Women Embracing Faith

Thinking Through the Bible

Reading Galatians March 31, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 8:38 am

I hope you will take the time to open your Bible and read these verses in their context. Context is everything. It determines both meaning and application. You also might want to review the definitions from my last blog on Galatians.

For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2: 18-21).

Paul was saying that God’s gift of righteousness to us is based entirely on the work of Jesus our Savior—his perfect life, his suffering and death in our place, and his resurrection. The ground we stand on for hope for eternal life is based on Jesus’s blood and righteousness. That is Paul’s whole argument here: nothing we do can be added to what Jesus has done for us. To depart from this is to leave the gospel.

Now the question is: What about the Old Testament? Do we just toss it out? Is it merely biography or a history of the nation of Israel? Paul answers by sharing his own experience. The law has shown him to be a sinner (2:18). It “killed” him–showing him his own unrighteousness and destroying any hope of becoming righteous. When he came to understand the Tenth Commandment, he discovered even his thoughts and desires could be unacceptable. But now he could live with his relationship with God as his life focus instead being burdened down by his efforts (and failures) to keep the law. The law had no more power over him; he had died to the idea that if he kept the law he could live forever. Now he had the Holy Spirit and lived by faith and believed his righteousness did not come from anything he did, but was imputed to him through the grace of God.

Here Paul is using his own experience as his argument against false teaching. In his later letter to the Romans, he develops his thought into more detail (See Romans 1-8). But, you see the simplicity of what he is saying? The Old Testament remained useful to him to show him his sin and his need of a Savior’s death and perfect life. Now he was free to enjoy and pursue his personal relationship with God. Even these Gentile believers were heirs to God’s promises, and everyone was on equal footing—all were Abraham’s children. (See Galatians 3:21-29).

Our Application

The children don’t toss out their father’s riches; we don’t toss out the Old Testament, but use its promises and examples for our encouragement and its precepts to show us how to live wisely, keeping our focus on our relationship with God. Since our righteousness is a gift from God, we don’t have to improve on it–or add to it by imposing a ritual or a diet or any other rule. The traditional Catholic teaching has been to add things to do so we can be more holy. But, Paul refuted this by making Jesus’s blood and righteousness our only ground of hope for acceptance by God. The Jehovah Witnesses reject the diety of Christ Jesus, and so their ground of hope is shaky. If Jesus is not truly God, then is his sacrifice perfect and sufficient? Don’t we have to do more? Add to it? These are the very teachings that Paul was confronting in Galatians except there it was coming from people of Jewish background.

Those who have faith are free to enjoy a walk with God–to get to know Him. …” if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal.: 2:21).

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A Bowl, A Spoon, and A Pitcher March 22, 2011

Filed under: Bible Story For Children,Teaching Tips — womenembracingfaith @ 3:25 pm
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One of “seven laws of teaching” I quoted in Old Paths For Little Feet( p. 97) is “Use the known to teach the unknown.” The Bible is real good at this. It uses the tangible to teach the intangible. Something from everyday life to illustrate a spiritual principle. Here is an example:

‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is ‘born’ again he cannot see the kingdom of God. …Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:4).

Jesus was showing Nicodemus the role of the Holy Spirit in one’s salvation experience. Without the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts none of us can know God. He used the wind to help Nicodemus understand the work of the Spirit upon the heart.

Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will put my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isaiah 44:2-4).

In this Old Testament passage, the Holy Spirit’s work is illustrated by water. He is like a stream or flowing water bringing blessings upon dry, parched hearts.

God’s sovereignty is always balanced with the truth of man’s responsibility. The two truths are like parallel train tracks, running along beside each other, but never intersecting or crossing the other one out. The Holy Spirit actually renews our hearts, gives us faith, but we are to watch our hearts carefully, and observe the fruit it is producing.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).

Sometimes we have to stir up our hearts to serve the Lord Jesus and to love him more. We do this through praying, reading and studying our Bible, singing, and serving.

USE THE TANGIBLE TO TEACH THE INTANGIBLE. USE THE PHYSICAL TO TEACH THE SPIRITUAL.

Try this with your children: Put some flour in a large bowl. Let them stir the dry flour. Keep repeating “STIR.” Then let them pour water into the bowl. Keep repeating POUR. STIR, POUR, DRY, WATER. Start with simple vocabulary. “Look what happens to the dry flour. It becomes soft and moist. Our hearts are like this. They are dry and hard. God has to pour his Spirit upon us so our hearts will soften and love him.”

