Enjoy these entries - we hope they make you think.
The Eternal Consequences of LegalismMonday, February 20, 2023
The cross offended some false teachers in Galatia, against whom Paul strongly preached. Jews had infiltrated the churches. They claimed to be Christians, but they brought a twisted, corrupted, distorted gospel with them (Gal. 1.6-9) as they attempted to bind the Gentile Christians under a host of Jewish laws which Christ had already eliminated through the cross.
Circumcision is not a sin. Paul was circumcised (Phil. 3.5), and he even had Timothy circumcised for practical reasons (Acts 16.3), so he wasn't condemning the actual act. He condemned it as a religious ritual as the Jews were teaching; they commanded all Christian men to be circumcised to be right with God, making it a prerequisite to salvation.
In addition to circumcision, they also insisted Christians keep special Jewish feast days (Gal. 4.10), adding them onto the list of things necessary for salvation. In other words, the Jewish Christians wouldn't really accept the Gentile Christians as brothers until they measured up to their list of laws and demands.
Why did the cross offend these Jews? Paul preached against circumcision for salvation and that keeping the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law of Moses is now unnecessary under Christ! He preached that Jesus abolished the Old Law and clearly stated that salvation is by faith in Christ apart from works of the law (Gal. 2.15-16). In fact, "if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose" (Gal. 2.21), and "if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law" (Gal. 3.21). But now that faith has come, we are no longer under the guardianship of the law (Gal. 3.25).
Christ has set us free in order that we may experience true freedom (Gal. 5.1). He has freed us from sin and law. The law binds us under sin, so Christ had to abolish the law so we might be perfectly free from sin! This is grace.
But grace offends the legalist (who believes he is saved by keeping a law) because grace says we are not saved by our work of keeping law; we are saved by Christ's work of keeping the law and His sufficient sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. Just as the cross offended the Jews because it did away with their law, the cross offends legalists today because it does away with their law.
Who gets to make the list of laws which are necessary for entering into the kingdom of heaven? Only God holds that position. Is there a law Jesus expects us to submit to? Absolutely! If you don't think so, you should read Matthew 5-7, Romans 6, James, and Galatians 5-6. But Jesus clarifies our relationship to law—law doesn't save; He does. We keep His law because we are His children, not to make ourselves His children.
The legalist lists actions and teachings which will keep a person out of heaven. Many such lists have been made which exceed the boundaries of gospel-level issues, and those lists divide good-hearted brethren. The legalist believes that eating (or not eating) certain meats will keep you out of heaven (Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8). The legalist believes that observing (or not observing) certain special religious days will annul your salvation. The legalist believes you must add this or subtract that from your life in order to be saved. Their additions to the gospel divide and do violence to the body of Christ! And that's why Paul so vigorously opposed the mindset of legalism.
Paul could have made a long list to show why he was "qualified" to be saved, but he counted all his so-called qualifications as loss, he said, "for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I my gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith..." (Phil. 3.2-10).
Let us refrain from binding fellow Christians to our lists of laws! If Christ said to do it, then we shall do it. If Christ said to avoid it, then we shall avoid it. But let's not add to or subtract from what He has said, and let us not think that we are saved by keeping His laws. We've been saved in order that we might keep His laws. There's a big difference, and that difference has eternal consequences (Gal. 5.4)!
Put Off Bitterness and Anger – Put On Kindness and Forgivenessand ForgivenessMonday, January 16, 2023
Here is the last in a series of dirty clothes Paul instructs Christians to take off and clean clothes to put on in their place, and this one is a doozy. He began this list in Ephesians 4.25, and we have now come to Ephesians 4.31–32:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Take Off These Corruptions
The first set of attributes, which we are to remove from our persons, reminds us of storybook villains.
Bitterness eats us like spiritual cancer, doesn’t it? We harden our hearts towards one another, and over time our unresolved conflicts and untreated wounds result in irreconcilable differences. Bitterness traps our hearts in quicksand which swallows up our joy of living and stains our relationships.
The next two words—wrath and anger—seem synonymous.
The first (wrath in the ESV) is thumos in the Greek and only appears a handful of times. In Acts 19.25, a crowd in Ephesus became enraged (thumos), and the Nazareth Jews were filled with wrath (thumos) when Jesus contrasted their unbelief with the faith of Gentiles (Luke 4.28).
The second word (anger in the ESV) is orgē in the Greek and is translated variously “wrath” and “anger” in different verses. Jesus displayed this anger in Mark 3.5, as he saw the hardness of the Jewish leaders’ hearts towards a man with a withered hand. Orgē is often used for the “wrath of God.” In the context of these two verses in Ephesians 4, this has to do with wrath and anger we have towards one another.
Interestingly, Paul already dealt with anger just a few verses prior in Ephesians 4.26, “Be angry and do not sin.” He used the verb form of orgē, orgizō. Like we observed when we examined that verse, anger is not necessarily a sin in itself, but it can quickly lead to sin, and it becomes sin when we let it fester and grow.
