Women Embracing Faith

Thinking Through the Bible

The Importance of Context To Application April 25, 2011

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READING GALATIANS
Please read Galatians 5-6

It’s hard to take a fresh look at familar passages that have been misused and misinterpreted. This is certainly one of those. I’m writing this blog chiefly for women who want to think as they read the Bible. Not to toss out feelings, behavior, life and heart issues but to figure out the doctrine first and then apply it to all those areas. Doctrine first; then experience.

Doctrine simply means “teachings.” This includes looking for what the Bible says about its major themes of redemption and God’s gracious sovereignty. Over the last thirty years, I’ve heard a lot of things taught from these chapters that violate looking at the theme of Galatians and that of the Bible as a whole. This omission has resulted in jumping into subjects that are not covered in this letter. It has been said that John Calvin had the ability to go as far as a passage allowed, and remain quiet on what was not clear. To be silent where the scripture was silent. Failure to do that has led many into applying “stretches of the truth,” leading to mistakes in application to the heart and life. It is hard to put those teachings out of our mind when we study a passage for ourselves.

This is our eighth lesson on Galatians. By now, saying that Justification by Faith Alone is the theme of this book is redundant. It’s clear, isn’t it? So any application made here must relate to this theme. In chapter 5, Paul does get into application. He is telling them to be careful how they stand up to false teachers. To watch their own attitudes and words and actions. He wanted them to be led by the Holy Spirit and to note the difference between Christian behavior and that of the person who doesn’t have the hope and promise of the Spirit’s presence (Galatians 5:15-26). The promise of the Holy Spirit’s work in their life has been a sub-topic all along, and he gets into the Spirit’s work in our lives toward the end of chapter five. But, this is not a treatise on sanctification or how we are made more holy in this life. It is in the context of how to act and be while standing firmly on the doctrine of justification.

Taking verses out of context, isolating them so to speak, can lead to major error. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). This is a classic one to take out of this context on justification. It has been used over the years by those who sever the Old Testament from the New. “You’re not under the law,” they say. “You are freed from all that. We live in a different time, a new dispensation. Just listen to the Spirit; he will lead you to do what is right.” Now you know this passage is about not adding one little thing to what Christ Jesus has done on the cross for us, not about whether the Old Testament is useful for today or not. In fact, Paul uses the Old Testament examples to prove his points about Justification by Faith. To tell us to belittle the Old Testament into just a historical book of the Jews violates even using it like Paul did here. But, to say you can do what you feel like is also way out of context.

Another frequently mis-used verse is, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). His point is to encourage us not to gratify our own desires while standing firm on the gospel. He is not counseling us to toss out the Old and do what we wish in a new era. But, if you take that verse out of the chapter and quote it, you could conclude that all you need now for life and Godliness is the Spirit’s leading disregarding the Old Testament or even the Ten Commandments.

Paul tried to make the point here that in standing up to false teachings we need to be very careful and watchful of ourselves. Not to seek gratification of our own desires (such as a desire to look smart), but to think of others and to remain kind, gracious, providing for gospel teachers, doing what is good. Christians have the hope of being gradually renewed by the Spirit, but these warnings about sin are very real. The Bible’s themes of Renewal and Redemption are a backdrop to Galatians’ theme of justification through faith alone. One day the universe would be renewed back to how He created it in the first place. But, in the meantime, we need to be carefui how we act, think, and what we desire–even when opposing wrong teaching. He acknowledged how the need for grace remains even though we have the promise and hope of the Spirit. Paul ended this letter on that note: “Grace …be with your spirit..”

My reason for bringing all this up is I want you to think as you read the Bible. To reconnect with historical Christianity and the faith of the Apostles. Don’t take a verse out of its context, memorize it, and then use it as a sword against others or yourself. Instead, do your best to grasp the meaning of the writer before you apply the passage to how you feel, think, act, worship, live. Spiritual experience follows right thinking, not the other way around.

Paul wrote Galatians five to seven years before he wrote to the Romans. His theme in Romans is the same as Galatians, and just as clear. That is why Martin Luther was so struck by the contrast between his works-oriented Catholicism and Justification by Faith Alone as he read Romans. There is more detail in Romans, and a careful study of it would benefit you now after this Galatian study. May I recommend Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ multi-volume set or one book from it?

I hope these lessons on Galatians profited you. Perhaps a reading of Matthew Henry’s commentary on Galatians would help you with your applications. He died before getting to Galatians, but a group of like-minded men followed his technique and finished the New Testament for him. It has been widely used since the early 1700’s.

My belief is that we, as Christians, do best when we study a specfic book while we are reading other portions of Scripture. That is why I like the system of Bible reading put out by Banner of Truth. You have to adapt it to your current lifestyle and pressures and do what you can. But, this system works to help you think and feel and apply as you read.

