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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Unequal Yokes Or Respectful Dialogues?

UnliberatedScripture tells us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” ~~2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)

Most Christians understand that this passage applies to much more than marriage. Those of you who follow my Tuesday series on the Reformation undoubtedly know that I by no means embrace ecumenical alliances. Furthermore, when I examine suspected false teachers, I often include looking at their associations in determining the legitimately of their ministry (though wrong associations, in and of themselves, don’t necessarily mean that a teacher is an apostate). God unequivocally calls us to separate from those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ.

That separation, however, never requires animosity, nor does it mean that we can’t learn from those who believe differently than we do. A public discussion of our differences (and even points of similarity) needn’t indicate that we have comprised the Gospel. Such compromise can happen, admittedly, but it doesn’t always occur.

Sometimes, properly understanding what Catholics, Muslims, atheists or Jehovah’s Witnesses (just to name a few examples) actually believe helps us witness more effectively, especially if we demonstrate a willingness to listen. Not all of us have the temperament to engage in such conversations, I realize. I can do it in writing, but not face-to-face (I consider my inability to do so as one of my many character flaws). But all of us ought to recognize the value in honest, respectful dialogue with people who embrace false beliefs.

Respecting someone enough to let them articulate their beliefs shouldn’t result in other Christians accusing us of violating 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. I may not have the grace to dialogue with someone of another religion in person, but I see tremendous value in extending that kind of respect to someone. Particularly if I want them to consider the claims of the Gospel!

Open, respectful dialogue, even when planned by both parties in a public setting, may not be the wisest course of action. But neither is it sufficient reason to accuse a brother or sister of compromising the Gospel. Before seizing on an isolated incident, examine the broader scope of that person’s teaching and overall ministry. It could just be that, precisely by having that dialogue, that person will make his or her separation from the world abundantly clear.

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Pardon There Was Multiplied To Me

One of the saddest aspects of evangelicalism is that people make professions of faith without genuinely understanding why they need salvation. Evangelicals often present Jesus as an agent of life enhancement rather than the One Who bears the wrath of a holy Judge on our behalf.

But how thankful I am that the Holy Spirit confronted me with my sin 46 years ago! Knowing that I deserve eternity in hell has made me so appreciative of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross for my sin! Only those who see how terrible their sin is realize what a wonderful thing the Lord did for us on Calvary.

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Saturday Sampler: June 18 — June 24

Rose SamplerMark McIntyre writes Did he really say that? on his Attempts at Honesty blog primarily as an exhortation to men in pulpit ministry. But his words apply to all Christians as we proclaim the Gospel in face-to-face conversations and/or on social media. The truth, no matter how lovingly we present it, will always offend unbelievers.

How seriously do you take sin? According to R.C. Sproul of Ligonier, Sin is Cosmic Treason. Sproul gives a thorough explanation of sin’s nature and why God can’t tolerate it.

I completely agree with The Gospel Coalition Blog‘s Michael A G Haykin that Every Christian ought to be a good historian. Having enjoyed two years of a church history class in Adult Sunday School, I join Haykin in believing that church history displays God’s power and faithfulness to His people.

It’s wonderful to see Jessica Pickowicz blogging on Beautiful Thing after a long hiatus! Her blog post, The Not So Simple Life, evaluates the current trend of simple living by holding it up against practicality and ultimately against God’s Word. If you’re a busy mom, Jessica’s essay may be just the encouragement you need.

Denny Burk’s article, Mainstreaming fornication (a.k.a. “ethical non-monogamy”) saddens me.

In light of recent internet fights among well-known Christian apologists, I found Leslie A’s blog post, Engaging The Enemy on her Growing 4 Life blog, wonderfully balanced and refreshing. Biblical discernment doesn’t require us to win arguments; it simply enables us to stand on God’s Word.

Evangelism often means encountering people who, quite frankly, have no interest in the Lord. In his essay for Parking Space 23, Greg Peterson writes Excuses… Excuses… to counter some of the better-known objections to the Gospel. In addition to citing pertinent Scriptures for each argument, Peterson also provides links to helpful articles.

Mike Riccardi’s post, Ecumenical vs. Evangelical in The Cripplegate traces the fascinating history of the Ecumenical Movement. It’s a good caution against blurring the lines of doctrine for the sake of unity.

Although Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was by far my least favorite assigned reading in   college, I respect Elizabeth Prata’s delight in reading it. And I absolutely love the way she uses a passage from the novel to remind wives to use prudence in Exposing or ignoring the ignominious blemish in our husbands for The End Time. Interestingly, I gave similar counsel just this morning to a young friend who will be getting married a few months from now.

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Why I Wanted More Than Scripture

Victoria PaintingTo my shame, I like to talk about myself. Everybody does, I suppose, but I see it as one of my character flaws. Wouldn’t it be much better if my conversation revolved around the Lord and His Word?

Sometimes, however, talking about myself gives me the opportunity to tell people how the Lord has worked in my life. I’ve written several articles about the ways that evangelicals try to supplement God’s Word with mysticism and psychology, but perhaps I come across as not understanding why those practices attract so many professing Christians. Perhaps readers (especially those who haven’t read my Autobiography With Purpose posts) think I’m simply unaware of how God can use these practices to enhance Biblical principles. With such possibilities in mind, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my struggles with the sin of anger and my subsequent minimization of the Bible’s ability to address it.

Mostly in those years when I accepted Charismatic theology (but also in later years), I considered the Bible to be less than satisfying. Oh, with my mouth I’d insist that Scripture possessed everything Christians needed to know, but when I struggled with personal issues, I’d search its pages and find my heart yearning for something “deeper.” Prophecy, psychology, or “words of knowledge” promised to augment God’s Word.

My battle to tame my temper provides an example of my dissatisfaction with Biblical principles. I dutifully read all the passages condemning anger, as well as the ones encouraging self-control. Yet they didn’t seem to offer guidance on how to keep  from exploding into fits of rage when I’d feel irritated or threatened. I believed I needed to understand childhood trauma that caused my root of anger. Additionally, I went through “deliverance” from a demon of anger that had supposedly possessed me. I read Christian books and articles, looking for mystical experiences with Jesus that would free me from my anger and transform me into a woman of inexhaustible patience.

The magic bullet never materialized.

What I really needed, of course, was to obey the Holy Spirit, Who has given me a spirit of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). I could choose to walk in the Spirit’s ways, which He outlined in the Bible, or I could choose to walk in the flesh. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t erase my fleshly feelings of indignation, but it trusts the Spirit’s power to help me respond to irritations as He would have me respond.

Obedience isn’t the easy way of dealing with sin. Often, it fails to change our feelings or remove our sinful desires. Instead, it requires us to deny the demands of our emotions, bringing them into submission to God’s commands. Certainly, the Holy Spirit empowers us to obey the Lord, but He doesn’t necessarily do so in ways that we find comfortable. And, frankly, we turn to mysticism and psychology precisely because we want a comfortable way of dealing with sin.

God’s Word not only teaches us what the Lord expects, but it points us to the power of God’s Spirit, Who enables us to obey. We need no “deeper” knowledge, nor do we need psychology. Scripture guides us to the risen Christ, Who in turn raises us from bondage to our sin natures. Really, what more could we possibly need?

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Discernment Ministry Does More Than Expose False Teachers

Biblical UnityOur Monday Bible Studies in Titus may be suspended for the summer, but I’m still thinking quite a lot about Paul’s charge to Titus regarding the responsibilities of older women.

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. ~~Titus 2:3-5 (ESV)

As a blogger, I am in an unofficial teaching position, hopefully teaching younger women how to honor the Lord. Thus far, I’ve written little about marriage and even less about raising children, mostly because I married late in life and consequently missed out on motherhood. But I certainly can teach what is good in terms of Christian doctrine and discernment.

Without rehashing specifics, recent arguments among well-known figures in discernment ministry cause me to wonder if I should focus my teaching more on discerning how to exhibit a character that reflects the Lord Jesus Christ and less on calling out false teachers. To be sure, those false teachers need to be identified, especially because women tend to gravitate to ones that use humor, psychology and emotional mysticism to lure us into doctrinal error. But, as I’ve said many times, blogs like mine can easily degenerate into tabloid gossip mills.

Blogging as a Christian places me under an obligation to keep my doctrine pure. An elder from my church monitors The Outspoken TULIP for that very reason, as does my husband. But right doctrine is only half the battle, dear sisters in Christ. Remember that the Pharisees in Jesus’ day had right doctrine. But they used their right doctrine to cover up their sinful lifestyles.

If, in exposing false teachers, I use this blog to generate gossip, I stand guilty of dishonoring the Lord I claim to represent. On one level, I teach younger women to cultivate discernment regarding popular teachers and trends within the evangelical community (which is sometimes necessary), but on a deeper level I teach by example that discernment depends on gossiping about others.

Recent events in the evangelical world have caused me to consider the type of character I want to model as I emblazon words on the internet. Do I demonstrate godly attitudes even when I warn my readers against false teachers? Do I encourage my readers to pray for people who fall victim to doctrinal error, and do I point them back to the Word of God? Or do I act like a talebearer who enjoys the sport of character assassination?

Older women, Paul says, must teach what is good. Teaching what is good, in turn, necessitates living in conformity to sound doctrine. The current nastiness in the name of discernment, by God’s grace, admonishes me to be careful as I write my blog posts, knowing that the example I set can either encourage sinful attitudes or lead ladies to honor the Lord.

 

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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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