Gal 1 to 3 As Paul traveled and taught he came across the Galatians who believed and began a small congregation. So it was with some dismay that he was astonished to learn that in his absence they had started deserting the faith and returning to the works of the Law. He asked them bluntly, did you receive Christ by doing the works of the Law or by believing? Why do you think that you need to return to that bond of legalism? What has been the purpose of your suffering? For what purpose did God give you the Spirit and allow you to have the gift of miracles?
These are questions we all need to stop and ask because today many want to return to the bondage of the Law rather than stepping out into freedom. Remember that Abraham didn’t have the Law! He was and we are justified by faith not by the works of the Law.
Ask yourself, what was the purpose of Christ’s death? Was it not so that they who believe as Abraham might receive the promise of the Spirit? Again, why was the Law given? It was given to show us what our sin really was. Now that this the Law has been fulfilled through Christ we all belong to Christ and have the promise of the Spirit as His gift. Christ paid the penalty of our sin so we could be and would be free of our sin’s penalty.
So I ask you again: for what reason have you so soon deserted the gospel? Return to your first love and live by the Spirit
In Thessalonica Paul preached the truth of the gospel from the scriptures “explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” [Acts 17] But his stay was short lived and as Paul left hurriedly he had visions that his work was of no value as it seemed that the word of the Lord had fallen upon deaf ears. How often do we proclaim and think that what we have shared has done the same? It is then that we must remember it is NOT about you or me, but it is the power of the gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit that changes lives. It must have been almost more than Paul could take when he heard that the Thessalonians not only heard but received and now were living as Jesus-Believers. They were transformed!
Three things stood out in the lives of the Thessalonians that we can take to heart. First their transformation was evident to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia so much so that the message of the power of the gospel was echoing everywhere. Does our transformation by Jesus do the same? It was evident in three ways: ‘work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope.’ They put faith; words and their belief into action. The world is looking for the reality of transformed lives. Are we living out the gospel so much so that even our “trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold –“?
How does your life and my life look to the outside world?
Paul sent an edifying and encouraging note to Titus, his genuine son in the faith. Paul said to Titus “The reason I left you in Crete” was to do thus and so. We recall the words of Peter “Lord, why can’t I follow you “NOW”? [Jn 13] Jesus answered I have left you here so that you can Go! Make disciples! Go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the farthest part of the world! [Mat 18/Acts 1] That was the reason they were left behind when Jesus returned to heaven and why He sent the Holy Spirit to walk and talk with them just as He had done while with them.
So what is the reason Jesus has left us here and not taken us home to heaven as soon as we became believers? It is the same reason. We are the men/women He has chosen for the job and we have been given the Fruit of the Spirit, the Holy Word, and the mandate to carry the gospel message to the world. We are here to fulfill the Great Commission. If we are not could it be that we really don’t see the “reason?” Paul told Titus that he was the man for the job and he had been directed to fulfill the task. We are the men/women for the job that Jesus left. How would you answer the question: “Why am I here?”
Mark ended his gospel message with hope but there was one disciple who still was lingering and wondering; Peter. Where is he emotionally, spiritually, physically at this time as he considers the possibilities of what may lie ahead? He recoiled at the memory of his courtyard experience where he had denied Jesus three times just as prophesied and had left weeping bitterly. From that point he returned to the only safe haven he knew; with his beloved friends, the disciples who had followed Jesus. John tells us that they were hidden behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. Perhaps they were wondering if they too would be crucified if others found them knowing that their very accents betrayed them. As they sat and mourned the loss of the one they had followed for three years their thoughts did not return to the words of Jesus: “when I am raised, I will meet you in Galilee” but rather their thoughts replayed and rehearsed the past few days and the questions of why, when, how and more. Peter of all would be wondering if ever he could forgive himself and could or would God forgive him? We too have times when we fall and wonder and at these times where we can turn. It is then that we have this promise from Psalm 37:
24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
Did Peter recall these words? We know that John tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter was fully restored…but we are not there yet. Peter yet has to walk the road of misery, mourning, wondering and questioning. But, later he will write what truly happened in his personal letter to those who are suffering. He knows the path and he knows how to encourage. Listen to his words and be encouraged if you too have like Peter experienced a time of falling away: “His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Today, if you are walking with Peter through the agony of dismay, discouragement, despondency for having fallen in some way; take heart, when you repent there is hope. Where there is hope there is joy. Where there is joy there is peace and God’s protection. It is then that the rest of Psalm 37 rings forth with words of comfort and peace: Trust in the Lord, Delight yourself in the Lord, Commit your way to the Lord; Rest in the Lord. This is our journey back to God.
Mark opened his gospel with these words “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and ended with “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here.” Mark is saying to his readers, you began searching for the Messiah and now I tell you that this one who said that He was the very Son of God has proven it through his resurrection. The empty tomb is open for all to enter and to see with their earthly humanity that Jesus the Nazarene was and is and ever will be the very Son of God.
The women will be the first to be given the honor to know this news. The temple guards who fled know as well but will be bribed to keep silent. The chief priests hear this news but will add to their guilt heaping lies and deceit upon the charge of murder. The disciples will be the last to know for they are sequestered behind closed doors shaking in fear. It is the women alone who will boldly walk the quiet dim streets of Jerusalem wondering “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” It is the women who will enter the quiet garden and instead of a tomb darkened by death, see and hear from a heavenly messenger commissioned just for this purpose to tell any who would enter: “He is not here, He has risen just as He said.” Peter later would write that angels long to catch a glimpse of what God had not revealed until this very moment. They had waited through time unknown to us for such an event as this and as at the birth of Christ when the angelic choir sang Glory to God in the Highest we wonder if at the resurrection they added the words “Hallelujah.”
Beloved, Christ is not dead, He is risen just as He said. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Do you know this risen Christ as your own personal Savior?
The Westminster Confession asks this question: “What is the chief end of man?” with the response “To glorify God and to enjoy God forever.” But, how does a believer go about glorifying God, is my being a living sacrifice part of that glorification? How would you answer that question?
Recently I received a missional letter which asked me to recall the time in my life when I decided to follow Jesus as Savior, no matter what it would take. It also asked me to remember that this step meant a life filled with purpose yet perhaps filled with persecution. The present day question is this: Am I ready to pursue this step?
Now to take this a step further and look beyond myself, I need to place myself (sort of a virtual reality) in some of the situations I am reading about across the world where just by believing and living out that verse. Am I ready to face the risk of losing my life when today or even tomorrow is not guaranteed? What would that look like? How would I live my life knowing that?
To recap, Paul has spent 11 chapters defining who we are: sinners in need of God’s saving grace. Once we recognize that we must then reckon ourselves dead to sin and begin to walk in newness of life. Thus we are to become new creatures in Christ, and become instruments of righteousness and we accomplish this when we come to grips with who we were and who we are now to be. Now Paul begins “therefore…” When we see “therefore” we want to stop and ask what is it there for. It is there to remind us of what Paul has spent 11 chapters explaining and now to turn the fly leaf and move onward. So Paul begins by giving us the premise of what we are now to be: living sacrifices.
The OT spends a fair amount of time explaining the sacrificial system and how after killing the animal it is consumed on the altar thus making atonement for one’s sins. Paul uses this analogy but says we are to offer ourselves willingly and sacrificially on the altar as not dead sacrifices but alive. He adds that it is our reasonable service. Why? Christ died on the cross for us and this is how we offer ourselves back to Him in thankfulness. But, note that it is not a command but a gesture; Paul says “present” just as one offers a gift to a loved one just because they love them. Note the three characteristics: alive, holy, pleasing to God. The effect of the burnt offering was to atone. Here the idea is that as a living sacrifice we are to be consumed by the love of God, totally transformed from what we were to what He would have us to become. Thus Paul says Do NOT conformed to this present world but Do BE transformed; altered and renewed in life and spirit.
Note that this living sacrifice is personal not corporate. The effect should be holiness. Be ye holy as I am holy saith the Lord. My problem exists when I decide to crawl off the altar back into conformity of the world. Lest we do not know what this looks like, Paul gives an extensive list after vs 2. Today as I minister to those around the world through GMO (Global Media Outreach) I find that many come with an interest in the gospel but even my answers to their questions fall flat. They are not willing to take the step I took long ago. So does this mean they are not being transformed, am I being transformed? Do others see or read that Christ is living in me? Is my life so transparent that even the unbeliever sees something different in me? I think there may be a glimmer of hope here. I recently received yet another “epistle” from the atheist I am working with over email. Here is what he said: “All I can say is that you are truly filled with a magnificant spirit. How that came about I have no idea. But I know you should cherish it as it supports you wonderfully.” That blew my socks off. Guess God is at work…this is truly His project, not mine. All He asks of me is to allow the Illuminating Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside out. How about you?