Category Archives: Galatians

Galatians 6:11-18 – Let Us Boast; April 27, 2011

Galatians 6:11-18 – Let Us Boast

Humans have this really funny thing that they like to do.  In my travels and experiences with people of other cultures, I’ve noticed one common thread.  We love to boast.  Whether it is about abilities, differences in culture, food, values, politics, or a multitude of other silliness, it never takes much to get someone going on boasting about something.  We want to take pride in something.  And the most ready things that are available for us to boast about have something to do with us.  We have accomplished something.  We have been born a certain place that makes us just a little bit better than someone else.  We have a job that makes more money or is more enjoyable.  We have better behaved kids.  We drive more reliable cars, faster cars, or prettier cars.  We are healthier, have better food, or the most options for food than someone or somewhere else.  We love to boast.  Paul is intimately aware of this.  I believe that Paul as an educated Pharisee and citizen of Rome would have had to fight his desire to boast in his own accomplishments and heritage.  In fact on multiple occasions Paul pulls the boast card in order to show others how foolish it really is to boast in ourselves.

Here in America we like to play a different version of the game, especially in the Bible belt.  We like to boast about what God has done, given us, forgiven us of, or brought us out of in order to show how much worth we have in the eyes of God.  For many people it’s the same game, just with a twist.  We want to show off our blessings, but doing it for our glory makes us look selfish so we add God’s name to it and our conscience is clear.  We love God because of what we get in return, rarely do we love Him for who He is.  They believe that they are in control of their lives.  As long as they do the right things God will give them what they want.  But let tragedy strike that same person.  Let them lose their job, have a loved one get sick or die, or let them get sick and die and they will almost immediately question the very existence of the God that they had previously attributed all of their good fortune to.  We change the game from just boasting in ourselves to boasting in ourselves on behalf of God.  What silly games we play.

Paul in his benediction to the Galatians reveals what our boasting should be about.  We boast in Christ.  Not in Christ and how we’ve benefited by knowing Him.  We boast in Christ, who He is, especially when things go dark in this life.  My wife and I enjoy watching the Cosby Show.  It’s been a tradition ever since we were in college and I would head down to her apartment at lunch to eat and hang out and watch the Cosby Show.  There’s always a common theme that Claire and Cliff try to get through to their children. The conversation usually goes something like this.  A kid will say “Well if WE didn’t have so much money…” or something to that extent and Cliff always quickly responds “Your mother and I have money, you have nothing!”  This is similar to how we tend to boast.  God blesses us with something and we somehow feel entitled to it, we take ownership of it, and in that find our source for boasting.  We boast in what God has done, rarely in who He is.  In reality, we have nothing.  Even what we have been given is not ours, it is always His.  Even when it’s given to us, it is His.  We are like spoiled children who walk around believing that we are owed what we want because we are loved.  We have no real love for the Father who gives us what we need beside some things we want, we simply will use His name enough to hopefully keep getting what we want.  Living in the Spirit will not allow this heart to remain in us for long.  In fact, it is one of the first things to go, followed closely by the desires for stuff.  The Spirit allows us to be satisfied in Christ and Christ alone.  This will lead to boasting in Christ.  Boasting in the Cross.  In that position of boasting we have nothing, we are nothing, He is everything.  This is how someone can rejoice when their family has been killed, they have been thrown in prison, beaten and waiting to be killed.  They are not attached to the blessings or possessions of this world.  They are attached to Christ, hidden in Him, abiding in Him, remaining in His love.

