Galatians [1:1-5]

I have been wanting to read through Galatians for a while, and I thought it would be fun to read through it here, and comment as I go. This will not be a scholarly, in-depth, research-style commentary… just my thoughts as I read. Feel free to post yours as well.

 Galatians 1:1-5

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group or by human authority. My call is from Jesus Christ himself and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

This reminds me of me. People always want pointers on how I made our “ministry” succeed, but without exception I must tell them, “It wasn’t me.” God called, God led, and God provided any level of “success” that anyone observed in us. It wasn’t my own idea, or anyone elses (save perhaps my Dad… he’s probably thinking, “Waaaaaaait a minute! I had something to do with this!” But, I actually stopped after he started us, then God called us back to it.

Point is, this is the coolest way to do life. To follow the voice, the call, of God for you. Not his call for someone else that looks like fun for you. 🙂 Not something someone else thinks you should do. Listen for His voice.

All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending greetings to the churches of Galatia.

May grace and peace be yours from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. That is why all glory belongs to God through all the ages of eternity. Amen.

That is why? That sounded funny to me. That is why all glory belongs to God. Immediately preceeding that, was the cross. He died – in order to rescue us. That is why all Glory belongs to him.

There must be more than that, you might think. I do! Isn’t he deserving because of His creation? From the vast universe to the tiny atom… the intricacies of just the human eye. The power of the oceans and grandeur of the mountains. The softness of a tiny newborn baby. Isn’t he due some glory for that? What about Him??? He is forever, without end. He is all powerful, all knowing, all everything. He is infinitely large, yet lives inside me. He is Judge over all, yet chose to love me.

That’s it right there, isn’t it. His supreme power was willingly laid down in favor of His supreme love. Not that He lost any power, just chose (in His supreme power) to not excersize it for the benefit of me. And you. And… Him.

It says, “He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned…” From the beginning of time, God had decided, had planned to step in on our behalf. To forego his right to judge in order to repair the relationship with us. Consider Romans 5:10…

“…we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son…”

There is something else important in this line to the Galatians that Paul was talking about in Romans. The reason Jesus died on the cross. It’s not just to pay for our sins. That is spoken of in Romans 3, but not mentioned here. It’s not just to give us a way into eternal life. Those are well and good… but not the focus here. The reason given here mirrors the Romans 5 idea: restoration. “He died in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” Plain and simple. Jesus came to give us life – to save us from this messed up one. Not in the “hereafter”, but in the here. Life to the full, as friends of God… here. And forever.

And in all of that, we know his grace (we don’t deserve that sort of treatment) and we know his peace (when someone loves you like that, what can go wrong?) Paul offers us that right off the bat. Not the forget-all-the-bad-stuff-and-slap-on-a-smile sort of peace. No, this is based in the all-powerful, timeless God planning long ago to demonstrate his love by giving his own life so that we could be restored to a full relationship with him… forever.

That wipes away guilt. That brings deep pools of grace. That peace washes over us, refreshing and calming and cleansing every piece of us.

That gives us life.

Grace and Peace to you today. He loves us.

For further study: Visit

Galatians [1:6-10]

 Galatians 1:6-10

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ.

Paul just reminded us yesterday that the plan from the beginning was for God, through Jesus, to rescue us from this evil world. That we have freedom – salvation – in him. That is the Good News. God has made it possible to “share the eternal life he gives through Christ”. But apparently, even so soon after Jesus was walking amongst us, some people were twisting the truth. Presenting untruth as the Good News.

Paul said he was shocked… and I suppose I’m with him to a degree. But, I have seen too much of this in my life. We are presented with the grace of God, completely unearned favor with him, and then we proceed within a very short time to attempt to “keep” that which we never earned. We know we “got in” for free… but we need to work hard to keep our place here, or we might lose it. We try our best to “live the Christian life” for the benefit of others, perhaps to keep up our reputation if we are long-standing members of the church, or even to impress God? Sometimes we feel it’s our duty, since he has “paid so great a price”.

But is that really grace? Are we living out the Good News? Is it Good News that Jesus came to get us into this party for free, but once you’re in you have to work really hard to meet all of the expectations he and everyone else has or else you might not just get kicked out, but be thrown into hell as a result?

That doesn’t sound so good to me.

I much prefer the real Good News. “He died for our sins just as God our Father had planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world… [and] to share the eternal life he gives through Christ.”

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. I will say it again: If anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God’s curse fall upon that person.

We live in Palmyra, NY. If you don’t know your church history (or general US history, I suppose) you might not be familiar with that tiny town in central NY. It was the home of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormonism). It all started one day when Joe was trying to figure out which church to join (Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc) and was asking God accordingly. Then, BLAMMO! He was overpowered by a vision in which God the Father and Jesus told him that in fact all of the various churches were wrong. An abomination to him. They had a form of godliness but denied its power. (This is taken from Joseph Smith – History, Chapter 1.)

After the vision, he was persecuted for his views. But God was with him (so he says) and he later was shown the ancient Scriptures inscribed on Gold Plates by Mormon and Moroni (historians in early America – before it was America), who appeared to him as a gloried, resurrected being and helped him translate them to English. (That was kind of him…) You can read about this here.

What arose from all of this is a rigidly structured institution where there is nearly zero freedom. There is such a hierarchy as would rival any religious institution ever. There are holy temples, prophets, mandatory missionary service… all sorts of things. And, have you ever met a “bad” mormon? NO! They’re squeaky clean because you have to be! They’re some of the nicest, most polite, law-abiding people around… cause that’s part of their code. That’s their version of the Good News. Be really, really good and maybe God will graduate you to the next level when you die.

