Sunday, August 18, 2019
It’s Time to Grow Up! (or, “From Slavery to Sonship”)
Introduction: A well-known story that Jesus told was of a son who made a selfish choice. He chose to despise the father who loved him, and walked away from the blessings of sonship. Going the way of the world, he eventually became enslaved by his poor choices. That story had a happy ending as the prodigal son repented, and went back in brokenness, and was received by his gracious father. The Old Testament story of Esau shows another case of despising the blessings of sonship, when, in a moment of hunger, Esau, the eldest son of Isaac, exchanged his birthright for a bowl of stew. In our text today Paul is asking, “Why would a child of the king reject his position, and choose to become a slave?” He is urging the Galatians, and us, to live in the light of who we are in Christ!
In a sermon a couple of weeks back I referenced the movie Matrix. Here I go again! One of the characters in that movie, Cypher, betrayed Morpheus and the team of humans who had been set free from bondage to the Matrix. Why did he do it? He thought he was happier living in the illusory world of the Matrix than he was struggling against the machines in the real world. He wanted to return to living in the blissful ignorance of bondage! Not too unlike the Jews in the wilderness who murmured against Moses, “Why did you take us out of Egypt? We had leeks and cucumbers there, we should go back!” So quickly they forgot what they had been saved from, and were ready to turn back. That sounds a little like the Galatians, doesn’t it? They had been set from bondage through faith in the Gospel of Christ. And now they were seemingly on the brink of turning back to a religion of works.
Context: We saw in chapter 3 how God is truly the Lord of history. He made a promise to Abraham 2000 years before Christ. He then gave Moses a Law, which not only did not annul the promise, it actually made it more urgent and necessary. We’ve seen how that promise was fulfilled in Christ, so that everyone who the Law drives to Jesus receives in Him the promise that was made to Abraham—by grace alone through faith alone. That is what God has done for us. But Paul is writing this letter because it seemed as though the Galatians had forgotten who they were and what they had in Christ, or at least they were being convinced that if faith was good, faith plus works must be even better in terms of earning God’s favor. No!
The Maine* Idea: If we recognize the privilege it is to be called God’s son, we will never desire to go back to our former position of slavery. We have been set free in Christ. It’s time to grow up and live in the light of the Gospel of Grace!
I. What we were: In effect, we were slaves (4:1-3)! God’s revelation in the period before Christ was anticipating a new age and a new standing: We were slaves, now we are sons!
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
Think back about your experience before you trusted Christ. Can you see how God was guiding your life, bringing you to the point of finding your place in His story? You were a slave, but then came to know God, or rather, be known by God (cf. Gal 4:9)! God knows everything, so what does that mean? It is the personal, intimate knowledge of relationship. When God is the subject of the verb, knowing, loving, and choosing, all go together. While we were yet sinners, in rebellion, separated from God, by nature children of wrath, even then God so loved us that He gave His Son.
The image of “slavery” can be applied both in the macrocosm of redemptive history (the progressive unfolding of his plan until the coming of Christ in the fullness of time) and also in the microcosm of our individual experience of coming to faith. As the Jews were slaves, under the Law, waiting for the coming of the Promised One, we too were personally slaves to sin and to Satan until God graciously intervened in our life, and we heard and believed the gospel.
Here Paul uses an illustration: even though a child might be an heir, and so fully expect his inheritance in the future, as a young boy he would continue under the authority of the servants of the father who had been appointed as his guardians or stewards. There is a future promise, but it is still future. A trust is an example today, a sum might be held for a minor until an appointed time, perhaps when they are 21. It’s their money, but they can’t have access to it until the time appointed.
Typically, at a 1st century bar-mitzvah of a Jewish boy at age 12, the father would thank God for taking from him the responsibility for the boy. Can you imagine that? Twelve years old, time to grow up son, take some responsibility! The ancient Greeks had a ceremony at about age 18 marking the transition to manhood. For Roman children, as they were marking their transition to adulthood, the boys would actually sacrifice their toys and girls their dolls! In most American homes it is not always such a clean break! (Mary Ann did say she dreaded going into the 6th grade – it meant it was time to give up her dolls). At some point, it’s time to grow up! One father, cleaning up the toys his kids had spread across the backyard, was heard to quote I Corinthians 13:11 – “…when I became a man, I put away childish things…”
In Verse 3 Paul says, “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” We’ve had quite a lot of discussion in our Tuesday morning meeting about the phrase elementary principles [stoixeia]. It is a word that can mean “elements” as we would us it, the simple form of the material that the world is made of. It can also be used metaphorically of ABC’s, the simple teachings that a child must learn. The word appears twice in this passage. In verse 3, when we were children, we “…were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” Then Paul uses the word again in verse 9, “…how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles, whose slaves you want to be once more?” Paul’s experience was rigorously following the Law, and the Jewish traditions. The Galatians had been pagans. Now the Judaizers were undercutting the gospel by saying that faith alone was not enough. I think we see a similar idea in Colossians 2:8,20, where Paul is confronting false teaching that he summarizes in v.21, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” Do you see what was happening? Legalism, following rules, as the requirement to come to God. I think that is the elementary principle, the way that seems right to a man, to which Paul is referring. As though by being good enough we could approach holy God! Colossians 2:13,14 says…
13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
That is clear enough, is it not? It is not by our good works or piety or performance. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe! You can’t add anything to that! It is finished!
John Wesley’s testimony was that he was a minister, a teacher, a missionary, and devoutly religious. He practiced the Sabbath on Saturday and the Lord’s day on Sunday. But he later wrote: “I had even then the faith of a servant, but not that of a son…” If we recognized the privilege it is to be called God’s son, we would never choose to go back to our former position of slavery. We have been set free in Christ. It’s time to grow up and live in the light of the Gospel of Grace!
