Women Embracing Faith

Thinking Through the Bible

Why Did God Give The Law? April 10, 2011

Filed under: Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 1:09 am
Tags: , ,

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
Tags:

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).

 

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).

 

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

Filed under: Bible Story For Children,Teaching Tips — womenembracingfaith @ 3:25 pm
Tags: ,

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
Tags: ,

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
Tags: , ,

“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?