Battling Unbelief

I think that unbelief is everywhere in the Christian culture.  I mean, we all struggle with it.  It just goes by a different name.  The traditional definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11.1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Faith is interconnected with belief.  If we say we are struggling to have faith, we are battling unbelief. 

This struggle with unbelief seems to be a taboo in Christian culture today.  We aren’t necessarily encouraged to share this thought because it highlights our weakness.  Rather, it is the social norm to put on the mask and to convince people of our perfection.  (Maybe then we can convince ourselves).  The thing is that we aren’t perfect.  We struggle with unbelief.  We struggle with having a faith that is “big enough.”  If we begin to be honest with ourselves and with others, then maybe we can begin to overcome our own unbelief.

Battling Unbelief

Mark 9.14-29 contains a familiar story of unbelief.  I am so thankful this father is mentioned in the Bible.  It gives me hope to know that someone else wrestled with doubt just like me.  The story is of a father and son.  The son has been possessed by an unclean spirit since childhood.  The father sees Jesus and says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Then the father cries out and says, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The father’s unbelief can be seen in his words.  He says to Jesus, the God Man, “if you can do anything.”  We see here that the father is not sure of Jesus’ ability.  Let’s not discredit the father entirely.  He did ask Jesus to do something, so the father did have a little faith. 

I think this is the place we often find ourselves.  We have heard of God’s goodness, power, sovereignty, etc., but we often are not fully convinced of these things.  We ask things of God, but we struggle to believe He can and will come through. 

What do we do in times like this?  The father’s response to Jesus may give us direction.  The father recognized what he believed of Jesus (God) and confessed that he struggled to sustain that belief.  I think the first step would be to pray about our unbelief.  Tell God where we are struggling with unbelief.  He can take it.  Acknowledging our unbelief before God, helps us to acknowledge it to ourselves.  This is exactly what the father in this story does.  He acknowledges his unbelief and confesses it to God.

The next step may be to share our battle of unbelief with others, one or two people or your small group.  The point is to have others pray for us and encourage us.  Others can be used by God to remind us of truths we often forget. 

The shame associated with unbelief can easily drive someone to keep their questions and doubts to themselves.  We are the children of God, a family.  We are to come to each other with our battles that we might encourage one another in our Christian walk. 

Personal Testimony

In my own life, I have made a connection between battling unbelief and struggling with self-doubt.  I have found that in the seasons when I have questioned God’s goodness and sovereignty, I have also questioned myself and what I’m good at. 

Over the past year, I have made multiple plans for my future, specifically graduate school.  For every plan I made, I was sure it was the right plan.  I had peace with each one, but the door has closed each time.  The place where I am now is not where I want to be.  As a result, I have made more plans, but each one has failed. 

This cycle of failed plans has caused me to question God’s goodness. It’s caused me to question His plan for my life.  As His plan looks like keeping me in a place I loathe, I am struggling to understand God’s goodness.  This is unbelief, unbelief in God’s goodness and sovereignty. 

Every time I have begun to question God, self-doubt always follows.  I question myself.  I question what I’m good at.  I become hyper aware of my mistakes, putting another tally mark on the negative side for the day.  I crumble.  I question every action, every word I said for the day.  I review my past and become overwhelmed by the mistakes I see. 

When I question God, I question the only solid foundation I have in my life.  I question the only One who is and will be constant for me.  God is immoveable, constant and firm.  He does not change.  He remains faithful.  My unbelief can cause me to question these characteristics, and therefore, my view of God becomes twisted.  In my unbelief, I begin to question God’s faithfulness.  If I question the One from whom I find my worth and my identity, then I begin to question who I am.  It is a cycle that can have a huge effect on your self-esteem. 

I am encouraged by the father in Mark 9.14-29 because I know I’m not alone in my battle of unbelief.  I know that it is nothing new, and I can overcome.  What can I do to win this battle?  Call out to my Father and confess my struggle, asking Him to give me faith in this season.

Photo Credit:   Brooke Cagle

What Do You Do If You Lack Self-Esteem?

We, as people, often find who we are in what we do.  We determine our worth and value by our accomplishments.  This can be good because it pushes us to strive to do our best.  But what do you do if you have a rough week at work?  What do you do if you don’t do so well on a test at school?  By placing who we are in what we do, we can easily question ourselves if we have a rough week.

We, as people, not only find our identity in what we do, but we often find who we are based on what others say or think about us.  The people we hold important in our lives influence the way we view ourselves.  If we are around people that show they care about us, we don’t question our worth or value.  But if we have people in our lives that often point out our faults, we can begin to question ourselves. 

I find myself in one of these places quite often.  I am either holding to what someone thinks of me or holding to what I accomplish to determine my worth.  This is not a good place to be.  It seems to be a continuous spiral of self-doubt.

How do you get out from either of these places? How do you prevent it in the first place? The simple answer to both of these is to find your worth in God.  Rather than finding who you are in what you do, find your identity in Whose you are.  Rather than finding your worth in what others say, find your value in what God thinks about you.

