“Abraham’s Seed”

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Galatians 3:22-25

In another example of Paul speaking to the Galatians about the old ways creeping into the new Way, he now moves to the climax of his letter in this section that begins with 3:22 and continues through 4:7. You’ll see his tone change from frustration to concern as we go, but first, you’ll see the grandeur of what it means to be in Christ.

In these three verses; note that Paul is giving an explanation of the role that the Law played as a “guardian.”  That’s an interesting way to explain it, don’t you think? A “guardian” isn’t a permanent arrangement, for when the ‘child’ is grown, he or she moves into a new time in their lives.  When the time came, God sent Jesus to His people, and Jesus changed everything; their older “arrangement” was ended and a new one began in the form of a new covenant.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:26-29

One might pause to ponder about the number of our old religious teachings that Pail is refuting here; it’s really quite something…

Everything is new in Christ!  All of us are now children of God, not just the physical relations of Abraham.  Now that we have been baptized into Christ, we have been clothed with Christ.  We have been baptized into Christ, haven’t we…?  There is neither Jew nor Gentile… for the former “arrangements” that created the separation is gone. There is neither slave nor free, for that was also a huge divider of people; we are now one no matter what our station in earthly life might be.  Ready for this next one?  Are you sure about that…?

There is now no male and female, and don’t waste a moment of your time listening to the old-fashioned culture taught as though it was from the Bible, for it is not from the Bible. In God’s eyes, there is no particular distinction between the sexes, because we are one in Christ. “If you belong to Christ” comes next and is a conditional statement.  That is where the new dividing line is; some are “in Christ” and some are not.  That’s why we are called to reach out to those who are not, so that they can receive these awesome blessings… thus reaching out is an act of amazing love.  If we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s seed for the purpose of his Covenant promises.

Funny isn’t it, that some who belong to Christ still want to run back to the Law?

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The Wrath of God: Gentiles

Romans 1:18-32

After the transition of verses 16-17, we enter the first major section of the book of Romans with verse 18. This first main section of the book extends from 1:18 – 3:20, and it contains three subsections. In our passage Paul is describing the sinfulness of the Gentiles. In the next passage, 2:1 – 3:8, Paul describes the sinfulness of the Jews, and finally in 3:9-20 he describes the utter futility of finding salvation in the Law. Bearing in mind that Romans is a persuasive piece, you can easily see the case Paul is building here, and at the same time, we can see that by breaking this argument into subsections as he has done, he avoids either Gentile or Jewish Christians asserting, as they liked to do, that one group of Christians is somehow superior to the other.

If you read this passage, as I hope you already have done, I cannot honestly imagine anyone doing so without feeling a little convicted at least once, for what Paul describes is the world we are living in. Over the centuries it has been popular in many circles to use the occasion of this text to preach hellfire and damnation, but in so doing, those good brothers of ours have taken it quite out of its context, for we have already discovered that Romans isn’t about hell; it’s about Jesus. I’ve also been careful to point out that this is a subsection in the first section of a persuasive piece, which means that it is being used to make one point which will be combined with other points to demonstrate something larger; it doesn’t just stand on its own.

Having said that, I also want to be clear that I’m not interested in anyone’s attempt to explain away anything Paul has mentioned in this passage, as so many on the opposite extreme seek to do these days. Neither of these approaches is valid, at least in my view.

I seriously doubt that you need me to explain much about this passage; it is entirely obvious what Paul is taking about. People will make their decisions to reject God and go their own ways; they will ignore what is in front of their faces to deny Him. They will concoct the most flimsy nonsense to explain Him away so they can do what they want to do; they have even invented things like political correctness to silence any opposition to their folly, and even some Christians will allow themselves to be fooled: Amazing! At some point God will simply step back and let them go, but there will be a day of reckoning.

The point Paul is leading up is that the Law can do nothing to end this cycle of rebellion and folly.

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Photo of the Week: January 23, 2020

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The Movement and the Religious

Last time we looked briefly at the events that took place at Pentecost, but of course, those events were not the end of the story; they were only the opening chapter. The Apostles saw amazing success when they first preached the Gospel among the Jews in and around Jerusalem, but the religious “Establishment” were not about to let them drain their swamp: They would fight back with ruthless zeal, as swamp dwellers have been known to do. In due course, the Gospel was driven out of Judea and into the lands of the Gentiles by persecution.

God raised up another Apostle from among the persecutors of His people, and Saul of Tarsus becomes Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. I’m sure that I don’t need to retell Paul’s story from Acts here other than to say that because of his missionary endeavors, the Gospel spread like wildfire throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region. Yet despite the efforts of Paul and many others this great Movement that we call the Church or the Kingdom, began to come under the influence of those who would bring the old ways back into its midst.

