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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!

Galatians 3:1-6; Brief Thoughts

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? 5Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – 6just as Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

When Jesus addressed the greed of the Pharisees in Luke 16:14-31, He concluded His discourse by explaining that the Pharisees would not believe even “if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). It is pent up in the heart of man to pursue self-righteousness. The appeal of the I saved myself posture is tremendous. Likewise, it is equally appealing to feel a great sense of self-exalted pride in our faulty attempts to garner some sort of leverage above those around us.

Indeed, that is the quandary facing the Galatian believers. They are striving to be proven holy on their own terms rather than trusting completely in Christ for their righteousness. They have decided that they need to add some sort of pious action to their already redeemed state. Yet, this is the struggle of the Pharisee in Luke, the pre-resurrection disciple in John, and in the anticipating crowds of Matthew. Humanity strives to prove itself. Born in the human spirit is a need to be right with God. Equally prevalent in the heart of man is a propensity toward law in an effort to answer the need and an unwillingness to surrender that need to God.

Paul is shocked by his brothers and sisters. Surely those who have seen the messiah crucified before their own eyes would not turn back to the religious system that demanded such a sacrifice when the sacrifice has been paid! His shock is warranted and understandable. What fool would surrender the gift of grace for the regulation of law!? So Paul poses the question in verse two, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” His assertion is clear – the Galatians received the miraculous salvation through no work of their own. They did not become believers because they somehow earned it or by some merit of their own doing. They became believers because they heard the gospel and believed it. The Spirit did not come to them because they were good enough. He came precisely because they were not good enough and Christ was good in their place! Christians enter into the sanctification process by the power of the Holy Spirit, a relationship that is initiated and completed by the Spirit (Philippians 1:6). Paul’s shock is manifest in three questions – 1. Who initiated your salvation? 2. Was your suffering vain? 3. Who enables and empowers your sanctification?

The Spirit begins the work and the Spirit completes the work. Thus, the correct course of action in a believer’s life is an abandonment of self-righteous attempts towards righteousness in favor of obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This striving to follow the Lord may look similar to an attempt to live according to the Law. Indeed, people who strive to follow the Spirit will often strive towards holiness and those who seek to follow the law are seeking to live holy lives. However, there is a distinction – The pursuit of the law is a pursuit of self-exalting works in an effort to be saved. In contrast, a pursuit of the Spirit is a laying down of self-exaltation in order to love and know Christ more. The one pursuing holiness by the Law submits to laws that claim to make them righteous and are subsequently condemned by that law. The one pursuing holiness by the Spirit is set free from restrictions and is enabled to be righteousness because they are able!

One who trusts in the law for their salvation nullifies the grace of Jesus. If you trust in the law for your salvation, you will not be saved. But, if by faith you place your trust in the work of Jesus Christ you will be saved from the wrath of God. All the suffering and struggles that the Galatian believers endured validate and prove their faith. They suffered because they shifted from Judaism or Paganism respectively and surrendered to Christ. Their society rejected them, their prior religious organizations rejected them, and many lost family and friends for the sake of the gospel. So Paul asks, was it in vain? This question cuts to the heart. If one returns to religion for salvation, then they are spurning the grace of the gospel and all that early suffering was for naught.

Finally, Paul asks who it is that enables the miraculous, life-shifting, change that they are experiencing. It is not the Law that brings the miraculous. It is not the law that changes hearts. It is not the law that is manifest in their community. It is the Spirit of God. To add a requirement of obedience to the law is to credit the law for the work of the Spirit. So, Paul challenges the reader to abandon the law as a means of salvation and trust the Spirit.

Our example in this text is Abram who was counted righteous apart from circumcision (the law). God makes his covenant with Abram before He institutes a law. Abram is counted righteous before God because “he believed the LORD” (Gen. 15:6). According to Romans 4, believers share in this kind of salvation. We are counted righteous because we share in this same faithful belief that Abram exemplifies.

Oh dear Christian, do not return to a yoke of slavery by instituting a law over your soul. Trust in Christ and in Christ alone for your salvation and do not add to the work of the Spirit. Only in trusting Christ will you be able to pursue a holy life.

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)

 

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 2:7-10; 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 2:1-6; Brief Thoughts

2 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery – 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

When the joy and delight of one’s life on centered on Christ, there will inevitably be those who desire to usurp that joy by laying restriction and rule atop of freedom. Indeed, those who do not know the freedom of Christ will either long for it, or they will seek to control it. Such was the case in the Galatian church. Those who had been given freedom in Christ Jesus were being instructed by others who had come to join in the community to lay aside that freedom for the sake of an appearance of holiness. This holiness was not genuine but was a legalistic and self-righteous attempt to achieve holiness through their own actions.

Their message was antithetical to Paul’s own commission. As he recounts in verse 2, Paul corroborated his preaching of the Gospel by setting it before the Jerusalem council so that he could make sure the Gospel he was teaching was correct (Acts 15). Fourteen years after beginning to preach the gospel, Paul sought to ensure that the gospel he was teaching was correct. Paul’s efforts to validate himself by seeking the wisdom of the apostles stands in stark contrast to those who demanded such legalism professed by those who were infiltrating the Galatian church. There are no arrogant demands that people submit to his message. Rather there is a humble submission to the message as it stands clear in Christianity.

Paul submits to the clear message of the gospel. Influence and prestige, once so highly esteemed in the life of Saul the Pharisee, were cast aside for the sake of truth. Paul does not bend to the influential or nor does he bend himself to become influential. As is often the case with the most influential people in Christian history, Paul is more concerned with the message than with his own honor and prestige.

Further, Paul does not slip in. Paul’s efforts to teach the gospel are extremely transparent. He lays his teaching out before the apostles with a brother, Barnabas, alongside to hold him accountable. He stands exposed, ready to be corrected. Those who would profess self-made righteousness do not present themselves so clearly. They hold back their message, crafting words in such a way as to hide their true meanings and agenda. This is not the way of Christ! Christians speak boldly the gospel and when we are wrong, we seek the admonition and correction of the community of faith.

Finally, Paul does not accept the voice of the famous. Take note, dear reader, there are no accolades or praises given to men and those in authority in this passage. As Paul recounts his experience it is as one who has sought truth within a community of gospel believing Christians. He does not slip in, he does not seek to control the faith of others, and he does not attempt to demand that others live by his own convictions. He simply and purely lays out the gospel with clarity and strength.

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize when false teachers attempt to slide in and usurp freedom. This passage gives us some characteristics to look out for.

  1. They force their morality on others. These legalists prize morality over truth. Paul offers a contrast in Titus, explaining that he was not required to get circumcised in Jerusalem (v.3). The gospel relies on Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers. Thus, those who follow Christ trust the Scripture to convict and call others to changed lives and particular morality.
  2. They slip in, unnoticed. False teachers are never obvious at first. It takes time for the revelation of falsehood to be revealed. More often than not, those who seek to rule over the church and deprive others of gospel life appear first as friends and even Godly leaders. Yet, time will reveal their deceptions and motives as contrary to the gospel.
  3. They prize influence over transparency and submission. Those who know not the redemption of Christ value their own authority and the fame and prestige of others to a higher degree than humble submission and honesty. These false brothers will speak with great admiration of those who have accomplished much with worldly success while disparaging the persistent ministry of faithful saints who bear much spiritual fruit with little material gain. They will quote famous false teachers and excuse overt sin or error if there is material success. They will appeal to positional authority instead of trusting the truth to defend them. They will cite their position as if it was given them by God and state that as their authority to make decisions.

When seeking to lead the church, we must be diligent to watch out for those who are false teachers.