On KLove radio station, I heard Pastor Levi Lusko talk about this very topic.  He mentioned Psalm 23.  He said, “Let’s look at how David describes himself in this psalm.  How does he describe himself?  As a sheep.  Why is that?  Let’s not miss something big here.  David describes himself as a sheep because he sees God as his Shepherd.  David knew who God was, and as a result, David knew who he was.”  David knew God, his Creator, and therefore, he understood who he was.  David found his identity, his worth, his value, in God.

How do we find our identity in God?  I believe the first step is to begin to better understand who God is.  In the example with David, he knew God as his shepherd, therefore he saw who he was in light of who God was.  I believe this same principle can be applied to our lives.  In order to fight self-doubt, we must first learn more of who our Creator is.  After all, we were created in His image (Genesis 1.26-27). 

What does this practically look like?  I’d say it looks like reading our Bibles more.  It looks like digging in deep to what the Bible says about God and how it describes God’s character.  It’s looking at the stories of the Bible that we know.  A few Old Testament examples include: Noah’s Ark, Abraham, Joseph and his coat of many colors, Joshua and the battles for the Promised Land, the stories of the kings of Israel, and the times of the prophets.  If we take the time to look back at these moments, we can see more of God’s character.  God showed His wrath in the days of Noah, but He also showed mercy and grace to Noah and his family.  God was faithful to Joseph and sustained him during his trials.  God went before the Israelite armies and brought them victory.

Just as we can look at the Old Testament to see God’s character, we can look at the New Testament as well.  The Gospel specifically demonstrates God’s love and faithfulness to provide a way of salvation for mankind.  When we combine the Old and New Testaments, we see God’s unfailing faithfulness to bring forth His plan of salvation from Genesis 3 to the Gospels.  We see God continuing His plan to lead to the birth of Jesus the Savior of the world. 

Once you begin to learn Whose you are, how do you begin to find your worth in what He thinks of you?  I think once we seek to learn more of who God is, we begin to see who we are.  Just like the example with David, He saw how he was like a sheep because he understood God as his Shepherd.  I think by looking at God’s faithfulness to bring forth His plan for the salvation of mankind, we will begin to see just how much God cares not just for us, but for everyone.  God worked throughout human history, to bring forth a way for us to be with Him in harmony.  What more love can you ask for?

The Gospel demonstrates God’s love and what He thinks of us.  He cares so much about us and wants us so much.  In order for us to be with Him, He came to pay the penalty for our sins, in order that we could be with Him.  If you want to know what God thinks of you, look at what He has done for you in the Gospel.

Photo Credit:   Elijah Hiett

God’s Offer Of Grace: Galatians Part 8

In Part 7 of our study, we focused on what it meant to walk by the Spirit.  We learned of the battle between the flesh and the Spirit and how they aim for control in the human heart.  Paul describes this dynamic well in Romans 8. 5-6,

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

Galatians 6. 1-18

In this last chapter, Paul gives a few final commands for the Galatians believers as well as some guidance in their Christian walk.  In verses 1-10, Paul instructs the Galatians on how to live out their walk in the day to day. 

Verses 1-5 describe ways for the believers to be considerate of each other.  The examples given highlight an aspect of community.  They are instructed to restore each other and to bare one another’s burdens.  The overarching characteristic in all these actions is humility.  They are to restore each other in a spirit of gentleness (one of the fruit of the Spirit).  In verses 3-5, there is no place for pride.  Overall, there seems to be call for an attitude of selfless humility.

Verses 6-10 utilize the imagery of farming to describe how to live the Christian life. “For whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6.7).  In this set of verses, Paul points back to what he states previously in Galatians 5.16-18.  He is again talking about the battle between the flesh and the Spirit.  We have the choice between which one we will sow our seed, in the flesh or in the Spirit.  Will we choose to set our mind on the flesh and seek the things of the flesh and therefore sow our seed to our own flesh?  Or will we choose to set our mind on the Spirit and seek the things of God and therefore sow our seed in the Spirit?  (See Romans 8.5-6)  Paul clearly states what will result if we sow our seed in the flesh or if we sow our seed in the Spirit.  “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6.8). 

There are times where sowing in the Spirit can be draining.  We might not see the results as quickly.  Paul encourages us and the Galatian believers to not give up.  We are to keep sowing in the Spirit because we will soon see the full harvest, which is eternal life.  Paul ends his letter with an encouraging command urging the Galatian believers to continue on in their Christian walk by sowing in the Spirit and therefore walk by the Spirit until they reap the harvest of eternal life.

Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians by summarizing his main point.  Let’s review for a moment…  Paul’s reason for writing the letter is to address this false teaching which involved the use of circumcision to make one right before God.  Paul counters this teaching by demonstrating that God’s grace and approval is given to those who believe in His Son.  Paul’s hope is for the Galatian believers to live in light of God’s grace by seeking to live according to the Spirit.  In the Spirit, there is life, peace, and freedom from meeting the standard of God’s law.  This standard doesn’t have to be met by the use of circumcision; it has been met by Jesus:  His life, death and resurrection.  Therefore, in Galatians 6.11-18, Paul concludes his letter by reminding the Galatians that circumcision doesn’t earn God’s approval.  We can have God’s approval through His offer of grace given through Jesus Christ.  Will you accept God’s gift of grace?  