II. What we are: Through God’s Gracious provision we have been made “Sons of God” through faith in Christ (4:4-7).
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
The source of our sonship was the gracious action of God on our behalf (4-5). A friend posted this quotation from Philip Yancey this week…
Jesus forgave a thief dangling on a cross… That thief would never study the Bible, never attend synagogue or church, and never make amends to those he had wronged. He simply said “Jesus, remember me,” and Jesus promised “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It was another shocking reminder that grace does not depend on what we have done for God but rather on what God has done for us.
That is Amazing Grace! Jesus paid it all, we can’t add to it, there is nothing to complete, “the debt is paid.” He had a plan, and He did it, so only He gets the glory.
The timing was in accordance with God’s sovereign will: “When the fullness of time came…” In God’s providence, the world was ready for the birth of the Savior. Not only was there an air of expectancy and dissatisfaction with the status quo, but the stage was also set for God’s plan to unfold in its fullness: including the rejection and crucifixion of God’s Son by His own people! What? The Jews were prepared to misunderstand Christ’s mission. They were looking for a military or political Rescuer rather than a Savior from sin. Ironically, by delivering him into the hands of the Romans, they fulfilled prophecy, proving who Jesus is (since the Scriptures predicted a rejected Messiah), and setting the stage for His sacrifice for our sins.
There were other elements that made the first century “the fullness of time,” the perfect time for God’s plan to unfold. The synagogue system had become widespread. Any town or village with at least ten Jewish men organized into a center where the Scriptures could be read and talked about on a weekly basis. It provided a prepared audience, Jews and gentile proselytes who knew and memorized the Law and the Prophets, including the promises of the coming Messiah. The Pax Romana and the Roman system of roads set the stage for the rapid growth of the church, allowing missionaries to bring the good news of Jesus throughout the Roman world. The Greek language itself had become the Lingua Franca of the Greco-Roman world, and prepared the way for the Hebrew Scriptures to be translated into a language that Gentiles from Asia, North Africa and Spain could read and understand. After the resurrection the disciples wrote letters that were preserved, copied, and circulated, and soon became the written New Testament. The King of History was working at exactly the right time, guiding the story to fulfill His plan. The fullness of time had come, and Jesus had completed His saving work, and begun to build His church!
The circumstances were in accordance with God’s plan: born of a woman: God the Son took upon himself a human nature (but without sin); born under the Law, to live a sinless life, and so fulfill the Law in a way that no other human ever did or could. But the most important thing for us is why He did it: In order to “…redeem those who were under the Law…” There are a few words the Bible uses to get across the idea of a price being paid to save us from sin. Here, it is evxagora,zw – “To buy out of the market.” We were slaves, bought at a price, by the blood of Christ.
There is a second purpose stated by Paul, the Son was sent to redeem us, for this purpose: “…that we might receive the adoption as sons…” That translation is a bit awkward, since the goal is stated with a single Greek word: ui`oqesi,a = “adoption as sons.” The idea is the full enjoyment of the privileges of being a legal heir. Not just a child destined to be an heir, but someone with the rights of an adult son. He bought us from slavery, to make us his sons!
The confirmation of our sonship (v.6). God’s Spirit within us subjectively confirms the objective truth: We are God’s children (see Rom 8:14-16). The servant has only a master, the son has a father! The servant obeys out of fear, a son out of love (I Jn 3:1)! The first word in v.7, “So…” In the light of these facts, the one who is in Christ is not longer a slave, no longer under the Law, but a son, an heir according to the promises, we obey out of love. If we recognized the privilege it is to be called God’s son, we would never choose to go back to our former position of slavery. We have been set free in Christ. It’s time to grow up and live in the light of the Gospel of Grace!
III. How we should therefore live: Why would a son choose to return to a position of slavery (4:8-11)? Being a child of the King brings with it tremendous blessings and privileges, but also an obligation or expectation to live differently because of who we are in Christ.
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
Paul is clearly implying that before they believed in Jesus, the Galatians were slaves of Satan. Read v.8: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods…” Paul wants to reserve the word "God" for the one true God. But he knows that formerly the Galatians were in bondage to beings which they called "gods." The Galatians were among those who the “god” (small “g”) of this world had blinded. The enemy is real. And he is vicious.
Now isn’t it wrong to see the devil under every rock? You’ve heard people say, “It’s not my fault, the Devil made me do it!” We are responsible – and we can resist Him – but we need to beware! We are in a spiritual war, and Jesus and his apostles have said as much. "If by the finger of God I cast out demons, the kingdom of God has come upon you," Jesus said (Luke 11:20). Casting out demons demonstrated His authority. Paul said, "We are not contending against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers . . . against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). Peter said, "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). James said, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). John said, "Every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already" (1 John 4:3). These are not isolated or ambiguous verses! It is clear that the New Testament writers want us to be aware, and to be wary of the evil one and his minions! The good news is that greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world!
Paul warns the Galatians of the peril of sliding back into spiritual bondage in 4:9-11. But weren’t these false teachers only calling the Galatians to add the Law to the Gospel – Is that really demonic? Trying to be saved by human effort, whether through the Law or through paganism, is the “elementary principle” that really amounts to bondage to demons. "When you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods." Paul says Galatian Christians were in danger of going back to the slavery of their former Gentile pagan religion when they turn to the legalism of the Judaizers. Remember these new Galatian believers were Gentiles whose past was not Jewish law but Gentile paganism and idolatry. So the Judaizers—these rigorous, moral monotheists out of Jerusalem—must have been shocked to hear Paul say to the Galatians: if you begin to use the Jewish law to show God how good you are, you come under the sway of demons and are no better off than in your former idolatry. In other words, Paul is exposing a typical demonic scheme which is just as prevalent in the religions of the world today as it was in Paul's day. It is clean, it is moral, it is religious, and it is “the way of death.”
