Posts Tagged With: salvation

2 Thessalonians 2: Beware the Man of Lawlessness!

There can be no doubt that today’s passage raises lots of questions, most of which you are not about to get an answer to.  Paul discusses the mysterious “man of lawlessness” (2:3), and lots of ink has been spilled on who or what this is or was.  The opinions are myriad and no consensus has arisen; it would take far more time and space than I have to explore this topic completely (one needs only google “man of lawlessness” to see the ridiculous diversity of opinion).  Interpretations of prophecies like these tend to be shaped by the interpreter’s biases and philosophical presuppositions, so I will reveal mine by saying that I imagine Paul was talking about something and someone that made sense in a first century context, likely connected to politics given the cryptic nature of the prophecy.  At the same time, when has there not been someone who “fits the bill” in many ways?  My desire today is only to deconstruct one concern that people some times have when they come to this passage.

Paul describes the man of lawlessness as a deceiver who leads people astray with his lies.  Some grow concerned then that they will be pulled away from God, almost against their better judgment, by the wiles of this man and his trickery.  Let’s unpack this in good sermonic fashion with a nice dose of alliteration:

The presence of the lawless one will be accompanied by the activity of the satan, with full power, with signs, and spurious wonders, with every kind of wicked deceit over those on the way to ruin, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For that reason God sends upon them a strong delusion, leading them to believe the lie, so that judgment may come upon all who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness. (2:9-12)

Long before a person falls victim of the man of lawlessness’s lies, he has put himself in a place to be open to that deceit.  The lawless man only leads those who have decided to follow his leading.  Notice how this passage ends: those who believe the lies of this man had already chosen to take “pleasure in wickedness.”  Their love of debauchery had set them up to be led astray; those who like the dark have many reasons for why it is the best way to live.  From this love of wickedness then came denial and an unwillingness to “believe the truth.”  Only then are they hit with the one-two punch of deceit from the satanic man of lawlessness and delusion from God.  As much as it may not line up with the sensibilities that some of us with high, high views of human freedom, yes, it does seem that God will “harden the hearts” of those who have already chosen by their own choice not to respond to his love and grace.  Only then does judgment and destruction come.

In short, the man of lawlessness, as crafty as he may have been (or will be, given your view on latter-day prophecy), is not capable of turning the devoted against God.  To argue such is to claim there is one who can frustrate the plans of God for our salvation with his superior, evil power.  Surely we do not want to claim such a fallacy!  Christians — especially young ones like the Thessalonians — should always be on guard against influences that can corrupt their hearts and turn them against God.  Notice that sound teaching and traditions help one stand firm against the lawless one’s lies (2:15).  But we need not fret that this will happen against our will nor that of a good and powerful God.

What do you think?

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2 Thessalonians 1: Worthy of Salvation

Today’s post picks up a thread that started in the comments on yesterday’s post.

All this is a clear sign of the just judgment of God, to make you thoroughly worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. (1:5)

To that end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may complete every plan he has to do you good, and every work of faith in power. (1:11)

How often we think it comes down to us to be worthy of salvation, that it is up to us whether we are worthy to be saved.  Have we done enough?  Are we good enough?

Sadly, far too often we would say we are not, and therefore worthiness seems out of reach.  And I guess if worthiness is up to our efforts, yes, we should feel like we are not worthy.

The wonderful good news in this chapter is that it is God who makes us worthy by His actions, not our own.  And in case we missed it, Paul says it twice.

For those of us who have come from rather legalistic backgrounds, that is good news indeed!

What caught your eye today?

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1 Thessalonians 5: Children of the Light

You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a midnight robber. . . . But as for you, my dear family — you are not in darkness.  That day won’t surprise you like a robber.  (5:2, 4)

In the first part of chapter five, Paul lays out a series of contrasts:

There is a great day coming.  The new creation will soon be upon us.  When, you ask?  We do not know exactly.  Later today.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe long after we are gone, in the days of our children’s  children.  But we don’t need to worry about it.  Nobody in Christ needs to worry about it.

We are the wide-awake people.  We live in the light where robbers are less inclined to come.  We are not numbed to what goes on around us.  We are protected by faith, hope and love (5:8).  Though we do not know the hour, it is okay because we will have peace in that day.  We are destined for salvation, not fury.  So we can echo confidently the second last sentence of the Bible: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Does this describe the mindset you have?  Why or why not?