 

Living With Promise and Hope April 19, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 5:56 am
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READING GALATIANS

Read 5:13-6:10

Don’t you think most people would say they would like a life of freedom, hope, and promise? Paul’s defense of the gospel includes an appeal to these universal longings of us all. Justification by faith is, he wrote, a call to liberty. We are free from the necessity to prove we are good enough to make it to heaven. I am reminded of another old hymn, “Nothing to the cross I bring;simply to the cross I cling.” He urged these churches in Galatia to stand together on this freedom, and not allow anything to be added to the gospel. Otherwise, they are obligated to keep all the Old Testament laws perfectly and they will fail in that, and thus, lose their liberty. “Live like free men, not slaves,” he said.

All along he has reminded them of Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:14). They are to not only live like Issac, a free, rich man, but they are to live as children of the promise. They are to live as children of Abraham, even though none of them were Jewish. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness” was both a promise and hope for them. “All other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand…” Christ is the Rock on which we stand. He give promise of righteousness and hope of eternal life. And now, as Christians, they had the additional promise that the Holy Spirit will encourage, enlighten, guide, and strengthen them (John 15:26-16:10).

But, wait. Now he gave them a warning:

Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But, if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

Ah…here is the rub. If they weren’t careful, they would go after these false teachers with a vengence, and instead of acting with love and kindness, they would “bite their heads off.” Then, people would take sides, provoke one another, envy others, and strife would be the order of the day. Things would quickly get out of hand. There was an orderly way to stand firm, Paul said. It was to not listen to those twisting the gospel, to realize how false teaching would spread, and to support scriptural teachers and share with them. After all, they were to live as people who had these promises of righteousness, eternal life, and help from the Holy Spirit. They were not slaves to their sinful desire to have their own way and pre-eminance over others. If they continued to live as free people who were led by the Holy Spirit to love others, they would see themselves acting in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness ….. (Galatians 5:22). And this would give them even more liberty, promise, and hope.

DO YOU LIVE IN LIBERTY, WITH PROMISE AND HOPE?

This passage is chiefly about life in the community of the local church. But, we can apply it to our family life as well. There is a sense of standing up for the gospel in our immediate and extended family. Of cultivating a climate of freedom to believe in the promises and hope of the Scripture–even if others disagree. But, always acting and speaking with gentleness, kindness, love, and, of course, self-control and putting up with one another. You are free to be led by the Spirit, to sow the seeds of spiritual things, instead of always tending to rivalries between children, divisions between in-laws, someone’s controlling the family by fits of anger or drunkenness, or even sexual immorality. God will give your spirit grace through His Spirit.

What would sowing spiritual seeds look like in your family? Could you regain a spirit of liberty and hope as you stand on the promises?

“The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks. It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife (Proverbs 25:23-24).

As Paul asserted with confidence, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.”

 

Standing On the Promises April 14, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 4:39 am
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READING GALATIANS

Please read Galatians 4:8 to 5:12

Galatians was written in the late 40’s, probably 48-49 A.D. The gospels had not been written yet, nor any of the other Pauline letters. It is a defense of the gospel. As we have clearly seen, Paul was trying to show that salvation and eternal life cannot be earned in any way; it is free to those who discover they have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. No one can keep all the laws of the Old Testament, or even the Ten Commandments which Jesus applied to our hearts and thoughts. Paul showed how futile it was to expect any act or ritual to be complete or good enough to earn us the right to be in a relationship with God. He used both their experiences as pagans, (worshiping the gods of their imagination and participating in astrology), and the biblical example of the Old Testament laws to show the futility of ritual or rules providing salvation. This letter is a defense of the good news that God has all along had a purpose and plan for our salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection and what these accomplished. He wanted them to stand firmly on this promise and hope.

To make sure they understood this, he used the Old Testament story of Abraham’s extra-marital sex with Hagar, an Egyptian slave Sarah. Sarah was old and barren. God had promised her a child, but after years of waiting, she decided she’d better add something to that promise. She urged her husband to have an affair with Hagar. A child was born who ended up being thrown out of the family and sent out into the Sinai desert. Paul used this story as an allegory to show that if Sarah had stood firmly on the promises made to her and Abraham this tragedy need not have occurred. Sarah, like us, was free to trust in the promises. He urged them to remember this story which showed the consequences of not trusting in God’s grace. Resentment led to persecution which led to Hagar’s exile and later international strife. If only Sarah had just kept on believing in God’s promise to her. Paul was so worried about the consequences to them if they thought circumcisim should be added to their faith that he got quite emotional. “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” he said (Gal. 5:12). For their own good, he wanted the people in this church to stand firmly on the promise of salvation through faith alone.

“So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
…For you were called to freedom, brothers” (Galatians 4:31-5:1; 5:13).

