Monthly Archives: August 2015

Galatians 5:1-12

It is difficult to imagine ever being freed from slavery and then actively seeking to return to bondage. Yet that’s exactly what the Galatians are attempting that has prompted this letter from Paul.

 

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

 

Christ set the Galatians free in order that they might remain free, according to Paul (5.1). Because of this, Paul exhorts the Galatians to continue standing firm in that liberty, and not enslave themselves with the Law again. When people submit themselves to the authority of the Law, they are subject to the entire Law (5.3). The Law is a cruel taskmaster, and impossible to completely obey—the more obedient one is to it, the more self-righteous and odious they become (remember the Pharisees?). The Galatians’ choice to be legalists puts them at odds with God’s method of salvation, which is grace. They are cutting themselves off from Christ (5.4), or being rendered inoperable (αταργεω) in their spirituality in Christ. Paul points out that the Galatians are either seeking justification by grace or justification by Law; they cannot have both (5.4). This is the whole purpose for the letter: to shine a light on their choice so that they don’t make it blindly—to show them the worthlessness of the path they have thus far been choosing. Since Paul calls them “brothers,” we know he’s talking to Christians. Is he suggesting that the Galatians have lost their salvation? Not exactly. The spirit of this letter is not one of anathema—Paul isn’t condemning or cursing the Galatians; he’s trying to teach them the gospel more accurately. Their ignorance on grace justification has led them to become ineffective, or inoperable, in Christ. To suggest that a sin or mistake or lack of learning has resulted in the Galatians’ loss of salvation would be illogical: if this is true, for example, then one small step under the Law would result in a loss of salvation. It is preferable, rather, to see the intent of the letter and this part of the letter in the context of time. Paul is attempting to correct wrong behavior on the Galatians’ part. Now that they’ve had a light shined on legalism, they can better choose which method of justification they want. If they embrace justification by faith, they will be waiting for the hope of righteousness like other Christians (5.5). If they embrace legalism, they will be rejecting Christ. Which will become their pattern? A person with full knowledge of the grace vs. works paradigm who actively chooses the way of legalism is openly rejecting Christ and knows it. This is not a person who “loses” his salvation; it’s a person who actively doesn’t want it. Our Calvinist brothers would say that he didn’t truly get saved the first time; we Arminians would suggest that this passage fits with our understanding of the one ability God gives us through His prevenient grace: the ability to choose. In keeping with that, those who keep choosing legalism over Christ are actively choosing to reject grace.

 

Early in their lives, I had to teach my sons not to play in the street. Believe me, it wasn’t a situation in which I simply said “don’t do it,” and they humbly obeyed. There were moments when their game of catch led them to the street. They didn’t accidentally end up there; they actively chose to go into the dangerous street and play. Had they made that a pattern, there was a significant chance that they could have been killed. Over time, they accepted my instruction and didn’t play in the street; they were not killed by passing cars. Just because they played in the street a few times didn’t mean automatic death (hyper-Wesleyan salvation loss); it meant that they needed to be corrected in order to avoid that. And just because I wanted them to be alive didn’t mean they could wander in the street any time they wanted without consequence (Calvinist). Similarly, Paul corrects the Galatians from their behavior—and now that they’ve had this light shined on this issue, they must willingly stay in the yard of grace or willingly go play in the street of legalism. They now know the consequences. The individual or group of people who has led them down this path of legalism is doing a very bad thing, and Paul has strong feelings toward them. In fact, he claims he wishes that legalism teacher would just go ahead and “humiliate” himself (5.12). The word that he actually employs here is ἀποκόψονται—to castrate. Paul is not happy with the false teacher.

 

One fact becomes abundantly clear in Galatians: you can’t serve both legalism and Jesus. If you choose obedience to a code of rules as your method of salvation, you aren’t saved from anything—period. You have been set free from the rules; you now walk in grace, and you should be receiving instruction, growing, correcting your path, and in so doing becoming a beacon for others. Where is your faith? Is it in Christ, or in you? Paul’s imperative to the Galatians is for you as well: stand firm and do not enslave yourself again to legalism. God will gently lead you in the path you should walk. And how do you hear from Him? You cultivate a habit of reading His Word and praying, and you cultivate relationships with others in the community that He founded, the Church. You hear from God in your prayer time and in church. He speaks to you in the quiet of the morning, and in community. Don’t try to cling to just one; His voice is consistent in your quiet time and in your church community, and that’s how you know you’re hearing from Him.