What is God saying to me in this passage? If we recognized the privilege it is to be called God’s son, we would never choose to go back to our former position of slavery. We have been set free in Christ. It’s time to grow up and live in the light of the Gospel of Grace!
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? The enemy would have us pervert the Gospel of Grace by adding our “requirements” for spirituality. Remember John Wesley, no one was more religious, more disciplined. Still, by his own testimony he was still a slave, and not a son. Jesus paid it all. By grace through faith we are children of the King. What difference should this make in our prayer life? We are the King’s kids! Does any of this matter in our service to God, in our ministry? In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son chose to ignore his Father, even despise him, and pursue pleasure. Jesus didn’t tell us how his life changed when he came home, graciously accepted by the Father as a son, not a slave. Like the prodigal we don’t deserve anything. But in Christ, the blessings of heaven are lavished on us. We are free in Christ – freed from bondage. Free to know God and walk with Him. We want to serve Him – out of love. When we live in the light of the Gospel, we “portray the beauty of Christ to the world.” Let’s be faithful children of the King! To God be the glory. AMEN.
Sunday, August 4, 2019
“Guard’s, Guides, and Grace”
Introduction: The TV reality show “Biggest Loser” was pretty well known around here for a time when the former youth pastor was a contestant. The contestants had a couple of things that they probably hated at times, but which were there to help them toward their goal: 1) the scale, which spoke only the hard objective truth, and 2) a personal trainer, to instruct, encourage, and urge them toward their objective. These guides could reveal the need, and help them toward their goal. The Law served that way for the Jews, and for us, as it exposed our desperate need for a Rescuer!
Context: After setting forth his apostolic credentials Paul argued both from the experience of the Galatian Christians in coming to faith, and from the Scriptures that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus and His finished work, apart from the works of the Law. We’ve seen in Galatians 3 that God never intended the Law as a means of salvation, in fact if the Law could save the cross would not have been necessary and Jesus died for nothing. Paul now uses another illustration from everyday life to show that God has revealed clear boundaries to expose man’s sin and to guide us to faith in Christ.
The Maine* Idea: The Law serves as a disciplinarian, a personal tutor, urging us toward sonship which is through faith in Jesus.
I. Humans were in bondage under the Law: The Law is compared to a prison where we were kept under guard, and then to a disciplinarian which would correct and guide (3:23-24).
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
The Law as a “Guard” (3:23) “…we were kept under guard…. And kept for faith…” The ESV says, “help captive… until the coming faith would be revealed.” Remember the context, v.22 says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” The NKJV translates everything as “…all…” This must include Jews and Gentiles alike. This refers to the Mosaic Law, but also includes the broader revelation of God in nature (Rom 1:18-21) and conscience (2:14,15). One of the questions that comes up is what about those who were outside of Israel in the period before Christ, or those today who haven’t heard the Gospel? The truth is that they will be convicted (and condemned!) on the basis of the light of general revelation which they have received, in nature and in their consciences. There is none righteous, no not one… all have sinned… and in our more thoughtful moments we know it.
Through the years I read to our daughter at night, and one of the books we read together was Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. There is one scene in that allegory that illustrates the idea we are addressing here,
“…As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed and behold I saw a man clothed with rags standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked and saw him open the book and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain he brake out with a lamentable cry saying “What shall I do?”
That is the desired effect of the Law… through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Pilgrim’s burden is sin, and the book in his hand is the Bible. Our desperate need is exposed. In Bunyan’s story, a short while later the man encountered Evangelist, who asked him why he was crying. Pilgrim replied, “Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand that I am condemned to die and after that to come to judgment.” Evangelist pointed to a hill in the distance, and said that was the way to light and life. The Bible opens our eyes to our need, our lost and desperate condition, and it also is the means that God uses to stir faith in our hearts: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
Not only with respect to the history of redemption, but every human being either continuously lives as a captive slave chained under the judgment of God’s perfect and unchanging law, the demands of which he must pay by eternal death or hell; or he lives by faith in Jesus, utterly free from judgment (cf. Rom 8:1-3) as a redeemed child of God under his sovereign and eternal grace. Yet just like Cain, men continue to insist on coming to God on their own terms and choosing for themselves what they decide should be pleasing to God. God is God and we are not! He gets to make the rules!
In Philippians 3:5-9 Paul described his conversion from Law to Grace:
“…circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ… I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
That last verse from Paul is the message of Galatians in a nutshell! I can’t keep the Law flawlessly; my only hope is being declared righteous through faith in Christ!
The Law as a Guide (3:24). – Paul applies the idea of being “kept in custody” to another situation that would have been readily understandable in his first century context. Read again 3:24,
24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
The “guardian,” or paidagogos, in the Greek world wasn’t a teacher or schoolmaster, but rather he was a household servant who was an attendant to the child from 6 to 16 years of age. He would take him to school, make sure he studied his lessons, and scold and even discipline as necessary. It was never permanent; it was for that specific period of time. All of it, leading, disciplining, directing, lasted only until the child reached the age of an “adult son.” Paul uses that as an illustration of the nature and function of the Law. It has a restraining and guiding function, and for the Jews before Christ it looked forward to the coming of the One who would rescue those who believe.
