Category Archives: Bible

4 things to emulate from Habakkuk

When Habakkuk cries out to the Lord over injustice and violence that rages among the people of God, God answers with a mix of hope and terror. Habakkuk opens his complaint to God by asking, “Why is there so much injustice and violence?” When he cries out to God about the violence that is present in the land, God seems to be silent and does not come to save. He asks The Lord why sin and iniquity are so prevalent. Why can Habakkuk not live in ignorance of these things!? Why must HE see it? Further, he wonders why the legal system that is supposed to protect and provide for the lame and the broken is so corrupt. “Justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted” (1:4).

The similarities between the cries of Habakkuk and many of our own cries in this moment of history is remarkable. We wonder why we see so much evil in the world. We wonder why people are murdered and God seems to say nothing. We wonder at the apparent inability of our legal system to accomplish justice. We ask, “how long!?” How long until our Lord rends the sky and makes it right?

God provides a partial answer to Habakkuk in 1:5-11.

First Habakkuk is urged to look further than his own circumstances to see where the Lord is moving. Habakkuk can see the people who live around him. The Lord says, “Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded” (v.5). Habakkuk is called to look further away. Strive for a perspective that is further down the road. A perspective that not only cries out to God but actually takes the time and effort to see where He is working and what He is bringing about. In essence, the call on Habakkuk is to strive to gain a greater perspective. A perspective that sees beyond the immediate circumstance and trusts in the Lord’s response.

Second, God states that He is bringing the Chaldeans (or Babylonians) to come and be His tool for justice against the wicked of Israel and Judah. In describing them God says they “come for violence” (v.9) and that “their justice and dignity (otherwise known as “law”) go forth from themselves” (v.7). In other words – To answer Habakkuk’s complaint against violence and lawlessness, the Lord is going to send violence and lawlessness upon them. Mankind reaps the reward of his own sin. Again, it is difficult not to see the parallels in our western society at this moment.

Finally, God assures Habakkuk that the punishment will be swift. “Then they sweep by like the wind and go on…” (v.11). God is well aware that the Babylonians are wicked. He is aware of the injustice that lands on the earth. Indeed, He feels injustice at a deeper level than any of His creation possibly could for a few reasons. First, He created the world and knows what it is SUPPOSED to be like. He knows exactly why it is wrong for brother to kill brother and He hears the blood of the slain cry out from the ground! Second, He is perfectly holy. There is no wrong or injustice with God. As a result, even our slight indiscretions are major offenses in the economy of God’s law. Third, it is His law that is violated! Every dismissal or corruption of the law is a rejection of Him and His character. Yet, God is merciful. The judgment will be swift and He will keep the Babylonians in check as He identifies them as “guilty men” (v.11).

Habakkuk, slightly shocked at God’s response, levels a second complaint.

Habakkuk begins with Hope. “We shall not die” (v.12). In this declaration, Habakkuk is asserting that His life is found in God, the eternal from whom Habakkuk derives his own holiness. When we face a wave of death, we must be reminded that our God is eternal and there is no death for those who rest in Him! So Habakkuk declares life because God is eternal and God is the one who establishes justice. Such peace is attainable for you as well! Trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as your savior and you will be saved from the punishment of sin.

Then Habakkuk raises his difficult question. He asks how a pure and holy God could stand to watch wickedness reign among His people unanswered. (Spoiler for those who don’t read the Bible… He doesn’t leave it unanswered.) Moreover, how could God, who is perfect, use such an unholy and imperfect tool to judge unholiness and imperfection? Why is the punishment for sin accomplished by a party of greater wickedness?

Seriously, why do the wicked prosper!? This is a question that resonates on so many levels for us. One cannot help but see our world and ask why God has not obliterated us from the planet. Why do the wicked prosper is a popular question… until we recognize that we are the same as the wicked. Romans 3 states very plainly that all mankind is wicked and NO ONE does what is right. No. One. Is. Righteous. “By the works of the law, no man will be justified” (Romans 3:20). We need something other than the law to save us. If we rely on the law, we will be in Habakkuk’s place crying out as the law is perverted and distorted until the terrifying judgment of God comes down upon us all. Yet, if we recognize our own sinfulness and cry out for mercy, we can be saved from the wrath of God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25). It is here, in this recognition of our need, that our plea becomes, “Lord forgive me. How can I help in rescuing others as You have rescued me?”

Habakkuk’s complaint ends in obedience. God calls him to broaden his view and see what God is doing in the world. So Habakkuk climbs the wall and stands sentry on the tower, awaiting the response from God. Striving to see beyond his immediate circumstance, he looks to the hills and waits on the Lord for an answer. Likewise, we must obey. If we are to call out to God over the injustice in our society, we must be willing to obey His commands. If we wish to see the answer, then we cannot overlook and forget about our minor infractions, decrying the injustice done elsewhere. Habakkuk waits for the Lord to answer, and so must we. Our eyes must see beyond our circumstances and be prepared to hear the Lord answer us.

So like Habakkuk, in this time of great wickedness, let us be reminded:

  1. To look beyond our immediate circumstances to God’s coming mercies.
  2. Of the life we have in Jesus Christ
  3. That God is sovereign over even the wicked in this life
  4. It is our commission to stand and watch for our Lord to return while we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 3:19-22

19Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made and it was put in place through the angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

If the Law does not supersede the covenant previously established and does not save the soul of those who are placed under it, then why does it exist? Why would God put in place a regulation that does nothing other than reveal sin? It is precisely for that reason that God put the law in place. For revelation. God put the law in place to reveal our sinfulness.

The law of God was given because sin exists. The law is merely a lens by which we are able to see and acknowledge that we have sinned against the perfect and holy God. Without the law, we would remain ignorant of our folly and persist in death, not recognizing our inabilities and inadequacies. Yet God, in His infinite mercy, gives mankind a law so that we would be aware of our transgression. In other words, the law exists to give name to sin. It is an identifier, a name tag. It proclaims aloud what is implicit in nature. The law reveals and exposes our desperate state and need for redemption.

The redemption from the law comes when Jesus, “the offspring,” comes and claims the promise mentioned in the covenant with Abraham. In essence, Paul is arguing that salvation is provided by Jesus who fulfills the original covenant with Abraham AND does so without transgression. So, when Jesus comes, the law is fulfilled and the promise of blessing and salvation are met and manifest in Him by His work. His life provides the fulfillment of the law, not the nullification. Indeed, the law is not nullified because it is merely a lens by which to see what already exists. Jesus does not nullify the lens, but lives perfectly within it (1 Peter 2:22; 2 Cor. 5:21; and Heb. 4:15). As the perfect intermediary, He then claims the promises previously established.

The beauty of grace is that it requires only God to arbitrate and mediate. There is only one intermediary. That intermediary is Jesus. When a law is established, there are always two parties. Both parties must keep the terms of the law. If one breaks the law, the contract is undone. Such is the nature of law. But Jesus comes by promise, not law. A promise only depends on one party to keep. God is one! God keeps His promises and Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.

Consider this great truth, Christian. No amount of sin or wretchedness can nullify the promise of God because the promise does not depend on you or your works. It is totally dependant on His character… What a wonderful character that is! Perfectly holy! Completely loving! Absolutely sovereign! Unshakably constant! This the God upon whom grace is dependent! He will not fail and His promises are sure! You cannot undo it, because you didn’t commission the promise. You cannot fail to achieve it because He has already achieved it for you. You cannot lose it because He has already secured it! In Jesus, we are granted grace by a perfect mediator who fulfills the law and then secures the promise! Praise God for such mercy!

Reading of such an overwhelming grace, one would expect the answer in response to be that Grace is contrary to the law. Yet Paul answers, “Certainly not!” (v. 21). The law has a different function than grace, but not incompatible. Indeed, the law exists to drive everyone to see their need for grace. The law points all mankind to their desperate need for grace and mercy in Christ. The law recorded in the Scripture imprisoned everything so that the promise of Jesus could be secured to all who would believe.

Would you believe? Would you in this moment as you read, surrender to the truth that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and He will save you if you trust in Him and the security of His promises.

Galatians 3:15-18 pt. 1; Brief Thoughts

15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Old Testament covenants were permanent. They were not simply laid in place until something else came along. Covenants were not easily amended and they were certainly not annulled once they had been confirmed or applied.[1] When one party made a covenant with another, the covenant was confirmed by an action. In the covenant between Johnathan and David, Johnathan confirms the covenant by giving David his armor and robe (1 Sam 18:3-4). The Elders of Hebron confirmed their covenant with David by anointing him with oil (2 Sam 5:3). When God makes His covenant with Noah, he hangs floods the earth to confirm it and then hangs His bow in the sky (Gen. 6 and Gen. 9:8-17)! Further, the nature of the covenant was secured by the character of the strongest party involve. Pause for a moment and consider the implications of God’s character on the security of the covenants He has made. There is no greater name by which a promise can be secure. The God who holds all things together has covenanted with you. The God in whom we live and move and have our being has come down from Heaven and covenanted with people. There is no greater character by which your promises are secure.

The specific covenant Paul references here in this passage is found in Genesis 12. Abram is called by God to go to a new land that God will show him. He is told that God will give his offspring that land and Abram builds an altar in worship to God for the promise (Gen 12:4-7). Three chapters later, God ratifies his covenant with Abram through one of the most beautiful symbols of all Scripture. He has Abram kill and cut in half multiple animals and then line them up with a path through the middle of the split animals. Then Abram has a vision/dream of a torch and smoking pot going through the two halves of the animals.

In the vision, God is represented by the torch and the smoking pot. Abram is watching from the side. In essence, God establishes that He alone is the keeper of the covenant. In this act, God declares if either party breaks the covenant, may He be torn in two like these animals. And so, when humanity breaks the covenant with God, Jesus is rent in two in order to pay the price of the covenant! The ratification of the covenant of Abram is fulfilled and completed in Jesus. God maintains the covenant with those who have faith by dying for us. Oh What a great God who holds us together and lays down His life for our salvation!

So this is the covenant that Paul references in Galatians 3. This is separate from the covenant of Circumcision given to the Jewish people in Genesis 17. That covenant is a covenant based on the behavior of the Jewish people. It requires adherence to the law of God. God is still gracious and offers mercy through the law, but there is no righteousness gained through law. The Law serves only to show man’s sin. The only way to be righteous is to trust in Christ, who tore Himself in two for your salvation! Repent from your sin and confess to Christ that you need Him to save you! The blessing of Abraham is secure for those who have faith in the work of Jesus Christ – The Offspring! He owns the land of salvation! So, when we trust in Christ, we become “fellow heirs” with Jesus and receive the promise of salvation and presence with God (Eph. 3:6; c.f. Romans 8:16-17).

 

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Covenant. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 531). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Galatians 3:10-14; Brief thoughts

10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – 14so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

There are many who earn their positions of status on earth. They labor and toil to achieve some station of prestige and notoriety. It is the common refrain of humanity to cheer when a man or woman has labored to achieve something. Forcing one’s will by discipline is admirable and garners the praise of man for certain. It is this predisposition to honor merit that makes Paul’s words in Galatians 3:10-14 so difficult to accept. Where the natural response of mankind is to look at the law and strive to be good enough to satisfy it, Paul reminds us that we will not satisfy the law. Then he further explains, if one desires to be righteous by the law, then they must answer the curse.

All mankind is cursed by sin (Rom. 3:23). Sin is pervasive and infects everyone. The curse that results from sin is expounded on in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are cast from the garden and doomed to die. So, now, every person suffers under the curse of the law. Indeed, each individual is judged by the law and they must adhere to that law perfectly or suffer the punishment for breaking the law. What a weight to bear up under! For who can be perfect? Who can satisfy every aspect of the Law and be completely holy? Indeed, it is no wonder that those who rely on the law are under a curse. Anyone who attempts to be righteous by their own works must be perfect.

Perfection according to the law is a tricky thing. It demands perfect obedience, past, present, and future. There can be no mistake. This sounds extreme. However, God’s justice is never without mercy. Within the code of the Law, God made provision for sacrifices that could cleanse, albeit temporarily, one from sins. Even in the Law, God expresses His kindness and mercy and reveals His love for those who wish to know Him. However great the mercy and provision of God is, the Law still cannot save. The Law exists to show humanity where we have failed, and oh how great that failure! The Law can only show us where we do not measure up and, thereby, the Law condemns. While making provision for us, even the provisions display our failure and we remain under the curse of sin and death.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). The law demands perfection, so Christ satisfied that need on our behalf. He lived a perfect life, took our sin upon Himself, and suffered the wrath of judgment on our behalf. Therefore, it is those who trust in Jesus that are redeemed from the curse. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus has taken the curse of the law upon Himself!

Consider for a moment the implications of such a Savior. Jesus does not merely make a temporary atonement for your sin in one moment. He does so much more! The curse of the law was the result of sin and was followed by a permanent death sentence. Sin brought a curse of separation, toil, death, and division. Jesus takes upon himself the curse of the law, becoming that curse on our behalf. This is so much more than just taking the blame for you. He actually becomes that curse and defeats the result of your sin bringing life where death reigned. This means you are no longer bound to sin. This means you are free from death. This means where hate and wickedness reigned, now you have been made anew! How tremendous is the freedom wrought in Jesus Christ! Oh, Christian, you are no longer restricted to sin and wickedness! You have been freed from death and raised to walk a new life.

Now live! Live as one who is free from sin and death! Live in grace, led by the Spirit of God. For the presence and connection of God is the blessing of Abraham! Through faith in Christ Jesus, God provides for those on the outside of the camp of Israel to receive the blessing of Abraham. The promise that God will walk with those who are His. The promise of salvation and God’s presence eternally. God fulfills this promise to the Jews and extends it to Gentiles through faith.

If you have not yet trusted in Jesus’ righteousness, I do not know for what you are waiting. He has taken your sin upon himself and you need only turn from trying to be good enough on your own and trust in His goodness. You cannot white knuckle your way into heaven. You must surrender to Him in order to find life. Trust in Him. Make Him your Lord and be rescued from the curse that weighs you down.

Difficult Passages? 3 Questions to Ask

Can we agree that the Bible has some weird stories? Is that fair to say? I mean really… there is a story of an ax head that falls into a river and the prophet of God makes it float by throwing a stick into the water (2 Kings 6:1-7). There is another about a patriarch who refuses to give his youngest son in marriage to his widowed daughter-in-law… she pretends to be a prostitute and the patriarch impregnates her (Genesis 38). Yet another, the prophet Elisha is mocked by some teenagers because he is bald… so he calls bears from the wilderness to EAT THEM (2 Kings 2:23-25). There are tons more weird stories in the Bible. Each story bears its own unique difficulties. Sometimes theological, sometimes pragmatic, always frustrating.

As I grew in the Lord and began to read my Bible with greater regularity I began to ask the question, “Why is this in the Bible?” I would find myself reading a story like the aforementioned ax head story and laugh saying to myself, “well, that’s interesting?” I’d struggle to answer the question of, “why does this story matter?” I know that every story has a purpose. God preserved these particular stories to tell us something. Indeed, in the words of the Storybook Bible, I read to my kids, “Every story whispers His name.” Sometimes those are obvious and sometimes they are not so obvious.

Embracing this struggle to understand is the first step in grasping the text of Scripture. Sometimes God lays the answer before us in “bull-horn moments” and sometimes understanding takes a little work on our behalf. As a simple man who strives to hear the voice of God in the pages of Scripture, I’ve developed some questions that help me to hear Him. Maybe you struggle too? If you do, maybe these will help:

  1. What does God do in this story?

Shortly after graduating from seminary, I remember reading a particular passage and asking this question. I sought the insight of some of my former professors on the matter and found their answers helpful. Though all the professors offered insights that I had missed, the best answer came in the form of a question – “What does God do in this story?” On the surface, this question seems simple and easy to answer. But what about the stories where He is not mentioned or does not speak? Genesis 34? The book of Esther? Multiple Judges? But, the Bible’s main character is God. So, He is the chief actor in the story of the Bible. We must seek to see what God is doing. Even in His silence, He is present and active.

