Saturday, 31 May 2008

The working of His mighty power

…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, - Ephesians 1v19-20

I mentioned yesterday that Paul was always praying for the believers in Ephesus. I made an application then about how important praying for each other was. Today we are going to see exactly what Paul was praying for. The preceding words are powerful. “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,:

There is more to this Christian life than meets the eye. There is a wisdom, a knowledge, and understanding, a hope, and riches that we often never grasp. We get into a situation that we just can’t handle. So what do we do? We try to handle it on our own. We tend to be really good at depending on our own ability.

When that happens we are really missing something. If we are not careful we can go through our entire life without ever “getting it.”

Just how powerful is God’s power to get us through? How great is God? How strong is He? How much of His strength is there for us?

The answer is almost more than I can grasp – “the power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” I cannot imagine a power greater than the power to raise Jesus from the dead.

The problem is that we far too often limit the power of God to work in us because we have our own solution, or our own agenda. The greatest even in human history was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The greatest power made it possible. And we have that power working is us!

Friday, 30 May 2008

I do not cease to give thanks

Therefore I … do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: - Ephesians 1v15-16

I realise that this is one of the places where Paul is speaking in a general way. Obviously, he did not constantly give thanks for the Ephesians believers. He had other things to pray about and others to be thankful for. But, there was always a spirit of thankfulness on his heart for them. When they came to mind his first thought was one of thankfulness.

As I pondered this I thought about how thankful I am for my own brothers and sisters in Christ. I really, truly am. Their familyship is more precious that I can describe. Sadly, I have to say that there are times when thankfulness is not the overriding feeling. Sometimes I let frustration, jealousy, pettiness, covetousness, and even anger rise to the top, even about thankfulness. The thankfulness is always there, but it not always predominant. When this happens I can not truthfully say, ‘I do not cease to give thanks.” When those emotions control thankfulness cannot.

We are all human. We cannot defeat our emotions. We are going to battle those emotions and their tendency to thankfulness. Yet those things happen we must keep check on our hearts to insure that they do not supplant thankfulness as the primary spirit towards others.

What is the key? Love, true, selfless love will allow us to always remain thankful.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The guarantee of our inheritance

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. - Ephesians 1v13-14

There are times in life when a photocopy just won’t do it. In some situations you must have an original document with an official seal. Government offices always have an official stamp that certifies that the document is the genuine article. Many a headache has been caused by folks searching for an “official copy” of their birth cert.

It is the rubber stamp, or in the old days an official seal that makes all the differences. For centuries this seal was even more obvious. Originally these seals were of wax and were used to seal a scroll shut. Any tampering was obvious because the seal was broken. Eventually these seals moved inside the document to verify their authenticity.

Here we read that our eternal inheritance is sealed. This seal makes our inheritance official. The seal guarantees that all that is promised in the inheritance is ours.

What is our seal? “You were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” He is our guarantee, the promise that all God has said He will fulfil. Our inheritance is there, not until we slip up along the way, but all the way until we are fully redeemed.

Praise God for my seal, for my guarantee. Praise God that my inheritance does not depend on me.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

To the praise of His glory

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. - Ephesians 1v11-12

Ephesians 1 is mainly seen as a treatise on predestination or election. I purposefully jumped over that for the purpose of this collection of notes. I have my own ideas, I think I know what he is saying, but I don’t know that I know. I am really tempted to give my point of view on this, but I am going to leave it.

One thing is certain, laying all that aside, is that one kind of predestination is absolute and assured. God has predestined that His children will have an inheritance, and that those who have trusted Christ should be to the praise of His glory.

It doesn’t make sense that we do so little to the praise of His glory. Living to the praise of His glory is our destiny, yet we let so much else get in the way of doing so. Our own goals, desires, ambitions, wishes, and wants get in the way.

Every step I take today, every place I go, and every decision I make must be made in the light of the praise of His glory.

Is that my goal in life, or does the praise of my own glory get in the way?

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

God forbid that I should boast

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. - Galatians 6v14

Galatians has been an amazing little book. One thing is as clear as it can be – the Law has no power over me. Everything related to the Law is tied to the flesh. Keeping the Law is impossible anyway.

If I could keep the Law, and if it were a part of Christian living than I would have plenty to brag about. I could keep everyone impressed with what a good Christian I am. There are those today who say that we are free from the “ceremonial law,” but we are still bound to the “moral law.” Even these “moral law keepers” can brag on how they are doing while condemning others. There is boasting about one’s own ability to “do something” to make one spiritual.

Paul says there is only one thing to boast about. “Me ginomai that I should ever boast,” Paul says, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” May it never be, may it never come to pass, there is no way that I should boast in anything else. A literal English rendering of me ginomai does not reflect Paul’s strength of argument here so the translators have chosen a strong English term to reflect it – “God forbid!” they render this.