The main purpose of the Law, God’s divinely appointed pedagogue, was to provide boundaries, to give guidance, to show people their need, until the coming of Christ, that they might be justified through faith in Him. After a person comes to him there is no longer a need for external ceremonies and rituals to act as guides and disciplinarians, because the new inner principles operate through the indwelling Christ in who is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). The Law in a ceremonial sense is done away with, though in the moral sense it remains, revealing the character of our Father, and His desire for us. Tim Keller said,
Law and grace work together in Christian salvation. Many people want a sense of joy and acceptance but they will not admit the seriousness of their sin. They will not listen to the law’s searching and painful analysis of their lives and hearts. But unless we see how helpless and profoundly sinful we are, the message of salvation will not be exhilarating and liberating. Unless we know how big our debt is, we cannot have any idea of how great Christ’s payment was. If we think that we are not all that bad, the idea of grace will never change us. The law shows us as we really are. And so the law points us to see Christ as He really is: our Savior, the One who obeyed the law on our behalf and then died in our place so that we might receive the promised blessing.
The law serves as a disciplinarian, a personal tutor, urging us toward sonship, which is only through faith in Jesus Christ.
II. In Christ, by faith, we are sons; we’ve been set free! Sonship is a gracious gift, received by faith (3:25-29). Paul now unfolds the results of being rightly related to God through faith in Jesus Christ….
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
What does Paul mean: "Faith has come" (25)? I don't think Paul is saying that no one in Israel had saving faith before Christ came. Abraham clearly did, Paul is using him as an example (3:6)! Indeed, the New Testament teaching about faith is based largely on quotations from the Old Testament! Hebrews 11 surveys Old Testament history and gives examples of faith from the past. The reformers didn’t invent the phrase, “The just shall live by faith,” it came from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk! So, Paul does not mean that no one had faith before Christ came, or that justification was by works before Christ came. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. That has always been true. What does he mean then?
Paul must mean, when he says that "faith has come," that by God's grace, a period in redemptive history has come in which God sent forth His Son, the One who is the object of faith. The Rescuer has arrived (Gal 4:4,5)! When the gospel is preached, people believe and are saved. The movement has spread around the world, the word of Christ is being fulfilled when He said, “I will build my church.” Every one of us here who lives by faith in the Son of God is living evidence that by the sovereign, effectual grace of the Holy Spirit "faith has come"—even to us, and taken up residence in our hearts, and made us new. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live is the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved and gave himself for me.” That was Paul’s testimony in chapter 2, and if you know Him, in some way, it is your testimony as well.
Now that “faith has come” (v.25), we are living in the age of grace, under the Gospel, the full and final revelation of God in Christ. So, we have moved from the position of children under the direction and discipline of a custodian, to being Sons of God (vv. 25,26). As we think about what we are in Christ, contrast that with what we were without Him. Apart from faith in Christ, all men are enemies of God (Rom 5:10) and children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Like the self-righteous Pharisees in Jerusalem, every unbeliever, according to Jesus, is in reality a child of the devil (John 8:44). In that condition of utter darkness, a Light shone – Jesus, the Light of the World. And He is the only way (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12). Is that an exclusive message? Yes… There is no other way to God, but through faith in Christ. Period.
There are implications to this: Because all believers are in Christ, our unity with Him implies a positional unity with other Christians (27-28). There's no room for pride, or prejudice, rather there's a call to being forgiving and gracious.
We says we were “…baptized into Christ…” (27), Paul makes a similar reference in Romans 6:3-5, which is primarily a reference to our spiritual identification with Christ…
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Christ is in us, and at the same time, we are in Christ. Paul affirmed that in Galatians 2:20,21 and he is assuming here in Galatians 3. If we are in Christ and He is in us, we are His, and He is ours! He also says we have been “clothed with Christ…” enveloped in his presence, his righteousness….
Another implication, spiritual equality. Read again v. 28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That is a radical statement in the context of the 1st century, asserting absolute spiritual equality regardless of social status, race, or sex! Coming from Paul, trained as a Rabbi and Pharisee, this seems to be a conscious rebuttal of a common prayer of the Pharisees at that time: “Lord, I thank you that I was not born a slave, a gentile, or a woman…” Such was the discrimination of that time! Paul is saying, before God, all humans are equal. All spiritual blessings, resources, and promises are equally given to all who believe unto salvation (cf. Rom 10;12). Paul later writes in Ephesians that the dividing wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has been abolished in Christ, he counsels his friend Philemon to receive back his runaway slave Onesimus, no longer as a slave, but now as a brother in Christ. He commends women such as Phoebe and Priscilla for their service for the Lord (in the context of the roles He has established in Creation and affirmed in the NT).
It also means that we are heirs of the promise (see v.29). Since we are “in Christ,” the promised Seed, we too are joint heirs, and share in the spiritual promises given to Abraham. Through faith.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Law served as a temporary disciplinarian, a personal tutor, urging us toward sonship through faith in Jesus. John Stott commenting on these verses said: “We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt, and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ.” The Gospel is clear: Grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? For those of us who struggle with our weight, the hard, objective truth presented by a scale can sometimes hurt, but if it’s the truth, we would do well to pay attention! The Bible is Truth, and it will show us our need, it will point out how far short we fall and how hopeless we are in and of ourselves. But it doesn’t leave us there. It also serves as a kind, encouraging tutor, a personal coach, to point us to Jesus and His amazing grace. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and he did it by taking our sins in his own body on the Cross – He drank the cup of wrath to the dregs, so that our cup, the cup of blessing, could be filled to overflowing. That is Amazing Grace! AMEN.