 

The rules are done. Now you’re free. Live like it.

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Galatians 4:21-31

I look forward to November each year, because it is the start of quail season. There are few things more enjoyable than taking dogs out to hunt this elusive bird that can seemingly hide under a blade of grass. Training good pointer hounds can be a chore, though: one minute they have their noses on the trail of the quail—the next moment, a rabbit has run past them and they are distracted, lunging for the rabbit. A good dog is one who is trained to stay in the present, his nose to the trail. His ability to be a good dog is wrapped up in whether or not he has ultimate faith in the mission that his owner has for him, as opposed to creating his own. It’s pretty familiar, actually.

 

21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written,“Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;
For more numerous are the children of the desolate than of the one who has a husband.” 28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say?“Cast out the bondwoman and her son, For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.

 

Having shown that legalism is the opposite of the gospel, and that those who follow it are rejecting Christ, Paul now moves in for the kill. He challenges his Galatian audience to think carefully about the ramifications of continued subjugation to the Law. He wants them to come face-to-face with the consequences from which they’ve already been rescued. He sees Hagar and Sarah as type archetypes of the covenants. His audience will definitely remember the story: Abraham, rather than wait for God to bring about His promise, takes matters into his own hands and has a son through Hagar. God still fulfills His promise through Sarah, so Abraham has two sons: one born of the promise, and one born in the flesh. But because Abraham got involved with Hagar, he also invited trouble into his life. These become archetypes of the two covenants: the Law and Jesus Christ. The Law is slavery; freedom comes in Jesus Christ. Paul’s ultimate point is not subtle: those who take such pride in Jewish legalism would be loathe to admit that they are descendants of Ishmael—that would be the ultimate humiliation, for Hagar was a bondwoman and Sarah was the mother of the promise. His audience is forced to conclude, via his allegory, that the superior covenant is the one through Jesus Christ. Moreover, the act of turning from Christ back to the Law is tantamount to Abraham’s not waiting for God’s promise—it’s man’s belief in himself superseding that of God.

 

I’d sure like to live in a nicer house with more room. I’d like to drive cars that don’t break down every few months. I’d like to earn enough income to support my family and save a little for the future. And if I started my own contracting company, I could achieve all of that (or so I tell myself). But God didn’t call me to be a contractor, and has promised to provide all of my needs. So each time I think such thoughts, I am faced with a choice: to trust God or myself. Just as the Galatians were faced with the choice of trusting Christ for their salvation or trusting in their ability to obey the Law, so I am faced with a “trust” choice, as well. Whom will I trust?

 

The enemy would dearly love to distract us from the present—which is where God wants us. The enemy wants us chasing after rabbits, instead of keeping our noses to the quail trail. It takes a denial of “self” and an elevation of Christ to trust Him for your salvation—as opposed to your ability to obey rules. It’s the same denial of “self” and elevation of Christ that is required for every moment of living by faith. When we trust in ourselves, we are turning away from God’s provision. Trust that He’s in control of your situation, and don’t invite Hagar Trouble into your life.

Galatians 4:8-20

Many legalists don’t recognize themselves as legalists. They think they’re real Christians, separated from the world in holiness. They think they’re living a sanctified life, and want you to live it with them. They don’t mean harm. But the truth of the matter is that what they are embracing is NOT the gospel, and all they have to offer themselves and you IS harm.

 

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.12 I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; 13 but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14 and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. 15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. 18 But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you— 20 but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

 

 

Paul is deeply grieved for the Galatians, because they have turned back again to the weak, worthless and elemental things—they have abandoned their freedom in Christ and have enslaved themselves to legalism again. It was bad enough to hold with legalism in a time in which they had never known God. The Galatians, however, were redeemed by Christ—and then embraced rule-following. It grieves him because he has worked hard and tirelessly for them, and to sink back into legalism and pride is to make his work seem of no effect. Their legalism grieves him because they cannot embrace it and Christ at the same time—which means that they cannot embrace it and him at the same time, either. He is their enemy as long as they are clinging to righteousness-by-rules. Thus we note an important principle often overlooked by Christians who think they must work hard to be saved: legalism isn’t just a harmless aberration of Christian thought that should be scolded. Legalism is antithetical to Christianity. It is to be expunged with extreme prejudice. It is the OPPOSITE of the gospel of Christ.