Please hear me.  I am not saying it is wrong or bad to talk about the things that God has done.  But I plead with you to allow God to examine your heart.  Do you follow God only to receive comfort and a clear conscience here in this life?  If God stripped everything from you and you were left alone on the streets, would you praise Him and glorify Him as if you lacked nothing?  If you were to get cancer and live in pain for the rest of your life, would you still be able to worship Him like a child who has never tasted the struggles of life because you know He is enough?  I think most of us would like to say yes to those questions, but if we allowed the Spirit to search our hearts we might not be able to answer so confidently.  Most likely some of us are in a place where we won’t even let go of the silliest things in order to be fully surrendered to Christ.  We refuse to let go of our self image and how people see us, so we spend money on 15 different pairs of jeans, 50 different pairs of shoes, and accessories to match any and every imaginable situation, and when we’re done we’ll thank God that we can continue to live as selfishly as we want.  We refuse to let go of that glowing box that constantly allows us to live vicariously through people “real” or imagined who are able to do and say things that we wish we could if we weren’t “Christians.”  We refuse to run to God for comfort instead of running to food, alcohol, drugs, or that person that can make us forget how broken we really are at least for a moment.  Boasting in Christ means we are constantly reminded that we do not live for this life.  It means we have nothing.  It means we are constantly faced with sins that we have been putting off repenting of because they make us feel good.  It means that until the day we die, we will live in a state of holy tension as the Spirit lives alongside the flesh.  It means we live with the constant sting of having to daily crucify the flesh.  It means He is enough whether we have enough or not.  Let us boast in Christ.  Let us let go of all the silly things we hold fast to, and hold fast to Him.

Let me be very clear.  I am not saying that you are never allowed to watch TV, you can’t buy clothes and you certainly can’t enjoy the things we have been given in this life.  I’ve already confessed that I watch TV shows.  I enjoy movies.  I enjoy food.  But I am willing to sell it all, leave it all, abstain from it all for the sake of Christ.  The Lord is teaching me more and more each day to live with my hands holding fast to Him, but I first must let go of the things of this world.  Allow the Spirit to search you, and then be willing to obey.  Only when we have surrendered to the Spirit can we truly boast in Christ.  Our hearts will always tell on us when we’re lying.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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Galatians 6:6-10 – God Is Not Mocked; April 20, 2011

Galatians 6:6-10 – God Is Not Mocked

It is a rare thing to hear someone attempting to intentionally mock God in church, especially from the pulpit.  It just doesn’t happen that often.  I don’t know that I have ever even heard of a time that it actually happened.  Intentionally.

Unintentionally, however, is a completely different ballgame.  I would love to say that it never happens in our church or that I’ve never done it myself, but I would be lying.  I can name specific times in my teaching that I’ve taught something based solely on my own understanding without having received insight from the Spirit.  Some of those times were simply due to my immaturity in the faith and some of those times were due to my arrogance.  But there can be no denying that I have openly, albeit unintentionally, attempted to mock God.  Now the funny thing about the phrase “mock God” is that it is practically equivalent to an ant walking up to a person and kicking them in the toe and walking away as if they had accomplished some great victory.  We as finite, imperfect beings are never in a position to look down upon God.  It is never a position that we find ourselves in.  We may feel that we are, but it is never the case.

So what is Paul’s point?  And if this is something that we do unintentionally, how do we keep from doing it?  The answer to both is found in the mystery of what Paul has been trying to communicate throughout the whole letter.  When we are walking in the Spirit we do not ever find ourselves in a place where we are now in control or have a full complete understanding of any given situation.  In other words, we never pretend to acknowledge that we have fully grasped the will of God for all individuals or that living by the Spirit always looks a certain way.  Instead, we humbly acknowledge our need for grace and for the Spirit to open our eyes to see what is true.  Only then can we sow to the Spirit.  Even if good things are taught from the pulpit or done in our lives then we are sowing to the flesh if the Spirit does not lead them, and in the end those “good” things that we have planted end up being corrupted because they were done apart from the Spirit.  Walking in the Spirit allows for certain things in the life of one person that it will not allow in the life of another.  For instance, tattoos.  It is perfectly within God’s plan to command one person to not get a tattoo while allowing another to get them to his heart’s content. We could go down the list of hundreds of issues that the people have condemned as against God’s will, that do not universally cover all people even without bringing culture into the argument.

