Tuesday, June 13, 2006

“falling in love with Galatians”

I am not currently teaching a Sunday school class this month, so I have been looking forward to attending one of the other classes offered this summer. My good friend Stuart is teaching a survey of the series of books in the Old Testament known as the “Minor Prophets” and last Sunday, he was looking at Obadiah, a book that I am not very familiar with at all. Well, one thing led to another and I was not able to attend his class, and I found myself at church with about 20 minutes before I had to pick my son up from his class and head on up to the sanctuary for the main service. The big question was what would I do with my time? Well, I decided to take advantage of the seclusion and quietness of the moment and began to read Galatians. I don’t ever remember studying this book in any great detail, and so as I found myself finishing up chapter 3, I said to myself (out loud), “I am falling in love with Galatians.”

There were so many things that jumped out and basically slapped me upside the head, not as if I had not ever heard them or had not known them before, but as something that I needed to read and be confronted with at that moment. One of my continuing and growing concerns or passions for the body of Christ took shape when Paul wrote that he was amazed that they were so quick to deserting Christ for a different gospel and then go on to say that there is no other real gospel. And then pronounces a railing judgment against anyone who would distort it. He doesn’t want anyone to miss how important it is, so he makes this railing judgment again a few verses later using the same pointed and harsh language (Galatians 1:6-10).

In Galatians 2:11-14 I saw numerous things, one of which is the ability for mature believers, leaders in the church, and stalwarts of the faith to be misled and be in need of rebuke. Whatever the exact situation was that Paul was referring to when he mentions that Peter (along with Barnabas) had begun to “withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:12), it seems to be related to the broader problem relating to the Judaizers1 and their distortion of the law and grace, Jew and gentile. The Judaizers seemed to be pushing a doctrine of works righteousness (follow the law, and you will be justified) and we can see Paul denounce that theology in a complete – no misunderstanding possible – and a scathing description that salvation is by through faith, not works of the law (see Galatians 2:16). You can again see Paul’s extreme distinction between the law and grace and he makes a very powerful conclusion that if the Judaizers were right, and there was something to be gained from following the Law, “then Christ died needlessly.” (Galatians 2:21)

I love how the apostle Paul pulls absolutely no punches (nor should he) when dealing with our salvation and hope. Here, in Galatians, he deals with the beginning of our faith and how it is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:1-10), but yet he also shows that “works” have their place as being the result of true faith (Ephesians 2:10) even though James makes the most extensive case for the fact that a true Christian must have good works, not because they save him, but because they show that he has been saved already (James 2:14-17). James makes the point that faith (believing that something is true) by itself is not where we find salvation because the demons believe, and they are obviously not saved (James 2:19).2 But Paul does not waste time here when he says that if we can be saved by works of the law, then Christ died in vain. This reminds me of his defense of the resurrection of the believer by saying that if we are not going to be raised from the dead, then Christ was not either. Furthermore, if Christ was not raised from the dead then our faith is worthless, and we should be pitied more than any other people (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

Paul’s lambasting of any sort of works righteousness was such a joy to my heart that I found myself moved almost to tears later when we sang the phrase borrowed from 2 Timothy 1:12 “But I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until that day.” One of the pitfalls that I have found when striving to serve God and be diligent in my spiritual disciplines is that there can not only be pride (and foolish pride at that) in reading the Bible and praying daily but there is the temptation to believe that if I do these things, that proves that I am saved.

A few years ago, I was blessed with the privilege of witnessing to and leading my brother-in-law to Christ. He is a few years older than me, and I was so encouraged and blown away by the humility that he had when he finally surrendered to Christ when he had been anything but humble in this respect just a few days before. I bring this story up this reason, I think that if I had been saved as an adult in my 20’s (like my brother-in-law) I would be tempted to look back at that point in my life where I bent my knee and believed in Christ as my assurance of my salvation. At least, it probably would have played a bigger part than it should play in my assurance of salvation. You see, my conversion happened when I was a child, and although my faith was genuine and my heart was truly changed, I was still an immature (in all respects) child and baby Christian. I don’t have the bookmarks in my “pre-saved” life to point to my sinfulness prior to God’s amazing grace saving me, but my life after being saved has been littered with sin and the endless failings before my Holy God.

“How does all of this relate” you ask? I would be a fool to look back at the time when I bent my knee to Christ and asked for the forgiveness of my sins as the primary or only assurance of my salvation. My life, and the life of any believer, should be marked by godliness, reverence, and overall a cherishing of the Savior. In short, the sanctifying work of God goes on from the time of my salvation to the time of my death, and it should be an easy and clear trail to see.

So when I am confronted by the accuser with accusations against my salvation, I can point to the grace of God in salvation and in sanctification that He is changing me to make me more like Him and less like the filth of the flesh. And when that someone throws my sin in my face, because they saw me sin, I need to be humble and accept the ridicule and scorn of unsaved people and not try to excuse myself for what I did. And maybe, just maybe, in this repentant and humble state of being after having been caught red handed denying Christ by word or deed, I may gain an opportunity to magnify the grace of my Lord who would save a wretch like me.

1 “Judaizers” refers to those early Jewish believers who were adamant that all new converts to Christianity must (basically) be Jewish first, and then Christians second. This seemed to be focused on the dietary laws and customs (see see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

2 I personally think that the demons have perfect theology. The verse here says that they believe that “God is one” and seems to indicate the understanding of the Triunity of the Godhead or Trinity and so demons have very orthodox theology, but they live like the devil (because they are devils). In the same way, a person can know sound theology and believe that it is true, but that same person’s heart will be revealed by what they hold dear, and if you hold Christ dear, you will honor him by good works.

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