Saturday, November 18, 2017

171119 Redeemed from the Curse

Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
The Apostle wants us to understand his relationship to the gospel. First, Paul affirms that he received his message from Christ himself. He was not subject to any other man or any organization only to Christ. He also wanted us to grasp the concept that the gospel was not just a New Testament thing. The gospel came long before the law. His moving away from the Mosaic law was a valid spiritual step. Paul needed to remind the Galatians that their turning back to the rules of Moses was completely invalid. In fact, the gospel has set us free from the bondage to sin and gives us victory over the flesh.
The entire letter to the Galatians is an exhortation to come back to the gospel. Since the Galatian church had begun to return to the law of Moses…
Paul saw the Galatians as “foolish”! Look back to Galatians 3:1. O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
I realize that Jesus instructed us not to call a person a fool. However, even people who are protected from being called a fool sometimes do foolish things. No one is exempt from having taken the foolish route at some point in their life. The problem was that the Galatians, in their foolishness, were moving away from the simple gospel that had been presented to them.
Even though they would not have been present when Jesus was crucified Paul reminds them that, in his preaching, they had seen the banner spread before their eyes that said, “Jesus came into the world, lived a perfect life, and took our sins to the cross”. That is the simple truth of the gospel. Jesus, born of a virgin, lived without sin, took our punishment, died in our place, defeated death and came back to life to give us life. The Galatians needed to respond to the question…
How did they begin their faith life? Let’s read in Galatians 3:2. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
How were they born again? Was it by obeying the law of Moses or by believing in Jesus Christ God’s son and our Savior! When we believed — leading to confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord — the Holy Spirit came to give us life! In fact, that was the very reason that Jesus came into the world. Satan came to steal, kill and destroy everything spiritually good in us while Jesus came to give us life abundantly! When the Galatians, or anyone else, came to salvation in Christ they/we received that spiritual life by hearing the word of God and believing the truth.
You see, faith is not a leap in the dark! It is not believing against all reasonable truth. Faith is trusting in God and depending on God because we believe what he has said in his word.
When a person is converted they turn from sin to Christ. This is done because we have come to believe what God says about sin. Saving faith is more than mere knowledge. It is necessary we have some knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done. But knowledge of the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us is not enough. People can know facts but rebel against them or even dislike them. Many people know God’s laws but rebel against them. Even the demons believe that God exists but they remain demons. Saving faith is not believing about Christ but instead, it is depending on Christ for my spiritual life. Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God!
This is not just a New Testament concept along with Paul…
We look back to Abraham. Let’s turn to Genesis 12:1-3. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
As you read this amazing statement by God we need to realize several things. First, Abram — who would later be called Abraham — did not have any written Bible that we know of. Second, he did not grow up in a family that worshiped Yahweh. Third, he had spent much of his life (so far as we know) without an awareness of Yahweh. But when the right time came God spoke to him and directed him to repent, turning away from his past, and respond to God’s directions for him. And God promised that he would bless Abraham and make his name great. God promised that Abraham would be a blessing. God promised that he would bless those who blessed Abraham! And he also promised that he would curse those who dishonored Abraham.
But of greatest importance to us, God promised Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed because of Abraham’s faith. Notice that it was not because of obedience to some kind of laws but it was a matter of faith. After faith came Abraham made many positive decisions in obedience to God. But those decisions he made did not save him! His faith was counted to him as righteousness. We might assume that there were others all over the world who came to faith in God in the same manner. For example, Melchizedek was the king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. This great King appeared in a single incident in Abraham’s life. Later, Moses would become the son-in-law of Jethro, the priest of Midian. We cannot be positive that Jethro worshiped the Yahweh as Moses did but there was no rejection of the idea that he could provide advice to Moses as he led the people of Israel through the wilderness. Now let’s look back to Galatians to see that…
Abraham received the gospel. Let’s read Galatians 3:8-9. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
The gospel, Paul tells us, was preached to Abraham. Now, what exactly does that mean? Modern man tends to think that the “gospel” must include all the elements: all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and yet God demonstrates his love for us by sending his son to die on the cross (Romans 5:8), and, if we will confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead we will be saved (Romans 10:9-10). Such a comprehensive explanation would have been an amazing idea to Abraham.
Instead, the gospel preached to Abraham was simply, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). That gospel was all that was needed and in fact, is still all that is needed! The blessing that came for all people everywhere is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! He came as a result of the promise. While Abraham walked on this earth having in his genetic makeup the human body of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, and after multiple generations, Jesus was born of Mary and descended from David the king. The blessing is given through Abraham’s faith counteracted…
The curse on humanity. Let’s look back to Genesis 2:16-17. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Adam walked and talked with God on a daily basis and yet when tempted by Satan he ate of the tree that had been denied to him.  When Adam rebelled against God, becoming the first sinner, as our representative God counted us guilty along with him. Adam’s guilt belongs to us because God imputed Adam’s guilt to us. We may not like being represented by Adam. But we should never hesitate to be represented by Jesus! Our first representative sinned and God counted us guilty. Christ, the representative of all who believe in him, obeyed God perfectly and God counted us righteous. That is the way God set up the human race to work. Let’s look ahead to Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Granted that we have all sinned, we recognize that sin’s pay is death! Just as none can escape sin as part of our lifestyle so we cannot escape death as its consequence! Adam and Eve did not immediately die in the garden but they certainly began to die. God had said that they would surely die and they surely did! However, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We must be eternally grateful that…
Jesus redeemed us. Let’s return to Galatians 3:13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” The curse of the law is death — physical and spiritual. Jesus became a curse for us. Or, as we see in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Christ to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God! Peter supported this same concept. We are all under the curse! But Jesus took the curse for us. Let’s see what Peter had to say in 1 Peter 2:24. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
The blood of bulls and goats that had been the payment for sin in the Old Testament really did not bring forgiveness. All of those acts look forward to Jesus and his obedience to the Father. Jesus died to sin once for all and when we place our faith in him the guilt, bequeathed by Adam, is removed from the human race. We cannot free ourselves from the curse. No matter how good we are we remain Adam’s heirs! But Jesus act of righteousness enables us to die to sin and live to righteousness.
It is a very cheap thing to attempt to appropriate Jesus’ death on the cross only for physical healing. There was a much greater blessing that came to the human race through Jesus’ obedience. By his death on the cross, we receive much more than most people imagine. Jesus died and rose again…
In order that we might receive the blessing. Let’s read in Galatians 3:14. So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Becoming the righteousness of God, in Jesus, enables us to receive all the blessings in Scripture. By faith in Christ we are able to be united to Abraham the man of faith.
With grateful hearts, we should come to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We should rejoice that he took our sins to the cross and nailed them there. He took our sin to the grave and left it there. He was raised from the dead in order to set us free. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Jesus came into the world to do the will of the Father! In the garden of Gethsemane, he gave up his rights to himself for us. Jesus prayed for the Father to take the cup of suffering from him. Nevertheless, he would do the Father’s will and die in our place. Have you accepted him as your Lord? Does your faith tell you to believe that God raised him from the dead? They can be your day of salvation!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

171105 The Gospel Revealed in Paul

Galatians 1:11-13 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
The gospel is “good news” for all who will listen. Today, we are going to look at the history of Paul’s conversion. In doing so we will see that the gospel is not something that can be reduced to a two-word definition. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke of the gospel that he preached to them. What he delivered to them was simply put, Christ died for our sins… He was buried… He was raised on the third day and he appeared to a large number of people over the next several days. The “good news” relates to our ability to hear God call us and respond in faith. Let’s look at Paul’s testimony.
We find the first mention of Paul the apostle in Acts chapter 7, verse 58. At that time he was an observer, or a participant, in stoning Stephen the first martyr. At the very least he held others’ coats while they stoned him to death. Acts chapter 8 continues the word picture of Saul of Tarsus. He approved of the execution of Stephen and went on from there to become a ringleader in ravaging the church!
Saul became Paul a preacher of the gospel who carried the good news throughout the Roman Empire. Yet…
Previously, he had persecuted the church. Let’s look at Paul’s own account in Acts 22:4-5. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.
Saul’s active career began in Jerusalem where he had been trained. Soon he found that he had done all he could in that region and he swore out warrants to arrest believers in Christ in other cities. It was on his way to Damascus that…
Paul received the gospel from Jesus himself. Let’s continue with Acts 22:6-8. As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.
On the road to Damascus, this enemy of the church was suddenly confronted by the head of the church. Suddenly a great light surrounded him and he was struck to the ground! Realizing that the light that surrounded him emanated from a person, and that person questioned him, caused him to ask “who are you?” And he added “Lord”. Obviously, Saul recognized the majesty of the person who had stopped him. At the same time, he did not know who this person was!
The “Lord” was self-identified as “Jesus of Nazareth”. Men who were traveling with him saw the light but did not understand the words that he heard. Jesus instructed him to continue to Damascus where he would be told all that was appointed for him to do. Saul of Tarsus, who had been ravaging the church, now began the process of becoming its greatest advocate.
Going back to the Galatian account we can see what Paul later understood about the encounter he had had this Jesus of Nazareth. Turn with me to Galatians 1:15-16. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
Paul came to realize that God had chosen him by grace before he was born. He came to recognize that God plans our days before we are born. David tells us, “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Furthermore, Job tells us that man’s “days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). Jeremiah adds to the account when he recorded God’s words, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
All of our actions are under God’s care. In him, we live and move and have our being. Throughout the Bible, this truth is affirmed. The Bible tells us that “a man’s steps are ordered by the Lord”. A man might plan but it is God who provides the answer. Everything that we have comes from God! We are told in the Bible that God holds the king’s heart in his hand. He guides the desires of his people so that he can then give them those desires. We have the ability to make our own decisions but it is God who has taught us how to live and therefore ultimately directs us.
We hear a lot about collusion and concurrence today. The Bible affirms that our words, our steps, our movements, our feelings and abilities all come from God. Just so, Paul could see that God had set him aside from before his birth. He, like John the Baptist before him, was a servant of the Lord Christ while still in his mother’s womb. And so…
Paul concentrated on knowing Christ. Let’s look at Galatians 1:17-19. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. He continues his historical account. There was no school for him to enroll in, no seminary or monastery, but he had to find his own way.
We know from the account in the book of Acts that Paul was driven out of Damascus, after his conversion, by the very people who would have been his best friends if he continued on the path he started on. Now we see that, according to his own words, he returned to Damascus and continued there for up to three years before going down to Jerusalem to compare what he now knew to be the truth with what was being taught by the apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, the new Lord of his life! When he arrived in Jerusalem he met with Peter and James during a two-week visit. In writing to the Philippians we see more of the spiritual history of Paul. Let’s look at that account…
 Philippians 3:7-11. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of 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 may 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— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Everything the apostle had previously considered important was now put aside. He now had a new goal! Previously his goal had been to arrest and kill as many Christians as possible! Now his goal was to know the Lord Christ. Not just to know about Christ but to know him personally to be his intimate friend to walk with him on a daily basis. This was much more than being introduced to Jesus. This was allowing Jesus to order one’s steps. Everything he had previously considered important was now less than rubbish. The Greek word that is translated “rubbish” could be translated “dung” or “manure”. He now understood that his righteousness was no more than filthy rags. That all of his investment in keeping the Mosaic law had been a wasted effort. Now, he wanted his righteousness to come from faith in Christ. A righteousness that comes from God that depends on faith.
He invested all of his life in the process of becoming like Jesus in the hope that he would be able to gain the resurrection into eternal life. Soon…
Paul saw that even Peter could be a hypocrite. Let’s go to Galatians 2:14.
When Peter first came to Antioch he made no distinction between Jew and Gentile. The issue had been settled in the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15. The Gentiles, upon coming to faith in Jesus Christ, did not have to first become Jews! They were free from the bondage of the Mosaic law! But, while Peter was there some men came from Jerusalem. These men would have known all that had transpired in Jerusalem and would not have expected the Gentiles to be forced into Jewish rituals. However, Peter separated himself from the Gentiles and would only eat with the Jews. Peter’s hypocrisy had to be rebuked because their actions did not fit with the gospel. So Paul wrote for us, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Their attitude toward the Gentiles was causing a serious division in the church. Even Barnabas was negatively affected by their behavior.
Paul had learned that salvation was by faith. Let’s read on Galatians 2:15-16. We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. So Paul was able to give us a strong statement of the basis of salvation. A person is not justified by any kind of “good works”! Now, what is the meaning of this word? The word “justify” in the Bible indicates that justification is a legal declaration by God. It’s most common meaning is “to declare righteous” or “declare to be not guilty”. When God declares that we are justified he specifically declares that we are just in his sight. When we come to the book of Romans we will spend a good bit more time on the subject. In the meantime, let’s look at his commitment to the gospel in…
Romans 1:16-17. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Here Paul clearly states the value of the gospel that he wanted to preach to the Romans. At the time of his writing the letter to the Romans he had never been there. But we can see from the list at the end of the book a great many of his friends had been there or were living there.
The gospel that Paul would present to them was not something to be ashamed of. I am afraid that today many Christians are, or appear to be ashamed of the gospel. At least, the good news about Jesus is seldom the topic of a conversation in our world.
The gospel is the power of God for salvation. There is no barrier to anyone who might come to Jesus. Everyone who believes may be saved! Because the gospel tells us so. In writing to the Corinthians Paul declared that the preaching of Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). The gospel reveals to us that salvation is a matter of faith. From faith for faith! Or, as one translation makes it, “Faith from beginning to end”.
How do we achieve this faith? From the word of God! “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). As a consequence of the faith that he placed in Jesus…
Paul had a new relationship to Jesus Christ. Let’s look at Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul realizes that a large part of the process of becoming a Christian and living out the Christian life is at work in us because we have died to our old way of living. It is not just our sin that God sees as having died with Christ. It is also our self that is crucified with him.
One way we show this is in baptism. When we go into the water we are buried with Christ. When we are brought out of the water we are raised with him. And then, in the mind of God, we have been seated with him. “but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:4-6).
Having been crucified with Christ Paul no longer lived but Christ lived in him. Let’s bring them up to date. When we are saved our old nature dies and a new life begins to work in us. We still have resident in us all of the habits and memories of our old life. If we go back and visit them often we can find ourselves even questioning our salvation. Also, demonic forces know all about our past life and will arrange wherever possible to draw us back towards it and away from Christ. We need to always reject those memories, habits, and demonic forces and focus on Christ who lives in us and in whom we live.
We have seen the historical narrative surrounding Paul’s conversion. It is safe to say that Paul’s salvation is unique. However, in some ways, everyone’s salvation experience is very personal and subjective. There is a general presentation of the gospel that comes in several different forms. There are certain things that are very important to the presentation of the gospel. First, the facts need to be explained. All have sinned, the penalty of sin is death, Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins proving God’s love for us. Agreeing to these facts does not make a person a Christian. There needs to be also a response of repentance and faith. Jesus called on us to come to him so that he could give us rest. Coming to Christ requires turning from our self-centered sin. If you have never responded in repentance this can be your day!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society