It is not about me and my great works. It is not about my ability to keep a list of rules and regulations to make God happy. It is all about the cross. It is only in the cross that I have any hope of making God happy with me.

God forbid, that I, Roger, should ever boast in anything but the cross.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Do good to all

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. - Galatians 6v10

By this stage in the book of Galatians one thing should be abundantly clear. Christians are free from the Law. It has no more power over us. The chains are broken. The tutor has done his job. We are liberated from its burdens and constraints.

Alright then, what do we do with that freedom? Does it mean that we just run about doing whatever we want?

This has already been addressed once with the passage about not using our liberty to serve our flesh, but to in love put each other first. Here it is made practical – since you are free from the law and not bound to constantly trying to keep it, use every opportunity you have to do good to all people. Especially seek to do good to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

The whole focus has changed – under the Law people were worried about trying to keep every aspect of it. It was all consuming and constricting. There really was no opportunity to do anything else. Now though we have that opportunity. It is now all about others.

This is the natural result of loving God. To simplify the law of Christ we might say, “Love God and love other!” Loving others always involves action. Take every opportunity to show love by doing good to all men. Yes, that starts with the body of Christ, but it extends to all.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

You shall reap

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. - Galatians 6v9

Sometimes when you read a passage you want to see the theological significance. Sometimes you want to draw out a practical application. Sometimes you want to pick a verse apart and catch every subtle mysterious hidden truth. But sometimes God uses a passage to work in a very personal and real way that goes beyond word studies and exegesis. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think most of us know what I am talking about.

A few years ago the ministry here was in deep struggles. We were depressed, discouraged, and ready to quit. Over and over I felt like it was time to cut and run.

God used His word in my heart almost daily to remind of who He is and keep my eyes on Him. During one particularly rough spell, when no one was coming to church or Bible study and I was suffered with feet problems I came across this verse in my own personal morning devotions – “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you will reap if you faint not.” Some of our children were still quite young. During our morning family devotions the key verse was – “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.” I was uplifted and encouraged. Our youngest, Eoin, was still quite young so I did devotions with him in the evening. We used the children’s devotional “Keys for Kids.” The story that night was about a boy and his grandfather out fishing. The little boy wanted to move because the fish were not biting. His granddad convinced them to fish successfully you can’t keep moving but keep at it and be patient. The key verse at the end of the story was, you guessed it, “Be not weary in well doing, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.”

I got the point. God did not want us to move. He did not want us to quit. I told my wife that night that God’s promises are true. We might not reap until we get to heaven, but we will reap. I won’t say that all of my doubts and fears ended that night. I won’t say that I will never have those doubts and fears again. But I do those this – I am not to grow weary in doing good, for in God’s own due season I will reap if I don’t quit.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Reap what you sow

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. - Galatians 6v7-8

There is a principal or reaping and sowing. If I plant tomato seeds I am going to get tomatoes, not apples. If I plant carrot seeds I am not going to get broccoli. It is just plain common sense.

Here Paul makes a spiritual application. You can’t spend your life sowing the flesh and expect to reap eternal life at the end. Those who sow the spirit are the only ones who are going to reap eternal life.

The Judaizers in Galatia were trying to say that following the flesh and focusing on getting the flesh right were the ways to reap eternal life. That is not the case; if the flesh is the focus then corruption will be the end result. Only those who seek after and follow the spirit can have hope of eternal life.

The flesh reaps corruption. To follow it is the epitome of foolishness. Only following the spirit provides eternal life. The question persist – why keep focusing on the flesh? It is useless, it offers nothing.

Does that mean there is no profit in doing good? Of course not; the rest of the passage will prove that. Yet sowing to the flesh can only produce corruption.

What Paul is saying to his readers is pretty simple. “Don’t be tricked…if you think you can follow those who seek to sow the spirit you will reap its only possible consequence – corruption. Only by sowing the Spirit, as evidenced by His fruit, can we hope to reap eternal life.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Examine your work

For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. - Galatians 6v3-4

Why is it that we have such an easy time finding fault in others? Why is it that we take it on ourselves to become judge and jury for other people and other ministries? It is so easy for us to see problems with others while all the while ignoring things in our own lives.

Part of the reason is found in the first part of this passage. I fear, no, I know, that far too often the error is that we think that we are “something” and therefore qualified to sit as judge and jury on others. When we do that, as this verse says, we deceive ourselves.

There are a few key words in this passage. “Let a man examine his own works.” My daily walk needs to begin with a self examination. For me at least that is a HUGE task. A friend reminded me of this recently when I was being critical of a methodology and terminology that was irritating me.

