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Transactional Religion

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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God disciplines His children.

Today’s Bible reading is in direct contrast to the message of the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel can be summed up with, “Name it. Claim it. Blab it. Grab it. Believe it. Achieve it and receive it. Or live in doubt and do without.” “God wants you to live a prosperous, healthy and wealthy life.” “You can live your best life now!”

The message of the Prosperity Gospel preachers is that if you have enough faith, you too can drive a Bently and fly in your own private jet. OK, they may not spell it out that blatantly, but if you take their message to its logical conclusion, you can control your destiny. The Prosperity Gospel preachers will tell you that if you have any type of illness or if you have financial problems, you just lack faith.

The world is filled with Prosperity Gospel rejects. They’re the ones who sent their “seed money” to the TV Preacher, trusting that God would make good on the promise of the preacher. It is essentially a transactional religion. If you do this, God is obligated to do that. If you’ve ever bought a candy bar from a vending machine, you know that if you put the money in, the machine will give you what you want. The Prosperity Gospel ignores the plain teachings of Scripture that you will have trouble in this life. (John 16:33)

Application

The problem with the Prosperity Gospel and transactional religion is that God never makes the promises the Prosperity Gospel peddlers do. God never obligates Himself to anything or anyone. The bottom line is that God is God. And you aren’t.

Hebrews 12 says that God disciplines His children. The writer urges his readers to take heart when they experience God’s discipline because God disciplines His children. One of the proofs that you are a child of God is that God disciplines you. The flip side of that has tremendous ramifications: if you aren’t disciplined by God, you may not be a legitimate child of God. (Hebrews 12:5-8)

The next time you encounter God’s discipline, take heart! You’re one of His! And He loves you too much to leave you where you are. He wants the best for you. He wants you to look like Jesus. And to do that, He has to break off everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.

Sometimes He may discipline you as you read His Word. Sometimes He may discipline you as you listen to a sermon. Sometimes He may discipline you as you listen to Christian music. Regardless of how He does it, press into Him and ask Him to use this to make you more like Jesus. Ask Him to draw you closer to His heart during this time.

The primary lie of the Prosperity Gospel is that Jesus isn’t enough to satisfy you. It appeals to your pride. The truth of the true Gospel is that Jesus is more than enough to satisfy you. And the true Gospel requires humility.

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Today’s Bible reading says that if you were saved and backslide, you cannot be restored to faith. (Hebrews 6:4-6) In other words, if you were saved and lose your salvation, you can never get it back!

People don’t like to hear things like this. God is a God of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. There’s nothing that you can do that God won’t forgive you for. Right?!

These are great questions. The problem is that oftentimes, we approach this issue of salvation from a man-centered orientation rather than from a God-centered orientation. The ultimate question comes down to the question of how lost were we before we were saved? How deeply was mankind — and each of us individually — affected by the Fall? The Bible’s answer is that we were all — and individually — affected to the very depths of who we are. (Psalm 14:1-3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:23)

We wrongly think that our standing is based on our behavior. But it isn’t. Misdeeds can’t make us less righteous and good deeds can’t make us more righteous. If we could just behave ourselves into making God happy with us, then Jesus wasted His life and death. Wasted!

Application

Our standing before God has everything to do with what we’re doing with Jesus’ death. Being justified before God — having a right standing before God — is based on position, not behavior. Sure, behavior is important, but not on the front end of salvation.

Salvation is based on the finished atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Either we are trusting in His payment for our sin-debt, or we’re trusting in our own. Either we’re in an adopted covenant relationship with God or we aren’t. And if we’re not, we’re ultimately in a transactional religion, which God never agreed to be a part of.

Adoption is based on the choice of the adopting parent, not the behavior — or potential behavior — of the adoptee. Every one of my friends who adopted children initiated the adoption with their kids. Not one of their kids initiated the adoption by asking to be adopted, even if they could have.

Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was either sufficient to secure you in an adoptive covenant relationship or it wasn’t. And if you can sin your way out of having a covenant relationship with God, then Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was incomplete, and thus insufficient to hold you in the relationship.

That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says that if it is possible for someone to taste salvation and share in the Holy Spirit, and later to fall away, then it is impossible to restore that person to a covenant relationship with God.

