Thursday, November 24, 2016

"The heart of the Gospel ..."

Day #330

Scripture Reading:  Galatians 1 - 3 ...

Will you live forever in the presence of God on the new earth, where heaven and earth meet and God dwells with man, or will you perish in the eternal fire of God's judgment where the suffering of those who have rejected Jesus goes on forever?  While some have made this a matter of deep theology, most have given up on understanding these things and just declare:  "Believe in Jesus and all will be well!"  But what does THAT mean?  What does it mean to "believe?"  Or is there another way, perhaps a way that includes people who have never heard about Jesus and who simply believe in "God," however they understand "Him."  Paul's letter to the churches throughout Galatia settles the question in a way that anyone can understand ... it is simply a matter of accepting it as truth.

Paul begins by stating clearly that he was sent "not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father" (1:1).  He then goes on to say, "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up" (1:11) ... "I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (1:12).  Who better than Paul, a Jew, a Pharisee, a Teacher of the Law, to explain the Gospel?!  He himself had made the error of believing that he could be saved by keeping the law, specifically, the Ten Commandments and all of the ceremonies God gave the people of Israel in the Old Testament to point them to Christ.  He persecuted the Apostles and the early Christians because he thought they were preaching against the Old Testament Law and the Prophets.  Then God revealed to him something so simple, yet astounding: Christianity was the FULFILLMENT of biblical Judaism!

This was NOT a new religion, but the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ did not originate with Paul or even with Jesus, but with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel.  The problem facing the Galatians was that some Jews from Jerusalem had come to persuade them that they needed to keep the Old Testament laws, beginning with circumcision, in order to be saved.  In other words, they needed to trust in their works.  Paul is astounded!  He had preached the Gospel of God's grace to them and they had appeared to start out so well, but now they were confused.  Paul writes,

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ. ... some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ ... If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned" (1:6-7, 9).  So what does Paul say to remove their confusion?  This is not an insignificant question of theology.  This is about the heart of the gospel and Paul realizes that this is the difference between life and death, not only for the Galatians, but for all who hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He even confronts Peter when Peter was being inconsistent ... giving in to those who were demanding the Gentiles be circumcised in order to come to Christ (2:11-21).

Paul says, "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong!" (2:11).  Here is the issue:  "We ... KNOW that a man is NOT justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ!" (2:16).  This is simple enough to understand, isn't it?  He says it another way in verse 21:  "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing."  This is the HEART of the matter:  Either Jesus paid my debt and I am righteous in Christ before God by faith OR I must earn my own righteousness.  Paul had preached GRACE and the Galatians were going back to WORKS!!!

"You foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you? ... Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit (regeneration leading to repentance and faith), are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?!" (3:1, 3).  Now comes Paul's illustration ... a deeply theological, yet ultimately simple picture.  Paul goes all the way back to Abraham and Moses to explain that the law was NEVER intended to offer a way to salvation; rather, "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by FAITH!" (3:24).

Here is Paul's argument in its simplest form:  After the flood in the days of Noah, and more than two thousand years before Jesus was born, God revealed through Abraham the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  "Consider Abraham:  'He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand then, that those who BELIEVE are children of Abraham.  The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham!" (3:6-8).  The Gospel is not 2,000 years old ... it is more than 4,000 years old!  Christianity is not a new religion, it is the fulfillment of the only true religion, the one revealed in the Bible and that goes back all the way to the Garden of Eden!!!

In verses 15-25 Paul explains that God's promise to Abraham that "in your 'SEED' all nations will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3 and other verses in Genesis), was made to ONE seed = Christ! (3:16).  Then he explains that the law came 430 years later and does not replace God's promise.  "If the inheritance (eternal life) depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise" (3:18).  Why then, did God give the law:  "The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe" (3:22).

This is the heart of the Gospel and it IS a matter of eternal life or eternal death!  If you attempt to stand before God and offer Him ANYTHING but faith in Jesus Christ (a faith produced by His very Spirit in you through His Word), you will be guilty of rejecting God's grace.  GOD has made a way to be declared righteous in His sight by faith.  Abraham "believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" (3:6).

"If you belong to Christ (by faith), then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (3:29).  

"Father, in Your wisdom You chose to reveal the way of salvation by grace through faith to Abraham.  Thank You for Your Spirit, Who has opened my mind to understand Your Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, the 'Seed' of Abraham, and to place my hope fully in Him.  He has removed the curse of sin and redeemed me so that I am now an heir of eternal life!  To You I give my praise, now and forever, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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