Women Embracing Faith

Thinking Through the Bible

The Importance of Context To Application April 25, 2011

Filed under: applications,Galatians — womenembracingfaith @ 2:19 pm
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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.


Comfort the Right Way March 5, 2011

Filed under: Isaiah — womenembracingfaith @ 3:43 pm

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.”


“We Just Need Rehab.” August 25, 2010

Filed under: Ezekiel,Uncategorized — womenembracingfaith @ 3:28 pm
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Every generation has proverbs generally accepted by most people.  Sometimes spoken or written; sometimes not.  My mother’s generation lived by: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  I get to buy a few Lilly dresses now because of  that proverb! It is not such a bad saying…

A proverb of today in the U.S. might be: “We haven’t sinned; we just need rehab.”  Whether it’s a celebrity or public official or just a husband using the internet for dirty pictures, there’s seldom visible sorrow for the action itself that has caused such devastating consequences.  Anger management or sexual addiction counseling are “in.” 

Ezekiel saw the same kind of thinking going on among his exiled friends.  They had lost their country, been forced to move from Jerusalem to Iraq.  He kept preaching about true heart repentance–sorrow, sadness, deep grief resulting in seeking a renewed relationship with God that included right living.  They kept saying, “We’re suffering because of the sins of our fathers. We haven’t done anything to deserve this.”  Instead of repentance and mourning, they shirked their responsibility and blamed their parents and said God was not fair.

In Ezekiel 18,we have his sermon refuting this proverb. I hope you have the time to read it.  ’As I live,’  says the Lord GOD, ‘you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel.'”  He goes on to list the right living of the first generation (18:5-9), and the violent greed, idoltry, and sexual impurity of the second generation, then the right living of the third generation (v.14-18).  Ezekiel defends personal responsibilty and the fairness of God:

“He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!

As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, robbbed his brother by violence, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity. … The soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:17-20).

“‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'” 

 Should we be using our proverb today to excuse ourselves?  Is getting rehabilatation and counseling (or traveling the world for a year or so) the only thing we need to do?  What about cleaning up our act? 

Teaching Tip

Train your children (or those you teach or influence in any way) to accept responsibility for their attitudes and actions.  In preschool and early elementary years, I focused on getting my daughters to “honor” me. I tried not to have many “rules” but  when they didn’t show respect, they “got” it! It was their fault, even if I was wrong or short-tempered.  Of course, I often messed up myself, and this same principle of responsibility applied to me, but, nevertheless, my being in the wrong did not excuse them. It isn’t always the teacher’s or the parent’s fault.

 For upper elementary and high school, help them to see how false the cultural proverbs can be. You need to talk WITH them a lot (not to them as much). Take them daily to the real Proverbs as a contrast to what they are hearing “out there.”   Keep the focus on personal accountability and turning from wrong behavior and attitudes–in their relationship with you and with the Lord Jesus. 

Of course, in delivering this sermon on accountability, Ezekiel is in no way ignoring the hope of the Promised One who would be an atonement for sin.  He didn’t know all the details yet; it was 590 or so years before Jesus’ death. As an educated priest,  Ezekiel was very familar with all of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah’s coming.  But, this sermon’s main point is that each of us is accountable to God and that does not make God unfair.  “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin” (Ez. 18:30).


A Shepherd and a Dove August 23, 2010

Filed under: Ezekiel,Teaching Tips — womenembracingfaith @ 8:58 am
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Being a shepherd is hard work….Keeping on top of 2-4 year olds wears one out…Sometimes a good shepherd has had enough.  Jake just wore himself out keeping tabs on kids all summer.

God  had had enough with the people of Judah’s idoltry, careless morality, their hard hearts.  He was the Good Shepherd, and they were His sheep, but enough was enough.  Ezekiel had to tell it to them straight:

 ”The end has come…Doom has come to you, you who dwell in the land;…I will judge you according to your ways, And I will repay you for all your abominations” (Ezekiel 7:6-9).

This disaster caused them to finally see their sin They mourned for what they had done and been.  They were weak and shakey with sorrow.

…like doves of the valleys   All of them mourning, Each for his iniquity.  Every hand will be feeble   And every knee will be as weak as water  (Ezekiel 7:16-17).

The historical record is clear.  God left Solomon’s temple, and this city which believed they were untouchable because of His presence, found out the consequences of their refusal to turn and follow God.  They did not listen to Isaiah; they did not heed Habakkuk’s warning; they did not believe Ezekiel.  Until, finally, doom and destruction came.  Babylon  destroyed everything.  Then it all made sense, and those left alive realized how wrong they had been.