There was an old hymn we sang when I was a child. It had a catchy tune so I loved pounding it out on the piano. The words might stir up your heart to love these promises of life, righteousness, freedom, grace, and hope. It is easier to stand firmly when there is a song in your heart.

“Standing on the promises of Christ my King, Thro’ eternal ages let His praises ring;Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing, standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promies of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord, Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord, Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s Sword, Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall, Listening every moment to the spirit’s call,
Resting in my Saviour as my all in all, Standing on the promises of God.” (R. Kelso Carter, 1849-1928)

 

Why Did God Give The Law? April 10, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 1:09 am
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READING GALATIANS
3:19-4:11

This letter was all about assuring these Gentiles that they are justified before God through faith in Christ Jesus. Their assurance comes from discovering they are looking at God as their Father in that kind of intimate, caring, expectant way we look at our Dad. This declaration of their acceptability hinges on the suffering of Jesus. Justification is tied directly to the cross endured Jesus who claimed to be the One promised to Abraham and to even Adam. Now they, pagan Gentiles, who have never lived according to the Old Testament law, are adopted into the family of God. They are sons with all the rights and privileges children have. They have inherited the blessings of the promises–to live in relationship with God as if they had never sinned and were not sinning now. And to cap it off, they have a Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord Jesus Christ promised would come (John 16:7-13). Paul said,” …so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14).

All the law given to Moses does not cancel out this promise given to Abraham. “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Gal. 3:18). The reason the law was given was that after 400 years surrounded by Egyptian worship of sun and other idolotry, the law was useful to reveal their sinfulness and cause them to fear and respect God (Exodus 20:18-21). They also needed visual images of the promised Christ’s blood being shed for them found in the sacrificial system. They would vividly see their own sin and need of a Savior through their failure to keep all the Ten Commandments. (We do too!) They would experience some of the majesty of God through the festivals and special days. They would come to know something of their own uncleaness through the dietary laws. The principle that some things were clean; some unclean became a part of their life. They would be, like children, protected from themselves by the limits set by their parents. Paul’s argument was that the law was like a Trustee or Guardian. The promise of Christ was kept in a legal Trust–riches reserved for them when they came of age. They could look forward to getting it. But, like children whose rich parents die leaving everything to them, they could not spend the money yet. They had to grow up first. Paul’s argument is that the promise of the blessings in Christ Jesus are like that–kept in trust until He came (4:1-7). Their responsibility was to accept this discipline and look forward to Christ’s coming. Moses, Joshua, and Caleb certainly did that.

The question Paul asked is: Why would you want to go back to those kind of restrictions now? You have been justified by faith. The promised One has come. He has died for you. You are no longer unclean! You have the Holy Spirit. You were not Jews, but you were living as slaves or children under guardian restrictions when you were pagans. He extends his argument to their Gentile experiences. You might have worshiped the Greek gods like Athena or participated in some other system seeking to pacify the gods. You were a slave to ceremony, rituals, diets, special religious days, astrology perhaps. Why return to that kind of system by adopting the rituals, circumcism, and diets of the Jews? You will be restricted again, enslaved. “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?” (Gal: 4:9). By adding anything to your faith, you are returning to your pagan traditions or adopting Jewish laws which were meant to be object lessons so everyone could understand the gospel. God gave the law to show us all our sin and our need of a Savior and to give us visual images to learn more about Him.

Be very clear about one thing. Paul was not talking in this passage about how we might become more like Jesus and show the fruit of the Spirit of love, joy, kindness, self-control. This passage is not about the process of growing more like Christ Jesus. Here he was attempting to stop teachers adding some law or ritual to justification by faith alone. What a joy to know we will live forever in relationship with God, being legally declared holy and acceptable to Him now and forever. Those of faith are sons, not slaves or children living under the restrictions of a legal document. They are in possession now of the inheritance–the promises of God made real to our heart by the Holy Spirit. We can live with those promises at our disposal. We can pray, knowing God hears us and is faithful to keep all His promises. We can intercede with God for others while “Standing on the promises of God my King; ….” as the old devotional hymn reminds us. We are free to stand on these promises–to spend our inheritance, so to speak. Paul’s application of this principle was, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). Reject the teaching of those who urge you to add something to faith. Don’t become a child again, living under a system of rules. Don’t be a slave again to someone’s false view of salvation. Being right with God is through faith alone; nothing added. Baptism won’t cut it. You will never be good enough, no matter how hard you try. Stand firm; be a woman of faith.

May I recommend two books: The Law and the Gospel by Ernest Reisinger (P and R Publishing, Philipsburg, New Jersey, 1997). ( I helped him proofread it.) http://www.cvbbs.com

The Chequekbook of the Bank of Faith by Charles Spurgeon (there are many editions out; Banner of Truth Trust; Moody Press). He shows you how to make the promises your own and urges you to cash in on them.

