Attack on the Sufficiency of Christ’s Work on the Cross

“Fill my eyes oh my God with a vision of the cross, fill my heart with love for Jesus the Nazarene”.

What does it mean to fill my eyes with that vision Lord? Why is it so important?

When Adam and eve were in the “Garden” the serpent asked them the question “did God really say…?” After the initial interaction with the serpent, he says your eyes will be opened when you eat from the tree”. The woman looked and saw the fruit and she found it desirable. By looking and seeing, the wrong desire was provoked. So our motivation and purpose to act is often provoked by our vision. What is the counter to that? To fill our eyes with a vision of the Cross and Jesus the Nazarene. Yet we cannot actually “see” Jesus in reality – nevertheless one can “see” Him in multiple ways in your mind’s eye and that vision of Him will determine your love and desire for Him with your actions flowing from that. Now that vision doesn’t just come from our pure imagination – it comes initially through God’s word. His word paints pictures constantly adding to the original in depth, quality, colour and variety – but the Word is the true source of the vision – yet we can build on that vision all the time by worship, prayer, daily interaction with God by faith and through His word, often even subconsciously to our original vision from His word.

Now the danger is that false pictures can intrude, held up by false prophets and teachers and wrong, negative interaction with other people and even our own sinful desires. So at the beginning of the day we can sing “Be thou my vision, oh Great King of heaven, be thou my all….”

Now we are back in Galatians. From 1:11 to 2:10 Paul goes into great detail to establish his status of apostleship and grasp of the gospel and how he received it directly from Jesus. In such a short letter why would he take up almost a whole chapter on this subject? Well why don’t you think through that and then what the important relevance that has for us today.

In 2:11-2:14 Paul comes to the reason or motivation which has set him off to write this indignant letter. It is clear that Peter has reneged on his original belief that the Gentile believers, who had accepted the Lord by faith were fully equal to the Jewish believers under the new order and now, (notice the remark in vs 12b that he did this out of fear), was aligning himself with the Jewish believers who believed that to be a complete Christian you still need to fulfil the requirements of the law, and in this case especially circumcision. Now today many would say why the fuss, surely this is a point of doctrine and many people have different views of certain doctrines? So yes, why the fuss?

This is such an important issue that I am going to stop there for today and am going to leave you with a few questions to ponder and I will deal with them next time before getting into the rest of ch 2 which is quite complex.

So here are the questions, if you wish to you can place one or more answers on the blog comments so that others can interact.

  1. Why would Paul take up a whole chapter in such a short letter to establish his authority as an apostle and his grasp of the gospel and why is that very relevant for us today?
  2. Why is it so attractive to people, both saved and unsaved to believe that obeying the law can contribute to their salvation?
  3. Why the fuss about this whole issue, surely it is a minor point of doctrine?

Consider also, as part of our discussion for next time “what is the role of the law in salvation”?

So I thought I would like to hear what your takes are on these questions are and at the same time getting our half-frozen brains ticking again.

And what is Jesus saying to me today? “What is your understanding of the role of the law in salvation under the New Covenant? Think it through carefully.”

Paul’s Fire for the Purity of the Gospel.

As I come to my time with the Lord today my thoughts are filled with wonder at how vast, how holy, how almighty my God, Yahweh is – and the thought – how can this God, this mighty God be close to me, such a small, finite, created being? I had an earthly father like that – I hugely respected him, but never felt intimately close.

“So God says – listen – listen carefully – do you hear My heart beat? You can only hear the heartbeat of someone who is very close to you – yes I am huge and awesome and holy – but the wonder of the work of My Son Jesus is that He has bridged that gap and you can have that intimate closeness you are longing for – remember “in all things”, at all times I am working for your good, your sanctification, your ultimate glorification. Nothing can separate you from My love, I am always for you in the most complete way – and if I gave my Son Jesus on the cross for you, how much more will I give you all things you need for life and godliness. Come here my son – I want to give you a big hug”.

Today I am taking a break from reading in Acts, so that I can do some in depth reading of Galatians, which I am planning to preach from in August. So today I started with and overview and the first 10 vv. I like the little summary of the main themes in the SU commentary: “The sufficiency of Christ and His atoning work; and the dynamic of the Spirit – these are the leading themes of the epistle and give it timeless relevance as much needed in the twentieth century as in first-century Galatia.”

This is the only letter from Paul where he starts straight in, shooting from the hip as it were, because of his anger at their pollution of the gospel. Despite the huge problems in the Corinthian church, for instance, his tone at the opening of his letters to them is much kinder. So why don’t you read the first 10 vv of ch 1 and ask yourself what you can hear Paul saying about the gospel and those who are preaching another gospel, as he calls it, another gospel that is no gospel at all.

To me what stands out from the beginning is that the gospel is completely at God’s initiative, from the fact that Paul sees himself as called specifically to preach it, by God, (v 1) to the purpose and the completion of the gospel as being according to God’s will. (V 5). Its a beautiful concise summary from grace to glory through the rescuing work of Jesus from the present evil age, which I take to mean the old order of the Jews. But the next paragraph is what really jumps at you, the anger, the frustration at changing something so pure and beautiful into something which is useless. I can almost have a vision of someone going into the Louvre and taking a paint brush full of paint and swatting patches across the Mona Lisa, in so doing spoiling it to to the point of making it useless. The underlying painting is still there but the way it is now being presented changes it into a monstrosity, no longer artistic masterpiece. That sort of pollution would be obvious though, whereas the changes that are made to the gospel are usually much more subtle.

The Greek word which Paul uses to describe his anger is “anathema”. You will all know the English expression of something being an anathema. It means totally condemned, cursed and uselessly unacceptable. strong words to use against fellow Christians.

Lord what are you saying to me today? “As much as Paul was specifically commissioned, I have also given you a specific task, ie to teach and preach My gospel. Take the fire and determination of Paul to keep the gospel pure and share it’s precious message as well as you can”.

Does it ever concern you when you hear an adulterated version of the gospel? Can you actually pick up when a wrong gospel is being preached or even told to you. Maybe as we work through Galatians you could become more sensitive to the many ways it can be twisted.

Presenting Jesus to Intellectual Pagans.

I have overslept and feel rushed and disoriented – my mind threshing around as I try to become quiet – there is a scene floating before my eyes – a scene where the waves of the ocean are breaking on the rocks – tumultuous waves shooting spray high into the sky- the water churning, green-opaque – foaming and swirling – that is how my mind is feeling – all sorts of conversations and thoughts clamouring to be heard. “Help me Lord, to become quiet”. As I ask this I see a sunrise above the churning ocean – a beautiful sunrise with multiple colours and slowly it is dominating the scene and the Lord is showing me that in the presence and beauty of His holiness, the sea is no longer a factor. His presence and His love will settle it like a calm mist descending over it.

“Reflect on the beauty of My holiness – My otherness – in a positive way”. The words of the song fill my mind, “I pause at His gates once more and my heart and my spirit soar and I wish I could love you more”.

“You have My love and you have My holiness – your place is to reflect My holiness to those around you – My holiness is in My Spirit who indwells you. Allow My Spirit to demonstrate His fruit in your life – and My holiness will become like a blazing light – just remember this is not about trying to do this – it is about trusting Me to do this in and through you – when you slip – don’t try harder, just stop, confess and trust Me to change you and restore your reflection of Me. Remember too that one of the fruit of My Spirit is peace, which you were longing for earlier”.

In my reading in Acts I have reached Acts 17:16-34, the description of Paul’s interactions with the pagan Greeks in Athens. Having visited the agora or marketplace myself in Athens, I visualize Paul meeting with various groups, who are discussing the philosophies of the time and earnestly presenting the case for Christ. Why don’t you read through vv 22 – 31 and see if you can pick up the flow of Paul’s presentation, remembering he is now speaking to people who have no previous knowledge of the Jewish faith and see how he links into their discussions. This is a very concise summary by Luke so virtually every word and every concept counts.

Once again I am struck by the absolute certainty of the statement by Paul that, having created every person on earth, God “determines the times set for us and the exact places where we should live”. v 26. But I notice something important just after that. God did this for a purpose, see it? God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out to Him. Hmmmm. How does that fit into my and many other people’s thinking about God’s providence? I am again encouraged by the outright statement and reminder of my security in vs 28 “In him we live and move and have our being”. and following that the encouraging reminder of our status as His “offspring”.

The last thing that I see, which surprises me, is the fact that Jesus is presented as “Judge” not as Saviour, which is confirmed by His resurrection. vv 30-31. Why would that be? I wonder.

I am reminded of a sunny day on a farm East of Pretoria, where I had gone to meet with “Woodie”, my devastated best friend from varsity. He had walked out of his family and was lodging on a colleague’s farm. It was an amazing experience because he was a complete pagan. He had absolutely no knowledge of the bible and the biblical story. Jesus was just a vague name to him. For two hours I started at he beginning and fed his hungry heart with the good news of the gospel. What a privilege. Twenty five years later he passed away with the name of Jesus on his lips, a firm believer and lover of Jesus his personal Saviour, having returned many years earlier and become reconciled to his family.

What was Jesus saying to me this morning? Two grandchildren families are gearing up to leave SA and this was a real encouragement as I realized that no matter what their plans may be there is a loving hand which will be setting times and place, hard as it is to say goodbye.

Again the wonder of God’s providence. What a comfort in these troubled times, when that frees us to focus on Him and His holiness and reflecting that to the world rather, than pessimism and gloom.

God’s Way, Often Puzzling, Never Wrong.

The beautiful song that Lilly posted on our Wattsapp blog site, resonated with me this morning. “Be still, wait, be still and know that I am God”.

Be still – Be still is the starting point – to quieten all the conversations I have with myself, all the voices clamouring for my attention – Be still though – for a purpose to “Know that I am God – in the quiet with all the distractions out of the way you can truly come to know Me”.

In my mind’s eye I am in the Karoo on a warm summer evening – the sun has set in blazing glory and the night comes as black velvet stretched across the sky, studded with stars like multiple jewels – absolute quiet – except for an animal’s call in the distance. I lie down on my back and look up enveloped by this warm blanket, and God speaks “the quiet here enables you to really experience My presence – the inky blackness is soft and warm and envelops you with my love”. I see a star becoming brighter and brighter, “I am your light – just sense My nearness and receive from Me, I am a giving God – I have so much to give you – I give you absolutely everything you need for life and godliness – I have so much to give you, if you would only receive it – My love is overwhelming, My Spirit all powerful – I am constantly giving to you, just learn to receive and to do that you need to be truly still – practice that”.

I have been reading Acts ch 16 and today I focus on the last part vv 16-40. Why don’t you read through the passage and decide who the main characters are (besides Paul and Silas of course), and why they are.

Well I believe that the jailer and his family are the main characters, because the main melodic line has been the extension of the church in all the diverse ways that God works. Here we have perhaps the least likely family in Philippi to be saved. Not only the head of the house but the his whole family. Would the Lord go to such lengths as to let Paul and Silas be flogged and jailed just so that one family could be saved? Well I am sure there were far more people saved and this was just one instance, to make Luke’s point, apart from other benefits which we can only guess at. I am once again struck by how wide, how long and how deep God’s ways are, how inscrutable they are and to what lengths He has gone time and again over history to save those who have been elected for eternal life.

Another example of an action by God, which at first sight may seem counterproductive: In the end of ch 15 Paul and Barnabas have a serious disagreement about taking Mark with them, to the point that they separated. What a tragedy we say, but then as a result of that split we suddenly have two evangelistic teams instead of one and yes, later Mark is more than vindicated.

Then there is something else. Taking this story of the jailer as a standard rather than a description, many folk have held the view that it was sufficient for the head of the house (the jailer) to come to faith and for the rest of family to then be baptised, for them all to be saved. (From this the doctrine of infant baptism arose in many denominations). Luke makes a point at the end of vs 34, however that the whole family had come to believe and that is why they were saved. No external rite can save one.

Paul and Silas obviously trusted in God’s overall control of their situation so completely that they could actually be singing praises to Him, despite their adversity, being flogged and feet bound in stocks etc. It would have been so easy to run away when they were released or find a way for revenge, instead they stayed and spoke the “word of the Lord” to the jailer and his whole family (v 32), with eternal results.

As I listen to Jesus’ voice I consider my reaction to adversity. I have a choice: – I can grumble, plan revenge or a way out, complain to whoever will listen, enjoy the sympathy I get when I tell how much I have suffered. – Or alternatively I can ask, what is God doing in this situation? – What opportunity is He giving me, for personal growth or for witness ? How can I glorify Him?

I have so much to learn, how about you?