Day 339: Galatians 1-3; The Only Gospel is Jesus Chirst

The book of Galatians addresses some of the most pressing questions that the early church had in its infancy.  As the Gospel spread and churches were founded throughout Asia Minor, what was really the heart of the Roman Empire, issues started to crop up and people started to ask questions.  Along with this, there were disputes about salvation and even false teachers that began to preach other ways of salvation, and even skewed versions of the Christian Gospel.  One of these groups, the Gnostics, was a group that the Apostle John directly addresses in his Gospel and in the letters that he writes to the church later in the New Testament.

Paul’s writing to the church in Galatia, which was really a region that had within it over half a dozen major churches like Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch, contains within it a great deal of material from which we draw our understanding of salvation by grace through faith.  Also addressed by Paul are some of the issues that the church leaders are dealing with, questions about circumcision and the inclusion of the Gentiles, and Christian freedom.  While this may not seem like a big deal to us today, we need to understand that the Church today is formed by the many issues and decisions that took place in the first couple hundred years of the church.  At stake here, in all honesty, was the proper understanding of salvation, which would have led to people feeling the need to do all sorts of works to earn their salvation.  Also at stake could possibly have been the church’s understanding Gentile inclusion in the promise of God, something that would have had ramifications far beyond a church or two in a Roman province 2000 years ago.

This is really the essence of what Paul is addressing here in the his writing though.  It doesn’t just have to do with the proper understanding of some obscure Christian doctrine, it has everything to do with the salvation of people’s souls.  Right from the get go Paul is speaking against those who would proclaim another Gospel.  He condemns those who would preach it and is astonished that people in the church would so quickly go away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  At the beginning of this letter he really doesn’t go into much detail about the nature of who and what is actually going on, but the fact is these people are trying to pervert the Gospel.

To be honest, this isn’t simply something that happened back then.  It is happening right now, in our churches today.  Across the nation and the world, ‘churches’ are growing by leaps and bounds preaching the health and wealth ‘gospel.’  These places preach of God’s desire to bless you, but only based on the amount you give.  This happens a great deal in the tele-evangelist circles too, sending you trinkets that are ‘blessed’ if you send them money.  Paul says that these preachers ought be ‘accursed’ because of their preaching.  Anyone who preaching a Gospel other than that of Jesus Christ crucified and salvation by grace is absolutely wrong.

Sadly, I think that sometimes stumble into issues like this as well, and it doesn’t just happen to your everyday, average-joe Christian either.  In chapter two of today’s reading we see that Paul has to address, of all people, Peter (the rock on which Jesus is building his church).  Apparently, due to fear, Paul is being sort of hypocritical in his actions with Jews and Gentiles.  There were those, at that time, that felt that the only way to salvation had to do with following the Jewish laws as well as accepting Christ.  They are called the ‘circumcision group’ here and apparently they were intimidating.  In any case, Paul stands up to Peter which, as Paul is explaining it, sends him on a whole explanation about salvation by grace through faith and not any sort of human work.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

I like too, Paul’s explanation of the relationship between the law and the covenant of Abraham.  Many people had and have come to the belief that somehow the giving of the law nullified the original covenant that was made.  Paul points out that can never overlook the original covenant, which is more than the law, it is a promise which is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.  The law was only put in place in the mean time, something to help guide the people of God until the promise was fulfilled.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.



Day 329: Romans 11-13; In View of God's Mercies

Paul closes out the the second section of his letter to the church in Rome continuing his discussion on salvation and how the people of Israel and the Gentile fit into it.  One of the things that he points out is that through God’s work in Jesus Christ, God has not rejected His chosen people of Israel and neither has He turned from them to try some sort of “plan B” for the salvation of the world.  Paul reveals to us that this has always been a part of God’s plan.  God has been working for the salvation of the world since the time of the fall and He always knew that there was no way that humanity could do it for themselves.  Paul has talked about this throughout the book of Romans, how the Law was never intended to save and neither was living in a particular way something that was supposed to bring about salvation or perfection.  In fact, all of what God did in the Old Testament, all the law and the prophets, all of God’s self revelation were preparation for the coming of Jesus that God’s people would recognize their savior and that all believers would have a context for understanding Jesus’ work to bring about our salvation.  It would be much more difficult for us to understand and recognize Jesus’ sacrifice if we didn’t have, say, the Hebrew sacrificial system.  In the same way there are a great deal of Jesus’ teachings that don’t make too much outside of the context of the Old Testament Scriptures.

So this is all well and good… actually this is great!  God, in Christ has reached down to us and lifted us out of our misery, out of the sin that has enslaved us since the very first sinful act back in the garden.  It is by grace alone that this has taken place, because of God’s great love for us.  Certainly it is not because of anything that we have done to show ourselves as worthy and, I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand this because we know that the deepest desires of our heart and they are selfish, self honoring, and self absorbed.  If this is the case though, that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God, and there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves righteous, do we even have to try to do anything good?  Paul would say “absolutely!”  This is what we come to as we open chapter 12.

Paul opens chapter 12 with the word “therefore” which is a key word for us to pick up on.  It means that Paul isn’t starting something new here but saying “because of all that I have just said, now…”  This is exactly what He is getting at here.  He writes, “by the mercies of God…”  Other translations right “in view of God’s mercies…”  What Paul is getting at here is that what He is about to say is completely dependent on what he has just said.  What is to come should happen because of what has already taken place.  That is the truth of our lives as people of God too isn’t it?  What is to come in our lives, our whole lives, is to be lived out in light of all that God has already done for us.  James Brownson, in his book The Promise of Baptism, writes, “In the Bible, our identity is not found in our past, but in Christ’s past, which is our future.  Our truest and deepest self is defined not by what we have experienced in the past, but by what Christ experience and accomplished for us.”  I think this is a very good way of restating what Paul is saying here, we are “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul is saying here that what has been given to us requires a response, and that response, one again, is that “Shema style” of living in which we are loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

He then says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It isn’t simply that we are supposed to love God while we just do whatever we want.  God also calls us to be set apart for Him, to live lives that are honoring and pleasing to Him.  To do this, we need to be continually following after God, continually being that “living sacrifice,” not because we are trying to make ourselves more righteous, but out of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.  All that follows, from Chapter 12 onward is written in this light, talking about how we are to live.  Again though, this is not in the restriction style that the law was interpreted as, but in freedom from sin that we have been given in Christ, through which we are called to live in GRATEFUL obedience to Jesus Christ.



Day 326: Romans 1-3; Introduction to Romans

Today we being the transition into the largest section of the New Testament, and one of the last sections as well.  These are known as the ‘epistles.’  they are composed almost completely of letters that were written by Paul, Peter, & John.  A few of them are are written by others or have somewhat disputed authors (in that there is not agreement on who exactly wrote the book), but all are really exposition on faith in Christ Jesus, drawing from the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures and of Jesus and how both of these are now interact to form and shape the faith of the Church as it grows and develops.  We will see the authors address many issues from salvation by grace alone to the formation of church government and the qualifications for its leaders.

The book of Romans itself is the largest of the Epistles and arguably the most well known.  Paul, the author, lays out the whole argument of faith in God from the very beginning, taking us through what has become known as “Romans’ Road,” or the journey of Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.  He is writing to an audience in Rome, a place that He hasn’t yet been able to visit, trying to build up the church there and empower them in their faith as they face persecution and rejection.  As we can see from our reading today, it is clear that there are both Jews and Gentiles present in the audience that this would have been read in.

As we begin our reading of the book of Romans, we see Paul expressing his desire to come and visit the Roman church.  Clearly this book was written before the events that we read yesterday when Paul was actually in Rome.  It is also important to note here that Paul feels himself called to be an Apostle.  I like how he writes “set apart for the Gospel of God,” which is really true if we remember back to Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9.  God really had chosen him to be the instrument He used to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles, something that we see laid out pretty clearly here.  More over, Paul’s words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” are quite interesting if you contrast them with his old life.  What a turn around he has experienced!

From here, Paul goes on to lay out the journey of faith and, in so many words, explains the process of going from condemnation and judgment under the law to righteousness through faith by the grace of God alone.  Basically, Paul begins with the story of Israel, talking about how God revealed Himself to them and they didn’t listen.  Yet he doesn’t say with Israel and points out that God has been revealed to everyone throughout the entire world through the very creation that He created.  In theological terms, this is called “General Revelation.”  The glory of God, the very existence of God is revealed simply by looking at the greatness of creation all around us.  Indeed this is a response to so many of the psalmists who wrote things like “all of creation declares your glory.”  Paul makes the point as well that because of this general revelation of God to all people, no one has an excuse not to turn to God.  In other words, because of all that God has given us on this earth, we cannot use the excuse “I never heard of God” or “I never saw God.”

Paul goes on to say then that God is both righteous and justified in His judgment of humanity.  For some were given over to the desires of their flesh, the sin of this world in worshiping idols and practicing all manner of unrighteousness.  Whether these folks knew God or not, they were sinful to the core.  An argument could be made here that the the people Paul is referring to at the end of Romans 1 were not the elect, but were those who never turned to God.  Whether or not this is the case really is besides the point though as Paul goes on in Chapter 2 to show that even those who follow God and judge those people will be judged themselves because they too sin by doing these things.  He then clarifies by saying that God will judge all who sin whether they knew the Law of God or not.

Interestingly, Paul takes a bit of a turn here, pointing out the necessity and purpose of the Law.  He also goes into a talk about identity, building upon the argument he has made about the equality of God’s judgment for all.  Paul points out that identity is not a matter of physical happening, or anything else for that matter, that makes a Jew and Jew and a Gentile a Gentile.  It is (hear the shema echos here) a matter of the HEART!  “Inward circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”  So, is there any advantage to being any particular race?  Paul says, “By No Means!”  The Jews were recipients of the Law of God, and God revealed Himself in a special way to them, but that didn’t make them any more faithful or save them in any special way… they are judged just the same.  In fact, in some ways they have even less excuse because with God’s Law brings a greater knowledge of sin.  But as for sin, there is no difference.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

So what then?  Are we to remain in sin?  Are we hopeless?  Paul ends, and so will we, with one of the greatest statements of faith and salvation through grace that is written:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.



Day 321: Acts 9-12; Paul Converted, Gospel to the Gentiles

Today we read of two of the four “most important” events that take place in the New Testament after Jesus is taken into heaven.  The first important event, at least in my opinion, is that of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  It is only after that event that we see the Apostles and believers begin to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all those around Jerusalem.  All the believers are filled with the Holy Spirit and preach the Word of God boldly, heal the sick, and are even driving our demons in the name of Jesus.  We saw the second important event yesterday with the speech, stoning, and subsequent scattering of the believers from the city of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria.  As we said yesterday, it is because of the persecution that breaks out against the believers at the stoning of Stephen, that the Gospel moves outside of Jerusalem for the first time.

The person that we read is really in charge of this persecution, or at least the man who seems to be going after the believers is named Saul (who is better known as Paul later on).  With the permission of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, he heads to Damascus to find more believers and bring them back to put them in prison in Jerusalem.  This brings us to the third important event, Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and the conversion that takes place because of it.  It really is an irony to see God choose His greatest opponent and turn him into one of history’s greatest theologians.  There are so many echoes of this event to the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5.  Remember that he spoke of being sure that the religious leaders were careful and that if this movement wasn’t from God then is surely would fall away.  Clearly here we see that it IS from God and its not going anywhere.

Paul’s conversion, as an event, really isn’t something that changes the course of history all at once.  In fact, for a while, Paul kind of flies under the radar as it were.  However, it isn’t what he is at the time, but what he becomes that is important.  Saul, who will start going by Paul when we meet him again, becomes one of the most prolific writers and theologians in the early church.  All together, he writes basically all the books from Romans to 2 Timothy.  He also takes part in numerous church plants and an over abundance of discipleship and missionary journeys that shape the face of the church for years to come.  Though he may have never known Jesus while he was on earth, Paul becomes one of the most important figures in the New Testament, the source from which a large amount of our contemporary theology derives from.

After Saul/Paul returns to Jerusalem we turn back to the exploits of Peter as he continues to work and spread the Gospel throughout the land of the Jewish people, at least at first.  He ends up in a city called Joppa where the fourth important event takes place.  Peter, while staying at a house there has a vision in which God reveals to him that the Gentiles are not to be excluded from the Gospel of Grace, that they are no longer considered unclean as they had been in the past.  “Do not call unclean what God has made clean” He says to Peter in this vision.  Peter realizes that God is calling the Church to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Gentiles as well, that the people of God are no longer divided by race or even land, but by those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those who do not.

While some may contend that this really isn’t that important of an event, I would like to point out that it is this event right here that we all, or at least probably 99% of all Christians can find to be a common link to us as we are all “Gentiles” by birth.  There are many points throughout Jesus’ life in which we read of Him being called specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel.”  However, as Israel was to be a light to the nations, representing them before God, so to was Jesus a representative of all humanity before God and through Him all people everywhere have been offered this gift of grace.  For most of us, though we can trace our spiritual ancestry back to the death of Jesus on the Cross, of course, find that it is here in which the “spiritual family tree” begins to split off… it is here that that the Gospel of Jesus Christ moves outward from Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth.



Day 291: Mark 4-6; Jesus' Ministry in Galilee

Mark waists no time in continuing the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We begin our reading today with some of the parables of Jesus and the explanations that He gives His disciples about them.  I think it is interesting how He does that, quoting an obscure passage of Isaiah, and not really offering much of what we would consider a solid explanation.  I guess I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this, but Jesus makes the point that the “secrets” of the Kingdom of God are revealed to His disciples (and by extension those who believe), yet for those that don’t, these may be something that they can grab a hold of.  Maybe it is like the seed of the parable that is sown into their hearts, something that the gardener (God) would water and cultivate over time.  In any case, Jesus teaches in this way throughout His ministry.

Another thing that we start to see emerging here, something that perhaps wasn’t as clear in Matthew, is the contrast between those who believe and those who do not believe.  As Jesus continues His ministry, we see Him interacting with more and more people in different regions of Galilee.  What is interesting, and probably what the religious leaders of the time despised, is that Jesus associates more and more with the people they would have considered outcasts by virtue of the law.  Jesus eats with sinners, associates with demon possessed people, heals the sick, and even talks to Gentiles (which sadly enough was worse than all the rest of these put together).  Even in Jesus’ home town, where all the people would have known Him since His youth, Jesus is rejected and very few people believe.  Contrast this with the woman who just wanted to touch a piece of Jesus’ cloak to get healing because she was to humiliated and afraid to ask.  What does Jesus say to her?  “Your faith has made you well, go in peace.”  Mark goes back and forth with this theme as a way of showing very clearly that for those who believe, great healing and peace will come, and for those that don’t, no peace or healing is found.

Finally today, I think that there the particular theme that emerges in chapter six is that of abundance.  While we could look at this in many different ways, I think that the word ‘abundance’ seems to fit.  Jesus calls His disciples to Himself and sends them out empowers to preach and to heal in the same what that He has been doing.  They go out and what we see, though it is not recorded as well in this book, is the Kingdom of God appearing throughout the region in abundance.  Many people are healed, freed from spirits, and given hope.  Next, after the interlude of John the Baptist’s death, we see the narrative of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  This too is a theme of abundance and carries with it the themes from the Lord’s Supper.  As one professor has said to me, “if there is water in the narrative, you best be thinking baptism.  If there is food in the narrative, you best be thinking Communion.”  Though we do not see the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, we do see the image of Jesus breaking bread and giving it to the people.  In this we see that there is an abundance!  In fact, there is more than an abundance, there is an overflow!  Jesus is revealing to the people that in the Kingdom of God there is no wanting, no hunger, no need, there is only abundance.