 

It is simply pride that motivates us to enslave others with our rules. We must be conscious of this and get out of the way of the things that God wants to do in the lives of others. Christ’s sacrifice brings us liberty; legalism enslaves. Do you think it’s harmless to “hold people to a higher standard” and “work” for holiness? Listen to the words of the Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis—a talented musician raised in the Assemblies of God in Ferriday, Louisiana: “I was raised a good Christian, but I couldn’t make it. Too weak I guess.” He later told People magazine: “Salvation bears down on me. I don’t wanna die and go to hell. But I don’t think I’m heading in the right direction. … I’m lost and undone, without God or son. I should’ve been a Christian, but I was too weak for the gospel.” Here is a man who was raised to believe that a Christian followed certain rules, and that if he failed to follow them he needed to get saved over and over again. He frequently repented of his sinful ways, only to fall back into them again in a pattern of self-loathing and fear and failure. Where do you think Lewis got the idea that he was “too weak” to be a Christian? What kind of life is it to wait fearfully for the judgment of God every day of your life, believing that you have no hope because you are too weak to head in the right direction? The people who raised Lewis that way are legion in our movement, and they think they mean well. They believe that they are separating themselves from the world in a spiritual fashion, and that they are doing the right thing. But the end result of their theology is misery, fear, self-hate, and failure. How, exactly, is this the gospel—the “good news” for man? It’s not the gospel; it’s a lie. And it’s time we all face the hard truth that Paul levels at the Galatians in chapter 4.

 

To embrace this thinking is to reject Jesus Christ.

 

Evangelicals do need a theology of culture—a philosophy that enables them to engage the culture effectively for the gospel, rather than carving out an enclave of separatism that removes them from the culture. The separatism is distinctly anti-Christian; go back and read your gospel and show me where Jesus did that. But until we can develop our theology of culture, it would at least be helpful to stop enslaving one another with our rules and regulations. Haven’t we done irreparable harm to enough people like Jerry Lee Lewis? If the end result of your theological worldview is that you live a life of fear-soaked, separatist self-loathing—then you are not following Jesus Christ at all. You are your own savior, and you are failing.

 

Stop it.

 

God wants you to know Him, not cower from Him. He wants to meet with you in the cool of the morning, not harm you. He wants you to enjoy the gift of life that He’s given you, not grit your teeth and get through it. He wants you to trust Christ, not yourself. Paul encouraged the Galatians to embrace liberty in Christ and be free from legalism; that encouragement is extended to you today.

Galatians 4:1-7

The Founding Fathers of the American Revolution did not undertake their doings lightly. They knew that there were two values that could provide the philosophical underpinning of a nation: liberty and equality. Both were nice, but were also mutually exclusive. In order to have liberty, they’d have to back-burner equality, since different people are made differently, motivated differently, and gifted differently. In order to have equality, they’d have to back-burner liberty, since the process of making everyone equal could only be accomplished by limiting personal liberty. After careful deliberation and debate, they ratified their Constitution in 1789—about the same time that another revolution in France was basing its own dealings on “equality.” The bloodbath that ensued there still serves as an object lesson in what happens when fallible humans attempt to play the role of God in creating an “equal” world—tyranny. Our own Constitution enshrined as its chief over-arching value the notion of liberty—and this notion did not arise in a purely political context. It arose over centuries of discourse about the teachings of Christianity, in which liberty played a key role as a value. In fact, the historical moment where man first believed that he could be free from political tyranny had its roots in the Christian teaching that man could be free from the spiritual tyranny of the Law. It was the entire focus of Paul’s teaching to the Galatians, as a matter of fact.