Let me be very clear here.  I am not talking about relativity here.  I am not saying that every choice is defined by how someone hears from the Spirit.  There are things that a believer should never do because they are outside of how God has designed the universe to be.  Drunkenness, sexual immorality, homosexuality, theft, murder, and things of the like are all condemned in Scripture, and these will not be contradicted by the Spirit.  But there are other peripheral issues that we must find our answers in the work of the Spirit in our lives as He unfolds the truth to us.  Too often we get so caught up on forcing what the Spirit has commanded us to do on others, that we miss the work that the Spirit is trying to do in us.  We become conceited and feel more holy or righteous than that other person because we never got a tattoo.  It’s silliness at best.  I once knew a man who felt led by the Spirit to never go into a movie store because the images on the movie covers might cause him to stumble.  I always thought of him as I walked through the movie store.  This man never condemned the rest of us for going into a movie store, but he would challenge us to let go of silly things in order to keep ourselves from sin.  We must all be ready to give up things in accordance with the Spirit, but be careful not to look at someone else’s life and demand that they walk as you are walking when the Spirit has not asked of them what He has asked of you.   We put ourselves as equal to God when we demand others to walk just like us, and in this we mock God.  Now whether its intentional or unintentional is not the point. We do it.  We place ourselves as the Spirit in the lives of another and plant seeds in the flesh, and those seeds will bear corrupted fruit.

I want to make sure that we are seeing everything clearly.  I am not saying that we can never speak into the lives of another.  Like we talked about with bearing one another’s burdens, we must be careful not to jump to our own perspective when it comes to judging someone else.  Sometimes, someone might be doing something that is peripheral, but in the slavery of sin instead of the freedom of Christ.  We must be sensitive to being used by the Spirit for the sanctification of another.  This is always done with love and mercy.  Too often we miss that aspect and come down with fierce wrath and judgment.  We are to be used by the Spirit, we are not to become the Spirit for another.  Lord, help us to sow by Your Spirit.  And may we trust the work You are doing in the lives of those around us.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Galatians 6:1-5 – Bearing Burdens; April 13, 2011

Galatians 6:1-5 – Bearing Burdens

I have often noted a troubling trend in the hearts of Christians in regards to bearing the burdens of another, especially those relatively immature in their faith.  I say this not judgingly, but from experience as I look back on my own life.  The trend goes something like this:  someone I know is struggling, I am not struggling in that certain area, I know better than that person because I am not struggling, I will correct the flaw in them out of my own understanding.  This may not be exactly how most people word it in their own minds, but make no mistake this is the heart of how most of us approach bearing another’s burden.  Every now and then we drift into the over-empathetic mode and start trying to struggle vicariously through the struggles of another an in so doing we bear with that person in their struggle.  Both responses are not only sinful, but show a deep disregard for the work of the Spirit in both the lives of the person struggling and ourselves.  This idea presented in these five verses directly correlates with Paul’s warning in 5:26.  Most of us approach bearing one another’s burdens as if we were God’s gift to that person at that specific time, and therefore we know exactly what to do.  How pathetic we are sometimes in regards to the work of the Spirit.

As I have previously stated, this is something that I must be very careful of in my own life.  I am a rescuer by nature.  Part of this is innate in me as a man and part of it is glorified fantasy based on years of wanting to be a superhero flying around and rescuing people.  Especially now as a pastor/teacher in a church, I must be very careful not to get puffed up when someone comes to me for counseling or with sin in their lives.  Paul is very clear that we have nothing to bring to the table when it comes to saving someone from their transgression.  In verse 3, Paul says we are really nothing, and if we think we are something we deceive ourselves.  The constant position of the follower of Christ is one of humility, recognizing that we are nothing, have nothing, can give nothing outside the work of the Spirit in our lives.  A Spirit that manifests itself in the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22).  Most of us when approaching someone struggling in sin will take a posture of heroism, standing over them with our capes flapping in the wind ready to pull them out of their miry pit with our super spiritual strength.  A dangerous and ultimately sinful posture that usually drives the individual deeper into the mire or simply encourages them to find their own strength just as we have, both push away from God.