Is that the Good News?

Paul said “even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message”. Moroni appeared, though not an angel, as a glorified being and helped present a “different” message. That all the others were wrong. And… thus was born an entirely new religion. (They say they are Christians, but as they feel they are the only right Christians, well… I’d say that’s an entirely new religion.)

How do we get so caught up in this sort of stuff? So led astray? Why must we work so hard to create these systems and structures to neatly and with great tidiness house our faith lived out for God?

It is our way, I suppose. It is our way.

Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.

“Dont’ wanna be a man pleaser… just wanna be a God pleaser!” – Petra (circa 1989)

He is most certainly not a man pleaser. Paul definitely told it like it is, and that nearly got him killed many times! 🙂 But I think I lean towards that too. I speak truth, even when nothing need be spoken. God is teaching me to be wise and discerning in my spoken offerings. (Jen is helping him do that!) 🙂

Paul touched on one more thing I wanted to comment on. Two words, “Christ’s servant.”

I have had some discussions with other brothers about this recently. The idea of being a servant, and he our Master. It is quite biblical. But what I have seen us do with it is to religious-cize it and create another level of separation between man and God that may not be intended (by Him). God speaks so much of us as his children, of his love for us, and even calls us friends… I just wonder what he thinks when we refer to him as master?

Not that he shouldn’t be. To the contrary… look at his response to Job. He claimed all of his God-ness and put Job “in his place”. He is most certainly God. The King of kings. To be sure.

But he specifically says, “I no longer call you servants… Now you are my friends…” (John 15:15)

I will be interested to see what else Paul says about that in this book. Stay tuned.

For further study: Visit

Galatians [1:11-12]

 Galatians 1:11-12

Dear brothers and sisters, I solemnly assure you that the Good News of salvation which I preach is not based on mere human reasoning or logic.

Well, yeah! That is one thing that God’s plan could never be accused of being… LOGICAL! 🙂 It seems so unbelievable, really. A being who has no beginning and end creates all that exists, and before he did that he already planned to put on skin and hang out with us for a time, until just the right time when he could die a horrendous death at our hands. For our guilt. Taking our penalty for our deviancy. THEN, that same God got up again 3 days later and as he left us, gave us a piece of him to live inside us. He lives every moment not just by our side, but INSIDE us. As close as we can be. And all of this was planned before the beginning of time.

Jesus said that most people wouldn’t die for a good man (translation: “a cool dude”) but that some might die for a very good man (translation: “a SUPER cool dude”). That is just insane. If someone else did something wrong, and the punishment was death – even if it wasn’t their fault… wasn’t malicious – would you step up and say, “Oh wait! Pick me! Pick me!!!” No. Probably not. What if it was your Mom? She counts as a “SUPER cool dude”, doesn’t she? OK… you’d definitely have to think about it if it was your MOM! But, how about your neighbor? Or a friend from college?

What about your worst enemy? The person whom everything they do seems aimed at hurting you. Would you… could you volunteer to take their just punishment?

No, Paul… we don’t think you concocted that from human reason or logic.

For my message came by a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. No one else taught me.

I think Paul is suggesting here that his training was quite special. No doubt, it most certainly was. He was on his way to kill some more Christians and a light knocks him off his high horse. Light. Usually, light doesn’t do that. He hears a voice, and Jesus in no uncertain terms let him know that he was wrong. So, the man then called Saul becomes the incredible apostle Paul. Changing the course of history by his now well-aimed zeal. And all of that was through a personal encounter with Jesus. Not a Christianity 101 class, or even a series of mentoring sessions with a wise aged brother in the faith. Just a little talk with Jesus. (I think that’s a song…) 🙂

Now that doesn’t happen today, right? Jesus has delegated the teaching to us, right? To those we put in leadership over ourselves?

We heard a talk on an interesting verse a while back. In 1 John 2:27 it says:

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you all things, and what he teaches is true–it is not a lie. So continue in what he has taught you, and continue to live in Christ.

This was only a small point of that talk we were listening to, but it stood out to me. We live in a culture of experts. There are specialists in every field. “Leave it to the Pros!” After all, the pros have been to school for 180 years and have 5 degrees in each field of expertise. They have been trained by the best, and know WAY better than you do! (And maybe better than you ever could!) We even pay people to listen to us. Psychologists and Psychiatrists are a fascinating lot to me. How can you pay someone to listen to you? 🙂

Think about it. If you have a problem or a question, who do you go to? Some of you may live next door to Mr. Fix It, like me. Matt is the first person I go to. 🙂 But mostly, we talk to an expert, right? (Maybe Matt is an expert…) If something is broken, we take it to an expert to repair it. If we are broken, we go to a doctor, at least for advice. (For which we shell out $75 or so) If we have a serious spiritual question, we talk to a pastor. Right? Isn’t that what we do?

But God has offered us so much more! He has offered us HIS expert advice. There certainly is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom from others. The Bible says as much. In Proverbs we are told that it is wise to seek counsel. But we often seek it in the wrong places. We look for help from so-called experts who know nothing about us. We seek help from those we feel are authorities. John tells us that we have received the Holy Spirit. We don’t need anyone to teach us what is true. Why? Because HE does. Holy Spirit. In you.