 

1Now I say: as long as the heir is under age, he does not differ at all from a servant, although he is lord [owner] of all, 2but he is under guardians and trustees until the set time of the father. 3So also we, while children, were enslaved by the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5so that He might set free those who were under the Law, in order that we may receive adoption. 6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our heart, crying, “Abba, Father.” 7Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

In his continued explanation of how Christians are no longer under the Law, Paul next employs an effective metaphor: that of the adoption process. It is worth noting that in this section he appeals to both Jewish and Roman sensibilities, indicating a possibly mixed audience. In the Roman custom, an heir would have no greater standing in the household than an actual servant—until he was old enough to take possession of the inheritance. Until that time had passed, he would live under the rules of tutors and managers, with little freedom. Similarly, a period of time had to pass in which humanity lived under the rules of a tutor. This tutor was training the heir—mankind—to understand the incomprehensible and awful notion of God’s holiness and righteousness. While living under that authority, man had no freedom. But as the “time set by the father” (4.2) came to pass, mankind moved from this miserable position to one of excellence, because he officially took possession of the inheritance. Now, those who trust Christ for salvation rather than the Law are no longer servants, but adopted children of God. This is why God has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts, Who reinforces our hearts’ cry of “Abba, Father.” This curious saying is also designed by Paul to pull together the Gentile and Jewish elements of the Church: “Abba” is an Aramaic (Jewish) saying, while “Father” reflects Roman sensibilities. Regardless of our ethnic and religious background, all are called to God through Jesus Christ—and whosoever believes is adopted as God’s children. This was all accomplished through the actions of God’s Son, Who was fully God (“His Son”, 4.5), and fully man (“born of a woman”, 4.5). He was also born into a time in which He had the same tutor as the rest of mankind—the Law. His actions fulfilled and validated the Law, and He became mankind’s inheritance.

 

Nothing has changed since Paul’s time. For 2,000 years, we’ve been eligible for adoption into the family of God. We’ve been released from the harsh tutor of the Law and from legalism. If we stop trusting in our own abilities to obey rules, we can have the freedom of legal heirs, rather than mewling slaves who must obey the Law. Knowing this, why then do we frequently go right back to living as though we are still “enslaved (δεδουλωμενοι) by the “elemental spiritual forces of the world” (4.3)? When we lived under the tyranny of the Law, we were still among the slaves. We had no freedom, and were not treated as though we were full family members. Now that we are adopted into God’s family on the basis of faith in the grace of God through His Son, why do we want to go back and submit to the harsh tutor of rules?

 

It is still a problem, and it seems largely wrapped up in the problem of spiritual pride. THIS is the route I took to obtain my place in God’s family, and therefore it must also be the route that YOU take. The first problem that exists with this mode of thought is the notion that you did ANYTHING to “obtain” your place in God’s family. Someone Else did this, and you believed God on the basis of faith alone. Someone Else did the heavy lifting, and you walked in and took possession of the inheritance He offered you as a consequence. You did nothing; He did everything. If you will remind yourself of this fact, you will avoid the second problem: the belief that everyone else must follow the same rules as you. The concept is borne out in Pauline scripture quite plainly: rules are slavery; Christ is freedom. You shouldn’t enslave yourself—and you CERTAINLY shouldn’t enslave others in the name of Christ.

 

When we finally get away from requiring everyone to be as miserably enslaved as we ourselves are, we will begin to understand the liberty that is proclaimed through Christ. This liberty concept is alone in the religious world: no other belief system has this concept as ingrained in its framework as Christianity. There is a reason that “freedom” exists and thrives largely in “Christianized” countries—places that have been heavily influenced by Christian theology to the extent that they understand the notion of liberty. Being free from the tyranny of Law led to mankind’s imagining that he could be free from the tyranny of political governance. If we are free to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling,” perhaps we are then free to govern ourselves, as well. Long before 1776 arrived, Western Europe had been engaged in a 700-year-long discussion on the balance between loyalty to one’s governing authorities and freedom. The American Revolution was simply an arrival of the “fullness of time.” Within a hundred years of our inception, our country would go to war with itself in a conscience struggle about slavery—decision time on how “free” we believed in being. When Jefferson wrote that all men are born with these rights—they are not bestowed by any government—he wrote something revolutionary and powerful. The Founding Fathers understood “rights” in this way, not as “nice things that we wish we could have that perhaps the Supreme Court might give us….please….” Liberty is the over-arching value of this nation, and it is rooted in the notion that man is meant to be free from political tyranny as a consequence of his being free from spiritual tyranny. As you reflect on your own political liberty, bear in mind its philosophical relationship to that original revolution 2,000 years ago: when Christ’s willing submission to the twin tyrants of the Law and the political machine of Rome bought your eternal liberty.

 

And stop wasting time enslaving yourself and others in new rules and regulations. Every day, to the Christian, is Independence Day.