Keeping me right with the Lord is a full time job. I fear that sometimes the reason we are so slow to examine ourselves is that we might be afraid what we will find there.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Burden sharing

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. - Galatians 6v2

For each one shall bear his own load. - Galatians 6v5

I am really glad that the NKJV translators made this slight change of word choice. Contextually, it is clear that the KJV translator’s choice to use “burden” in both verses is acceptable, but since there are two different Greek words, using two different English words makes sense as well.

Paul has changed gears slightly here. He has moved on from dealing with the legalizers to begin teaching on grace living. Chapter 6 is a series of instructions on how we take the lessons learned and apply them to daily living.

In these two verses we have some practical suggestions. In verse 6 the word translated “load” is talking about regular tasks or services. All of us have to do our own stuff. We have to deal with the every day issues. I don’t presume to know Greek by any means, but the lexicon says that this word is derived from a word meaning “invoice.” Maybe we can say that verse 6 describes the fact that we all have to “pay our daily bills” as we go through life. We are responsible for the everyday stuff that we encounter.

Now let’s look back to verse 2. “Bear on another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” These are the burdens that press us down. These are the heavy loads that we encounter. In the attempt at an analogy above, these are those unexpected “bills” that come along that we are not ready for. These are the pressures that are just too much to bear alone. When these times come, we of course should, “take it to the Lord in prayer,” but at the same time we need others to jump in and help shoulder the load.

In other words, we just need to deal with the daily loads and allow others to do the same. However, when the load gets heavy and we are feeling pressed down we need to share the load with others. When someone comes to us with a load like that, we fulfil the love of Christ by jumping under the load with them and shouldering the burden.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

In a spirit of gentleness

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. - Galatians 6v1

Once again I feel compelled to temper my words with a few comments. When I think of words to describe the associations I have had with individuals and churches since I have been saved some very positive ones come to mind: fervent in spirit, faithful, dedicated to the word of God, earnestly contending for the faith. I have seen true love and compassion as well.

However, there is an area where I think we often miss the boat. What happens when someone is overtaken in a trespass? Sometimes, if they are not well known, we simply ignore it; we just don’t want to deal with it. There is no attempt at restoration. That clearly misses the teaching of this passage.

On the other hand, if the personality is very public and well known, they is another kind of reaction. Attacks and condemnation come down like a tonne of bricks. A stumbling brother is too often kicked, beaten, and summarily dismissed. We can write him off without any attempt at reconciling. I have seen far to many men dismissed with a word or a look. We seem to be expert at shooting our own soldiers when they are down.

Galatians 6v1 really makes it clear. When a brother is overtaken in fault there are some principles to remember.

1. Restore him

2. Do so with a gentle spirit

3. Remember that the same thing could happen to us

I will admit that there is one word in there that I have not seen a whole lot of, especially in my own life. I can only think of a very few men in the movement that I have been associated with that could be described as “gentle.” Gentleness is a trait that I have been trying to work on for the last few years – it does not come to me naturally.

Gentleness; what a wonderful word. Yet, it is a title that most men shy away from. When it comes to erring brethren – in fact in every day and every way, may we learn to be “gentle-men” and “gentle-women” as we live for and serve Him.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Crucified the flesh

And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. - Galatians 5v24

I have never understood man’s fascination with dead bodies. For decades Lenin’s dead body lay in a glass coffin and millions would stop to see it. (It may still be there, I am not sure) There us a human head displayed in a church in Drogheda here in Ireland and someone is always there praying before it. We once a group in charge of some saints body parts ring and offer to bring them to our church as a special blessing. I just don’t get it.

And yet, the word of God points out that we have the same problem. Our flesh is crucified, the old man is dead. Sin, the flesh, the old man, whatever you want to call it has no power over us. Yet somehow we are still drawn to this stench of death. It, to use a phrase from another context, “being dead yet speaketh.”

Just previous to this we read the marvellous works of the Spirit. What keeps us from walking that way? It is our morbid fascination with the stinking dead flesh. Our only real freedom will come when we united with our Saviour, but in the mean time our job is to remember that it is dead, and not allow ourselves to be tricked and deceived by that which is already dead.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Walk in the Spirit

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
- Galatians 5v16

Certain things just don’t mix. Oil and water for example don’t mix (okay, I am no scientist, so maybe there is a way to mix them), I am sure there are other things that don’t mix, but I can’t think of them this morning, but hopefully we all get the point.

Paul points out in a couple of verses here that you simply can’t mix the flesh and the Spirit. There are mutually exclusive. A Christian cannot walk in the flesh and the Spirit at the same time. Over and over again throughout each and every day we stand at a fork in the road. One road means following the flesh, the other means following the Spirit.

How do we avoid the trap of fulfilling the lust of the flesh? We all face the same battle. The flesh rears its ugly head over and over again saying, “Follow me, you know you want to, you know you like it.” If we are not walking in the Spirit, down His road, then we are going to rush headlong into obeying the flesh. If we want to deny the flesh we have to walk in the Spirit.

The problem is that most of us want it both ways. We want to walk in the Spirit with the chance to occasionally indulge the flesh. We just can’t seem to totally let go of the flesh.

The words are clear enough in this verse – “Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” If we are fulfilling the lust of the flesh, what does that mean? Does it not mean that we are not walking in the Spirit?

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Consuming each other

But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! - Galatians 5v15

In many ways I am more than grateful for the men who have had a part in making me the man I am today. They have taught me a devotion to the word of God. The men, churches, and schools I have been associated with are wholly dedicated to the Bible and therefore have a high regard for holy living. They have loved the lost and given themselves over to introducing others to Jesus Christ and sharing his marvellous gift of salvation.

And yet, there is something that I once took for granted that bothers me. While at fellowship meetings there is often a favourite past time which seems to engender the most attention. Off in a corner someplace a crowd grows and develops. If you walk by you hear that the discussion is often about men at the meeting who are in another discussion or men who are not there. We seem to thrive on finding fault and criticising them or their ministries. Paul’s words here, “biting and devouring,” truly picture these discussions.

If there is any doubt about my thoughts, one could take a look at our books, articles, internet postings, and blogs. In the previous verse Paul writes that the whole Law is summarised by, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” And yet, far too often biting and devouring replace loving and compassion in these arenas. .

Please, I don’t mean to paint with a broad brush. I have seen much good, but as I sit here I think of so many times that I have watched men I loved and respected tear someone else apart for some minor grievance. Far too often I did not get dragged into these discussions, but jumped in with all my might. My heart aches when I think of things I have said about others, or stories I heard that I knew were not true, and did not act. .

Biting and devouring can only have one result – “You will be consumed by each other.”

One thing is for certain – if we consume each other we will certainly save the evil one a lot of trouble.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Called to liberty

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. - Galatians 5v13

I have referenced this passage so often that I feel like I have already covered it fully. This seems like the key verse on what Bible liberty is all about. There can be no doubt that we, as believers, have liberty. The law has lost all its constraints and restrictions. Freedom can be a scary thing though. Sometimes people don’t handle it well. Some people, and some churches, seem to thrive under restrictions and requirements. It is simple to tick boxes on a check list. God’s standard is much, much higher.

However, those who discover liberty can easily misuse it. Liberty becomes licence and licence can become licentiousness. This is not God’s will any more than some harsh legal code.

There is a simple balance for liberty. Don’t use your liberty as a chance to serve your fleshly desires. Our liberty is not for us to do whatever we want. On the contrary our liberty frees us to serve in another capacity. Our liberty allows us to serve each in love.

What does this mean in my daily living? It means when I get up in the morning I face the day, not with some checklist calling me to tick its boxes, but I wake up in love with the God who first loved me and as a result in love with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Love motives me to do everything I can for the one I love. Love means I don’t think about me at all. Love, not law, controls me. Loving service is easy and a joy. Legalistic service is hard and a burden.

Let us learn the joy of “through love serving each other.”

Friday, 16 May 2008

Faith working through love

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. - Galatians 5v6

Paul took the subject of liberty very seriously, mostly of course because he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and God clearly takes liberty seriously. The foul Judaizers in Galatia were messing with the heads of the people and trying to convince them that if they were really, truly saved they would go back and submit to the Law. Unless you keep the Law you are not saved!”

Paul says, “No! Stand fast in your liberty.” Keeping the Law and doing good works cannot save you, they don’t make you righteous. There are some even today saying that while we are free from some aspects of the Law that there are some parts of the Law that Christians must still keep. Some say, “We are free from the ceremonial law, but we are still compelled to keep the moral law.” Then they try to decide which is which for us.

I just don’t get this kind of thinking. Paul says in this section that if you try to keep one part of the Law, you are bound to keep all of it. We can’t pick and choose which parts of the Law bind us and which don’t.

Now look carefully at the verse above. Some accuse those who live in liberty of being “anything goes libertarians.” Nothing could be further from the truth! The works of the Law do nothing, the prove nothing. The proof comes in “faith working through love.” Like the title of John MacArthur’s book says, “Faith works.” Indeed it does. It works through love, not some tyranny of the Law.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Barren Sarah bore a son

So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. - Galatians 4v31

Recently a very dear friend shared with me that she had discovered this marvellous nugget of scripture while working on a paper. I am not real big on grasping allegories, pictures, and types out of the Old Testament and applying them to New Testament truths. But here, the Holy Spirit makes it clear. Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, are an allegory of law vs. liberty. My friend’s thoughts got me thinking, and now the passage comes up in my reading!

