"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity." --John Piper

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prisoner of the law

Galatians 3:23 says, "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed."

Yes, I know that this is the same verse I started with last time. It's just that as I read it something completely different hit me. It was the phrase, "we were held prisoners by the law."

I don't like that idea, the idea of being a prisoner. I think of it as being held against my will. But wasn't it my will that got me into trouble in the first place? Do I have two wills?

I think this is what Paul refers to in Romans 7:19, where he says, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." I am a prisoner of sin because of the law. For is I did not have the law, sin would not be sin. Sheesh!

So what does this possibly mean for me today? It means that I must be on my guard. It means that I must look to the things of faith and not of sight. It means that I must depend on God every moment of the day.

It also means that I have been set free. I am no longer a prisoner of the law if I live by faith.

I still feel like I am sometimes. But I am not.

Galatians 3:24-25 " So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."

So praise God for the law. For without the law, I would not know sin, but without the law, I would also not know Christ. Had I not been a prisoner, I could not have been set free.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Galatians 3:23 says, "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed."

I have lots of questions about this verse. Like, was there a time before faith? Was there a time when people were acting only in obedience, not acting in faith or at least not knowing that it was faith? And where does this place Abraham? Was he acting in faith or obedience? Seems like there had to be an element of faith when he went to sacrifice his son, through whom he expected the promise to be fulfilled. Was that the first inkling, the first revelation of faith that this verse speaks of, or is it speaking of a time under Christ, whereas now faith is revealed to us?

Whatever the case, it seems that faith rules supreme. Paul states in verse 26 that our sonship under God comes through faith in Jesus.

I think that there are some who still don't see the revelation of faith. They still pursue God through works. I thin that is one reason the book of Galatians was written. I think I too still struggle with trying to earn God's approval. Perhaps that is why the Bible speaks so much on rest.

Psalm 46:10  "Be still and know that I am God.

Maybe instead of slowing down, I need to stop for awhile.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can you hear me now?

Isaiah 48:18   If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Galatians 3:19  What, then, was the purpose of the law?

When I read the Bible sometimes I get bogged down in all of the stuff I am supposed to do. But the law was not put into place solely for the purpose of my obedience. It was put their to lead me to God. Isaiah tells me not just to obey, but to pay attention.

There is more to paying attention that just obedience. I need to look for God. Look for the reasons. Find out what God wants me to know, not just what he wants me to do.

That ain't always easy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Peace, bro.

If God responds to my obedience, then I can impress Him. If He responds to my faith, then He will impress me!

Do I really want to worship a God that I can impress?

The law was given to show me my faults, of which there are many. Scripture tells me to "live by faith." But what does that mean? It means trusting God. It means allowing Him to set me free. I just read that sentence again. Me allowing God, somehow that does not sound right. How can I allow God? I don't think I can. So perhaps a better statement would be that I allow myself to experience freedom.

God wants me to be free, and has made it so that I can experience freedom. It is His gift to me, the gift of a loving father. But I fight that gift. I allow things to enlave me because I do not let go. I hold on to thoughts and emotions that are not good for me.

Galatians 3:12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them."

We live by what we do, and we do according to what we live by. So, if we live by faith, if we trust God completely, then we can have peace because what we do is guided by Him. If we hold on to other things, then we do not live by faith, and what we do is based on something other than God's guidance. And if we are fighting God, we cannot have peace.

My wife reminded me of something I had said before about peace. Peace is not contentment, it is not the absence of conflict so that we just become a floormat for those who want to walk all over us. Peace is a powerful force. Just like the U.S. has powerful peacekeeping forces that are a deterent to conflict, God is our peace. He is our powerful force that when we are in His hand, takes away the conflict and gives us peace.

Ephesians 2:14

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

You stupid people!

Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians!

Paul is not trying to make friends here. In fact, he sounds a little ticked off. Angry. Our Sunday School teacher mentioned last week that anger is fueled by love. I think Paul's anger was fueled by love for God, Christ, and the gospel itself. He goes on to say...

Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

Where they actually denying the crucifixion and resurrection? Or was it their legalism that has Paul saying this? I am not sure. Either way, it is still an offense to the cross. They had been granted the power of the Spirit! (Vs 2), but apparently this was not enough to keep them from going down this path.

