Saturday, May 30, 2015

Universal equality - Galatians 3:27-29

"For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29)
It always surprises me how something so simple as baptism could cause so much trouble. Many a church split there has been over the means and modes of baptism. Many have been called heretics over the wording they use during baptism. Even during the middle-ages, thousands of Anabaptists lost their lives at the hands of Catholics and Lutherans because they did not believe in infant baptism. Just try to mess with the baptismal formula of your church and you will see just how strongly it is ingrained in the church and how strongly the church is invested in its traditions.

Baptism was never meant as a means of church membership, even when that church views baptism as the point of salvation. Baptism was meant to be a transition point between our old life and our new. It is the place where we are united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul writes, "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4) Baptism prepares us and initiates us into our new life in Christ; a life of power and grace to live differently than before. Here, in our context, baptism is the means by which we are crucified with Christ so that "through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God." (Galatians 2:19) Baptism is important, but not as a means to separate one believer from another, but rather as a means to unite us with Christ and in our new life apart from the law. "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God." (Galatians 2:20)

During the first few centuries of the church, the church was one place where there was universal equality. During the first century, most Christians were poor and many were slaves. Many communities took little notice of them due to their low status in society. However, over the next two centuries, the christian apologist began making in roads in the ranks of the philosophers and upper class in Greek and Roman society. The church began to take on a more cosmopolitan makeup. The church became one of the few places where aristocrats, philosophers, the poor, and slaves could meet and fellowship as brothers and sisters; where each one was the other's equal in Christ. Philip Schaff describes the Agape feast of the early church as follows. "It was a family feast, where rich and poor, master and slave met on the same footing, partaking of a simple meal, hearing reports from distant congregations, contributing to the necessities of suffering brethren, and encouraging each other in their daily duties and trials." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. II, Section 68) Lactantius, an early Christian Write, describes church in his day this way. "Should any say: Are there not also among you poor and rich, servants and masters, distinctions among individuals? No; we call ourselves brethren for no other reason than that we hold ourselves all equal. For since we measure everything human not by its outward appearance, but by its intrinsic value we have notwithstanding the difference of outward relations, no slaves, but we call them and consider them brethren in the Spirit and fellow-servants in religion." (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. II, Section 97)

It is unfortunate that, over the years, we have allowed our gatherings to become segregated. Sometimes via race, nationality, and social status, but even today by gender and age. It's not uncommon for a church to have its youth church, its children church, and its functions for men and women. Even small groups are divided into unmarried, married with children, and empty-nesters. Our fellowship should unite us not segregate us. It should bring us into contact with others different from us so we can see that, in Christ, we are the same.  In our fellowship we should be joined with all others, not just those similar to ourselves. Let us dispense with distinctions and learn once again to be truly one in Christ Jesus.

David Robison

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Before faith - Galatians 3:23-26

"But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:23-26)
While the promise was made to Abraham, it would be two thousand years before faith would appear allowing us to believe in the promise. For two thousand years the promise would have to wait for those worthy to receive it; those who's walk was by "by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7) How would mankind survive and not kill each other while waiting for the promise to be realized? How could God guarantee that after two thousand years there would be a people prepared and desirous of the promise? The answer was the Law.

The Greek word rendered here for "kept in custody" means to "protect by guarding." It comes from two Greek words that literally means to "stare ahead" as a guard on a tower would watch the horizon for any trouble that he might keep the city safe. The law kept us for the time that faith would appear. The law did not keep us from faith, but kept us safe until faith should come. The law taught us how to live, how to relate to others, how to form civil societies, and to understand the basic character and nature of God so that, when faith came, we would be ready for it. Even today, the law of our parents keep us for manhood and womanhood. It teaches us how to live rightly, obey the rules, and it keeps us safe till we reach maturity. What good is the message of salvation if one has no means to keep them safe until they can understand it and receive it for themselves? This is the role of the law; to guard, teach, and protect us until we can grow to maturity and receive faith.

The Greek word for "tutor" is a beautiful word that is transliterated as "pedalogue" and means more than a tutor. Strong defines the word as "boy-leader." In those days, especially among the well-to-do of the Greeks, there was usually a servant whose job it was to escort the children to school; to ensure that they made it there and made it there safely. The pedagogue not only showed the children the way but protected and defended them from any harm along the way. The closest thing we have to day are crossing guards and these are not quite the same. The Law was our pedalogue. It not only showed us the way to Jesus but it also kept us safe along the way.

