Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seeking Something to Believe In

This is the first of four lessons in a series with the theme "God's Redemption". We will be looking at Paul's letter to the Galatians which emphasizes the New Testament interpretation of the Mosaic law, of justification by faith through Christ, and of Christ's disciples as heirs of Abraham's promise. Our lesson text for today focuses on Galatians 2:15-21.

During his early missionary journeys Paul preached the message that salvation is by faith in Christ alone. Unfortunately, when he left, false teachers entered the churches of Galatia. They preached that a person had to keep the Mosaic law plus have faith in Christ to be saved. They also attacked Paul's claim as an apostle and his authority to preach and teach God's Word. Paul defended his call as an apostle from the risen Savior. He extended the grace and peace of God and Jesus Christ to them. Grace is undeserved kindness toward ungodly sinners. Peace is the result of grace. Jesus Christ died for our sins. When a sinner receives the Savior, he has peace with God. The sinner has been saved from his sins and receives blessings. Paul preached for the glory of God and not for any man's pleasure. Gal 1:1-10

There was strong Jewish support in the belief of the Mosaic law. It had been given to their forefathers many years ago. They were willing to accept salvation by faith in Christ, but they were not willing to leave their cultural beliefs behind. The Jews were the circumcised believers. However, the pillars (James, Peter, and John) in the religious community in Jerusalem recognized that Paul had been teaching by divine authority. They gave him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship in taking the gospel to the Galatians, the uncircumcised. They suggested Paul remember the poor, something he was very willing to do. Gal 2:9-10

Paul had occasion to publicly rebuke Peter, for Peter's public actions was the cause of stumbling by a number of Jewish believers in front of the Gentiles. When Peter first visited the church at Antioch, he would dine with the Gentiles. However, on one occasion and due to Jewish tradition and custom, Peter was placed in fear when certain Jews of the circumcision came to Antioch. He decided to eat separately with the Jews instead of with the Gentiles, a matter of circumcised (clean) versus the uncircumcised (clean). As a pillar in the Jerusalem religious community, others joined him. Even Paul's coworker Barnabas faltered. Paul basically wanted to know if Peter was requiring the Gentiles to live in the same manner as the Jews in order to mix and mingle with them. Gal 2:11-14 Had not Peter remembered the lesson God taught him to call no man clean or unclean? Acts 10-11:1-18

Paul believed Peter should have known better because of the Gentile conversion lesson he experienced by God. 'We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles...'Gal 2:15 The law had its place and its significance in the life of Israel. Paul argued the allegiance to the old law is not applicable to the new converts. It would deny them the work of the Spirit through the life of Christ. We can not value our heritage above the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

'Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,...' Gal 2:16a It does not make sense to place new converts under the law. As a Jew, Paul knew the law was given to reveal sin with no power to keep the law. Laws were made to be broken. They were a curse. Nor was there salvation in the law. '...but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.' Gal 2:16b New converts are justified by Christ alone - not by their obedience to the law, but through faith in Christ.

'But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.' Gal 5:17 Christ is not a minister of sin. He is our Redeemer, our God of hope. If you are seeking to be justified by Christ, believe that He died for your sins. If you wish to believe that Christ gives you liberty to be able to sin as a minister of sin, you have your doctrinal values mixed up. 'For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.' Gal 2:18-19 Paul believed he could not turn back and preach a doctrine other than that given him by divine authority. He had sought hard to destroy the idea that people can be saved by their works. He no longer lived under the philosophy of the Mosaic law, even though he was born a Jew and it was part of his heritage. Christ was no lawbreaker, and the new converts should be allowed their Spiritual freedom in Christ.

'I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.' Gal 2:20 Paul had experienced a great change from persecuting the Christians to saving them. Such is entirely believable when Paul says he was dead to the law. He knew firsthand that living by the law was not unto salvation. Yet Paul believed he was working for God when he was persecuting the Christians. Christ took him and placed him where he actually belonged - working for Christ. Now Paul felt he had actually been crucified along with Christ. Yet Christ continued to live in him for the furtherance of the Gospel and by his faith in the Son of God, who loved him, and gave His life for him.

'I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.' Gal 2:21 Paul witnessed the grace of God and spent the rest of his life attempting to bring people to the kingdom. The grace of God is God's undeserved kindness toward ungodly sinners with a free invitation of salvation if they believe His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul did not preach a doctrine to frustrate God's grace such as the doctrine of justification of the works of the law. Paul's doctrine resulted in peace with God. Alternatively, Paul did not preach a doctrine to frustrate the death of Christ, his resurrection, salvation, eternity, etc. Why would he preach such a doctrine if the Mosaic law was effective for our salvation? Would you believe he received divine authority, but Christ's death had been in vain and God had made a mistake because the Mosaic law is superior? NO! GOD MAKES NO MISTAKES! Christ died because man could obtain righteousness in no other way - not even law-keeping.

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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