Monthly Archives: July 2018

Galatians 6:11-18

11See with what large letters I write to you with my own hand! 12It is those who wish to make a good showing in the flesh who would have you be circumcised, only so that they would not be persecuted for Christ. 13For those who are circumcised do not observe the law but want you to be circumcised, in order that they may boast in your flesh. 14Far be it from me to boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation. 16And as for those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy on them and on the Israel of God. 17From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

 

Paul now closes his letter, and his abrupt ending, though anticlimactic, drives home his point. Those who teach the legalism stuff have a vested interest in being the Galatians’ religious progenitors. They are taking some sort of perverse pride in having the Galatians in their “conversion tree.” They see the Galatians as being their spiritual children and a legitimate source of pride. Paul, by contrast, has no dog in this hunt; he argues that the only thing he cares about is the cross, and he doesn’t attempt to use the Galatians as a source of spiritual pride or boasting. The law’s code is meaningless, he argues, and the real point of the Christian religion is the fact of a new creation. Those who wish to walk in this newness are wished peace by Paul—and he is even careful to include the nation of Israel, which the Judaizers would no doubt have claimed to love more. He calls out the Judaizers for their moral cowardice; after all, their commitment to legalism doesn’t make them a threat to anyone, and they can thus avoid persecution. Paul, however, bears the marks of one who is standing for the true gospel. The contrast couldn’t be clearer: on one side, a group of legalists who are trying to avoid persecution and want to see the Galatians as extensions of themselves. On the other, a man whose devotion to the true gospel has almost cost him his life, and who has real apostolic authority to teach truth. It should be clear to the Galatians which source has true authority. He closes with a wish of Jesus’ grace.

 

That contrast is clear to us today, as well. Those who seek to make us “clones” of themselves are seeking a glory that is not biblical. Those who wish to make us obey codes of righteousness are avoiding the troublesome mess of real religion. Those who believe righteousness is a function of obedience are slave merchants—making Christians to wear chains. Meanwhile, those committed to the true gospel are not in “discipleship” for themselves, but for the good of those they disciple. They celebrate the freedom which Christ’s sacrifice provided, and they walk in it. They teach a true discipleship, which is predicated on a mutual pressure toward maturity that emanates from a two-way love for one another. Over time, they are new creations, not modern Pharisees.

 

Which do you trust as models? The best way to answer this question is to imagine yourself as one of the two models. Which would you prefer to be? Walk in that path.

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Galatians 6:1-10

1Brothers, if any man is caught in some wrongdoing, let you who are spiritual restore such a one by gentleness of spirit, paying attention to yourselves, lest you be tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4Let each examine his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not his other. 5For each must bear his own load. 6Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that will he also reap. 8For the one who sows to his own flesh will reap from the flesh corruption, and the one who sows to the spirit will reap form the spirit eternal life. 9Let us not tire of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. 10So then while we have opportunity, let us work good to all, especially to those of the household of faith.

 

 

As Paul gets ready to close his letter, he gives some instructions to the Galatians. He references “you who are spiritual,” and we recognize this as a level of maturity in Christ. He orders them to engage in the central work of the gospel: reconciliation. Restoration when one has slipped is one of the gifts of the church….we help others through the process of discipleship. As we can see in this pericope, Paul wants restoration to be prioritized, and it should be done in a spirit of gentleness. This sort of thing works best in the church, where relationships are foundational to receiving and giving correction. It is in the church where people know you well enough and have loved you practically enough that you can take their gentle nudges toward maturity. One of the Eastern fathers, John Chrysostom, taught that “you should identify with the transgressor if you want to help him.” That’s precisely what Christ did. In fact, that’s why Paul refers to this as the “law of Christ,” which is the law of love. Humility always curbs self-deception. As my old professor Dr. Stanley Toussaint said, “conceit keeps you from bearing others’ burdens.” Each Christian, according to Paul, also has his own calling and must be about it. He must prioritize that (7-8), and never grow weary in doing good for others. He emphasizes the shortness of time—which is an implicit call to manage one’s time responsibly and maturely (10)—and he also teaches that the good works that the Church must do should prioritize those in the church first (10).

