Wednesday, January 01, 2020

The Gospel in Paul's letter to the Galatians, part 3

* a continuation of my personal study in the letter to the Galatians

Galatians 3 Summary
Those who have faith in Christ Jesus, not the ones who subject themselves to the law and rely on observance of the law, are the children of Abraham, who are counted righteous by faith and are heirs according to the promise given him.

  • vv. 1-5. The key problem which Paul addresses in this letter seems to be the influence which some who might be called the circumcision group have exerted upon these Christians to go back to observance of the Law as a means of obtaining righteousness. The problems with this are many, as Paul notes by a series of questions:
    • Has someone cast a spell upon you to lead you astray so quickly? 
    • How did you receive the Spirit: by observing the law or by believing what you heard?
    • Having begun with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain eternal life by human effort?
    • Was your suffering for the sake of the gospel for nothing?
    • Did God work miracles among you and give you his Spirit because of your observance of the law or because of your faith in Jesus?
  • vv. 6-9. Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel, was not counted righteous because of his observance of the law but because of his faith in God (see Genesis 15). Spiritually speaking, those who believe the gospel are also Abraham's children, for the gospel was announced even in Abraham's day when God declared to him, "All nations will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12) Abraham was blessed and God will bless those who follow in Abraham's footsteps of faith.
  • vv. 10-14. The blessing of God—righteousness and justification—comes through faith, and the curse of God comes through the law for those who do not keep the law perfectly. **Think of the "curse" as the opposite of "blessing", not a magical incantation or spell. Most importantly, verse 13 reminds us, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." Another way of saying this is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." In doing this, we Gentiles receive the blessing of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • vv. 15-18. The covenant which God made with Abraham and the promise which comes through that covenant was not replaced by the law. The law given to Moses does not set aside the previous covenant and promise.
  • vv. 19-25. What is the purpose of the law, then? 
    • The law was given "because of transgressions" (v. 19), which I take to mean that the law helped regulate the relationship between God and his people so that they might maintain practical holiness and adequately atone for their sins in order to continue drawing near to God in worship.
    • The law is not opposed to the promises of God because the law was never given as a means to impart life. The law recognizes that "the whole world is a prisoner of sin."
    • The law was "put in charge" until Christ came. Now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
  • vv. 26-29. Those who have faith in Christ Jesus are sons of God, are baptized with Christ (identified with or belong to), and are Abraham's seed and heirs of the promise.

  • Since the law was given to mankind in recognition of our bondage and slavery to sin, we should recognize its limits (it cannot impart life) and seek to live by faith, giving thanks daily that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.
  • Man-centered religion seeks to obtain justification in the sight of God through self-effort and self-justification. This is a losing game! All efforts toward self-justification will ultimately fail.
  • Understanding the relationship, the covenant, and the promises between God and Abraham helps us who are Gentiles trusting in Christ by faith see where we too are his spiritual seed and recipients of the blessing given to him.
  • All who have placed saving faith in Jesus Christ are justified by him, baptized into him, clothed with him, and belong to him.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Gospel in Paul's letter to the Galatians, part 2