Clamor has to do with loud cries—a high volume of sound. Hebrews 5.7 uses this same word saying that Jesus used “loud cries and tears” in crying out to the Father. In Acts 23.9 a great clamor arose among a crowd of Jews as they argued with one another. What kind of clamor does Paul address here? We should not be yelling at one another! We should not be contending, fighting, arguing with one another. We all know that guy or that gal who is always pushing back, raising the temperature, and getting into arguments.
Slander is the Greek word blasphēmia, from which we get “to blaspheme” and “blasphemy.” It means to speak against someone. Why would we speak against one another? Why would we tear down a brother’s or sister’s good name and cultivate mistrust and suspicion? Slander does that. Even if elements of truth exist in the slander, it leans hard on negative characteristics, so a hearer walks away upset and disgusted at the slanderer’s target.
Finally, we are to put away all malice. This word is variously translated “wickedness,” “trouble,” “evil,” and “malice.” When you intend evil towards someone, when you devise wickedness in your heart toward someone, you act maliciously. You intend for someone to fret, to fail, to fall.
Put On These Graces
It would be wonderful if none of us harbored any bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, or malice toward another. Every man, in his flesh, will act this way at times. It takes the grace and power of God to eliminate these corruptions from our lives and to cultivate mercy and grace in our hearts.
Therefore, by the power of Christ and his Holy Spirit, we should replace those evil things with:
Kindness! For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness… Love is patient; love is kind. If God is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil (Luke 6.35), how much more should we, being listed among the evil, be kind to our neighbors and our brethren?
And we are to be tenderhearted. First Peter 3.8 also uses this word: tender heart. We should be sensitive to the troubles of our brethren, weep with them when they weep, and rejoice with them when they rejoice. Help them when they hurt.
Forgiveness! We should forgive each other as God has forgiven us, and that’s a high calling! Here, God teaches us how to overcome bitterness. Why do we think we will lose when we forgive someone of an offence? Don’t we, though? We think we will lose power, our right to retaliate. Satan is selling his lies again. In fact, we will lose heartache and the bitterness of soul that eats away at us. We will lose the desire for retaliation. If we let go of the offense, we may gain a fast friendship. How fully has God forgiven us when we asked? Has he not given us everything we’ve asked for? How can we still harbor resentment and evil thoughts towards our brethren?
As we complete this short list of things to take off and put on, I hope we can see the secrets Paul reveals to show us how to enjoy healthy and holy relationships with our brethren. He lights the path of peace; we just need to trust and obey! God has promised awesome rewards down this road.
Does Bible Study Make You Feel Guilty?Monday, September 26, 2022
The preacher hammers the importance of daily Bible study, and most of the church sits feeling condemned, inadequate, and guilty, because we sure messed that up last week!
It's actually not the study itself, but our failures along the way. We make commitments (or at least have a vague idea of what we ought to do) and end up not fulfilling them. We don't hit our targets, don't actualize our vision, don't work the plan perfectly. And our hearts condemn us.
It's as if we feel God accepts us based on whether or not we hit our daily targets.
I know God wants me to spend time in His word (“a minimum of 15 or 20 minutes a day” is the goal I set for myself), and I never got around to it. And I missed yesterday, too. The days pile fast and guilt grows. I'm failing God, myself, my family, my church. I can't let the church know I'm a failure at this because this is what being a Christian is all about, right? If I'm not in the Bible every day, they might think I'm not really a Christian—or at least not a serious one. I'll tell everyone else they should be reading the Bible every day, I'll put on a face like I'm getting it done, and I'll continue to feel bad every week when I don't make it.
Have you ever felt this way?
Trade Law for Grace!
We feel like this when we see ourselves as under law. When we don't understand why Jesus died for us, we can get the idea that God is pleased with us only when we have our act together and displeased when we don't get “enough” works in—as if our works keep us holy and in His grace.
Get this, Brothers and Sisters: as many of you as have been baptized have put on Christ, you are one in Christ Jesus, and you are sons of God through faith (Galatians 3.26–4.7). Because you are sons, you are heirs alongside the Son, Jesus. You inherit eternal fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! God adopted you into His family while you were spiritually immature and broken--and He continues to cover you by the blood of His Son while you grow in Christ. You have freedom in God's house even while you are not perfect! God does not accept you on the basis of what you do for Him, but on the basis of what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross. Nothing you do for God now will make you more holy, more righteous, more acceptable to Him—you are totally accepted right now in Christ Jesus!
So don't feel condemned and guilty when you don't get the works perfect. Keep loving God; keep loving your neighbor; keep loving your family. Keep striving to know and understand more. You have not fallen out of God's favor when you fail.
In God's grace is an amazing freedom—including the freedom to fail and keep right on going. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).
Being under a heartless law system stifles growth and kills the spirit. But being under the grace of a kind and loving God provides and promotes an attitude of steady joy in the face of all our failures. I hope you and I forever revel in that joy!
Interestingly, those with this biblical understanding of grace find their Bible study becomes even more frequent and fruitful!