The Reformation And Galatians

Whittenberg DoorThe Lord used the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the gentiles in Galatia. Sadly, after he left that region, representatives of a group known as the Judaizers descended on that fledgling church, teaching that they needed to augment their faith in Christ by following Jewish law. They especially insisted that gentile converts undergo the rite of circumcision.

Paul was infuriated that the church he had founded had so quickly abandoned the Gospel of faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of a counterfeit gospel that required human effort to assure salvation. He wrote a scathing letter, scolding them for adulterating the Gospel with doctrines of men. We see the reasons for his frustration most clearly articulated in Chapter 5 of his epistle to the Galatians.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! ~~Galatians 5:1-12 (ESV)

I imagine Martin Luther found this passage helpful as he broke free from the demands of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther rightly saw that  Rome’s elaborate system of sacraments, Purgatory, Indulgences and Papal authority produced a gospel quite different from the Good News that Jesus Christ fully paid for the sin of whoever believes in Him by His death on the cross. Like Paul, Luther sought to turn Christians back to focusing on Christ’s work instead of imagining that they could supplement it through their cooperation.

Notice specifically Paul’s firm assertion that a Christian who supplements his faith in the Lord by depending on legalistic rituals actually nullifies the effects of faith in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross. At that point, a person essentially declares that salvation ultimately lies in our power, not in what Christ accomplished on our behalf.

The sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, despite their denials, easily parallels the false teaching of the Judaizers. As a matter of fact, the Judaizers claimed to follow Christ, just as the Roman Catholic Church does. In many respects, the Judaizers presented themselves as genuine Christians, thereby convincing the Galatians to accept their doctrinal error. Not surprisingly, then, the Catholic Church managed to convince Christians of similar errors.

But Paul’s firm refutation against the system of righteousness by works enabled Luther and the other Reformers to stand against Rome’s numerous conditions for salvation. Just as Paul proclaimed that circumcision had no bearing on anyone’s standing before God, so the Reformers proclaimed that sacraments couldn’t add to what Christ had already done. The Reformers returned to the Biblical teaching that Christ Jesus fully satisfied the Law by dying as our substitute.

Roman Catholicism gets some doctrines right, such as the Trinity, but it adds conditions for salvation in much the same way that the Judaizers did. These conditions made humans responsible for sustaining their salvation.

Human centered salvation, however, takes the glory away from the Lord Jesus Christ. It demands that He share His glory with us. Paul recognized that danger among the Christians in Galatia, and he refused to tolerate such a corruption of the Gospel! He therefore set a pattern for the Reformers to follow once they could read God’s Word and understand that Rome had corrupted the Gospel. His passion for Jesus Christ to receive all the glory inspired the Reformers to also develop that passion.

 
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Dogs Eating Homework And Luther’s Commentary On Galatians

Rat TerrierLast Tuesday I concluded my installment on this Protestant Reformation series by saying that I’d write about Galatians this week to demonstrate Scripture’s stance against adding human works to God’s work of justification. Definitely, Galatians applies to the argument against Roman Catholicism’s system of sacraments, Purgatory, indulgences and the Mass.

Would you believe me if I said the dog ate my homework?

Didn’t think so. In which case I’m forced to admit that I just plain didn’t do my homework this week, leaving me totally unprepared to follow up on my promise. I consequently feel the same embarrassed shame I felt in my 7th grade English class when I had to admit (in front of the entire class, mind you) that I hadn’t done my homework. The teacher had always let the boys get away with it, but she sure had no grace for me!

I failed this week, but I at least did enough cursory research to know that Galatians has been called the Magna Carta of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther cherished the epistle, and his commentary on it is perhaps his most famous work. The little reading I did today convinced me that we really must look at Galatians as part of our discussion on the Reformation.

Paul wrote his letter to the church in Galatia because they had compromised the Gospel by believing false teachers. These false teachers had told them that faith in Christ alone wasn’t really enough to justify them before God; they insisted that these Gentile converts submit to Jewish law by undergoing circumcision. Infuriated by their distortion of the Gospel, Paul wrote the epistle to call them back to the truth that we can’t add anything to Christ’s work on the cross.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 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.