  1. What does this passage tell me about the character of God?

In Sunday school as a child, I was taught to think about the Bible in moral terms. What was the Bible saying that I should or shouldn’t do? Now don’t get me wrong, the Bible has something to say about morality and does guide you to what you should do and should not do. Yet, when we moralize the stories of Scripture before asking this question, we inadvertently neglect the primary purpose of the text. The purpose is to teach us about God and His character. It is not a list of right and wrongs, but a guide to knowing God. So, a good question to ask is, “What does this passage say about God?” Your answer should never be, “nothing.” You may have to think heavy and hard about it but the fruit of that labor will be magnificent.

  1. What do other passages say about this one?

“Scripture interprets Scripture!” the professor almost yelled in fervor. His jaw clenched as he decried people who would interpret Scripture by their own experience. If Jesus says a passage in the Old Testament means something, then that is what it means. If Paul applies a text to the church, then that text is to be applied to the church. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. It says what it says. If the Gospels say that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53, then Israel is NOT the suffering servant, that title is claimed by the Messiah! This question takes some digging. Get yourself a good cross-reference Bible and dig in. Put in the work, you won’t regret it.

Galatians 3:7-9; Brief Thoughts

7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In Scripture, Abraham is counted righteous before he is given the law of circumcision. Effectively, he is granted righteousness through faith before he becomes the patriarch of Israel. In Genesis 12, God promises to be Abraham’s shield, give him reward, and offspring (Gen. 12:1, 5). It is in this moment that the Bible makes the declarative statement that, “Abraham believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 12:6). Following this statement, God makes a covenant with Abraham. This is a covenant based on faith, not law. It is a covenant that guarantees salvation for those who believe! Two chapters later, God gives Abraham the covenant of circumcision. Here is a law, two chapters later. Faith saves in chapter 15, the law is given later. The law does not save, it simply sets God’s people apart from the world. Another way to put it – God’s people believe differently than the world and therefore live by a different morality.

The law cannot save, however beautiful it may be. The law serves to point men to their need for Christ. As a person strives to be righteous by the law, they will inevitably find an inability to save themselves. Thus, it is those who believe the LORD and live in subsequent faith that are recipients of the promise of a better land and offspring of Abraham. Romans 4:13-25 explains that it is not those who strive to be righteous by the law, but those who have faith in Jesus’s righteousness who receive salvation. So here Paul echoes the same truth – that those who believe in Christ are those who are saved. Those that claim some sort of racial or legal right hold no claim to salvation. It is those who trust in Jesus that share in the faith of Abraham.

Paul further explains that Scripture has always testified to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture saw ahead of time that God was going to extend salvation beyond one people group. In His infinite mercy, God has always sought out people who would trust Him for salvation. The message of the Gospel and the forgiveness of God is prevalent from the beginning of the Scriptural record. It has always been the plan to redeem all who have faith through Jesus. How wonderful it is to consider that the faithful have always been in God’s eyes! He has always had in His heart to bless the nations. Indeed, even in choosing a single people group to be His own, God has blessed the nations.

Consider the ramifications of such a truth. God chose a people that would spread His glory, in order that those who were not of that particular group might become chosen. He has set His affections on the faithful from before they could be faithful. His goal has always been to bless the nations through faith. What a tremendous God! He does not depend on your pedigree or your works. Rather, He determines to save those whom He so desires through faith. Faith is the pedigree of salvation. Faith is the identifying mark that allows access. Faith is the entry pass into the Kingdom. By faith, we are called heirs of Abraham’s promise!

Oh Christian, can you see how beautiful this is? God made a way of salvation and then guarded it, keeping it safe for you to access it. He laid down a law that would point to that way of salvation, and He walked in front of you for the glory of His name and the purpose of Salvation. So, when you doubt you are held by the Most High God, remember this great truth – God set forth the promise for you in Abraham. You are a child of God, not because you earned it or have been born into it. You are a child of God because He has chosen you through faith!