Now that’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? In our culture of management we don’t like that idea very much. Some might say, “If you tell people that, they’re going to believe whatever they want to! ‘Well, God told me…’ You can’t tell them they don’t need to be taught! We are the experts! We have studied! We know the Scriptures! Listen to US!”

There could not have been anything worse for us than when we decided we need to take control of the church. We are brothers and sisters in God’s family. We are the body parts… he is the Head. None of us leads any part of the church. Pastors and teachers are not superior to others, they only care for and teach the other believers, who in return offer their gifts to everyone else. We all have gifts, but somehow we have either offered to our up front people the role of authority, or we have allowed those hungry for it to take it. Elders are not above the other brothers. They are to be imitated (like Paul said to Timothy, “Follow my example as I follow Christ.”) but not revered or elevated to some status outside of the body. That is not only an errant understanding of the church, but a disservice to them. They were not meant to bear such a burden. They are merely children of God like you, and me.

We want so much to do right, that we take control to make it happen. What we might do is allow God to do his work. Allow Jesus to lead his church. Not be so bent on controlling the way people think, but perhaps teach them to know and hear and listen to Holy Spirit who is IN them.

I am not thinking Paul meant all of this in the simple statement that started this, but it triggered a stream of thought. We don’t like to think that people can learn directly from God. Paul is an example. John says we all are.

For further study: Visit

Galatians [1:13-24]

 Galatians 1:13-24

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion–how I violently persecuted the Christians. I did my best to get rid of them. I was one of the most religious Jews of my own age, and I tried as hard as possible to follow all the old traditions of my religion.

I think it’s pretty cool how we can so easily forget this. Paul was the epitome of what Jesus was not. He destroyed the lives of people who disagreed with his religion. He worked with all of his might to appear spotless on the outside, and even perhaps try to feel spotless on the inside. He was Pharisee of Pharisees, and he was a Christian killer. And he wrote half of the new testament. He changed the course of history. God used him to spread the news of His kingdom across the earth. He is the Apostle Paul. Hero of the faith!

But he wasn’t. He didn’t used to be. Somehow he was able to transcend his old life and be embraced in the new. I think a big key to his success there is that he was not trying to accomplish that. He was whacked hard upside the head – a big-time reality check – and his focus became solely fixed on knowing Jesus (Philippians 4). When his focus changed from doing to being, his life did a complete 180.

And now he is remembered as the great apostle Paul. Not for his accomplishments in holiness. Not for his religious zeal. Partly for his writings and missionary work. But mostly for his relationship with Jesus. For the way he understood life as it was meant to be, and lived it with all his heart. He was not a middle of the road kind of guy, eh? And when he finally got his zeal pointed in the right direction, his legacy is the work that God did through him, rather than the work HE was trying to do “for God.”

But then something happened! For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! Then he revealed his Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When all this happened to me, I did not rush out to consult with anyone else; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I went away into Arabia and later returned to the city of Damascus. It was not until three years later that I finally went to Jerusalem for a visit with Peter and stayed there with him for fifteen days. And the only other apostle I met at that time was James, our Lord’s brother. You must believe what I am saying, for I declare before God that I am not lying.

Paul seems to think that those he is writing to will not believe his story. Perhaps they, like us, think you must have some sort of training to know what Paul knows. To speak as he does, and teach as he does… he must have had years of teaching. He must have studied under the apostles for a good deal of time and been their best pupil. But Paul assures them, “No!” His insight, his understanding is not from man. God revealed it to him directly. And, coincidentally, it matched precisely what the other apostles had learned in person from Jesus some years back. How about that? 🙂

Then after this visit, I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. And still the Christians in the churches in Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us now preaches the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they gave glory to God because of me.

The power of a changed life is phenomenal. When you can point to someone and say, “Isn’t that the girl who…” or, “Didn’t he used to…” and then see them living the life God meant for them to live, you can’t help but give God the glory. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” He didn’t mean work hard to do good stuff so that God will get the credit. He meant, love the light God has placed in you – share it. Spread it around. As people see the love in you, the kindness you show toward them and others, they will know something has happened in you. Something you could not have done on your own. And they will give credit where credit is due. They will praise your Father in heaven.

For what was filthy has been made clean. The broken has been restored. The useless has become useful. The trash that was merely discarded has been recycled into a cheaper and more environmentally friendly product. (I put that one in there for my EPA friends…) 🙂

When you see the effects of this relationship with the living Jesus you can not help but be amazed. No amount of trying can hold a candle to the reality of a grace-filled life found in the reality of knowing and being known by him. Not a set of rules or practices, but a true understanding of your calling to be his adopted son or daughter. A true understanding of the love that never quits, and unmerited favor with the King of the universe… who wants us to call him Dad.

When people see that in you, they will give God the glory as well. The old is gone, the new has come… praise be to God.

For further study: Visit

Galatians [2:1-5]

Continuing on with my reading with comments of Galatians…

 Galatians 2:1-5

Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. I went there because God revealed to me that I should go.

I think this is cool. Too often today we are afraid to say that God reveals things to us. Maybe because we aren’t sure if he has because we haven’t had much practice listening to him instead of our pastor or other spiritual leader. Or maybe because we don’t want people to think we’re crazy, having heard a message from God. While I fully admit that I wish I could hear from and understand him more clearly a majority of the time, there are those very special, clear moments when it is quite obvious that God was speaking to me. When God reveals things to me. Often it can be reinforced by the agreement of another brother or sister, but even more often it is something personal between me and my Father. Something that he says to me, that might be meaningless to you, but was a specific and personal detail in my life that day. Sometimes it’s meaningless, or at least just for the moment – a leading to go here, or call this person, or write this e-mail. Sometimes it’s life changing: career moves, relocations, or even something more difficult, like letting go of something that has been perhaps a substitute for our relationship with God or something else he intended for us.

