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.
Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.
It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.
As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?
The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!
The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.
See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.
Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?
The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.
On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)
Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?
As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!