Friday, November 30, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 15, Set Free By Christ

Paul makes one of the most beautiful and liberating statements of the Bible as we begin Chapter 5 this morning: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

Christ---the Son of God---did the work that was necessary to set us free from living under the law. Who can argue with Him? What higher authority is there than the adult Son of God who has all the authority of the Father? A grown son in ancient society had all the same authority, rights, and privileges over his father's estate as his father had, so we find Jesus Himself saying, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:38)

The yoke Paul is talking about is the Galatian's desire to live under the law. They have been confused and led astray by teachers who insist they aren't full members of the family of God unless they submit to the law of Moses. These teachers want to mix the old covenant with the new covenant. I am sure that when Paul preached Christ to the Gentiles, his biggest fear was that they would try to mix Christianity with their old pagan religions. Instead it has turned out that the biggest threat to the Gentiles' newfound liberty is legalism. There is really no quicker way to make a person ineffective for Christ than to provide him with a set of rules to follow and to force his focus onto his own performance instead of helping him to focus on building a relationship with the Lord.

The better we know Christ, the better we will be at living in ways that honor Him. But the more we concentrate on how well we are keeping a set of rules, the more we are likely to conclude that living the Christian life is impossible. Paul, a former Pharisee, knows what it's like to have his entire life consumed with studying the law, trying to keep the law, and failing at keeping every single point of the law. Many of Paul's Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ experienced the same frustration under the law that he experienced and are now enjoying the freedom of grace. There are some, though, who are unwilling to embrace the new covenant and are troubling the Gentile believers. As a Gentile I can't imagine what a relief it must have been for Paul and for many of the Jews who came to Christ to throw off the yoke of the law and to embrace the grace of Christ. Paul wants his Gentile friends to enjoy this same freedom and he's angry that anyone is interfering with their liberty, so he says, "Stand firm! Don't give an inch. You know the gospel that saved you. When anyone tells you that you must do something to 'add to' your salvation, stand firm in the confidence that Christ has already done everything necessary for your salvation."

"Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:2-6) In modern times parents may choose to have their baby boys circumcised. Grown men who were not circumcised as babies often choose to undergo circumcision as adults. This is not what Paul is talking about when he warns the Galatians that submitting to circumcision is putting themselves under the law. In today's world this medical procedure does not mean (at least for Gentiles) that a man is committing himself to living by the law. A man is not doomed to living under the law if his parents circumcised him or if he chose to be circumcised as an adult for some reason. What Paul is saying is something like this: "You have been saved through faith in Christ, but if you willingly choose to undergo circumcision you are agreeing to keep the law. What you are saying is that what Christ has done is not enough to justify you in the sight of God. You are signifying that you want to try to justify yourselves in the sight of God. What use then is your liberty in Christ? You are willingly placing yourselves in bondage."

He reminds them that they started out well but got off track somewhere along the way. "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the One who called you." (Galatians 5:7-8) He declares, "I don't know who is trying to persuade you to live by the law instead of by grace, but it wasn't Christ who told you this."

He now quotes a proverb that is logical and well known to people of all cultures. "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." (Galatians 5:9) In the Scriptures we find yeast (leaven) used as a symbol for wickedness and sin. Sin doesn't just affect the person who committed it; sin affects everyone around that person. In the same way that a tiny amount of yeast makes the whole lump of dough rise, a tiny amount of false doctrine is capable of infiltrating the whole church. At the time of his writing, it could be that only a few of the Gentiles have been influenced by false teachers, but Paul knows how quickly a problem can spread. He wants to settle the matter before it has a chance to lead more and more believers astray.

"I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty." (Galatians 5:10) He comforts his readers and himself by saying, "I believe that the efforts of these false teachers will prove to be unsuccessful. I know you are intelligent enough to recognize the truth. I believe that you have the faith to stand firm against the wrong doctrine that is trying to creep into the church and I believe you will be strong enough to cast it out."

Those who are not telling the truth about Christ and about the gospel of grace will face punishment by the Lord if they do not repent and desist in their efforts to bring legalism into the Gentile church. The Lord takes very seriously any attacks on His character and He takes very seriously any attacks on the faith of His followers. If Paul is angry about those who are trying to turn the Galatians from the truth, we can just imagine how angry the Lord is about it.

I think that some of these legalistic teachers are claiming Paul is preaching circumcision and the observance of the law. They are trying to back up their own teaching by saying, "Paul says the same things!" With Paul not present in Galatia right now, the false teachers have managed to convince some that he has actually said such things. He is quick to refute this claim. "Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished." (Galatians 5:11) The same type of people who are troubling the Galatians are the same type of people who are persecuting Paul for preaching that salvation comes by the cross of Christ. So logically he asks, "If I'm preaching circumcision, as some claim I am, then why are they against my ministry? If I were preaching that, then my teaching would be in line with theirs. But I preach salvation through faith in Christ alone, and that is why the legalistic teachers are opposed to me. They are offended when I say that the cross, and not works, justifies us."

Paul is so upset right now that he angrily says of those who are misleading the Christians of Galatia, "As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12) It was a practice in some of the pagan religions of the region for the priests to make themselves into eunuchs. We could paraphrase Paul's heated words like this, "Those who are so focused on mutilating the flesh, why stop at circumcision? Why not just make themselves into eunuchs if they think mutilating the flesh makes them holier in the eyes of God? They are trusting in the works of the flesh for salvation instead of trusting in Christ for salvation, so if circumcision is good, emasculation surely is even better!" He's saying this sarcastically, of course. He knows his readers will see how illogical this statement is and he knows they will probably laugh when they read it. A little humor is probably needed right now to break the tension of the serious subject matter, plus it helps to drive home the point Paul is making about the futility of trying to make the inner man holy by making physical changes to the outer man. His point is backed up the Lord Himself, who commanded Israel in Deuteronomy 10:16, "Circumcise your hearts." The Lord said this to Israel after He had given a second set of the ten commandments to the nation to follow. This clearly shows us that justification in God's eyes was not obtained by the keeping of the commandments but by faith in the Giver of the commandments. It was what was in the heart rather than what was in the flesh that was going to make Israel right in the eyes of God. It is still what is in the heart that makes us right in the eyes of God.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 14, Two Covenants

In contrasting and comparing the law and the gospel of grace, in yesterday's study Paul used the sons of Abraham to illustrate his point. Today he illustrates the same point by using Sarah and Hagar as examples, along with using Mount Sinai and the New Jerusalem as examples.

It may seem like Paul is laboring over his point for a long time, but his entire purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians is to help them get back on the right track. They were saved by believing the gospel message, and yet they have a desire to submit themselves to the Mosaic law as if this will make them feel more worthy of being included in God's family. So we find him coming at the same point from a variety of directions because he wants to make certain his readers understand what he's saying. The theme of this letter is that the promise of a Redeemer was made prior to the law, that the promise is better than the law, that grace is better than the law, and that faith is better than works.

Yesterday Paul spoke of the sons of Abraham. Abraham's son Isaac by his wife Sarah was the miraculous son of promise. His son Ishmael by his slave Hagar was the son gotten by his own works. We can clearly see that only one of these situations brought honor and glory to the God who can call into existence things that do not exist. It was humanly impossible for Sarah to have a son, but God gave her body the ability to have a son anyway. In the same way, it was humanly impossible for us to do enough good works to save ourselves, but God provided us with a means of salvation anyway.

Abraham's relationship with the surrogate mother Hagar symbolizes the law. It was legal, according to the customs of the times, for Abraham to do what he did so long as he had his wife's permission. The law of Moses did not yet exist, but there were secular laws in the society of those days, and those laws allowed a married couple to obtain a child in the manner in which Abraham and Sarah obtained Ishmael. The carrying out of this plan depended entirely on man's ability. Abraham, since he was evidently not sterile, was easily able to father a child by the young woman Hagar. Was there any glory for God in this? No. Was there any real happiness for the parties involved? No. Did this situation turn into more of a curse than a blessing? Yes. So Paul compares this situation to the law, which depended entirely on man's efforts and which became more of a curse to man than a blessing.

Today Paul picks up with Sarah and Hagar, the mothers of Abraham's children, and then he moves on to the subject of the two covenants which are represented by Mount Sinai and the New Jerusalem. "These things are taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children." (Galatians 4:24-25) At the time of Paul's letter Jerusalem was in political bondage to Rome. Jerusalem also was, for the most part, in spiritual bondage to the Mosaic law. Even a lot of the citizens who had come to faith in Christ still struggled with the idea of grace. This is why some of these teachers have confused the Gentile Galatian believers by insisting they must now follow the law, for they themselves are having trouble giving up on their own efforts and accepting that Christ's efforts were enough.

"But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother." (Galatians 4:26) The Jerusalem that is above is the New Jerusalem we find in the book of Revelation. Paul compares it to Abraham's wife Sarah---the free woman---because freedom from bondage is found in Christ and in the new things He is doing and will continue doing for those who are His. Paul is saying, "Hagar the slave (the law) isn't our mother. Sarah the free woman (the gospel of grace) is our mother. We were begotten into this new life by faith, not by works."

"For it is written: 'Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.'" (Galatians 4:27) The apostle quotes the words of Isaiah 54:1 and is making the statement that this prophecy has been fulfilled. The sons of the free woman (those who have accepted the gospel of grace) were in Paul's day beginning to far outnumber those who were living under the law. This is still true today as Christianity spreads to all corners of the world. Sarah's son Isaac was a forefather of the Redeemer; if she had not borne the son of promise then the "Son Of Promise"---God's own Son---would not have come.

In this next section we want to take note that once again Paul refers to the Galatians as his "brothers and sisters". He does this all throughout the letter and I think he's doing it for a specific purpose. He is a Jew and a former Pharisee. He knows the law inside and out. Yet he is not insisting that the Gentiles follow the law. He considers them his equals and his brothers and sisters in Christ. His purpose is to help them to see themselves not as inferior to the Jews, but to understand that they too are a chosen people of God. "Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now." (Galatians 4:28-29) At a celebration held for Ishmael, Sarah saw him mocking her own son Isaac who had been born by that time. (Genesis 21:9) We don't know exactly what Ishmael may have been doing to Isaac that was considered persecution, but in Paul's day those who clung to legalism were persecuting the Gentile believers by making them feel as if they were inferior and "less saved" than the Jewish Christians. As we said yesterday, legalism is the enemy of a satisfying relationship with Christ. Legalism says that acceptance in the eyes of God depends on what we can do for ourselves. But grace says that acceptance in the eyes of God depends on what Christ has done for us. Just as Ishmael (the son born by the works of the flesh) mocked Isaac (the son born by the promise of God), the legalistic believers are mocking those who believe their salvation stands on faith alone.

"But what does Scripture say? 'Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.' Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman." (Galatians 4:30-31) In Genesis 21:10 we find Sarah saying to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." By using this example Paul is saying that the new covenant has done away with the old covenant. Grace has replaced law. And as Paul said earlier in this letter, the true sons of Abraham are those who live by faith, for Abraham's righteousness was not through works (he didn't always behave very honorably) but through his faith in the Lord. Just as Hagar and the son begotten through the works of the flesh were done away with, the old covenant of the law has been done away with. Just as God made a promise for a son for the free woman Sarah and kept it, God has also kept the promise He made to Abraham about the Redeemer who would come from his family line and through whom all nations of the world would be blessed. This is the new covenant.

Paul is asking his readers to take time and think about why on earth they would want to exchange grace for law. Why exchange liberty for bondage? Why exchange the new covenant for the old? Why exchange faith for works? When Abraham depended on works to get what he wanted, he ended up distressed, disappointed, and unhappy. Trouble came along with what he attempted to do through human effort. But there was nothing but happiness in what God's efforts did for Abraham. The heir the Lord gave Abraham through his legal wife Sarah was nothing but a blessing to the two of them. In the same way, the Lord is offering us blessing through the gospel of grace. The things He does for us will always be better than anything we do for ourselves. We can never do enough good works or keep enough laws to make ourselves righteous in the sight of a holy God, so why cling to legalism? Why not reach out for the grace the Lord is offering to us? The Lord provided the "Son Of Promise" so that we could be free of the old covenant of bondage to the law and so we could live in the liberty of the new covenant of grace. That's a better deal than we can find anywhere else, and it's a better deal than we deserve. We would be foolish not to accept it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 13, Isaac And Ishmael Compared To The Promise And The Law

The Galatian Christians have a deep longing to feel included. This is why it has been easy for false teachers to confuse them about their salvation. The Galatians know Paul preached the gospel of grace to them, but at the same time they feel drawn to the law of Moses because they think following it will make them feel more like a part of the family of God. For centuries they were considered unclean by the Jews, and rightly so because they lived in idolatry and immorality. The Lord commanded the Israelites not to mingle with or intermarry with the Gentiles because He knew the Gentiles would be a a bad influence on them. The Galatian Christians are no longer in a position to be a bad influence now that they have turned from idols to the one and only God, but they are having trouble letting go of their feelings of inferiority. So they have fallen for the lies of those who have said, "You believe in the living God of Israel since you heard the gospel of Jesus Christ? That's great but you still have a long way to go to be acceptable in the eyes of God and to be equal with your Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. If you want to be approved by God you need to learn and follow the law of Moses."

The people of Galatia already struggle with insecurity, and this false teaching plays on their emotions. I feel a lot of sympathy for them. I think Paul does too, but at the same time he knows he must take a strict and authoritative tone with them for their own good. Today he illustrates the difference between law and grace by using the sons of Abraham as an example. Abraham's son Isaac was the son of promise, so he compares Isaac to the grace we have through Jesus Christ---the Promised One. Abraham's son Ishmael was the son he fathered by his own efforts, outside of the will of God, according to an acceptable legal practice of the time in which a barren wife could give her husband permission to father a child through a surrogate mother. This child would then become the legal son and heir of the married couple. Paul wants his readers to understand that the promise (the gospel of grace) is far superior to the law.

First he has harsh words for the false teachers, "Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you." (Galatians 4:17-18) Why did these false teachers want to turn the Galatians away from the teaching of the apostles and to their own corrupted brand of Christianity? It appears to have been for personal gain; whether that gain took the form of status and popularity or whether it took the form of monetary compensation I can't say for certain. The only thing I can say with any confidence is that having the Galatians follow them satisfied some kind of desire that the false teachers had. Paul says they wanted the Galatians to be zealous "for them", which indicates to me that they wanted the Galatians to follow them more than they wanted the Galatians to follow Christ. This is in sharp contrast to what the apostles wanted, for they considered themselves merely the messengers of the gospel. The apostles pointed everyone to Christ, not to themselves.

"My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!" (Galatians 4:19-20) Paul taught these Gentiles the gospel when he stayed with them during his illness. It was his understanding that the young church of Galatia, like the young churches of other cities he had visited, were capable of growing and thriving after his departure. Instead they've fallen into confusion. They haven't held fast to what he taught them, so he is laboring again on their behalf. He uses childbirth as an example of how he feels right now. A woman's labor is finished after she delivers her child; she doesn't have to go into labor again at some later date for the same child. Yet Paul feels like that's what he's going through. He did all the work necessary to help the Galatians to understand and accept the gospel while he lived with them, but now he feels like they've fallen so far from the truth that he must do all the work over again.

Since he's on the subject of childbirth, he now moves on to the subject of the two sons of Abraham, one of which was born according to God's promise and one of which was born according to the efforts of man. "Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise." (Galatians 4:21-23)

He asks, "Do you want to live under grace or under the law? The Lord promised Abraham a son, but instead of allowing God to perform this miracle through His grace, Abraham took matters into his own hands. He attempted to get what he wanted through works, which is what you will be doing if you place yourselves under the law. You can't make yourselves righteous by the works of the law because you can't perfectly keep the law. No one can, so how is righteousness obtained? Through grace by faith! It didn't work out so well for Abraham when he obtained a son by his own efforts, nor did it work out well for his wife Sarah, his slave Hagar, or his son Ishmael. Nothing worked out as Abraham thought it would. His plan achieved the siring of a son, but it didn't achieve the blessing and happiness he sought. The law won't bring the blessing and the happiness you seek either. The law will cause you to focus on your own efforts and not on the efforts of the Lord. The law will make you legalistic, frustrated, and depressed."

Paul compares the gospel of grace to the son of Abraham who was given by the promise of God, saying, "The real joy of Abraham's life was his son Isaac, the son he obtained not through his own efforts but by a miracle of God. I'm comparing this fulfilled promise to the fulfilled promise of a Redeemer. Your salvation in Christ doesn't depend on your own efforts but on what Christ has already done for you. This is freedom. This is relationship, not religion. This is grace, not law. You didn't do anything to earn your salvation because there's nothing anyone can do to earn his or her salvation, just as there was nothing Abraham could do to father a child by his wife Sarah. The Lord did all the work for you, just as the Lord did all the work in giving Abraham a son by Sarah. This doesn't mean you have the freedom to sin, but it does mean that when you mess up (as we all do) you can go to the throne of grace on the basis of your relationship with Christ and obtain forgiveness and restoration. Now, do you want to live under grace or under the law? Do you want to live as a free people or as slaves?"

Legalism is the enemy of a satisfying Christian life. We are to work at building a relationship with Christ, not at checking off a list of good works that we think will make us look better to ourselves and to God. Do we want to be slaves or free people? Christ has done the work of redemption for us, and there is nothing we can add to it. Living in close relationship to Him will help us to naturally live more honorable. But when we mess up (and we will, because everyone makes mistakes), belonging to Christ gives us the right to approach the throne of grace for mercy. When our holy God and Judge looks at us, He sees the blood of His Son applied to our lives, and His judgment will pass over us because Christ has paid the penalty for our sins."

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 12, What Was The Apostle Paul's Illness?

In today's passage we learn that Paul's first trip to Galatia was made due to an illness. This indicates that his plan had not been to visit Galatia, at least not at that time, but that he was compelled to go there for health reasons. We are going to look at some of the popular theories regarding what this illness was. I think also we need to keep in mind that although it may not have been Paul's plan to visit Galatia at that particular point in his ministry, it was God's plan for him to bring the gospel to them at that time.

When we concluded yesterday Paul worriedly stated that he feared he had wasted his efforts in teaching the Galatians that now that they have been freed from the rituals of pagan worship they must not become entangled again in the trappings of religion while neglecting a personal relationship with the Lord. So he begins today, "I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong." (Galatians 4:12)

He's saying something like, "Observe the liberty I have in Christ and use my example. When I lived among you, I lived as a Gentile. I lodged with you and I ate whatever you put on the table. I preached the gospel of Christ to you and you believed it, which makes us equal in the eyes of God no matter what our backgrounds may be. I never told you that you had to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law in order to be acceptable to God. Christ has made you acceptable to God. If I, who am a Jew, have the freedom in Christ to live among Gentiles and eat at the same table as Gentiles, certainly you who are Gentiles by birth have the freedom to be yourselves! You didn't wrong me in any way by causing me to live as a Gentile while I stayed in your region. That didn't take anything away from my salvation, so you can see that living like a Jew isn't going to add anything to your salvation. Christ has done everything that needs to be done for both Jews and Gentiles. I don't become "less Christian" when I live among Gentiles and eat in Gentile houses. You don't become "more Christian" by living among Jews and following the law of Moses."

"As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus Himself." (Galatians 4:13-14) Whatever his malady was, he apparently needed to retreat to the mountain city of Galatia to recover his strength. He must have been quite weak, since he says "my illness was a trial to you". No matter how inconvenient it may have been for them to care for him, Paul says the Galatians treated him with as much love as they would have treated Christ. One clue to his illness is that before he journeyed to Galatia he was ministering in Perga. Perga was a low-lying marshy area, and this has led many scholars to believe Paul contracted malaria there. If this is the case, it makes sense that he would travel into the highlands of Galatia where the air was clear and dry. There is a type of recurrent malaria and this might explain why Luke the doctor began traveling with Paul as his scribe, fellow-laborer in the gospel, and personal physician.

Other scholars speculate that Paul may have had epilepsy. Adult-onset epilepsy is not that common unless the person has a brain tumor or has sustained a head injury. You will recall from our study of Acts that Paul was dragged outside the city gates of Lystra, pelted with stones, and left for dead. This occurred some years before he went to Galatia on his second missionary journey, and it's possible that the injuries he received at Lystra may have caused him to develop a seizure disorder. Such a thing would explain why he praises the Galatians for not treating him "with contempt or scorn". Epilepsy in those days was not widely understood to be a physical illness and it was often considered a sign of demonic possession or punishment from God for having lived a sinful life.

Some Bible scholars think Paul may have suffered from depression or anxiety attacks. If anyone ever had a right to be depressed or anxious, it was Paul. In 2 Corinthians 8 he provides a long list of the troubles he has endured for the gospel. In addition to all the attacks that came against him from outside, he says that he is daily burdened down with concern for all the churches. If it's true that mental struggles are what led Paul to Galatia, it may have been that he collapsed from all the strain he was under. Depression and anxiety can cause a great deal of physical symptoms. Some of these symptoms are not life-threatening, such as tension headaches, indigestion, dizziness, and so on. But others can be serious, such as significant weight loss, high blood pressure, strokes, or heart attacks. Seeing that he was under so much strain, it could be that Paul's friends whisked him away from the crowds and took him to Galatia where he could experience a season of retreat and recovery.

The last theory we are going to discuss today is that Paul was having trouble with his eyesight. The next statement he makes lends credence to this theory. "Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." (Galatians 4:15) He says the Galatians loved him so much for bringing them the gospel that they would gladly have given him their eyes. This is an odd statement to make unless the giving of their eyes could have benefited him in some way. Later in the book of Galatians Paul will remark that he is writing this letter by his own hand and that he is having to write very large in order to do so. In the book of Acts we learned that he once picked up a snake thinking it was a piece of kindling for the fire. He apparently did suffer from some sort of vision problem, but whether or not that has anything to do with his journey to Galatia, and whether or not that is what his "thorn in the flesh" was, we can't say for certain. I am not sure how a vision problem would have made him feel burdensome to the Galatians unless for a time he was nearly blind and had to be waited on hand and foot. Could his Damascus road experience have led to lifelong vision problems? Or could he have suffered from some type of genetic nearsightedness? Or could he have struggled with recurrent issues of inflammation of his optic nerves?

We are not going to know Paul's specific illness until we see him in person in heaven and can ask him ourselves. I think he doesn't describe his illness in his letters because all of his readers already knew what it was; therefore there was no need for him to make an explanation. And I think he doesn't describe his illness because it is better for us that we don't know what it was. We all have to deal with thorns in the flesh, and not knowing Paul's specific problem allows us to fill in the blank with our own issues. When Paul urgently prayed on three separate and no doubt long and tearful occasions to be set free of his illness, the Lord said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you." (2 Corinthians 12:9) Many times the Lord heals us of physical and mental problems, but sometimes He leaves these problems in our lives for a purpose. In those cases He says the same thing to us that He said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you." This is why it's better for us that we don't know the nature of Paul's illness. If we knew for sure what it was, we could say, "Yes, the Lord's grace was sufficient for Paul's particular problem. But what about my problem?" I believe the Lord led Paul to leave the information out of his letters so that we could say, "The Lord's grace was sufficient for Paul's problem. His grace is sufficient for my problem too."

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 11, The Lord Knows Those Who Are His

Paul is deeply worried about the Christians of Galatia. They came to faith in Christ when he preached Christ to them, but since then they have fallen prey to false teachers who are taking their focus off Christ and putting it on rituals and rules. These are the kind of things the Galatians were caught up in when they lived in idolatry. While they were still pagans they engaged in all sorts of useless rituals trying to please gods that did not exist. They are in danger of falling back into the same habits by neglecting a personal relationship with the Lord in favor of "honoring" Him through observances of rules and rituals.

In the Old Testament, through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord bewailed the fact that so many people in the nation did not know Him. They were going through the motions of religion but had no relationship with Him. He pointed out through the prophet that they had done nothing they could brag about, for there was only one thing they should be saying of themselves, "'Let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 9:24) Paul is going to warn the Galatians not to settle for going through the motions. They have the opportunity to form a personal relationship with the living God. Nothing less will satisfy their souls and nothing less will honor the Lord.

Before they came to Christ the Galatians tried to earn favor with their "gods" by allowing themselves to be consumed with concern over performing rituals in just the right way or by chanting an invocation a certain amount of times or by following a manmade set of rules that they hoped would please gods whose personalities they believed were much like those of humans. Because they have these things in their past, Paul knows it would be easy for them to slip back into such behavior. He reminds them that living this way is a form of bondage. Christ calls them to be free. Christ calls them into relationship, not religion. "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God---or rather are known by God---how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you." (Galatians 4:8-11)

There's nothing wrong with keeping the Sabbath, for example, but it's possible to keep the Sabbath and yet be very far from God in our hearts. There are all sorts of reasons why a person might try to keep the letter of the law while neglecting the spirit of the law. A person might observe all the outward signs of religion in order to look good to their fellow man, or because they think they can please the Lord by works and not by faith, or because they are simply doing what is expected of them by their family, or because it satisfies something in them that craves ritual and order. We can fall into the practice of treating our religion as a checklist we have to check off, such as: "I've kept the Sabbath every week this year. I've given my tithe every time the offering plate is passed around. I've donated extra money to the church. I've volunteered a lot of my free time to help the needy." There's nothing wrong with doing any of these things, but as the Lord Jesus said, let us not do these things in hypocrisy. If we don't do these things from the heart we are doing them out of hypocrisy. Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees because they were observing the rules and rituals, which He said they ought to observe, but at the same time He said they ought to have also observed "justice, mercy and faithfulness". (See Matthew 23:23-24) Without faith their actions were not pleasing to God. Without mercy their offerings were meaningless to Him. Without justice their prayers were like a babbling of senseless words to Him.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they used to engage in all sorts of behaviors through ignorance. But they are ignorant no longer. Through Christ they now know the one and only living God. More importantly, he says, they are known by the living God. Why is it even more important to be known by Him than to know of Him? I think because "The Lord knows those who are His." (2 Timothy 2:19) It's possible to know that there is a God and not belong to Him. It's possible to talk the talk and observe all the rituals of religion and have the reputation for belonging to God and yet not even be His. Our fellow man may not know for sure who is the real deal or who isn't, but we can be certain God knows. The Lord Jesus warned us about what will happen to us if we put on the appearance of belonging to God when in fact we do not: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21-23)

The Lord knows those who are His, so let's develop a real relationship with the living God. We can throw His name about all we want to. We can quote the Scriptures. We can dress like everybody else in church. We can say and do all the right things. But unless we belong to Him in our hearts, our observances of all the rituals and rules of "religion" are meaningless. He will say to us, "I never knew you. I wanted to be able to call you My own. I did everything possible to make you My own by giving My Son for you. Yet you preferred religion over relationship. You craved the acceptance of man more than the acceptance of God. You casually used My name whenever it pleased you while in your heart you did not regard Me as holy. I never knew you because you never wanted to know Me."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 10, Heirs Of God

Paul has been explaining to the Galatians that although they are not the children of Abraham by genealogy, they are the children of Abraham by faith, for they possess the same faith that Abraham had---the faith that made him right with God. Even more importantly, they are now the children of God because of their faith in Christ, and this means they are the heirs of the promise God made to Abraham. They are Gentiles, but they are no longer on the outside looking in. They are no longer excluded from being a chosen people of God. Some false teachers have deceived them into thinking they aren't as good as their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ, but Paul wants them to understand that God doesn't play favorites when it comes to His children. God loves all His children and God has a great inheritance in store for all His children, whether Jew or Gentile.

"So in Christ Jesus you are the children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28) Paul asks, "What does God see when He looks at the Gentile Christians? The blood of His Son. What does God see when He looks at the Jewish Christians? The blood of His Son. What does God see when He views slaves who believe in Christ or free people who believe in Christ? The blood of His Son. What does God see when He views males and females who believe in Christ? The blood of His Son. You are all equal in His eyes. The same blood has atoned for your sins. The same faith has saved you. God sees each one of you in the same way: as His beloved child."

The righteousness accredited to Abraham in the Bible was based on his faith in the Lord, not on his works, for as we all know Abraham made some mistakes. But he believed in the Lord and he believed what the Lord said about the coming Redeemer from his family line, so now all of us who believe these same things are of the family of Abraham, of the family of God, and heirs of the promise God made to Abraham and to his descendants. "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)

"What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate." (Galatians 4:1) Someone who is considered a minor by the law has no legal rights over the estate of his father. Yes, it will be his someday, but until that day comes he has no more rights over it than a household slave. The Roman custom of Paul's day was not that a child became an adult at a particular age, but the child became an adult when the father of the child saw that he or she was mature enough to accept adult responsibilities. Until that time came, "The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father." (Galatians 4:2) Remember in yesterday's study when Paul told us the law was our guardian to bring us to Christ? While we were immature, in the days before the promised Redeemer came, the law taught what was expected by a holy God and the law taught that we could not perform all the things expected by a holy God. Salvation then, as now, was based on faith and not on the perfect performance of works. People like Abraham, Moses, David, and all the prophets were made right with God because of their faith. They knew they could not make themselves righteous in the eyes of God. They knew only a holy Redeemer could make them righteous in the eyes of God.

But now as Paul writes this letter, he and his readers are living in an age when the Redeemer has already come. The promise God made to Abraham has been fulfilled. So they are no longer minor children under the guardianship of the law. They are adult children who are ready to inherit the promises of the Father. "So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship." (Galatians 4:4-5) Again we have to look to ancient Roman customs to understand exactly what Paul is saying. When the father decided the time was right to declare his child an adult, a ceremony was carried out in which he publicly "adopted" his child and declared the child to be his legal heir. So Paul is telling his Gentile readers, who are completely familiar with this Roman custom, that when Christ came it was the time that God had chosen to declare them His adopted children and heirs.

Now here is something we don't want to miss. In making us His heirs, God is making us co-heirs with His natural Son---the Lord Jesus Christ. We didn't earn this privilege. We don't deserve it. But God in His love and mercy has given us the same rights of inheritance that He has given His natural Son. "Because you are His Sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 4:6-7) God invites us to call Him not the formal "Father" but "Daddy" (Abba). This indicates a close and loving relationship. I never called my earthly father "Father" but "Daddy". This was because we had a close relationship. I knew Daddy loved me more than he loved his own life. If I had a problem I knew I could take it to him because he cared for me and because he would try to help me in any way he could. This is the relationship we can have with our heavenly Father through Christ. We can come to Him and say, "Daddy, I need Your help. I know You love me and care about my problems. I can't fix the things that are wrong in my life but I know You can."

We won't take a casual attitude toward God our "Daddy" if we always keep in mind that our status as His child and heir is a sheer gift of mercy. When we come boldly to the throne of grace for help (Hebrews 4:16) our boldness is not that of pride or arrogance but the boldness of knowing God welcomes us into His presence. I boldly brought my problems to my earthly father because I knew I was welcome to bring them to him, and because I knew he loved me, and because I knew he would help me. This is the attitude we are to have when coming into the presence of God our "Daddy". We aren't to shake with fear when asking Him for help; we are to come to Him in the confidence that He is willing and ready to help us.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 9, The Law Led Us To Christ

Lest anyone think Paul has anything against the Mosaic law, we must keep in mind that he is a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, brought up in the faith, a former Pharisee, and apparently a former member of the Sanhedrin, for he states in Acts 26:10 that he cast his vote against the Christians. Paul respects the law, but he will explain that the purpose of the law was not to save souls but to show men and women they could never keep the law to perfection. This realization was meant to cause them to turn to the Lord for mercy.

"Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." (Galatians 3:19a) You will recall from yesterday's passage that God made a promise to Abraham that salvation would come to all nations through his Seed (not Isaac, but the Messiah). The law was given not to Abraham but to the twelve tribes of Israel after the Lord brought the twelve tribes of Israel out of Egypt. Israel was about to become a great nation, and every society needs law and order. In addition, Israel was going to be a chosen people in the sight of God, and they needed to know the standards of a holy God. This choosing happened long before the twelve tribes even existed; this choosing happened when God made His covenant promise to Abraham. Would God have made such a promise to a man who did not have faith in Him? Of course not, and this is Paul's point. God made a covenant with Abraham and justified Abraham in His sight because of Abraham's faith. Abraham didn't have the law. What Abraham had was faith. Everyone who lived before the law found justification in the eyes of God only by faith. Everyone who has lived since the giving of the law has found justification in the eyes of God only by faith.

"The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one." (Galatians 3:19b-20) This is one of the statements of Paul's that I feel Peter must have been referring to when he said, "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand." (2 Peter 3:16) One commentary I consulted reveals that there are over four hundred interpretations of Paul's statement. Scholars obviously do not agree with each other about what Paul is saying. They do, however, agree that Paul is showing us the difference between the making of a promise and the giving of the law. The promise God made to Abraham, as we learned yesterday, did not depend on anything Abraham or his descendants would do or fail to do. The Seed (the Messiah and Redeemer) was coming just as the Lord told Abraham He would. This promise was given 430 years before the law was given and it supersedes the law. The keeping of the law or the failure to keep the law has no effect on the promise. The Lord gave the law---a legal contract---to the nation through angels to Moses, who acted as a mediator between the people and the Lord. But in the giving of a promise the Lord needed no mediator. Abraham and his descendants did not have to agree to anything in order to receive the promise, and therefore no mediator like Moses and no angelic witnesses were needed in order to make the promise valid. The law was a contract and that means man and God had to agree to the terms of the contract. But the promise was simply a gift of grace, not dependent on anything but God's intention to keep it.

"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe." (Galatians 3:21-22) The law revealed to us that we are held captive by sin. No matter how much we might want to keep every one of God's laws and commandments, we are incapable of doing so. We make mistakes every day of our lives. So the giving of the law, and our inability to keep it, does not nullify God's promise. What the law ought to do is cause us to honor and glorify a merciful God who is willing to accept us even though we fail daily. He is willing to accept us because of our faith, just as He accepted Abraham because of his faith.

"Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian." (Galatians 3:23-25) The Apostle Paul's parents provided him with an exceptional education, which means they must have been well off enough to afford a guardian to oversee his studies. Guardians escorted their young students to and from classes. They were responsible for picking the student up in the morning, taking them to the various teachers and philosophers throughout the day, and seeing them safely home in the evening. Paul says the law performed the duties of a guardian. It escorted the students (those living under the law) to class, teaching them about a holy God and His standards for living. At school the students realized that God's standards were unattainable by human effort. What were they to do? The more they learned about holiness the more they realized how far they were from it. But the law, like any good guardian, didn't abandon the students at school. The law didn't leave them there, weeping over their lessons and despairing over their mistakes. The law took them by the hand and led them safely home to Christ. This was its entire purpose! God gave the law to reveal to the heart of man his sinfulness and to lead man to the only means of redemption. So Paul says, "The promise God made to Abraham has been fulfilled in Christ. We are adults now. We have graduated from the law and are no longer under it. We are under grace, the grace that God promised long ago to Abraham, the grace Abraham believed in. And just as Abraham was considered righteous by God for his faith in the Redeemer who was coming, so are we also considered righteous by God for our faith in the Redeemer who has come."

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 8, God Keeps His Promises

In yesterday's passage Paul told the Galatian church that God preached the gospel to Abraham. (Galatians 3:8) How did God preach the gospel two thousand years before the birth of Christ? By promising Abraham, "All nations will be blessed through you." God was telling the childless Abraham not only that He was going to provide him an heir (Isaac) but that He was going to provide him with many descendants, and that one of these descendants was going to be the Redeemer who would bring salvation to all people.

God is a promise keeper. Some of the promises He makes to us in the Scriptures are dependent upon our obedience to Him, but others are dependent only on His unbreakable word. The covenant God made with Abraham is an example of a promise that depends only on God's word and not on man's performance. Before God ever created the first human being He already had a salvation plan for the human race. This plan could not be overthrown by anything humans do or fail to do, for the promise stands on God's unbreakable word. Paul is going to expand on this subject in today's passage to prove that the Redeemer came not because man observed the law, but because God's promise was not dependent on the law. (And it's a good thing it wasn't, since no one could perfectly keep the law.) Therefore, as Paul has been saying throughout the letter to the Galatians, salvation depends not on works but on faith in the Redeemer. Paul tells the Galatian church that Abraham, in faith, believed what God said about the coming Redeemer even though he lived a long time before the birth of Christ. The Galatians, in faith, believe on the Redeemer even though they are living after His death and ascension to heaven. The same faith that made Abraham right with God is the same faith that makes the Galatians right with God.

"Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case." (Galatians 3:15) When one person enters into a legal contract with another, and it is duly witnessed and considered valid, no one can take away from it or add to it. This is the case with the covenant God has made with mankind concerning Christ. We can't take anything away from the gospel message. We can't add anything to it. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves more saved. Adding the keeping of the law to their salvation is going to do nothing for the Gentile believers but frustrate them and cause them to focus on works instead of focusing on their relationship with Christ.

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say 'and to seeds,' meaning many people, but 'and to your seed,' meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: the law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise." (Galatians 3:16-18) God made His covenant with Abraham before the law existed, so clearly the keeping of God's promise did not depend on the keeping of the law. When the law came 430 years later, it did not change God's promise. The covenant was still legal and valid; no man could add to it or take away from it. The proof that the law, and man's failure to keep it, did not change the covenant is that the Redeemer still came. God never said, "You have failed to keep the law, so I don't have to keep My promise. I know I told you a Redeemer was coming who would save you from your sins, but I've changed My mind. You've been so disobedient that I no longer want to save you."

If God had said such a thing, then the grace Paul credits Him with never existed and the covenant He made with Abraham was never valid. But God sent the Redeemer because we are so sinful, not because we aren't. God sent the Redeemer because we are lawbreakers, not because we are law keepers. This is grace! This is the promise God already knew He was going to make before He ever spoke the universe into existence. There is nothing anyone could do or not do that was going to prevent Him from keeping this promise. And if we could not prevent Him from carrying out His promised plan of salvation, then obviously there is nothing we can add to it, because His plan never depended on us in the first place.

God loved us before He ever created us. God knew we were going to sin and mess up and fall short, so He intended all along to provide a means of redemption for us. This plan depended solely on Him, not on us. This plan depended on His righteousness in keeping promises, not on our ability to follow the law or perform enough good works. God made a covenant with Abraham and He kept it, and it didn't depend in any way on what man would or would not do. God kept the covenant not because we did what was right, but because we didn't. He kept the covenant not because we were righteous, but because we needed a Redeemer. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for u. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him! For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!" (Romans 5:6-10)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 7, Gentiles Are Also Children Of Abraham

Paul will explain today that although the Gentiles are not children of Abraham by genealogy, they are the children of Abraham by faith. God imputed righteousness to Abraham because of his faith. He was not considered righteous in the eyes of God by the works of the law, for he lived in a time before the law was given. In this same way Paul wants everyone to understand that the Gentiles, who don't have the law, are made right with God through faith. This makes them the spiritual offspring of Abraham.

Unfortunately, some of the Galatian believers have been confused by the teachings of those who are telling them that they are not fully saved by Christ and must live by the law if they want to have right standing with God. They have been confused to the point of believing this must be true. In a way it's easy to see why they were so accepting of such doctrine. They were not a chosen nation like Israel. The ten commandments and the law had not been given to them. Prophets were not called from among them. It wasn't that difficult for someone to make them feel inferior because deep down inside they already feel inferior. But they don't need to feel this way. Christ loved them and died for them as much as He loved and died for anyone else. Christ offers the Gentiles the opportunity to be the children of the living God, children with the same rights and privileges as everyone else. So Paul, although he likely understands where they are coming from, scolds them for being so foolish as to believe that their faith in Christ is not enough to make them "full Christians" in the sight of God and man.

"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain---if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?" (Galatians 3:1) Paul is saying, "When the gospel of Christ was presented to you, you believed it. And when you believed it, you received the Holy Spirit. You weren't living by the law then, were you? And yet you received the Holy Spirit because of your faith in Christ. Why do you think anything is lacking in your salvation? Why do you believe that there is anything you can add to what Christ has already done?"

The proof that righteousness has already been imputed to these Gentiles is that they received the Holy Spirit when they accepted the gospel by faith. Paul now uses the example of Abraham, to whom righteousness was imputed because of his faith. "So also Abraham 'believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" (Galatians 3:6) This quote can be found in Genesis 15:6.

"Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Galatians 3:7-9) The Lord promised Abraham not only a son of his own, but a descendant through whom all nations would be blessed. This was fulfilled when Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, came to the world and gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Now through Him people of all nations can become the children of God, whether they are Jew or Gentile. It is faith that makes a person a child of God, not works. When we think back on all the great men and women of the Bible we can clearly see that God did mighty things for them not because they were zealous for the law but because they were zealous for a relationship with Him.

The Galatians find something attractive about submitting themselves to the law because they think it will make them feel more included---more like a "chosen people". Paul warns them that making themselves obligated to the law is not what they want. "For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'" (Galatians 3:10) Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 and we have to keep in mind that he isn't saying anything is wrong with the law itself. The problem is that man is incapable of perfectly keeping the law. So if a man is trusting his salvation to his keeping of the law, he is going to come up short. What is the remedy for coming up short? Faith! It has always been faith! None of the famous characters of the Bible lived perfect lives, yet they were justified by their faith in the One who could have mercy on them and who could impute His own righteousness to them. The law told man how to behave toward God and others, which was necessary because without laws societies wouldn't be fit to live in. But even more than that, the law told man what a holy God expects of him and the law revealed that man could not do everything a holy God expects of him. So the main purpose of the law was to lead man to faith in the One who could make him right in spite of his faults.

"Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because 'the righteous will live by faith'. The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, 'The person who does these things will live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" (Galatians 3:11-13) These quotes are from Habakkuk 2:4, Leviticus 18:5, and Deuteronomy 21:23. Paul is asking the Galatian church, "So you want to live by the Old Testament? This is what the Old Testament says about the law. It says if you trust your salvation to the keeping of the law, and if you fail to perfectly keep the law, you are under a curse. Why do you want to put yourselves in bondage to the law when you can have freedom in Christ? Christ put His law into your hearts by giving you the Holy Spirit when you believed. You are to be led by the Spirit. Of course you will make mistakes, but Christ has taken care of that too. He took the penalty for your sins onto Himself when He became a curse in your place as He hung on the cross."

If we follow the law, our minds are on ourselves and on our own performance. If we follow Christ, our minds are on Him and on what He did for us and is still doing for us. This is the difference between works and faith. Abraham understood the difference. God made great promises to Abraham simply because Abraham believed in him, and those promises were not only for Abraham's biological descendants but also for his spiritual descendants---for all (Jew or Gentile) who would follow his example of faith in the Lord. The Lord kept His promise by sending Christ to do the work we couldn't do for ourselves. "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit." (Galatians 3:14)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 6, Crucified With Christ

The Galatian believers have been confused by false teachers who insist they must follow the Mosaic law in order to "complete" their salvation. Paul has nothing to say against the law, for he will write to his friend Timothy, "The law is good if one uses it properly". (1 Timothy 1:8) But Paul's point in this letter is that the law has never saved anyone; it is faith in the Lawgiver that saves. He's righteously indignant that false teachers have come in and have perverted the gospel of grace by teaching the Gentiles that they are not really saved unless they keep the law in addition to believing in Christ.

Paul, a Jew and a former Pharisee, has no criticism for the law, but he wants everyone to understand this: There is nothing wrong with the law, but there is something desperately wrong with man. If man could have perfectly kept the law, then man could stand before God justified. If man could have perfectly kept the law, then man would have needed no Redeemer, for he would have been capable of redeeming himself. But the purpose of the law was to prove to man that he was incapable of living a perfect life, and so in this way the law could lead man to God for redemption. The law was intended to point man to God and not to himself and to his own works, yet over time man began to trust in the law more than he trusted in the Lawgiver, and religion became legalistic and dependent upon man's efforts and not on God's efforts. The gospel of grace tells us that our redemption rests upon the finished work of Christ, not on our own good works.

"For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God." (Galatians 2:19) This statement perfectly sums up everything Paul is saying about the law and about grace. He's saying something like this, "When I understood the law, and when I saw that I could not keep it, I knew I could never be justified in the sight of God by my own works. No matter how hard I studied God's holy word, no matter how zealously and strictly I tried to follow the Lord's commands, no matter how much I denied myself even the most simple and harmless pleasures of life in order to be a serious student of the law, I failed at being perfect. No wonder I was such a bitter and angry man before I came to Christ! I was exhausted. I was depressed. I was frustrated by my continual efforts to obtain justification by my own works. It was killing me mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In my heart I had already admitted to myself that I could never do enough good works to redeem my soul. Maybe that's why I thought persecuting the Christians would please the Lord enough to overlook my shortcomings, because at that time I thought Christians were heretics and blasphemers. But on the road to Damascus I was confronted not only with my own faults and failures, but with the risen Christ. That's when I knew I had to die to the law (and thereby to self and to the idea of trusting in my own efforts) so that I could be made alive in Christ. I am a new creature now, not because I achieved redemption for myself, but because I trust in Christ who achieved redemption for me. What a relief! What a heavy load has been removed from my shoulders! I am not free to sin because I've been redeemed, but my heart and mind have been freed to concentrate on Christ and be led by Him in everything I do."

Next Paul makes one of the most beautiful statements of faith in the Bible, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, 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 could be gained by the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:20-21) Paul says, "The old man is dead! He is nailed to the cross with Christ. The new man is alive! He is risen with Christ. Christ did for me what I could not do for myself. He died for me, so I will live for Him. He rose from the dead to prove that the sacrifice He made for us was acceptable to God for our justification, so all my faith rests on Him and not on myself. I am going to be admitted into the presence of the Lord someday not because my own works were perfect, but because Christ's efforts were perfect. I belong to Him and therefore when God looks at me, He sees the blood of His Son. His judgment will pass over me, just as judgment passed over the houses that had the blood applied to their doors, and just as judgment passed over Israel when the high priest sprinkled the blood of the atoning sacrifice on the mercy seat. Judgment and death did not fall on the people because when God looked down from heaven He saw the blood. In this same way, when we who are in Christ stand before our God and Judge, He will see only the blood."

Below is a link to a worship song that goes along with our passage today.
Crucified With Christ

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 5, Justified By Faith

In yesterday's passage we found Paul scolding Peter in front of the assembly at Antioch for refusing to eat with the Gentiles while men from Jerusalem were visiting. Before these men arrived, Peter had no problem eating with his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ. But after the men arrived, Peter treated these brothers and sisters as if they were unclean. Paul had to act fast in confronting Peter about his error, for even Paul's friend Barnabas was confused enough to follow Peter's example. Paul knew the problem would get worse and worse if he did not step up and reveal Peter's hypocrisy to him.

Today Paul reminds us all that justification in the sight of God can only be achieved by faith. We are not made right with a holy God by works of the law, for no imperfect human being can perfectly keep the law. Good works are commendable if done in the right spirit, but we can't earn salvation by doing good works. Salvation is by grace through faith, and Paul wants his readers at Galatia (and us today) to clearly understand this. Peter confused the issue by behaving as if the Gentile Christians weren't full Christians because they were not circumcised and did not follow the Mosaic law. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is rightfully upset about this. If salvation is through faith in Christ and not through the works of the law, then how can submitting themselves to the Mosaic law make the Gentiles more acceptable to a God who has already accepted them? If God has accepted them, how dare man treat them as if He has not accepted them?

Paul points out to Peter, to the men visiting from Jerusalem, and to all the Jewish Christians present that they have always known that the law doesn't save souls. "We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Chris Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:15-16) The believers of the Old Testament understood that only God could impute righteousness to them. For an example, let's look at what King David said in his prayer of confession and repentance when he acknowledged his sins of adultery and murder, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow...Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (Psalm 51:1-2, 7, 10) If David had believed he could be justified by works, he would have said, "I'll make it up to You, Lord! I'll do enough good works to counteract my sinful works. I'll donate more money to the poor. I'll volunteer to help those in need. I'll make sure everyone in my kingdom has enough food on the table. I'll bring You sacrifices and offerings to soften Your heart toward me." But David understood his shortcomings. He knew he couldn't clean himself up, and that's why he asked God to do it for him.

Paul is saying, "Because we know we can't justify ourselves by works, we have come to Christ in faith, trusting that the perfect Son of God can do for us what we can't do for ourselves." But he also wants everyone to understand that salvation in Christ does not give anyone license to sin. "But if, in seeking to be justified by Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn't that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker." (Galatians 2:17-18)

As someone who grew up believing salvation cannot be lost, I often heard this said scornfully, "Some of you Christians believe in 'once in grace always in grace'." In other words, they were accusing us of believing we could be justified by the work of Christ and then live however we please and still be living under God's constant blessing. This is not the case and I personally cannot stand the phrase "once in grace always in grace". I prefer the term "eternal security" because it more accurately describes what I believe. I believe that once I trusted in Christ for salvation I was sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption, as the Scriptures tell us. I am marked as belonging to Christ, for the Holy Spirit confirms that I belong to Him. But this does not mean I am free to behave as I please, for I am now the daughter of God, and the Lord disciplines those who are His. (Hebrews 12:7-11)

Parents discipline their children for disobedience, but they don't throw their children out in the street and disown them for disobedience. It is the same with God our Father. He does not disown us (take away our salvation) when we sin after coming to Christ, but He does discipline us as a father disciplines his children. So no, we can't live any way we please. And why would we want to? Why would we want to dishonor our Lord who bought our freedom with His own blood? Why would we want to look like the world instead of looking like the One to whom we belong?  We are going to make mistakes from time to time, and if we acknowledge them to God and correct them right away, we can avoid many instances of being "taken to the woodshed" by our Father. But if we persist in disobedience, our Father will have to take corrective action, just as an earthly father takes corrective action when a child keeps doing the thing the father has said not to do.

We were not saved by works and we can't keep ourselves saved by works. Justification is by faith. When we realize we have messed up, the best thing we can do is what David did, which is to go humbly before our Father and ask Him to do what we can't do for ourselves: make us clean.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 4, Paul Scolds Peter For Being A Hypocrite

The Bible shows us people as they really are, and the truth is that even in the church disagreements sometimes arise. In today's passage Paul will tell us about having to scold the Apostle Peter for behaving like a hypocrite. It ought to comfort us knowing that the great men and women of faith made mistakes just like we do. God did amazing things with their lives, not because they were perfect, but in spite of their imperfections. He can do amazing things with us too.

Before Paul recounts his upsetting encounter with Peter he concludes his account of meeting with the council at Jerusalem regarding the message he preaches to the Gentiles. We learned yesterday that he shared the message with them because some of his enemies claimed there were problems with it and/or were accusing him of not urging the believing Gentiles to become circumcised and to obey the law. Paul put forth the reasonable argument that Gentiles don't need to observe the law; God accepted them while they were without the law because of their faith in Christ. There is nothing the law can add to their salvation.

The council agreed with him. "As for those who were held in high esteem---whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism---they added nothing to my message." (Galatians 2:6) The leaders of the church at Jerusalem believe Paul is correct. Salvation for the Jews did not come through the law but by faith. The same is true for the Gentiles. The law merely revealed to man his sinfulness and his need for redemption; it is man's faith in the Lawgiver that brings salvation, for only the One whose laws have been broken can grant anyone mercy for breaking them.

"On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along." (Galatians 2:7-10) Famous apostles like Peter and John and the Lord's brother James give Paul their blessing. Some of their own countrymen who have come to Christ still don't feel God should show mercy and grace to the Gentiles, but these great men of the early church set an example for everyone by putting their stamp of approval on Paul's ministry. If God has chosen to include the Gentiles in His family, who can argue with Him? If God is always right (and we know He is) then it is wrong for anyone to oppose His decision.

Speaking of Peter, even he messes up sometimes. "When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." (Galatians 2:11-13) It must have been difficult for Paul to stand up to someone like Peter, but he had no choice. The Apostle Peter was one of the Lord's disciples and he was a Christian long before Paul was. Peter is a great preacher, a pillar of the church, and one of the most famous of the Lord's followers. Yet his mistake is so great that Paul, who came to Christ long after Peter did, must take him to task for it. Paul isn't intimidated by Peter's status; on the contrary, Peter's status makes his sin even more sinful because he is in a position to influence so many people. His influence is so great that even Paul's close and trusted friend Barnabas becomes confused and imitates Peter instead of Paul.

The men who came down to Antioch from Jerusalem still did not view Gentiles as equals, therefore they would never consider eating with them. Until they came Peter had no problem sitting at the same table as Gentiles, but when they arrived he felt self-conscious about it because he knew they disapproved. Because Peter was a man of high authority in the church, others at Antioch followed his example, including Barnabas. Imagine how this must have made the Gentiles feel! Until they came to faith in Christ they had always been on the outside looking in. Finally they were a part of the family of God, and like a family they enjoyed sitting around the table with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. But suddenly a man like the Apostle Peter treats them as if they are unclean when men come down from Jerusalem, proving to them once again that they will never be good enough in the eyes of some.

Paul deals with the hypocrisy of Peter and Barnabas and the other men by confronting Peter to his face in public. "When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, 'You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'" (Galatians 2:14)

Paul says in front of the men who have made even the Apostle Peter feel intimidated, "You don't live by the law. You eat in the houses of Gentiles and you eat whatever is put in front of you. You know that the Gentile Christians are accepted in the sight of God just as much as the Jewish Christians are, so you have been treating them as equals. Now all of a sudden, just because men of high status who hold prejudice against Gentiles have come down from the big city, you behave as if you are still living by the law. You act like you can't eat with the Gentiles unless they have been circumcised and keep kosher kitchens. What a hypocrite you are! You've told me and everyone else about the day the Lord said to you, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' (Acts 10:15) You knew the Lord was talking to you about the Gentiles. You knew He was saying He had made them clean and acceptable in His eyes through their faith in Christ. You knew the Lord didn't expect them to live under the law. Why then are you acting, for the sake of these visitors, like the Gentiles are second-class citizens?"

I don't know whether Paul was practically shaking in his shoes while confronting a leader of the church in this manner, but he may have been shaking with righteous indignation. Peter was wrong and he had to be confronted before the problem continued to grow. If Paul hadn't said anything there would have been a huge division in the church, an ever-growing chasm between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. To compare the situation to something in more modern times, the Gentiles would have had to sit in their own section at church or else would have had to attend a separate church. There would have been Gentile bathrooms and Gentile water fountains. There would have been inns and restaurants where Gentiles were not welcome. Segregation would have become the norm and the church would not have had the unity that is so vital to it. The problem had to be corrected quickly and publicly because the hypocrisy of a man as high up in the church leadership as Peter would have had long-lasting repercussions, perhaps on down to our own day. Just as there was no truth in the "separate but equal" slogan in our own nation when we were practicing segregation between black people and white people, there would have been no truth in the "separate but equal" slogan in the church while segregating Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians.

If we feel we must be separate, then obviously we do not feel we are equals. As Paul will say later on in his letter to the Galatians, we are all one in Christ Jesus. It doesn't matter whether we are Jew or Gentile. It makes no difference if we are male or female. It doesn't matter whether we came to Christ while dressed in a fancy suit and sitting on a church pew or while hearing the gospel through a prison ministry while we were incarcerated for a crime. In Christ we are the same---clean, equal, and acceptable in the eyes of God.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 3, Relationship Not Religion

In today's passage Paul begins to speak on the subject of the freedom we have in Christ. He will expand on it even further in tomorrow's study, but today he reminds his Gentile readers that the Christian life is a relationship with Christ, not a "religion". It's possible to be very observant about rules and rituals and not have a personal relationship with the Lord. Having a relationship with the Lord will naturally lead people to do what Jesus would do. Having a relationship with the Lord will naturally help Gentile believers, who don't have the Mosaic law, to follow the spirit of the law in their dealings with God and with their fellow man.

First Paul completes his discussion on just where he received the gospel message he preaches. As we learned yesterday, after his conversion he was given the message from Christ Himself. "Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also." (Galatians 2:1) Yesterday he told us that he met with the Apostle Peter and the Apostle James at Jerusalem three years after his conversion. So he's saying, "Fourteen years after that meeting I returned to Jerusalem."

"I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek." (Galatians 2:2-3) Some of the Jewish Christians were having trouble viewing Gentile Christians as equals. They had been brought up to regard Gentiles as unclean, which is understandable when we consider the idolatry the Gentiles formerly practiced. We can see where the Jews were coming from in having difficulty believing God was willing to accept Gentiles into His family. Some of them figured that if this was His intention then surely He wanted them to be circumcised and to follow the dietary rules and other points of the Mosaic law. So while Paul was at Jerusalem he met with the leadership of the church and presented to them the message he preaches among the Gentiles. The council could clearly see that the message Paul preaches is the same message they themselves preach. The gospel says nothing about circumcision or about dietary rules or about adhering to hundreds of laws; the gospel says faith in the One who perfectly kept the law is what imputes righteousness to believers.

The men of the council could see that God called the Gentiles out of darkness into light while they were still uncircumcised and while they were still eating unclean foods. Upon calling them into the light, God did not command them to become circumcised and begin following the law. The law did not save them and the law is not going to keep them saved, just as the law did not save the Jews but faith in the Giver of the law saved them. So the men of the council extended the right hand of fellowship to Titus, a Greek convert, and treated him as an equal in spite of the fact that he was not circumcised and did not know all the points of the Mosaic law and did not observe these points in his daily life.

Yet there were those in Jerusalem who were unwilling to view Gentiles as anything other than perpetually unclean. "This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you." (Galatians 2:4-5) As happens in most any religious community, there will be those who attend church services mainly for the purpose of stirring up trouble. Paul says some "false believers" were hanging around in the assembly of believers in order to see what was going on at their meetings. These were apparently people who did not want the Lord to call Gentiles into His family, who did not believe He would even consider such and thing, and who did not want Him to consider it. But on the off-chance that God actually was willing to accept the Gentiles, these men thought surely He would expect them to observe at least the basics of the law. They had completely missed the entire point of salvation by grace through faith. Having been saved by faith, the Gentiles are in danger of being brought into the bondage of the law by those who are unwilling to accept them unless they follow the law. If the law were necessary for salvation, then how can they explain the fact that these Gentiles are already saved? Rather than reasoning this out and coming to the conclusion that it is faith that saves souls, certain troublemakers want to force the Gentiles to adhere to the law as if their salvation in Christ is not complete without it.

These men have forgotten that their father Abraham was saved (considered righteous) before the law was ever given. (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:22) And what about Job? He lived before the law was given but the Lord said of him, "There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8b) What about Isaac? What about Jacob? What about all the men and women who lived on the earth and feared the Lord before the law was ever given? We consider these believers "saved", don't we? Yet they could not follow the law because they did not have the law, so it is clear that the law does not save anyone. The law had a purpose and that was to show man that he had sinned and fallen short. After realizing he had sinned and fallen short, man could either choose to repent and turn to the Lord for mercy (receive righteousness by faith) or choose to go on living at a far distance from the Lord.

The law was a good thing because it helped man to acknowledge his sin and turn to the Lord for mercy. But the law did not save souls; faith in the Giver of the law saved souls. This is why Paul says something like, "These spies want to take away our freedom in Christ! They want to confuse the Gentile believers about their salvation. They are telling them their faith isn't enough to make them right with God, that God won't accept them until they are circumcised, and that He won't have mercy on them unless they learn and strictly follow all of the 613 laws. Yet not one of these spies could stand here before us and recite all 613 laws, must less perfectly keep 613 laws. Why then are they trying to compel the Gentiles to do it? Why are they trying to confuse the Gentiles and make them feel frustrated and depressed? I refuse to give in to those who want to bring believers into bondage. I did not ask Titus, my Gentile friend, to give in to them and he did not feel the need to give in to them. The leaders of the church accepted him as an equal, and all believers should follow their example and accept as equals those Gentiles who have been saved by the gospel message. It is the only message that saves! After accepting this message the Gentiles will naturally be led by the Holy Spirit into doing what is right in the eyes of God, but learning and observing rules is not going to add anything to what Christ has already done. Christ accomplished salvation for mankind; mankind cannot accomplish salvation for himself."

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 2, Proof Of Conversion

Troublemakers are trying to turn the believers at Galatia against the Apostle Paul by saying untrue things about him. They claim he isn't a real apostle because he wasn't one of the original twelve disciples. They accuse him of preaching the gospel for his own gain and not from a sincere heart. They cast doubts on his good intentions by reminding the citizens of Galatia that he once persecuted the church of Christ. Paul takes these accusations and uses them as the proof that he has been converted. Would a man who was a Pharisee and not one of Jesus' disciples suddenly make a complete turnabout in his attitude toward Christ? Would a wealthy man who enjoyed a great deal of social status give it all up to preach the gospel for free? Would a man who once despised Christians and who wanted them dead claim to be one of them if it wasn't so?

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) Before his conversion Paul was very concerned with the opinions of others. He wanted the high status of a Pharisee. He wanted to be admired by his peers in the Sanhedrin council. He wanted to be looked up to by the citizens of Judea. He was wealthy and popular and moving up the ladder of success. But what did any of that really do for him? Before his conversion he was a bitter, angry, covetous, and selfishly ambitious man. After meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus he was shunned by those in whose admiration he previously basked, so he certainly did not become a Christian in order to gain popularity, and he didn't become a Christian to gain wealth, and he didn't become a Christian to gain social status. As a servant of Christ he has been rejected, ridiculed, beaten, and thrown in jail several times. So naturally he asks, "How can anyone say I'm doing this for personal gain? I haven't gained anything worldly by preaching the gospel; instead I've suffered the loss of a great deal of worldly things."

"I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:11-12) He may not have been one of the original twelve disciples, but he was chosen by Christ just as much as the twelve disciples were. The Lord Himself called Paul to preach the gospel. Who can argue with that? If the Lord says, "This man is My servant and disciple and apostle and preacher of the gospel," His word outweighs the word of everyone else.

Paul now brings up the subject of his previous persecution of the church. Instead of this fact casting doubt on his ministry, it should serve to bolster his claim to be an apostle. "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:13-140 He says, "I was a real go-getter. I was climbing the ladder of success far faster than other men my age. If I had remained on that path I would have really been somebody in the eyes of the world."

When Paul was a young man moving up through the ranks of the Pharisees he could have said, in the words of a modern song, "My future's so bright I gotta wear shades." Paul's future was bright alright, so bright that even shades wouldn't have prevented the glory of the risen Lord from blinding him, because a pre-ordained meeting was going to take place on the dusty road to Damascus. "But when God, who set me apart from my mother's womb and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus." (Galatians 1:15-17) You will recall these events of Paul's life from our study of the book of Acts. Paul says to the believers of Galatia, "When I believed on and accepted Christ on my way to Damascus, I didn't run back up to Jerusalem to be taught by the apostles. I'm not preaching a message I copied from them. I'm preaching the message that was given to me directly from the Lord Jesus. The fact that my message is the same as theirs doesn't mean that I stole my sermons from them; it means that there is only one gospel. The Lord gave me the same message that He gave them, but in a different place and at a different time and in a different way."

"Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles---only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie." (Galatians 1:18-20) As further proof that Paul received the gospel message at his conversion rather than from the lips of those who were disciples of Christ, Paul reminds the people of Galatia, "It was three years before I met the Apostle Peter (Cephas) and listened to his fascinating account of Christ's ministry, death, burial, and resurrection. I was already preaching the gospel for three years before I met Peter, so it is not true that the gospel I preach is plagiarized from Peter's account. I also spent some time with the Lord's brother James three years after my conversion, so obviously I did not copy the message I preach from him."

"Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: 'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.' And they praised God because of me." (Galatians 1:21-24) To counter the claims that he was preaching the gospel for status and wealth and fame, Paul argues, "If I wanted to really be somebody, why have I been preaching in regions where Christ has never been preached? As a former persecutor-turned-Christian, I could have used my amazing conversion story to make a big deal of myself in Judea. I could have become one of the top leaders of the church there. Or I could have gone into another city of Judea where my name was known and started a mega church. I could have been looked up to as a Christian just as much as I was once looked up to as a Pharisee. But instead I've brought the message of salvation to the Gentiles, people the Pharisees consider unclean, people I myself would have once considered beneath me. I am the Lord's chosen apostle to the Gentiles and His approval is all the approval I need. I love the Gentiles with all my heart and I want every one of them to be saved. I would rather preach Christ in the darkest corners of the world where nobody has even heard of me than to be the pastor of the biggest church on earth where I can wear fine robes and earn an impressive salary. I could have been the most famous evangelist in all Judea. Instead the only fame associated with my name is that I was once an evil person who hated Christians and now I am a Christian myself. The glory for this goes to the Lord, as it should, and the only thing my heart desires is that His fame would grow---not mine."