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1 Corinthians 6: Stay Clean

Have you ever noticed spilled food is only attracted to clean clothes?  I am convinced of it.  Put on a dirty shirt and you will never spill on it.  You can eat spaghetti, dripping wet barbecue ribs, or melting ice cream and you will still come out unscathed.  Put on a clean shirt and you are destined to drip ketchup from your hotdog right in the middle of your chest.  Murphy’s Law, I guess.

When I was young my mother’s last instructions to me any time I went out to play in the yard with my friends were “Stay clean!”  Of course, I never did.  A muddy hand is made clean again by rubbing them down the legs of your pants.  A bloody nose is stopped by the front of your shirt held up to your nose. Right?

Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians today are the same: Stay clean!

You were washed clean; you were made holy; you were put back to right — in the name of the Lord, King Jesus, and in the spirit of our God. (6:11)

God has cleaned them up, now stay clean and don’t make His work for naught.  But it seems everything they did was making them dirty once again.  Sure, they were under grace and not under Law, so this was not a matter of staying clean so as to earn salvation, but just because “everything is lawful” (6:12) for them doesn’t mean they should take advantage of grace.

How were the Corinthians sullying their new clothes?

  • Dragging each other into the Roman courts to settle their personal differences and offenses (6:1-6).  They looked like an uncharitable bunch who couldn’t solve the problems of the world as they couldn’t even settle their own problems.
  • Forgetting that the hallmark of a follower of Christ is to model selfless sacrifice, even if it means being wronged and losing what is rightfully yours (6:7-8)
  • Indulging the body with immorality and possibly food (6:12-14)
  • Possibly using the services of prostitutes, maybe even religious prostitutes in the pagan temples (6:15-17)

That is no way to show God appreciation for what He has done.  One brings glory with a holy life.  One worships God by what one does in the body, as that is His temple (6:19-20).

“Stay clean!”

What did you see anew in today’s chapter?

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Luke 19: Belong then Believe

I grew up with the thinking that all people respond to God for the first time the same way.  I guess this came from the pattern theology that I grew up with that likes to reduce everything to simplified formulas that are binding on all.  While that is neat and tidy, I don’t tend to believe that anymore.  As I read the Bible, I see people responding to God for the first time in many different ways, often depending on who they are and what has happened and what the situation calls for.  Sure, there are general trends but it isn’t as nicely tied up with a bow as I once thought.

I am drawn today to how Zacchaeus responds to Jesus in this, their first encounter of faith.  He is “very rich” (19:2).  Think back one chapter, to Friday, and the story of the rich young ruler.  Different from that man, Zacchaeus is not told to sell everything he has and follow Jesus.  Yet, the attitude of this tax collector and the rich young ruler are quite different.  That latter went away without change while Zacchaeus is quick to make financial, concrete amends for his life of shaking down his neighbors.

We are never told why Zacchaeus is drawn to Jesus.  Is he wanting to follow Jesus as a disciple of this new rabbi who has come to town?  Is he just a bystander wanting to get a glimpse of this man in the news?  Is he drawn to the healings and exorcisms that Jesus brings about?  Is he in need of some healing we are not aware of?  We simply do not know.  He quickly responds ethically, so that might indicate he was responding with faith.

I am struck by how Jesus accepts this tax collector and is willing to dine with him at his house, no insignificant gesture in their time and place as table fellowship connoted unqualified acceptance, even before Zacchaeus has done anything more than climb a tree.  Maybe Jesus is making the first gesture here.

Then Zacchaeus does what can only be described as repentance.  He turns in a very practical way from his life of deceit:

“Look, Master,” he said, “I’m giving half my property to the poor.  And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I’m giving it back to them four times over.” (19:8)

Jesus response is unmistakable:

Today, salvation has come to this house. (19:9)

Zacchaeus has launched off in new, uncharted territory of faith.  He will follow Jesus, not his own conniving.  He will stand for righteousness and even fall over himself to make sure people around him know it.  Jesus seeing this repentance and Zacchaeus receives a new label: “saved.”

Interest ~ Acceptance ~ Repentance ~ Salvation

That is a pretty good flow.  No need to turn that into another pattern.  Not every person will respond this way, but it is a good reminder to us that for many people that we wish to reach in this world — especially those marginalized in society — acceptance from the Body of Christ often has to precede the lifestyle change and submission we wish to see in their lives.  Like many are saying these days, some have to belong before they decide to really believe.

What did you see anew in this chapter?

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Luke 4: First Words

Can you identify what book begins with the following classic first lines?  Answers are at the end of the post, if you wish to quiz yourself.

  1. ”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
  2. ”Call me Ishmael.”
  3. ”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
  4. ”All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  5. ”You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
  6. ”It was a pleasure to burn.”
  7. ”You better not never tell nobody but God.”
  8. ”In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.”
  9. ”Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
  10. “All children, except one, grow up.”

Sometimes the first lines of a book or the first words of a character let you know all you need to know about that book or character right from the start.  Remember this first line from Darth Vader in Star Wars?

“Commander, tear this ship apart until you find those plans.”  

Today, Luke gives us Jesus’ first public words in his adult ministry, a quote from the beginning of Isaiah 61:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to tell the poor the good news.  He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners, and sight to the blind, to set the wounded victims free, to announce the year of God’s special favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

More about that later.

Sin is big and pervasive.  We are kidding ourselves if we think sin only affects our relationship with God, as if it is some cosmic, spiritual black dot on our heavenly record, which if not dealt with will adversely affect our afterlife in some way.  Sin affects every square inch of our lives.  Sin has a spiritual effect, to be sure.  But it also has social, physical, and psychological effects on life here and now as well.

Think about Adam and Eve and effects of the first, prototypical sin:

  • They are declared guilty and are cursed by God for their actions (spiritual)
  • They are separated from God’s presence, alienation begins between the two of them, and Adam is placed in a position of dominance over Eve (social)
  • They suffer a loss of innocence and feel shame and fear for the first time, all the while trying to shift blame off out themselves (psychological/emotional)
  • The physical hide then must cover themselves, they will experience pain in childbirth and in their work, the ground will be less fertile, and they begin to decay and die bodily (physical)

Sin is an all-encompassing problem that affects all corners of our life.

Now, back to Luke 4.  Jesus arrives on the scene.  Interestingly, Paul will call Jesus the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45; c.f., Romans 5:12).  We have the start of something new as Jesus steps back into the synagogue in Nazareth, his childhood home.  Luke makes it clear this is a fulfillment of prophecy: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your own hearing” (4:21).  Like a good opening line, we are introduced to the redemptive ministry that will be Jesus’ sole concern for the next three years.  This is Jesus’ raison d’être: I came to reverse and release, heal and forgive, to make new.  True to Luke’s concern for the marginalized, the people mentioned here are the harassed, harried, and undesirables.  For the rest of the book we will watch Jesus accomplish this mission in his short life.

The interesting thing, though, is how Jesus’ declares his redemptive mission will be equally as pervasive as the sin he has come to address.  If sin affects all corners of our lives, Christ’s salvation will cover just as much ground.  Jesus has come to reverse the curse every human has been under since we moved east of Eden.  Notice how all four areas of life in the diagram above are also found here in this statement from Luke 4:

  • Announce the year of God’s special favor (spiritual)
  • Release to the prisoners (social)
  • Set the wounded victims free from “oppression” as the NIV says (psychological/emotional)
  • Recovery of sight for the blind (physical)

Salvation is not only a matter of forgiveness of sin.  Jesus has come to save every inch of us, our relationships, and our world.  Salvation is an all-encompassing solution that affects all corners of our life. 

Now that is something to get excited about!

(Answers: Pride and Prejudice; Moby Dick, Tale of Two Cities; Anna Karenina; Huckleberry Finn; Farenheit 451; The Color Purple; A River Runs Through It; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Peter Pan)

How did you do on that little quiz?

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Luke 1: A Worshipful Response

Major things happen in this long first chapter.  God starts moving again.  Remember this follows four hundred years of divine silence.  Angels appear.  Temple worship is interrupted.  Signs and miracles occur.  Babies are conceived in unlikely and unnatural ways.  God is on the move and it is BIG!

All of this action has a point:

He [John] will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (1:16)

He [Jesus] will be a great man, and he’ll be called the son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.  His kingdom will never come to an end. (1:32-33)

He [God] has rescued his servant, Israel his child. (1:54a)

Blessed be the Lord, Israel’s God!  He’s come to his people and bought them their freedom.  He’s raised up a horn of salvation for us. . . . Salvation from our enemies, rescue from hatred, mercy to our ancestors. . . . Letting his people know of salvation, through the forgiveness of all their sins. (1:68-69a, 71-72, 77)

God moves so as to save, to bless, to rule, and to redeem.

“Magnificat,” Maulbertsch

So, how do you respond when God starts doing magnificent things in your life?  Just like Elizabeth, Mary, and Zechariah: you worship!

Elizabeth:  Elizabeth was filled with the holy spirit, and shouted at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” (1:41b-42)

Mary:  My soul declares that the Lord is great, My spirit exults in my savior, my God. (1:46-47)

Zechariah: Immediately his mouth and his tongue were unfastened, and he spoke, praising God. . . . “He swore an oath to Abraham our father, to give us deliverance from fear and from foes, so we might worship him.” (1:73-74)

Over what in your life right now can you worship?

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Romans 10: Trust Me!

A trap very easily fallen into when reading Romans is to bypass the original context and focus solely on what Romans can teach us.  Romans 9-11 is a difficult section of Scripture, but that is especially true when we forget about the original context.

Any good Jew in Paul’s time would have been tempted to appeal to their chosen-people status as grounds for salvific confidence.  The logic would have gone something like this: Israel was chosen by God, I am a Jew, so I am good with God. That line of logic has a modern equivalent: the Church is composed of God’s elect in this world, I go to church, so I am good with God.

In Romans 10 Paul is taking on this faulty thinking.  God isn’t looking for heritage or membership, He is looking for people who truly trust Him and His faithfulness to His promises.  God isn’t looking for people who “establish a covenant status of their own” (10:3), He is looking for people who have faith in their hearts, confess that faith with their mouths, and ask with dependency for God to save them (10:10-13).  That invitation was given to the Jews and some received it, though others did not (10:21).  That invitation is also open to all because it relies upon God’s goodness not those being saved.

If the Jewish Christians in the Roman church thought that being a Jew seals the deal, they missed the boat.  If we think being a church member ensures salvation, we too are just as lost.

What were you drawn to in this chapter?

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Romans 3: Bad News, Good News

Sometimes to really appreciate the good news we have to first understand the bad news.  It seems this is what Paul has been doing in Romans and it all comes to a head in Romans 3.

Lest the Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church who have been jockeying with each other for power miss the point, Paul makes everything crystal clear:

Jews as well as Greeks are all under the power of sin. (3:9)

No one is in the right — nobody at all!  No one understands, or goes looking for God; all of them alike have wandered astray, together they have all become futile; none of them behaves kindly, no, not one. (3:10-12)

For there is no distinction: all sinned, and fell short of God’s glory. (3:22-23)

Both sides need to stop their posturing for a minute and face a fact.  Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter.  Both are sinful in their own ways.  Both are equally sinful.  Sin, of some sort, has slithered into their hearts and is slowly taking over.  At this point there is only one thing that matters and they are all the same in this way: they are doomed because of sin.

And right at the point of that depressing fact is when Paul gives the first of several statements of the gospel or “good news” in Romans:

By God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus.  God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. . . . He declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus. (3:24-26)

It isn’t how good we are that matters, it is how good Jesus was.  It isn’t what kind of blood we have running through our veins that matters, it is whether we have been covered by Jesus’ blood.  It isn’t the rituals we have done that save us, it is the ritual of sacrifice that Jesus did that saves us.  Jew, Gentile, Greek, Barbarian, American, Afghani, Iranian, devoted church attender, or tortured soul — it doesn’t matter.  We are all the same at the foot of the cross.  Sinners saved by grace.

What one phrase from this majestic chapter means the most to you, and why?

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Matthew 27: Let His Blood Be On Us!

I am struck by the utter irony of this passage:

“So what shall I do with Jesus the so-called Messiah?” asked Pilate.

“Let him be crucified!” they all said.

“Why?” asked Pilate. “What’s he done wrong?”

But they shouted all the louder, “Let him be crucified!”

Pilate saw that it was no good.  In fact, there was a riot brewing.  So he took some water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  “I’m not guilty of this man’s blood,” he said.  “It’s your problem.”

Let his blood be on us!” answered all the people, “and on our children!”  (27:22-25)

Of course, the crowd means they will gladly take the guilt of killing Jesus.  His death is justified.  He is a law-breaker and blasphemer.  He incites riots and disturbs the peace.  Look at the company he keeps: he likely has some hidden sin.   If he really is God’s son then he can save himself.  But he won’t.  This guy is a ruffian.  We’ll answer for spilling his blood.

The irony is that by the end of the day that is exactly what happened.  Jesus’ shed blood was potentially “upon them and their children,” but not at all in the way they had imagined.  That blood signified redemption and atonement.  It meant they all had the potential to be saved by the very man they had crucified.  And if they accepted that invitation that blood would wash away their sins.  Were some of these same people among the 3000 saved on Pentecost forty days later?

What an amazing reminder of the grace of God!  He gives them what they want, and so much more!

What did you notice today?

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Matthew 1: God With Us

Today we return to the life of Jesus.  Jesus is the center of our religion and very life, so it is fitting to return to the gospels every quarter.  In fact, that would be a great rhythm for life long after this year.  As a former student of Chris Dahlberg’s likes to say, as we age maybe it becomes second nature to concentrate on the red words.

Matthew starts his gospel very differently from Mark.  Mark got right down to business; from beginning to end of his gospel Jesus was a very active adult.  Matthew, though, spends two chapters just getting Jesus to adulthood and ministry.  There is very little action in Matthew 1 at all.  Mark chose to keep us guessing about Jesus throughout much of his book.  Like his disciples in the gospel, we really had to work to get that Jesus was divine.

Matthew, on the other hand, makes everything very clear right from this first chapter;

“Look: the virgin is pregnant, and will have a son, and they shall give him the name Emmanuel” — which means, in translation, “God with us.” (1:23)

From the beginning we are introduced to Jesus as God Himself, come to be with us once again.  Remember that if a person were reading the Bible page by page, they have just flipped from Malachi, over 400 years of divine silence where God’s presence was much more hidden.  That is no longer the case.  God is with us again, but in a new, strange, embodied way.

And we are introduced to the gospel right off:

She is going to have a son.  You are to give him the name Jesus; he is the one who will save his people from their sins. (1:21)

God has come in the form of Jesus to save us from our greatest oppressor of all: sin.  Already, in the first chapter Matthew has made it clear what kind of Savior this Jesus is too.  We are off to a very straightforward beginning.

What did you notice in this chapter that you had not noticed before?

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James 5: But God Does Redemption

I am intrigued how James ends this letter that has focused so much on what we are to do in our faith.

So be patient, my brothers and sisters, for the appearing of the Lord. . . . the appearing of the Lord is near at hand. (5:7-8)

Three more times in four verses James uses the words “patient” or “patience.”

All letter long James has focused on our actions — all the while avoiding the legalism and self-reliance of the Judaizers — and at the end he closes by drawing the readers’ attention back to Jesus.  And not just Jesus, but the return of Jesus to this world to set it right with judgment and re-creation.

Waiting for Jesus

Lest we turn the book of James into justification for salvation by works, he reminds us that the most important work of all comes solely from God, not us. All we can do is be patient as we wait for God through Christ to restore this world to the just, loving, and faithful kingdom it was meant to be.  As we do faith and do love and do wisdom, James reminds us it is God’s role to do the redemption of this world and our very souls.

James has many, diverse messages, but did one overall point really hit home with you this week?

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Galatians 1: No Other Gospel

“Good news,” she said.  “You’ve qualified for twice as much as you are asking for!”

“She” was the woman at the bank where my wife and I applied for a mortgage loan to buy the house in which we presently live.

Naturally, thoughts of a bigger house, a better zip code, second and third bathrooms, a guest room, a workshop in the garage, and more modern amenities flew through our minds.

I am very thankful today that we had enough sense to balk at her suggestion and proceed with the modest amount we had originally been seeking.  I can’t imagine how we could have afforded the monthly note had we listened to her “good news.”  I still wonder what she was thinking, but then the word “predatory” comes to mind.  It was the early 2000s after all.

