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Moralism

No advantage

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)

Application

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.

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Keep the behavior cart behind the grace horse

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.

Application

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.

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drifting on an inner tube

The salvation message was secured by Jesus. The salvation message was declared by angels and proven to be reliable. God Himself bore witness to the salvation message and validated it with signs and wonders. The question from today’s Bible reading is, “Are you drifting from your salvation? Are you neglecting this great salvation message?”

How would one go about neglecting a great salvation like the one provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection? The Greek word that’s translated neglect means, “to pay no attention to”. (Hebrews 2:2) The writer of the book mentions “drifting away from” the message. (Hebrews 2:1) The word drift has to do with gradually giving up one’s belief. Both of these ideas are related to each other. I don’t know of anyone who woke up one day and decided to shipwreck their faith, to walk away from a deeply-committed faith. It just doesn’t happen.

A long time ago, my dad and sister and I were floating with an inner tube at the beach. We enjoyed playing around a little until we realized that we had drifted much further out than we had planned. In fact, the lifeguards had grown concerned and began blowing their whistles. As we tried to swim back toward shore, we realized that we had been caught in a rip current. Thankfully, it wasn’t a strong one! But getting back to shore required a lot of hard swimming against the current. We didn’t plan to get out so far. But we weren’t paying attention to our surroundings. We had drifted away.

Application

Because of our fallen condition, our natural inclination — our natural bent — is to not be interested in the things of God. It takes work to maintain your faith. It takes a conscious effort to maintain your faith.

It’s like trying to create a garden in the middle of a wild field. Just digging some holes in the ground, dropping in a few seeds, pouring on a little water one time won’t cut it! You have to dig up the weeds by the roots. You have to add the right amount of the right kind of fertilizer. You have to add the right amount of water. And you have to do it in the right temperature for the kind of seeds you’re planting.

Maintaining your salvation takes work. It requires spiritual disciplines like reading your Bible, praying, sharing your faith, worshipping and fellowshipping with other Believers, giving of your time, talent, and treasures to your local church fellowship. If you are not actively pursuing these spiritual disciplines, you will drift away.

Does that mean that you can lose your salvation? The Bible consistently teaches the security of your salvation is guaranteed by God Himself. If you have a legitimate salvation, you cannot lose it. In fact, the likelihood of losing a legitimate salvation is as likely as God the Father walking away from the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is the downpayment (earnest money) toward your ultimate salvation and glorification. (Ephesians 1:14)

But all of this presupposes a legitimate salvation in the first place. Just because you walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or were baptized doesn’t mean that you have a legitimate salvation. One of the marks of having a legitimate salvation is a desire to maintain it.

If you made a decision for Christ and nothing has changed in your life, you need to go back and see if you were truly saved. What changes should happen? Do you have a desire for the things of God? Do you have a desire to grow closer to God? Do you feel uncomfortable sometimes when you read things in the Bible? Things that go against the way you live and the choices you make?

Note that these are heart questions, not behavior questions. Yes, your behavior will change. But behavior change alone won’t save you. And there’s the rub. Only God can make changes in your heart.

Ask God to do a transforming work in your heart. Ask Him to change your desires and attitudes. As you do this, practice the spiritual disciplines. And watch your heart and behavior change.

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And now, the rest of the story

Apollos was an eloquent preacher. He was well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew his stuff. But he wasn’t “up to snuff”.

In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us about an Alexandrian preacher named Apollos. Look at the positive words Dr. Luke uses to describe him: eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus. (Acts 18:24-26)

But Luke adds that Apollos only knew of John’s baptism. So Aquilla and his wife Priscilla take him aside and teach him more accurately. What was lacking? What needed clarification?

If Apollos only knew of John’s baptism, he didn’t know about the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection. Those are some very important things! The Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are what make Christianity more than just another religion or a cult of Judaism. With those two realities, Believers are empowered to live the life that the Jewish Law prescribed. Radio commentator Paul Harvey would have said that the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are “the rest of the story”.

Application

Yes, Apollos preached about Jesus accurately. But he needed to know — and experience — more accurately. And by taking him aside and explaining the rest of the story, Aquilla and Priscilla changed his trajectory from being an eloquent preacher to being an empowered preacher. Being eloquent wasn’t enough for Apollos. And it isn’t enough for you or me. We also must be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the obedient life to which we’ve been called.

It’s relatively easy for someone to go out and get an education and then teach the truths of the Bible. But being empowered by the Holy Spirit takes the education to “a-whole-nother” level. God doesn’t want us to simply transfer knowledge from one person’s head to another person’s head. God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) as the Holy Spirit applies the truths to our hearts.

Are you being renewed? Are you seeking to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit? (Ephesians 5:18)

Don’t settle with mere head-knowledge.

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Image Source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

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?

Application

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?

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