Your behavior cannot get you into an adoptive covenant relationship with God. And your behavior can’t get you out of an adoptive covenant relationship with Him either.

And that’s great news!

So are you in an adoptive covenant relationship with the Creator of the universe? If not, please reach out to me. Let’s talk!

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We finish reading through Acts with today’s Bible reading. We find Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. To keep the prisoners from swimming to shore and escaping, the soldiers considered killing the prisoners, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul.  Everyone survived; even those who couldn’t swim made it to shore by holding onto parts of the ship.

The people of Malta welcome the survivors and built a fire so they could warm themselves. Paul collected a stack of sticks to add to the fire. A venomous snake latched onto Paul’s hand. The Maltese believed that Paul was guilty of some kind of heinous crime and the snake bite was his punishment. But Paul shook off the snake and didn’t swell up; he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the bite so the people believed he survived because he was a god.

The chief man on the island was Publius. His father was suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul visited Publius’ father and miraculously, instantaneously healed him. Dr. Luke then tells us that others on the island brought their sick relatives and they were cured.

Dr. Luke’s description of what happened is very important for us. He distinguishes between the instantaneous, miraculous healing performed by the Apostle and the curing that he did as a physician. The Greek word Dr. Luke employed is the basis of our English word, therapy.

Application

The strong application from this story is that when we are sick, we should seek God’s healing. We should also seek medical help if God sovereignly chooses to not heal in a miraculous way. Many Believers choose to only pray, believing that God is obligated to heal His children. Many Believers choose only seeking medical help because they don’t believe that God heals in miracles anymore.

Both of these extreme positions are wrong. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God will cease using miracles. So we can assume that we should pray for God to miraculously intervein. At the same time, God has given us foods and medicines as well as medical professionals who can use these to bring about therapy for restored health.

There should be no shame for seeking a miracle. And there should there be no shame for seeking medical help. If a doctor prescribes medicine or medical devices, take them and thank God for His provisions.

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I want to bring out a couple of things from today’s Bible reading.

First, in Acts 8:9-25, we see the miracles performed through the hands of Philip. In addition to many others, Simon the Sorcerer (a man who got his magical power from the occult/demonic influence) was saved. When Simon saw that people received the Holy Spirit when Peter and John laid hands on them, Simon offered money for the power to do the same thing. That was a very wrong thing to do. Philip rebuked him and said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

The second thing I’d like to point out is in Acts 8:26-40. Philip comes across a very important man from Ethiopia. He’s the Queen’s Secretary of the Treasury. He’s reading from a scroll that contains the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Philip asks if he understands what he’s reading. The man responds, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:31) Philip climbs into the chariot and explains that the Scriptures in question (Isaiah 53:7-8) address Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God.

Application

The first application point is for Acts 8:9-25: You can’t buy God’s anointing. And trying to reveals corrupt motives and a dark heart. Granted, Simon was a brand new Believer. New Believers don’t know what you can and can’t do. But look at his response in Acts 8:24: “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” His response reveals that the Holy Spirit was doing a work in his heart. He begged for God’s grace and forgiveness. He didn’t want to incur the judgment of believing in a transactional religion.

Transactional religion haunts many of us in Western Culture. It’s the belief that you can make a deal with God. You do this and God will do that. You put some coins in God’s vending machine and the machine will give you the blessings that you select.

But God doesn’t practice transactional religion. God doesn’t make deals. In fact, making deals with God reveals that you really don’t understand the concept of grace. Grace is favor that God gives despite our unworthiness. If God only gave based on our worthiness, He wouldn’t be in the grace business; He’d be in the wages business. Grace is undeserved. Wages are deserved/earned.

The second application point concerns Acts 8:26-40. Unless someone explains the Gospel to someone, they will not understand it. In our fallen state, we have no desire for spiritual things. Oh, we may be involved in an intellectual pursuit of spiritual concepts, but unless God does a miraculous work in our hearts, we won’t come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We won’t because we can’t.

Lost people need you and me to be available. Lost people need you and me to pray for God to work in their hearts. And lost people need you and me to always be ready to tell people about Jesus. (1 Peter 3:15)

Who are you praying for? Who do you need to tell about Jesus? If no one tells them about Jesus’ offer of grace, they’ll never know. Are you prepared to tell them?

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