The Curse and the Promise.

I see a light on the horizon – it is the first sign of the sun rising – soon the bright burnished ball of light will appear above the horizon. “This is a new day a new week – reflect on My gift to you – the gift of My Son on the cross – the gift of His death for you, the gift of the Holy Spirit – these are all pure gifts – let me cleanse you of all your prejudices – all those things in your life that are clouding your view of my gift – it is pure and yes – remember it is a gift, which means all you need to do is receive it and even as you receive it – remember that If I have given My Son on the cross for you – how much more will I give you all things (Romans 8:32) – so start this week with this assurance of My love and care for you, receive My gift so that you can continue to make your contribution to My kingdom’s work.”

As Paul continues in Galatians chapter 3 and 4 to show how important it is that we realize that salvation is free, he focusses quite a bit on the “promise” which God gave to Abraham (Genesis 12:2,3). This promise which is described elsewhere as the “gospel declared beforehand” needs to be understood in its context to really appreciate its importance in opening up the understanding of the whole rest of God’s story in the bible.

To grasp the context we need to go back to Genesis 3:14 to the end of that chapter and read the deadly words which God spoke out over His creation in the form of a curse. The ultimate proof and consequence of Adam’s sin amounted to the introduction of the death sentence for mankind (Gen 3:22, 24), amongst all the other dreadful things. These are more fully described in Deuteronomy ch 28. It is worth reading this chapter, because many of us are somewhat surprised, at the awful things that are happening in our country and the world at the moment. Many think these curses as described in Deut 28 are specifically reserved for the Israelites or are limited to the Old Testament times. However, if you look at the book of Revelation and read the graphic descriptions God gave John on Patmos about the end times, one will realize that they are a feature of the whole of the time of tribulation which started at Jesus’ crucifixion and which are a feature of our lives today. Many Christians have tried to comfort themselves by suggesting that these judgements of God will only occur during a short 7 year period before Jesus returns. The bible doesn’t support that view at all. Remember Jesus’ oft repeated words “In Me you will have peace but in he world you will have tribulation”

The only way to avoid the curse of God, according to Deuteronomy Ch 28, 30, is obey the Lord Jehovah fully and completely. So here is where the promise of blessing for the world through Abraham comes in. The blessing, cancelling the curse comes as a result of the promise to Abraham, which is to be put into effect through his “seed” Gal 3:15 (Gen 12:7). It is done by Jesus taking the full judgement of God contained in the curse upon Himself on our behalf (Gal 3:10ff). He was able to obey the law completely and nevertheless still was put to death so that we could escape that capital punishment which actually looks forward to the eternal separation which will come to anyone who does not embrace Jesus’ work by faith.

We need to stand back and contemplate the enormity of this revelation, to see how puny anyone’s efforts are to break the curse personally in comparison to to the power of Jesus’ death. And what is more amazing is that it comes as a result of a promise and only needs to be received by faith. It is an insult to God and to Jesus that we can think His death was insufficient and needs our contribution. I dare say we don’t think of it that way, but that is what it amounts to.

Of course we should not lose sight of the fact that we receive the blessing of God in the heavenly realm (the realm of the spiritual) and are still living physically in a world under God’s curse (Ephesians1:3).

At this time may I say as a comfort to us, it is important to realize that God is still in control of the world and all the happenings, his curse is not out if His control (cf Revelation ch 12).

This all fills me with an enormous sense of thanksgiving and praise. How do you view the death of Jesus as the fulfilment of the promise of God 6000 years before, as it affects you personally?

The Foolishness of Forgetting to Live by the Gospel.

The words of the song “Not my will but yours be done”, are flowing through my mind. I see a picture of Jesus in the Garden, drops of blood mingling with sweat – that’s what the battle He was fighting looked like, as He came into submission for the most important mission in His life. So the Lord says “In the same way you are battling every day to take up your cross and put your will to death so you can follow My will. Built into you is your desire to do your own will and it constantly comes to the surface. So daily be conscious of this battle – but fight it in My strength – confess when you fail and follow the way of My Spirit – because I don’t want you to be in bondage to your will and the law – I have set you free from that – if I have given you your freedom you shall be free indeed – so live in that freedom, live the life of the Spirit who wants to guide you and empower you every moment of the day.”

Now last time we were looking at the important, basic, central, theological statement of the letter to the Galatians, that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in Me. The life that I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me”. Now Paul comes to the the reason he is writing the letter. The application of this statement in the light of the behaviour of the Galatians. I have found in the past these verses so important in convicting us and helping us direct our lives into living in the way of the Spirit continually.

Notice the important bridging verse 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing“. So what was the quest of the Galatians? It was to do something to gain extra righteousness in God’s eyes. To be seen by God (and other Christians) as being specially worthy of salvation. Now notice it is not necessarily the specific acts of he law that are the problem. It is the motivation behind doing those acts. “To gain a righteousness…” In their case they were seeking to be obedient to specific parts of the law (in this case circumcision, but later in 4:10 they were observing special days, months and seasons). In our case it can be any act which is designed in our minds to “gain righteousness”. Think what these could be and we will talk more specifically next time.

So understand this, we have been declared completely righteous when we are crucified with Christ. We are completely acceptable to Him. Our sins are washed away by His blood. Nothing we can do can improve on that. If we imagine, even subconsciously that we can make ourselves more acceptable by doing anything, however laudable, we are insulting Christ because we are saying in effect He died for nothing.

So this is what leads Paul to call out “you foolish Galatians!” They had understood the whole process of salvation. They had understood that Christ had been crucified for their sins. They had understood that they received God’s Spirit because of faith and now they were reverting back to trying to gain a righteousness by doing the law.

Now let me come to the application of this principle for us today, which is so appropriate. We are not under the same influence of the law as those Jews were, yet we have a cultural way of understanding Christianity which in many ways is influenced by the understanding of the law of our ancestors. So any act which we may do because we are moved to do it because we think we will be better Christians, with the motive of being more acceptable to God is foolishness, because it denies the work of Christ.

Turn that around to the positive. Once we are saved, our life is transformed and we are henceforth living by the Spirit in a dynamic relationship with God through Jesus. Yes we will often fail or even grow cold, but when we realize that, we turn to Him for forgiveness and our relationship is restored. So the daily practice of our relationship starts with our personal time with the Lord and our life flows from that. .As we shall see later in the letter this is hugely freeing, once you realize it. Unfortunately many find their relationship drifting into a legalistic process of doing certain things which they believe set them right again with God and they lose the joy of that personal relationship which has been won for us by Christ.

The letter will continue to unbundle this principle for us. For me it is a challenge to remind myself to live by the gospel and to teach it continually, so that I am not found among the “foolish”.

Crucified with Christ.

As I listen to the song “100 Billion times” God speaks to me. “In the vapour of my breath a hundred billion galaxies are born – think of that power, huge stars, many times the size of the sun, galaxies of them – awesome unimaginable furnaces – that reflect and show My power – the vapour of My breath can produce anything – that power is at work in the world today and the full aim and purpose of that power is focused on preparing a people for Myself – a Bride – a Bride to bring Me glory – a Bride which will give Me joy and each person is important in that Bride, each of you who will be there will know the joy I am experiencing at the culmination of My plan – look around you – the whole earth is is under My power, yes it is not always so evident because of sin and the ‘curse’ – but that power is at work all the time – in the Covid epidemic, in the looting masses – that power is at work to achieve My purpose – it is at work in you in every part of your being, so go into the week with the words ringing in your ears – “if God is for you who can be against you?” And rejoice in them.”

Thankyou for your accurate and intimate comments on Galatians 2:20,21 . Let us look at this passage together again because it is so important not only to know and understand it but to actually live through it by grace. It is surely the beginning of center point of this letter, which actually carries on and includes Ch 3:1-5. So in vs 19 Paul says “through the law I died to the law that I may live (for God).” In vs 20 he uses the “death” terminology again. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me”. So what is he saying? What about him has died and how does that affect his life and ours? Remember death denotes a total separation. He says he has died to the law. What does he mean and what is the deeper meaning which is the beginning of the secret of this passage?

The law represented God’s standard which, according to Deuteronomy if obeyed completely it would be the source of life.

Dt 30:15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.
Dt 30:16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live.

But our lack of ability to keep this law perfectly represents the deep problem we each of us has. It is the problem of placing ourselves first in our thoughts and lives. Truly the word sin has i in the middle. Because we are each born with the default desire to love ourselves and to live for ourselves it is impossible to obey God’s law completely from our hearts starting with the basic one “I command you to love the Lord”. Later in the letter Paul will expand on this concept that the law, paradoxically leads him to realize his need for salvation, his need to break the bonds of the law, as it were.

For this to happen he needs to be crucified. What is to be killed? Well this very “self” which is the center point of sin. It is only as that part of ourselves is put to death that we can come alive to accept the power of God to lead us in the Spirit-filled life. The new life is a life of faith, he says. A life of living by trusting Jesus, through His Spirit to lead us and empower us to live it.

This verb crucified is in the aorist tense, an action done once for always. So he is saying he has been crucified once and for all so that his whole life is new. From now on Jesus will be at the center if his life and all his life will be focused on following and pleasing Jesus. His life has taken on a new direction. Interestingly Jesus builds on that concept in Mark 8:34 ff. “If anyone would come after me , he must deny himself (Daily and continually) and take up his cross and follow me”. So while we have been totally set free once and for all, we need to learn to apply that freedom to our daily lives continually.

Then Paul comes to the application of this theological discussion which is summarized in 2:21 – 3:6, which is the very purpose of his writing this letter. So lets look at that next time, to see how these vv fit together and most of all whether we are really applying them to our lives.

So the challenge to me is to keep remembering that I have been crucified with Christ. He is the One who has set me free so I need to embrace that in my mind and actions every day as I live it by His grace.

The True Gospel Leads to the Life in the Spirit.

Today I decided to just sit and enjoy the presence of the Lord – without my usual introductory chatter. As I sit, I sense one word pervading the room – “Peace”……. “My peace – I have invited you to lay down your burdens at My feet and promised you Peace – that is what the whole concept of the Sabbath was intended to picture and represent – the world is fretting because of its disturbed relationship with me – so through My Covenant, I come bringing peace – peace with Me – so that you can have a relationship with Me – peace in your heart because you can entrust yourself completely to Me. And peace with everyone around you and your environment. That is what true Christianity looks like – ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, the life that I live in the body , I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me!.’

“This is the secret that Galatians explains – the secret of the new life in the Spirit – yet so many people find it so hard to give up the idea that they control their lives and their destinies – true peace lies in understanding this life in the Spirit and living it. Know therefore that this is what the Sabbath was looking forward to – you are now in the eternal Sabbath”.

So before we look at the rest of ch 2 in Galatians, let us look at the 3 topics I suggested you should meditate on last time. Remember we are examining these in the context of this letter.

  1. Why did Paul give so much space to his testimony about the authority he had? Firstly we must remember that Paul was not part of the original ‘band’ of disciples who became apostles, as he explains in this letter. So he was being regarded with some suspicion by the other apostles, and we see some of that interaction in Acts 15. This letter was probably written early in his ministry after his first missionary journey. Secondly he had some very serious words to say to the Galatians who had been influenced by other teachers, called Judaizers, who were trying to bring the law back into the gospel. Paul therefore had to show clearly where his authority came from so they would listen and accept what he was saying. The important application for us is that this passage lays down the authority which the whole of the scripture has for us, as coming from God through His inspiration. It says Yes you may believe, yes you must believe, yes it is imperative that you believe and trust the Word.

Remember the question Satan asked in Genesis which led to Adam’s downfall? “Did God really say?” So today we are experiencing an unprecedented attack on Christianity from within as well as without and much of that is aimed at twisting and casting doubt on the truth and purity of God’s Word and the gospel as the center point of it. We need to go back and look at how serious Paul was about proving that the gospel he was preaching was the true gospel from God. And that is why I am so serious that each one of us that reads this blog believes and lives the true gospel.

2. Why is it so attractive to people to believe they can benefit by adding to the gospel? Well I think this is a very important issue because it goes to the very basis of our sinful DNA. It is hard for us, and let me say the more successful you have been in life the harder it is to accept that one can do nothing to add to Jesus’ work of salvation and that we must just accept it and receive it and give Him the glory. We want some of the glory. We like to flatter ourselves that we have a useful contribution to give. We are uncomfortable to receive unconditionally and therefore our default thinking is that what I do shows me to be a better Christian, more acceptable to God and who knows, maybe get ahead of some others in the queue. Last year Emily had a wound on her ankle that would not heal. I was referred to a nurse who specializes in wound care and after an initial consultation, which she charged me only for the materials she used, she then went ahead and treated Emily for three or four months completely free. I really needed this but it was hard for me to accept this absolute generosity, I so badly wanted to do something in return, but I realized it was from God, so was able to ultimately worship and thank Him for what this angel He had sent was doing and give Him the glory, while being extremely grateful to her as well.

3. Why the fuss? It is worth the fuss because every teaching which pollutes the gospel is an insult to God, who gave His only Son to die on the cross so that no one may perish but everyone who believes may have eternal life. He went to the most extreme lengths to win our salvation, if we dilute that in any way we are actually saying “what you did was not good enough, I want to add to that”. Western middle-class Christianity is pervaded with this attitude and it has taken a huge amount of power out of the ordinary person’s life as they struggle to live their Christian lives in the flesh, rather than the Spirit.

Now back to Galatians ch 2. This discussion on the relationship of the law to the gospel provides the background to Paul’s setting out of the true gospel which he summarized in vv 17-21. These few verses, true to Paul uses a bit of convoluted language, but the message is actually quite simple. As a clue the first part resonates Romans 6:1 ff. So why don’t you read these verses carefully and see if you can pick up the main points Paul is making. Lets try and stick to this passage and while we may go elsewhere to help us understand, let us try and simply explain what he is saying here.

For me today, God seemed to be saying, ‘do you truly understand vs 20 and are you consciously living it out in your life today?’

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.”