 

It is not surprising that Paul gets around to teaching communitarianism in the church; he does this so frequently that it’s a safe bet. His emphasis here is on the mature members of the church helping guide the newer ones into maturity. No one is left alone in Paul’s ecclesiology. There is no “minding your own business.” There is no “live and let live” in proper Christian ecclesiology. There is, rather, the gentle nudging toward growth and maturity. That maturity doesn’t just mean preaching credentials or number of years spent in a pew…it means maturing in the ability to handle a scriptural text….maturing in the ability to forgive others…maturing in the ability to keep a secret, rather than gossip about it. All of these are functions of spiritual maturity. The priority is to bear one another’s burdens, and to prioritize those burdens within the church ahead of those without.

 

If you’re not doing this Christian walk with someone else, you’re doing it wrong. Think about how impossible it would be to live out the imperatives in this passage of scripture today, apart from fellow members of the local church. You need relationships that do this. We all need truth in our lives, and God sends that truth through the Word, corroborated by the Church. Your Christian faith isn’t much if it isn’t maturing, and it isn’t maturing if you’re not discipling someone and being discipled. Invest in others today.

Galatians 5:16-26

16But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh. 17For the lusts of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these things are opposed, in order to prevent you from doing the things that you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecency, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, bursts of rage, rivalries, dissension, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and such the like. I am warning you just as I warned you before, that those who practice these things will not share in the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24Now those of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. 25If we live in the Spirit, let us walk with conformity with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

 

 

Paul has made a cogent argument about the freedom in which Christians are supposed to walk. Now he frames that “freedom walk” as a function of the Spirit, as opposed to the flesh. In so doing, he is setting up the central problem of legalism as a “lust of the flesh,” as he mentions in 16. The subsequent list of vices that he enumerates would have been abhorrent to the Judaizers, and he is lumping “legalism” right there with them. The central point of this pericope is that believers are indwelt by the Spirit, and hence the promised gift of the age to come is now theirs. And yet the present evil age has not passed away (Schreiner 343). A stand must be taken, for the Spirit and the flesh stand in opposition to each other, so neither the desires of the flesh nor the desires of the Spirit are actualized. What follows is a typically Pauline list of sinful vices—or, as he calls them here, “lusts of the flesh”—and some care should be taken as we interpret this. Such lists are not to be considered exhaustive; there are thousands of lusts of the flesh that do not appear in a biblical list, but are no less sinful. The idea that we must mainly keep an eye on “these” sins is a product of the faulty hamartiology that teaches that we are sinners because we sin, rather than the other way around. Like the list he employs in Romans 1, Paul starts his list with some very obvious sins, but ends his list with some vices that don’t seem like they should rank in taxonomy with the previous ones. To God, they are all alike: a failure to walk in the Spirit. In verse 19, the first three vices mentioned are sexual; in fact, ἀσελγεια (“indecency”) emphasizes lack of restraint and unbridled passion of sexual license. It is the tendency to throw off all restraint and flaunt itself. The two sins mentioned in verse 20 are both examples of a refusal to worship the one true God. They are φαρμακεια (“pharmacea,” sometimes used for “drug abuse” and “sorcery”) and θυμοι (“fits of rage”). The former is committed when, instead of trusting in God, people try to manipulate circumstances to bring about the end they desire—it is a turn from trusting in God to a dependence on other sources. This is the very essence of substance abuse—a form of escape that refuses to trust God in the midst of pain. The latter describes savage flashes of anger that are poured out on others. Again, a lack of trust in God is in view, since such a person is wallowing in the anger of perceived injustice and acting on it rather than trust the God Who preserves us. All of these “lusts of the flesh” are placed in direct contrast with the “fruits of the Spirit,” which will be the result of walking in the Spirit. And as always seems to be the case, lack of spiritual gifts seems to be connected to a lack of love, as is taught in 1 Corinthians (22).

 

While we are fallen and depraved in our natural state, we have been rescued by Christ, and therefore have been given the power to walk in the Spirit. Because of this, we can be described as having “crucified the flesh with its passions and lust.” This doesn’t mean that we no longer strive against such temptation; rather, it means that this battle has already been won by the Savior, and we are being given the choice to walk in conformity with His doing. The Greek verb used in verse 25 is στοιχωμεν, and it means “walk in conformity.” We have the opportunity to cooperate with what the Spirit is doing inside of us. Over time, these lusts of the flesh are being starved out. That’s also why Paul describes Christians in 1 Corinthians as “we who are being saved.”