17 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! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. ~~Galatians 2:15-12 (ESV)

Luther saw a parallel between the First Century Judaizers and the Roman Catholic Church that he saw in the 16th Century. His study of Galatians confirmed to him that the Roman Catholic system again taught the deception that human efforts must cooperate with God’s grace in order for salvation to take effect.

I honestly can’t promise to go through Galatians in detail, following Luther’s commentary, but I would like to go through a few key passages as we continue exploring the Reformation and its importance 500 years later. As Bible-believing Christians, we mustn’t forget why the Reformation happened. The Reformers risked their lives (in fact, many lost their lives) because they valued right doctrine over personal comfort. Since their doctrine of justification served as the keystone for them,  we have an obligation to understand how they derived it from God’s Word.

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Do You Have Time?

Life has a way of crowding out our time with the Lord. I know we all have occasional days when a prolonged Quiet Time certainly isn’t possible, and I believe the Lord doesn’t want to place us under a legalistic regimen. After all, legalism didn’t work  too well for the Pharisees, as you’ll recall.

At the same time, we can’t ignore the Lord and expect to grow spiritually. We need to invest in prayer, Bible Study and corporate worship, letting His Holy Spirit transform us through these practices. Consistency is the key to maintaining good spiritual health.

This week’s hymn reminds us, in the midst of summer activity, to keep Christ as our highest priority. While we will inevitably have days here and there when we honestly can’t engage in a full-blown Quiet Time, the overarching pattern of our lives should be one of devotion to knowing and obeying Him.

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God Saves Whether We Cooperate Or Not

Hope in the LordLast Tuesday we saw that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that, even though Christ died to forgive our sins, we need to go through various sacraments in order to receive His grace. And yes, I understand that I’ve oversimplified the matter in one respect; the Catholic system for obtaining salvation is highly complex and confusing. Yet the primary message of the Protestant Reformation declares that Christians needn’t go through all the sacraments, penances, indulgences and rituals prescribed by Catholic tradition. Returning to Scripture, the Reformers brought us back to the Gospel message that Christ alone accomplished our redemption by His finished work on the cross.

The idea that God does all the work of justification caused Rome to proclaim, at the Council of Trent:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

I can go to a variety of Scriptures which refute Rome’s assertion that justification requires human cooperation, but today I want to limit myself to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9 regarding election. (Please read the entire chapter before continuing.) I’ve chosen this chapter because it emphasizes that God chooses His elect on the basis of His sovereign will rather than because of any performance on our part.

Paul’s main argument in Romans 9 centers around God’s choice to save believers, whether Jew or Gentile, as opposed to saving physical descendants of Abraham. Within this framework, however, we can reasonably apply the embedded principles to individuals, concluding that He brings some to salvation while leaving others to die in their sins. Notice, in the passage below, that His determination of who receives His mercy has nothing to do with human performance.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. ~~Romans 9:6-16 (ESV)

Verse 12, in particular, holds the key to our discussion because God chose Jacob without considering Jacob’s works. Indeed, the Lord didn’t even take Jacob’s future works into account. Jacob was pretty much of a scoundrel, after all. Very little about him could have possibly warranted God’s favor!

Applying this passage to Catholicism, we see that the concept of cooperating with the Lord to achieve justification is absolutely foreign to how He dispenses mercy.  When a person, by the grace of God, trusts completely in Christ’s atoning work on the cross for his or her justification, salvation needs no augmentation. Sacraments and penance become unnecessary, as does Purgatory, because the Lord Jesus Christ has completely accomplished our salvation! He has mercy, not because we contribute to His grace with our obedience to Rome’s rituals, but because He is compassionate to those He chooses.

I’ve belabored this point because Pope Francis world have us believe that the Reformation is now over, and that Protestants can now consider the issues that divide us from Catholics as inconsequential. Next time, we’ll look at Galatians to see what the Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, said about adding human works to Christ’s work, and we’ll apply the principles there to Catholicism’s sacramental system. I believe we’ll realize, from that study, that the Reformation continues.