This is what Paul is trying to remedy in the hearts of the Galatians.  1 Peter 5:6-7 commands us to humble ourselves before the Lord and cast all our cares, anxieties and burdens upon Christ because He cares for us.  This is the heart of bearing one another’s burdens.  We don’t come along side and simply continue to carry the weight with our own strength coming along side the strength of another.  We help and encourage the one struggling to bring that burden before Christ, to give it all over to Him and trust Him to do the work of transformation in our hearts.  That is the sign of the spiritually mature.  The one walking in the Spirit doesn’t have all the answers.  The one walking in the Spirit can’t fix everything.  The one who is surrendered to the Spirit’s work in their lives will always help guide those struggling into the arms and wisdom of Christ.  There is no other place for us to find rest and peace.  There is no other place for us to find answers.  Only in Him are our burdens lifted.

I want to be very clear on something.  I am not saying that you should never give a word of advice or counsel to someone struggling.  I am not saying that your experience is worthless and cannot be used to help another.  What I am trying to get through to all of us is that we are nothing.  So if we depend on our own wisdom or experience as what is going to help someone we tend to fall into sin.  That is why Paul warns about being tempted in the midst of trying to help someone.  We are rarely tempted in that moment to sin as the person struggling is sinning.  But we will be tempted with conceit or envy as Paul warned in 5:26.  We are tempted into thinking that our insight is what can really help this person, with no acknowledgement of the Spirit’s work in our lives or how inadequate we really are in transforming the heart of another.  We are to stand in the gap for others, love others as Christ has loved us, show people the love, grace and mercy of God, encourage and build them up with the Truth, and even at times give a Word FROM THE SPIRIT to push them towards Christ.  For some of us this practice will take a bit of undoing in the way we approach bearing the burdens of another or counseling someone through a struggle.  Many times it is enough to simply listen and pray without ever speaking advice or counsel.  Sometimes it’s simply pointing someone to Scripture and allowing the Spirit to do the rest.  Then there are the times when we are given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Spirit into the lives of individuals.  What an honor to share in the work of the Spirit.  And the most beautiful thing is that as we learn how to bear one another’s burdens as Scripture commands us to do, we are all changed.  It is not only the one who is struggling who is transformed.  But all who bear the weight of the burden are transformed and in that transformation we learn to love Christ as we ought.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Spirit Part 2; April 6, 2011

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Spirit Part 2

 

As we delve into the second part of Paul’s discourse about Flesh and Spirit, let’s review the heart of what Paul is talking about.  For the previous 4 ½ chapters, Paul has been dancing around this point in hopes of being able to connect with his readers hearts and minds about what they are battling against.  The Galatians were not simply battling another way of getting to God, they weren’t discussing different terms that really get you to the same thing.  They were talking about two fundamentally and contradictory ways of living.  Paul is never shy about drawing hard lines, and thankfully he follows the example of Christ in this.  In verses 16-25, Paul is going to make a very clear distinction: in life you are either living in the Flesh or you are living in the Spirit and there is not place along life’s path that the two meet.  As Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14,

 

“Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

 

Last time we talked about living by the Flesh, and so this week we will talk about living in the Spirit.