Paul knew the intimacy of a personal relationship with God. He was the one who said our spirits call him “Abba”, which I have heard is akin to “Daddy”… a term of very close endearment. He knew his Father, and when he said go, Paul went!

While I was there I talked privately with the leaders of the church. I wanted them to understand what I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure they did not disagree, or my ministry would have been useless. And they did agree. They did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile.

I think it’s fascinating that Paul bases the usefulness of his ministry on his ability to convince this group of Christians the freedom that he had been preaching to the Gentiles. I think perhaps he knew that they were so entrenched in what the had known about God and his kingdom that this new truth Jesus had “introduced” was still a bit foreign to them. See, the Jews had been taught that they were God’s chosen people. And while that is true, it did not mean to the exclusion of everyone else. God did not chose them and banish the rest from existence. God chose the Jews to be the nation through whom He would be born, and thus save all of us. All. Everyone. Even the Gentiles, whom they had been taught to see as unclean. Not loved by God. Not capable of living a freed life in him. Peter had found that to be false (Acts 11-12) and now Paul is telling the Galatian Christians about when he went to Jerusalem and argued his case before his brothers there.

This is quite ironic as you follow Paul, then Saul, in the book of Acts. He was a most zealous Christian killer. He stood up for righteousness, at least his brand of it, and no one was mightier at defeating the wicked heretical Christians. Now he is espousing what would have amounted to blasphemy, a little over a decade later.

Even that question wouldn’t have come up except for some so-called Christians there–false ones, really–who came to spy on us and see our freedom in Christ Jesus. They wanted to force us, like slaves, to follow their Jewish regulations. But we refused to listen to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the Good News for you.

This is important. I read this and thought, “Whoa… what did he say?” See, Paul mentions the people who were trying to get everyone to keep the rules, to follow a set of ordinances in order to be acceptable to God. That is what the Jewish religion had become, and there were folks trying to infiltrate the church with such thinking. Paul said he and the others wouldn’t listen… even for a single moment. And then, catch this. “We wanted to preserve the truth of the Good News for you.” (emphasis mine)

What is Paul referring to here? Which part is “The Truth” of the Good News? That Jesus died and rose again? Yes… That we’re sinners and by God’s grace we’re saved? Yes… But is it just a list of doctrines in the form of a creed? Is that what he said he was trying to protect? A list of 95 Theses?

Nope. Paul is talking about freedom. Freedom is the truth of the Good News. The others had come to steal it away from them and bind them as slaves with the Jewish regulations. But Paul had learned – first-hand from Jesus – that the Good News has nothing to do with regulations. It is GOOD NEWS. The news that we are free in Jesus. That he has paid (past tense) the price for our sins, that it is finished, that the veil between God and men was torn in two when he died on the cross. The Good News is that we are no longer slaves, but he calls us his friends, and even better, God the Father calls us his children.

Even today some would take that freedom away from us. Every church has its unwritten rules about what you do and don’t do. Unspoken codes of behavior that get passed on and that attempt to mark us as “true” believers. Many have actual written sets of code. Some are creeds, some are by-laws, some are membership requirements, some are statements of faith… all can only limit the freedom that we have in Christ. Rules create fences. They intention may be to protect, but often it leads to restriction on the true freedoms we were meant to know and live out in Jesus.

I am not obviously saying we should have anarchy. That all rules are out the window, have it your way! We know that God’s word remains true. The things he said were bad for us before Jesus died on the cross are still bad for us today. But there is a different understanding of what “bad for us” means. It does not mean God is keeping a record of every choice we make and going to use it against us in his High Court at the end of our days. It does mean though that as I love my children, and give them boundaries and guidelines and even suggestions… if they heed them, they will do well. If not (and they DO have the ability to not) life is not as good for them. Sometimes I inflict consequences, to help them learn to listen to me and to avoid making whatever poor choice they had just made. Other times the consequences are natural. Their poor decision – to not heed my words – leads to physical or emotional pain for them, or for other people.

It is similar in dealing with adults. When our self-will gets out of line and begins to hurt other people, we must have some system in place in order to correct and contain that. There wouldn’t be many of us left if we all ignored the “Do not kill” rule. But the overall truth of the Good News is, we don’t have to try. We can’t and won’t earn God’s favor by our actions or inactions. He proved that our favor with him is only from him, and that it is complete. Forever.

There is our freedom. Not the freedom to do all the bad stuff we want, but the freedom of knowing we have been chosen, accepted and are forever loved. Regardless of how we perform, he loves us.

For further study: Visit

Galatians [2:6-10]

 Galatians 2:6-10

And the leaders of the church who were there had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)

Paul continues his message to the believers in Galatia that his message is straight from Jesus, and supported by all the well-known Followers of the Way. The church in Jerusalem had a reputation I am sure. It was where it all began. Where Jesus was killed. Where he got back up. It was where the Holy Spirit made his impressive first appearance in the new Church, and thousands were convinced of the truth of what Jesus said and about who he was. So, obviously the church in Jerusalem, where many of the apostles, men who were with Jesus, and were still actively relaying his teachings… obviously this place would be a bit higher on the spiritual ladder by a rung or two.

