Galatians 3:27 – Putting On Christ

Perhaps you remember your high school or college graduation ceremony. You march across the stage in your cap and gown to receive your hard earned diploma.  The ceremony represents a person’s move from one stage in life into a new, fuller, more mature life. And the cap and gown an outward representation of that change of life. However at the end of the ceremony the cap is thrown into the air and the gown discarded.  Do we remember the next day that we are supposed to be and act as adults?  Paul gives us a much more powerful image of what it means to be a Christian.  It isn’t about outward show or playing “dress-up”, but about our true identity.  He reminds us of the new identity we received when we gave ourselves to Christ in baptism.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 3:27)

Paul is not simply pointing to an outward symbol or show we are participating in; we are, in fact, different people.  We carry the image of Christ with us.  We are “immersed” in the person and character of Jesus Himself.  We should disappear into Him and He should be more visible.

Again, let me quote from David Guzik’s commentary: “Here, using the picture of baptism, Paul illustrates what it means to have faith in Christ Jesus. He doesn’t say we were baptized into water, but baptized into Christ. Just as in water baptism a person is immersed in water, so when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, we are immersed in Jesus…Another way of expressing our immersion in Jesus is to say that we have put on Christ. In the original language, the phrase has the idea of putting on a suit of clothes. So we “clothe ourselves” with Jesus as our identity.  The stress here is on our identity in Jesus through faith. We aren’t simply associated with Jesus; we are identified in Him.

In the original Greek this verse is in the past tense; it is a statement of completed fact. So we have already “put on Christ.”  Being in Christ is simply who I am, not what I do.  It is a matter of identity.  I have already put on Christ – and continue to do so.  I am already immersed in Christ and continue to be immersed throughout my day.

How do I live “putting on Christ?”  When I consider that my mouth is His mouth, I would be more careful in how I speak.  If I consider that my eyes are His eyes, I would rethink the things I look at and how I look at them.  If I consider that my hands are His hands, I would be more respectful of the things I do – how I work and how I play.  Is this meant to make me feel guilty?  No.  Let’s also consider that my mouth can now speak blessing, life, peace and comfort to others.  Consider that I can see others as He sees them, with compassion and grace.  Consider that my hands can touch a person to bring healing.  That is the wonder of putting on Christ.  It’s not something I need to conjure up or pray myself up, but instead it is an awareness of His constant presence, power and provision with me and that I am able to bring Jesus into any situation I may face.

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Galatians 3:10-14 – Becoming the Curse

We don’t like to talk about it.  We don’t hear many sermons preached on it.  We’d rather not bring it up.  We’d rather focus on the happy news.  But the truth is there are consequences to sin.  Unrighteousness does, indeed, bring wrath and judgement.  Nothing makes this as clear as Romans 1:16.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men

In this next section of his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains how and why we would come under God’s curse.  (Don’t worry there is good news at the end).  Remember that Paul’s main argument is that we cannot be saved by self-effort, by rule-keeping, by trying to earn God’s favor by any means that flows out of our works.  In other words, keeping the Jewish Law or keeping any religious rules does not earn us salvation.  Here, in verse 10, he goes further and actually says that anyone who relies on rule-keeping is under God’s curse because they would have to keep 100% of the rules 100% of the time for their entire life.

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.” (Gal 3:10)

The word “all” is key to Paul’s argument.  He is making the point that those “who rely on works of the law” are required to keep “all” the commandments and that missing one immediately places one under the curse. This means that everyone is, in fact, under the curse because no one is able to keep all the law all the time.  Many people would like to omit the word “all” and give themselves some wiggle room to say, “I can keep most of the law and be ok.”  Paul would argue strenuously that this is not true.  There’s no other way to put this: This is really bad news!  We are stuck with no way out.

Now here is where the Good News come in – the really good news.

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” (Gal 3:13)

David Guzik, in his commentary on this verse says, “The punishment of being hanged on a tree, and left to open exposure, was thought to be so severe, that it was reserved only for those for which is was to be declared: ‘this one is accursed of God.’  Jesus not only died in our place; but He took the place as the accursed of God, being hung on a ‘tree’ in open shame and degradation.”