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 2:18-21 pt. 2

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“There is no more pointed statement that Paul’s above. He clearly shows that it is not by his own efforts that he is saved, but by the death of himself to the law and Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of the believer. Now when someone dies, so goes their life. Someone who is dead does not continue to live. They are dead. Further, Paul asserts that Christians are humiliated in conversion. They don’t just die but hang on a tree through Christ. Deut. 21:22-23 explains that anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed. So Paul’s statement of conversion is not evidently of glorious blessing, but of a cursed man who hung on a tree. “Crucified with Christ” is a phrase we put on tee shirts and sell as if it is something to be proud of. Yet, Christ was cursed. Thus in our conversion, we are asking to share in that curse. Trusting that His cursed state is enough to cover our cursing state. In believing in Christ we are seeking to know Him and be like Him in His suffering (Phil. 3:10). Believer, if you seek to live as a Christian, you must needs prepare to suffer and share in Christ’s suffering.

Crucifixion hurts. The removal of sin and the attempt to live holy is never quite as wonderful as we think. No, Christ’s call on our life is to take up our cross and die with Him (Mat. 16:24, Lk. 9:23). Suffer humiliation, be beaten, have everyone reject you, and be cursed. Further, it took effort for Christ to accomplish His end. Radical obedience and extreme effort are exemplified in Christ’s life. To live a holy life is to reject all efforts of synchronism (the blending of cultures/religions). To live a holy life is to be consumed by the singular message of Christ. To live and breathe His words. To pursue who Christ is and appropriate His work.

Crucifixion ends in death. It astonishes me how many of us want to say that our flesh has been crucified (Galatians 5:24) and yet, at some point, we convince ourselves that the flesh keeps coming down off the cross. Oh dear confused believer, if your flesh keeps coming down off the cross, then it was never crucified. Holiness in a Christian’s life is demanded, not requested. If you live a life ruled by the flesh then you have not been crucified and ought to question whether or not you have ever repented and believed. Paul was not overstating, the flesh is crucified and dead. The flesh no longer lives. So, if you have believed in Christ and have surrendered and have been drawn to Him. Stop living as if you still are of the flesh. The flesh is dead and believers do not walk by the flesh but by the spirit (Romans 8).

Not only are you to deny yourself worldly pleasures or sinful activities, you must also be conformed to the life of Christ. Worldly pleasures can be a blatant denial of God’s law, such as sexual immorality, and they can be self-glorifying religious activities. Both are equally disgusting to God. To be conformed to the life of Christ, one must strive to live as He did. We must do what the Father had admonished us to do. (Lev. 11:44) We must strive for holiness.

This is going to hurt. Self-denial is never a fun thing. And when it requires complete transparency and humility in addition, well, that’s just downright humiliating. Exposing all our flaws and waywardness.” (Excerpt from “Consumed” by J. Novis Elkins)

 

Brief Thoughts: Galatians 2:18-21 pt 1

18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  

When a believer comes to Christ, he comes to a death. The law that he once held in such high esteem and presented as a home in which to reside, is demolished and destroyed. It is destroyed in favor of freedom from it. As Paul has already asserted, the law cannot bring salvation. So, if you desire to be saved, you must trust in Jesus’ righteousness to cover you. It stands to reason, then, that a person who places restrictions upon themselves after having been freed from those restrictions is merely imposing upon themselves new shackles.

Shackles and walls are not designed to embrace freedom. Shackles are designed to restrict the individual from breaking the law. Walls are designed to protect the individual from other people’s freedom. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is antithetical to shackles and walls. When one trusts in Christ, they surrender their need to be protected from other people’s freedom in order to follow Christ, trusting in Him for deliverance and cover. In trusting Jesus, the Christian is set free from the bondage of the law and has submitted to the law of the Spirit voluntarily (Romans 8:2). A voluntary submission that he/she cannot deny. In this, the Christian has exchanged the restrictive walls that once demanded perfection and the subsequent shackles of unrighteousness for the gracious leading of the Spirit and His cleansing presence.

Paul is rightly confused as to why the Galatians would strive to subject themselves to a law again once having been freed. Paul explains the result of adding laws to the Gospel is condemnation. As one attempts to be righteous according to the law, the law serves to show that they are a “transgressor.” Thus Paul explains that those who have trusted in Christ have “died to the law.” The law no longer has anything to condemn because that life which was bound to the law has ended and a new life has begun. In Romans 7:1-6 Paul illustrates this point with the picture of a marriage in which one party is only freed from the contract upon their death. He further explains that the Christian is the one who died and that they are freed from the legal contract of marriage to the law because that former life no longer exists. Having died to the law, it is absurd that any man would rebuild the law in effort to embrace freedom.

