Tag Archives: God

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!”




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


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.

Galatians 2:4 – Coming Attraction

You know how when you go to the movies they always show previews for movies yet to be released – coming attractions; little snippets of the movie that are designed to give you a glimpse of the full movie enough to whet your appetite?  Here as we get into chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches he gives just such a glimpse into a theme he will develop more fully later.  It’s a teaser into the possibilities of the Christian life and the purpose for Christ’s death and resurrection.  Intrigued aren’t you?

Let me first remind you of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter and put his comment into context.  Paul was concerned that the Galatian disciples had abandoned the truth of the gospel he had preached because certain false teachers had told them that to be “really” saved the Galatians had to practice all the Jewish Law also.  Paul writes this letter to re-emphasize the gospel and assure the churches in Galatia that the gospel he preached to them was true.  He also gives them a timeline of his interactions with Peter, John and the other apostles to show that he did not just parrot their message but received the gospel from Jesus Himself.  In the middle of this explanation Paul gives a “coming attraction.”

Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  (Gal 2:4, 5   ESV)

The key phrase – the coming attraction – is this: our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.”  According to Paul, inherent in the gospel is a freedom that Christians enjoy, a freedom that these false teachers were trying to rob, a freedom that Paul felt was important enough to fight for, a freedom that Christ won on the cross.

We usually think of Jesus’ death as gaining us salvation for eternal life in heaven “someday”.  But here Paul hints at something available to us right now, today – freedom.  But what does this mean?  Let me define the kind of freedom I think Paul is referring to here.  It is not the ability to do whatever we want or live however we want, but freedom, true Christian freedom, is “the unobstructed pursuit of God.”

Life, satan, sin, the world throw up all kinds of obstacles to our ability to pursue the kind of relationship with God that we long for.  It sometimes seems we have to slog through life just to get by, just to get a moment to pray or worship.  That is not how God intended our life to be.  When Jesus walked out of that tomb, He cleared the way of all the obstacles that impeded our ability to know and connect with God.  Here are Scriptures references that describe ways in which Jesus removed the obstacles to our pursuit of God.

Romans 8:31-35 describes the kind of life we can experience with Jesus.  A life free of accusation, want, aloneness and condemnation.  Instead we can experience a life of support and encouragement, supply and resources, connection with the Father who loves us, knowing that we will never experience any kind of emotional, spiritual, relational or physical abandonment.

In Romans 6:6-7 Paul talks about being free from being mastered by sin – having to do what it says.  By ourselves, we have no power or authority to say no to the demands of sin operating in our life.  We can’t escape and we can’t rebel and we can’t fight.  But Christ literally and actually took bolt cutters to those chains so that we could escape and no longer be under sin’s thumb.  Think of the story in Acts where an angel releases the imprisoned Peter from the chains that held him and opened the prison doors to allow Peter to walk free.  This is what Jesus has done.  We are able to walk free through our life.

Romans 8:2-3 refers to the “law” of sin and death – this would imply that sin and death have (or had) the power to dictate how you live, what you can and cannot do.  This “law” constrains the kind of life God meant us to live.  Jesus freed us from that law.  It’s like no longer being subject to the repressive laws of a dictatorial nation.  Instead we now live in a country ruled by the Spirit with His life-giving laws – not repression but liberation.

Hebrews 2:14-15 refers to the “fear of death.”  I have always thought that this referred to fear of physical death, and that may be true, but I think it can also refer to the emotional and relational death that the devil tries to impose upon people. Are we not freed from the devastation of fear of loneliness, anger, shame, guilt, depression, worthlessness, hopelessness, worry?  Jesus came to destroy those very works of the devil and allow us live free of the effects of fear.