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Luther And One Greek Word

Dead SaintsAs I’ve contemplated today’s essay on justification by faith alone, I   again think of arguments vivator has made in comments sections of other blog posts in this series on the Protestant Reformation. In considering various statements he’s made, it seems to me that he and I disagree on the definition of “works.”

He says that Christ has secured justification by His work on the cross. So far, so good! But then he says we must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And, my dear sisters in Christ, therein lies the problem! Although Protestants observe the sacraments (or ordinances) of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we generally regard neither as a means of grace. Instead, we view them as memorials of what the Lord has already accomplished for us.

Do I want to embroil myself in a lengthy discussion of baptism and the Mass? Not today. I suppose we should talk about those topics at some point, but I don’t want to digress too much from the central issue of justification by faith alone. This issue isn’t the only one that divides Protestants from Catholics, but it’s arguably the issue that caused Martin Luther to question the teachings on Purgatory and the consequent sale of Indulgences.

Luther, you’ll recall, struggled profoundly with the sense that he could never really please God. Despite hours spent in confession each day, followed by acts of penance and contrition, he rightly believed that nothing he did merited God’s forgiveness. None of those things gave him righteousness. But in reading Romans 1:17‘s declaration that the righteous shall live by faith in the original Greek, rather than in the Latin Vulgate, he discovered the key! As R.C. Sproul explains in Justification by Faith Alone: Martin Luther and Romans 1:17:

Now there was a linguistic trick that was going on here too. And it was this, that the Latin word for justification that was used at this time in church history was—and it’s the word from which we get the English word justification—the Latin word justificare. And it came from the Roman judicial system. And the term justificare is made up of the word justus, which is justice or righteousness, and the verb, the infinitive facare, which means to make. And so, the Latin fathers understood the doctrine of justification is what happens when God, through the sacraments of the church and elsewhere, make unrighteous people righteous.

But Luther was looking now at the Greek word that was in the New Testament, not the Latin word. The word dikaios, dikaiosune, which didn’t mean to make righteous, but rather to regard as righteous, to count as righteous, to declare as righteous. And this was the moment of awakening for Luther. He said, “You mean, here Paul is not talking about the righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but a righteousness that God gives freely by His grace to people who don’t have righteousness of their own.”

By going to the language that Paul actually used in writing the letter to the Romans, Luther found peace.  Furthermore, he found reason to question the teachings of Rome which deviated from Scripture. He had hoped that Rome would recognize its misinterpretation of God’s Word and correct its errors. Instead, the Council of Trent doubled-down on its teachings, condemning to hell anyone who holds to justification by faith alone. (See last Tuesday’s post for documentation.)

As of 2017, Rome has not rescinded Trent. It insists that we receive grace through the sacraments, by which we cooperate with the Lord. Next time we talk about the Reformation (I may take next Tuesday off, depending on the weather), I hope to look at Romans 9 and demonstrate that salvation is not obtained, or even maintained, by our cooperation with God’s grace.

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Perspectives In Titus: Of Employees And Slaves

Titus 9 & 10Slavery is difficult to talk about, particularly for Americans who continue to live with shameful memories of our nation’s cruelty to black slaves. So I approach this weeks passage with a degree of reticence, not wanting to offend anyone.

At the same time, I don’t want to get sidetracked from our study with a lengthy discussion on the differences between 1st Century slavery in the Roman Empire and the early American institution of slavery. Nor do I want to spend time and blog space exploring possible reasons that Paul neither condemned nor condoned slavery in his culture. This study has been going slowly enough without that rabbit trail.

So, dear ladies, let’s read the first ten verses of Titus 2  before we zero in on verses 9 and 10, just to keep the context fresh in our minds.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.  ~~Titus 2:1-10 (ESV)

The best way to apply Titus 2:9-10 is to substitute the word “employees” for “bondservants,” even though its not an exact parallel. Employees are the modern-day equivalents to bondservants. At least, they should have that sort of attitude. Strictly speaking, the Greek word describes someone subservient to another. For that reason  Paul describes himself as a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, although modern-day employees serve their employers voluntarily, they ought to have the humility of a bondservant.