One of the things the law teaches us is our need for Jesus. Through the law we find that we are unable to keep the commandments of the law and we realize that, if we are to be righteous, we need a savior. Then the law takes us on a journey to find that savior; one who has kept the law without blemish yet who has also died in our place that His righteousness might be credited to us as well. The law is often a necessary step leading us to salvation.

However, now having made it to school, having been entrusted to the schoolmaster, we no longer need our pedalogue. Faith has come and the promise has been granted. There is no need for what had previously intervened and mediated between us and God. The fullness of the promise has come. Let us therefore no longer seek to go back to the law but journey forward with Christ as we learn from His who is our new Schoolmaster.

David Robison

Monday, May 25, 2015

Why the law? - Galatians 3:19-22

"Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." (Galatians 3:19-22)
One of the main ideas that Paul continually tries to drive home to us is that the Law was never meant to be our pathway to righteousness. As good, wholesome, and righteous as the law was, it was never able to produce righteousness in its hearers or doers. This is not because of some defect in the Law but rather because of the defect in us. The sin that lies within us shuts us out from true obedience to the Law and renders the law as death to us rather than life and peace. The Law cannot give us life and it cannot make us righteous.

The second point Paul is trying to make is that the law was extended to man through a mediator while His promise to man was announced in person. The law places us under the custodianship of a mediator, that being the Law. Our access to God is mediated by our obedience to the law. So thorough was that law that it regulated every aspect of civil and personal life. Even our conduct in the bathroom is specified under the law. "You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement." (Deuteronomy 23:12-13) The presence of God in their midst was mediated by their obedience lest God, "see anything indecent among you" (Deuteronomy 23:14) and turn away from them. However, our life under the promise of God is not mediated by anything or anyone. God made it personally to Abraham and we are personal inheritors of the same promise. The law no longer mediates the presence of God, rather we are free to know and love Him directly, personally, and inanimately apart from obedience to the law.

So why the law? Paul says it was given because of transgressions. It is interesting that, even before the law came, we still transgressed the law, we just did not know it. People were still sinning even without the law. Paul speaks of those who sinned but "had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam" (Romans 5:14) in that they had not violated a definite command of God. The law came to make us aware of sin, to show us what sin was, and to counsel us how to live righteously according to the ways of God. Paul says that the law came so that sin  "might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful." (Romans 7:13) The law came so that sin might be shown to be sinful so that we might hopefully avoid it personally and in our relationships with one another. For the next two thousand years the law would be our intermediary, teaching us how to live and mediating our relationship with God, while we all waited for His promise to come true; while we all waited for His Son. The law stood in between, between the promise and the fulfillment. However, once the promise was fulfilled so was the purpose and usefulness of the law. We are no longer under the law because we are now under God's promise.

David Robison

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Law and the covenant - Galatians 3:15-18

"Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise." (Galatians 3:15-18)
Paul is beginning to setup his position on the Law and the Christian's relationship to it. What must be understood is that, while the law was important and necessary, it was not the main event. It stood as an intermediary, an interlude, between the promises made to Abraham and their fulfillment in Christ. The Law was never intended to be the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises nor did it serve to modify or nullify those promises.

As Christians we sometimes misunderstand the promises and message of God because we view them through the lens of the Law. We see the promises made to Abraham but we see them through the intervening years in which the Law was in effect. Sometimes, it is hard to understand our redemption without reference to the Law. How can one be redeemed and walk as a Christina and yet not keep the Law as given by God? For some, this leads them from grace back into the bondage of the Law. For others, it causes them to try and mix law and grace. These, while calming to be Christian, seem to be desiring to become Jewish, maintaining their law, feasts, and customs. However, God has not called us to be Jewish but to be Christ-like. The Christian walk is not a walk back to becoming Jewish but a walk forward into the blessing and freedom God previously promised to Abraham.

The Galatians, while trying to add elements of the Law to their faith, were in reality re-building the wall that separated them from the blessings and promises of Abraham. Later on, Paul will warn them, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Galatians 5:4) The law and grace are incompatible; we must choose one or the other. John put it this way, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ." (John 1:17) One is not found in the other, we must choose which font we will drink from. Either the font of Moses bringing the law or the font of Jesus bringing us grace and truth.

We are a people of covenant, a covenant made with Abraham and those descended from "his seed". Let us not get caught up in the trappings of the Law but live the life of freedom we have in Christ and in His grace. Let us choose Grace not re-immersion back into law.