 

Reading Galatians 1-3 April 6, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 3:56 am

Paul’s main point in Galatians 1-3 is that we should be focused on our Lord Jesus Christ, his life, death, and resurrection, instead of what we can do to obtain eternal life or make ourselves more acceptable to God. He uses words we need to define as he meant them to be used: righteousness, justify, justification, declared righteous. Why not review those definations a few blogs back, or look them up in a standard dictionary? Paul, and the other New Testament writers, did write to people unfamilar with the Old Testament. The Greek Old Testament was well respected and the apostles quoted from it often to prove their points. Read the following verses and see if you don’t also agree that we should be thanking God for sending his Son to die that we might be declared right with him and be viewed as pure and holy in spite of our daily sins.

“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–just as Abraham ‘believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness’?” (Galatians 3:5-6).

“And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir.” 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 sshall your offspring be.’ And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:4-6).

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
blessed in the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Psalm 32:1-2).

“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin” (Romans 4:1-8).

“But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:23-5:1).

One Thousand Five Hundred Thirteen years after Jesus lived, a German priest in the Roman Catholic Church, was trying to do enough to be righteous enough for God. One day, as he was reading Romans, he realized salvation was all about grace–unmerited favor—being declared righteous by God through faith alone. He could not add anything! Or make himself holy. Justification by faith alone became the cry of the Reformation, and eventually led to the formation of the Protestant denominations. It was these passages of Scripture that had somehow been forgotten and misunderstood. I hope we will not forget or misunderstand them or redefine their basic terms.

 

Blooming Spiritually April 5, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 12:22 pm
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READING GALATIANS
3:1-18

Paul urgently appealed to his Galatian church members to carefully think through his argument. His main point is that anyone’s relationship with God is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not by the keeping of any law or doing something–whether a ritual or keeping a certain day or religious event or calendar. “Wasn’t it by faith, not through being a slave to anything?” he asks. Knowing God, or being known by Him, is a matter of faith, not doing. It is being; relating.

He told them of his own experiences in chapter 2. Of how he, the formerly strict Pharisee, now focused on God instead of keeping rules and regulations. He had the Holy Spirit within him, and he lived “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Now he made the same appeal to their experience. “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (3:2) He wanted them to examine their own spiritual experience in light of the false teaching contrasted with his experience. What about us? Have you ever thought through your own relationship with God? How did it begin? What has happened since? How is it now? It makes one stop and think….or should.

Paul never separated doctrine from experience nor encouraged experience without doctrine. The first leads to a dry, thirsty land; the second to a fast fading flower without roots or long life. I like to think of the balance of the two as being like an orchid. In the right light, the bloom lasts for days and days. Historic Christianity calls us to bloom spiritually. The Spirit gives us hope in spite of the sin principle’s pulling upon us. Paul appealed to that hope in chapter three. “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (3:3). In other words, are you depending on doing “it right” or surrendering that one thing for your own righteousness rather than, like Abraham, believing God and trusting in his promises? (3:6).

Now he turned their thinking back to the Bible.(Putting your eyes on experiences won’t be very helpful without relating them to biblical principles.) These non-Jews read the Old Testament in Greek. They knew Abraham’s story. How he was called out from Babylon and told he would be blessed and be a blessing, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). How he had “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). How the promises were made to him and to his offspring (Genesis 12:7). “Think about it,” Paul said. “This all relates to you; it’s not just a history of the Jews. You are children of Abraham, Gentiles, yes, but people of faith. The promises are yours!! You will be blessed. You will be a blessing to others. When God sees your faith, He will count it as if you were perfect! And so you have an everlasting relationship with Him and have hope and strength from the Holy Spirit.” “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (3:7).

Paul reminded them that this all happened to Abraham hundreds of years before Moses was given the law. So these blessings do not come from keeping anything; they come from faith in the “offspring” of Abraham. That would be Jesus, the Promised One, the Savior, the Christ. Offspring; not offsprings. Children are heirs, not slaves or servants. They are free and rich. So why would a rich adult volunteerily become a slave? Why would anyone think a contract would be legal if a paragraph was added or something taken out? (Read Galatians 3:7-18). God’s promises to Abraham of righteousness, eternal life, blessings in this life were fulfilled in Christ Jesus. His promises through Moses did not cancel out or amend the Abrahamic Covenant.

Are we living by faith in Christ Jesus or are we slaves to something we have dreamed up? Do we just want to acknowledge our feelings, or are we willing to think about the Bible as well? Are you or/and your church or friends and family accepting ideas that are contrary to the scriptures? Are you an orchid or a hibicus? (For those of you not in the tropics, hibicus flowers last only one day.)

Doctrine: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).</blockquote

Experience: “‘Tis mercy all! Immense and free! for, O my God it found out me.
My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne, And claim the crown thro’ Christ my own.”
(“How Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley).