In today’s Bible reading, Paul warns the Galatians that if they accept the requirement of circumcision, they are obligated to keep the entire Law. James says something similar, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10 (ESV)
But note what else Paul says.
I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:3–4 (ESV)
You may have heard of this term “fall from grace”. Normally the term is used to say that someone has lost their salvation. But in this context — and this is the only place in the Bible that mentions it — it doesn’t mean that. It means that if you choose to fall back to the Law for justifying you before God, you have fallen from grace to legalism.
The Message translation may help us to see this more clearly.
The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. (Galatians 5:3-4 The Message)
Believer, if you’re concerned that you have committed some sin (or a lot of sins) and therefore have fallen from grace and lost your salvation, go back and re-read that!
“Falling from grace” doesn’t mean losing your salvation! It means that you have chosen to use a lower form of justification before God. Don’t do that!
Instead, choose the higher form of justification: grace.
Paul’s whole point of Galatians is that the Law is insufficient to justify us because we could never keep it. The whole point of the Law is to show us that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. And if we could measure up to God’s standards on our own, then Jesus wasted His life and death.
The bottom line is you’re either resting on the finished work of Jesus on the cross, or you’re working to justify yourself. Find your rest in Him. Accept the atoning sacrifice that Jesus already paid for your sin.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul directly addresses the claims of the Jewish legalists. They claim that they are the heirs of the covenant promise God made with Abraham. But Paul rightly points out that the covenant that God made with Abraham was based on faith rather than obedience to the Law. In fact, Paul reminds the legalists that the covenant predated the law by over four hundred years.
Paul refers to Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (ESV) He also refers to Genesis 12:3, “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.” (ESV)
The covenant extends to Abraham’s sons through Jesus Christ. All who are “in Christ” are heirs of the promise. Paul writes extensively about the blessings to those “in Christ” in his letter to the Ephesians.
Abraham believed God and that belief was credited to him as righteousness. Looking at the diagram above, we can see that on God’s Faith Ledger, God kept a record of Abraham’s — and our — sin in the Liabilities column. Then He added faith to the Asset column on His Faith Ledger.
Given Jesus’ infinite righteousness, the balance at the bottom of the Ledger shows that Abraham — and we — are fully justified, due to the infinite righteousness that was added to the account. God justified Abraham on the basis of his faith, his belief. And like their spiritual father, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are the heirs of the covenant promise. We receive the covenant blessing in order to share the covenant blessing with others, bringing them into the Household of Faith.
Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to me.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about rebuking Cephas (Peter) for his hypocrisy. It’s very appropriate for Paul to bring this out in light of the heresy of the Galatians. They had deserted the real Gospel for a false gospel (Galatians 1:6–7) that said if you want to be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew, submitting to all of the aspects of the Law, particularly circumcision.
As I said yesterday, Paul spent seventeen years digging into his Bible (the Old Testament) reconciling the Jewish faith with the new revelation of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. So when Paul heard Peter — the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7) — preaching this false gospel and siding with the legalistic Jewish Christians, he knew that the error must be exposed.
Paul drives home the point that everyone — Jews and Gentiles — is justified the same way: (1) by grace (2) through faith (3) in Jesus Christ alone (Galatians 2:15-21, Ephesians 2:8-9), three of the key doctrines recovered during the Reformation.
The legalism heresy Paul exposes in today’s reading still lives. It didn’t die with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). It just morphed a little, but it’s still the legalism heresy. It says that Jesus isn’t enough to give us a right standing before God. But Paul concludes chapter two saying emphatically that if we could contribute to our salvation, Jesus wasted his life and death; He died for no reason. (Galatians 2:21)
People today — people in the church — often say that if you want to be a good Christian, “You can’t drink, dance, or chew or go with girls that do”, you have to be in church every time the doors are open, and you have to give 10% of your income (the “whole tithe” Malachi talked about [Malachi 3] was closer to 30% and was a tax to support the Levites and their service in the Temple), among other things. A moralistic life looks really good, but it’s empty transactional religion instead of a relationship with Jesus that Paul spoke so much about.
Yes, Christians’ behavior will reflect a growing faith. yes, church attendance is very important. And yes, giving sacrificially from a grateful heart is very important. But doing these things will not make God think any more of you. Not doing these things will not make God think any less of you.
Those who would add to (or subtract from) the true Gospel demonstrate their ignorance of the true Gospel. Jesus is sufficient to give us a right standing before God. And Jesus is sufficient to keep us in a right standing before God. Let’s keep the horse (grace) before the cart (behavior) and avoid the Galatian heresy.
Jesus is a better priest than Melchizedek, the King of Salem, King of Righteousness, King of Peace. In fact, Jesus was from the priestly order of Melchizedek. We read in today’s Bible reading that unlike all the other priests who came before Him, Jesus didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for Himself before offering a sacrifice for the people. Why? Because unlike all priests who came before Him, He didn’t have sin for Himself to have to atone for. Unlike all other priests who came before Him, He was sinless.
So why does the writer of Hebrews make such a big deal of Melchizedek? The Jewish people had always looked up to Melchizedek because he was the one to whom Abraham tithed the spoils after defeating the King of Sodom who had raided Abraham’s nephew Lot. Melchizedek blessed Abraham. He was seen as a messianic figure and precursor of Jesus.
As I said earlier, the main theme throughout the book of Hebrews is the supremacy of Jesus in the New Covenant over the Old Covenant system. As highly as the Jewish people looked up to Melchizedek, the writer of the letter emphasizes Jesus’ supremacy over him.
Jesus isn’t just a little higher. Jesus is supreme over all other priests who came before Him. Including Melchizedek. Jesus’ supreme sacrifice of Himself covered all sin for all time. Never again do God’s people have to find an unblemished lamb to bring to a priest to make a sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient — more than sufficient — to atone for our sins.
With today’s Bible reading, we begin reading through the book of Hebrews. No one knows for sure who wrote the book. It could have been Luke, Paul, or some other individual. But it doesn’t bear the marks of any other Biblical writer. One thing is certain, the letter was written to show how Jesus is better than the old covenant and the old way of doing things.
Straight out of the box, the writer says that Jesus was involved in the universe’s creation and He is actively maintaining it today. (Hebrews 1:2-3) Next the writer says that after completing his atoning work, Jesus sat down. The significance of this simple act is revisited in Hebrews 10:11–12, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
What the writer wants us to see is that in contrast to what was going on in Jerusalem when the book was written (which was before AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans), Jesus’ work was completed in one single action. Once Jesus completed His work, there was no need to keep standing. The job was done. It was finished, never to be repeated.
This is the Gospel message. Jesus died for our sins and finished the job. Never again do fallen people have to try to appease God. Never again do fallen people have to worry if they’re good enough. Jesus was good enough so we don’t have to be. Not that we could be anyway! If we could, Jesus wasted His life and death. Wasted.
While religion teaches that we have to work to be good enough, the relationship that God offers through Jesus Christ is more than enough to give us a right standing before Him. All we have to do is believe. Have faith. Trust. While religion says, “Do”, “Do”, “Do”, “Don’t do”, Don’t do”, and “Don’t even think of doing”, Jesus stretches out his nail-scarred hands and declares “DONE!”
Have you trusted Jesus to be your atoning sacrifice for your fallen condition before God?