David Robison

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The promise of the Spirit - Galatians 3:6-14

"Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham... So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse... Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident... However, the Law is not of faith... Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us... in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:6-14)
The faith Paul is talking about is what he previously described as "hearing with faith." (Galatians 3:5) God has spoken. We have heard and read His promises. It is now ours to chose if we will believe the words and promises of God or not. For those who believe, the fulfillment of those promises await them. For those who do not, there remains only a curse.

Faith is not new. It existed long before the Christian era began. Our participation in the redemptive history of God can be traced back to a man and a woman who exemplified the faith God is looking for. Abraham heard the promise form God, "one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir," (Genesis 15:4) and he believed God. His "hearing with faith" was reckoned to him as righteousness. Centuries later, a people would once again here God but it would be the law they would receive. They would be asked to live by the law and it would be their "obedience to law" that would be accounted to them as righteousness. However, it quickly became clear that no one could ever find righteousness through the law because, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them." (Galatians 3:10) What the law promised it was unable to deliver.

It was always through faith that God intended to impart righteousness to mankind. It started with Abraham and now God is looking for those who have like faith with Abraham that He might impart righteousness to them as well. We have seen the result of those who tried to live by the law, but now we are called to "live by faith" (Galatians 3:11) that the promises and blessings might also be ours as they were with Abraham. Through the death of Christ we have been set free from law and released to faith; we have been set free from death and given over to blessing. The time for the law is in the past, ours is now again the tine for faith as it was once also for Abraham.

The end result of faith is the inheritance of promises. So what is the promise of faith made to Abraham? The Spirit! Our faith in Jesus opens up to us the presence, grace, and help of the Spirit. Christianity is not merely an intellectual or political system where one agrees intellectually with its tenets and chooses to live under its politics. Christianity is a religion of the Spirit. It is for this reason, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit, that Jesus came to live and die. A life without the Spirit is not the life God intends for us, rather, such a life is really a life spent apart from faith.

It is time to leave behind the law; to leave behind all human effort to achieve righteousness and the presence or the Spirit. It is time to be renewed in faith; a faith that leads to righteousness and welcomes the presence and activity of the Spirit in our lives and churches.

David Robison

Friday, May 22, 2015

From Spirit to flesh - Galatians 3:1-5

"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" (Galatians 3:1-5)
The literal understanding of the Greek term for "foolish" means one who fails to exercise their mind. Our lack of thinking can be our undoing. If we blindly go along with everything that seems right or looks exciting and spiritual then we are in danger of wandering into error and missing the mark. We must use our minds to understand the gospel and to test and examine new teachings and doctrines as they come along. Not everything that is shiny is spiritual or of the truth.

The Galatians had become fascinated (bewitched) by some new doctrine and teaching and, in their lack of mental examination of the truth, they were leaving behind the doctrine that Paul had previously preached and set before them (publicly portrayed). They were in danger of leaving the realm of the Spirit for the realm of the flesh; of exchanging dependence on God for dependence upon themselves. They were on a path that sets aside the efficacious work of Christ for the previously proven ineffectiveness of the works of the flesh.

Paul's counsel to them was to consider how they started and to stay the course. They had started well and, if they continued in the manor in which they started, they would end well too. So how did they start well? Their beginning in Christ was marked by the Spirit both in His presence and His working. His presence is what captured their love and transformed them and gave them courage to face the difficulties of being a Christian in the first century. It was a beginning that was birthed and sustained by their faith. It was through their faith that the Spirit moved and super-abundantly provided for them all they needed to live a Christian life.

For some of us, we must ask ourselves, "How have we started? Did we start in the Spirit by faith or in works by our flesh?" If we find our beginning was not as their beginning, then maybe we did not start as they started. Maybe we need a fresh infusion of faith that the Spirit may be released in our lives and in our midst. How can we finish well if we don't first return to start well?

For the rest of us, we must ask ourselves. "Are we continuing as we started or have we exchanged the Spirit for our own efforts?" If the Spirit has grown cold in our lives and in our gatherings, then maybe we need to return to a simpler time and a simpler faith; maybe we need to return to trusting and depending upon the grace of God and the presence of His Spirit among us. Let us not loose what we have, or what if available to us, trying to finish in our own strength. Pride would say we can do it, but faith reminds us that it is only in Christ that we find our life.