There is more to learn about freedom in Christ later in Galatians.  For now if we accept the definition of freedom I gave earlier – unobstructed pursuit of God – then these verses tell me that to live unobstructed means being set free from:

  1. The overbearing domination of sin – I don’t have to do it. I can choose a different way.
  2. The repressive laws of sin and death – I don’t have to live with my head down fearful that I stepped over the line one too many times or that I just need to work harder.
  3. The fear of being stuck in this death spiral. There are literally no chains, no nets holding me down.  I walk away a free man.
  4. The hopelessness that my life can be different or better.
  5. The fear that I will always live broken and will die broken

This fear, death and sin is replaced with an assurance of the Father’s positive favor towards me.  In all things and in all circumstance and in all my blunders, I still experience His smile.  This is what Christ’s sacrifice– the true gospel – has made possible.

Galatians 1:15, 16 – God is not surprised

Do you ever think that God is surprised by events in your life or decisions you make?  Do you think He looks at you and says, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!”  It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  But often times we actually believe that He is taken by surprise and that is quickly followed by, “There’s no way He could love me after I did that!”  And so we start to believe that God has given up on us.  Nothing could be further from the truth and this next passage in Galatians makes that clear.

First, remember Paul’s life story.  He was a strict, law-keeping Jew belonging to the sect of the Pharisees.  These folks were strict.  And Paul says about himself that he was even excelling at being a Pharisee.  Not only that but when an upstart group of Jews claimed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he went after them with a vengeance.  He hunted them down and threw them in prison.  This was not the type of guy that you could argue into the Kingdom or think he would be a good candidate to lead the new Church.  When those first century Christians saw him coming they ran the other way.  Yet Paul makes this truly incredible statement about himself.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me… (Gal 1:15, 16   ESV)

There is something very important to see here.  God had called Paul and set him apart from before he was born, before Paul had said or done anything, but God waited until He was ready to reveal His Son to Paul.

God knew Paul.  He knew Paul would be a strident Pharisee.  He knew Paul would persecute His church and jail His followers.  He knew Paul had murderous intent.  He knew Paul would care more about tradition than truth.  And yet He called him and chose him for his mission to the Gentiles.  Not only that, God’s timing was God’s timing.  He was not caught off guard or waited too long nor was God shocked at the way Paul had turned out.  No, God acted when it pleased him.  It was not dependent on Paul’s “readiness” to know Jesus.  All this God had decided before Paul was even born!

It should be comforting to us to know that God’s plans for us are already laid out just waiting to be revealed at the right time – at God’s pleasure.  So do I think that maybe God is too slow? Yep.  Do I think that maybe my time is passing me by?  Yep.  Is that true?  Nope.  The same God who set Paul apart, has set me apart and has set you apart for His mission for us in this life.  When and how remains in His good pleasure.

I am learning to rest and be assured in God’s perfect timing in my life.  “When God was pleased He…” becomes my guiding principle here.  God knows my days, my weaknesses, my sin and He calls me and reveals Himself to me at the right time.  That is what He did in Paul’s life and I firmly believe that it is true for us too.  No surprises.

Grief Experienced

I had never experienced grief like that before.  Sure, I’ve been sad, but this was different.  This was a heart-wrenching grief that shook my core.  It was a wail in the spirit at a great loss.  It came in waves unexpected.  You see, last December my father passed away, and while it was not totally unexpected – he was 91 – it was still a shock.  I wept.  And now, so many months later, the grief now turned to sadness still overtakes me when I am least expecting it.

The day of the memorial service was a cloudy day with a light sprinkling rain.  As we left the church service and were heading to the graveside, some of the clouds parted slightly and the sun shone through for a few moments.  Perhaps a heavenly salute, perhaps just a coincidence, but in either case I thought about the grief our Heavenly Father experienced when He saw His Son dead.  It darkened the sky.  It shook the earth.  It convulsed the universe.  I can understand a little of that now.  And yes, even though He knew that Jesus would rise again, it doesn’t take away from the grief of the moment.  I knew that even as I wept for my father, Dad was experiencing joy unspeakable.  It didn’t help me at that moment.  The grief is still real and very present.

Wouldn’t it be interesting on this Good Friday to pause for a moment and simply acknowledge the Father’s experience on this day, His grief?  Perhaps we can just sit with Him and say, “I understand… a little,” and grieve together even while we look forward to resurrection.  He did that for me.