Photo Credit:   Annie Spratt

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 7

In Part 6, we learning that the implication for being a child of God is freedom.  Freedom to live in God’s grace.  We were challenged to demonstrate this freedom by living out our faith by living a life of love.  God has demonstrated His love to us, we are to demonstrate His grace to others. 

Galatians 5. 16-26

In this passage, we will learn what it means to “walk by the Spirit.”  This passage can be divided into two main sections:  verses 16-24 and verses 25-26. 

Verses 16-24

Paul writes this set of verses in such a way that they can be subdivided into three sections.  In order for us to better grasp what Paul is saying, we will discuss each subsection individually.  

            Verses 16-18:  Verse 16 begins with Paul’s command for the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit.”  In the verses that follow, he demonstrates what that looks like.  Paul uses imagery to explain the dynamic between the Spirit and the flesh.  The two powers are set up against each other.  They wage war for the heart.  We and the Galatians are to seek to walk by the Spirit, not by the desires of our flesh.  There is a battle demonstrated here that occurs in the heart of every person.  The flesh causes us to do the things that are counter to God.  It encourages us to do what we want rather than seek to be obedient to God.  The Spirit, on the other hand, causes us to seek the things of God and to walk in His ways.  As Paul has mentioned in the passage just before this (Galatians 5.1-15), there is freedom found in seeking to walk by the Spirit.  A freedom that conquers anything that the flesh claims to provide. 

            Verses 19-21:  In these verses, Paul sets forth what it looks like to walk in the desires of the flesh.  This listing contains things that are against the things of God.  As it is so easy to run through this listing, it is important for us to work through it slowly, examining our lives for evidence of the flesh.  When we come across these listings, we can easily point the finger and think of another person with that characteristic.  That’s obviously not the point.  We should reflect on our lives and try to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2.12-13).

            Verses 22-24:  In these verses, Paul describes what it looks like to walk in the Spirit:  producing fruit of the Spirit.  This listing of characteristics is another way we can examine ourselves.  We can use this list to judge where we are on the continuum of learning to live by the Spirit.  The ending of verse 23 says, “Against such things there is no law.”  I mentioned in Part 6, as a young Christian, I thought I was supposed to meet the expectations of a Christian to the tee.  I would look at this listing in verses 22-23 and see my failure.  I would use this list as a standard to strive to meet.  That was a good goal, but I began to focus so much on meeting the standard that I made my Christianity more about meeting the rules rather than about my relationship with God.  Paul’s point in verse 23 and in Galatians 5.1-15 was that living by the Spirit meant living in freedom from meeting a standard of rules.  As a young Christian, I had missed the point.  If I focused on building my relationship with God, He would eventually help me to “work out my own salvation, with fear and trembling, for it was He who worked/is working in me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2.12-13).  By focusing on growing my relationship with God, He would work in me to help me produce the fruit of His Spirit listed in these verses.  I believe this is a lifelong process that begins when we receive His Spirit at the point of our salvation.  Therefore, if we don’t have this list down pat, I think there is some grace for that.  After all, walking by the Spirit is living in the freedom of God’s grace.

Verses 25-26

These two verses are complex to describe.  Paul seems to be providing the Galatians with some encouragement yet also challenging them in verse 25.  Verse 26 holds a warning for the Galatians and for us. 

Again in verse 25, we see this idea of walking with the Spirit.  In the verses above, Paul has just explained what it looks like to walk in the Spirit.  Now he is challenging the Galatians to keep in step with the Spirit.

 

With this verse, I imagine a scene:   a young child is following her parent on the sidewalk. 

As the parent continues walking, the young girl gets distracted by a pretty flower.  She stops to admire it and play with it. 

I don’t believe that God ever leaves us behind, but He does want to push us and challenge us to be the best we can be.  We, just like the young girl, can sometimes get distracted by the things of the flesh which can hinder our keeping in step with the Lord. 

In verse 26, Paul warns the Galatians to not become conceited and therefore provoke and envy each other.  This seems a bit out of the blue to me, but I know Paul has a point and a connection.  The three words (conceit, provoke, and envy) seem to connect back to pride.  Pride does cause disunity, and it can cause someone to not exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  For example, if there is disunity brought forth by pride, there is little chance for peace.  If someone is prideful, they may feel privileged to where they don’t have to show kindness or gentleness to another person.  Ultimately, humility seems to be the way to go.  We need to have a humility in understanding that God is the one that has helped to produce the fruit of His Spirit in us, humility in realizing we couldn’t have the fruit of the Spirit without Him, and humility in the fact that only through God’s grace have we been saved.

I strongly suggest reading through Romans 8 as a supplemental reading to this lesson.  In this chapter, Paul explains the Spirit and His work in more detail.  He also explains the battle between the flesh and the Spirit in more depth than he does in this lesson.

Photo Credit:  Alvan Nee

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 6

In Part 5 of our study, we focused on what it meant to be a child of God.  We learned that the foundation for being a child of God is coming to know God and being known by Him.  We found that relationship with God is what distinguishes the Christian faith.

Before we continue, there is a need for a brief summary.

In chapter one, the Galatians are caught up in a false gospel.  This false gospel is causing the Galatians to question their salvation and faith (see Gal. 1.6-24).  Paul reminds them they are justified by faith in Jesus (see Gal. 2.11-21).  Then Paul instructs the Galatians about the implications of their faith in Jesus and how it is to be lived out (see Gal. 3.1-14).  In chapter three, Paul demonstrates to the Galatians that through their faith, they have become children of God and heirs to God’s promise to Abraham (see Gal. 3.15-29).  The false gospel caused the Galatians to forget their status as children of God and caused them to turn back from God’s grace.  They returned to the things they once sought before they believed, which was obeying the law to perfection (see Gal. 4.1-20).  As children of God, the Galatians were to rely upon God’s grace given to them through their faith.  They were to no longer be enslaved to obeying the law; they were to live by faith relying upon God’s grace (see Gal. 4.21-31). 

Galatians 5.1-15

Paul’s argument comes to a climax here.  We ended Part 5 with a question:  what are the implications for being a child of G0d?  Paul’s answer:  freedom. 

In verse one, Paul explains that as children of God through faith, they can live in the freedom of God’s grace.  Paul encourages the Galatians to stand firm in their faith and not submit to the power the law once had over them.

The Galatian church was facing a struggle because of the false gospel they were beginning to believe.  The following verses (verses 2 through 12) cause me to think that this false gospel had to do with circumcision.  Why else would Paul make his argument against circumcision here?

At that time, the thought was that circumcision is what showed a man to be righteous, but Paul sees this action as a man-based work, not faith.  This is the reasoning for Paul’s whole argument throughout his letter.  He is reminding the Galatians that they are to live by faith, not by works.  Consequently, if they live by faith, they will be counted as righteous just like their father, Abraham back in Genesis 15. 

In verses two through four, Paul demonstrates that if the Galatians chose to obey the law by the act of circumcision, they are obligated to obey the whole law.  As we’ve mentioned previously, it was impossible for one to obey the whole law perfectly.  The Galatians who chose circumcision were essentially throwing away the righteousness that God had given them through faith. 

Paul commands the Galatians to stop trying to obey the law and to seek to live by faith through the Spirit of God.  The Galatians had received the Spirit by faith.  In verse five, Paul is encouraging them to wait for that day when they will be counted as righteous before their Maker.  He concludes his argument in verse six by leveling the playing field.  The thing that counted the most was not circumcision or uncircumcision but “only faith working through love.”

Verses seven through twelve, consist of Paul’s dislike toward the ones who brought in the false gospel of circumcision.  Paul encourages the Galatians in verse seven.  He tells them that they were running their race well.  Then he asks them why they had stopped and started going the wrong way.  He brings a challenge to the Galatians to forget obeying the law to perfection and to seek to live in God’s grace through faith.  Paul wants them to stop living under the burden of perfection and to start living in the freedom of God’s grace. 

For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” 

Paul challenges the Galatians to live by faith, meaning to live in the freedom of God’s grace. 

As a perfectionist, this is so freeing and challenging.  I spent my first year as a new Christian in the perfection mode.  I tried to do all the things I knew I was supposed to do.  I had heard that “my chains were gone, and I’d been set free.”  The more I tried to find that freedom, the more weighed down I became.  Then I learned that Christianity wasn’t focused on rules; it was focused on a relationship.  A relationship with God.  I didn’t have to earn my way to meet Him.  Jesus earned my way for me. 

I had fallen into a false gospel.  I thought that the common expectations of a Christian were what distinguished them apart from the world, but it was a relationship with God that made them different.  It wasn’t my actions that made me good; it was coming to know a God who slowly changed my heart and brought forth good actions.  It wasn’t my efforts; it was God working in me. 

This makes me question:  are there works that we commonly pursue that we think add to our righteousness?  Like going to Sunday school AND big church.  Like going to church on Wednesdays.  Being extra generous in our tithing for the month.  All these examples and probably other examples are good things.  They are good actions, but if we are basing them toward our righteousness, then we should evaluate our motives.  It has to do with the motives of our hearts.  Are we doing this because it is good and glorifying to God?   Or are we doing this because it looks good and adds to our reputation?

Lastly, there is a concept of love that I don’t want to miss pointing out.  In verse six, Paul says that faith working through love is what matters.  Later in verses thirteen and fourteen, he commands the Galatians to serve one another through love for loving their neighbor as themselves fulfilled the whole law. 

How should one live in the freedom offered by Christ?  They should live by love.  Is it that our faith is truly working if we are seeking to genuinely love?  If you look at Jesus and His ministry, the answer to this question seems to be “yes.”  He showed love to the poor, to children, to women, to the sick, and to His disciples.

If we are to live by love, it looks like serve one another and counting others as more important than ourselves (see Philippians 2.3-4).  When asked, Jesus stated that the two greatest commandments were (1.) to love God and (2.) to love your neighbor (Matthew 22.34-40). 

The challenge this week is to learn to live out your faith by living a life of love.  Of course this can take different forms, but the point is to learn to demonstrate the love to others that God has demonstrated to you.  He offers us grace; we are to give that grace to others. 

Photo Credit:  Mikhail Pavstyuk

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 5

In Part 4 of our study, we learned that the purpose of the Old Testament law was to point people to their need for a savior.  Paul made clear to the Galatians that they couldn’t meet the standards of the law, but Jesus did on their behalf.  Paul called the Galatians to live by faith in Jesus.  By having faith in Jesus, the Galatians received the promise God made to Abraham.  They were considered offspring of Abraham and children of God. 