Sunday, July 28, 2019
“The Promise, the Prelude, and the Provision”
Introduction: I heard the story of a pastor who showed up at church with a bad cut on his neck. What happened? He said he was thinking so intently about his sermon while he was shaving and he cut his neck. One lady answered, “He should have been thinking more about his shaving and cut his sermon!” It's good to take a careful look in the mirror on a regular basis, and that is one function of the Scripture. It serves as a well-lighted mirror, to show us our need, and to point us to Jesus. We’ll see that idea in this central part of the letter to the Galatians.
Context: Some false teachers had come to Galatia and were trying to change the message of the Gospel by adding requirements to it, particularly circumcision and certain other “works of the law.” Paul had preached the message of the Cross: Grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Here Paul appeals to the example of Abraham to contrast the Promise received by faith, and the works of the Law. Tim Keller said, “For a promise to bring a result, it needs only to be believed, but for a law to bring a result, it has to be obeyed…” In 3:1-14 Paul has made it clear that if you are trying to be justified by works, rather than by grace, through faith, you are essentially rejecting grace and saying that Christ’s work was not enough to save you. The question arises, “Why then the Law?”
The Maine* Idea: The Law exposes our desperate need of grace. We can trust God to keep His promise through faith in Christ.
I. The Promise: The only way to God is by grace through faith (15-18). Paul wants his readers to understand that the Law came later, and did not annul the promise.
15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
In the 7 verses which we are looking at this morning Paul uses the word “promise” seven times referring specifically to God’s promise to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). That promise involved being justified by faith and having all the blessings of salvation (3:6-9). The repetition makes the contrast clear: believing God’s promise is contrasted to the works of the Law. The Judaizers implied that the giving of the Law changed the original promise: Paul here is arguing that it did not. He shows four ways in which the promise is superior to Law. God’s promise…
It is confirmed by God himself (v.15). Confirmed as irrevocable and unchangeable. Paul here turns for a moment from his involved argument for the Old Testament to an example for everyday life. Human covenants are not broken, or at least, they are usually legally and morally binding agreements. Certainly after someone dies, their “will” is considered binding. Remember that God himself ratified the covenant to Abraham (Gen 15:8-18). We’ve had some lively discussion about this the last couple of weeks at the men’s meeting Tuesday morning! The majority report: God’s act indicated this covenant was unilateral, one sided, that essentially it was a promise based on God alone.
It is centered on Jesus Christ (v. 16). Promise of a “Seed” to Abraham (Gen 13:15f., 17:7f.). Paul certainly knew that the word “seed” is ambiguous as to whether it refers to many or to one (you can have a bag of “seed,” right?). Yet under divine inspiration Paul concludes that “seed” refers ultimately to one particular descendant of Abraham, Jesus himself (see 19b, He is “…the Seed…” to whom the promise had been made…”). The verbal tense has the idea of a past action with continuing results. The promises pointed forward to the coming One, the Messiah, the One who would do for us what we could not do for ourselves… We won’t trace the use of the word “seed” through the Scriptures today, suffice to say that “Seed” was first used prophetically in Gen 3:15… talking about the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. That promise is traced through the patriarchs, then to Jesse, and David, when the promise is reaffirmed of a son, a descendant, who would have an eternal kingdom and be called the Son of God. Paul will refer to the fulfillment a few verses down when he says,
“In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman [the Seed!] born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons…”
In this whole process we see God overcoming barrenness, human sin, using famine, protecting and delivering, even working through the evil intentions of men to accomplish His purpose in bringing the promised Seed, in the fullness of time, into the world. By faith we are in Christ, the promised Seed, and so are children of Abraham, children of promise.
“Promise” is chronologically prior to the Law (v.17). The promise was prior to giving the Law through Moses and no amount of passing of time could do away with it. “Ratified,” is in the Greek perfect tense, speaking of a past action with continuing results: it was ratified, and it continues to be valid, God’s promise was not invalidated by the Law.
It is completely dependent on God’s Power (v.18). Paul’s point: an inheritance based on Law depends on man’s performance, whereas the one granted… to Abraham by means of a promise depends on God’s power. Alexander McLaren seemed to grasp the meaning of grace as he lay dying. A fellow minister paid him a visit and asked, “What are you doing brother?” He answered, “Doing! I am gathering all my sermons, all my good deeds, all my prayers, all my evil deeds, and I am going to throw them overboard and swim to glory on the plank of free grace!” The hymn writer said, “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to his cross I cling!” In his commentary on Galatians Tim Keller spoke about how easily we drift from that “faith alone” perspective…
It is common for believers to begin their Christian lives by looking beyond themselves at “Christ … clearly … crucified” (v 1), relying on God’s promise that Christ has taken our curse and given us His blessing. But, as we go on, it is tempting, and easy, to look within ourselves at our own “human effort” (v 3), resting in our own performance to give us our sense of acceptability before God. Doing this makes us radically insecure—it cuts away our assurance, and prompts us to despair or pride (Galatians For You, Kindle Edition).
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and we live by faith. The Gospel of Christ is the foundation and the fuel for Christian living. Why then the Law? The Law exposes our desperate need of grace. We can trust God to keep His promise through faith in Christ.
II. The Prelude: The Law was a part of God’s plan, a prelude, until the coming of Christ (19-22a). The Judaizers who were troubling the Galatians had the idea that the Law was there to prove that we were holy. The truth is, God gave the Law to prove to us that we are sinners – sinners desperately in need of Rescue!
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin…
Paul rhetorically asks the question, “Why then the Law?” The mosaic law is an interesting contrast to the promise to Abraham. Many preachers have noted that God said to Abraham “I will…”; He said to Moses “Thou shalt…” They aren’t contradictory in that both reveal aspects of God’s plan: The promise reveals a lot about God and his grace, the Law reveals a lot about us and our need for grace!
First of all, notice in v. 19 that the Law was added because of transgressions (the term, parabasis, has the idea of “stepping over a boundary”). It seems that the Law in this sense had a “restraining” function, maintaining the separateness of God’s people through the centuries. It also had a “revealing” function, emphasizing our need.
It was temporary – provisional. It was added “until…” what? The Law was anticipating the coming “Seed,” the Messiah. When he had come, the purpose of the Law had been fulfilled. What did the tearing of the Temple veil on Good Friday, and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 signal? Were the promises of God failing? Quite the contrary, God was fulfilling His promise through the Seed, the Redeemer, the Rescuer spoken of in the Scriptures themselves!
Paul say in v.20 that the Law required a mediator. I am not fully certain about what Paul is referring to here. There are at least a couple of possibilities. God was the Author and Giver of the covenant of the Law, He was present with Moses on Mount Sinai, yet we have hints from the inspired writers of the NT that angels were involved in the giving of the Law to Moses (Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2). Since “angels” can also be translated “messengers” I wonder if Paul might have in mind the role of priests in mediating between God and the people, and that of the prophets in speaking to the people for God and calling them to covenant faithfulness? In any case, no mediator was needed for the Abrahamic Covenant, it was a unilateral, one-sided promise from God. Remember Genesis 15? God alone passed through the divided sacrifice, He put his signature on the contract, he said he would do it. Abraham was only a witness and a beneficiary!
Paul asks another question, which he promptly answers, in v.21. Why then the Law? Is the Law contrary to God’s promises? No, the Law could not impart life! Romans may have been written about this same time. In that letter Paul said:
“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19-20).
Paul’s opponents might ask, “Is the Law then contrary to promise? Is there a contradiction?” The true purpose of the Law is to confirm the promise and make it indispensable. Martin Luther argued for the same understanding of this passage when he said,
“The principle point… of the Law… is to make men not better, but worse; that is to say, it shows them their sin, that seeing it they may be humbled, terrified, bruised and broken, and by this means may be driven to seek grace, and so come to that blessed Seed (Christ).”
The Law was not given to provide life (3:21). It could not save, it could not provide life. If it could then there would be a contradiction! If Law could save then, as Paul said in 2:21, Christ died for nothing! But God spared not His own son, but delivered him up for us all, precisely because there was no other way. The Law could not provide life.
Why then the Law? The Law was given to reveal sin (3:19a, 22). “…but…” [alla] – This is a strong adversative: not only can the law not give life, not only was it not intended as a means of salvation, not only is it not contrary to God’s promises, “but…” strong contrast, it “shut up” = [sunkleiw] - to lock up securely, to enclose on all sides with no way of escape, the ESV translates “imprisoned” everything under sin. Bottom line: The Law shows there is no hope of salvation by human effort. All that is left is to cry out for mercy to the Creator of the Universe, in our desperate need calling for mercy. The Law was part of God’s plan, a prelude, in effect, a mirror, to allow the Jews, and us, to look with opened eyes and to see the depth of our need and the extent of God’s grace. That is the Maine* Idea: The Law exposes our desperate need of grace. We can trust God to keep His promise through faith in Christ.
III. The Provision of Grace: The Law shows our sin and points us to Christ, through whom the promise is received by faith (22b). John Stott said in his discussion of these verses, “The whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation tells the story of God’s sovereign purpose of grace, His master-plan of salvation through Christ…” (The Message of Galatians, p,91). Paul points to that plan at the end of v.22…
“…so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
This is an important part of what Paul is saying… the Law is part of God’s good plan. Not to save us through our goodness, but to lead us to grace, because it shows us how far short we fall, exposing our hopeless estate. I came across an old story of a theological discussion between a preacher and an illiterate farmer…
A well-known preacher went out to a farmer’s field to greet him. The farmer didn’t have any formal education, but he loved God and was a student of the Word. The preacher asked, “John, what do you think is the hardest thing in religion?” The farmer replied, “Reverend, you’re asking me? I am only an ignorant farmer, you tell me!” “Well,” said the minister, “it seems to me that the hardest thing in religion is to give up those pleasurable indulgences to which our nature is so prone, but which are contrary to the requirements of religion.” “Well reverend,” said the farmer, “I think there is something in religion that is even harder.” “What is it John?” “It is to feel that we are wretched and lost, and perishing, and to relinquish all other hope than that which rests in the atoning blood of the Redeemer.”
God, through His Word, leads us to repentance and faith! By His doing you are in Christ Jesus! The Law didn’t serve as a means of living righteously, because there is none righteous, no not one. It does expose our sinfulness, our desperate, hopeless situation, and leads us to cry out to God for mercy. We can only do that as He stirs up faith in our heart, faith to believe the promise, that the Rescuer has made a way, and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!
What is God saying to me in this passage? The Law exposes our desperate need of grace. We can trust God to keep His promise through faith in Christ.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Swindoll said,
"Receiving God’s acceptance by grace always stands in sharp contrast to earning it on the basis of works. Every time the thought of grace appears, there is the idea of its being undeserved. In no way is the recipient getting what he or she deserves. Favor is being extended simply out of the goodness of the heart of the giver." (Grace Awakening, p. 9).
There is nothing to do but to believe God, to trust Him, to take Him at His Word. Faith is “the hand of a beggar reaching out to receive the gift of a king.” Have you taken a hard look in the mirror of the Word? If you have done that, you know the truth of Scripture: All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. You understand Jeremiah’s lament when he writes “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” All we can do is to confess our weakness, our need, and believe the Good News: “This is how God showed His love among us, he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” We can’t do anything to earn or deserve a relationship with God. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. When we get that, it changes everything. It overflows in a grateful heart, we want to know Him and to grow to be like Him! AMEN.