Galatians 3:15-29

Wile E. Coyote sure put a lot of trust in the Acme company. Regardless of the fact that the situation always turned out exactly the same—disastrously, for him—he continued to believe that Acme had the answers for him. We shake our heads at Wile E., but we are no different. We know that our ability to obey rules and be “righteous” is ineffectual, yet many of us still live by this perversion of the gospel. We trust ourselves, rather than Christ. That’s why we keep ending up falling of the tall cliff and landing in a cloud of dust, then getting up and walking away like an accordion.

 

15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

 

Paul continues his criticism of the legalism perversion of the gospel, and he now offers a compelling counter-argument regarding the nature and purpose of the Law that Judaizers say is sacrosanct. He points out that there was already a covenant in effect (Ge 15.18), and that it was predicated on faith. Abraham’s belief in God was the basis for his justification. God, he contends, is not going to just turn around and require a new system that invalidates the old. The object was always to reconcile man to God. If the Law were capable of doing that, there would have been no need for Jesus. Paul then explains what the Law DOES do: it shines a light on man’s sin, and shows the way to Christ. Just a quick read through the various offerings in Leviticus should look familiar to a Christian: these are all archetypes of the ultimate sacrifice. While the Law was convicting us of sin, it was also showing the way to Christ—like a teacher would, over time. Ergo, when Christ came, He didn’t invalidate the Law; He fulfilled it. He validated it in the most perfect way possible: He was the embodiment of its purpose and letter, and now that He had come it was fulfilled. Instead of being students, learning about evil and God’s holiness, we are now eligible to be sons and daughters of God. Regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, we are justified by the same means—faith.

 

Now that Christ has come, the Law is fulfilled, validated, and therefore of no effect. Now Christ is the Word. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we are justified by faith in God the Son, and God the Father reconciles us. God’s holiness is an awful standard that we are unable to reach; instead, He has reached down and given it, positionally, to us. This not only invalidates any bragging we may do regarding how “holy” and “righteous” we are; it also frees us to have real relationship with Him. The chasm has been bridged: righteousness has been given. Black or white, male or female, Jewish or Gentile—He has extended the same promise to all of us. Abstaining from movie theaters, alcohol, dancing, or secular music might be a way that you store up a tiny morsel of spiritual pride on which you feast in quiet moments of reflection, but it does not provide you with any righteousness whatsoever. In fact, believing that your actions save you perverts the true gospel and you are left with the filthy rags that pass for your righteousness. Faith in Christ is the only door by which men may enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Do you believe Him, like Abraham did before? Do you take Him at His word? Do you trust Him? That’s the real definition of righteousness. Whenever I am involved in evangelism, I never ask someone if they want to “ask Jesus into their heart.” I simply ask if they are ready to trust Christ for salvation, instead of themselves. When we believe in our own abilities to be obedient and righteous, we smash into that painted-on tunnel on the side of the mountain while trying to chase an elusive goal. And then we’re an accordion again.

 

Galatians 3:1-14

Like many other young men, when I was a kid I enjoyed a good “prison break” story. My favorite was Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo,” in which Edmund is wrongfully imprisoned, lives a meager and miserable existence in the walls of the prison fortress, and is almost completely hopeless. After years in prison, however, he manages to fake his own death and get his body thrown off of the cliff into the ocean below—where he slices through the body sack he’s been stuffed into and swims to freedom. Nothing was ever quite as exhilarating as reading, breathlessly, as Edmund escaped. I loved it. The reason, I’m sure, is that I was—even at that tender age—in love with freedom. I may not have realized it, but I was addicted to prison breaks because of the natural human yearning for freedom. Fortunately for me, someone eventually introduced me to the greatest “prison break” story of all time: the gospel.

 

1O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified? 2This is the only thing I want to find out from you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you really so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now finishing in the flesh? 4Did you experience so many things in vain, if indeed it was in vain? 5So does He Who supplies you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6Even so, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7Know, therefore, that it is those who are sons of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8The scriptures, seeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel ahead of time to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not obey everything written in the Book of the Law, to do them.” 11Now the fact that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident, for “The righteous will live by faith.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary: “He who does them shall live by them.” 13Christ set us free from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,” 14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

 

Paul chides the Galatians about their change of heart toward the gospel. The real gospel had been preached to them originally—Christ had been portrayed publicly before them as crucified—but they appear to have started in the Spirit and now were attempting to finish in their own power (3.3). Obeying someone’s rules for spirituality is simply exchanging one Savior for another—trading Jesus Christ for oneself. Paul is disgusted by it, because they had seemingly covered so much ground—but apparently had regressed. He provides some unimpeachable logic: the One that saved them and healed them and provided for them—did He do that through the Law that they now seem to want to obey (3.5)? Or did He do it by the Spirit? The answer is obvious. Next, Paul moves to defend his position scripturally: Abraham’s righteousness was credited to him on the basis of his believing God, not his obedience (3.6). So before the Law ever was, righteousness and justification on the basis of faith already was (3.7). What’s more, he offers, if someone disobeys any part of the Law, he’s guilty of being a lawbreaker—and history has already demonstrated that it’s impossible to truly obey the Law (3.10-11). The spectacular thing that Christ has done is to free the Galatians from that curse—to truly liberate them to live life for Christ and enjoy it.

 

Reading Galatians can be a breath of fresh air. If we’re living and walking in the grace of Christ, we may spend a good deal of time reading Paul elsewhere in the New Testament as he tells us to be good students of the Word and workers in the faith. He tells us to serve one another and love one another with our actions. If we’re serving one another in love and being devoted to the community of the believers, the first thing we’ll notice is that there is a bit of “work” involved in these activities—that is, we’re having to rearrange our priorities and invest extra time and money into things that don’t advance us personally. But this is not what saves us—it’s simply an outward manifestation of God’s love and grace toward us. It’s a natural response to His grace to show it to others. And when we ARE walking in this light, we may have a tendency to look at others’ reluctance to do so and wonder about their salvific status. And THAT’S modern-day Judaism. We aren’t saved BY loving and serving one another—we love and serve another because we are saved. We must never forget the distinction between the two.

 

Saved Christians must wrestle with sin. Habitual sin, new sin, old sin, sinful nature, sinful thinking. We cannot get away from this wrestling match, this side of eternity. However, our successful wrestling does not save us—we are saved by the grace of God which is given to us on the basis of faith. If we trust Christ for our salvation, we are saved—just as if we trust God for our provision, we are provided for. When we start to pass judgment on others, we are being “bewitched” ourselves. The gospel of Christ is liberating, because it frees us from the crushing notion that we can “obey” our way into heaven. History has already demonstrated that we cannot. Trusting Christ to provide what we cannot—rescue from this prison of perpetual sin—is true freedom.

 

Are you rebuilding the prison from which you were rescued? Are you still trying to obey your way into heaven? It’s hard to live life with a smile when you’re engaged in that sort of spiritual life—and you were definitely meant to enjoy this gift of life. Are you using your freedom in Christ to help forge chains of prison for others? No other religion in the world provides for this sort of spiritual freedom (it’s no accident that the notion of self-government and freedom arose in a Christianized culture and only flourishes in one, as well). Allow today to be a day of freedom—for you and for others. Nobody is obeying their way into heaven. Your willingness to abstain from drinking, dancing, smoking, and rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles will not get you one iota closer to Christ. Your place in heaven is secured by trusting Him for it. Remind yourself of this today and enjoy your freedom. Such a prison break is the moment in which real spiritual growth is possible.

Galatians 2:11-14

I see it a lot on the seminary campus: cool Christians. These aren’t your grandfather’s Christians—hard and uncompromising and unflinching in their doctrinaire ways—unsmiling in their presentation of the truth. These are hip, young “life coach” types—hipster preachers whose pulpit is the nearest Starbucks and who will twist themselves into any pretzel contortion to curry favor with the world. They’re always the first to start blogging about how Christians should be for gay marriage, and it’s almost entertaining to read their tortured logic. It’s one thing to “be all things to all men” (1 Co 9), but it’s quite another to back-burner entire elements of the transformative gospel of Jesus Christ in order to get the world to like you—and that seems to be the over-arching principle. “If the world will just start liking me, I can give them this message.” If the only way the world is going to like you is for you to water down the truth of the gospel, then that is some favor you can do without.

 

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. 12Until some had come from James, he had eaten with the Gentiles. But when they came he drew back and separated himself from them out of fear of those who were pro-circumcision. 13And the rest of the Jews joined in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by this hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they did not behave consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although a Jew, live like a Gentile and not a Jew, then how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?”

