Galatians 3: “Law and Promise”

Trying to make it on our own instead of relying on God’s grace is as human as sin, which, of course, is why we try to make it on our own — we suffer the sin of pride. God knows us and has told us that we are better off living our lives His way, which includes accepting the grace of salvation by believing in His Son. The apostle Paul wrestled with this same issue when he told the church in Galatia to stop relying on their own efforts to earn salvation and rely on God’s promise of grace.

This meditation is Part 3 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is available here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

“How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT)

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)

I KNOW I CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.

I can’t believe what I just said; what I just did. That just isn’t me. I mean, I’m more even-50. Backslidingtempered than that. I don’t know what came over me. I’m tired, hungry even, certainly  stressed by work, family. You know, the usual things.

I can do better than this. I just need to try harder.

Becoming perfect by our individual human effort is the ultimate New Year’s resolution, and, besides, the idea of taking charge is so American, isn’t it? No way are we going to sit back and wish things were different! No, siree! We’re going to do something about it!

Buck up … and try harder.

Despite our best intentions, the outcome of our self-help promises are just as predictable as the rest of our resolutions. After a few tries, with diminishing enthusiasm, we give up.

Maybe we’ll try later, give it another go over the summer or maybe just wait until the following year. We aren’t really quitting, we tell ourselves. We’re delaying our effort. The timing just wasn’t right.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL must have felt the same way with the church in Galatia.

We can see his frustration when he saw those new Christians backsliding. One massive New Year’s resolution fail, but this time a slipping away from God’s saving grace.

No, this is not a discussion of whether a person can lose his or her salvation, but  Man goes on concrete pier in the sunrisewhether once saved, a person can miss the closeness and love for the Father that comes from a growing and continuing relationship with Him.

Jesus referenced this slipping away in Revelation 2:4 (MSG), when He told the church in Ephesus, “You walked away from your first love.”

That is, a person can remain saved but not progress in his/her spiritual walk with the Lord by remaining in place at the very point where they started their walk, like a newborn who never outgrows diapers or starts crawling.

Paul admonished the church in Corinth along those same lines, when he accused them of not growing in their faith. “I fed you with milk, not solid food,” Paul wrote, “for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV).

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HOW COULD WE MISS the unmistakeable promise that our Lord and Savior has given us? The great gift of grace! We don’t have to do life on our own. When we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, God pours His grace into us and relieves us of the burden and responsibility.

“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:28 MEV).

Okay, so there’s a catch, right? Once we surrender our lives to God, we are “owned” by  someone else, required to live up to someone else’s agenda and match their standards. 

50. Making_DecisionsYes, absolutely true! The Bible is very clear about that. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV, Paul states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

But, wait!

According to the Bible, God’s revealed testimony, you always were owned by someone else.

Listen to what Jesus says about that. Here He is in John 8:34 GW: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.’”

Here’s Paul again: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16 NLT)

So, either way, you’re owned, right? Either you’re owned by sin, which leads to death, or you’re owned by righteousness, which leads to life.

You pick. Your choice. God’s gift of free will.

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SOMEWHERE, THERE’S THAT VOICE of doubt that whispers, “Maybe not everyone. This cops-and-robbers stuff might affect those people, but surely not me.”50. Open_Bible

Yes, you and me. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:22a NIV that we’re all engulfed in this sin mess, everyone of us. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”

Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Instead, he goes on to tell us that God has provided an escape for us, if we would just trust Him. What is that escape? Well, verse 22 continues with the answer: “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

What was promised?

The promise, as the following verses (23-25) explain, is that we are no longer prisoners under the law but justified (considered righteous) through Jesus Christ. “Now that faith has come,” Paul writes, “we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

The law was about works, doing the right things and trying to earn God’s favor by our actions. Replacing the law with grace, through Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection means we are recipients of God’s free gift of grace (Romans 3:24).

That was the point Paul was trying to drive home to the struggling Galatians. God, through His mercy, has given you the kingdom through your faith in His Son. Why are you falling back on old habits of trying to merit salvation through your own efforts, when Scripture tells us you are destined to fail … every time?

Better to accept God’s gift of grace through His Son. God reconciles us to Himself and grants us an eternity in His rest.

As we reflect on that gift, we are moved to join Paul in his prayer of praise: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV).

Amazing.

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PRAYER: O Heavenly Father, Creator of the Universe, Who made us in Your image, we confess we have failed You in our willfulness, striving to earn salvation on our own merits despite the sinful natures of our hearts. Forgive us, O Lord, and change our hearts from hearts filled with anger and lust and pride and sloth and covetousness and treachery and guile, and give us hearts that love the Lord and want to serve only Him. In Jesus’ precious Name we lift this prayer. Amen

 

 

Don’t Make It Difficult for Those Turning to God

All to often, we Christians are poor ambassadors of the message our Lord left with us. We should not stand in the way of non-believers searching for Truth in their lives. We should make it easy for them to seek — and find — the Lord’s saving grace. He made salvation easy. He did all of the hard work. We just need to point the way.

“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19 (NLT)

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Acts 20:21 (NIV)

THIS MUST HAVE BEEN AN EXCITING MEETING!

The glitterati of the Jewish Christian world — Jesus’ remaining apostles and church elders — were gathered in Jerusalem to hear a progress report from two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, who had been evangelizing the Good News to the Gentiles.

Girl Praying - Turning to GodThe whole idea that God wanted the non-Jewish world to be saved from eternal damnation was a difficult enough concept for many of the Jews to understand, but worse, they were hearing reports that Paul and Barnabas were teaching salvation by faith, not by good works. Moreover, they were teaching that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism before becoming a follower of Christ and that they were not bound by the Law of Moses. 

No, the Gentiles would be saved by God’s grace and their belief that Jesus was God, died sacrificially for their sins, and was raised from the dead to sit at God’s right hand.

There was a lot of ground for the church elders to cover.

The Book of Acts, written by the doctor, Luke, tells us that Paul and Barnabas reached Jerusalem and were “welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders” — that is, until the Pharisees swung into action. That was the same crowd that Jesus said “woe to” on many occasions, accusing them of substituting their rules, their regulations, and their mandates for God’s law of love and forgiveness.

“The new believers must become Jews first,” the  Pharisees thundered, “and they must keep the law of Moses.”

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INTERESTING.

Man Praying - Turning to GodNowhere in the four Gospels does Jesus ever say that His followers must convert to Judaism and follow Moses’ law to be saved from God’s wrath. Instead, in John chapter 3, Jesus says His followers must be “born again.” In Luke chapter 9, He says His followers must “take up their cross daily” and follow Him.

But the Pharisees, as usual, were adamant.

The apostles and elders kicked those ideas around, when Apostle Peter stood up to address them. Naturally, Peter would speak first. There was a hush as he looked around the room, waiting for order.

He reminded them that “some time ago,” God made it known that the gospel of Jesus Christ was to be preached to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews and that He would accept all into His Kingdom “by giving them the Holy Spirit,” the same as He gave to the Jews.

Peter rebuked the elders, saying God would purify the Gentiles’ hearts by faith. “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” Peter asked.

You can feel his exasperation.

“No!” he told the stunned assembly. “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

After Peter sat down, Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas related their experiences and how the Gentiles were responding warmly to the salvation message.

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YOU CAN’T BEAT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

For shear drama, this must have been the top moment.

God Reaching Out to ManSo far, the apostles Paul and Barnabas had spoken, the Pharisees had had their  moment, and Peter had spoken.

Could it get any more dramatic?

Yes, actually, it could.

The next man to stand is the one Luke tells us had the final say.

It was James.

Not just any James. This was James, the half-brother of Jesus Himself. The one who Luke tells us in chapter 8 accompanied his mother, Mary, and siblings to tell Jesus He was embarrassing the family with His teaching and should return home and tend to His carpentry business.

The James that Luke tells us in chapter 4 was sitting in the temple in the family’s hometown of Nazareth when Jesus read from Isaiah that “the Spirit of the Lord is on me” and proclaimed to all of their neighbors that the verse was about Him. Yes, the James who watched as the townsmen wanted to stone Jesus!

Yup, that James, but not that James.

The James who stood up at that moment in that meeting knew who His Lord and Savior was. In human terms, he knew his older half-brother was God.

That James stood up and closed the argument with these words inspired by the Holy Spirit — words of grace, mercy, and wisdom: “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. It is my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

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DON’T MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO WIN CONVERTS TO CHRIST.

James’ words trickle down the centuries to the present era, where we also are called by Almighty God not to make it difficult for those who hunger for the Truth of salvation, whether by our actions or our words.

Instead, we should make it easy for them to ask God for His forgiveness, to thank Him for the gift of grace, and to ask Him to live in their hearts.

When James’ words were relayed to the Gentile community outside Jerusalem, Luke tells us in Acts 15:31 (NIV) how they reacted:

“The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.”

Praise God!

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PRAYER: Our merciful and loving Heavenly Father, we just praise your holy name. We give thanks that You are a God of love and compassion, of patience and caring. Your gift of eternal life with You is too wonderful to comprehend. Help us in our witness to avoid placing obstacles or barriers of any kind in the way of your lost children. Rather, help us to extend loving, accepting, benevolent hands to those reaching out for Your Word. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen