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."

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