And Martin Luther wrote, “Our merciful Father in heaven saw how the Law oppressed us and how impossible it was for us to get out from under the curse of the Law. He therefore sent His only Son into the world and said to Him: ‘You are now Peter, the liar; Paul, the persecutor; David, the adulterer; Adam, the disobedient; the thief on the cross. You, My Son, must pay the world’s iniquity.’ The Law growls: ‘All right. If Your Son is taking the sin of the world, I see no sins anywhere else but in Him. He shall die on the Cross.’ And the Law kills Christ. But we go free.”

So hanging on a tree was not just about the means of execution, which is what we normally assume, but it was a demonstration of the curse of God upon this person.  In the case of Jesus, the cross was both a means of execution according to the Romans to display the vileness of the criminal but also a symbol to the Jews of God’s curse upon Jesus.  So both Jew and Gentile look upon the cross as a demonstration of the utter contemptibility of the person hanging there.  Jesus took the curse for both Jew and Gentile.  He became the curse so that we would not have to.

The point here is remarkable.  Christ the innocent Son of God took on Himself the full demands of the law and the sinfulness that it pointed to in all of us.  The law demanded perfection and anything less than that incurred God’s wrath and curse.  Jesus stepped into that and “took the bullet” for us.  I am therefore free of the curse and free of the unrelenting, oppressive and crushing demands of the law.  I walk in the knowledge, freedom and comfort that God is not waiting to “zap” me when I get out of line.  Instead he looks upon the work of Christ, the curse being lifted, the demands being fulfilled and He loves me.  ME!

Galatians 3:7-9 – Being the Blessing

Receiving a blessing is great; giving a blessing can be even better, but BEING a blessing…well, it doesn’t get better than that.  This is what Paul explains next – how we become a blessing to those around us and how it all started way back with Abraham.

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.  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. (Gal 3:7-9)

 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:29)

God promised Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations.  This promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3) comes before His promise to give him a son (Genesis 15:4).  We tend to focus on God’s promise to give Abraham a son, but Isaac was only the start of the process to bless the nations.  Isaac was the first in the lineage which led to Jesus – THE blessing to the nations – the salvation of the nations, so the ultimate goal and fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham was Jesus.

We can’t participate in the Isaac part of God’s promise to Abraham, but we can be part of the promise to be a blessing to the nations.  How?  By becoming a child of God through faith in the same Abraham did;  not by birthright, heredity or works but by faith.  So we can all claim to be children of Abraham and so heirs to the same promise he received.  We who are of faith, who are sons and daughters of Abraham according to faith, who are recipients of the same promise of God to be a blessing to the nations become the blessing because we bring Christ to the world, to our little part of the world, to our families and friends.

This is what I think Paul means in vs 9, “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham”.  Abraham was blessed not because he had riches or a son, but because God chose him to bring salvation to the nations.  In the same way, we should not be looking for “blessings” in riches, fame, success, family or ministry, but bow down in worship and humility that God chose us to introduce His Son to the world around us.  There can be no greater blessing than to be the blessing to those around us.  And we become the blessing by embracing the promise God made to Abraham and through Abraham to us.

I think Abraham understood that in some way, perhaps imperfectly.  We see it more clearly now.  But I think that is why Abraham could be so at peace with God, because he knew that it was God who made the promise and it was God who would fulfil it and not through Abraham’s goodness or effort.  In the same way, I can receive my part of Abraham’s promise and rest in it, not stress or fret or work, but simply believe and know that God will work it out.

Later in Genesis, when God did make the Isaac-promise to Abraham, He took him outside and showed him the stars and said “This is how many descendants you are going to have.” God made His promise very real and very visual in pointing to the starry night.  So Abraham rested in that promise.  It was a surrender to the faithfulness and sovereignty of God.  In the same way, God made his promise of salvation very real and very visual in the Cross.  So we rest in it.  Just as Abraham could not make the stars, so we cannot work our way into salvation.  But every time we proclaim the Cross, every time we look at the Cross, we see there the promise of blessing to the nations and we see a little of our part in God’s fulfillment of that promise.

Galatians 3:5 – The Holy Spirit shows up

Perhaps some of you reading this will be surprised, some may be dismayed and some may be disappointed, but I hope all will be challenged to rethink their stance on the work of the Holy Spirit.

We’ve been working through Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches and at the beginning of chapter 3 Paul rebukes the disciples there for foolishly abandoning the purity and simplicity of faith in Jesus for their righteousness and once again embracing a works-based religious effort.  In this same paragraph he says something quite remarkable about the work and presence of the Holy Spirit among them.

