rebellion to Him and believe that we will be saved.  As I write this, my heart cries out for forgiveness for the places in my life where I have not surrendered.  My prayer is that your heart will genuinely do the same.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 4:1-7 – Family; February 23, 2011

Galatians 4:1-7 – Family

 

One of my grandmother’s favorite songs is “Family of God.”  My family sings it often when we get together and have our traditional sing-a-long times.  The chorus goes like this, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God/I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood/Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod(earth)/For I’m part of the family, the family of God.”  It’s a dear old hymn that speaks to a beautiful part of the Gospel.  In the first part of Galatians chapter 4, Paul addresses this essential part and draws our attention to the overwhelming grace of our Heavenly Father.  We must be very careful, however, that our own predetermined ideas of family or our misunderstanding about who God is don’t cloud the truth presented here.  As we’ve been discussing Galatians, Paul has constantly tried to pull the Galatians away from the idea that we can somehow earn our salvation by following the Law.  In essence, you aren’t saved by being a good Jew, you’re saved by faith in Christ alone.  So the Jewish teachers who usurped the Gospel from the Galatian church after Paul’s departure were no better in the eyes of God than the Gentile Galatians.  Being born a “son of Abraham” had no bearing on salvation since salvation comes through Christ alone.  Paul describes the Law as a guardian who pointed to Christ until the time when Christ should come down and fulfill the Law and save us from our sin.  So by Christ’s death on the cross, all of mankind are allowed to become Children of God, and not just those who followed the Jewish law.

 

In this simple element of the Gospel, we are included in the “Family of God” despite our race, ancestry, or any previous religious affiliation.  Anyone who yields to the drawing of the Holy Spirit can be saved.  But I want to be very clear here, this concept of becoming sons and daughters of God can be misleading for the modern, American thinker.  Most people hear that we are made children of God, “heirs with Christ” as Paul puts it, and then believe that there is nothing else to it.  We are left alone after receiving our part in God’s inheritance and we can live our lives as we want.  For some of you, this has been your experience with your parents.  Your parents give you whatever you want because they “love” you.  For others of you, your parents were hard on you, you felt that you didn’t get the things that other kids got, and so since God is a perfect Father you will now receive all the things you have always wanted.  Both views are not the Gospel.  Scripture is very clear that along with sonship comes discipline (Hebrews 12:6), refining (Malachi 3:2), denying of self (Luke 9:23), rejection and persecution by the world (Matthew 5:11, John 15:18), and a constant call to be Holy as God is Holy (1 Peter 1:14-16).  At the risk of sounding redundant, there are few in the church today who are willing to accept all that is required of a Child of God.  All they really want is the riches and glory of His grace while living as a child of the devil (1 John 3:4-10).

 

What I am wanting to draw our attention to again is what the Gospel is about.  It’s not about you simply saying a short prayer and in that you secure your salvation.  There is more that is required.  The work of salvation is not complete when we’ve said the “Amen.”  We must daily submit our lives and will to our Heavenly Father in order that we may be changed, disciplined, refined.  That is the work of salvation.  The work that only Christ can do in us.  We cannot do it apart from Him.  It’s not about giving lip service to a Holy and Righteous God while all the time living for ourselves and for our comfort.  Being a Child of God means we get Him for all eternity, not that we have a comfortable, happy life here on earth.  This world is not all that we were meant for.  Be careful what you hold onto in your time here.  Because if we trade the Immortal God for his stuff here on earth, we do not share in the eternal inheritance of Christ (Romans 1:22-23).  Love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT