Saturday, April 04, 2020

Why the Law?

“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭3:19-22‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I’ve noted many times before our tendency to rely upon the law for salvation. I’ve noted our tendency to rely upon our own goodness and actions to justify us before God. And I’ve noted that this is true of not only those outside of the church, but also a majority within.

As we learn that we play no role in our salvation, as we learn that it is all the work of God, it leaves us with many questions. If this is true, we wonder, then why do our actions even matter? If this is true, we wonder, then why did God bother to give us the law in the first place?

This is what Paul addresses in the above passage. After making the point that the law does not annul or alter the promise of God in any way, and after making it clear that we are saved through faith in Christ, Paul asks a very natural question. He asks why the law is even necessary. He asks if the law contradicts the promise of God.

He tells us that the law was added because of transgressions. It was added because of sin until the coming of the Savior. And he tells us that Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.

We find, in Scripture, that there are three uses of the law. There are three functions that the law performs. And two of them are addressed by the words of Paul in this passage. 

First of all, the law is used in a civil sense. It’s used to govern mankind. In Israel, the law of God was the law of the land. And even today, a vast majority of our laws flow from the morality prescribed by Scripture. Because we are sinful, sin has to be restrained. And the fear of punishment can do just that.

Secondly, the law reveals to us our guilt. It reveals to us our sin, and the specific ways we’ve violated God’s will. It imprisons us by revealing to us that we can do nothing to save ourselves. And, in this way, it reveals to us our need for a Savior. In this way, it prepares us for the message of the gospel.

When Paul says that the law was given because of sin, this is what he’s talking about. Our sin, in this world, needs to be restrained so that we don’t harm our neighbor. But we also need to see our guilt that we might look to Jesus in faith.

The promise of God, then, is given by faith to those who believe. Those who understand what the law reveals to us, look for the salvation that’s been provided for us in Jesus. We cease all effort to earn God’s blessings and rest in his promise.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Faithful to His Promise

“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”

(Galatians 3:15-18 ESV)

Although none of us are perfectly honest, we understand the importance of keeping our word. We understand that, if we commit to something, we should follow through with it. And we both value and esteem those who do so.

We also tend to look down on those who are not trustworthy. We look down on those who are not true to their word. Because we do not deem them trustworthy, we do not count them believable or dependable.

We also understand that we cannot change the terms of an agreement once it’s been made. If we agree to a certain purchase price for a car or a house, we cannot change the terms if they no longer work to our advantage. If we agree to trade labor with someone, or to pay him for his services, we cannot later change the terms.

That being said, many Christians make the mistake of thinking that the people of Israel were under a different covenant than we are, today. They mistakenly believe that they were saved in a different way than we are, today.  While we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus, they believe that the people of Israel, that the Jews, were saved through the law.

However, as Paul tells us above, this is not the case. He points out that, although God did give the law to the people of Israel, he had first given his promise to Abraham. And God’s promise is not replaced, it’s not annulled, by the law.

If that were the case, God would not be trustworthy. If that were the case, he has not been faithful to his Word. Because he first gave his promise, that promise must be honored.

The people of Israel, then, were saved in the same way that you and I are saved. They were saved by the grace of God. As they believed the promise of God, their faith was counted to them as righteousness. And the same remains true today.

Although we have the Ten Commandments, although we have the law of God, this is not our means of salvation. They are still applicable today, and they are to guide us today. But they are not, nor have they ever been, the means of salvation.

We, then, can find comfort in the fact that God is true to his Word. As his blessing is found in his promise, we don’t have to earn it in any way. We can simply look to him in faith, which is credited to us as righteousness.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

True Assurance

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"-- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”

(Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)

As I’ve visited with people about matters of faith, throughout the years, one thing has become clear. Although most people confess faith in Jesus, and although they understand that he died on the cross, this isn’t where they find the assurance of salvation. They look, instead, to themselves. They look to their efforts and their obedience to God’s commands.

This is true of people both inside and outside of the church. Even among those who are typically present in church most weeks, a large number think the same way. Even though they’ve heard the gospel countless times, they do not look to him as the source of their salvation.

Most believe that they will go to heaven when they die. But when asked why they believe this, they point to their own inherent goodness or to their good works. They say that they are a good person. They say that they try to live according to God’s commands. And they say that they generally do more good than bad.

If this is how we believe, we are in a dangerous place. As Paul points out in the above passage, all who rely on works of the law are under a curse. They are cursed because they do not abide by all things written in the book of the law.

No matter how good we believe ourselves to be, and no matter how we judge our own actions and intentions, the simple fact of the matter is that we’re guilty. We have sinned against God. And, because of our sin, we deserve only the judgment of God.

If we depend upon ourselves, if we place our trust in ourselves, we are lost. We are lost because nothing we do can erase our guilt or atone for our wrongdoing. And, for this reason, we’ll suffer the wrath of God.

The good news is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. He’s done so by becoming a curse. He’s done so by giving his life for us upon the cross.

In this way, God’s blessing has come to all people. It can be received by all people. And the way that we receive it is through faith.

Our confidence, our assurance, cannot be found in ourselves. It can be found only in Christ. It’s only as we look to him in faith, it’s only as we trust in his work upon the cross, that we are saved.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Chosen People

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

(Galatians 3:7-9 ESV)

All throughout history, the people of Israel had believed themselves to be the people of God. They believed themselves to be his chosen people. And, according to Old Testament law, they made a clear distinction between themselves and the Gentiles. They were God’s children, they were the children of promise, while the Gentiles were not.

It’s for this reason that some of the Jewish believers tried to force their law upon the Gentiles. If they were to be saved, if they were to become the people of God, they first had to become Jews. They had to be circumcised and live under the ceremonial law.

In light of the gospel, Paul proclaimed a very different message. He emphasized not the lineage of the people. He preached that it was not his genetic makeup that made a person a child of God. It was his faith that did so.

Jesus emphasized the same thing in the eighth chapter of John. Even though they claimed Abraham as their father, Jesus told the Jews that this was not the case. They were, in fact, children of the devil. If they were children of Abraham, he said, they’d be doing the things that Abraham did.

Paul also shared this truth in Romans 9. He stated that not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel. He taught that not all are children of Abraham because they’re his offspring.

If this is true, we may wonder, who is a son of Abraham? Who is a child of God? Who are his chosen people? And who is it that belongs to Israel?

Paul tells us, above, that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. God had promised to Abraham that, in him, all the nations would be blessed. And this is how that promise is fulfilled. We are made part of the people of God as we share in the faith of Abraham.

This, then, is good news for us. It’s good news because we are assured that we are not outside of God’s promises. And it assures us that we are not excluded from his people.

We are made part of God’s people. And it’s not our bloodline or our actions that make this possible. This becomes possible by faith alone.

If we, then, have faith, we can know that we’re Abraham’s offspring. If we have faith, we can know that we’ve received the salvation of God. If we have faith, we can know that we are part of the people of God, his chosen people.

This is comforting because our salvation is not dependent on us in any way. Our confidence is found not within, but outside of ourselves. It’s found in Christ alone. It’s found only in the salvation he has accomplished on the cross.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hold Fast to the Gospel

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 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 ‭3:1-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We, in the church today, live a strange contradiction. We confess that we’re saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. This is the gospel after all. But, once we are saved, our mindset shifts.

We begin to live as though we grow in faith, as if we are sanctified, by our own efforts. We teach as though we grow in faith, as if we’re sanctified, by our own efforts. And, as we struggle with sin, our message is simply:Try harder.

We turn away from the gospel to a message of works righteousness. And this is not unique to us. It was a tendency shared also by the Galatians.

Paul obviously felt strongly about this. As he begins this passage, he calls them fools. And he asks who had bewitched them.

He does so because they had started out well. They had received the gospel. They had understood that the Spirit of God was received not by works, but through faith.

This, however, had changed in time. They had begun to depend upon their own efforts. They had begun to think and act as if they were perfected by the flesh.

He reminds them that every blessing they had received was given them through faith. And he reminds them that, in the case of Abraham, it was his faith that was counted to him as righteousness. In other words, they needed to continue as they had begun.

As they had trusted in Christ for his salvation, they were to continue to trust in him. As they had received the Spirit of God through faith, they were to recognize that he remained with them through faith. And as God had blessed them through faith, they needed to continue looking to him in faith for every blessing that was needed.

In the same way, we must continue as we began. We must realize that, just as we are justified by faith, so are we sanctified. Just as we received the Spirit of God through faith, he remains with us by faith. And just as God blesses us through faith in Jesus, so will he continue to bless us.

If we begin to depend upon our efforts for sanctification, we are fools. If we begin to depend upon our efforts for the Spirit’s presence and blessing, we are fools. If we do so, we’ll end up missing out on the very blessings he desires to lavish upon us.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Prescription for Sin

“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 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 2:17-21 ESV)

As we faithfully proclaim the truth that we are justified by faith, as we faithfully proclaim the truth that our works play no role in our salvation, a common reaction is seen. It is then suggested that this leads to antinomianism. What this means is that people are free to live however they please and remain in the grace of God.

In Paul’s case, as we see above, he asks if this makes Christ a servant of sin. If we’re found to be sinners, while we seek the justification that’s provided through faith in Christ, does this make Jesus a servant of sin?  Does it mean that Jesus promotes or allows sin in any way? And Paul’s answer to this question is “Certainly not!”

If he were to return to the law, if he were to once again follow all of the rules and regulations prescribed by the ceremonial law, it would not free him from sin. In fact, it would prove only one thing. It would prove only that he is a sinner. It would do so because the law reveals to us our sin and our need of a Savior.

You see, the prescription for sin is not the law. The law can do nothing to remove our sin. It can do nothing to minimize our sin. And it can do nothing to make our lives more godly.

The prescription for sin is the cross of Christ. Paul says that, through the law, he died to the law, that he might live for God. He says that he’s been crucified with Christ. And he says that it’s no longer he who lives, but Christ in him.

In the same way, we have been crucified with Christ. Our old life, our life of sin and rebellion, is a thing of the past. We’ve been given a new life. Christ now lives in us. And this is what brings about a life of obedience.

I’m not suggesting that, once we come to faith in Christ, sin is a non-issue. We will continue to sin as long as we live in this world. However, no longer do we pursue the desires of the flesh. We, instead, desire Christ and the things of Christ. We long to live for him and to glorify him.

Paul then reminds us that if righteousness were through the law, if we were made righteous by our obedience to the law, then Christ died for nothing. If we believe that we can earn our salvation, we have rendered his sacrifice meaningless. And if we believe that we can become righteous by our own efforts, then we have rendered his sacrifice meaningless.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Looking Outside of Ourselves

“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 ESV)

There’s nothing new under the sun. Not even that statement is new! And we see this also when it comes to our mindset regarding our justification. We have the same tendency that people have always had.

Most of us have heard the gospel countless times. Most of us know the gospel, and can even explain it. We can explain that Jesus gave his life on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin.

Yet, even though this is true of us, this is not how we live. It’s not where we place our trust. Instead of looking outside of ourselves, to the completed work of Jesus, we tend to look within. 

Most of us rely upon our actions for salvation. We rely upon works of the law for the assurance of salvation. We rely upon our obedience to God to gain for ourselves the forgiveness and salvation that we so desperately need.

The same is true as we consider others. We believe that “good” people are saved and that “bad” people are condemned. Even if someone has no faith in Jesus whatsoever, we tend to believe they are saved because of their goodness.

However, as Paul reminds us in the above passage, we are not justified by works of the law. He tells us that no one will be justified by works of the law. In other words, we are not made right with God by anything that we do. We are justified only through faith in Jesus Christ.

If we, then, are trusting in ourselves for salvation, we are not saved. If we’re trusting in our obedience to the law to gain for us the salvation that we need, we are not saved. If we’re relying on our inherent goodness for salvation, we are not saved.

We can possess a greater morality than most, and still be lost. We can do more good works than most, and still be lost. We can still be lost because, regardless of what we do, we are sinners deserving only death and hell.

Nothing we do can change this fact. Nothing we do can erase our guilt. Nothing we do can remove original sin from our heart. And nothing we do can make up for our shortcomings.

Only Jesus can do this. Only he can cleanse us from our sin. Only he can provide the perfect righteousness required for our salvation.