Out-Of-The-Box Praying

I started reading through the book of Acts again.  I wanted to get a glimpse again of dynamic faith in action.  It seems the disciples, apostles, deacons and all the believers had such a simple faith that God would just show up in mighty ways – and He DID!  But even with all the miracles they saw, sometimes they just could not see beyond what was “reasonable” to them.  Their prayers were limited by their expectations of what God could do.  Here is a great example from chapter 12.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.  Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands…  When he realized this [that the angel had freed him from prison], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:1-7,12-16)

So Peter is in prison waiting to be executed and the church is praying fervently for his release.  Then God answers their prayers – but not in the way they expected.  You see, I don’t think any one of those Christians was asking that God would send an angel to open the prison doors.  That wasn’t really reasonable.  Much more likely is that they were praying that God would “move on Herod’s heart to release Peter.” Now that would be a much more likely and expected way for God to answer their prayers.  So out-of-box was the angel scenario that when Peter did show up at the prayer meeting they dismissed the news as simply “Peter’s angel.”  These folks could more easily believe in an apparition than in an angelic visitation!  Sure they prayed and they prayed earnestly, but it seems they were praying within their experience of what God could or would do.

So I started thinking, are my prayers limited by my expectations of what God would do?  When I pray, am I also telling God HOW to answer my prayers?  Sure, He’s all powerful, but He also needs to be practical and sensible, doesn’t He?  I am very much afraid that my prayer life is “In-The-Box” praying.  I want to change that.  I want to start praying that God would do wonderful, unexpected, outside-the-box things.  I want think big and prayer bigger and see Him do bigger still.  If nothing is impossible with God, then I want to pray for the impossible.  How about you?  Will you join me in Out-Of-The-Box praying and then we’ll be able tell our own versions of the angel scenario story?

The Living God

My wife and I visited Nashville, Tennessee this summer.  At the end of our week there we visited one of the local attractions.  In Nashville there is a full size replica of the Parthenon – the classical Greek temple of Athena in Athens.  Apparently this replica was built to celebrate a Tennessee centennial celebration in the late 1890’s.  This replica Parthenon was truly imposing and impressive.  It was beautiful.  Inside the Parthenon was a forty foot statue of the goddess Athena arrayed in her armor with sword and shield beside her and the goddess Nike ready to crown her with victory.  Athena’s bright blue eyes stared out into her temple.  As I walked around this temple and gazed at Athena, I asked her some questions.  I asked her if she saw me.  I asked her if she had anything to say to me.  She didn’t say anything.  She didn’t look at me.  She just kept staring outward.  There was no life in her eyes.  She was, after all, just a statue.

This experience in the replica Parthenon was even more striking because of what we had experienced during the prior week.  You see, we were in Nashville for a conference hosted by Global Awakening.  It was a week of inspiring worship, challenging teachings and encouraging prayer times.  But more than that, throughout the week I heard God speak to me.  He spoke intimately, personally and deeply.  He touched wounded places and brought healing.  He affirmed who I was.  He knew me by name and He saw me.  I experienced the LIVING God!

And that is the difference between a beautiful, plaster-cast goddess and The Lord Almighty.  So maybe folks today aren’t worshiping Athena, but many, many people turn to the idols of this world – the shiny things, the causes, the power or fame, the possessions – for comfort, meaning or comfort.  “Does anyone SEE ME?” they cry out.  “Does anyone know ME?”  That is what we want, to count.  And yet just like that lifeless statue of Athena in Nashville, these idols are just as dead, lifeless and impotent.

The living God knows us.  He said to Israel and He says to us today, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine (Isa 43:1).  He also says,” Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (Jer 1:5).

So instead of pursuing the Athena’s of this world – the unmoving, unresponsive, unseeing idols – remember that there is a real, living God poised to respond to your deepest cry.  One who can speak into the secret places of your life to bring comfort and wholeness.  One who knows you by name.

So as beautiful the replica Parthenon is, I would much rather spend time in the temple of the Living God and have a conversation with Him.