Rather than go into all the theological implications here I am going to simplify it so even I can get it. Ishmael is a picture of the Law, Mt Sinai, today’s Jerusalem, and bondage. Isaac is a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem, promise, and freedom.

Here, I think at least, is the meaning. Abraham was the product of Abraham’s work in trying to help God along. God had promised a son years before, but now Sarah was old and barren. There was no hope. So Abraham fathered a son by Hagar. This was not the son of promise, but a son of the flesh. He was a son, if you will, by works.

But this was not the promised son. This was not the son Abraham and Sarah were waiting for. Old barren Sarah was yet to bear a son. One day the blessing came – barren Sarah bore a son, the promised son. Isaac was a son; not of works, not of the flesh, but a son of God’s miraculous work.

At the very end of this section of Galatians Paul drives the point home. “We are not sons of the flesh; we are not the children of Hagar. We are the sons of Sarah, the freewoman. We are the children of promise, not works!

What is the promise? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Barren Sarah did bear a son; a son of promise. One day God provided another Son – another Son of Promise. Now we are children of promise. Why then is the bondage so appealing to so many?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Weak and beggarly elements

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. - Galatians 4v9-10

It just doesn’t make any sense, does it? That seems to be what Paul is saying here. We are raised with Christ, we have put on Christ, we are adopted into God’s family, we can call Him “Daddy,” we have a wonderful inheritance, and so much more. These Galatians had the same. Paul points out that before they were saved they bowed down to and submitted to stone gods.

Now Paul asks them a powerful question, “Since you are freed from the law, why do you keep going back to it? Why do you keep running back to those “weak and beggarly” elements which are not going to do you any good? Do you really want to go back into bondage to them? You have replaced the stone gods with days and months and seasons.

The next verse is also powerful – “I am worried about you. Is everything I did there in vain?”

What would Paul say to us today when we act like we are tied to the Law? What would he say when we bow down to man made regulations that the word of God never talks about? We can get so tied down to these weak and beggarly elements that we forget about truly loving the Lord and serving Him in grace and truth. We will serve much more effectively when we serve out of love instead of obligation.

Forget about the weak and beggarly elements. Love God with all your heat and soul and might. Love your neighbour as yourself. Enjoy your liberty, but don’t use it to serve your own fleshly desires, but in love serve each other.

What is this draw of bondage?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Heir of God

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4v6-7

Galatians has been reminding us since the very start of our freedom in Christ. It stresses that being a Christian is a blessing, not a burden. Then, Paul describes the blessings. God is our living Father, He provided us with a tutor to show us our need of Christ, When we were saved He clothed us in Christ. He adopted us as His children. Now we can call Him Daddy. And since He is our Daddy, we are His heirs through Christ.

What does it mean to be an heir? It means that we have an inheritance laid up for us. We are, if you will, in His will. But His will is a blessing – it is some kind of marvellous “Living Will” where the death of the Great Testator has already been accomplished through Christ.

The entire inheritance is already mine in Him. Now it acts something like a trust fund, where I can draw on the interest, but one day I will receive the full inheritance. It is already “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven” for us.

An heir of God. What an amazing thought!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Adoption as sons

…to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. - Galatians 4:5

I think this is the second time this concept of adoption has appeared. The first was back in Romans and I am sure I commented on the idea of “Abba, Father.” Yet, somehow I just can’t pass this by without comment.

The first part of the verse is astounding in itself – Jesus came to redeem us from the Law. By His precious blood He bought us from the slave-market that was the Law. He freed us, He broke the chains; not only of sin, but of the Law as well! As a side note here I have to wonder about those who would cheapen His redemption from the Law by trying to bind us to it!

But it doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot. He redeemed us from the Law that we might receive the adoption, and become His sons by that adoption. He paid my price, and then He adopted me as His child. My adoption papers came with my redemption papers. He paid the ultimate adoption fee. And it did it – FOR ME!!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

In the fullness of time

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, - Galatians 4v4

I mentioned earlier that I love teaching. I also love history. When I taught in the classroom my major subject area was history. So I had the joy of teaching about a subject that I loved.

This passage in one of those great history centred verses. God sent His Son when the time was just right – indeed in the fullness of time. For thousands of years everything was being arranged for this moment. The Hebrew nation had provided the Scriptures, the prophecies of Messiah, and the Law to show man his need. The Roman Empire stretched over most of the known world. Though she often conquered by force, her troops provided safety and protection for travellers on her amazing road system, parts of which are still in use today. This allowed the apostles and first missionaries to carry the gospel all over the known world. Greece had provided a universal language so that God’s word could be read in the furthest corners of the Empire. It was indeed the “fullness of time.”