David Robison

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The living dead - Galatians 2:20-21

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly." (Galatians 2:20-21)
The Hebrew understanding of death means to be separated rather than annihilated. Consider what James says, "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) It is the separation of the body and the spirit, of faith from works, that produces death. God has brought the process of death into our lives that we might be separated from one thing so that we might draw close to another. In the previous verse Paul says, "For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God." (Galatians 2:19) In our death we have been separated from the law that we might live by faith. Later on, Paul will say, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:24) In death we have been set free from our bondage to the lusts and passions of the flesh that we might pursue the will and desire of God. Finally, Paul will write of "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14) We have been separated from the world and are no longer under its sway, power, of influence. In all these cases, our identification and unity with Christ in His death has separated us from our former life that we might receive new life in Christ.

This new life is not like our old life. We have not simply been raised from the dead to resume our old way of living. In our previous life we were lead around by the lusts and passions of our flesh, we were immersed in a world system that was running head-long away from God, and our religion was at best a feeble attempt at keeping some sort of law or religious code. This life failed us; it failed to produce right living within us and the kind of life abundant that Jesus came to proclaim.

Our new life is lived by the power and reality of Christ in us. Christianity is more than a religion and a series of beliefs. When we are born again we become new creatures and Jesus, by His Holy Spirit, comes to live within us, to empower us, and to enable us to live life abundant. While we cannot see Him, we live by faith; a faith that is ensured of all the things He has told us and one that counts Him faithful who has promised.

If we have died and have been separated from our old life, then we ought to leave that life behind. That which is dead ought to be buried and left buried. We must now move on rather than continually trying to resurrect that to which we have died. If we have died to the law, why do we continually try to surrender to it once again? If we have died to our lust and passions then why do we continually try to make room for them and to placate them in our lives?

Paul's message is this: if we could have achieved righteousness and life abundant without death, then we wouldn't need Jesus. Jesus' death testifies to us that we could never make it on our own. Life, righteousness, and sanctification are well beyond our reach. We need a savior and that savior is Christ. Therefore, if those things we have died too were too week to aid us, why do we seek to return to them? Let us leaved them dead and buried and let us move on with Christ.

David Robison

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Not sinners by nature - Galatians 2:15-19

"We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God." (Galatians 2:15-19)
This scripture, at least for me, is a bit hard to parse and understand. I wish Paul had expounded on it a bit more to help us understand what he was trying to say. It is also unclear to me if this is a continuation of what Paul was saying to Peter or a separate thought to the Galatians. Either way, he is continuing to recount to them this incident with Peter that he, and the Galatians, both remember well.

Paul is not saying that Jews are not sinners, just that they are not sinners like the Gentiles. The term "nature" refers to one's growth from germination to maturity. It refers to their lineage and breading. A Jew grew up with an understanding of God and a since of religion that taught them how to please God and to walk in  righteousness. The Gentiles had none of these. The Jew's has a desire for righteousness, the Gentiles had no aversion to sin and no compulsion towards righteousness. The Jews were religious and the gentiles sinners. It was a matter of breading and upbringing.

However, this did not mean that Jews were more righteous than Gentiles. While they had the law, they were still transgressors of the law. They were birthed with many advantages yet, in the end, they proved no better than the Gentiles when it came to being justified before God. With all their attempts to keep the law, they were no better than those who didn't even try. Justification cannot, and never could, come from the Law. In this, Gentile and Jew were alike; they both needed Jesus to be justified.

So if a Jew leaves his law and looks for justification in Christ and finds that there is sin raging within him, has his faith lead him to sin? No! The truth is that sin is already in us whether Jew or Gentile. It's not that Christ has lead us to sin but rather that we finally discovered who we truly are inside. If, when the law is removed, we do the same things that the Gentile's do, then we have proven that sin is really a part of us. We can try and keep it in check with the law but we can never eradicate it by the law. Once the law is gone we will always revert to sin, and sometimes even greater sin once the law is gone. This simply shows us that, even the best of religious people, we are all sinners and transgressors of the law.

To be free from sin, truly free, we must die to the law that we might live to God. We can never find our salvation and righteousness in law, only in faith in Jesus Christ and the salvation that He brings. In seeking righteousness and the freedom of Christ we must never seek to rebuild what we have already destroyed. This includes sin but also our dependence upon the law. Our live in Christ is not found in a return to the law. We have already left behind that pathway, we must press on forward to Christ. We must not rebuild what we have already destroyed, we must go forward. There alone is the pathway to freedom and abundant life.