Galatians 4.1-31

In this section of our study, we will focus more on what it means to be children of God.  We will see that God’s adoption of us as His children should cause us to live based upon His grace.

Verses 1-7

In the previous verses, Paul demonstrated to the Galatian church that they were offspring of Abraham because they had faith in Jesus.  If they are Abraham’s offspring, they are also heirs of God’s promise of a relationship.  This means they now, through faith in Jesus, have a relationship with God their Father. 

This truth is the same for us who have faith in Jesus.  We now have the ability to have a relationship with God the Father.  This was God’s purpose since the beginning.  He created man, and there was a relationship between God and man.  Since sin entered the world, that relationship has been broken.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (or daughters).” 

In verses 1 through 7, Paul makes known to the Galatians that they are children of God.  He tells them that they are no longer “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world,” meaning they are no longer slaves to their sin. 

Verses 8-20

Here, Paul explains to the Galatians that as children of God the power the law had over them has been broken.  Jesus met the standards of the law that they couldn’t and thereby defeated the power of the law.  Through their faith in Jesus, the Galatians were freed.

The problem was that the Galatians weren’t grasping this status of freedom.  They were seeking to go back to their old ways of sin.  Paul, in this section, is calling the Galatians to recognize the meaning of being children of God.

Verse 9 gives us a clue into what it means to be a child of God.  It means (1.) we have come to know God and (2.) we are known by God.  There, again, is the emphasis on relationship between God and His people.  Paul uses this relationship as the foundation for his argument against the Galatians. 

The Galatians, now children of God, were turning back to their sinful ways and seeking to obey the law that they had been set free from through Jesus.  They forgot their status as children of God. 

Let’s pause for just a moment.  Don’t we do the same thing? 

We as Christians are children of God, meaning we have a relationship with God our Father.  We too have been set free from the enslavement of the law and from our sin.  We too turn back to the things we once did.  The argument Paul is making is directed to our hearts as well. 

Paul’s foundation for his whole argument is this: we are now children of God.  We have come to know God and are known by God.  If this is Paul’s main point, then maybe we should consider it for our own lives.  What does it mean to know God?  What does it mean to be known by God?

What does it mean to know God?  Just like any person, we come to know God by spending time with Him.  We read His word.  We talk to Him through prayer.  We experience life with Him.  Through these times, we come to know His character, His personality.  We come to trust Him more and believe His is who He says He is.  We see His authenticity, just like any other person.

What does it mean to be known by God?  To be honest, I’m not sure what this means.  I know in my own life that I find comfort in knowing that God understands when I can’t express something like I want to.  I find comfort knowing that He sees my heart, my life, my desires, everything, and He still wants a relationship with me.  When I can’t understand myself, I know that He gets it, and I don’t have to worry.  I’m not sure of that is a good answer to that question, but it’s the answer I have.

Verses 21-31

In this section, Paul uses the story of Sarah and Hagar to further his point.  Paul states that as children of God the Galatians should seek the things of God by continuing to live by faith in Jesus.  In other words, they are to rely upon their Father’s grace rather than their obedience to the law. 

Paul creates an allegory of two well-known Old Testament women to explain what it means to be a child of God.  Paul makes his point in verse 28, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise,” meaning they are recipients of God’s promise to Abraham.  Again, what’s that promise?  A relationship with God, redemption and adoption into God’s family (see Gal. 4.5).

In verse 31, Paul’s example comes to a conclusion.  “So, brothers, we are not children of the slave,” meaning we are no longer enslaved to the power of the law and our sin, “but of the free woman,” meaning we are free as adopted children of God.

The Galatians were returning to the things they once did before they were saved, but Paul was calling them to rely upon the grace given to them by their Father.  He was pleading for the Galatians to turn back to God and receive His grace.  This same call goes out to our hearts today.  Will we continue to pursue the things we once did? Or will we choose to live as children of God and receive His daily sufficient grace?

The Galatians forgot who their Father was.  They were spiritual children of Abraham and Sarah, meaning they were heirs of the promise and children of God.  What are the implications for being a child of God?  We will answer this question in Part 6.

Photo credit:   Alona Kraft

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 4

In Part 3 of our study, we focused on how the Galatian church was beginning to believe that their good works were perfecting their justification before God.  We also addressed that same mentality today in the area of sanctification.  We cannot work to push ourselves further toward righteousness.  It is only through the work of God that we can become more like Him. 

Galatians 3.10-29

In this part of our study, we will discuss how the righteous are to live by faith, and we will discover the importance of the Old Testament law and God’s promise to Abraham. 

I am so excited about this week’s study!  We will be digging deep into the Bible and making some important connections!  I suggest that you have your Bible physically in front of you as you read.  Be sure to keep your fingertips moist because we will be flipping to various Bible passages.

Verses 10-14

In these verses, we find Paul continuing his address to the Galatians belief that they can add to their justification.  The Galatian church has begun to seek to rely upon their ability to keep the Old Testament law rather than have faith in Jesus.  Paul states that if they have decided to follow the law, then they must meet all of the law’s requirements.  No one can perfectly keep the commands of the Old Testament law.  (That is except for Jesus, who was perfect in all ways).  In verse 11, Paul says that “no one is justified before God by the law.”  Paul is telling the Galatians that their pursuit of obeying the law would be fruitless.  The Galatians needed someone to meet the requirements of the law on their behalf….Jesus.  Throughout verses 12 to 14, Paul describes how Jesus met the requirements of the Old Testament law.  He continues to point out that Jesus’ work could be transferred to their account through faith. 

That is God’s grace!   He offers to give each person, who comes in faith, the status of righteousness that Jesus rightfully earned.  It’s clear that we can’t meet the standard of righteousness, but God offers to give us that status of righteousness if we believe and live by faith. 

Verses 15-18

Verses 15 through 18 describe the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15.  God promises to give Abraham offspring more numerous than the stars in the sky, but God does more than that with this covenant.  God establishes a relationship with Abraham; He makes a promise to Abraham and keeps it.  When God made that promise to Abraham, He had Jesus in His mind.  God intended for humans to live by faith from the very beginning.

Verses 19-22

In verse 19, Paul asks, “Why did God make the Old Testament law in the first place?”  The law had to be established before Jesus came.  The law made known to man what was right and what was wrong.  God established the Old Testament law in order that people might recognize their sins and therefore, make them aware of their need for a Savior….JESUS. 

Verses 23-25

The purpose of the Old Testament law was to point people to Christ.  Now as Christians, the Old Testament law still has a purpose for our lives.  But we are not called to live by trying to obey the law, for Jesus has done that perfectly on our behalf.  Rather, we are called to live by faith in Jesus.

Verses 26-29

If we live by faith in Jesus, then we as Christians are considered children of God.  If we are all God’s children, then like Paul says in verse 28, there is no disunity.  We are one in Jesus.  Since we are children of God, we have a guarantee of receiving the promise God made with our spiritual father, Abraham back in Genesis 15.  What was that promise?  It was the promise of a close relationship with God. 

Let’s take a side trip and flip to Genesis 17.1-8. (View the passage by clicking the reference).   Here God makes another covenant with Abraham.  God declares that He will not only be Abraham’s God but the God of Abraham’s offspring.  A relationship is established between God and His people.

Now let’s flip back a few pages to Genesis 15.1-6.  Verse 6 is what I want to focus on. It reads, “And he believed the Lord, and He counted to him as righteousness.”  The Hebrew word for “he believed” is pronounced amen, and it means “to sustain, hold firm.”  This makes the literal translation of verse 6 as follows: “And he sustained, held firm in the Lord, and He (God) counted to him as righteousness.”  This translation brings more depth to the verse.  Abraham is not described as believing God in a moment, but he is described as continuing to believe God.  There is an idea of faithfulness here that I want to point out.  Throughout the Bible there is an emphasis put on having a faith that endures.  I can’t help but wonder if this is how Abraham’s faith is meant to be described.  In order to sustain and hold firm, there must be a time frame for which you do it.  If we, as Christians, are called to live by faith, doesn’t that mean we are called to live a life in which we hold firm to our faith and to our God? 

I am reminded of Hebrews 10.19-25 and especially Hebrews 10.35-39 which reads,

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

This set of verses references Habakkuk 2.4, “my righteous one shall live by faith.”  If that seems familiar, it is because Paul references it back in Galatians 3.11.  We learn from theses sets of verses that the Christian life is one that continues to strive to have faith in God. Let this be your encouragement to KEEP GOING!

Photo Credit:  Aaron Burden

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 3

In Part 2 of our study, we focused on the truth that we are justified before God through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul called out Peter’s sin and reminded him of this truth.  In Part 1, we addressed Paul’s reason for writing to the Galatian church.  They were beginning to believe in a false gospel.  Now, in Part 3, we will learn what this false gospel is and how to address it in our own lives.

Galatians 3.1-9

In verses 1-9, Paul addresses the Galatians regarding this false gospel.  Through verses 2-6, we can define this false gospel.  It is the seeking of justification through works rather than by faith.  Paul presents the Galatians with a rhetorical question:  did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  The answer to this question is obvious.  They received the Spirit through faith.  Verse 3 is key to understanding the Galatians’ struggle.  Evidently, the Galatians believed and received the Spirit of God through faith, but they were trying to grow their faith and work to achieve their justification before God.  They had begun the Christian life by relying upon the Spirit, but they somehow thought their works would produce more than the Spirit of God.  The Galatian church took the truth that one is saved by faith, and they combined it with the false gospel of earning justification via works.  They began to believe the lie that faith was not enough to save them. 

The Galatian church thought they could add their works to the saving Work of Christ and somehow earn or get credit for their justification.  They wanted to claim a part in their justification.  The problem is they couldn’t be justified through their own actions.  Only the actions of Christ could save them.  Paul will address this in verses 10-14, which will be in Part 4 of our study.

Summary and Application

The Galatians made a mistake and believed they could help earn their righteousness.  They sought to add their works to the Work of Christ.  When they chose to do this, they essentially were believing that Christ’s work on the cross wasn’t enough to earn their justification.  They thought that adding their works would help to guarantee that they were saved.  The thing is, the Galatians were already saved.  In verse 2, we learned that they already received the Spirit. 