That’s why Paul adds his parenthetical comment. He wants to dispel that idea of certain believers being better than others, either to each other or even to God. God has no favorites. But, we do… don’t we? Aren’t there churches out there today whom we all try to emulate? Aren’t there believers whom we look up to, and hang on and believe and put into practice their every teaching? Aren’t there even people within our own local group of believers whom we hold as “more spiritual” than others? Step outside of the spiritual realm for a moment, and don’t we do that in other ways? Don’t we have levels for people? Places on the rung of social, economic, even racial status? Yes, we have favorites.

Paul wanted something different for the church. He knew that God has no favorites. We are all equal to him. We do not earn his favor, or better or worse standing by who we are, or what we do. It was all given to us by him, and our relationship with him does not proceed from our actions, but from his. An important point to those believers who were elevating the Jerusalem church leaders to a status they did not merit (nor most likely did they want). And an important point to us today, as we tend toward the same misconception.

They saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the Good News to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter for the benefit of the Jews worked through me for the benefit of the Gentiles. In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. The only thing they suggested was that we remember to help the poor, and I have certainly been eager to do that.

An interesting tag line to more “proof” of his message. He concludes his resume with the only suggestion that the other apostles had for him: to help the poor. What an interesting thing to add! Was Paul not concerned with that before they reminded him, or is it more important than the other stuff he had been teaching people? Perhaps both?

It’s easy for us to get so caught up in “getting people saved”, that we overlook their needs now. Jesus was so, so good at not doing that. He helped people understand and see the unseen Kingdom, and at the same time showed them that God loves every bit of them. He healed people. He touched people. He laughed and cried with people. He did not have money, so he did not give people wealth (though he did give Peter money in the mouth of a fish once, to pay the taxes…) – but he did help them. The poor in spirit. The poor by society’s standards.

Often today, the ministry we call “benevolence” is overlooked or a fraction of the overall budget at best. That is not the fault of our churches. Institutions and large organizations can not meet the needs of people. They can not love someone who has been beaten down by life, someone who made poor choices and now suffers the consequences. But we can. We… the Church can. And we mustn’t overlook that.

It is important to tell people the message that God so loved the world … and whoever believes… will not perish. But, perhaps Paul was reminded – as are we – that Jesus wasn’t just concerned about the hereafter… but also the herenow.

For further study: Visit

Galatians [2:11-21]

 Galatians 2:11-21

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong.

This is definitely something I struggle with. Paul seems to have no problem taking his brother to task about an area that at least in his own mind is clearly wrong. I think before Jen & I were married, and I was a bit younger and perhaps less wise, I would have charged in the same way Paul does. I knew what was right, and everyone else needed to know it too! I think that is Jen’s picture of me still. She is quite the opposite, detesting all forms of conflict, and avoiding them at all costs. I think she has softened me a bit, which is good. I have learned restraint from her. My struggle though, is when should we step in, and when should we show restraint. When is enough enough?

In other words, when should I allow events to play out and let God work in my brother’s heart, and when should I step up and stop the injustice or wrong thinking or sinful behavior for the good of the perpetrator and the church and everyone around him? When is it time to put an end to the bad?

Paul says, “I had to oppose him publicly” meaning to me that it was not his first choice, but that the wrong was so bad, it needed to stop then and there. I admit, I don’t know what offense is so evil that it must be halted publicly and immediately – short of someone beating or threatening the life of another perhaps. If someone’s name is being dragged through the mud, do I step in? If I know someone is involved in a behavior that is contrary to God’s best for them, do I step in? At what level of offense or wrongness do we need to take action? What was it that Paul saw that was so destructive it had to stop then and there?

Let’s find out…

When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who don’t bother with circumcision. But afterward, when some Jewish friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these legalists would say. Then the other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was influenced to join them in their hypocrisy.

When I saw that they were not following the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you trying to make these Gentiles obey the Jewish laws you abandoned? You and I are Jews by birth, not `sinners’ like the Gentiles. And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be accepted by God because of our faith in Christ–and not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be saved by obeying the law.”

Whoa. Stinging words to a keeper of rules. Even though we know it… some of us really like rules. We like to have the boundaries. A clear-cut path to follow to a right standing with God. But Paul blasted that out of the water with his last statements. “We become right with God, not by doing what the law commands… No one will ever be saved by obeying the law.”

Did he say ever? This is the same man who “beats his body” into submission to Christ, who talks of working out our salvation in fear and trembling, and other such references to a very work-oriented righteousness. How can Paul understand this dichotomy he seems to espouse? How can he say things that seem to be so opposed?

First, they are not opposed. Jesus definitely showed us that it’s not about how clean we can get, or anything we can do to make ourselves presentable before God. That all comes from him. Before we meet him, and forever after. He also made it clear that so many things can bring us down. That there is a right way and a wrong way. That there are things that are good for us, and things that are bad for us. That his laws and his truth will stand forever as a testament to what is right, not as a set of iron shackles to forever imprison us to a performance-based righteousness.

Paul saw Peter, who knew the freedom Jesus’ taught and lived it out everyday, not only reverting to rule-keeping behaviors, but imposing that on those around him. Legalism. Take the standard presented by God, and the personal conviction in your heart and slap it on everyone else, requiring from them more strict adherence to this standard than even you are willing to give. It is performance-driven, guilt-laden, burden-bearing drudgery. Not a joy-filled, freedom-living adventure with a loving Father, the reality I believe Jesus tried to demonstrate. Peter was trying to restrict the freedom of the non-jewish believers with already fulfilled laws that existed not to bring about righteousness of themselves, but to point a people to the Giver of Righteousness. He already knew and had experienced that truth, but was now afraid, in Paul’s words, to live it out.

