Flashback Friday: The Reformation And Galatians

Originally posted June 27, 2017:

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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Flashback Friday: Full Bellies — Starving For Truth

Originally published February 23, 2016:

At The Cross“No one wants to hear about God’s wrath,” the young pastor explained to my friend. Then he added, “We help the poor in our community as a demonstration of His love.”

Look, I have nothing against helping the poor. In fact, if more  churches provided such services, less of us would be forced to rely on government programs. So as you read this essay, please don’t misunderstand me as saying that Christians shouldn’t care for the needs of those less fortunate than themselves. Yet I believe we must keep practical ministry secondary to our primary commission to declare the Gospel.

And whether we like it or not, declaring the Gospel first necessitates telling people that they’re sinners who deserve God’s wrath. I agree with the young pastor that no one enjoys hearing about their sin, nor do they like being confronted with the fact that their sin consigns them to an eternity in hell. And Christians don’t relish the duty of proclaiming that part of the Gospel message, if you want to know the truth.

But, dear sisters in the Lord, we don’t get to pick and choose what aspects of the Gospel we present in our evangelism. As ambassadors of Christ, we bear the responsibility to tell people the Gospel in its entirety, aware that we represent Him rather than ourselves.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ~~2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (ESV)

If we offer a message of reconciliation to God, we must begin by helping people understand that such a reconciliation indeed needs to take place. Most non-Christians and Christians-in-name-only simply don’t believe that God takes their sin seriously enough to send them to hell. They may admit that they’ve done some bad things here and there, but they reassure themselves that the good they’ve done outweighs the bad. Consequently, all our talk about Jesus showing His love by dying in their place strikes them as absurd until we show them that they’ve offended a holy God.

The beauty of God’s love shines through the fact that Jesus willingly shed His blood on the cross, bearing His Father’s fury over the sin that you and I committed. That act, more than anything else, epitomizes His love.

It’s wonderful when churches run soup kitchens and pregnancy resource centers. And praise God for missionaries who dig wells and build orphanages. But when people deliberately repress part of the Gospel in order to attract people to their services, they no longer represent the Lord. Leave humanitarian work to secular agencies unless you do it in a way that offers people the eternal hope of Jesus Christ.

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Sin Need Not Be Physical To Be Sinful

Sins of the HeartBeing mainstreamed into “regular  school” during junior high and high school didn’t totally remove me from the school for “orthopedically handicapped” children. I’d spend mornings at “regular school,” and then I’d have to return to the special school for the afternoons. I didn’t much like going back, but that was the prevailing wisdom in the late 60s and early 70s.

Midway through my sophomore  year of high school, the Lord brought me to salvation. I talked openly about my newfound faith at both schools. A girl at the special school seemed especially interested, and began attending Tuesday evening Bible Studies with me.

This girl had the same type of Cerebral Palsy that I have, although her speech defect Continue reading

The Essence Of Spiritual Warfare

Sword

Standing for truth, in an increasing number of evangelical churches, means that we cause division.

Yet Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament epistles, saw division very differently than 21st Century evangelicals see it. Consider this quote:

Paul regards divisiveness as those who depart from sound doctrine. Doctrine is not the cause of disunity, departure is. ~Carl Trueman

Responsible reading (not to mention study) of Paul’s epistles bear out Trueman’s point. The apostle wrote several of his epistles (most of them, actually) with the purpose of clearing up doctrinal error and preserving correct teaching. As a matter of fact, he drew an interesting correlation between refuting false teaching and Continue reading

What Constitutes A Glorious Day?

This past Thursday John and I went into Boston — for no other reason than to enjoy the perfect weather. After spending an hour at the Museum of Fine Arts, we went to Downtown Crossing, and wandered up Washington Street. We stopped at B.Good for lunch, where we shared the absolute best chocolate shake I’ve ever tasted. We then wheeled to Quincy Market to buy our annual bag of Ghriradelli chocolates and a 2020 Boston calendar before going down the Greenway to catch the early train home.

It was a glorious day!

Yet maybe calling it glorious trivializes the word “glorious.” As much as Thursday delighted us, it pales in comparison to the truly glorious day when Jesus will return for  His beloved Church. I don’t think I’m alone in failing to comprehend the thrill that day will bring. But I definitely know that when I see Him coming in the clouds, I’ll wonder why I ever thought a Thursday in Boston was glorious.

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The Gospel Can’t Be Shared Often Enough

Heavenly CrossNo matter how long, or how deeply, we walk with the Lord, we never outgrow the need to hear that Jesus Christ took our place on that cross, shedding His innocent blood in payment for our sins. As we mature in Him, of course we will pay attention to many other issues that Christians must face, as well we should. But we must keep the Gospel central in our hearts and minds as we glorify the Lord for His grace in saving us.

Some of you might disagree with this assessment.  You might even show me Hebrews 6:1-3.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (ESV)

Of course, that passage actually refers to Continue reading

Praise God I Have A Place To Put My Hope

As John and I exited Boston’s Prudential Tower Wednesday, we started down Boylston Street toward the Public Garden. Just outside the door, I noticed a saxophone player.  Now, it’s not really unusual to find musicians scattered throughout the city, especially in areas that have a high amount of foot traffic. Most of the time, I pass by them enjoying the music momentarily. They’re part of Boston’s charm.

This particular saxophone player intrigued me because the first five notes he played sounded just like the first five notes of the hymn, My Hope Is In The Lord. I strained to hear whether or not he was actually playing the hymn, but I couldn’t quite tell. I rather doubt it.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about the hymn, and about where I place my hope. Certainly, this world offers little hope as it gleefully plummets toward its endorsement of sin at breakneck speeds. Christians who refuse to acquiesce to the demands of the liberal culture must expect increasing levels of pushback and eventual persecution. Even denominations that, a mere three years ago could be counted on to stand on the bedrock of Scripture have begun bowing to the world’s corrupt values.

We can’t hope in anything or anybody!

But we can hope in the Lord. And maybe our crumbling society reminds us to keep our hope fixed decidedly on Him. When we recall His sacrifice for us at Calvary, we can rest confident in His faithfulness toward us. Against the darkness, we can sing cheerfully that our hope is in the Lord.

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