According to Ephesians 1.13-14, if we have received the Holy Spirit, we are saved.  The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our salvation.  The Galatians received the Spirit.  They tried to earn their salvation through their works, but they were already saved.  The Holy Spirit was their evidence of that.

It is very easy for us to fall into the same mode of thinking as the Galatians.  In fact, the idea that we can add to our salvation through works is very prevalent now.  This thought is wrong.  This same thinking has been placed on sanctification.  We have thought we can make ourselves more like Christ through our works.  This has some truth to it, but it has been twisted.  When we try to be more like Christ through our own efforts to produce works, we have missed the point.  We are essentially trying to earn our sanctification.  We must work with God and allow His Spirit to help produce righteousness. 

For the sake of clarification, God works through the Holy Spirit to save us and to perfect us.  This process of perfection is called sanctification, which has already been mentioned.  Sanctification is an action done only by God.  Only through His work may we be made more like him. 

Both of these ideologies on justification and sanctification can lead us to rely more upon ourselves and our own abilities rather than relying upon God for our righteousness.  This is what faith is: trusting that God paid the price for your salvation once and for all and working with the Holy Spirit to produce evidence of this faith.

At the risk of being repetitive, let me clarify the role of Jesus Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit.  According to what we have read so far, Jesus is the One who justified us before God through His work.  We can have that justification transferred to our account by having faith in Jesus.  We receive the Holy Spirit once we have faith in Jesus.  Then the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts and begins to make us more like God.  He changes our hearts to begin to desire the things of God.  As we will see in later posts, the Holy Spirit guides us to produce spiritual fruit.  This is the process of becoming a Christian.   

Challenging Questions

The mindset of a works based sanctification is so prevalent today, and it is easy to get caught in it without noticing. 

How do we get out of this mindset?

How do we work with and allow the Holy Spirit to move in our hearts?

Is the Christian life a process of learning to rely upon God and His abilities and promises over own abilities?

Feel free to respond to these questions via a comment or two.  I am pondering the answers myself.

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 2

In Part 1 of our study, we examined Galatians 1. 1-24.  We noted how Paul pointed out the teaching of a false gospel.  This false teaching was leading the Galatian Christians away from the truth.  In the second half of the chapter, we read Paul’s testimony in the faith.  Now we continue on to Part 2 of our study.   

Galatians 2. 1-21

For Part 2 of our study of Galatians, we will focus on Galatians 2. 1-21.  This chapter can be divided into two sections:  verses 1-10 and verses 11-21. 

Verses 1-10

In this section, Paul describes his experience in Jerusalem.  This visit occurred fourteen years into Paul’s ministry.  Paul explained his reasoning for the visit in verse two.  He wanted to make sure his ministry was on the right track.  He wanted to verify that he had not wasted the past fourteen years of his life teaching something that was false.  This might be something we need to do in our own Christian walk.  We might need to stop and ask ourselves if we have been on the right track. 

Verses 4 and 5 mention these false brothers that formed to be an opposition to Paul and his ministry.  These false brothers were spreading the teaching that one must be circumcised in order to be a Christian.  This doctrine is clearly false based on verses 11-21 later in the chapter.  The idea of adding the work of circumcision to somehow make one right with God clashes with the truth of one being justified through faith. 

In verses 6-10, we see Peter, James, and John as leaders in the heart of the Christian movement.  Paul is recognized by these three men as a minister to the Gentiles.  (The term gentiles refers to anyone other than a Jew).  They confirm Paul’s ministry.  As mentioned in verse 2, Paul was looking for that affirmation that he was on the right track.  Paul received his answer. 

Let’s take a quick break and flip to Galatians 1. 10.  Essentially the application of this verse is to seek God’s approval over the approval from others.  Galatians 2. 1-10 shows that man can be used to confirm us, but keep in mind that God’s confirmation is more important. 

 

Verses 11-21

In verses 11-21, Paul holds Peter accountable to the truth of the Gospel.  The scene is described as a dinner party with a mixed company of Jews and Gentiles.  When the Jews from the capital city arrive, the Jews at the party separate themselves from the Gentiles because the big city Jews feel Jews and Gentiles shouldn’t mix.  The big city Jews thought that one (meaning Gentiles) had to be circumcised before they were a member of the family of Christ. 

Peter was one of the Jews as the dinner party sharing food with Gentile friends.  He knew what the big city Jews thought. In order to seek their approval, Peter followed the expectations of the big city Jews and separated himself from his Gentile friends.  This led other Jews at the party to do the same because Peter was considered the leader.    

Here we see the importance of leadership.  If you are to be a leader, you must seek to be firm in your faith in order that you don’t lead astray those that follow you.

The Gospel points out that all who believe in Christ are one.  There is no division.  There is no hierarchy.  All are equal. 

No one has to meet a certain requirement to share in the company of another.  In verses 14-21, Paul calls out Peter’s hypocrisy.  He states, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Here Paul is reminding Peter that the work of circumcision is considered to be under the law.  In summary, if one person thinks they can be made righteous through the work of circumcision, they are wrong.  The only way to be made righteous is through faith in Jesus Christ. 

