Saturday, April 26, 2008

Another Gospel

Let’s pick up our study this week in Galatians 1:4 where it says, “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:” God allowed His only Son to be killed so that you and I could be delivered out of this present evil age. All around us, the world is going to hell. Murders and massacres, child abuse and drug abuse, witchcraft and Satanism, alcoholism and AIDS. This world that we live in has been, and will continue to become, more and more evil, but God's grace has been offered to deliver us from all of this. Paul reminded us in Colossians 1:13-14 that God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:”

Note v.5, “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Paul writes, "to God be the glory." We can’t take any of the credit. There was nothing that we did to qualify us for salvation.

Note vv.6-7, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” Here is the heart of the problem that Paul was to address with the Galatian believers. They were being drawn away from the true gospel to another one. We as humans, given enough time, tend to corrupt everything. Nothing can go without a little bit of tweaking. We have a hard time just accepting God’s grace because by definition, it is “unmerited favor.” Unmerited favor means that there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it. And yet, that is exactly what most set out to do. It just makes us feel better to know that we played a part in it. However, if we could earn it, it wouldn’t be unmerited! God did it simply because He loved us. He loved us when we despised Him, adopted us as His children anyway, sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins before we even knew we had sins and gave us everything through His Son when we deserved absolutely nothing (Romans 5:8; Titus 3:5; Romans 5:6).

Another issue with grace is that we tend to abuse it. I’ve heard people say, “If I'm saved by grace, not by my works, then I can sin all I want, because it's all covered by grace!" No, my friend, that is not right. Those are teachings of the ungodly. Jude said in Jude 4 “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul addressed this issue in Romans 5:20-6:2.

Another issue with grace is that we want to maintain it by good works. We begin to think that we must perform religious rituals and obey rules and regulations in order to be deserving of it. In the New Testament, men who thought this way were called Judaizers and they taught that faith in Christ was not sufficient in itself, but that one must keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised. They believed in salvation through Jesus Christ, but taught that the Law must be kept as well to maintain it.

That attitude is still very common in the church today. I hear things like, "Look at him - he needs a haircut!” “Look at her – she needs to learn how to dress!” Preachers will say, “You need to cut that long hair, throw away that evil music, make yourself respectable and then come to Jesus and be saved!" Hey! I thought that grace was undeserved? It is not that we take the first few steps, and then God jumps in. It is that God is the initiator. Just look in the Garden of Eden at the fall of Adam and Eve. God had to seek reconciliation with Adam. Instead of coming to God and saying, “I’m sorry,” Adam hid himself.

And so the message of the Judaizers was very dangerous. It was not the gospel. It was a different gospel. And today, too many are preaching a similar gospel - which is really no gospel at all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Grace Defined

We left off talking about who the twelfth apostle was after Judas betrayed the Lord and hung himself. As you know, the remaining eleven got together, under Peter’s leadership, and choose a young man by the name of Matthias to take Judas’ place. Some have suggested that this was a mistake on their parts and that had they been patient, God would have added Paul to the twelve in His own timing. I’m not prepared to say that because I believe that they acted in the will of God.

However, Paul was indeed an apostle because he met the requirements that were laid down in Acts 1:21-22 when it says, “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.” By the way, these are the only requirements ever given in the New Testament for an apostle. I, like many, do not believe that the office of “apostle” is open today. I believe that the function is the modern day missionary, but the office is no longer available because no one alive today could possibly meet the requirements.

Notice, v.3, “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,” The word grace appears seven times in these six chapters. It is the main point of the book. Salvation is by grace, not the law. Its definition is unmerited favor. It can be a pretty hard thing to define. He loves you, even when you're unlovable. He offers salvation to you, even though you could never afford it, and you'll never deserve it.
Grace is not only defined, but it is seen in the Bible. It says in Acts 11:20-23, “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.”

Grace is that free gift which is given to people who do not deserve it. Each of us was - or still is - an enemy of God and yet God has chosen to love us anyway. We just do not know that kind of love. It is spoke of in Isaiah 64:6 when it says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Wow! He has taken away our sin! That is grace!

You see, our sin disqualified us from being friends of God. Our sin only ensures us of an eternal destiny apart from God. Notice what Paul told the Romans in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”; in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”; and in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty of our sins. His death opened up an avenue of reconciliation for us to God. Peter said in his epistle, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,” (1 Peter 3:18).

Every one of us is a picture of God's grace. Just think of your past for a moment. Of some of us the world said, “They're worthless. There's nothing lovable about them. They are trash - the dregs of the earth." But God showed grace on us in that “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Galatians - Introduction

Have you ever wondered about what the requirements are for being a Christian? If you're like most Christians, you started out by responding to a simple message: you heard that your sin had separated you from God, and Jesus Christ died to forgive that sin. You knew in your heart that the message was true, and so you prayed and asked Jesus to forgive your sins. But things got much more complicated after that, didn't they? You met other Christians who seemed to know more about this whole thing than you did. Some of them told you that if you were a Christian, you had better be in church every Sunday, and at least once during the week. Others told you that real Christians woke up early in the morning to pray and read the Bible for at least an hour. Some other folks told you that if you wanted to be a real Christian, you had to vote Republican, home school your children, and take herbs instead of prescribed medications. They told you what real Christians did, and told you what they didn't. Suddenly you realized that there are rules to follow, regulations to adhere to, and rituals to practice. And you understood that the Christian message was far more involved than you had been led to believe.

An old poem writer put it like this, "What must I forsake?" a young man asked. "Colored clothes for one thing. Get rid of everything in your wardrobe that is not white. Stop sleeping on a soft pillow. Sell your musical instruments and don't eat any more white bread. You cannot, if you are sincere about obeying Christ, take warm baths or shave your beard. To shave is to lie against him who created us, to attempt to improve on his work." Quaint, isn't it -- this example of extra biblical scruples? And perhaps amusing. The list has constantly shifted over the 1,800 years since this one was actually recorded.

This book of Galatians is mostly a stern warning. It does not correct conduct as the Corinthian letter did, but it is a book of correction. There is not one word of commendation, praise, or thanks anywhere to be found in this epistle. This book has been called the “Declaration of Emancipation” from legalism.

Martin Luther said of this book, “This is my epistle. I am wedded to it.” As a matter of fact, Galatians 3:11 started the Reformation. It is the strongest declaration and defense of the doctrine of justification by faith in the Bible. This is the book that moved John Wesley. He came to America to convert the Indian, but he made a startling discovery upon the reading of this book; he wasn’t converted himself. He said, “I came to America to convert the Indians, but who is going to convert John Wesley?”

Let’s start by taking a look at vv.1-2: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:” The writer of Galatians is Paul the apostle. The word apostle means "one who is sent out." And we know that Jesus sent out the original twelve guys, who were called apostles. It’s interesting as you read the Scriptures, you will see that this group is called "the twelve" about two dozen times. However, after Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus., "the Twelve" became known as "the Eleven" (Matt. 28:16; Mark 16:14; Luke 24:9; Luke 24:33; Acts 1:26; Acts 2:14).

On another interesting note, in Revelation 21:14 it says, “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” My question is, “Whose names will be on the twelfth foundation?” It will not be Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord into the hands of the religious leaders!

The Bible says in Acts 1:24-26, “And they prayed and said, "You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place." And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” No doubt about it, the twelve apostle was Matthias. From that point onward, they were once again always referred to as “the twelve.”