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith (Gal 3:5)

First, we have to see two important principles here:  The Holy Spirit was clearly present and working miracles among the disciples.  These things were normal in their experience.  But also that the Holy Spirit was experienced as a result of the faith they placed in the work of Christ, after having heard and received the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit did not show up as a result of the Christians’ working in their own effort or trying to “work up” their faith to produce miracles.  I believe that the Holy Spirit’s mission in this world and in the life of the Church is to validate the truth of the gospel through the demonstration of His presence and power.  His mission is not to wow us with cool miracles or healings, but instead He shows up whenever Jesus is presented as if to say, “Yep, this is true.  Let me show you.”  Peter makes this point on the day of Pentecost.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, (Acts 2:22)

And Jesus makes the same point in the Upper Room.

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)

In both cases the Spirit is presented as the one who points to Jesus.  Once we separate the desire for the Holy Spirit’s presence from His mission, we have totally missed the point.

So I don’t think we will ever receive or see the Spirit operate when we are trying to work it up in the flesh or through our many “charismatic” gyrations.  The Spirit responds to genuine faith not “confessions”, “declarations”, or “binding and loosing”.

Like the Galatians, we simply have to believe Paul when he said to focus on Christ crucified, on what He did on the cross, on living by faith “in the Son of God who loved me”.  When we do this not only are we freed from sin and death but we also get the benefit of the Spirit working in and through us.  Miracles happen when our focus is Christ and making him know (“publically portraying Him as crucified” – vs 1).  The Spirit will always back up that message and if it takes a miracle or two to seal the deal then He will do it.

So often we focus on trying to get the Spirit to perform some miracle as if He was a type of circus performer, instead of respecting His mission to validate the Gospel of the Son through the demonstration of power.  I think we’ve – I’ve – gotten it backwards before.

So as I walk through my day or am engaged in some ministry situation, I can relax.  All I need to do is present Jesus.  The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 3:1 – On Being Foolish

No one likes to be called foolish.  It can certainly hurt someone’s feeling, yet this is exactly what Paul calls the Galatian disciples.  Saying someone or something is “foolish” can simply be another way of saying “silly” or “dumb”, but perhaps  with a more negative connotation.  Dictionary.com defines it as: “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise.”  However, I like the definition of the word given by William Hendriksen in his commentary on Galatians: “…the original indicates an attitude of heart as well as a quality of mind.  It refers not to bluntness but to a sinful neglect to use one’s mental power to the best advantage.  The Galatians…must be considered not necessarily dull but thoughtless, not ignorant but senseless, not stupid but foolish.” 1

This is what Paul says to the Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.  Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  (Gal 3:1-3)

What prompted Paul’s strong words?  His frustration that the Galatians weren’t thinking straight about the Gospel.  They were missing the whole point and were in danger of being sucked back into a works-based religion which leads nowhere.

This isn’t the only place in the New Testament where we are warned of the dangers of foolishness.

Luke 24:24-25 – Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (ESV)

Titus 3:3 – For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  (NAS)

1 Tim 6:9 – But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. (NAS)

There seems to be a deliberateness to being foolish, an unwillingness to fully embrace what God has done or said.  So in Luke, Jesus chides the disciples for not believing what He had said about His resurrection or even the report of the women.  In our unsaved state, Paul lumps the idea of foolish with disobedient, deceived and enslaved.  All associated with a rejection of God’s grace.  And in Timothy, those who seek wealth as opposed to God fall into many foolish things.

So being foolish seems to me to be that heart condition which Hendriksen comments on, a sinful neglect of embracing the truth of the gospel and instead accepting the ideas of men.

The Galatians then were being foolish; they were deliberately rejecting the gospel of Christ that Paul proclaimed to them, the gospel that brought them freedom from one works-based religion – pagan idolatry – and returned to another works-based religion this time disguised as “obeying the law of Moses”.

Paul repeats the same charge of foolishness in verse 3.  Here he says it is foolish to begin in the Spirit but then switch to the flesh to continue our in own effort to grow as Christians.  There is that deliberate, foolish rejection of what Jesus has already done and accomplished.