I think the lesson is clear. God always acts in the fullness of time. The Jews had waited thousands of years for their Messiah. Surely they thought at times that He was never coming – but He did; in the fullness of time.

Some today are enamoured with the return of Christ. They read the news and try to bring it into conformity with Scriptures. In my relatively short life I have seen technology used as proof that His return must be close. Scripture was interpreted to set many dates. 1989 was a big year. It was about forty years since the foundation of Israel. By saying that human history was going to be 7,000 years long, subtracting 1,000 years for the millennium, four years since Christ was actually born in 4 BC, and seven years for the tribulation it simply had to happen then!

But it didn’t. Now we hear of new dates and projections. It might even be this year! In 2015 the moon, sun, and planets will be arranged so that some see them as a sure sign of His return, Take away seven years and, voila! 2008 fits.

He may very well return in 2008. It could even be today. But I do know this – He will return in the fullness of time.

In fact, God always works in the fullness of time. No matter what we are waiting on, now matter how long we have waited to see God work; He will work in the fullness of time.

When we were weary of deputation and wondering if we were would ever get to Ireland someone reminded us of a great truth – “God has never been late.”

God is never late. Be assured, He always acts in the fullness of time.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

All one in Christ

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Gal 3v28

In the short history of our church here we have had the joy of having Christians from all over the world. Even now we have Irish, Filipinos, South Africans, an Australian, and Americans. We have a German chap from Switzerland who often travels here on business. Through the years we have had Christians from Zimbabwe, the Congo, Nigeria, Spain, Brazil, Cameroon, and I am sure a few others.

One of the most interesting things I have ever done is to preside over a couple of Nigerian baby naming services. Nigerians traditionally give their children several names, one of which is from the pastor. My role is to explain each name and why it was chosen. The best part about these services was the Nigerian foods. In fact, we have never had to have an international dinner because we have that every time we eat together. If you have never had Filipino food you don’t know that you are missing. And then there is this South African dish, ah, but I digress.

At the Lord’s Table last night we talked about what the Lord’s death means to us. The theme that reoccurred last night was that as the body of Christ, we can all share in the common purpose of remembering his body. After salvation all of us, no matter what our culture, have put on Christ. Since we have put on Christ we are all one in Him. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male of female, black or white, British or Irish, and on and on.

This week there was a major occasion as Bertie Ahern, the outgoing Taoiseach of Ireland, and Ian Paisley, the soon outgoing First Minister of Northern Ireland met together to open a heritage centre commemorating the Battle of the Boyne. It was indeed momentous because it was a true sign of the peace which has in many ways finally united this island which for so long was ripped apart by political and religious struggle.

But Mssrs. Ahern and Paisley were a little late. Several years ago a little church in Belfast met for a baptism on the Boyne. New believers from both the British Protestant and Irish Catholic cultures joined together and stepped into the waters of this historic river to follow the Lord in baptism. They joined, not in celebrating a political peace, but true peace in Christ.

All over the world those who were once enemies have found mutual peace in Christ. True peace and true unity replace division and violence. Many saw the meeting on the Boyne this week as a miracle, and in some ways I guess it was. But how much more miraculous the unity that comes as people from every background and culture find perfect unity as they put on Christ. We all become Christians, “Christ-ones” and in that there is no room for division.

Friday, 9 May 2008

You have put on Christ

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. - Galatians 3v26-27

The first division in the church was caused by the Circumcision Party who insisted that Christians keep the law. They still saw the church as a part of Judaism and to be a Jew, even a Jew “of The Way,” one must keep the law. On the other side we what we might call the “Grace Party,” mostly Gentile Christians who saw no need to keep the Law. Part of the division here was cultural as well as religious. Something had to be done to deal with this division.

Paul drives the point home here – anyone who has put their faith in Christ is a son of God – full stop. I will deal with more of that tomorrow. Today I want to focus on one phrase that shows the commonality of all true believers.

Paul says that anyone who has been baptised into Christ has put on Christ. What a picture for us to contemplate for just a moment. When I got saved I positionally put on Christ. When God sees me today, He sees me in Christ – full of His righteousness and truth. We are all the same; none of us is any more “in Christ” than any other. That position is secure.

Saying that, we still have a responsibility to “put on Christ” before others (Romans 13v14). This explains how salvation and works play out. I put on Christ in God’s eyes at salvation. There is nothing I can add to that. Before others, however, I have a responsibility to represent Christ. When they see Roger they need to see Jesus in me and me in Him.

