|Posted by pastorsloan on April 16, 2013 at 1:15 PM||comments (0)|
The title of this may shock you. After all, isn’t the point of religion toprepare us for and get us to the afterlife? If religion won’t do it, then what hope is there? Why is being religious not enough to gain heavenly reward. What is sufficient to give us what we so desperately desire from this life and the next? These are important questions with which we must wrestle. The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian church about some of these same issues. What does he say to them about the trap of religious activity?
First, who are the Galatians? They were a body of first century Christians located in modern day Turkey. Teachers had infiltrated the church trying to get them to be circumcised in order to truly be saved. Paul writes to correct the Galatians and warn them that is it not practice of religious rites and rituals that provides eternal life. He describes the situation this way:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7)
Paul refers to what is occurring in Galatia as a“different gospel” and a distortion of “the gospel of Christ.” The basis of our right standing with God was being misrepresented. Paul concerns over a distorted gospel, which is really no gospel at all, are still valid today. Many believe that the exercise ofreligion is the essence the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul himself was one who trusted in thepractice of religion to attempt to gain right standing with God. He describes himself this way:
For you have heard of my former life inJudaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14)
Paul’s religion stood out far and above many of hiscontemporaries. His practice of religion was zealous, so zealous that he sought to destroy the early church because it opposed the religion he so deeply loved and practiced. It was not until God opened Paul’s eyes that he saw the truth about the church. He also saw that it was not in the practice of religion by which right standing with God is found, but through Christ alone. Now a group had entered the Galatian church who was teaching that something needed to be added to Christ – namely circumcision.
Paul even had to correct Peter who was fearful of those who taught circumcision.
But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)
So what is the issue for us today? The issue is not about circumcision, but about whether any religious practices are the key to right standing with God. For us it could be baptism, attendance at religious services, charitable acts, or any number of religious activities, that we may feel contribute to our right standing before God. Paul cuts to the heart of the matter.
yet we know that a personis not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
What does it mean to be justified? Justification is the act of God whereby we are declared forgiven of all of our sin because of the work of Christ on the cross, and credited with the righteousness of Christ. Paul instructs the Galatians (and us by extension) that is not by the practice of religion that we are made right with God. It is by faith in Jesus Christ alone. We trust what Christ has done for us is sufficient and that nothing else needs to be added to it by us. It is simply received by trust in Christ. Paul examines the issue.
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:21)
But Jesus Christ did NOT die for no purpose because no one is right with God by obedience to the law. Paul further explains.
Now it is evident that no one is justified before Godby the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not offaith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed usfrom the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursedis everyone who is hanged on a tree”— (Galatians 3:11-13)
We deserve of the curse of God because of our sin. That curse is hell – eternal punishment from God. All of which Christ took on for us on the cross. Is really for me? Am I really a sinner? What does that sin look like which put Christ there?
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality ,idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
These things describe our lives. Even if we have not committed every sin on this list, we have a least committed some. You can see why religion is not enough. We have a big problem. Our sins can never be out done by our efforts at righteousness. So how are we made righteous before God? We turn from our sin in true repentance and receive the work of Christ on our behalf as a gift of God through faith alone.
Then once we have been justified by faith and righteous a wondrous thing happens. We live life by the power of the Holy Spirit
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
Our lives are transformed and empowered. No longer do we keep the law on our own effort, which is impossible. We live by the spirit of God, free from slavery to the law, and freed to love and serve both our neighbor and God.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Paul instructs the Galatians (and us) not to go back to such foolishness again. He also instructs us to use the freedom we have in Christ to serve one another and so honor God.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)
You see our keeping the law by religious expression, moral obedience, or simple acts of goodness to our neighbor do nothing to make us righteous. Yet we are redeemed so that we will express our faith in a thousand different ways to the glory of theFather. What a difference? What freedom in Christ from trying to do enough? Saved by religion? Never. Saved by God’s grace? Always and only.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, EnglishStandard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministryof Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
|Posted by pastorsloan on September 25, 2012 at 1:55 PM||comments (1)|
The following is a tract idea that I would like to do in the style of a Christmas card. Let me know what you think, or if you would be interested in it.
What is the true meaning of Christmas. So much of what we are told is part of Christmas has nothing to do with it. Often it is taking one part of Christ or Christmas and emphasizing it to the exclusion of others. We must be careful to get Christmas right. What are we often pointed to as being the meaning of Christmas?
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corintians 8:9)
Often times generosity is portrayed as the message of Christmas time. There is nothing wrong with generosity. In fact the Bible commands and commends generosity on the part of those who have received the grace of Christ. Still, making Christmas about generosity is to miss the point.
Sometimes the lesson of the Christmas story is portrayed as learning humility. The Bible speaks about the humility of Christ.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8
But if we stop there, we are left with Christ being only an example of humility that we should follow. Christmastime is meant for us to reflect on His humility and humbled by it. But that is not the central point. Jesus’ humility is for the purpose of saving a people from their sins, not just to teach us to be humble.
Another thing we might get from the Christmas message that is not central to its meaning is obedience. Because Christ was obedient, the message is then made to be that we must be obedience. While obedience is good and commanded in Scripture, it is not the central part of the Christmas message. Obedience to God is a response to God’s work in and for us. Jesus’ obedience is not just to get us to learn to be obedient to God. If we miss that, we get Christmas wrong.
PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! Luke 2:14
We are used to hearing “Peace on earth, good will to men!” It is all over our Christmas cards. Christmas becomes about peace and good will to men. But in fact is that God is bringing about peace with those whom He pleases. If we do not see Christmas as a act of God to bring about peace, we get Christmas wrong.
TO GET CHRISTMAS RIGHT, YOU HAVE TO FIRST GET CHRIST RIGHT
If you get Jesus Christ wrong, you get Christmas wrong.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. ….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14)
We must see Christmas as the entrance of God into the sphere of human life for the purpose of redemption. To see Him as anything other than the miracle of the God-man is to get Christmas wrong.
TO GET CHRISTMAS RIGHT, YOU NEED TO GET THE PURPOSE RIGHT
The angels say to the shepherds in Luke 2:11. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Jesus did not just come to be an example, He came to be a Savior. In Matthew 1:20 we read these words.
But as he (Joseph) considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Our sin separates us from God and leaves us as an object of God’s wrath. That is far from peace, love, and joy. That is the purpose of Christmas. We needed a perfect man to be a perfect sacrifice. Only God Himself could fit that role. That is the purpose of Christ in Christmas.
TO GET CHRISTMAS RIGHT, YOU NEED TO GET YOURSELF RIGHT
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)
Christmas is more than about gifts, meals, and parties. It is about more than about God coming to earth. It is about God coming to earth so that we might become children of God. If you want to celebrate Christmas right, it begins by making sure that you are right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We do that by placing our faith or trust in Jesus Christ as the one who has taken the penalty of our sins upon Himself. We also repent of our sins, which means not just that we are sorry for our sins but that we put them away in our lives. Then following from that comes generosity, humility, obedience, peace, and joy as we live our lives in the light of the great gift God has bestowed upon us in sending His son for us. May you know the true meaning of Christmas and keep it all of your days.
Rev. Howard Sloan is the pastor of St. Paul’s Reformed Church in Bedford, PA. He is also the coordinating secretary for the HRA. All Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.
|Posted by pastorsloan on September 25, 2012 at 10:15 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted by pastorsloan on September 25, 2012 at 9:55 AM||comments (0)|
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