Choosing as a Christian


A Study of Galatians 2:11-21

There are two views of faith. One says that, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, we must also live by strict adherence to the Law of God. The second view, supported by the Scriptures, says that salvation comes from faith in Christ Jesus alone. To which should we adhere? Consider that God gave all He had in Christ Jesus for us. Trying to add to what He has already done through Christ serves only to diminish His grace. This would mean that Christ died for nothing. But the fact is that Jesus did it all. Hence, although there are two faces of faith, for true believers, there is only one option: Unadulterated faith in Jesus Christ.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

We need to deal head on with certain matters that occur in our churches, homes and communities, or on our jobs. If we do not confront them, they will fester like an untreated wound, poisoning our environment, and spreading out of control.

In our text, the Apostle Paul deals with a matter that arose within the Galatian church at Antioch. Paul confronts the problem by going to the source, the Apostle Peter. The best way to resolve any problem is to go to the source.

The crux of the Antioch church problem stemmed from Peter’s actions during a visit from a delegation of the Apostle James. Peter separated himself from the (non-Jewish) Gentile members of the congregation in contrast to the way he would normally share fellowship with them in the open. Peter acted so in part because of pressure from the zealous Jewish Christians, who felt that Gentiles who turned to Christ should also follow Jewish customs. The Apostle Paul saw the Apostle Peter’s actions as hypocritical. Paul confronted him in front of the delegation and told him he was being a hypocrite.

If we have something to say about a person’s perceived wrongs, we should say it face-to-face, never behind their back.

Peter’s actions exposed at least four concerns:

­– national pride and racial ties created a rift within the church;

– church leaders gave in to pressure to do what they knew was wrong;

– the behavior of Peter and other Jewish Christians sent the wrong message to the Gentile Christians;

– the completeness of God’s grace was called into question by the additional requirements placed on the Gentile Christians.

As we examine these issues, we see that not much has changed in 2000 years. Today, many hot-button issues divide the church and threaten to tear it apart.

While we have made progress in addressing racism, there still are places where the requirements for accessing high-level positions are exponentially more difficult for people of color. In some cases, the doors of opportunity may even be closed. The Reformed Church in America formed a committee to study how to combat racism in our denomination.

Sex and sexism is another area that has seen progress over the last 30 years, but it has been painfully slow. The hotly debated question of the role of women in the church has not been resolved. Recently, former President Jimmy Carter broke his ties with the Southern Baptist Church because of its refusal to ordain women to the pastorate.

The question of abortion is very divisive, with pro-lifers advocating for the rights of the fetus, and pro-choice activists focusing more on the mother’s rights.

Another matter of contention is homosexuality and gay rights within the church. The Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ have each ordained openly gay ministers. Ordination of gays is now their policy. Other mainline, free and evangelical churches have considered such a policy, but voted it down on biblical and moral grounds.

On a much smaller scale, yet equally as explosive and divisive, is the matter of traditional church versus contemporary or blended. Traditionalists have difficulty moving away from the liturgical and sacramental strictures in use within the church since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is creating conflict with those who advocate using the best that today offers to reach a contemporary generation not drawn to traditional church settings.

All of these issues exist within churches across our nation and have caused, in some cases, potentially irreparable damage.

The second and third issues in the Antioch church revolved around church leaders acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the role of leaders within the church, and the impact their behavior had on the congregation. For us today, church leaders must realize they are templates for the fellowship they serve within the Body of Christ, or church membership. We must also understand that our behavior can either lead people to Christ, or away from Him.

It is wise for church leaders and even members to frequently conduct a self-inventory. Ask yourself how your behavior affects others. Are you conscious of the impact of your behavior on others?

The fourth issue in the Antioch church crisis was perhaps the most important: the question of the completeness of God’s grace. By adding requirements to the finished work of Jesus Christ, Peter and the other Jewish Christians were suggesting that God’s grace was not enough. As far as our eternal salvation goes, according to them, Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection were insufficient to satisfy our sin-debt and meet God’s righteous demands. This particular issue is very relevant for us today, as there are churches and denominations that place all kinds of restrictions and requirements on people as a prerequisite to access salvation, or keep it.

Many in Christendom today promote the concept that strict adherence to the Law of God is essential for a believer to retain their salvation. Here we see the two faces of faith.

There are two fundamental questions we must ask ourselves:

– What do we believe about the completeness of God’s grace?

– What are we communicating to other people about the completeness of God’s grace?

Essentially, the matter boils down to this:

Did Jesus do it all? Is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection enough, or do we need to do more?

Let us bear in mind that if we say we need to do more, then how much more do we need to do, who sets the standard for what more is, and who determines whether or not our additional effort is acceptable?

The Apostle Paul responds to this matter by pointing out in verse 16,

– “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”

Paul raises the point that believers are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to say,

– “We, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ.”

Justification is offered to everyone conditionally. In order to receive it, we must put our faith in Christ Jesus.

Paul concludes verse 16 by saying,

– “By observing the law no one will be justified.”

In other words:

We cannot be declared guilty or receive God’s pardon by simply observing the law.

In the remaining verses of this passage, the Apostle Paul expands his case by highlighting the process that justified believers go through. In verses 17 & 18 Paul says,

– “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!”

Paul takes aim at those who suggest that ignoring the law will lead to lawlessness. He adds,

“If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.”

The law in the life of justified believers helps us to recognize our sin, not overcome it.

In verses, 19 & 20 Paul says,

– “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In other words:

Under the law we stand condemned with no chance of ever being able to please God, and so we stop trying. Instead, we commit our lives to God. We do this by giving our lives up for Christ Jesus as He gave His life up for us.

This text contains three lessons:

You cannot legislate behavior … Law tends to be reactionary throughout much of the world, but especially in most western countries. Laws are developed and extended in response to offenses. An offense deemed a threat to society sets legislators to work quickly to create laws that will address the offense. It is precisely because we have laws that we know what the boundaries for acceptable behavior are in our society. Behaviors that breach the bounds of acceptability are, therefore, punishable by law. The Ten Commandments, Levitical, and Dietary laws serve only to point out what is unacceptable in God’s economy. They do not have any inherent power to keep us from breaking them.

Faith is the product of being persuaded by the truth … After we hear the gospel, we internalize what Christ did on the cross for us, and come to realize He did this so He can live on the inside of us. We can then become pleasing to God. We are also able to give Christ full and complete access to our being so that He can live and be operative in us. Hence, the holy mind and energy of Christ now pervades and moves us.

The truth is that God loves us despite of our past, present and future … We can never be good enough to merit God’s mercy or grace. Justification is a declarative act in which God renders sinners not guilty based on Christ Jesus’ death as payment for the sin-debt of humanity. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cover and wash away our sins permanently. Therefore, how can we diminish the grace of God, cheapen it, or belittle it, by trying to add to what He, in Christ, has already done? We cannot. For true believers, there is only one choice:

– “To know that we are not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.”

Justification is available to everyone; you have only to believe in Jesus Christ, and accept Him as your Lord and Savior. If you do not know Him, or need to get reacquainted with Christ, I encourage you to say this prayer:

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer


Sunday 2 August 2009

May God Bless You

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