David Robison

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Religious hypocrisy - Galatians 2:11-14

"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision... I said to Cephas in the presence of all, 'If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (Galatians 2:11-14)
Paul calls the acts of Peter hypocrisy because Peter knew the truth but did not act according to the truth. Paul says that Peter was not walking "straightforward about the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14) but rather was diverting from the straight truth of the message of Christ. The truth of the Gospel was that the Gentiles too were invited to salvation. In speaking of the mysteries that had previously been hidden but now revealed to us, Paul says that they include, "to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (Ephesians 3:6) This Peter knew, for when he entered Cornelius's house to preach to them the Gospel he realized "that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him." (Acts 10:34-35) However, in that moment, in his fear, he was moved to hypocrisy and, along with him, the other Jewish believers and even Barnabas.

What causes us to fear and to be hypocritical to what we believe? Certainly, fear for our life could cause us to do that. Throughout the ages there have been those who have had to make choices regarding their conscientiousness and their faith. Many of those we esteem now were at one time marked as heretics and threatened with condemnation and death by fire, and this from other so-called Christians. However, I don't think this was Peter's fear. The church had not yet lapsed into killing and burning their heretics. I think what Peter feared most was the loss of his reputation.

Paul tells us that these men came "from James" the brother of our Lord and one of the "pillars" of the church in Jerusalem. This do not necessarily mean that these men were on a mission from James or that James desired to force gentile believers to keep the Jewish law, but they were associated with James and whatever they saw or heard could make its way back to James. I think that Peter was afraid that, if they saw him eating with gentiles, then they might report this back to James and the church in Jerusalem and that, some how, his reputation with them might be harmed. In his fear, he chose to keep his reputation as a fine upstanding Jewish Christian intact, even if it meant obfuscating the truth.

The faith we have received is radical, so shouldn't our walk be as well? If the Gospel has set us free from sin and the law, should we not walk as if it is true? If we give in to fear and prefer our reputation over our faith, then who are we trying to please anyway? We have become man-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. Let us not worry so much about what man thinks of us and focus more on what God thinks of us. Let us choose to live our lives radically, in the radical truth of the Gospel. Let us not be conformed to old religion but enjoy the newness of life that Jesus paid such a great price that we might obtain. Let us live free from fear and let God be our reputation.

David Robison

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

False brethren and spies - Galatians 2:4-10

"But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But... those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me." (Galatians 2:4-6)
There will always be those who believe that it is their personal responsibility to correct and discipline the body of Christ. They see themselves as the Christian police, looking for trouble, sniffing out heresy, and making sure everyone is behaving as they ought. Unfortunately, Christianity to them means Christianity as they are doing it. Their goal is not the purity of the Gospel but your conformance to their ways and beliefs. It is not enough for them to have their own ideas and customs, you must join them and become like them. In their mind, apart from them, there is no salvation.

This is what was happening in the church when Paul, Barnabas, and team went to Jerusalem to see Peter, James, and John. There were those of the circumcision who held to the belief that, unless you were circumcised, you could not be saved. It is understandable how they could believe this. All their lives they grew up believing that circumcision was the mark of true religion and those who were not circumcised did not belong to the people of God. In their zeal, they would secretly join churches to subvert them and to bring them back into conformance with the Jewish law. They were likes spies who came in looking for those who believed differently and then coercing, or forcing, them into compliance.

We must always be aware, even today, that there are people who will want to get to know us so that they might change us and make us like them. If you doubt this, simply try starting a church and you will get all those people who believe they know how to run a church and who want to mold the new enterprise after themselves. Paul wrote of such people saying, "They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them." (Galatians 4:17) We must be careful to identify those who want relationships with us from those who want something from us. These false brethren want our conformance and our agreement, but they really do not want us. They want our conformance so that they might seem to be right. Paul writes of them, "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ." (Galatians 6:12)

Fortunately, Paul did not yield to them, neither did the Apostles back in Jerusalem. The church rejected their attempts to re-enslave us to works and to law, and so should we too. We must not yield to those who seek to draw us away from the true Gospel; from grace, love, and forgiveness. We must continue in resolve to remain free and to be free in our relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ. When others come to corrupt the Gospel with their subterfuge, we must not yield to them but reject their efforts them and leave their influences behind.

David Robison

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Gospel checkup - Galatians 2:1-3

"Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain." (Galatians 2:1-2)
It was three years after receiving Christ that Paul went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James, and it was another fourteen years later before his next trip to meet the rest of the apostles, thus making a total of seventeen years from conversion to his trip to make sure he had not "run in vain." That is a long time. Think back over your own life these past seventeen years. Seventeen years ago I was still living in Las Vegas and my youngest, who is now in college, was just becoming a toddler. For seventeen years Paul preached the Gospel without ever doubting what he taught. All Paul knew was that He has received a revelation from Christ and a commission from God as an Apostle. In that knowledge he did all in his strength to fulfill that commission and to preach that revelation.