Sunday, July 21, 2019
The Just Shall Live by Faith!
Introduction: Rabbi Shammai wrote that Moses gave 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commandments. David in Psalm 15 gives 11 requirements; Isaiah 33:15,16 lists six, Micah 6:8 three, Habakkuk 2:4 reduces them to one: “the just shall live by faith.” This simple statement is central to the book of Romans and is the main theme of the letter to the Galatians. Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, and the message that he received from Jesus, brought a 180 degree turn in his life from works to faith. After centuries of apostasy in the Roman Church, the religious world was shaken when a monk named Martin Luther read these words and was converted, and it became the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation: The Just shall live by Faith.
This is the message that Paul had preached on his first missionary journey through Asia Minor, as he planted churches in region of Galatia on his first missionary journey. It was also the substance of the rebuke that Paul brought against Peter when, after Peter had come to Antioch and initially fellowshipped with the gentiles, but suddenly began acting differently after some Jews from Jerusalem arrived. He separated himself from his Gentile brothers in Christ “for fear of the Jews.” Paul withstood him to his face because Peter was not “walking in step with the Gospel.” How can we put on the gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? Paul now turns his attention to the Galatians who were turning from the apostolic teaching of “grace” and adding to it the trust in works-righteousness that prevailed in 1st century Judaism. Grace plus Law is no gospel at all! In this passage that we’ll look at today, Paul appeals to the Old Testament Scriptures to make his point that grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is our only hope for salvation. He’ll quote from six Old Testament passages to make his point.
The Maine* Idea: Since the Law makes it clear that we cannot save ourselves our only hope is to trust the One who bore the curse of the Law for us.
I. The Blessing of Faith: Believers experience God’s blessing as they affirm their trust in His Word (3:6-9). Paul uses Abraham as an example of authentic faith.
…just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? 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.
“Even so, Abraham believed God…” The reference is to Genesis 15:6. Even though He and Sarah were old, he believed that God could do the impossible, and he took Him at His word. As we hear, and “believe” the Word of God, authentic faith will show itself by action, we’ll live like we believe it! (cf. Gen 12:4, Jn 3:36; James 2:21). So, Abraham believed God, and he lived happily ever after, right? Not exactly! “Faith” doesn’t mean we are perfect. Abraham’s faith wavered on a few occasions, as in the face of famine (Gen 12:10) and when confronting danger (-13). Faith doesn’t mean we don’t have questions. But faith does mean we “believe” GOD has the answers! We see that in the verse that is quoted in Galatians 3:6, which refers to Gen 15:3-6. Let’s read the verses from Genesis 15…
3 And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." 5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
God said He would do something amazing, something impossible from a human perspective. And Abraham took God as His word, He believed what he said. And notice what it says, “…He counted it to him as righteousness…” That is the language of “imputation” that Paul picks up on, and it is through faith alone. Abraham’s faith had its up and downs, but by Genesis 22 he had been molded and matured to the point that he was ready to face his greatest test yet… As God called on Abraham to offer up his only son, the son of promise, Abraham recognized that God was able, if necessary, even to raise the dead (22:5, “we will return”). And so, he raised his knife in obedience and faith, and God intervened.
The Reformers returned the church to a biblical perspective of faith. According to Luther, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life in it a thousand times.” Calvin said:
“Faith… is a steady and certain knowledge of the divine benevolence towards us, which, being founded on the truth of the gratuitous promise in Christ, is both revealed to our minds, and confirmed in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”
And so, faith is a sure trust, an absolute confidence in God’s word. Remember the little girl in Haddon Robinson’s story from last week? She trusted Daddy, and acted accordingly! Does our faith guide our choices? Do we live by faith?
Biblical faith has three elements: knowledge, assent, trust. What does the Bible say about our need and about God’s provision for our rescue in Christ? That is knowledge. Assent means that we agree that it is true, that God’s way is the best way, indeed the only way. And finally, “Trust,” resting our hope, our confidence, in Christ alone. Action demonstrates trust! On the basis of the Old Testament background, the “faith in action” in the life of Abraham, Paul says in v.7… “Know therefore…” imperative, “Let it be known to you on the basis of the Scripture…” “It is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Opponents might have been saying that to be Abraham’s children, circumcision and the Law were necessary additions to faith. Paul, however, is emphatic, it is faith, believing God, taking Him at His Word, that makes us Abraham’s children. We follow Abraham’s example of faith. Recall the words of John the Baptist in challenging the Jews whose confidence was in the fact that they were descended physically from Abraham: “Don’t be content in saying I am descended from Abraham, for God is able to raise up from these stones children to Abraham!” Spiritual kinship trumps blood relation. The question is, do we believe God?
“…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’.” The reference again is to the book of Genesis, this time to 12:3. God called Abraham to go out to a land that he did not know, leaving everything familiar behind. And somehow, through him, the blessing would extend to all the nations of the world. How could that be? We have the whole story! A descendant of Abraham, Jesus, would be the one who would do for us what we could not do for ourselves. The church was not an unforeseen mystery, even in the Abrahamic promise the idea of God’s blessing extending to the gentiles was explicitly stated. Notice that faith, believing God, was basis to God’s program throughout history. And so, in v.9, believers are blessed with Abraham. As Abraham believed God, putting his trust in Him alone, so we must acknowledge our desperate need, putting our trust in Christ. Faith in God, taking Him at his word, binds us together. That’s the Maine* Idea: Since the Law makes it clear that we cannot save ourselves our only hope is to trust the One who bore the curse of the Law for us.