 

You are going to walk in conformity with someone today. Will it be yourself? Or will it be the Spirit? Though you were born depraved, God has granted you, by His grace, the power to walk in conformity with His Spirit. You now have a choice that you didn’t have at birth. If you choose to walk in conformity with yourself, you will produce the lusts of the flesh that are mentioned here or elsewhere. This makes you no better than the legalists of whom this book has largely been about. If you choose to walk in conformity with the Spirit, you will produce the fruits mentioned here and elsewhere. This process will give you a healthier, more positive outlook on the nature of sin in others—since you will have been involved deeply in that struggle yourself. The legalist cannot abide the existence of what he deems sin in someone else because he thinks his fight is over due to his superior obedience skills. The fruit of his walk is a “devouring” of others. The true Christian has more grace toward others, and the fruit of such a walk is evident from this text.

 

So…with Whom are you walking today?

Galatians 5:2-15

2Behold: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ is of no profit to you. 3I testify again that every man who accepts circumcision is under obligation to do the whole law. 4You are cut off from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you are fallen from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For by Christ Jesus neither circumcision is of value, nor uncircumcision…but faith working through love. 7You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion is not of the One Who called you. 9A little yeast caused the whole batch to rise. 10I have confidence in you by the Lord that you will take no such view. The one who is troubling you will bear the judgment, whoever he is. 11If I, brothers, preach circumcision still, why am I being persecuted? In this case, the scandal of the cross has been rendered inoperable. 12I wish the ones troubling you would castrate themselves! 13For you were called to freedom, brothers; only do not use your liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour one another, see that you are no consumed by one another.

 

 

One of the things I learned about real estate when we were looking for a house was that a swimming pool sounds fun, but it adds zero value to a property. In fact, experienced homebuyers know that as pool owners, they are signing up for significant maintenance headaches. A person can spend $30,000 or more putting in a pool, but it yields no profit when it comes time to sell the home. In the same way, obeying bits and pieces of the law brings no profit to people, now that the Law has been fulfilled. The key word in this pericope is κατηργεω, which is used to mean “cut off” or “to render inoperable.” Paul uses it in verse 4 as “severed or cut off,” and in verse 11 as “rendered inoperable” when speaking about the scandal of the cross. Schreiner reminds us that it is humanly impossible to obey God perfectly enough to be righteous: “those who submit to circumcision must keep the entire law perfectly in order to enjoy eschatological salvation, and such flawless obedience is impossible.” Paul describes Christians as those who don’t “arrive” at perfect holiness (which implies complete salvation) this side of eternity, but are those who eagerly wait (ἀπεκδεχομεθα) for the eschatological hope that has been accomplished in Christ.  In effect, Paul is passing judgment on the Judaizers: he is rightly pointing out that their doctrine robs Christ of supremacy in the theme of holiness, and places the responsibility for righteousness back on mankind—where failure has already been demonstrated conclusively. When Judaizers try to obey bits and pieces of the law, they become beholden to all of it. In so doing, they sever themselves from the good news of the cross. And in the specific area of circumcision, they are physically severing parts of themselves as they spiritually sever themselves from Christ—and try to lead others to do the same. Paul is so frustrated about their influence—which is ultimately severing the Galatians from the effects of the cross—that he publicly wishes that the Judaizers would go the whole route during their own circumcisions and just keep severing! Castrating themselves would be the perfect metaphor for how they have removed the power from the gospel with their legalism. Paul also points out that the Judaizers are motivated by their own ambitions, regardless of what they say: they want the Galatians to follow the path they have chosen, not the path that Paul has taught. This is the opposite of the “love” that Christians are to have for one another (13-14). Severing, biting and devouring one another for the sake of making oneself feel superior is not the way of Christ (15). Instead, Paul persuasively argues, Christ has set the Galatians free from such legalism—and they should live in that freedom, though not as an excuse to harm the Judaizers’ consciences, either.

 

Legalistic people have one thing in common: they don’t trust God. They don’t trust that God the Father was capable of fulfilling the divine rescue mission that He predicted in Genesis 3.15 without their help. They don’t trust that God the Son died an efficacious death that was enough to atone for all of our sins—for their code is designed to help what Jesus did. They don’t trust that God the Spirit is capable of bringing fallen people to that truth and rescuing them. Instead, the center of their theology is themselves. They believe that God has purposely ordained them as heroes of the faith, and that they are to teach others the way of holiness through a code. They cover themselves in scripture proof-texts and cadences about the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Ghost, but their gospel isn’t good news at all. It is predicated on the notion that they CAN achieve holiness—by severing things. They sever others from the community of faith. They sever themselves from the culture around them. They sever the mind from the spirit. They sever the body from the mind. They sever truth from beauty. They sever experientialism from intellectualism. They sever the historic faith, once handed to the saints, from the saints. You can always tell the legalist—the modern-day Judaizer—because he thinks of himself as indispensable. His way is a hard way for others—but that only proves to him how right it is. He is a severer, not a joiner. And if Paul were here today, he would have harsh words for the modern legalist.

 

I have known so many of these folks that I literally cannot keep up with them all. And they all cause damage, wherever they go. The important takeaway from this passage: remember that your righteousness is not a function of how well you can obey rules. If that were true, you wouldn’t have needed a Savior. Remember that the blood of Christ is enough for you—it atones for your sins, past, present, and future. Remember that the Spirit knows how to lead you to Him, and knows how to lead you forward from here. Remember that the center of your theology is not yourself but the Triune God Who has rescued you as He promised He could. If you’re going to do any severing, sever the self from the center of your life—which means severing legalism. Who are those who are about themselves? Who are those who are about the body? Which path leads to the joining of the individual to the body, and the Christian to the culture to flavor it for the gospel? And which path leads to the severing of the individual from the body, and the Christian from the culture? It is in the severing that we see the way of man. It is in the joining that we see the way of the Savior. Christ’s death and resurrection has given you freedom. Walk in that freedom—but do so in an attitude of love toward all. In the end, your obedience to a man-created code will not bring you any profit. Only Christ’s blood can do that. Prefer it to your own abilities.

Galatians 4:21-5:1

21Tell me, you who wish to be under the law, do you listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons—one from the slave and one from the free. 23But the one who was born to the slave is of the flesh and the one born to the free is according to the promise. 24Now this may be interpreted allegorically, for the women are two covenants. One is from Mount Zion, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25Now Hagar is from Mount Zion in Arabia, which corresponds to present-day Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not give birth. Break forth and shout, you who suffer no birth-pains! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one with a husband.” 28But you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise. 29For just as before the one born of the flesh persecuted the one born according to the Spirit, so it is now. 30But what does the scripture say? “Cast out the slave and her son, for the son of the slave will not inherit with the son of the free.” 31Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave but the free.  1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm, then, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

So far, Paul has argued for his own apostolic authority, in order that the Galatians might receive his point with more validation than they have granted the Judaizers. Then, he stated the matter clearly: the law never had power to set the Galatians free from sin—only Christ could do that. Therefore, those who try to keep the law are rejecting Christ. Code-keeping is not the same as righteousness. Now, as Paul has expressed his frustration with the highs and lows of discipleship, he now moves to seal his argument with an illustration. The illustration he uses is a type of allegory; the Judaizers in his illustration are the children of Hagar, while the Galatian Christians are the children of Sarah. And just as the real-life Ishmael had persecuted Isaac, the Judaizers are creating some torment for the Galatian Christians. But just as, also, Ishmael had been an illegitimate heir to the promise, so are the Judaizers illegitimate heirs to the promise of righteousness—after all, their trust is in the written code, rather than the liberating power of Christ. With this illustration, Paul hopes to get the Galatians to see that their intent to fully keep the Jewish calendar is an attempt to keep the whole law—this is why they are described repeatedly in Galatians as being “under the law” (ὑπο νομον). Verse 25 in the illustration points out the problem in the standard Jewish view: they think the law is the pathway to liberation, but Paul argues that it ends up enslaving and captivating people. It demands obedience and doesn’t grant power to keep its precepts. It kills but doesn’t give life.

Those who are liberated by Christ are heirs to the promise of righteousness; we have been set free from the curse, and are no longer under judgment. We are adopted (another argument Paul has made to the Galatians) into God’s family, and therefore are no longer under the tutelage of the temporary tutor—the law. But all around the people of God are modern-day Judaizers who teach that adherence to the code is still the only way to righteousness. Their code is not found in Leviticus or Deuteronomy; rather, it is found in the external holiness teachings of hyper-Wesleyanism or early 20th-century fundamentalism. They claim Christ but do not trust His liberating power as much as they trust their ability to be good by obeying the code. This is the same as rejecting Christ, which is bad enough. But this is never enough for the modern-day Judaizers: they must also take other Christians and convert them to the Judaizing point of view. This sort of behavior riled Jesus to no end; he accused them in Matthew 23 of making others “seven times the sons of hell that [they] are.” No wonder Paul has such anger and contempt reserved for the Judaizers—and we’ll see some of that in a later pericope. The Judaizers are very good at making us think that their spirituality is normal and righteous, but they are actually heirs of Hagar, not Sarah. Their way leads to legalism, self-righteousness, self-justification, and pride. Their way is continuing war with God, since Christ made peace between man and God on the cross. A Judaizer should be converted to true Christianity, but a Christian should never slide back into Judaizing. If the code could have saved us, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior.

So what do we do with this? Two things. First, it is impossible to live the Christian life without being involved in discipleship. You should be walking with someone else, helping them to understand the scriptures. You should be praying with them, identifying with them. You should be, on some level, saying to them what Paul said to the Galatians in 4.12: become as I am. It is not that you are saying “I’m perfect and you should be like me.” Rather, you are saying, “here is the way that Christ is operating in my life right now. Experience this with me.”  What does this mean, specifically? It simply means modeling a prayer life for them. It means modeling a reading life for them. It means modeling a friendship life for them. When they see how you respond to the Spirit’s convictions in your life, they will be motivated to respond to Him, too. But the specific ways in which the Spirit might convict and lead you will be different than He does them—so don’t set up a code of rules that they must follow. Don’t lay a burden on them that was too heavy for you yourself to carry. Model the faithfulness; model the routine. Model the diligence. Model the trust in God. Model the love for others.

And let the Spirit do the rest.

If we teach others that the Christian walk is a matter of not watching this or listening to that or eating or drinking or wearing something, then we have cheapened that kingdom and made it an “Ishmael” kingdom. You aren’t Ishmael, but Isaac. Live like it, and disciple like it.

Galatians 4:8-20

8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God—or rather, are known by God—how can you turn again to the weak and worthless elemental forces whose slaves you want to be again? 10You observe days and months and times and years! 11I fear I have somehow labored in vain for you! 12Brothers, I beg you: become as I am, because I am as you. You did me no wrong. 13You know how it was because of a weakness in the flesh that I preached to you formerly, 14and though my flesh was your trial, you did not despise or reject me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15What then of your blessedness? For I testify to you that if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me! 16Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17They are zealous for you but not for good. They want to exclude you, in order that you may make much of them. 18It is good to be made much of for a good purpose and not only when I am present with you. 19My little children, for whom I am again suffering childbirth pains until Christ is formed in you: 20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, because I am puzzled by you.

 

Paul is extremely emotional as he writes to his audience in this section. He is frustrated at the doctrinal turn the Galatians have taken, and now takes pen in hand to explain once again how life under a written code is characterized by slavery (9). He writes of knowing God as a more powerful elemental force than the wickedness from which they have been saved; in fact, he reminds them that knowing God is not some “fact” in the abstract, but is a reality in which He is relational and knows them too (9). But their turn toward legalism is a turn toward slavery; now they are back to living their lives by the calendar of Judaism. They are observing feast days and rituals and customs that have completely reached their consummation in Jesus Christ (10). Because of Christ, they are of none effect any longer, and turning back to them is a sign of the slavery they are willingly choosing. He issues an imperative that they are to be “like him” to the extent that he is not living under the law. What really punctuates this pericope is Paul’s tone.

 

Discipleship is personal and relational, like the relationship between man and God. It requires an investment in personal emotion. It is both exhilarating and frustrating, like raising children. You guide someone through the holy text and help them apply it to their lives, and take one step forward with them, then two steps backward. You watch them succeed and fail. You pour yourself into the ones you disciple, and in so doing are investing yourself heavily in them. “Getting it wrong” is just a normal part of the Christian walk; but “turning back to slavery” is a different matter. The level of personal investment in which you engage for the benefit of the “other” is the root cause of the deep frustration you feel when they stumble along the way. But it is the way that Christ has ordained. If it’s not personal, you’re not doing it right. Discipleship just doesn’t exist apart from friendship. How else would Paul have gotten away with such harsh words to a stranger? It is his personal investment in the Galatians that fuels his passion—and also brings the greatest change in them. God works through Paul’s love for the Galatians, which Paul has demonstrated with hands-on, personal discipleship.

 

Isn’t it time we treated one another this way in the church? Shouldn’t there be at least one person in your life that you’re discipling? Pour yourself into someone. Get to know them. Correct them as you walk through the scriptures together. Be known by them well enough that you have the moral authority to speak truth into their lives. Pray for them and walk with them. It will result in both frustration (in which God teaches you self-control) and exhilaration (when God grows the person). Invest in someone else today.