Then, read these verses quoted above out loud, sing a song, and pray. I did this in Children’s Church with ages 5-10. We are learning to sing “O Can It Be” by Charles Wesley to stir our hearts so we can love, worship, and obey God more.

Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore, let angel minds inquire no more.
‘Tis mercy all! Immense and free! for O my God it found out me.

 

READING GALATIANS March 18, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 2:33 am
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As we have seen, Paul is utterly astonished at how quickly the church has been sucked into wrong teaching. Perhaps these men from Jerusalem were very charismatic teachers. Here are some definitions that might help you avoid being deceived someday:

justification: To be declared or counted as righteous.
righteous:To be perfect.
righteousness:To live in a state of perfection.

Look at how Paul uses these terms to refute the wrong teaching of the people from Jerusalem. Remember, they are saying that one can live forever if one believes that Jesus is the Savior and Lord AND just keeps the Jewish traditions of diet and circumcision. Paul , a Jew himself, is horrified:

…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” (Galatians 2:16).

To insert the above definitions:
“We know that a person is not declared perfect by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be declared perfect by faith in Christ and not by works of the law,….because by works of the law no one will be declared perfect.”

In other words, since no one can keep the law perfectly, no one can earn eternal life. This is the reason Paul is so adamantly opposed to adding anything to faith. Anything added, like diet or circumcision, would have to be kept perfectly. It is obvious to each of us that will not work! When was the last time you even kept to your weightloss program? If perfection is required by the very nature of God, then it has to be given us.

Israel’s history certainly shows us an example of failure to obtain perfection through eating certain foods, going through prescribed rituals. The Ten Commandments showed them the same thing; no matter how hard they tried, there would also be some way they failed. Jesus said that even to look at another woman with desire was to commit adultry in the heart. “Why restore a system like this again?” he asks. It was designed to show all of us our need for a Savior since no one could keep the law perfectly. Don’t tack on anything to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, Paul was saying. It was God’s plan all along to provide a Savior who would sacrifice himself so we could, through faith, be declared perfect enough to be set apart by God, to live for Him here, and know Him eternally.

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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:20-2l).

Once this doctrine becomes clear to us, our hearts sing with Charles Wesley,

Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Tis mercy all! Immense and free! for, O my God it found out me. (And Can It Be by Charles Wesley)

Ask God to stir up your heart toward him so that you can believe him and love him and serve him more fervently, depending on him to declare you acceptable in the Day of Judgment.

 

READING GALATIANS March 8, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 11:30 am
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“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Galatians 2:1).

Paul did not mince words here. He equated any changing of the gospel to deserting Jesus personally. He tied the doctrine to the Person. Christianity is, above all, a personal relationship. And he goes on to curse the one who was adding works to faith as a means to be right before God. He is astonished they would listen….He warned of the repercussions of turning away from right doctrine. It would affect their strength to live for Christ and their assurance of His love for them.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Turkey that he started. He is reminding them of why they should listen to him. Apparently, someone had come to Turkey from Jerusalem and told these new believers that salvation was really by faith plus other things they could DO. If only these non-Jews could take on a little “Jewishness” they could be guaranteed that God would accept them! It is like an Anglo-American telling a Latin immigrant, “If you could just learn to shake hands and speak English, God will declare you righteous and accept you.” Paul didn’t agree with that at all; that wasn’t why he had started this church. It wasn’t to just pass on Jewish traditions.

“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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” (Galatians 2:15-16).

They were being taught to eat like a Jew, be circumcised as a sign of their Jewishness, to just become a Jew and THEN God could accept their faith in Jesus. Paul was more Jewish than anyone else; he was educated a Pharisee and worked hard to keep all the Jewish traditions. He had rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God, the promised Savior, the Messiah. He had even sought to destroy Christianity. But, after he saw the risen Christ, he spent some time alone in the Arabian desert sorting out his ethnicity and his new faith, came back to Damascus, Syria for awhile, then spent time with Peter and Jesus’s brother, James. Then he returned to his hometown where he preached justification by faith in Christ Jesus for fourteen years. His ministry was well known and approved by the Jerusalem leaders even before he went to the Galatians.

Paul had concluded that the message of the whole Bible was that salvation and eternal life could be obtained only through faith in the promised Messiah. Jesus was that Savior. To add anything to faith alone was fatal. Jesus suffered, died, rose again, then went up to heaven where He sits in the favored spot beside the Father. He will come again to judge those living at that time, and those who have already died. Abraham, the father of the Jews, was saved in exactly this same way. His faith in the promised Savior was counted to him as if he were perfect (Galatians 3:6). No special diet, no ritual, no religious ceremony, no national origin, no tradition could be added to that to commend anyone to God. These teachers from Jerusalem were missing the mark.

You aren’t listening to someone who has missed out on the true gospel message, are you? The Jehovah Witness misses the Trinity so Christ Jesus is not really God. The Mormon doesn’t believe that the books in the Bible are the complete revelation of God. The Church of Christ adds baptism to faith. The Jehovah Witnesses teach that Jesus is the son of God, but not in essence, truly God. Some liberal Christians in Lutheran and Anglican and Presbyterian heritages teach baptism as a salvation experience. And on and on….Paul believed those teaching things like this was a serious error! (Galatians 1:9).

Of course, salvation through faith alone doesn’t mean you can just live anyway you want to! Peter used the phrase “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue..”.(2 Peter 1:5). He was talking about self-discipline and moral courage and steadfastness so one could grow and be fruitful in “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ..” This passage is often quoted by those who add one or two things to faith. Don’t be deceived by that. Interpret every verse within the big picture of the whole Bible which is a message about salvation provided through the promised Savior.

OUR APPLICATION

You aren’t so hung up on your own traditions that you add them to faith, are you? Christianity is about knowing God not about ethnic or religious tradition or social customs. You wouldn’t let these preferences come between good Christians, would you? You wouldn’t let them interfere with the spread of the gospel, would you? Would we?

 

Comfort the Right Way March 5, 2011

Filed under: Isaiah — womenembracingfaith @ 3:43 pm
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I know this interrupts our reading of Galatians but I thought it might help us to remember to “ask the right questions” and to refocus our thinking during everyday stresses. This is from a lesson I taught to a ladies home Bible class several years ago. We’ll go back to Galatians in the next blog. Hope this helps us all.

Psalm 94:11 “The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile.”

Spiritual drought is like a fading flower in contrast to soaring like an eagle. Which state are you in at the moment?

How we think and understand doctrine is vital to our spiritual experiences.

“We need to realize that the New Testament does not provide a precise and exact answer to every problem we happen to be confronting. Christians seem to think that it should supply an immediate answer but the New Testament doesn’t claim to do that; it provides general principles that will cover any problem that can ever be settled…..How prone we are to confuse the ornate and outward things with the spiritual. You never find the writers of the Epistles merely administering comfort. The New Testament pays us a great compliment by giving us its comfort in terms of doctrine…It all seem very strange to our modern ears, to those who desire immediate and direct comfort. But this is the very glory of the New Testament; it gives us doctrine, it regards us as intelligent human beings. It says, ‘Stand on your feet for a moment. Here is doctrine. Work it out for yourself.’ …It is not a direct comfort, but an indirect comfort.” ML-J p. 36-37, The Miracle of Grace, Baker House, 1986.

This implies you need the skill of finding principles and working out their applications to your specific circumstances. It is a thinking matter.

Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Tell God your worries about “what if” and “if only.”

Don’t let your weaknesses drag you down; they just show off God’s grace.

Catch yourself thinking wrongly. Identify that wrong thought such as “I’m in this fix with no one to help me.” “The Lord has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me!” “Will He really deliver me from this wicked husband, or my besetting sin, or this addiction?” Acknowledge thoughts like this as sin.
Focus thinking on remembering doctrines like providence, sovereignty, election, compassion, redemption…

Remember promises like “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “I have called you mine. I have set my love upon you.” “I will strengthen you.” “I will redeem you.” Think about His character: He is all-powerful but everlastingly compassionate. He is faithful, never turning from His covenant. Focus on these instead of how you feel right now during troubled times.

Call to mind examples from Bible lives and history: Esther was strengthened to risk her life for God’s people. Abigail was rescued from a wicked husband. If God can forgive David and promise His sure mercies to him, he will forgive me and be merciful to me. God chastened Judah for their idolatry, but He never withdrew His love or His promise to be their friend. Jesus loved you enough to have his body torn apart for you.

Pray for the Holy Spirit to stir you to believe and to produce joy, peace, comfort, repentance, endurance…Wait patiently for your heart to be “strangely warmed.”

Some reminders from Isaiah:
Is. 52:6, 10, 15: God will triumph in the end.
Is. 53: He will provide a Redeemer in Jesus Christ.
Is. 54:8-10: He will be kind forever.
Is. 55:2-4: He has personal concern and interest in individuals, calling them to faith.
Is. 56:6-7: You won’t be left out; he is inclusive with his offer of salvation.
Is. 57:15: God is majestic in sovereignty, holiness, and compassion.

In the midst of my anxious thoughts…..
Psalm 94:19: “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.”