So why now? After seventeen years, why now? Luke fills in some of the gaps. "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue." (Acts 15:1-2) Paul went back to settle this issue and to verify that the Gospel he preached was the same Gospel the Apostles in Jerusalem preached.

Paul says he went up "because of revelation" or "according to revelation." It is unclear if he meant that he received a revelation from God to go to Jerusalem or if it was because of the revelation of the Gospel he received that we went to Jerusalem; to compare his revelation to the revelations given to the other Apostles. Either way, he went to "submit" to them the Gospel he preached. The word translated here as "submit" could more literally be translated, "to set forth" or "to declare." Paul did not go to submit his revelation to their judgment and correction, but to declare to them what He had been preaching; to let them know what he had been doing and teaching; to compare notes and to decide how to proceed. Paul was not ready to give up his revelation but he wanted to know how it compared to what the other Apostles were teaching.

In the end, the other Apostles added nothing to Paul's message; the message of salvation by grace was left intact. Even the Greeks who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem were not required to be circumcised according to the law. They were all in agreement and harmony was restored to the church.

Paul's message to the Galatians was that the message they had received had stood the test of time and was confirmed by the revelations received by the other Apostles; they were all in agreement. There was no difference between the Gospel Paul preached and that which was first preached in Jerusalem. In the end, there is only one Gospel regardless of who preaches it and we can trust in that Gospel because it is the message of Christ.

David Robison

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Launched into ministry - Galatians 1:15-24

"But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother." (Galatians 1:15-19)
Paul is recounting his start in ministry. From Luke's account we read, "and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God.' All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, 'Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?'" (Acts 9:20-21) Here, Paul is not saying that he stood apart from any human need or the need for fellowship and accountability, for we know that, even at his conversion, he received counsel from Ananias, "Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." (Acts 22:16) We also know that, in Damascus, there was a body of believers of whom Paul was a member, "but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket." (Acts 9:25)

Launching out into ministry without counsel or relationships is a dangerous proposition. However, this is not what Paul is advocating. What Paul is trying to conveyed to the Galatians is that the message be brought to them was the message Christ had given him, not one that has been diluted with the thoughts and ideas of men. The Greek word for "consult" means to "lay before" or to "lay up in addition." Paul is saying that he did not immediately take the message he received from Christ and submit it to others that they might add their additions or corrections to it. Paul did not submit his message to the will, intentions, and corrections of men; he had received it from God and he proceeded to preach it as such; a message from God, not from men. Three years later, when he went up to visit Peter, it was not to submit his message to him (and the other apostles), but to get to know him.

When Paul understood God and what He had called him to do, he simply proceeded to do it. There are several mistakes we can make in regards to our calling in God. First, we presume upon what God wants us to do. This was the case for Moses when he killed the Egyptian thinking, "that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him." (Acts 7:25) Secondly, we confuse our desires with the call of God. Paul writes of those who, "wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions." (1 Timothy 1:7) Thirdly, we simply sit by waiting for someone to recognize us, approve of us, or commission us to what God has called us to do. We are like those whom the landowner found and said, "Why have you been standing here idle all day long?" (Matthew 20:6) To those I would say, "Step out!" Don't worry about what men might say or think. Find someway to use the gifts God has given you and to express the message God has placed in your heart. In many ways this blog has been my attempt to do just that. If I waited for an opportunity in my church to present itself I would be waiting for a long time. However, daily I can take to these pages to do what God has called me to do and to express what He has placed in my heart. Look around and find what you can do and do it! As you do, God will continue to guide you.