Chapter 2 Summary
Paul's conversion to Christ, calling into apostleship, and early communication with the other apostles demonstrates that his gospel does not teach righteousness and justification by observance of the Jewish law but by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Chapter 2 Notes
  • vv. 1:13-24. In defense of his calling and ministry as an apostle, Paul gives a brief account of how he and his message came to be recognized by those who were already apostles.
    • His unusual conversion. See Acts 9. A most zealous persecutor of the church has a personal encounter with the risen Lord.
    • His subsequent seclusion. Paul did not immediately take the stage or go on tour as a celebrity Christian. He did not become personally acquainted with the apostles until several years later.
  • vv. 1-5. In his own experience among the brethren in Jerusalem, with Barnabas and Titus in his company fourteen years later, Paul set before the church leaders his message that he had been preaching to the Jews and Gentiles. Even among the Jews when some had placed pressure on them to conform to certain aspects of the Law (circumcision), they did not give in so as to demonstrate the freedom from the Law which the gospel brings.
  • vv. 6-10. When they recognized the calling and the grace of God that was operating through Paul, the apostles Peter, James, and John gave him and Barnabas official recognition ("the right hand of fellowship") and confirmed the area of ministry to which they had been called: the Gentiles.
  • vv. 11-14. Further evidence that Paul has dealt with the inconsistencies of mingling Jewish law with the gospel of Christ can be seen in his confrontation of Peter's hypocrisy in Antioch. Peter typically ate with Gentiles believers, but when the circumcision group arrived, Peter pulled back and did not eat further with them. Paul clearly teaches that this kind of behavior does not promote the gospel truth that in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are one people of God.
  • How then is a person justified in the sight of God? Paul uses the term justified to mean a legal declaration of righteousness. Are we justified by observing the law or by believing in Jesus Christ? It is not by observing the law but by faith. He will go into further details of the relationship between law and faith in chapter 3.
  • In the gospel, a Christian has been so identified with Christ that it can be said, "I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live now is a life of faith, for if I were still trying to gain righteousness through the law, the Christ died for nothing."

  • The grace of God is strong enough to overcome the will of man. It would be difficult to find a person more zealous for religion than Paul, and yet when he had a personal encounter with the risen Lord, he could do nothing other than obey.
  • The gospel message has no room for the intermingling of religious observance as a means of obtaining righteousness. The gospel brings freedom and rest, but religious observance will inevitably bring slavery. Law and religious observance have a place, but not as a means to righteousness.
  • We should offer affirmation and fellowship to those who preach the same message of grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • We should examine our own lives and be open to the input of others when someone sees that we are not acting in line with the truth.
  • No one is justified in the sight of God by keeping the law.
  • A Christian has spiritual union with Christ by faith, such that one can say, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Gospel in Paul's letter to the Galatians, part 1

Chapter 1 Summary
The gospel message of grace and peace which comes through Jesus Christ, who rescues us from sin, comes from God, was preached by Paul, and must not be deserted by those who have received it in favor of another gospel.

Chapter 1 notes

  • vv. 1-2. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, a person who had seen the Lord after his resurrection and had received a special commission to take the gospel message to Gentiles. These men were unique in the sense that they helped establish the church by their ministry (Ephesians 2:20).
  • vv. 3-5. The apostle's message was chiefly about Jesus and the grace and peace that comes through Him. His life of perfect obedience to the Father, his sacrificial, substitutionary, and atoning death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead provides the basis for our sins to be forgiven.
  • vv. 6-9. The apostles preached one consistent message of good news in Christ Jesus. Those who preach a different gospel than was preached by the apostles is no gospel at all, and Paul warns in the strongest terms possible than any who do so, let him be "eternally condemned!" (NIV), "accursed" (KJV, ESV).
  • vv. 11-12. Paul did not make up his message, nor did he receive it from another man like Peter, James, or John. He received it directly from the Lord.
  • vv. 13-17. Paul may have been the most unlikely candidate to be an apostle, as one who persecuted the church, tried to destroy it, and was religiously zealous as a Jew, but God's purpose for Paul and Paul's role in God's plan would not be hindered, for God had set him apart from birth. This is reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets like Moses (Exodus 2) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5).
  • The core message of the church of Jesus Christ is that grace and peace comes to you through Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins. We should expound the gospel and make it plain to people so that they may respond to God's mercy and come to Christ in faith.
  • We should be careful ourselves to maintain the integrity of the gospel message and preach nothing else than what the apostles preached (nothing against it and always consistent with it). We should call others who claim to be Christians to preach this same message.
  • When God has a purpose and intends to use someone in that purpose, he can and does radically intervene to change the heart and set that person on the path which will fulfill God's purpose.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A few thoughts on Christmas morning

What does Christmas mean for the Christian? How is this time of year distinctive from other forms of holiday celebrations? We care about family, gift giving, "peace on earth and goodwill toward mankind" but the basis of, the reason for, and expressions of our joy are very specific.

