Tag Archives: Jesus

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.


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 3:1 – 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.

Galatians 1:14, 23-24 – Before and After

We’ve been working through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches and we’ve seen him present the true Gospel of Jesus against those who would distort it.  And he makes the case that the gospel he preached he received by revelation from Jesus and not from the other apostles.  It was important for Paul to establish this so that the Galatians could have confidence in what they believed.  This was the subject of the previous post.  Paul continues to make his case with some astounding autobiographical statements that bear closer examination.  In verses 12-24, he relates some facts about his life before his conversion and after. But here I want to focus on just two really interesting verses within this autobiographical section and what we can learn from them.

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (Gal 1:14)

They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me. (Gal 1:23, 24)

Paul reviews his pre-conversion life as a strict Pharisee, excelling in his pursuit of righteousness through the Law and going so far as to persecute Christians.  But the statement that caught my attention was, “so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”  His concern, his driving force was simply to protect man-made traditions.  He doesn’t even claim to be zealous for God’s truth or Moses’ law.  No, it was about the traditions.

I had to ask myself, what “traditions of the fathers” have I held onto, perhaps too tightly, instead of to the gospel?  Do I have a pet theology that I hold on to?  Or have I swallowed whole the particular traditions of a particular denomination or church group?  Or perhaps it is a certain end-times scenario?  Has defending my position become more important than presenting the Gospel of Jesus?  I’ve been thinking a great deal about this and I would encourage you to ask yourself the same questions.

From pursuing the traditions of the fathers, Paul makes the transition to his conversion – to the time God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Did you catch that: God took the initiative to reveal the Son).  The reaction among the Christians he had been persecuting was nothing less than astonishment and wonder – “they glorified God because of me.”  The change must have seemed miraculous to them.  And indeed it was.  Paul the persecutor was now Paul the preacher.  Paul the destroyer was now Paul the disciple.  There was no rational, natural reason for Paul to turn from Judaism to Jesus.  There would be no convincing a man like Paul that the gospel was true.  And there would be no way that Paul would simply accept a man-made story.  Paul’s conversion had to be God’s doing.  Everyone recognized that this was a remarkable, unexpected event that only God could pull off.  It was a miracle.  He was not convinced or persuaded by man but by God.  God gets all the credit and Paul gets none.  This is the true mark of the Gospel, that God always gets all the credit, all the glory, all the praise.

I don’t have a dramatic conversion story like Paul’s.  I suspect that few of us do, but it doesn’t matter what our story is.  What matters is that God took the initiative to reveal His Son to us.  He pursued us even when we weren’t looking for Him, even when we didn’t care to look for Him or even when we were deliberately running from Him.  I don’t want people to be impressed with my skills, knowledge or wisdom.  I want people to glorify God because of what they see in my life and recognize that it is just as much a miracle as Paul’s turnaround.