galatians…week 10 **THE GOSPEL**

The picture of the Gageman is there simply for your enjoyment because he is the cutest thing…and I just like to show him off. Erin Nicastro took pictures of him earlier this week, and we celebrated his three-month birthday!

Now, on to business…

Yes, I am a week behind, but last week was crazy with wedding madness times two! I continued with my personal memory work, I just didn’t get a chance to get on here and post. So, here we are: Galatians 3:7-9.

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Yup, it’s a short passage this week. My simple question to you is this: WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

If I asked you to tell me the gospel of Jesus Christ, what would you say? Would you pull out an evangelistic tract that says, “The Four Spiritual Laws” on the cover? Would you walk me down the “Romans Road”? Would you begin asking me which of The Ten Commandments I had broken?

Let me be clear: I am not being critical of any particular method of sharing the gospel. But generally speaking, I think we simply make it more difficult than it has to be.

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Timothy Keller, discusses this topic in the second chapter of his book, King’s Cross, much better than I ever could. So, why reinvent the wheel? Here’s Keller:

Euangelion in Greek, which is translated as “good news” or “gospel,” combines angelos, the word for one announcing news, and the prefix eu-, which means “joyful.” Gospel means “news that brings joy.” This word had currency when Mark [the gospel-writer] used it, but it wasn’t religious currency. It means history-making, life-shaping news, as opposed to just daily news.

For example, there is an ancient Roman inscription from about the same time as Jesus and Mark. It starts: “The beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus.” It’s the story of the birth and coronation of the Roman emperor. A gospel was news of some event that changed things in a meaningful way. It could be an ascension to the throne, or it could be a victory. When Greece was invaded by Persia and the Greeks won the great battles of Marathon and Solnus, they sent heralds (or evangelists) who proclaimed the good news to the cities: “We have fought for you, we have won, and now you’re no longer slaves; you’re free.” A gospel is an announcement of something that has happened in history, something that’s been done for you that changes your status forever.

Right there you can see the difference between Christianity and all other religions, including no religion. The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news. Other religions say, “This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God.” But the gospel says, “This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you.” Christianity is completely different. It’s joyful news.

According to Galatians 3:8, what did the Scripture preach to Abraham? The gospel. And what was that fairly simple gospel? That in him, all the nations would be blessed. If I may put it quite simply and plainly, the gospel of Jesus is the good news that through Abraham’s seed, Jesus, WE ARE BLESSED.

In his book, GOSPEL, one of my favorite podcast pastors, J.D. Greear, says this:

Have you ever heard that statement (attributed to Francis of Assisi), “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words”? How do you explain the gospel without using words? That’s like saying, “Tell me your phone number. If necessary, use digits.” Your phone number is digits. The gospel is the words announcing what Christ has done.

I want to close with a few more words from Keller:

How do you feel when you’re given good advice on how to live? Someone says, “Here’s the love you ought to have, or the integrity you ought to have,” and maybe they illustrate high moral standards by telling a story of some great hero. But when you hear it, how does it make you feel? Inspired, sure. But do you feel the way the listeners who heard those heralds felt when the victory was announced? Do you feel your burdens have fallen off? Do you feel as if something great has been done for you and you’re not a slave anymore? Of course you don’t. It weighs you down: This is how I have to live. It’s not a gospel. The gospel is that God connects to you not on the basis of what you’ve done (or haven’t done) but on the basis of what Jesus has done, in history, for you. And that makes it absolutely different from every other religion or philosophy.

I believe Jesus preached the gospel boldly and clearly from the cross as He screamed, “It is finished!” The Victor announcing His victory…to all mankind.

galatians…week 9 **THE CROSS**

We are one-third of the way through Galatians!! Two chapters down, four to go! There is something extraordinary that happens when you read a letter/book of Scripture in its entirety. You get the complete feel of the letter from start to finish. I am not yet reciting the whole book, but the same continuity shows itself even between two chapters.

The Bible was not written with chapters or verses in its original state. These divisions came first by way of chapters when Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury, established them in 1227 A.D. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first edition to use his chapter pattern.

The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in 1448 A.D. Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses, in 1555 A.D. Stephanus essentially used Nathan’s verse divisions for the Old Testament. Since then, beginning with the Geneva Bible, the chapter and verse divisions employed by Stephanus have been accepted into nearly all the Bible versions.

Don’t worry–I have a very good reason for going down that rabbit trail…

To be honest with you, I have already memorized chapter three. I memorized it last summer during a bible study through Galatians with some of my favorite people in the world. I challenged them to memorize it and consequently I had to be willing to do the same. Since God graciously allowed me to retain it, I have actually started chapter four in my memory work this week but will continue to blog through portions of the text until we complete the book together!

I say all that because I need you to know that I have been reciting Galatians 3 by itself for almost a year now. Just this past week, I connected chapter two and chapter three AND THE SCRIPTURES CAME ALIVE!! Since there was no break when Paul originally wrote it, it makes sense that his thought continues to flow into the next chapter.

I am going to include 2:21 along with 3:1-6:

21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Please remember the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches: he is exhorting them to again embrace the truth that Jesus is enough! He is reminding them of their freedom in Christ Jesus through the grace that He offers through His bloodshed on the cross.

The last verse in chapter two, noted above, is Paul’s very piercing argument: If you can do it on your own, if you can earn righteousness by your own good works, if you can satisfy the wrath of God by being good enough, THEN CHRIST DIED FOR NO PURPOSE! Soak that in. The moment that you think that you can earn or lose one iota of your righteousness is the moment that you completely devalue Christ’s death. One more time–hear me: If you think your righteousness comes by being good enough or by not being quite bad enough, then you nullify the grace of God and His free gift-righteousness, and Christ died for nothing…I really don’t think I can say it enough.

Now, let’s get to how 2:21 and 3:1 blew up off the page at me this week…

Paul has some very harsh words for the Galatian believers in 3:1. Did you feel the weight of them as you read, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?! It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified!”?

I believe this is Paul’s point: “When you choose to believe that Jesus isn’t enough, when you choose to believe that keeping the Law saves you, then you nullify the grace of God and you nullify the death of Christ! BUT you saw the death of Christ with your own eyes–you saw the CRUCIFIXION of the Lord Jesus Christ–you saw Him as unrecognizably human from all the beatings and scourging–you saw them spit on Him–you saw Roman soldiers force Him to carry His own cross–you saw Him stumble and fall on the road to Calvary–you saw Him hanging on a tree–you saw Him give His mother to His best friend–you saw Him scream out forgiveness–you saw Him struggling for every single breath–you saw Him breathe His last–you saw them shove a spear in His side–you saw them take His lifeless body down from the cross. YOU SAW with your own eyes! How can you say that what YOU SAW meant NOTHING?? How can you tell me that He went through what YOU SAW for NO PURPOSE?? Have you forgotten WHAT you saw?? O foolish Galatians, REMEMBER WHAT YOU SAW!! Only when you remember will you THEN rightly understand grace again…”

Verses began to flood my mind that absolutely support Paul’s highest esteem for the crucifixion of Christ Jesus:

“…but we preach Christ crucified…” 1 Corinthians 1:23a

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:3

It made such perfect sense to me…the Galatians had forgotten Christ crucified and in so doing, they forgot His grace.

That’s me.

When I lose sight of Christ and Him crucified, I begin to focus on me and what I need to do or not do for my righteousness. When I lose sight of God’s perfect love shown to me on the cross, I begin to focus on what I can do or not do to make Him love me more. When I lose focus on His sufficient grace, I begin to try to make myself acceptable in His sight. When I forget the cross, I forget the ultimate sacrifice that was made to redeem a wretch like me…and I try to redeem myself, nullifying God’s grace and Christ’s death. Oh, forbid it, Lord…

Is that you too?

 

galatians…week 8 **LOVE**

Before we get into this week’s text, I need to WARN you…THESE ARE EXTREMELY FAMILIAR VERSES! So, please beware of reading through them haphazardly. I believe there is some truth to the old adage “familiarity breeds complacency.” I ask that you would pray for fresh eyes, a humble heart, and a teachable mind to learn from Scripture today, that again will be extremely familiar if you have any extended background in church.

Ironically enough, the hardest verses for me to memorize are the ones that I have known for years BUT IN A DIFFERENT VERSION! An additional word here. A different word there. So instead of just memorizing new text, I’m actually having to deprogram then reprogram data that was downloaded way too long ago. 🙂

Are you prayed up? Then dive headfirst into Galatians 2:17-21 (English Standard Version):

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

“….[the Son of God] loved me and gave Himself for me.” Can I ask you to go back and read that phrase again–out loud if possible? Did you do it? Good. Now say it again. Wasn’t that easy? Now say it again. The person next to you might think you’re a little weird, but that’s OK. Say it again. I will sit right here and wait, until you say it as many times as your precious soul needs to hear it. Please, say it just one more time.

It’s the Gospel. I know you probably think I am a broken record (or would the more relevant phrasing be “a broken iPod”?) by now. But it’s not my fault–Paul is the one writing about Jesus Christ’s Gospel of GRACE over and over and over again.

There are four different Greek words that are all translated into our single English word, love. Herein lies some of our disconnection from and devaluing of Jesus’ love for us. I tell you that I love your outfit. I tell my dog that I love him. We say that we love Chick-fil-a. But we also say that we love our parents, children, spouse, GOD…and we say that He loves us.

The four Greek words and their definitions are as follows:

  1. Storge–affection, especially of parents to offspring.” It is natural love, even in the animal world. It is why mama bears feed their cubs. A normal, healthy person does not need to be told to give storge.
  2. Philia–“friendship.” C.S. Lewis says in his book, “The Four Loves”, “Friendship is the least natural of the loves. Without eros [love] none of us would have been begotten and without affection [storge] none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without friendship.”
  3. Eros–“passionate love with desire and longing; being ‘in love’.” I have always thought eros automatically indicated sexual desire/activity/motivation. However, Lewis states that this is inaccurate: “Sexual desire, without eros, wants it [sex], the thing in itself; eros wants the Beloved.” I think his words are simply beautiful.
  4. Agape–“unconditional love.” It refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. Lewis describes it as what he believes is the highest level of love known to humanity—a selfless love, a love that is passionately committed to the well-being of the other. In his book, The Pilgrimage”, Paulo Coelho defines it as “the love that consumes,” i.e., the highest and purest form of love, one that surpasses all other types of affection.

As you can guess, the word Paul uses in 2:20 is agape. Jesus loved you with a selfless, covenant love; the highest form of love that is passionately committed to your well-being; the purest love; a love that surpasses all other loves. Jesus agaped you.

That love led Him first down to earth to a wooden manger in a town called Bethlehem. Then that love led Him down the Via Dolorosa to a wooden cross on a hill called Calvary. Where, as the text says, he “gave Himself for” me and you.

“A love that consumes…” as Coehlo states. Consumes means, “to destroy, to do away with completely, annihilate.”

His love consumed my heart of stone and gave me a new heart of flesh, and He put a new spirit within me (Ezekiel 36:26). His love consumed every single drop of the judgement and wrath of God against me (2 Corinthians 5:21). His love consumes every ounce of condemnation I experience (Romans 8:1). His love consumes my sin (John 1:29, Hebrews 10:14).

Consume, Lord. I agape you.

galatians…week 7 **CONFRONTATION**

Sin. Confrontation. Repentance. Repeat.

Sin. Confrontation. Repentance. Repeat.

Sin. Confrontation. Repentance. Repeat.

When Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, the very first one was: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

When is the last time you were confronted on a sin? Whether it was by another human being or by the Holy Spirit Himself, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you WILL be able to name a specific instance, because as Luther stated, the entire life of a believer is one of repentance.

As we make our way through the letter to the churches of Galatia, we arrive at this very issue. Paul now gives us a very specific, useful, and first-hand instance of sin and confrontation between Peter (Cephas) and himself.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 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?” 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Here is the situation: Peter, a Jewish Christian, is no longer restricted by the Jewish law regarding kosher dietary laws. He and other Jewish Christians in the Church were having pork BBQ sandwiches for lunch with the Gentile believers. 🙂 Then, some men from the Jerusalem church came and were instructing Jewish Christians to keep the Jewish ceremonial laws. Apparently out of fear, Peter complied, separating himself. This resulted in the Gentile believers feeling like second-class Christians because they didn’t observe the laws. It in fact was “not in step with the TRUTH of the Gospel” (v. 14) which is “grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone”. This brings us back to the “Jesus Plus” discussion we had in week 2. There is no way that Paul will stand for this and as the text says, “opposed Cephas to his face” (v. 11).

I want to share some brief observations on confrontation, because again, as a believer, our lives will be those full of sin, confrontation, and repentance. (These are not set-in-stone laws, but rather wise, helpful, best-case-scenario instruction.)

  1. Face-to-face. The text is clear. Please don’t text or Facebook chat someone with a correction. You are not setting yourself or the recipient up for success. Now, in-person might not be possible, but do what you can to ensure, at the very least, voice-to-voice, i.e. phone, Skype, etc.
  2. As soon as possible. Paul saw that many others, including Barnabas, his own mentor, was being led astray because of Peter’s sin. He needed to deal with it ASAP! Likewise for us, James 1:15 says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sin produces death. We need to protect the sinner from further destruction as well as those whom he/she may be hurting/affecting.
  3. In love. When I say “love”, I don’t mean, “be nice and flowery and use kind words” although those are not bad things. Rather, I mean: do whatever you need to agape well. Agape love has been defined as, “the deliberate and sacrificial pursuit of the highest good for the other person.” That may mean hard words. That may mean difficult conversation. Pastor Mark Driscoll often says, “Hard words produce soft people. Soft words produce hard people.” I believe that. Godly and humble confrontation pursues the highest good of the person–it loves.
  4. Between family members. Paul confronts Peter because he is a brother in Christ. He wrote to the Corinthian church, “For what have I to do with outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12). We have a responsibility to confront fellow believers, but we are not called to hold non-believers to the same standard. They do not have the Holy Spirit, therefore they do not have a regenerated heart.
  5. Based on truth not feelings. Paul confronted Peter based on the truth of the gospel–not his feelings. It is easy to get wrapped up in our own emotions, hurts, sense of justice, etc. We need to remain clear-headed and humble.
  6. Conclude with the Gospel. This, I believe, is the most important thing. One of my favorite pastors, Dr. Timothy Keller, says, “Sanctification occurs when you focus on your justification.” In verse 16, Paul preaches the gospel to Peter. Essentially, Paul tells him, “You know what, Peter–yeah, you messed up. You showed partiality. You were a hypocrite. You led others to do the same. BUT, YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER that YOU KNOW that a person is not justified by being perfect, or by keeping the whole law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. You and I have believed in Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by our obedience to the law. You are forgiven because of the grace of God. No one is justified by works of the law. The same grace that you needed on the first day you believed, is the same grace you need today and every day. The same grace that Christ offered on the first day you believed, is the same grace that He offers today and every day. His grace is sufficient for your sin. Repent, Peter.” We HAVE to finish all confrontations with HOPE and GRACE. Paul said in Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness is meant to lead to repentance.” GRACE is the only thing that leads to lasting life-transformation.

Peter allowed his fear to cause him to sin (2:12). Peter was confronted (2:14). Peter was transformed. Grace overcame his fear. Church History tells us that he was crucified for his faith in Jesus. In fact, he was crucified upside down claiming he wasn’t worthy to die in the same manner as his Beloved Lord. No. More. Fear.

Believer, your whole life is to be one of repentance. You will sin. By the grace of God, you will be confronted. By the grace of God, you will repent. By the grace of God, you will be transformed. Hallelujah.