Tag Archives: Bible

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!

Make the Climb- 2020 exhortation

The sky breaks just over the mountain. It’s beautiful this time of year. The urge to climb the mountain is sometimes overwhelming, especially among the young. There is something majestic about climbing to the break of the sky. The noble trudge up the hill and exhausting toil of the climb leads to tremendous beauty. In the young, the mountain is a challenge. It taunts, calling to the observer, “I dare you to scale the heights!” Many will climb the peak and feel the sense of victory as they stand atop the mountain. They imagine during the climb that they will insist that the mountain remain under them. Yet, something mysterious happens at the top of the mountain. The victorious do not stand in triumph over their conquered prey. Rather, they are suddenly conscious of their smallness. Confronted by the overwhelming reality of their own inadequacies, they stand at the top of the mountain they’ve conquered only to gaze upon the immensity of the world around them. The majestic reality will remain with them forever. They will become the wise man who stands at the bottom of the mountain and reflects on the glory and immensity of its size while making the slow deliberate hike. No longer the sprinting youth, they become the seasoned warrior who knows the challenge of the mountain and respects its strength and size. They have been to the top, they know the glory.

This time of year leads many of us to examine the new year with boldness. Like the youthful climber, we declare that we are going to conquer the mountains that lay before us and we set goals and aspirations to accomplish those goals. This is a beautiful character trait of youth. Some of us are cynical, having tried to climb mountains in the past and failed. Yet, we must not let our past failures dictate our futures. We must become the seasoned climber who slowly and deliberately climbs to the crest. So we make reasonable goals and lay out resolutions to conquer. With joy and zeal, we start the climb. We read the first book on our list, we wake early to spend time in devotion, we eat right/exercise each day for a time. We long to conquer. We long to be victorious. We long to see the view from the mountain. Many will stop their resolutions and become disillusioned with the climb. Some will check off their lists and move on to the next adventure without pause. But for those who climb the mountain and stop to observe the view, we are reminded of our smallness. Our successes become the ground upon which we see the glory of the heavens. Our failures become another rock to walk past along the path to the summit. We climb to be reminded of the greatness of the God above and the smallness of our own frame. Though we have laid the mountain beneath our feet, the view is so magnificent that it silences our boast.

I long for the silent aw of the mountain-top view that God has for us. I long to stand in victorious climb at the top of the cliff and see the greatness of God. To be reminded of my smallness. And to know that my smallness does not hinder me from seeing God. Not because I climbed the mountain, but because He made the mountain available to climb. In Exodus God gives us a picture of the mountain. The people encamp at the bottom of the mountain and God’s presence remains at the peak. A storm cloud of holy purity, He warns the people not to touch the mountain or they will die. Moses and Joshua alone are permitted to make the climb. Yet, for you and me, Christ has climbed the mountain of God on our behalf and has made a way for us to commune with the Most High God! You have been granted access to God by God-come-down, Jesus Christ! You could not climb the summit to see God. So God, in His infinite mercy, came down to you and made a way for you. So, climb! Gather up your zeal and all the energy you can! Strive to know Jesus this year. Strive because He has made a way and you CAN know Him! Stake claim that you are going to climb the difficult mountains and stand in awe at the Lord of glory from the summit!

I want to encourage you to climb the mountain this year in a very specific way. I don’t believe that you should simply set some random goal (though goals are good things). Physical goals are fine… physical training is of some value, but Godliness is greater in every way (1 Timothy 4:8). So, aim high! Aim to be like Christ in everything. Strive to commune with the Lord on such a level that you overflow with the Love that only He can give! Climb. Seek joy. Then, when you reach the top of your mountain, look around and be reminded of the glory of God how much more there is to see and glorify!

Read your Bible daily. Pray in every moment. Keep a list of prayer needs and address them daily. Challenge yourself to find your entertainment in Christ and knowing Him. Make your moments matter. Invest in a brother or sister in Christ. Create great works of art in praise to God’s glory. Write the book God laid on your heart. Share the Gospel with one person a day. But, above all else: STRIVE TO KNOW CHRIST!

Climb the mountain with me. Let’s do this.

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!

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

Galatians 2:7-10; Brief Thoughts

7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

The modern western church holds in high esteem people of influence. Pastors are valued because of the size of their congregation or the reach of their pulpit. Credence is given to men who can market well and appeal to a large audience. Leaders are given honor because of their ability to engage people, often ignoring or dismissing a lack of character. Not so with the early church! These men of God held in high esteem those who with honesty and integrity presented the gospel clearly.

When Paul stood in the Jerusalem council and presented his case for the uncircumcised, the other apostles accepted his ministry because of “the grace that was given to” Paul (v. 9). Paul had been a murderous agent of the Pharisees prior to his conversion. Yet, Christ saw fit to grant him grace and deliver him from his own sinfulness. Surely if God can transform His enemy into a child, then He can do the same for the ignorant Gentile who knows nothing of God’s Law. Consider further Saul’s reputation among other Christians. Prior to Damascus, Paul was a scourge to Christianity. He was a villainous adversary to Christ and the church. Ananias received a special vision from God and granted grace to Paul as a result – accepting him into the fellowship of believers. Finally, a man who was such a horrible adversary could not be expected to be given such a fruitful ministry. Yet, Christ saw fit to grant Paul grace in his ministry. It was that grace that served as Paul’s resume.

Consider for a moment what it would be like if your resume was entirely based on Christ’s work in your life. Consider the strength of a fellowship that recognizes others as equal recipients of the gift of life. What would it be like if you were judged by the work and effort that God has done for and in you? Further, what if you granted favor to other believers simply because God has given grace to them? What if you granted grace to others according to the grace that has been extended to you in Christ? Infinite, marvelous, and matchless grace has been given to you! Indeed, this is what we are called to do as Christians. We are to see one another through the lens of grace. We are to recognize our state as those who have been redeemed not by merit, but by the grace of an infinitely loving King!

Such an understanding of grace does not permit a Christian to hold another to a system of religious law. Rather, it drives the believer towards holiness and, instead of merely avoiding sin, leads to a community of faith that exhorts one another to live holy according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Scripture. In such a community, there is no place for superstars. When Paul explains that the same grace worked through Peter as has worked in Paul, he levels any sense of superiority in the life of the Christian community. If anyone was worthy of extra prestige and honor in the first century of the church, it was certainly Peter. Yet, Christianity is not a merit-based, legal system. It is, in contrast, a system based on the grace of God and it is dependent on the mercy of God for its life.

When Paul sought wisdom over the question of circumcision of Gentile believers, he sought the community of faith and entrusted himself to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Trusting in the grace of Christ, Paul stood before the Jerusalem council as an equal recipient of the Grace of God and counted upon that grace to manifest itself among them. Paul and Peter did not get bogged down in the minutia of laws and legal morality. They lived in a system of grace with one another, addressing struggles and difficulties when they rose. Rather than setting up sign-posts and rules that explained what you could or could not do, the early church favored asking deep questions about motivation and dealing with each individual struggle as they arose. In this, the community thrived and holiness blossomed. When the community spends its efforts attempting to manage behavior, the community becomes lifeless. When the community strives towards holiness by exhorting each other in grace, then that community thrives!

Galatians 1:10; Brief Thoughts

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Many modern church leaders seek fame and publicity. They persist in ensuring that their names are known and exalted in this life. In effort to secure the praise of men, many compromise the message of the gospel. Some diminish the gospel by omitting difficult parts and others choose to emphasize one aspect at the cost of the whole gospel. Seeking the praise of men, these leaders steal the glory due to God and proudly place crowns on their own heads. These men are to be pitied and mourned over, they will one day answer to the God of glory, whom they have stolen from.

Paul was accused of such a theft. The men who accused Paul of this robbery of God’s glory were guilty of the very crime of which they claimed Paul was complicit. Seeking the praise of men, they postured themselves as holy leaders of the church. Still Paul, honestly presenting his own testimony, insists that he is not seeking the praise of men. Indeed, if Paul were seeking such accolade from mortal men, then the letter to the Galatians would never have been written. Such a testimony of Jesus’ glory and righteousness does not serve to make Paul great. Rather, as Paul will soon testify, his former success as a righteous Jewish Pharisee amounts to no value in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any glory he once tried to attain for himself is now counted as nothing and has resulted in scorn and accusation from men, but will result in honor from God.

A man cannot be a servant of Christ if he strives for the praise of men. Further, it is the motive that determines the position. Paul states that he “would not be a servant of Christ, if [he was] still trying to please man.” If Paul’s motive is to please men, then he proves himself to be a servant of men and not of God. Likewise, those who profess Jesus as King and then serve motives to enhance their own glory are not serving Jesus, but their own self-interests. So, Paul calls into question the accusation itself. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” The answer is obvious that Paul is not attempting to please men.

Paul will later explain that he has seen what it means to please men. He has stood among the apostles and rebuked them for showing deference to the Jews over the Gentiles believers. He has challenged Peter and defended the truth of Jesus in the face of radical hatred. Paul is acquainted with the reality of preference. He knows what it looks like and he has scorned it. He has surrendered prestige and honor for the sake of Christ.

Grace extends beyond me. If praise lands on me and not Christ, then I have cheapened grace. You see, if I matter more than Christ or if I am concerned about praise that I received, then I have brought the value of grace to my level. Here is a story that may serve as an example of what I mean:

I was once eating with an old friend from high school who was asking me about what I do for a living. My friend was of another religion. As a pastor, I have a few answers to this question, I reached into my bag-o-answers and said, “I spend a lot of time counseling people and helping them to live a full life. I walk alongside people whose marriages and lives are in turmoil and help them to understand a better way to live. I teach people what life is and help them to live it to the fullest.” My friend nodded sympathetically and said, “You are a great man who is really making a difference in this world.” At that moment I realized I had failed to exalt Christ. In my attempt to explain what I did, I soften the message of the gospel. I took the Gospel of salvation and explained it as if I was the message. Sorrow filled my heart the moment I heard him say this. The Gospel is so much greater than me. Though I may do some good things, Christ actually forgives sin and changes the souls of believers to give them life! He is the gospel, not me! Yet I had reduced the ministry of the gospel to my work! Needless to say, I no longer answer that way. Now my answer is, “I teach people about one true God, Jesus Christ!” It’s a much more awkward answer, but it is true.

When we seek the praises of men, we drag the Gospel down to the dirt and cover up the real message. Let the Gospel stand exalted in Heaven! That way it will save people and lift believers up to Heaven!

In evaluating our own understanding of grace and exaltation of the Gospel, there are some questions we can ask ourselves.

  1. When I am called by God to say or do something, am I pausing to consider the reactions of men?
  2. When Scripture is plain, am I softening what it says in order to make it more palatable to those around me?
  3. When I meet someone for the first time, am I honest and transparent about the gospel or am I attempting to please the other person?
  4. When I see injustice, do I answer with the gospel or do I hesitate because of the other people around me?

 

Galatians 1:2-3; Brief Thoughts

To the Churches of Galatia:

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, …

Peace is never safe and grace always comes at cost to the giver. Law is always safe and order only costs the one on whom the law is imposed. Law and order provide a modicum of security at the expense of freedom and joy. But grace and peace offer freedom and joy to the recipient. Security and safety are not to be found in the adventure of grace and peace.

Grace is given by the Supreme Lord at cost to Himself. He has granted forgiveness of sins and has refused to hold those under grace to the Law. In such a great gift, God has granted freedom to those who believe. Grace is contradictory to the law. Law demands obedience in exchange for security, grace gives freedom at cost of control. God has determined that He will walk with man. He walks alongside mankind, engaging in the seemingly mundane designs of life. So Christ grants grace for freedom over law for control.

Peace can only be attained by risk. One must surrender and trust the One who promises peace. If you wish to know peace, then you must surrender your need to control the circumstances in your own life. This surrender of control and security in exchange for lasting, real peace seems difficult. Mankind is not inclined to “let go.” Every person desires to shape their own destiny and decide their own fate. The irony of such a struggle is that it is dependent on controlling external circumstances – circumstances that are decidedly out of a man’s control. These circumstances that we so fear are beyond our ability to control, yet they are held fast in the hands of the Almighty God. He has power over all things and keeps all things (Col. 1:17). Indeed, He is the only active agent that can change ANY circumstance. Thus, He is the only one who can guarantee peace. Yet the peace can only come when trust is given entirely to Him. A man must surrender his need to make himself righteous and trust that Jesus’ sacrifice will rescue those who believe.

Further, this grace and peace come from God who has a particular relationship with us. He is “our Father” (v.3). He is Lord over all, and He is our Father. He has an intimately personal investment in you as a person. He is the One whom you derive your character from as a believer. He is the One who has taken care of you. Think for a moment about Jesus’ example of fatherhood in Luke 11:1-13. God is a good father who gives good things to His children. He gives peace. In Luke, this peace is particularly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Father gives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to grant peace and grace to those who believe! What greater peace can be given than the constant presence of the Father to guide and walk life with us!? There is no greater peace a person can have than the presence of the One who is Lord over all!

God the Father and Jesus Christ provide perfect peace and sufficient grace for those who believe in Christ Jesus. If you wish to have this grace and peace, you must trust in Jesus for salvation. This means that you admit that you have sinned against God- that means that you have broken His law and attempted to secure your own righteousness apart from Him (an impossible task). Trust in Christ’s atoning work for your sins – past, present, and future. Jesus died on the cross, taking the sins of those who believe upon Himself. In His death, your sin is defeated! Consider this for a moment: when Jesus died, all your sins were future sins. You trust in Christ, He takes ALL your sins upon himself. The Gospel is well stated succinctly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11.

To put it simply:

  1. Recognize you are a sinner in need of forgiveness from God.
  2. Trust that Jesus, who was perfect and sinless, died – taking sin upon Himself.
  3. Trust that Jesus overcame death by being resurrected from the dead.
  4. Surrender to Him as Savior and Lord.

You can pray to God and ask His forgiveness and He will give it. Place your trust in Him. There is no law that can save you, no amount of self-made-righteousness that can rescue you from your own wickedness. Only trusting in Christ can save you.