Not all “good news” is really all that good.

Slavery is a perfect word to describe what my wife and I would be experiencing had we taken on a mortgage payment twice what we pay right now.  Working long hours and extra jobs to pay the mortgage company.  We would be truly house-poor.  Feel free to sit in the corner over there where a couch should be, had we the money!  In fact, I have noticed that any time I do something largely or completely for money, I end up regretting it.  It is never worth it.  Anything but good news.

The resounding theme of Galatians 1 is “gospel.”  The word is used six times in this short chapter, and the phrase “good news” — the literal meaning of the word “gospel” — is used twice more.  But back then as much as now, not all good news is really all that good.

I’m astonished that you are turning away so quickly from the one who called you by grace, and are going after another gospel — not that it is another gospel. (1:6-7a)

Bear in mind the context of Galatians (see the bonus post below).  The Galatians are new Christians, some of the first converts of Paul’s first missionary journey.  But just as quick as they accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ laced all the way through with grace as it should be, they were being told by a group of hardline Jewish Christians — typically called the Judaizers — that good Christians are good Jews as well.  If you really want to follow God, you have to follow the Jewish law and customs.  Step right up for your circumcision, sir.  Stop cooking that filthy swine, madam.  Family, stop, it’s the Sabbath.  This was the new “gospel” they were hearing, and it seems from this verse above that some of the Galatian Christians were persuaded.  Jesus was a Jew after all.  God did come first to the Jews, didn’t he?  Paul himself was a Jew.

In no uncertain terms, Paul made it clear that not all gospels are truly good news:

If anyone offers you a gospel other than the one you received, let that person be accursed. (1:9)

Paul will tell us more later about why all gospels are not equal.  Simply put, some “good news” enslaves.  Well, that’s no good news after all.  Are we made right with God by grace or by law?  Because if it is by grace, you are free.  All debts are paid.  No obligations are in place.  One obeys out of gratitude and love.  But if it is by law that we are made righteous, then we are enslaved to a system of our own best efforts, which sadly always come up short.  There is always more to do.  We can always be better.  And we are obligated, for sure.

That’s slavery.  And that’s no good news!

What modern day “good news” isn’t really as good as it sounds?

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BONUS: An Introduction to Galatians

Galatians was a favorite of the Reformers.  Martin Luther said of the book: “This is ‘my’ epistle.  I am wedded to it.”  Galatians has also been a favorite of evangelicals, given our focus on salvation.  As we start the epistles of Paul, there may be no better start.  Paul gives us the gospel, stripped down and simple, and leads us to the Holy Spirit as our power for spiritual living.

Almost no one questions whether Paul wrote Galatians.  In fact, Galatians may be his first letter, or at least one of the earliest.  Whether Christians have to be circumcised is a big question in the letter, and this was an issue that was settled definitively in Acts 15.  Strangely, Paul never cites that decision in Galatians, possibly suggesting this letter was written even before the events of Acts 15.  That would mean that the events of Galatians 2 refer to Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30.  Regardless, what we have here is some of Paul’s earliest thinking.

Historically, there has been no agreement on whether Paul is writing to Galatian Christians in the northern part of that Roman province or to Christians in the southern cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, converts from his first missionary journey.  Remember back to Acts 13-14, how Paul had quick success in this region only to be followed by fast opposition from the Judaizers, Jewish Christians who believed that one had to become a good Jew in order to be a good Christian.  It makes most sense to me that Paul is writing the Galatians in the southern province as a rapid rebuttal to the Judaizers who are jeopardizing his work.

What do you have to do to really be considered a Christian?  What is it that truly saves a person?  These are the questions Galatians will take up in a big way.  They are also questions we often ask today as well.  There will be much that is helpful in this short book.

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Hebrews 10: Don’t Throw Away Your Confidence

Are you confident of your standing with God?

All of us are looking for wholeness and peace.  We want to know that God accepts us and His words to us should we die today would be “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”  And we want to have this assurance with an unshakeable confidence.

At the same time, we are fully aware of our own shakiness.  We know our frailty and duplicity better than anyone.  We look in a mirror and see flaws few others see.

So we try harder.  We get on the latest and greatest self-improvement plan.  We reach down deeper within ourselves to muster every ounce of self-discipline we have.  We make lists of things we should and should not do.  We grit our teeth when temptation comes, and just try to hold on.