In what ways are we foolish?  When do I say to myself, God’s can’t really mean that, can He?  It is too simple, too far-fetched, preposterous, improbable.  It can’t be that easy just to believe Him, so we create reasons for having to do something ourselves.  What can I do to make Him love me more?  Should I spend more time reading the Bible?  Should I go to church more often?  Should I give more money?  Should I get involved in every and any activity that my church sponsors?  Maybe, I should just beat myself up more for not being more perfect?  That would certainly show Him I’m serious.  All this is foolishness.  It is being too dull of heart and mind to simply rest in the truth He has given us.  It seems that we cannot fully accept the simplicity and completeness of what Jesus did.  So we must have to “do” something, right?  Isn’t that a symptom of our old flesh still rising up to be independent of God?  Isn’t that the remnants of our rebellious heart?  Isn’t that…foolishness?

As I studied this passage, I had to ask myself, “Where in my life am I still trying to accomplish God’s purpose in my own power?  How can I keep before my eyes Christ crucified and rest on Him fully?”  I found part of my answer in the words to an old hymn.

’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

 

 

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 1 Hendriksen, W., Exposition of Galatians (New Testament Commentary), Grand Rapids, 1968

Galatians 2:16-20 – Justification by Faith

In 2017, many churches celebrated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant reformation.  Martin Luther’s rebuff of the Catholic Church’s teachings resulted in the great catch phrase of the Reformation: Justification by faith alone apart from works.  It was actually not a new concept, but I think one that had been buried under centuries of practices and teachings that obscured it.  It seemed to be easier to emphasize our own self-effort in trying to please God and gain some measure of self-righteousness than simply to depend on “faith”.  And yet that is exactly what the New Testament taught and it is especially clear in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  In fact, it was the whole reason Paul wrote this letter: to explain and clarify this great principle of justification by faith.

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…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 (Gal 2:16, 20)

Let me make sure we are clear here.  Paul is saying that the path to being righteous, guilt-free, saved is not through self-effort, working to earn God’s acceptance, being “good enough”, trying to live a good life or performing religious works.  It is only through having faith in the sufficiency of Christ’s death and resurrection.  He refers to the “works of the law” because that is how the Jews thought they could please God.  We have the same thing today, don’t we?  People who think they are living “holy” lives, who feel they are exceptionally righteous because of how good they are and who feel superior to the rest of us.  Surely God must accept them because of their goodness.  Those people are sadly mistaken.  Our slavish obedience to rules does not make us more acceptable to God.  We are all on the same footing with God when it comes to our salvation and our righteousness.  It is all by faith in Christ to whom we all have equal access.

Christ’s death killed the requirements of the law.  So if Paul’s claim is correct, that he was crucified with Christ, then he is also dead to the requirements of the law.  In Christ, he can live, truly live, to God.  Going forward, any life he has, any opportunity to be in relationship with God, can only be possible by living in faith and by allowing Jesus to fully and completely live in him.  This is true of us also.  We have been crucified in Christ.  Isn’t this what Jesus said in John about abiding in Him or Paul said about having the mind of Christ or setting our mind on things above?  All these encouragements amount to the same thing:  Letting Jesus Himself live in and through us instead of trying to live by self-effort and self-righteousness; trying to live a life of independence and self-reliance.  Being crucified with him is not some morbid, sad, self-abasement attitude, it is joyful; it is an opportunity to live fully the life we were meant to have;  it is laying down all the baggage we carry through life – the “oughts” and “shoulds” – that strangle the life right out of us.  Being dead to law, to self-effort, means that law no longer has a voice in my life.  It means it has been silenced and cannot call me back.

In Romans, Paul says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”  (Rom. 8:33-34)

There is no one who can bring a charge against me.  That even includes me, in my self-talk.  Since God has, indeed, justified me then who am I to accept condemnation, judgment, or guilt from any quarter.  How is that possible?  After all, I sin.  I screw up.  Why would I not charge myself with that sin and extract some kind of remorse or penance?  Because while I may still have further to go in my journey of Christian maturity, it is carried out in the context of a condemnation-free relationship with the Father.  My journey is already bathed in the prayers of Jesus for me.  So, do I go about with head slung low and kicking myself?  No, how about if I take a moment to regroup, refocus and restart walking toward glory.  That is what justification does.  It allows me to walk in peace with God in this life, without fear.  This is what Paul says in vs 20, “I live my life faith in the Son of God who loves me…”  The reality of Christ’s death is a life free to be lived in His love.  So I can’t say things like, “I am too bad. I’m never going to have an impact.  It’s too late.  I’ve screwed up too much.”  Those thoughts are now out of bounds.  My life now is bounded by two realities:  “I have been crucified…”, therefore I am dead to the demands of law and self-effort and self-reliance.  And “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me…”, thus making a full and fulfilling life possible.

How about you?  Are you ready to give up a life of self-effort and instead live by faith in the One who loves you?

Galatians 2:11-14 – Confronting Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy!  It’s a common charge leveled at the church mostly from the outside, from the world.  It usually means that our outward behavior does not match our words or beliefs.  Sometimes the charge is true and justified, but sometimes it is a misunderstanding of what Christians believe.  Either way hypocrisy in the Church needs to be taken seriously and dealt with properly.  Would it surprise you to learn that the first charge of hypocrisy in the Church was made against Peter?  Yes, Peter the apostle, Saint Peter!  And the charge was made by none other than Paul.  Here is the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  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?”  (Gal 2:11-14  ESV)

Here’s the basic story line.  Peter was visiting Paul in Antioch and he was easily eating and hanging out with the Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians there, but when a group of Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem show up Peter distances himself from the Gentiles.  Paul calls him out as being hypocritical.  Paul accuses Peter of not acting outwardly with the truth he knew inwardly.  You see for a first century Jew eating with Gentiles rendered you ceremonially unclean.  You were tainted and could not participate in the Temple sacrifices or rituals.  You were outside the Law of God.  They genuinely believed that associating with Gentiles was sinful and unacceptable to God.  Peter understood that Jewish laws and ceremony were not required for salvation.  But it was hard for him to set aside centuries of teaching, belief and practice and accept Gentiles as fully equal.  So Peter fell into that same mindset when the Jewish believers came from Jerusalem.

The issue was more important than simply bad behavior or a lapse in Peter’s judgment.  Paul uses this incident as a way to introduce justification by faith alone.  In Paul’s mind Peter’s behavior threatened the idea that Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish law.  If Peter was right in separating from the Gentile believers then he would have been agreeing with the false teachers that taught that the Gentiles were still unclean and unacceptable to God even though they trust in Christ for salvation, they had to submit to the Jewish Law.  If left to stand this would have undone everything Paul had taught and the Jerusalem Council affirmed (See Acts 15).

Paul’s argument is that Peter and other believers who followed him in his hypocrisy were compelling or forcing the Gentiles to live like Jews while they themselves were willing to live like Gentiles and exempting themselves from the Law.  This is what hurt the Gentiles the most.  They were enjoying the liberty in Christ and yet now they were being forced to come under the bondage of the Law.  It is no wonder that Paul reacted so forcefully.

Paul had to confront Peter publically because the issue had to be dealt with firmly and in the open in order for the entire church to be set on the right foundation.  It was critical to the ongoing health and unity of the church and the proclamation of the true gospel.  The foundation of the church was being threatened.

Today, we don’t worry whether we have to follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  But we do need to make sure that our conduct is “in step with the truth of the gospel”.  This is the essence of hypocrisy isn’t it?  When my actions are not in step with the gospel, I am being a hypocrite. This applies at all times and in all situations, whether public or private.  Is what I think and do in step with the gospel or have I deceived myself (and others)?  Does what I do or believe separate me from other, genuine believers?  Does it cause me to judge others?  Am I more concerned with outward conformity to set of man-expectations or with living in the truth of Jesus?  The danger in hypocrisy is in its power to deceive ourselves and others, thinking we are acting righteously, but, in fact, are being unrighteous, judgmental and sinful.  It is not only about not succumbing to peer-pressure but also understanding the impact it could have on the way our gospel message is transmitted and understood.  We have to act and think consistently with the truth of the gospel.

Is there a time when it is appropriate to separate from some other group that claims to be Christian?  I think so.  When that group is acting or teaching something that is not consistent with the gospel.  Which is why it is so important to have a crystal clear understanding of what the gospel is.  I think the question I would ask someone or some church is, “how is a person saved”?  And the only acceptable answer is through faith in Christ alone.  If there is an “and” or “but” added to that statement then it is not the truth of the gospel.  It is not a matter of practices, preferences in worship or style or liturgy.  It is whether any of those things are added to Christ to gain salvation.