Paul sometimes called these elements “Judaizers”, referring to them by various terms at various times, but always with sharp disapproval. To the Galatian churches he wrote:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Galatians 3:1-6

Believe it or not, people actually came into our great Movement and began to persuade followers of Jesus that they could not follow Him until they put themselves under the Law and conformed to its obsolete practices.

And quite a few people actually believed them. Can you see a conflict between transactional relationship and relational relationship here?

The transactional side of this coin is following Jesus by “works of the law” and “means of the flesh”; the relational side is seen by Paul’s saying “believing what you heard” and “means of the Spirit”. Abraham became righteous in God’s eyes by believing God, not by being religious− how do we become righteous in God’s sight?

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (3:7-9)

Yet Paul is far from finished:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (3:10)

Bear in mind that when we see the term “Book of the Law”, Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 27:26− this is the Law God gave to Moses, not something some guy just made up. Do we like our chances relying upon man-made rules? This is precisely what Jesus went to the cross to set us free from:

Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (3:11-14)

The whole point of this great Movement, the church, is that God did not desire a relationship with His people that was based on mere transaction, but instead, upon His great and abundant love for us, and our response to Him.

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Prologue

Romans 1:8-17

Paul’s personal observations are contained in verses 8-15, and are followed by a transitional section in verses 16-17. The personal remarks fall into three sections as he tells the Romans of his prayers for them, his desire to visit them, and of his desire to preach in their midst.

Paul’s prayers for the Romans can be found in verses 8-10, and follow more or less the typical Pauline pattern. Paul’s prayers take on the form of thanksgiving for their faith as he mentions that their faith has been reported all over the world by the time of his writing. A secondary emphasis is his desire to visit them, which transitions into the next section which is comprised of verses 11-13.

While the first two parts of this passage are fairly self explanatory, verses 14-15 reveal a great deal about Paul’s mindset:

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

In the previous section, verses 1-7, Paul made it clear that he was Jesus’ slave, called to apostleship and that as such, his mission was to call the Gentiles to faith in Christ. Thus, in verse 14 he says that he is obligated to preach in the midst of the Romans. When you take Paul’s use of the word “obligated” here in verse 14 and pair it up with his use of the term “servant” (slave) in verse 1, Paul’s attitude flies in the face of our modern perspectives on faith.

What? Me someone’s servant or slave? Me being obligated to do something? Outrageous! How dare you!

I can almost hear someone objecting on the basis of the old Faith versus Works argument, yet as I have pointed out so many times, there is no conflict whatever between faith and works. If you are new to this idea, here is why: Salvation is by grace through faith; we could not earn it by working for it no matter what we do because it has nothing to do with works. Having received salvation by the blood of Christ shed on the cross, mandated by God’s love for us, our response is the expression of God’s love in us to the world around us. Paul uses the word obligation because he has been called to make disciples, just as we have been; he is answering God’s call. Yet his motivation is in the fact that he loves God and all of God’s children, and there is no greater act of love than sharing God’s love with others, and to share that love, he needs to do something.

In that, we find fellowship between Man and God when our relationship with God brings about the response to do our part in achieving God’s purpose, which is the reason God created Man in the first place.

Paul sums this up in verses 16-17:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

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Pentecost

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (2:2-4)

The Ap0stles waited in Jerusalem as Jesus had instructed them; they were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. As they waited, the religious authorities were going about their business as usual, thinking that they had gotten rid of that Jesus guy once and for all. Yes, of course there were whispers and rumors about Him, but that sort of foolishness was to be expected from zealots and nutjobs like those who had followed Him.

No sir, it was back to regular business; the ceremonies, customs, traditions and commerce would go on as they always had− the danger had been nailed to a cross.

Yet unbeknownst to the religious authorities, the Holy Spirit had come upon the Apostles, with Power, so much so, in fact, that many thought they were drunk!

“They have had too much wine.” (2:13)

Before the Authorities knew what was happening, the Apostles were out in the Temple area preaching the Word of God in tongues they hadn’t studied, a Word of salvation and redemption for all Mankind, a Word that made them and their traditions utterly obsolete. Peter steps forward and addresses their sobriety issue:

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: (2:14-16)

Then he continues to tell the people that the prophecy of Joel was coming to pass before their eyes: I will pour out my Spirit on all people. (2:17a; see Joel 2:28-32) He proclaims the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, and announces to the people that all can be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ− from that point forward, nothing would be the same again for a new Age had dawned that day.

The religious were just a tad befuddled that day, for the response of the people to Peter’s message was too vast for them to deal with at first; thousands followed Jesus right away; they must regroup before taking the steps necessary to keep the old ways intact, but they did regroup, and within a fairly short time, Peter and others were in jail.

As we look back at those tumultuous days, we can see pretty clearly that God was moving His plans forward and the old ways were replaced with that which was entirely new. The history of Israel had shown this pattern before− God would move His plans into a new area, and thigs would be fine for a time, but then customs and traditions would be established, followed by corruption of the message of God, and then a kind of rot from within. God would warn the people and offer then a chance to turn things around. Yet those in authority would always fight Him and eventually God would take the situation in hand, and the cycle would start over.

Solomon told us that there is nothing new under the sun, and he had that right, for the history of the Christian Church has continued the same pattern to this very day.

Next time, let’s see how Paul dealt with his: See you tomorrow!

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Greetings

Romans 1:1-7

The custom in the first century was to begin a letter with a greeting that set forth the identity of the author, the recipient and a few words of greeting. In most of Paul’s letters, those few words of greeting were comprised of a prayer and thanksgiving that expressed Paul’s regard for his recipients. Paul deviated from this pattern once in awhile; in Galatians for instance, he identified himself and then launched in to quite a lecture about their error: He was writing to correct them.

Romans is another case when Paul deviates somewhat from the usual pattern.  Some have suggested that he did so to better introduce himself to a church he had not yet met in person, others that he was in a hurry, but it appears to me that something else was on his mind. Thus, while I often fly past the introductory parts of his letters, I think it might be interesting to take a closer look here in Romans, because it helps us to understand the letter’s context.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— (1:1)

Paul identifies himself immediately as a servant (slave) of Jesus Christ, the implication of which is that he is not writing on his own behalf, but as Christ’s representative. This is amplified in the second half of the verse as he says that he has been called to be an apostle, which means “one sent” and then tells his readers he has been “set apart” for the gospel of God. Of course, we know that to be set apart is another way of saying to be “holy”. Thus, Paul’s first line tells his recipients that he is Jesus’ slave who has been sent to represent the Lord and the gospel which, if you think about it, is quite a statement: He has the authority of his Master.

In the next verse, he continues by pointing out that the gospel he represents is the very one promised in the Scriptures. The sentence continues in verse 3 as Paul points out that this gospel that was foretold by the Scriptures is all about God’s Son, who was a descendant of David, the king, as the Scriptures promised. This brings us to verse 4:

and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Make no mistake about it, Paul is setting forth his authority as a teacher when he reminds his readers that he is the representative of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, whose authority and position was confirmed by His resurrection from the dead, which, if I may say so, was no mean feat.

Many years ago, I had the honor of reading a message from the president to a group of people. When you do that, there is a certain form of address, so you begin by saying, “I bring you a message from the President of the United States of America” before you start reading. I couldn’t help notice that at the precise second that I said that, the silence in the room was deafening, even though everyone knew what I was doing up there beforehand. After you read the message, you say “signed”, give the president’s name, and then say, “President of the United States of America.” To be honest with you, I thought this whole procedure was a little fussy as the protocol people were briefing me on how to do this, but since it was a very nice honor, I followed instructions (for once). After I did it, I understood why it is done, for even in our cynical times, this has a profound effect on an audience.

What Paul has just done in verses 1-4 is the first century equivalent of this; he’s telling them that they had best pay attention, for this is Official God Business.

What it also tells us is that what follows will be persuasive in nature.

I mentioned in the last post that Romans is a “doctrinal essay” but what I didn’t mention is that a doctrinal essay is a persuasive piece… He continues:

Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (1:5-6)

Verses 2-4 set forth Jesus’ Jewish credentials; verses 5-6 set forth the credentials of Paul and the Gentile believers. This Jesus who is the fulfillment of Jewish prophetic Scriptures is the One, who called Paul to apostleship, and by His authority, Paul has called the Gentiles to faith in Christ; by this authority, no Jew may challenge the validity of a Gentile’s position in Christ or his status in God’s sight, a revolutionary concept from the Jewish perspective. Pay careful attention to verse 6: The Gentile believers in Rome are among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Christ. This harmonizes nicely with Paul’s status expressed in verse 1, that of being Christ’s servant (slave is a better rendering in my view) for not only did Jesus pay the price to redeem the Jews; He also paid the price for the Gentiles.

Verse 7 makes it abundantly clear that this is being written to ALL Christians, both Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, for the word “all” bars no one. Paul extends his greetings and is ready to move on to the next section which is a prologue containing some personal observations.

Before I wrap up for now, I would like to point out one more thing: Paul has revealed in this passage what the letter will be about, actually who the letter is about: Jesus. As we continue to go through Romans, we must keep in mind that the letter is about Jesus.

Thus, we have the overall context of the letter.

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