Christians believe that something unprecedented happened approximately 2,000 year ago in a remote area of the Middle East. We believe that the eternal God who created all things and sustains the existence of all things, who has no beginning and no end, who sovereignly rules over creation and guides history toward a final moral examination, who has no equal, whose perfection in all degrees and directions guides his knowledge and wisdom, who transcends space and time ... humbled himself and visited mankind in the form of human flesh, breathed air, felt cold, hungered for food, thirsted for drink, and longed for the loving touch of a mother. The baby whose birth was miraculous ushered in a new era where God's relative silence had been broken and his promises to send a Messiah were fulfilled. The arrival of the long-expected One was announced to the humble and righteous by angelic messengers. He was feared by kings. He was praised and worshiped by wise men.

His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and his life was no ordinary life.

According to eyewitness accounts, he did miracles, performed signs and wonders, taught the way of God with authority, saw into the hearts of people, confronted religious hypocrisy, made claims of equality with God, loved sinners, raised the dead, freed people who were under spiritual oppression, fed thousands of hungry seekers, and taught concerning the kingdom of God as no man ever has.

Ultimately, Jesus was put to death by the Romans at the insistence of the Jews, and his closest disciples understood that his death, just like his life and birth, has a special and unique significance. Jesus' death took place during the time of Passover, and he was known to be the true "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Jesus' death paid the debt which God requires for our sin, and those who humbly confess that their own efforts of self-righteousness are in no way adequate to God's holy requirements

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Cleaning out the inbox

Twenty-one years ago this year (2019) I began my first on-campus classes at Dallas Theological Seminary during the winter session. It was incredible to actually be in Dallas with my young wife and infant child to start a new journey of in-depth discipleship at a place known for equipping and preparing people to rightly handle the word of God and communicate it to others in a way that was understandable and clear.

I still receive emails from the school encouraging me to support the mission of DTS, to pray for current students (one in particular, as we are paired together), to take advantage of free online courses, and so on. I am grateful for the seminary and its role of spiritual formation in my life. Sometimes I meet people who jab at the concept of seminary because it sounds similar to cemetery, as if it is a given that people who go there will die spiritually when they undertake the Bible as an academic exercise. That certainly wasn't my experience, even though it is something to caution seminarians against.

I also receive emails from former professors who not only teach or taught at the school but also lead pastoral training ministries like RREACH (Ramesh Richard Evangelism and Church Health) and Leader Formation (Bill Lawrence). Through their examples, these men have taught me the importance of serving the Lord strategically and passionately. I was a student under Bill Lawrence in spiritual formation and preaching classes. He trains pastors to be spiritual leaders in places such as Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, East Asia, and South America.He is in his 80s, has recovered from a stroke, and is still being used by God to train pastors to be spiritual leaders and godly shepherds.

In January of this year, I had been preaching at a small country church for 3 1/2 years when some of the men asked to meet with me after the service. They politely asked me to resign, stating this was the desire of the church membership. Since that time, I've not preached or taught in a church setting and I have wondered what my call from the Lord really is (or if I have one at all). Bill Lawrence encourages me to believe that serving the Lord may take the different forms (he has been a pastor, seminary professor, and ministry leader) over one's lifetime, and that there may be seasons where I sit on the sidelines, but if I use those times to reflect, rest, and learn, then there still may be opportunity in the future, if He wills, to be useful to the Church. For now, I am striving to be content and faithful in support of my family, our church, and our church leaders in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

It is not always easy. I can become discouraged and impatient like anyone else. My prayer has been, "Lord, however you want to use me, let me be willing and ready." And during this time, I have had greater opportunity to spend time with family, coach high school and middle school athletes, serve on the board of our homeschool athletic organization, start a new full-time job that I truly enjoy, and serve my wife and children in support of their needs. Although I can feel sidelined, I have not been idle, and I have tried to say "yes" to those opportunities which are right before me.

Dallas Theological Seminary

Leader Formation


Tennessee Heat Sports

Green Hill Baptist Church, Mt. Juliet