 

Paul had done an extraordinary thing. This same authority who had walked with the Lord and seen His miracles was being challenged by the upstart Paul. Cephas—Peter—had let Paul live with him for two weeks before his evangelistic ministry began, and was one of the undisputed leaders of the fledgling Church. What in the world would have possessed Paul to challenge this man to his face? On what authority did he do this? On the authority of his own apostolicity, which had come from God. Peter wasn’t infallible, and had done wrong. Paul, sensing the gospel’s message being threatened, rose to its defense. What had Peter done that had been so bad? Simply put, he had been guilty of acting contrary to the gospel. The Greek here is unflinching: ὑποκρίσει—hypocrisy. Hypocrisy has gotten quite a workout in modern usage, but in the first century it had some very specific nuances. A hypocrite, in the first-century Jewish culture, was an actor. Contrary to today, when actors are lauded and worshipped by a culture that is bereft of morality, actors in the first century were seen as the lowest form on the social ladder—pretenders, liars. The theatre was seen as the epitome of all that was immoral and evil, and many feared that its influence had led to the demise of the Greek empire and would eventually destroy the Roman. To accuse of someone of being a play-actor was to truly belittle them. Jesus had used this word frequently to describe the Pharisees, who merely acted the part of righteous. It was strong language, and not for faint-hearted. Nowadays, it just means “someone who believes in right or wrong in the presence of someone who doesn’t.” But when Paul throws this word around with regard to Cephas, he’s really lowering the cannon at him. How was Peter play-acting? He was calling himself by Christ’s name but was giving a friendly nod to Judaism itself. He was proclaiming the liberating gospel of Christ but behaving as though it were just a newer version of the Law. He was acting one way, and proclaiming another. This was no mere intellectual disagreement—what Peter was doing was fundamentally transforming the gospel. Paul, the newcomer to the faith, wasn’t having any of it. We learned from yesterday’s readings that he was motivated by the desire to spread the gospel, period. When the gospel came under threat, he stood up for it. When he was on Mars’ Hill, he was defending the gospel. When he was at Jerusalem, he was defending the gospel. Sometimes he defended it from threats without; other times, from threats within. In this instance, Paul was right and Peter was wrong—no one should have to be circumcised to be a Christian. What is particularly noteworthy is that Peter—the original apostle, the author of epistolary literature in the New Testament, the man who had walked with Christ—had become a man seeking the approval of other men, for however briefly. It took Paul’s confrontation to put him back on the right track, and preserve the integrity of the gospel.

 

How often do we play-act today? Do we proclaim one gospel and live another? It’s so easy to do in a postmodern society. Do we call ourselves by Christ’s name and NOT proclaim the gospel? That’s a form of play-acting, as well. Sometimes, our spiritual lives are lived on autopilot, and we coast on fumes. Of the two principal characters in today’s readings, one was a sincere man who had simply tried to win the approval of the Jews who had been rejecting him. The other was a sincere man who had had experience being one of those rejecters, and saw things a bit more clearly. They were both sincere men—but one of them had begun play-acting, and that play-acting was hurting the gospel. There are so many ways we live this scenario in our own culture: in our attempt to curry favor with a culture that has already rejected us, we often resort to unique measures of attaining “relevance,” for example. The “relevance” issue is at the heart of the Church’s current identity crisis, and an ongoing discussion about it is required. I have written about it here (http://wheelsofftheologian.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-reasonable-christian.html), and my friend has written about it here: (http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/02/do-we-really-need-to-be-culturally-relevant/). Feel free to jump into the discussion.

 

Are we so busy being relevant that we are compromising the truth of the gospel? Are we trying so hard to “be all things to all men” that we water down the transformational aspect of the gospel? When the gospel has lost that transformative element, and has merely become a defensible philosophy, we have become hypocrites. We turn Jesus’ good news into the world’s ho-hum message. And here’s a news flash for us: the world is STILL going to reject the gospel—even after watching us contort ourselves into pretzels. Play-acting is bad for the gospel. Has your life been changed by the grace of Christ? The world needs to hear that, whether or not they think they do. Don’t pretend you’re the “cool Christian”—just being a Christian precludes you from any possibility of being cool to begin with.