When someone trusts in Jesus for salvation, they end the contractual obligation to the law by sharing in the death of Christ (c.f. Romans 6:1-11). In Jesus’ death, the old man has died. Christians are set free from sin and death and are raised to walk a new life. Therefore, submitting again to a law is incongruent with the freedom of Christ. To raise up a new law and insist that righteousness can only be achieved by Jesus AND the law is to nullify grace. Indeed, adding anything to trusting Jesus as a necessary requirement for salvation is nullifying that trust and is returning yet again to a yoke of slavery.

A necessary pause must be taken for a moment to consider the difference between submitting to a law and pursuing holiness. Christians ought to be marked by a pursuit of holiness. Yet, many modern Christians do not understand that holiness is a pursuit. Christians strive to be righteous because we can. We strive to be holy because joy is found in holiness. The things the law says to do are good and are a delight to the Christian. But, they are not a requirement for salvation. Christians do not follow the holiness of Christ because it will save them. They follow the holiness of Christ because He HAS saved them. Christians are free to participate in righteousness and they do out of a desire for joy!

Oh Christian, pursuing holiness is a joy! Striving to delight in the work and life of Christ is more powerful than you can imagine. Once set free from sin, we pursue becoming more like Christ and there we find our joy. Do not be deceived into thinking adding laws and regulations are the same as following Christ. When we add laws in an effort to secure salvation, we nullify grace. When we pursue holiness in delight, recognizing freedom, we empower grace.

Galatians 2:17; Brief Thoughts

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!

No one is justified before God by the law (Romans 3:20). There is no way to be made righteous by the law. The law can identify unrighteousness, it can establish the need for righteousness, and it can even display and reveal the nature of God. But the Law cannot change the heart. The heart has been corrupted and is not righteous (Romans 3:1-10). Only through the work of Christ is any person able to be made righteous. Indeed, no work can make the heart of man different or changed (Jer. 13:23). All self-righteous attempts to secure salvation must be cast aside. Our pedigree, religious affiliations, and personal history must be surrendered in favor of Jesus’ righteousness.

There is no one holy. Not one person merits salvation or deserves to be acknowledged as better than another. It does not matter how great a person is in the eyes of the world, “no one is righteous” (Romans 3:10). This truth is the ultimate leveling ground. When a community understands that no merit or effort can establish righteousness and that each individual stands condemned by their own works before a holy God, then there is no basis for hierarchy or preferential treatment. This would be a tremendous community of which to be a part! Consider for a moment what it would be like if your community truly lived in this truth. When someone sins or breaks covenant with someone else, the response to that fracture would be one of healing, not judgment. It would be a community in which everyone could strive to live holy lives without fear of constant condemnation. It would be a community that lifts up those who struggle and carries burdens for one another. This is what the church is supposed to be like.

In order to be redeemed, a person must trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ – that Jesus lived a perfect life, died on the cross taking the punishment of my sin upon Himself, rose again conquering death and giving me life, and ascended into Heaven securing His victory and my future salvation. Paul asserts that we “endeavor to be justified in Christ” (v.17). The term here translated “endeavor” indicates an active pursuit of something. It is the same term used when Jesus says, “seek and you shall find” (Matt. 7:7). A Christian seeks to know God and does so with zeal in the pursuit of His glory. A believer strives to know and be known by Christ. It is for this purpose that we strive to prove our justification is in Him alone! When the adversary or the world tells us that we are sinful, we rest in the reality that Jesus is Savior and our sins have been forgiven in Him. In this way, our “endeavor” is simply an intentional effort to conform our minds to the reality of salvation.

The Judaizers, however, insisted on obedience to the Law in an effort to attain salvation. So the logic follows, assuming the Judaizers are correct, that fellowship with Gentiles as Paul and Barnabas did in Antioch would be an actual sin according to Jewish law and thereby make Christians into sinners. So, Paul asks the question – If our pursuit of Christ reveals that we are sinners according to the law, does that mean Christ is somehow in service to sin (v.17 – paraphrased)? Immediately Paul answers, “Certainly not!” In posing this question, Paul presents a polarity between the Jewish conception of salvation and the truth of Jesus Christ. The Law cannot justify anyone. Trusting in Christ is the only way by which a man can be saved. So, in order to be saved, one must turn from self-righteous attempts of legal perfection and trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Thus, by trusting in Christ, our need for His righteousness is revealed and grace abounds all the more!