I find that VERY interesting. So having the power of the Spirit is not enough to keep one on the straight and narrow? No wonder there are so many times that we are admonished to guard what we have been given. Oh that the power of the Spirit would protect us completely and always guard our direction! But the Galatians had begun with the Spirit, and then wandered off to attain their goal through human effort. (Vs 4)

Why? Why go back to the law? I can only think of one reason, comfort. Satan exploited this completely. How can you depend only on the blood of Christ? Surely God wants you to do more. Just believing cannot be enough. He still preaches that message today. And many still buy it.

Sometimes I think we find ourselves indespensible to God. It is as if withour our help, the job just cannot get done. Is that the God we serve? One who needs our help to get the job done? Remember John the Baptist, when the Pharisees came out, curious, self-righteous?

See those rocks? If God wanted more children for Abraham, he could get them from those rocks. (Paraphrase of John the Baptist from Matthew 3:9)

That is the God I serve, the one who does not need me but loves me. The one who is above all, and can do all.

Job 26:14 "And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?"

All of creation, and it is but the fringe of his works. That is a GOD worthy of my praise.

There is a lot of phony faith in the church today. And it is actually chasing people away. I hope that I am not a part of it.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

This might not make you feel good.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Many would say that it involves doing good things and being a good person, trying to please God, and maybe even going to church. I say that is a bunch of crap. And I think Paul would agree with me.

Galatians 2:16 says, "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ."

While a Christian may and should do good things, there is a fundamental difference between trying to please God and being good, and falling on my face before God and totally depending on the grace, mercy and blood of Christ. If I rely on Him alone, then my response is because of what He has done, and not what I can or should do.

Proverbs 1:7  "Start with God - the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning." (The Message)

Paul started with God, but we often start with ourselves. What can I do to make things right? Answer: Nothing! Are not all our righteous acts filthy rags before God? (Isaiah 64:6) Here, God, let me take this filthy rag and clean up this mess I've made. Oh, that looks worse now, doesn't it. Wait, I have plenty more filthy rags where that one came from...

Sounds silly doesn't it?

Christ fulfilled the law. On the cross he said, "It is finished," and not "The rest is up to you now."

I love verse 19 of Galatians 2, "For through the law I died to law so that I might live for God."

Can he make it any clearer? If we do not die to the law, and we do that only through Christ, we cannot live for God! Death first, then life. Carry our cross first, then we get to be his disciple. But that doesn't always preach so good, does it.

Remember the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. One thanked God that he was not a gentile sinner, one fell on his face and begged forgiveness. Who was justified before God? Someone please remind me.

2 Chronicles 7:14 "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

PS A word to the religious right: turning from our wicked ways (legislating morality, over-turning Roe v Wade, picketing abortion clinics, etc.) is meaningless without humbling ourselves, praying, and seeking his face first. Sorry.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Just being Peter...

I remember the Peter of the Gospels. The one who jumped off the boat to walk on the water, and then realized what he had done and started to sink. The one who one moment confessed Jesus as Messiah and moments later tells Jesus He shouldn't have to die. The one who swore he would not deny Jesus, then does so 3 times. So now we are into Galatians. After the resurrection, after the day of Pentecost. A new and improved Peter. Well, maybe not completely.

Galatians 2:11 "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong."

Seems Peter had slipped. He was separating himself from the gentiles "because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group." (Vs 12) Others then followed suit.

But not Paul. He saw that they were "not acting in line with the truth of the gospel." (Vs. 13, and I love that line).

Peter should have known everything Paul did. Yet he slipped. He was still human. I take comfort in that. Mostly because I find myself more of a Peter than a Paul. I have to believe that there is a place in heaven for Peter. In spite of his flaws and failures, he is within the grace of Christ. Duh! If we didn't have flaws and failures, there wouldn't be a need for grace. But sometimes I feel like I push the limits of that grace. Sometimes I don't act in line with the truth of the gospel. And for those times, I need his grace. I need more of Him. And that is a good thing.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Going to Jerusalem

At the beginning of Chapter 2, Paul is headed to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to present the Gospel to those there after a time of 14 years. I find myself asking why? Why to Jerusalem, the center of the church at that time, Isn't this where the apostles were? Isn't this a dangerous place for Paul?