David Robison

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A revelation - Galatians 1:11-14

"For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1:11-12)
Herein is the qualification of a true apostle and what sets them apart from an ordinary teacher or preacher. Many teach and preach what others have said and written, myself included. We teach and preach the revelations of others, but Paul's revelation came to him directly from Jesus. Paul was not teaching the revelation of another but the revelation given to him by God. This is also what sets Christianity apart from philosophies. Philosophy represents the best of human logic, reason, and inquiry; it is the best the human mind can discover and understand. However, Christianity does not depend upon human reason but on the direct revelation of God. Paul did not think or rationalize his Gospel, he learned it directly from the source, from God Himself. The same is true of all the apostles of the church. Later, when some would question Paul's credentials, he would respond, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 9:1-2) Paul had seen the Lord and received his revelation from Him. Later, he would remind the Corinthians, "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you." (1 Corinthians 11:23) The appearance of Jesus to Paul, and Christ's revelation to him, were Paul's credentials as an apostle.
"For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions." (Galatians 1:13-14)
Zeal, when properly focused, is a wonderful thing, but misguided zeal can be a destructive fire in our lives and the lives of those around us. Worse, when zeal is mixed with competition, it can blind our eyes to its harmful effects. Paul says that he excelled, or surpassed, those who were his equals, or those who were his peers, in his pursuit of Judaism. He describes it almost as if it were a race and he was winning. How much harm has been done in the Christian church by those who were gifted and sought to surpass other gifted men and women by their zeal. Their zeal was not so much to serve in their giftedness but to excel beyond others, to become the next "shooting star" of Christendom. Worse yet, often the church herself is complicit in encouraging and promoting gifted people beyond their level of maturity; encouraging them to excel rather than grow, When we see ourselves in competition with other believers for glory and honor in the church, then we have given the devil a foothold in our lives and set the stage for disaster. The Christian life is not a competition with others; to see who is more gifted, more disciplined, more knowledgeable, or even more spiritual. Christianity is about understanding that we are just a part of a larger body and about finding and understanding the part we are to play and playing it faithfully as unto God.

David Robison

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A defection - Galatians 1:6-10

"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-10)
There are two broad categories of heresy, those that are "Gospel minus" and those that are "Gospel plus." In the case of the Galatian church, they were facing a "Gospel plus" challenge. There were those who came to them seeking to add onto the Gospel already preached to them by Paul. theirs was a Gospel of faith plus Law. They sought to bring the Galatian church back into obedience to the Jewish law, including circumcision, dietary requirements, and the keeping of certain feasts and days. Christ was fine, but these other things were still necessary for their salvation. The heretics don't care so much what we believe as long as, at the end of the day, we agree with them. Let them believe in Christ as long as they still keep the Law and the requirements of men. Paul calls such additions to the Gospel distortions, perversions, and corruptions of the truth and their purveyors as agitators or, literally, those who "stir the waters."

The goal of the Gospel is our liberty; to free us from sin and the present evil age, and to deliver us to the freedom of righteousness and the kingdom of love. However, the goal of all heresy is bondage; bondage to a teaching and, most often, also to a teacher. Heresy forces conformance; it states that "apart from us there is no salvation." The true gospel releases us from the bondage of men and states, "apart from Christ there is no salvation." You can know salvation without becoming conformed to the image and wishes of some man or group of people. To those who seek to enslave us and to "evangelize" us to some other Gospel, Paul says, "let them be anathematized!"

The Gospel has been "once for all handed down to the saints." (Jude 3) It is now our responsibility to maintain what we have received; to guard it from additions or subtractions, to guard it from corruptions and mutations. Our faith should be so situated in the Gospel of Christ that, even if Paul or an angle should come to us and preach some other sort of Gospel, that we would not heed them nor surrender up to them and their deception what we have already received. There are things worth holding on to, there are things worth defending and protecting, and the Gospel is one of those things.

In the end, such a position may not serve to conciliate men nor ingratiate us towards them. There will always be those who will seek our acceptance of them and our obedience to their message. They may even be offended at the apparent stubbornness of our faith and our refusal to follow them. However, the fragile egos of such heretics are not our concern. To us belong the truth of God and the call to hold fast to what we have already received. Stand fast in the truth and surrender it to no one. It is more precious than gold!

David Robison

Monday, May 04, 2015

A message - Galatians 1:3-5

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen." (Galatians 1:3-5)
There are two that acted in our salvation: The Father who willed and the Son who obeyed. The salvation we cherish is ours because the Father willed it to be ours. It was the will of God that we might be forgiven, it was the will of God that we might be saved from this age, and it is the will of God that we share eternity with Him in heaven one day. Apart from the will of God there would be no offer of forgiveness, no act of salvation, and no promise of everlasting life. God could have been content with the natural course of events which, following Adam and Eve's sin, would have been increasing death and destruction leading up to the end of all things. God could have left us in our sins and all creation groaning in futility. God could have left us to our sentence of judgment and destruction; destined to a life of eternal punishment away from His presence. However, none of these things pleased God, rather, He was pleased to offer us salvation, a salvation earned for us by His Son. What the Father willed, His Son accomplished. God willed that we might be saved and Jesus performed the acts of righteousness and obedience that became our salvation.

In speaking of our salvation, Paul contrasts two acts, one act that is historical, sure, and set in time, another that is, for some, still future, potential, and conditional. One has been accomplished and one waits to be accomplished. One that is not dependent on us and one that requires our consent. One we can never change and one that awaits our decision. Jesus came and offered Himself up, not only as a sacrifice for sin, but as the full payment for our sins past, present, and future. This is a historical fact. It is in faith and trust of this historical fact that we are saved. Our faith in what has already happened leads to our salvation. Based upon our response to this act, the second is opened to us. We cannot receive the second without accepting the first. His sacrifice opens up and makes salvation available to us.

The second act is what we receive when we accept the sacrifice, and trust in the obedience of, His Son and that is our salvation. Paul could have described our salvation in many ways but, for the purposes of this letter, describes it as a deliverance from this present evil age. The Greek term used here for "rescue" can also be translated to be "selected out of" or "torn out of." We live in a world of darkness and sin, a world already judged for destruction, a world whose wickedness and very existence is already coming under its judgment and is beginning to fade away. All those who are of this world will share in her judgment and destruction. However, God has selected us out of this world, He has ripped us out of this present evil age, and given us a new home and a new destiny. "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13-14) Our Christian life must no longer be understood in the context of our previous home. Paul speaks of this new life, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20) To understand our new life we must understand what Christ has done for us, the world we left behind, and the new home we have been placed in. Only then will the Gospel message, and Paul's letters, be properly understood.

David Robison

Sunday, May 03, 2015

An apostle - Galatians 1:1-2

"Paul, an apostle, not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead." (Galatians 1:1)
Prior to the Christian error, "apostle" did not seem to be a common term, at least in representing a single person. Prior, "apostle" was most commonly used to refer to a group of people; a political embassy sent from one political power to another. Josephus makes mention of one such embassage in recounting, "So when Varus had settled these affairs... he had new sources of trouble come upon him at Rome, on the occasions following: for an embassage of the Jews was come to Rome... that they might petition for the liberty of living by their own laws." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.11.1) An embassy was a group of people sent from one group to another either with a message from the first or a petition to the seconds in order to gain some purpose or plan of the sender. Paul was an embassy from Jesus Christ to the church with a message of salvation and grace.

Paul's mission was not earthly; he was not sent by men nor through men. He did not come representing some human authority or plan, but was directly sent by God with His message to the church. Men like Paul cannot be "raised up" nor can they be formed by institutional centers of learning such as monasteries or seminaries. One can desire to such a mission but it's one they cannot take upon themselves. They must be called, commissioned, and sent by God rather than men.

Unfortunately, today, in the church, we value the opposite; men and women who have chosen the call for themselves, who have been properly trained and prepared in seminaries, and those whose personality and statue makes them well suited for the pulpit of our churches today. Their choice is theirs and their authority is from human agencies of learning and training. How would we respond to someone who claims upon themselves the same that Paul did; to have a calling and a mission that was from God and not from human agencies? How would we respond to those who claim a ministry who had yet to go thought the "proper process" to become a minister? Would we receive them? Would we seek to force them into our mold and process? Could we learn from them even though they had never gone through our seminaries of great learning? Is there still room for God-made men and women in the Body of Christ today?

While Paul's calling was extra-ordinary, his work was not unique or singular. Paul understood that he ministered in the context of a larger body of Christ along side with others who so ministered. Paul's calling was elevated but it was not exclusive, nor did it obviate the need for others who ministered within the Body of Christ. For example, of others Paul wrote, "What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one." (1 Corinthians 3:5) Paul understood that he was not alone, that there were many whom God had appointed to work within the Body of Christ. Furthermore, Paul taught us, "On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary." (1 Corinthians 12:22) Paul understood that others, besides him, were also necessary for the growth and health of the Body. Paul had a mission and this mission was but a part of the work of the Body.

Paul understood his work in the greater context of the work of God, yet he was not shy, timid, nor ashamed of the work he was called to. He approached his calling with confidence, boldness, and determination. He may not be the whole but he knew how to do his part to the best of his abilities and to the fullness of the grace that was within him. The message of Paul's calling is that, while we may not be apostles, we must still fulfill our calling from God and not look to men for our calling or the support of their agency in fulfilling it. Let us take up the calling and become whom God has called us to be. Let us become God-made men and women.

David Robison