“If I seek to work for my justification with God, then I have nullified the grace of God.  If I am made right through obeying the Old Testament law, then Christ’s death was pointless.” (My paraphrase of Galatians 2.21).

When we try to work for our justification by obeying every single detail, it becomes enslaving.  We cannot be perfectly obedient.  This is where God’s grace is demonstrated through Jesus Christ and His perfect obedience.  If you believe in Jesus, that perfect obedience is transferred to your account!  That’s God’s grace!  When we seek to work for our righteousness rather than have faith in Christ, we throw away our chance of experiencing God’s grace.  We throw away our chance at perfect obedience getting transferred to our account.  When we seek works over faith, we are essentially telling God, “Thanks, but I’ve got it from here.”  We push aside the grace that God has done so much to offer. 

Are you focusing on working for your righteousness? Or are you seeking to live your life by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself for you?

Photo Credit:  Jazmin Quaynor

God’s Offer of Grace: A Study of Galatians Part 1

Over the next several weeks, we will be diving into the book of Galatians.  Each week we will examine a different passage in order to grow our understanding of the book as a whole.   We will also identify truths within the book and make practical applications for our lives.  

It is my suggestion that you have a Bible in front of you as you progress through this study.  It will be a helpful reference to review and test what is stated.  The goal is to dive into the word and allow this study to be a guide for your own study of the Word.  Without any further ado, let’s begin!

 Galatians 1. 1-24

Chapter one can be divided into three individual sections: verses 1-5, verses 6-9, and verses 10-24.  To better understand the chapter, we will touch on each section.

            Verses 1-5

            In the beginning verses, Paul makes his greeting to the churches of Galatia.  Verses 3-5 hold a very important truth that can easily be skipped over.  The truth that Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us is directly stated.  This is the gospel message, but we often read right over it.  Rather, let’s allow this truth to sink in.  Jesus Christ gave himself to deliver us from the repercussions of our sins.  This statement demonstrates the love God has for us.  His love can bring change if you allow it to penetrate your heart. 

            Verses 6-9

            Apparently the Christians in Galatia were being taught a false gospel.  There were people preaching something that was not in line with the gospel of Christ.  The question is: What is this false gospel?  Paul addresses faith and works in chapters two and three.  Could this false gospel be connected with faith and works?  Either way, the Galatians were beginning to believe this false gospel over the true gospel of Christ. 

              We must be wary of taking the same path as the Galatian church.   There are false gospels being taught in our culture just like the Galatian culture.  What are some examples of false gospels in our culture?  Here are a few examples: we will find the security we long for if we only find a good job.  We will find the love we long for if we find the right guy/girl.  We will find satisfaction through pleasing others no matter the cost.  We will find power if everyone knows our name (popularity).  We will find peace once we know the plan for our life.  All of these could be a false gospel if we let it take the place of Christ in our hearts.  Is there a false gospel that you have found yourself believing? 

            Verses 10-24

            This section holds Paul’s testimony of his salvation.  When we compare it to Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion, it fits quite well.  If you flip your bibles to Acts 9. 1-19, you can find Paul’s conversion story.  In Acts 9. 20-25, we see the beginning of Paul’s ministry.  Keep a bookmark in Acts 9, and let’s return to Galatians 1. 16-24.  In this passage, we read of Paul’s experiences in Damascus.  We also learn that once Paul escaped through the city wall, he headed to Arabia.  Paul chose to go away and contemplate the Gospel for himself.  In this three year period, Paul contemplated his training in the Old Testament law and how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Old Testament scriptures.  This was when Paul made the connection between what he was taught and who Jesus was.  Maybe we should take the time to contemplate what we have been taught and who Jesus truly is.  In Acts 9. 26-31, we can find more detail of Paul’s trip to Jerusalem that he mentions in Galatians 1. 18-24.  In summary, the timeline goes as follows:

Acts 9. 1-19 → Paul’s Conversion (Luke’s Version)

Galatians 1. 10-15 → Paul’s Conversion (Paul’s Version)

Acts 9. 20-25 → Beginning of Paul’s Ministry in Damascus and Escape to Arabia (Luke’s Version)

Galatians 1. 16-24 → Beginning of Paul’s Ministry in Damascus and Time Spent in Arabia (Paul’s Version)

Acts 9. 26-31 → Paul’s Trip to Jerusalem (Luke’s Version)

Galatians 1. 18-24 → Paul’s Trip to Jerusalem (Paul’s Version)

            It is reassuring to find two versions of the same story found within two separate books of the bible.  The two stories connect with and bounce off one another.  This small example shows how the bible, written by multiple authors, holds the One Truth that each man wrote about. Amazing!

            Now, we cannot continue through this passage without noticing God’s sovereignty.  God knew Paul was trained from a young age in the way of the Law.  God knew that Paul would be able to better connect Jesus to the Old Testament and the Law, and He used Paul to explain who Jesus was to those who weren’t experts in the Law.  God used Paul’s skills to bring others to Christ.   Each of us have areas in which we are skilled.  God can use us to bring others to Christ.  What are some areas you are skilled at?  Are you willing to let God use you and your skills to bring others to Him? 

Photo Credit: Aaron Burden