We should learn from this history lesson.  We can’t push our Good Shepherd too far.  We need to shake with reverence and mourn our sins before it is too late. 

“Therefore, strengthen the hands which hand down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.  …let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:12-13; 28-29).

Jesus said,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:3-4).

Read Ezekiel 7 and think about ways you have failed to be godly.  Daniel and Ezekiel remembered their sins.  God kept on being their Good Shepherd during their exile in Babylon (Iraq).

A Lesson For Children

Listen to the song of the doves with your kids.  Except for the hottest summer days, I have two doves in my yard most of the time; I’ll bet you do too.  Let their singing be a reminder for the kids (and you) of how we are to feel about our sins:  sad…. sorry… real grief…an offence to our Creator.  Mourn like doves.

“like doves of the valley” (Ezekiel 7:16).



Positive Thinking? June 10, 2010

Filed under: Philippians — womenembracingfaith @ 10:42 am
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This is the last lesson on Philippians.  I hope this series has been useful to you personally.  Just scroll ‘Category’ to Philippians for all the lessons.  Perhaps you could use it, along with Roger Ellsworth’s Opening Up Philippians, for a small group study.

Reread Philippians 4

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you”  (Philippians 4:8-9).


If this isn’t “positive thinking,” what is it?  In the 1950’s, a pastor in N.Y.City came up with a popular notion for those looking for inner peace and tranquility in life.  Just think about the good.  Keep your mind on the positive and joy would come your way.  It seems like that’s all Paul is saying here as well.  But, the catch comes in verse 9 which connects how we are looking at people and events with following his instruction and example. 

His whole point in this letter was to stand firm together for the gospel, with love for each other, so that the work of telling others about Christ Jesus would go on.   Maintaining peace and harmony in any group takes work.  So Paul told them to deliberately look for the positive in events or others.  What is honorable here, what is just, lovely, worthy of praise?  We are to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” as he told the Ephesians (4:3).  Eager to be reasonable and to live peaceably.   The purpose in searching out the lovely and just and honorable is not for our own inner peace, as Norman V. Peale taught, but for keeping the local church on track. 

But, Paul’s own joy is to be our example.  That joy was rooted in his desire that Christ be honored and proclaimed.  “…as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now, as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).  Have the desire that Christ Jesus be glorified by your living reasonably, looking for the good, keeping the peace.   Like Paul, be happy when someone helps you or shows concern for your work to spread the gospel.  He had learned contentment, not through positive thinking, but by rejoicing in the Lord who gave him strength (4:10-13).  What an example of confidence in God and living for God’s glory he was setting for all of us who would read this letter.  He was sure God would supply all of their needs so that God would be glorified.  He had certainly experienced that himself on his recent trip to Rome–through storm at sea, shipwreck, an angel’s visit, snakebite (Acts 27).  He wanted to be an example to these friends of confidence and rejoicing in God.  Like the prophet Habakkuk, he could say,

“Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls–yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The LORD God is my strength;”(Hab. 3: 17-19).

This experience is a long way from the whole positive thinking thing.  It all comes back to God’s grace.  By his grace, we can maintain the glue of peace in our churches, families,  and relationships.  By his grace, we can get through needy times.  By his grace, we can stand firm.


Devotional For Mothers January 16, 2009

Children want our attention. Have you noticed? Just pick up the phone and see what they can get into! My grandchildren love it when I have no other agenda than to play with them–at their level. It’s great not to have that electricity in the air which occurs when a pre-schooler is competing for attention. Just let Daddy walk in the door and desire a conversation with you…you can feel that tension. It goes much better if everyone focuses on welcoming him home and if he has no agenda himself for a half hour. That’s not so easy when everyone arrives home together. But, wise decisions show their correctness later on.

Don’t ask for a blueprint. Take biblical principles and work these daily things out for yourself. Talking about them help you “work it out.”

Identify the foundational principles that apply to the circumstances.They frequently seem to conflict.

Children are self-centered, immature, and are affected like all of us by the sinfulness of human nature.

Children must be trained, corrected… helped to grow…sometimes disciplined.

We are all to love God and each other.

Honor your father and your mother.

What other biblical principles do you think apply here?

Think about how these principles impact what you do.
If I had my grandchildren every day, my non-agenda approach would be impossible. If I over-focused on their natural self-centeredness, I might think it wrong to play so much with them. If I only thought about training and correcting, then playing would seem like a waste of time. If I forgot they need correction and discipline, what kind of grandparent would I be? If I played only fun things with no reference to God or just a quick prayer….oops. Out of balance again.

Enjoy your freedom to do things the way you think is best.

Just remember to keep a clear conscience, serve the LORD with gladness, and pray that God will bless your thinking it out for yourself.