Again Paul mentions “the Truth” of the Good News. Do you recall from chapter one, where Paul said he wanted to preserve the truth of the Good News. To me, that means doctrine, dogma… legalism even. Passing down a set of rules that must be strictly obeyed. But to Paul, the truth was the freedom. He wanted to preserve the freedom of the life we have in Jesus. Now he says it again. Peter and his gang, including Paul’s friend Barnabas, were separating themselves from the other believers because of an “act of righteousness” that gave them claim to some sort of superior righteousness. (Odd, in that it was nothing that they did. Boys were circumcised on the 8th day after birth. They can’t rightly claim such an “act”, now can they?)

Paul strongly refutes such wrong thinking by saying, “we… know that we become right with God … by faith in Jesus Christ.” He is not teaching them, but reminding them. He wants them to remember the truth they have already heard. Their freedom is not because they are circumcised or specially chosen or have kept any set of laws. (Paul even reminds Peter that he discarded the Jewish laws. Another interesting aside in that there are many today who get ruffled a bit when talk of the old testament laws not being applicable today…) Freedom has come from a restored relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Not by anything we have done, or will do. Not by cleaning up our act and hanging out with the right people. It is the free gift of God, so that no one can boast.

No one will ever be saved by obeying the law. We can’t dress well enough, speak well enough, act well enough, think well enough, do enough community service, or other acts of worship. We are justified by our faith in Jesus, in what HE did for us. Done. Over. It is finished. Now, we get to live it. In freedom. Together.

But what if we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then find out that we are still sinners? Has Christ led us into sin? Of course not! Rather, I make myself guilty if I rebuild the old system I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, I realized I could never earn God’s approval. So I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Some might say that to live devoid of any responsibility to the law, just lavishing in God’s grace, that we are in some way despising God. His laws are forever true, so he must mean for us to submit to them. Yes, his law is forever true, but what does it mean to submit to it? Do it, or else? Or, follow this truth, and you will experience the life I intended for you? I see God’s laws as warnings, or even like those video game secrets where you can find the hidden cool parts of the game by knowing certain tricks or moves. God has given us clues as to how life works best. He has already said, as Paul found out, that we can’t earn righteousness by keeping those rules. If so, Jesus would not have had to die. Some of us who were diligent enough, and who tried the hardest and were perhaps even predisposed toward more righteous behavior would reach the finish line, with our A+ papers in hand, and pass on to life forever in God’s eternal kingdom. The rest who couldn’t keep up with the demands of his laws would be doomed to rot forever in hell. That’s how a performance-based system would work. And there would be no need for a savior. If even one person could do it without him, Jesus would not have needed to die.

But he did. Cause we can’t. Ever. No matter how hard we try. Paul said, “What if… after you stop trying to do it yourself, and realize it’s only from God… what if you’ve been down that path and you are still sinning??? That’s a great question. One I still do not completely understand. What I see Paul saying here this time is that we actually become more guilty as we revert to the old way of striving to keep the rules. To do the right. In doing that, we only condemn ourselves all over again. We might feel like we are somehow making up for the fact that we are still sinners… but in fact we are only making it worse by living under the same laws that condemned us before.

The answer is the new wineskin. The complete renewing of our minds. The new paradigm. Where no longer are we made righteous by our performance (since we never were in the first place) but we live in the reality that God truly accepts us as we are. We don’t have to prove to him that we can do it, because the truth is we can not. If we try to, we will only experience the condemnation that the law brings. The Truth of the Good News that Paul keeps trying to get us to see is the freedom of knowing that Jesus is the Righteous One, and in fact he is our Righteousness.

That’s so weird. But really, really cool.

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Galatians [3:1-4]

 Galatians 3:1-4

Oh, foolish Galatians!

Another translation reads, “You stupid Galatians!” A nice intro line… 🙂

What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Paul revisits his previous discussion regarding our inability to earn favor with God by keeping the law. Peter had realized that was not the way it works, and had so “discarded” the Jewish laws, but he was beginning to pick them right back up again. Apparently, that notion was quite prevalent in Galatia. Paul not only calls them stupid, he says again, “Have you lost your senses?!” Obviously, he is incredulous.

And why not? They know the answer to his question. Of course they did not receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law. They know about grace. They have experienced it. They have lived it. But it just makes sense that God should want something of us in return, doesn’t it? Since he gave so much for us, shouldn’t we give in return? Is that too much to ask?

I love my son, Ian. He’s almost six and a half years old. He is quite intelligent, witty, and just fun to be around. But not always. This past week or so has been hard. He has made many, many poor choices. We have had to enforce some rather stiff consequences to help him snap out of his disobedient spirit. In that time, there were often times that I was angry. Admittedly, that’s probably not good. I am certainly a human Father, and not perfect in love like our Heavenly Father. But at the same time, did I cease to love Ian? No, I loved him all the more at times. I longed for a restoration of the relationship that his poor choices had damaged. And at times, I would try to do things that showed him how much I love him. The consequences are in place to help him understand there are repercussions to his actions. His choices, and they are definitely his choices, he can not be forced to do the right thing, will affect people around him. For good or for bad, there will be effects from his decisions. Consequences help teach him that.

How does that fit with grace, though? Aren’t we teaching him what the Galatians are thinking? Yes, God loves me, died on the cross, gave me his unconditional love… BUT… in real life you have to do what’s right and not do what’s wrong, right? That is certainly a struggle in trying to help such a young mind comprehend the vastness of God’s grace. I can’t comprehend it in my first 30 years… how could I expect to easily communicate it to my six year old???

But the key is the transition. Paul will touch on this in the upcoming chapters of Galatians. The law (rules, consequences, etc.) points out to us that we can never measure up by our own efforts. The law was in place for a long time. God was not different. He did not change his mind and send Jesus to change everything. Jesus said he “fulfills” the law. The law is not bad, it just has no power to make us complete. It was only meant to show us God’s holiness, and our inability to attain it.

So along comes Jesus, revealing the deeper truth of the Kingdom – it’s not us… it’s him. Perhaps some folks understood that already. Hebrews 11 goes through a litany of incredible names who were “counted as righteous” because they believed God. Not really for what they did, though the two are quite closely linked. Each time they are credited as being righteous because of their faith that GOD would do something amazing. Putting complete trust in him, not themselves.

The people Paul is addressing had known that same thing. He points them back to the cross. They knew what it meant. The finality, the completeness of it. But they were slipping back into the “do-it-yourself” mode from which Jesus had tried to dislodge them.

There is no harm in wanting to love God and do nice things for him. I love it when my children do. But I do not base my continuing relationship with them on what they do for me. Our relationship is not performance oriented. Nor is our relationship with our real Father.

Paul says quite clearly, “You began by God’s Spirit, now do you want to finish by your own power?” (TEV)

Amazing words from a couple millenia past. Still today I am trying to finish by my own power. I was reminded of it again yesterday by a verse I saw on my computer. Try as I might, I am not the producer of all good things in my life – Father is. Every good and perfect gift comes from him. Including our very relationship with him. He is the initiator, and that is so freeing! I didn’t do anything to earn this favor with God… he did! Why, if I knew that, and accepted that when I first discovered this truth… why would I want to revert to living life under my own power?

You foolish Greg!

You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?

As a little addition, a reminder to these people, Paul mentions their suffering. They had chosen to believe and live something that was not popular. In those days, the cost could be your life. But they knew the truth of what they had heard, and abandoned everything to live in that Good News. Now Paul says they are in danger of “throwing it all away.” I don’t believe Paul is hinting here that the Galatians are teetering on eternal damnation – losing their salvation. First, that’s not what he’s talking about in context here. He is trying to get them to live in the freedom they once knew. But also, if he really was saying that, “Straighten up, or you might lose it all!” wouldn’t that fly right in the face of everything he has said so far?

But we definitely fall into that trap still today. We read the “commands” of scripture and we throw them over our shoulder as a huge weight we must bear. A task that, with God’s help, we will complete. And not only do we shoulder this burden ourselves, we at least encourage others to voluntarily do so, and often employ a dose of guilt to ensure that they do. Perhaps that is the very thing Paul is addressing in this group of believers so long ago. So close to the physical reality of Jesus’ life and death amongst them, yet so easily slipping back into the earn-God’s-favor way of living.

It’s not by works, that no one may boast. It is the free gift of God.

You began by God’s Spirit; do you want to finish by your own power?

I don’t.

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Galatians [3:5-9]

Continuing with my study of and comments on the book of Galatians…

 Galatians 3:5-9

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

In the same way, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God.

What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

This is interesting today, in that I was just writing about an experience I had this morning that reminded me of the finality of Jesus’ work on the Cross. I was reminded that no matter how hard I try or don’t try, as long as my faith is in me, I will fail. But if my faith is properly placed in the one who can actually effect change in my life, then I will “receive the same blessing” that Paul talks about here.

What a slap in the face this was to all that the devout Jewish people had known and been taught. They had a rich heritage of God working amongst them. Their genealogies were teeming with examples of super men and women of God. Pride was abundant as each family gloried in the accomplishments of many of their ancestors for God. They also took great pride in the fact that God had chosen them. They did nothing to earn that. It was simply by God’s choice that they were “The Chosen People”. Still, how could that not emote some sort of pride in you?

So Paul is saying now that “the real children of Abraham” are “those who put their faith in God.” Ouch. It’s probably akin to us finding out that we are not Christians because we go to church every week, but because Jesus lives in us and we in him. That can be quite a startling revelation as well. And on par with this particular slap in the face.

Paul does not mean to belittle Abraham. He commends him as one who was righteous before God. He simply is reminding us that God did not think Abraham to be righteous because of the great things he was able to do, or the way he kept the law, or by any thing that he said or did. It was not Abraham’s abilities that made him righteous before God. It was, “because of his faith.”

But the question was directed at us as well. Does God give us the Holy Spirit or work miracles among us because we obey the law of Moses? Or because we do what our Sunday School teachers taught us was “what God wants”? Or because we live by the “Golden Rule”? “NO!” Paul emphatically declares. No. It’s not because of what you do! That should be good news, but here Paul uses these life-giving words to scold the Christians in Galatia, and even many of us today! We still try to earn it. We can’t accept a gift. It can’t really be free. We know it. Life does not work that way. But Paul is saying it does. It does.

As if tearing down the idols of their faith were not enough, Paul takes one more swing. “God would accept Gentiles, too.” WHAT!??! That was too much for their Jewish ears.

Thankfully, I have grown up in a society that many have tried hard to create. One where people are really equal, regardless of skin color or background. I am not naive enough to believe that is universally true, but a cursory look at our nation 40 years in the past tells me we have come quite a long way. I would imagine then that this is akin to that environment, only much worse (if that were possible.) Blacks were not equal citizens. In any way. Much the same, the Gentiles had no claim to God. The Jews were the chosen people… too bad for all else. There were some exceptions, should a gentile choose to undergo many rituals and purifications to be deemed worth to be a second-class Jew. But, they were certainly not first class citizens in God’s kingdom. Nor would they ever be.

Paul says differently, not because God changed his mind and finally decided to accept the Gentiles. Not because the Gentiles had a change of heart and came groveling to him for acceptance. It was shocking news to the good Jew because the good Jew was still trying to earn favor with God! Paul says that even the filthy Gentiles can get in on this life of freedom in God because it’s not about what you do, or who you were born to… it’s all about who you put your faith in.

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Galatians [3:10-14]

 Galatians 3:10-14

But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” How different from this way of faith is the way of law, which says, “If you wish to find life by obeying the law, you must obey all of its commands.”

Wow. The onslaught continues. Paul now goes so far as to tell the self-righteous, law-keeping “older brothers” (from the “Prodigal Son” story) that they are not only not blessed, they are cursed! How can you tell someone who spends all of their time trying to be good that they are cursed? What a crushing blow that is! The complete opposite of what they are striving for, because they are living the complete opposite of life in the Kingdom.

In God’s kingdom, we live by faith. We are made righteous (far beyond what we could ever hope for) by our faith in the One who is Righteousness. We are made righteous in his eyes by trusting in Him for every part of our lives, our food, our clothing, our drink, our shelter… and our spiritual wholeness. The righteousness is declared not by our efforts, or merits, or by the proclamation of some other person of any societal stature. It is declared before the universe was formed by the One who made it all. Ephesians 1:3 says that in Jesus, we are “holy and without fault in his eyes.” Again, it just has nothing to do with us.

That is so hard to accept. It must. We must have to do something. But the more I read in Scripture, and especially as I just read these words penned by Paul, I only see God saying, “Stop trying so hard!!! It is finished. The work is complete. You are righteous, but not by your own efforts… by your faith in me. Who I am and what I have done, and can do.” Such a difference. The pressure of successes or failures are greatly diminished by the knowledge that God is the one working in us. That the work of salvation is complete, and the process of growth is not powered by our own strength of will and determination and ability, but by his work in us, as we remain in him. (John 15) That is why Paul says, “How different from this way of faith is the way of law.”

The other word that stood out so clearly is “ever”. Ever is a strong word. Ever, never, forever. These are words of completeness beyond our comprehension. They are absolute. And Paul says that, “it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law.” Ever. No matter how hard you try, or how good you are, you just can’t.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve heard this all before. You know that your entrance into the Kingdom is “not by works that no one may boast” and that it’s by Jesus’ work on the cross, not your own effort that you are saved. But, if you’re like me, you also persist in this strange notion that you must maintain a level of goodness to retain your position in God’s kingdom. You wouldn’t go so far as to say you need to “earn it”, but you live as though you need to prove you were “worth saving”. Right? I still catch myself trying hard to do things because I want God to think I’m good… I want him to like me.

Duh! HE DOES. How much more does He need to do to show me that?! He gave up being God to be like me so that he could get beaten and mutilated and on top of that bear the guilt of EVERY person who ever lived all the way to his death. And every word he breathes is life and refreshing and true and for me. Plus, I have seen him working in my life, not just in the stories of the Bible. In my life. He has shown me again and again that he loves me not because I maintain some standard of conduct or behavior… just because I am his. He made me, and he loves me.

Shouldn’t that affect my daily behavior and attitude? Yes! That’s what Paul is trying to get through to the Christians from Galatia.

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through the work of Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, and we Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.

Besides the recurring theme of being made right with God by his doing not ours, Paul revisits the idea that this “new wine” is for all. Not just the people who currently owned the title, “God’s Chosen People”. The Gentiles are in on this too. For us, it may be better not just to think of blacks in the 60s (as that is almost a distant past). Perhaps it may help us to think of relatively recent stories like Jeffrey Dahmer, who was disgustingly evil, yet received Jesus’ offer of forgiveness before he was executed for his crimes. Or maybe any one of the terrorists who carried out the insidious plot to bring down the world trade center. What if one of them were to humbly realize the love their Father has for them and return to him, being “made holy and without fault” in His eyes in the process? Would you accept that? Could you? Aren’t some people beyond the scope of grace? Aren’t some things too awful to be forgiven?

I believe Paul revisits this idea not only to continue the proof that God wants them to accept the people the Jews previously thought “unacceptable” but also to further reveal the depth of God’s grace. If it’s not about what we do, then it’s not about what we have done. No matter who we have been or what we have done, we are eligible to live the life of freedom that is offered in Jesus. He does not love me any more than he loves Osama Bin Laden. Not any bit more. He does not love Jeffrey Dahmer any less. To say this does not excuse the behavior of men who carry out such gruesome acts against other people, it only points out that God does not have favorites, and it has nothing to do with how good I am.

The law only reveals God’s holiness and my unholiness. It reveals my inability to ever be righteous on my own. Paul says I can’t. No one will ever be made righteous by observing the law. Ever.

So let’s stop trying so hard on our own, and explore together with Jesus the deep waters of the grace and freedom of life in him.

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