And then we fail.  We always fail.

Really, we are trying to be justified by law.  He are relying on ourselves.  Sure, we will accept the advice of God on how to live, but really our sense of wholeness, peace, and acceptance is anchored in our own deeds.  Really, we are doing nothing different than any other works-oriented concept of salvation.  Like the Hebrew Christians were tempted to do, we are reverting back to system of holiness based on our own efforts and we make light of what Jesus has done, though usually we don’t outright reject our Savior.

As the Hebrews author winds up his ten-chapter long argument for the superiority of Jesus over the Jewish religion, he makes one last plea that his friends not let go of Jesus.  He summarizes many of his thoughts with a powerful statement that Jesus is the preeminent high priest who offers a superlative sacrifice:

Thus it comes about that every priest stands daily at his duty, offering over and over the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But Jesus offered a single sacrifice on behalf of sins, for all time, and then “sat down at the right hand of God.” . . . By a single sacrifice, you see, he has made perfect forever those who are sanctified. (10:11-12, 14)

If the Hebrew Christians — and we too — will hang on to our faith in Jesus and “not throw away our confidence” (10:35), we can have “boldness” (10:19) and a “complete assurance of faith” (10:22).  We need not worry, because God is “trustworthy” (10:24) and “our lives will be kept safe” (10:39).  We can have confidence in our wholeness, peace, and acceptance because it is anchored in the work of Jesus, not our own vacillating attempts at holiness.

But all of this will take faith.  More on that tomorrow.

Hold on with confidence!

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Acts 15: What Does It Take to Be Saved?

Now, that’s a loaded question!  And not one I am about to try to answer here.  But it is the question the Christians in Antioch were asking.

Grace through faith in Jesus?  Definitely!

He [God] purified their [Gentiles] hearts through faith. . . . It is by the grace of the Lord Jesus that we shall be saved, just like them. (15:9, 11)

But is there more?  At least some of the early Christians thought so:

They must be circumcised,” they [believers from the party of the Pharisees] said, “and you must tell them to keep the law of Moses.” (15:5)

Much like Acts 2, Acts 15 is one of the more significant chapters in the book.  There is so much to say about this chapter.  The chapter also produces so many further questions.  Some of these observations and questions would be:

  • When an argument ensued, they gathered together to talk it out.
  • The Scriptures played a important role in their decision-making (15:15-18), but so did the everyday ministry experiences of the apostles involved (15:12).
  • Early Christianity was diverse enough to encompass former Pharisees and former prostitutes, Zealots and tax collectors, those with a great level of obedience to the Jewish customs and those who thought those customs were largely irrelevant.
  • Even after the decision was made to disagree with the Pharisaical Christians, the apostles and elders still accept them as “some of our number” (15:24).
  • This conflict ends with feelings of “delight,” “encouragement,” and “peace” (15:31-33).
  • How did the apostles and elders making the decision know what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” (15:28)?
  • Why was blood in food deemed that much more important than circumcision or the Sabbath?
  • This decision was given to Christians in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.  Was it also intended to apply to other churches too?  For instance, Paul didn’t make a big deal over food sacrificed to idols in Corinth.
  • Is baptism equivalent to circumcision?  Do the principles here regarding circumcision apply to modern debates over baptism?
  • What modern issues of debate would be in line with the topic of law observance?  Worship styles, gender roles, marital history, sexual preference?

However, I don’t want us to miss the big point in this chapter, so important that Luke says it twice:

Therefore this is my judgment: we should not cause extra difficulties for those of the Gentiles who have turned to God. (15:19)

For it seemed good to the holy spirit and to us not to lay any burden on you beyond the following necessary things. (15:28)

This did not mean there were no boundaries or requirements.  The Gentiles in Antioch were expected to avoid food associated with pagan idolatry, food that would still have a good amount of blood in it, and sexual perversions (15:20, 29).  Still, the apostles and elders decided to go the path of least resistance.  They endeavored to place as few barriers as possible between God and those Gentiles seeking Him.  Important to any debate Christians might have today regarding what it takes to be saved should be this same principle: don’t make it any more difficult than it has to be.

What stood out to you in this important chapter?  

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