 

First, it is important that we look at who the Spirit is and what He has to do with our lives.  The Spirit, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, or Helper is the third person in the Trinity.  The Trinity consists of the God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Spirit (the focus of our discussion at present).  The Spirit is just as much fully God as the Father and the Son and serves to help us understand the mysteries of God.  This is why Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Helper in John chapter 15.  We are unable to understand even the most basic of spiritual truths without the Spirit’s guidance.  The Spirit is the initiator of our faith and makes things clear when our pride and finitude clouds our understanding.  The Spirit specifically reveals Christ to us.  The disciples had very little understanding of who Christ was in His time here on earth and it wasn’t until the Holy Spirit was poured out on them at Pentecost that Christ became clear to them.  So get this, the disciples who walked with Jesus for three years, who were taught privately, face-to-face by Jesus about who He was and what He came to do, could not understand the message of the Gospel without the Spirit’s help.  Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, an extremely intelligent man, capable of understanding complex philosophical, theological, and psychological truths could not see that Jesus was the Messiah even though he most likely heard Jesus teach personally until the Spirit revealed to Him the Gospel.  Let us ponder these things and ask ourselves this question: If these men of varying degrees of intelligence, who saw Jesus face-to-face, some even knew Him intimately, could not understand the Gospel without and how it should work in our lives without the help of the Spirit, how dependent are we on the Spirit’s power to understand the Gospel?

 

As children of the Enlightenment, we have been raised with the idea that if we simply try hard enough and apply ourselves, we can understand complex ideas and ways of thinking.  This has bred a tremendous amount of swagger in the hearts and minds of Western thinkers.  This is why religion and Christianity are mostly looked down upon even with the various Western religions.  We have simply come to an age where we have understood God on our own and even become so advanced in our thinking that we no longer need Him at all.  And most of us are trained from childhood that with the proper amount of dedication and diligence can achieve any level of understanding.  This is simply not the case.  Especially when it comes to the things of God.  The American church has reasoned away the things of God.  We have read His book from cover to cover and we now know, based on our small, limited perspective, what He really means when He says what He says.  So today you will find such crazy ideas running through “Christianity” that say that there is no such thing as Hell, God wants to make you healthy, wealthy and wise, God would never encroach on man’s free will and God ultimately needs you and me to fulfill His plan for the world.  God forgive us for how we have arrogantly taken Your Word and drug it through the mud for the sake of making much of ourselves.

 

The Spirit’s work in us is not a consummation of our intellectual endeavors.  We are incapable of understanding the things of God which is why we need the Spirit.  1 Corinthians 2:10-16 says this,

 

“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so to instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

 

Paul here in referring to the ones who have the “mind of Christ” is not referring to anyone outside of faith in Christ.  No one stumbles into the Spirit on accident and then can understand the things of God.  We come humbly, submissively, meekly to Him and He fills us with wisdom.  We don’t learn it.  We don’t study for it.  We simply are given it.  This cannot create swagger because to the one in whom this process takes place, he knows that the wisdom and insight is not from his own mind but from the Lord.  And it remains with the Lord.  We don’t keep it for ourselves.

 

We must first have this understanding that even when things of the Spirit have been revealed to us we have not discovered them by our own effort, and then we are ready for those things to bear fruit in our lives.  Galatians 5:22 gives us the fruit of the Spirit.  I want to point out a very specific and key factor in the fruit of the Spirit: the fruit is singular not plural.  This can often grow confusing since Paul names several aspects of the fruit, but make not mistake it is all one.  Just like the road is narrow.  Yet another distinction from the “works (plural) of the flesh” in verse 19, for wide is that road.  The fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  If the spirit is working in our lives and we are allowing it to be our wisdom and understanding, this fruit is going to be evidence of that.  People trying to get the fruit of the Spirit apart from the Spirit will look at this like a to do list of things they need to work on.  They will set out to try and be more loving as they define love.  Or they will try and be more kind as they define kindness. Or they will try and have self-control as they have defined self-control.  What they fail to see is that on their own as they are working on love they will most likely miss peace.  While they are trying to be more kind they will lack joy.  As they try and practice self-control they will fail to be kind.  What we fail to see with our own understanding is that every aspect works together to make each aspect more sweet.  And that sweetness can only be found in the Spirit.  It can only be found as we abide in Christ.

 

Living in the Spirit is not a one shot deal, just as dying to yourself is not just something you do once.  We must daily seek the wisdom of the Spirit to lead us and guide us through every moment of every day.  We must find ourselves in a constant state of humility and surrender.  My prayer is that we all allow the Spirit to examine our lives and show us where we have been trying to get to the fruit of the Spirit by jumping the fence and stealing it off the tree.  That He would show us where we have pursued one aspect of the fruit at the cost of another aspect.  May we confess with our mouths and with our lives that we have tried to get the fruit of the Spirit by our own effort and understanding.  And may that confession lead us into the Spirit.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Sprit Part 1; March 30, 2011

Galatians 5:16-25 – Flesh vs. Spirit Part 1

 

In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul finally begins to draw upon the true heart of his whole discussion with the church.  He is no longer pulling punches and using word pictures, metaphors, or allegories.  He is going to use plain language to explain what the Galatians are really struggling against.  They are not struggling with a man, a group, or a certain denomination. The Galatians are struggling with their very flesh, their very nature.  Paul up until this point has made very clear distinctions, contrasting ideas, alluding to this point.  First he uses the distinction between his Gospel which is from Christ and the “gospel” preached by the Jews which usurped Paul’s Gospel after his departure.  From there he goes into several different contrasting scenarios: faith vs. the Law, Law vs. the Promise, sons vs. slaves, Hagar vs. Sarah, and freedom vs. slavery.  All of these are simpler ways of discussing the battle between the living by the Spirit or living by the flesh.

 

For this part of our discussion we will focus on the flesh.  What does it mean to live in the flesh?  What are the results of such a life?  Living in the flesh can best be described by Romans 14:23 when Paul says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  Paul in this context is trying to distinguish what the Spirit allows and does not allow in the life of the believer.  Some said you could eat meat sacrificed to idols while others strongly stated that you could not.  Both were wrong.  Now this is not a text that advocates moral ambiguity as many suppose.  It instead advocates a life defined not by what our human minds think and understand, but a life led totally and without exception by the Spirit of God through faith.  Paul in Galatians will make it plain that a life not lived by the Spirit is lived by the flesh.  Paul lists sins committed by the body for pleasure (sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality), for personal gain or control (idolatry, sorcery), selfish ambition (enmity, strife, jealousy, envy), and sins that numb us to our surroundings (drunkenness and orgies).  All of these are readily found in people claiming to know Christ but not allowing their lives to be changed by Him.  They refuse the active, constant work of the Spirit and only choose to pick up the mantle when it pleases them to do so.

 

Paul’s warning warns not against atheism or another competing religion.  His warning is to those who know the Gospel, attend church, attempt to be “good” people, but who ultimately miss the Kingdom of God because their lives were lived in the flesh and not the Spirit.  The list that Paul makes certainly has many actions that would readily be recognized publicly as sin, but also included are private sins (idolatry, sexual immorality, impurity, sorcery, jealousy, envy, and even drunkenness).  In addition to the list Paul also gives this disclaimer, “and things like these” meaning that this is by no means an exhaustive list of what it means to live by the flesh.  Matthew 7:13 warns us that the way to destruction is wide and easy, drawing the parallel that living by the flesh comes in all different flavors.  Some choose the route of murderers and thieves while others fall into self-righteousness and religion like the Pharisees.  All lead to destruction.  All are walking in the flesh.  None get to enter the rest that Christ has prepared for His children.  So we must now examine ourselves in light of God’s Word, are we living by the flesh or by the Spirit?  Next time we will talk about what it looks like to walk in the Spirit.  Paul gives us some very specific markers that help us see our lives through the eyes of the Spirit.  Ultimately though, we all must allow the Spirit to speak to our hearts, showing us where we are walking in the flesh.  Some of the things that you do that you think are ok could be areas where you have resisted the Spirit and are walking in the flesh.  May we all surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

 

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

 

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