Oh, friend, I do wish that you would trust in Jesus’ righteousness to save you. I see you striving to be good on your own. I watch your toil and struggle to know and be known. There is One King who can rescue and redeem. One Lord who can remove your sin and make you clean. Trust in Jesus now and be free.

Galatians 2:15-16; Brief Thoughts

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Tribal identification offers a certain level of confidence for the average person. It allows us to create a division between those we deem “less than” and ourselves. Labels and distinctions are often methods we use to form identities for ourselves and they provide tools by which we can categorize others. These tribal identifications can be useful when the definitions are clear and universally accepted. They can also be dangerous when they are misunderstood or given too much credence.

Paul is a Jew. That is his tribal identification. A people group that was selected by God from all the nations of the earth, led by His voice and Law throughout their history, provided for by His miraculous hand and used as His representatives on the earth. Quite a pedigree indeed! There is a great deal to be proud of in this tribal identification. Paul states, “we are Jews.” In stating this identification, Paul is asserting his own superior pedigree above the “Gentile sinners” mentioned next. Indeed, the Jewish people were given the Law and the prophets (Romans 3:1-2). The Jews are the people who have been given the Law of God and are His chosen people.

Further, note that Paul says, “We ourselves are Jews BY BIRTH.” He did not join Judaism by choice. He was born into it. He also was favored to be Jewish from the moment he came into existence. Unlike the “Gentile sinner,” Paul and his brothers were chosen as Jews. While there are numerous benefits to tribal identity, there are also some requirements. For the Jew, circumcision is required. A man must be circumcised to be a Jew. It is the identifying act given to Abraham in Genesis 17 and a part of the law that the Jews were handed down in the desert in Leviticus 12:3. So important was this identifying mark that Exodus 12 commands that the slaves of the household and those who are merely interested in observing the Passover ought to be circumcised as well.  Paul’s identity as a Jew demanded that he obey and observe certain parts of the law, for the law is for the Jews. Gentiles do not have the law. They are sinners, lawless and separated from the people of God.

What a terrifying identity to live in – one who is deemed a “Gentile sinner” before the judgment throne of God. A Gentile sinner has no hope of being accepted by God. He must become a Jew and even then he is only allowed admittance as a second class citizen and must obey the Law completely in order to be made righteous in God’s sight! In stark contrast to the Jew by birth, the Gentile sinner must accomplish an impossible task – they must become righteous after having been born unrighteous! This would be a horrific state indeed were it not for the next verse.

No tribal identification can make someone righteous. Righteousness is not achieved by the works of the law. Being a Jew, Paul had great confidence in the law and the works of the law, yet he was acutely aware of the truth that the law cannot and does not save a person. The only thing that does save a person is faith in Jesus Christ. Oh friend, can you not see that no amount of work can justify you before God!? He is holy and perfect. He has no fault within His being or actions. You stand before Him, a rebel to His perfection. What can you do to remedy such a sorry state? You can’t fulfill the law because you have already broken it in one place or another. You have one recourse of action. Throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ and trust Him to save you! Believe that Jesus, the Son of God: lived a perfect life, died on the cross to cover your sins, and rose again to bring life eternal to all who will trust Him! Salvation is at hand, just believe. No one is justified by works of the Law. Your tribal identity cannot save you. Your only hope is in Christ’s atoning work on the cross!

Paul recognized that salvation was beyond Judaism. Salvation comes from Christ and Christ is something more than Judaism. The law cannot save. Judaism and the religious systems and identities to which we cling so tightly offer no hope of salvation. While they may offer some enjoyment and understanding of how to live in this life, they offer no salvation. Only a complete surrender of identity to Christ will bring justification. “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Your own righteous deeds in obedience to the law cannot save. Being a Jew cannot save. Only Christ and His life will save!

Repent and believe, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!