II. The Curse of the Law [or, The Curse of Unbelief?]. The Law convicts us of sin. Attempting to approach God through the works of the Law can only confirm our total inability, hence, we must walk by faith (3:10-12). We should walk by faith because we have been redeemed from the curse of the Law.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." 12 But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them."
Paul appeals to Scripture in v.10, quoting three OT verses in these verses. He wants to make the point that the Law could not save, it could only reveal our need. The Mosaic Law included a series of blessings and curses contingent on obedience—not to save men, but to make clear their need for a Savior. Complete obedience was needed. The quotation in v.10 makes that point, citing Deut 27:26, where, after a series of curses evoked for various acts of sinful behavior, it states,
“Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.”
Some translations add in italics, “…all the words of this law…” which seems to be the point in the context. Absolute obedience. The late Old Testament scholar Peter Craigie commented on this verse in Deuteronomy 27:26…
…the final curse has a summary and all-inclusive nature; it describes that man who does not take positive action which obedience to the law demanded… This last curse Paul expounds in his letter to the Galatians (3:10-14). The reach of the law is so all-pervasive that man cannot claim justification before God on the basis of ‘works of the law.’ This all-embracing nature of the law turns our eyes to Christ who “redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us…” (Deut. p.334).
Teaching in Brazil it was often necessary to grade a test “on a curve.” The students usually worked full-time as well as being involved in ministry, they had little time to study! How good is good enough? Different groups among the Jews of the first century had varying ideas about obedience, sin, and the life to come. One of the most liberal considered a 51% mark as passing, carrying entitlement to enter the world to come. Most Americans seemingly come from the same school! Did you see the commercial with the guy helping a mom and her child onto a carnival ride, they ask, “Is it safe?” He replies, “Sure, I put it together myself last night, I think I did an ok job…” OK?! They are out of there! People assume that they are pretty good people, surely good enough by God’s standards to deserve eternal life. But God doesn’t grade on a curve! Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt 5:31*). God is just and holy, and he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. Either we will answer for our sin, our we will put our trust in the One who willingly bore our sins in his body on the Cross.
The need for “faith” was evident, even in the Old Testament (v.11). Faith in God was the true means of salvation through all ages—and is also characteristic of the Christian life. Know God, believe Him, trust Him. Habakkuk contrasts the prideful arrogance of unbelief with the humble life of faith when he said, “…the righteous [i.e., the just] shall live by his faith…” (Hab 2:4).
How can that be? Didn’t the Law require complete obedience? That is the point that Paul is making. He quotes in v.12 from Leviticus 18:5 which says,
You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.
Again, why did God give the Jews an impossible standard? We’ll see more in this chapter. To show humans the impossibility of being perfect and therefore the need to rely wholly on God. We can’t do it, so we need grace, we need a Rescuer! The Law drives us to Him! Paul will say a little further down, in 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” The Law was designed to teach us that we are weak, to expose our desperate need, to show us we need a Savior, we need grace! And that brings us back to the Maine* Idea: Since the Law makes it clear that we cannot save ourselves our only hope is to trust the One who bore the curse of the Law for us.
III. The Basis of our Rescue (13-14). The Gospel of Christ (3:13-14). One missionary translator, trying to get the sense of Acts 16:31 into a tribal language, came up with this: “Lean your whole weight upon Jesus and be saved.”
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"- 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Here we go again, running too quickly through the last couple of verses! Read v.13—Even the manner of Christ’s death symbolized what he did for us: Christ was born under the Law. He kept God’s Law perfectly, he never sinned. Yet He bore the penalty for our sin, he redeemed us, bought us out of our position of bondage and made us God’s children. The quotation is from Deuteronomy 21:23, were Moses wrote,
22 “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.
Think about this: though He was innocent of any crime, Jesus died the death of a condemned criminal, one who had committed a capital offense. Crucifixion was agonizing and humiliating, and yet Jesus chose to die the death of one accursed by God, so that we, by grace through faith, could experience the blessing of God.
Finally, v.14 Paul tells us why God did it: So that we might receive the blessing of Abraham. Abraham lived in tents as a sojourner in a foreign land, just as we do, in a real way live in the world, but we have the same hope as Abraham, “…waiting for that city whose architect and builder is God…” (Heb 11:10).
What is God saying to me in this passage? Since the Law makes it clear that we cannot save ourselves, how then can anyone be saved? Our only hope is to trust the One who bore the curse of the Law for us. The just shall live by faith! We have his Word written in the Spirit-inspired writings of the New Testament. Our life now should be a process of filling ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, and making it the authority, the guide book for our lives. We need to know what the Bible says, and most importantly, we have to live like we believe it! “The just shall live by faith.”
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Again, true faith has three indispensable aspects: knowledge, assent, and trust. We need to know what God says if we are going to believe Him. We need to be convinced and affirm that His Word is truth. And we need to trust him, take His word to heart, becoming a “doer of the word, and not a hearer only.” Lean your whole weight on Jesus, and you will be saved! Have you done that? You are not done yet! “Faith” does not refer only to the initial act of trusting Christ. Ray Pritchard’s website is Keepbelieving.com. “Faith” means believing God, taking Him at His word. It is not simply a ticket, the way “in” to a new life. It is a new way of life. Believing God, day by day, moment by moment, decision by decision. To believe God we have to be listening to Him. That means being under Gospel teaching and preaching. It also means being in the Word, prayerfully, carefully, reading this book that God has given us. Jesus said “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…” His Spirit guides us, convicts us, leads us deeper. The Christian life is learning to let every area of our life to be Gospel-centered, that is the foundation. And it also means to be motivated, or fueled, by the Gospel in our living, day-to-day, under His lordship. The just shall live by faith. Jesus said, I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly! Amen.