I can think of 2 reasons he might need to go:
  1. Some were complaining that Paul was not preaching the truth. This is a very real possibility, since many there were of Jewish background and probably had a hard time with what Paul was saying, who he was saying it to, and the success he was having. Verse 3 sheds a little light on this, as "not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised."
  2. Perhaps it was that "they" (those in Jerusalem, from the leaders to the everyday Christians) needed to hear it and be reminded of the Gospel message. Verse 2 states that Paul "went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles, so we should assume that God was ordaining that this should take place.

Perhaps it was a combination of both. This just convicts me all the more of the need to guard ourselves from becoming complacent about the Gospel. If we think we have it down, if we think we have the truth and are okay, I think we are in danger. The Scriptures constantly remind us to be on guard. Thinking we have  it right is not being on guard.

What are you hearing this morning in your church? Is it truth? Or is it just a bunch of moral goodness dripping from the fountain of a Christ-less well? Or maybe there is just enough God in it that we can pat ourselves on the back and walk out feeling good about everything.

It is not that we shouldn't leave church feeling good. It is just that we should leave it feeling good for the right reasons. I can't help but remember the day that my heroine addicted, agnostic brother agreed to go to church with me. After hearing what I thought was a stellar sermon that could have answered some of his questions and helped him deal with his problems, I asked him what he thought. His response haunts me to this day. He thought it was lame. What if he had come to your church this morning? Did the message preach to the choir? Were the Christians shouting "AMEN?" What would a non-Christian taken away from the experience? Would it be that this is a good bunch of people, or would it be that we serve an awesome God?

Should we ever have a Sunday that does not share in a powerful way, what an awesome God we serve?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Are we sold out?

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

I contend that Paul was a most interesting choice by God to continue the spread of the Gospel after the book of Acts. He was a militant Jew, and here he is taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. Wouldn't he have been a better choice to take the Gospel to the Jews? Perhaps if you or I were writing this, but not for God. But then again, I don't think we would have chosen the harp playing, tiny shepherd boy David as King of Isreal over his brothers.

The Gospel is not always a popular message. Oh, sure, we like the idea of salvation. But becoming a living sacrifice? Counting everything else as dung compared to knowing Christ? (I like my home and car.) Being content in ALL circumstance? (I prefer to whine now and then.)

Paul was not a people pleaser, he was a Gospel preacher. Paul did not get the Gospel from someone else, he received it directly from Christ himself (Gal. 1:11). And I think for that, Paul was eternally grateful.

The change in Paul's life was evident. Going from persecuting the church to embracing it. Going from being a zealous Jew to preaching to the gentiles. I can imagine what his old friends must have been saying about him, when they weren't trying to kill him. So maybe Paul was the best man for the job. Who better to proclaim the message of salvation than someone who had nothing to gain from it and nothing to lose.

Are we sold out like Paul was? And by we, I mean the church and the individual. Is our message one that is so appealing that everyone would want some? Because if it is, then I question if it is really the Gospel. If we are sold out, it must be to Christ, and not to works or just the idea of salvation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Well meaning people...

I have been reading through Galatians. Here are some thoughts.

Galatians is about the Gospel. That is because Paul was a Gospel preacher. To him, it was always connected to the Gospel first. The Galatians were also about the Gospel, but had gotten off track.

It's not that they were awful people, they had sincere hearts. Paul knew what it was to be sincere. He sincerely persecuted Christians before becoming one. But Paul also had experienced a radical change, and kept the Gospel central, something that even Peter struggled with.

Speaking of Peter, does anyone else find it interesting that after the book of Acts, the main character (outside of Jesus) in the New Testament seems to be Paul? Peter had been with Jesus, denied him but was reinstated, was involved in the conversion of 3,000+ on the day of Pentacost, was given the keys to the kingdom, and then in comes this former Jew, Christian hating convert. Would J.K. Rowling change the main character in the Harry Potter series in mid-stream? God did. I think there is a lesson there, but for another time.

Anyway, the Galatians started to go back to the old ways, relying on works rather than grace. Preaching a message of good works. Problem is, when we make that which is secondary primary, we also make that which is primary secondary. (That is for all the Math wizards out there.) In other words, when we encourage being a good person and doing good works instead of promoting Christ, are we really any different from the local Rotary Club?

Paul takes this pretty seriously. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" (Gal. 1:8)

I think our churches would do well to take note.