Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lessons From the Book of Galatians

The Apostle Paul had some interesting things to say in the Book of Galatians. He started out by speaking a blessing of grace and peace to those he addressed. Did you know that when God wants to tell us something, His words are always full of love, and love brings assurance of our acceptance in Christ. It is this revelation of our unconditional acceptance in the Lord and His good will towards us that leads to increased faith and confidence towards God. Grace and peace are always multiplied when we are in Christ. That’s the first thing we always ought to keep in perspective when we hear a message. Are grace and peace being multiplied unto me as I hear this? If not, test the spirits.

Paul went on to introduce himself as an apostle declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, He reminded those who would read his letter, not only gave his very life for mankind but that he was sent to deliver us from the temptation of this evil age. In other words, Paul was referring to the redemptive work of Christ to sanctify believers and deliver them out of the temptations of the world. Paul marveled in shock that those he knew had somehow defected from the truth of the gospel that saved them, and they had unwittingly fallen for a different message. Somehow, something had gotten twisted in those they had allowed to teach them, and the message perverted. Paul could hardly believe that they had gotten tricked into believing a false gospel.

The most difficult lie to discern is the one that is introduced along with a majority of truth. It is not always easy to pick up on the deception when it sound plausible. Yet scripture must be balanced by the rest of doctrine and interpreted through the heart of God in order to understand it’s true intent. What I mean by that is, if a person doesn’t truly understand God’s heart, they will never correctly interpret His scripture and a form of legalism or error will be the result. Legalism is the use of guilt, manipulation and control. In the environment of the church, it forces the will of man upon others, often misusing and utilizing the scriptures in order to entice and manipulate people to do the will of a stronger individual . It uses fear and intimidation to fulfill it's desire to control others. It is operating by the spirit of Satan and not the Holy Spirit. Witchcraft and legalism will always misrepresent God's heart and character and the result is the effect of turning others against God, running away from Him in rebellion.

This was apparently the problem with the false teachers that introduced the Galatian church to a “different gospel.” There was no “human flavoring” of the gospel that Paul preached. He was not regurgitating what had been taught by the doctrines of men; Paul received the revelation of Jesus Christ straight from the source. If the gospel that Paul preached had been made up by men, he would have had to confer with others in order to receive their teachings or validate it. But, God’s will to choose Paul to advance the gospel was such an important choice that He left nothing to chance. Holy Spirit gave Paul the download of the gospel so that he would have it correct right from the start. This is an important truth to understand. Others can deliver the gospel message, but only the Holy Spirit can truly impart the revelation of Jesus Christ, His cross and resurrection, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit that changes a person.It is not man's attempt to reinterpret scripture or add to it that sanctifies us. We are not sanctified by our own attempts to appear righteous; it comes only through the blood of Christ as He imputes His righteousness to us. God does not speak to our sin nature and focus on our shortcomings; He speaks to us as we are in Christ and lifts our focus off of ourselves and shifts it back to gazing upon Jesus, for He knows that what we focus on we become. It is the message of unconditional love, acceptance and the work of grace that changes us from the old man to the new. By grace we are saved, and by grace we are sanctified. You see, the gospel isn't about you. It's for you, but the gospel is about Jesus. It's about what He has done through His blood that was shed for us and the power of His cross and resurrection.

Red flags and warning bells went off in Paul’s head when he realized that false brethren had introduced a gospel that sounded believable, yet had subtle deceptions interwoven into their teachings in an effort to steal the liberties of the Galatian church. Perhaps one of the most powerful and impacting scriptures in the 2nd chapter of Galatians is found in verses 19-21. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”

Let’s just pause right there for a moment. Do you realize that Jesus didn’t just die for you, but He died on that cross as you? Whether you realize it or not, you died to sin a long time ago. Jesus took you to the cross with Him (as He did for all of mankind) and died in your place so that you would not have to pay the penalty for your sins. He died as you. So let me ask you a question. If you died with Christ, then what are you doing with that truth? What have you done with Jesus? Because the day Jesus went to the cross you died to sin, spiritually speaking that is. If you can believe that truth and receive it by faith, then all that remains for you now is to walk in resurrection power. All that remains in you now is for your mind, heart, soul and lifestyle to catch up with that truth.

Paul challenged the Galatian church in chapter 3, asking them who bewitched them (who cast a spell over their minds) that they would stray from the truth and start believing a lie. He reminded them that what they began by faith in the Spirit they could not expect to finish by mistakenly trying to perfect their flesh through their own efforts. Paul challenged them, as any real apostle would do, to consider where they got off track and started believing a different gospel. They had been tricked or perhaps brainwashed into believing that they could somehow achieve a form of righteousness by the commandments of men rather than by the grace of God. They were confused by faulty doctrine and didn’t recognize it. He reminded them that a curse comes upon those that try to achieve righteousness by their own standards and that no one can effectively fulfill the law, and no one is justified by their own forms of righteousness. The just shall live by faith.

Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. Do you realize that God does not focus on our sin nature? It's because it has already been crucified with Christ. When God speaks, He reveals the lies of the enemy that hinder us from becoming more Christlike. He is kind even when correcting our perspective. He does not condemn nor reject those in whom His Spirit inhabits. God's love and grace are abundant, and those that grow in their relationship with Him will continue in a life of sanctification - but it is as the Holy Spirit deals with each individual, in His time. The real gospel is in some people's estimation, radical grace, but that is what makes it the good news. God is restoring this truth back to His church, and purifying His bride. He is calling us back to the purity of the gospel.

Some people are alarmed at this new so called "grace movement." People who want to take it to an extreme and perhaps read things into those that are speaking grace and get offended by it, thinking they are actually giving others permission to use grace as a license to sin. I really believe this is a fear response, because fear says, “Let’s rope these people in before they get too far out of control.” Some go so far as to say those that preach such a thing are bordering on teaching heresy.

Scripture reminds us in 2 Cor. 10:12 not to compare ourselves with those that commend themselves, nor measure themselves by comparing themselves among one another because it is not wise. Wisdom refrains from unnecessary judgments, criticisms and comparisons. Fear causes people to jump to conclusions and make judgments that none of us should probably make. Good grief. Everyone is at a different place in their walk with God, in their understanding of the scriptures, and in the depth of relationship with Holy Spirit. If we are going to err, let's do it on the side of grace and not judgment. People are so quick to jump in and want to be the voice of the Holy Spirit to others to either use fear as a motivator towards obedience or caution them not to get too caught up in grace that they fall in a ditch. Can we not trust Holy Spirit to do HIS job? It is HIS job to convict people of sin and HIS job to sanctify...OUR job is to love people where they're at and stop jumping to conclusions based on what we assume about others. We need to stop being overly sin conscious and be Jesus focused. If we make salvation and sanctification about our own efforts then we rob the gospel message of grace. People tend to adopt one of two mindsets when it comes to their scriptural foundation. It is either based on a fear of rejection which puts the emphasis on our own efforts, or it is based on the joy of acceptance by which we can enjoy peace, rest and allow God's grace to transform our thoughts and actions.

So, how does one determine if their belief system needs an overhaul?  A perverse spirit will twist truth, cause confusion and result in double-mindedness and unbelief. It will cause anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment, anger, and rebellion towards God. It will accuse God to the believer and cause serious trust issues between the individual and God. Pride and anger withstand God so that God withholds Himself from the believer. It is a shallow relationship at best. Real faith and personal growth are stunted, leaving the person disillusioned, dispassionate and wondering why their faith doesn’t seem to produce more results. Genuine faith in God comes as a result of embracing the truth of the gospel, recognizing that daily we need a Savior, Healer, Restorer, Deliverer and Teacher, and experiencing His faithfulness to meet us right where we are. This is how a person comes to understand the power of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. He multiplies grace and peace in the believer’s life and confidence towards God increases as revelation increases. Without revelation, a person is lost in their own thoughts, frustrations, personal limitations and cannot seem to make their faith work for them. It seems like a never ending road of trying to seek and serve God without much fulfillment or satisfaction from their Christian life. In essence, it keeps a person a slave to human effort, is centered around self rather than being centered around what Jesus has done for us, and results in estrangement from Christ. Every wrong thought produces anxiety, frustration, fear and other negative emotions. It produces unbelief and distrust towards God. Every thought precedes an action that will either draw us closer to God or lure us away from Him, His truth, and fellowship with Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, every right thought will produce a natural inclination towards gratitude for what Christ has done, love for the Father, an increase in faith and confidence towards God. This is why it is so important to take every thought in captivity that would rise up to challenge truth and subject it to the authority of Jesus Christ. I will end this with the words of Apostle Paul in which he said, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” (Gal. 5:1).

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