It was ordained before the foundation that God’s people will do good works. Good works is not what we do to please God – it is just what we do.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

My teacher

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. - Galatians 3v24-25

I love teaching. I really, really love teaching. I love everything about it. I miss chalk dust. As a pastor now I love teaching in this capacity, but I do sometimes miss the school classroom. I miss the buzz at the beginning of school, the busyness of Christmas activities, and the melancholy of the end of the year. My wife and I were senior class (last year) sponsers for years and I miss the planning and preparation for graduation. I even miss knowing that I would miss those who were heading out into the world.

I am doing a different kind of teaching now – I teach literacy one on one in a programme called Youthreach. It is for students who have left secondary school. I love the one on one teaching because I really get to know each student.

That begins to bring me to my point. One of my favourite parts of teaching is the teacher/student relationship. After all these years I still have contact with some of my students from when I taught school. I have several former students from Youthreach who contact me and always approach me when I see them. There is special bond in a proper student/teacher relationship. Though the teacher or tutor no longer has any kind of authority, a deep level of respect remains. A wonderful example of this is Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. Their relationship did not end when Miss Sullivan stopped her official teaching. Helen no longer had to submit to Miss Sullivan’s authority, but she held a deep respect to her.

And so it is with the Law. The Law was our tutor, our schoolmaster, our teacher. God used it it to teach us that our works could never appease a holy God. It taught us our need for Christ. He taught us the need for faith instead of works.

The Law is no longer my teacher. Does that mean I cast it off completely? I don’t think so. The Law did so much for us. It still deserves our respect and consideration. The Law was never negated; it simply lost its authority in Christ.

Thank God for my Teacher.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

All under sin

But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. - Galatians 3v22

The whole concept of the law is a difficult one to grasp. Since we are freed from the law does that make the law evil? Does that mean that the law was a bad thing? That cannot be the case for the law came from God. How then can we rejoice that we are free from something God gave?

Way back before the law God gave what is called the “promise of faith” to Abraham. “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” The promise of faith came long before that law. Paul points out that the promise of faith cannot be annulled by the law.

The law did have a purpose. It, along with the rest of Scripture, have “confined all under sin.” Every person who has ever lived is trapped, imprisoned, and confined. The only conclusion that can be reached by the Law is that no one is good enough to keep it. The Law was not a rule book. Instead it was God’s measuring rod to prove that no one could do anything on their own to please of satisfy His holiness. Under the Law there was no freedom – it proved that all were captive to sin.

Why? Why create a law that would only confirm how far short man falls? “That the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

The law was not to replace our imprisonment to sin with an imprisonment to itself. It merely showed us that we were imprisoned by our sin and that faith in Christ is the only way out.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Free from the law

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), - Galatians 3v13

Philip Bliss is a well known hymn writer. He wrote the following words which first appeared in a song book in the 1873.

Free from the law, O happy condition,
Jesus has bled and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all.

Once for all, O sinner, receive it,
Once for all, O brother, believe it;
Cling to the cross, the burden will fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.

Now we are free, there’s no condemnation,
Jesus provides a perfect salvation.
“Come unto Me,” O hear His sweet call,
Come, and He saves us once for all.

“Children of God,” O glorious calling,
Surely His grace will keep us from falling;
Passing from death to life at His call;
Blessed salvation once for all.

“Free from the law, O happy condition.’ What an amazing statement. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety in daily trying to satisfy a perfect, holy, and righteous God? Can you imagine at the end of the day looking back and checking your activities against a huge list of rules and regulations and knowing that your eternity hung in the balance? What fear that would cause. What a miserable life. We all know that not one of us could do anything to placate God.

The amazing truth is that no one of us has to. Jesus took the curse of the law on Himself on the cross. He paid the price. He redeemed us. He liberated us. He set us free from all the curse of the law. “Now we are free, there is no condemnation!”

Praise God that “Christ has redeemed me, once for all!”

You foolish Galatians

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain if indeed it was in vain? - Galatians 3v1-4

Wow! These are pretty harsh words. “O foolish Galatians!” It appears to me here that Paul’s frustration now carries over to the Christians who are being affected by the “works righteousness” teachers in Galatia.

He makes an amazing point here. “Having begun the in the Spirit are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Somehow, a belief had developed that though they were saved by faith that was not enough. Now that they were saved they had to “finish the job” by carrying out works of righteousness.”

How clear can it be? There is nothing we can do to add to “It is finished.” All that needed to done was done when Jesus said “It is finished!”

In spite of this there are some today who think we can somehow placate Jesus or make Him happy with us by the way we live. Our works have nothing to do with producing any kind of righteousness. They therefore cannot be used as a measure of our righteousness. People make rules and, like the Galatian judaizers, say, “If you want to be spiritual you will do these things.”

Is it not the same idea – “You were saved by faith in Christ, but now you need to finish the job by your own works. If you want to be mature as a Christian, this is what you have to do.”

Paul makes it clear. Works of the flesh are meaningless. We can’t do anything to make God happy with us. The truth is that our faith is always evidenced by our works. Works are the result of, not the requirements for righteousness.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Christ died for nothing?

I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." - Galatians 2v21

I think this is one of the key verses that God used to convince and convict me about problems with works righteousness. At first it seems to make sense that we surely must do something to be saved. The Judaizers in the early church tried to mix the grace of God with keeping the law. Paul draws the line here – to add the law sets aside the grace of God and it means that Christ died for nothing.

Think about it for a second, if I could achieve righteousness through works everything Christ did on the cross was for nothing. Every false charge was endured for nothing. Every taunt was for nothing. Every drop of soldier’s spittle was for nothing. Every cruel blow was for nothing. Every whisker of his beard plucked out was for nothing. Every wound of the thorns in the crown was for nothing. Every blow from the whip was for nothing. Every time the crowd screamed, “Crucify Him,” was for nothing. Every tortured step to the cross was for nothing. Every hammer blow on the sharp nails was for nothing. Every drop of blood was for nothing. Every tortured breath was for nothing. Every cry of “He can’t even save Himself,” was for nothing. “It is finished,” was for nothing – it made Christ a liar.

In the light of the phrase “Christ died for nothing,” surely no teaching is more abominable than works salvation. Even false religions don’t mock the cross by rendering it useless.

Praise God for His grace. Praise God that it the cross was not in vain.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Christ lives in me

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. - Galatians 2v20

Here is one of those tidbits that says more than we can possibly comprehend. There is a lot of discussion about this passage today and about what it means to have Christ living on me. I don’t really want to get into all that discussion today, and because these are my reflections, I am not going to.

The pure and simple truth is that somehow, in a way far beyond my ken, Christ is alive and living in me. When I got saved I was crucified with Him. Somehow, at that moment Christ came to live in me. According to the verse above, I still am living my life, but I am now doing by faith in Christ, the one who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Anyway, the amazing fact is that I don’t have to live this Christian life alone. We all go through times when it seems like it is overwhelming. The struggles get so tough that we can’t seem to get through them. Maybe we have some sin that is a constant struggle for us.

I think sometimes that the problem with have living the Christian life is that we think we have to live it on our own. We get up every day, and we think that it is really up to us. We struggle all day long, because we honestly think that we can “do it.”

My flesh will fail me. It will fail me today. It will fail me tomorrow. It will fail me every time I try to depend on it. My flesh is the campground for sin, so it only makes sense that living in the flesh will always result in sin.

But there is Christ. Christ living in me. As I go through today I will have plenty of choices to make. Will I allow my flesh to control, or will I depend on Christ living in me?

Friday, 2 May 2008

Solo fide, solo Christo

“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” - Galatians 2v16

I know that is “old hat” to most of us. I know that this is nothing new, deep, or profound in many ways. But is a truth that I am so grateful for that I can’t just pass it over.

You see, I know me. I know that even with all of God’s grace on me and me as His precious child I still fail Him. Even with Christ in me – I fail. I battle my flesh every single day and far too often the flesh wins. As I look over the law, or any set of requirements I know that if I had to keep the law I would certainly be doomed to hell. Not a day passes where I do not fail Him.

Look at the emphasis in this verse alone – “not justified by the works….by faith in Jesus…we have believed in Christ…justified by faith in Christ…not by works of the law…by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Paul could not make it any clearer. Every time I stop to consider this I am overwhelmed. By faith alone, through Christ alone, to God alone – be the glory.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Fearing those of the circumcision

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. - Galatians 2v11-13

Peer pressure is a formidable foe. We tend to fear what others might think of us, and, as a result can sometimes modify our behaviour accordingly. Paul and Barnabas had been sent out to minister to the Gentiles. Everyone supported them and their ministry.

However, Paul had a real problem with Peter. Peter had no problem sitting, eating, and fellowship with the uncircumcised Gentile believers when he was just there with Paul and Barnabas. However, when the circumcision party came he changed and withdrew from them because he was afraid of them and what they might say about him. It was so bad that even Barnabas took part in the hypocrisy.

I can somewhat understand Paul’s heart here – he was defensive of the people to whom God had called him to minister. He loved them these people. These men who acted like they cared when no one was there, ignored them under peer pressure.

How often do we modify our behaviour because we are afraid of what other might say? Only we know in our own hearts. Clearly, we are not to act in a way that is going to flaunt liberty to offend others. But at the same time, we need to be careful that we are not hypocritical in our actions. It is all about balance and attitudes.