Bondservants, says Paul in verse 9, should submit to their own masters. He has made similar pleas in Ephesians 6:5-6, Colossians 3:22 and 1 Timothy 6:1. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown assert that, because Christian slaves enjoyed spiritual equality with their Christian masters (Galatians 3:28), they might forget their rank on the social  level.

Submission means to recognize someone’s authority over us. In that sense it is voluntary; it involves our attitude toward that person.

Notice that Paul specifies submission to their own masters rather than to masters of other bondservants. A minor point, perhaps, but it would protect slaves from being taken advantage of by the public at large.

Paul continues by explaining what submission should look like. First, they must please their masters. Instead of performing tasks grudgingly, doing the bare minimum, they should try to work in ways that delight their masters. Barnes cautions that this pleasing does not includes submitting to anything that contradicts God’s Law.

Part of working this way necessitates that they avoid arguing and backtalk. This clause may even extend, as one commentator suggests, to the servant advancing his own opinions.  I’m not sure I completely agree with that point (and I’m an employer over my PCAs), but the idea here is that bondservants act in attitudes of submission.

Additionally, verse 10 tells us, bondservants must not pilfer from their masters. The idea here is that bondservants should not use the property of their masters for personal benefit.  Such pilfering could take the form of secretly taking money or material goods, but it might also mean taking time for themselves when they should be attending to business.

In contrast to pilfering, bondservants must show themselves trustworthy.  They should take care of the property and responsibilities entrusted to them. MacArthur states that the phrase, “showing all good faith,” indicates loyalty.

In summary, Paul commands this submission for one purpose. Like the other four groups he’s addressed throughout this chapter, he calls bondservants to behave in ways that are in line with the Gospel. As he puts it, their attitudes and actions must adorn the Gospel. The Cretans would scrutinize Christians, looking for signs of hypocrisy, which made it crucial that even bondservants show lives of integrity. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown conclude by writing, “Even slaves, low as is their status, should not think the influence of their example a matter of no consequence to religion.”

 

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Saturday Sampler: May 28 — June 3

48a60-fourjoyfulladies“God never gives us more than we can handle” is a cliche that drives me up the wall! Mark McIntyre, in his blog, Attempts at Honesty explains why this popular saying contradicts Scripture by writing More than I can handle. He makes precisely the same points that I would.

Elizabeth Prata will never know how providential her essay Does God speak to us? Should I expect Him to? in her The End Time blog was for me! Charismatics just love arguing with me on Facebook!

If summer activities threaten your time in the Word of God, go to Knowable Word and read Ryan Higginbottom’s suggestions for reading and studying Scripture in The Summer of the Bible. He includes a plethora of links to other Knowable Word articles that can jump start your time in the Bible.

I love the fact that women now openly admit to enjoying sports. And I love how Terri Stovall, guest posting for Biblical Woman, uses stats of athletes as the lead-in to her blog post, How to Live Life Without an (*). Even if you’re not a sports enthusiast, you’ll learn some helpful spiritual principles.

What Is Inductive Bible Study? asks Kim Shay of Out of the Ordinary. Her article is only a brief overview of the method, but it can introduce you to the concept.

If you’d like to read a thought provoking piece on evangelism, Mike Leake’s post in Borrowed Light should give you an interesting challenge. What If Unbelievers Aren’t Miserable? questions popular assumptions about when we should proclaim the Gospel to those around us.

Michelle Lesley doesn’t pull any punches in her article, 8 Unbiblical Notions Christian Women Need to Be Set Free From. She touches on a wide range of topics, providing links to more in-depth posts she’s written on each one. This post serves as a helpful refresher on basic areas where women must use discernment.

Here’s an interesting news item from Tom, the author of excatholic4christ. He writes Catholics, Charismatics, and Pentecostals unite in Rome for week-long celebration. Too bad I’m busy that week. NOT!

In her post, What’s Wrong with Women’s Bible Studies, Cindy Koch of 1517 The Legacy Project points out the main reason such groups fail to provide the spiritual nourishment that ladies need. Sadly, she’s spot-on.

Oh yes! Jared C. Wilson, writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog, bats 1000 with Division Begins With the Departure from the Truth. Before you accuse someone of being divisive, you might want to read this piece.

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