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Encounters with GodThe Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the GALATIANS
By Henry Blackaby Richard Blackaby Thomas Blackaby Melvin Blackaby Norman Blackaby
Thomas Nelson, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Henry Blackaby Richard Blackaby Thomas Blackaby Melvin Blackaby Norman Blackaby
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLesson #1
ONLY ONE GOSPEL
Gospel: good news—and specifically the Good News about Jesus Christ
B Bible Focus
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed ...
But I make known to you, 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 it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:6–9, 11–12).
Human nature is fickle. Any person who has ever ridden the waves of fame knows that. Popularity rises and falls. Emotions run hot and cold. Styles come and go. Fads are "in" today and "out" tomorrow. Political parties expand and contract. The stock market rises and falls, often reflecting an ebb and flow of societal opinion and intuition. Human philosophies gain in strength, and then wane. Methods change. Protocols are updated. Technology advances.
Against the fluctuations of human nature and invention stands the unchanging nature of God. As the New Testament states simply and eloquently, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
The apostle Paul had preached to the people of Galatia a message of free grace: nothing that a person could do earns the love of God—a person can only fling himself on God's mercy in an act of faith. When a person does so, God responds out of His unchanging nature of love and forgives, reconciles, and redeems.
Salvation is not about what man does. It is about what Christ Jesus has already accomplished.
Salvation is not about ways in which man might achieve worthiness. It is about God declaring that salvation is available to all who will believe and receive. John 3:16 tells us plainly, "whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
Salvation is not about achievement. It is about acceptance.
Salvation is not rooted in religious practice. It is rooted in relationship with God.
Shortly after the Galatians had heard and received Paul's message, Jewish Christians arrived on the scene and taught that in addition to believing in Jesus, the new Gentile converts needed to follow Jewish laws, including the ritual of circumcision, in order to fully please God. They taught further that, every time a new convert performed a deed of the law, he received a "credit entry" on God's ledger, all of which added up to reward. It is this teaching that Paul came against as a valiant warrior wielding a powerful spiritual sword.
"No!" Paul declared to the Galatians. "God showed me directly and personally by my own salvation that there is nothing about keeping the law that produces salvation." Paul, of course, had been fanatical about keeping the law. As a Pharisee, he prided himself in law-keeping and had been an arch-enemy of the early church. If keeping the law could have produced salvation in any person, it would have been Paul. "But that didn't happen," Paul taught. "Jesus made it very clear to me on the road to Damascus that 'accepting Him' as Savior was all that was required for a dramatic change in one's spiritual nature."
Countless people around the world today are in bondage to a long list of "must do's," which they believe are a ladder to God's favor. Some cut themselves, others travel miles on bloody knees, still others engage in a series of good works to earn enough points to be fully accepted into what they believe will be the next level of piety.
Even within Christian denominations, we find certain rituals and codes of dress, speech, and behavior "required" for a person to be fully accepted spiritually.
Perhaps the ultimate answer is human pride. As human beings, we believe that there must be something that we can do, must do, or "get to do" in order to achieve forgiveness and reconciliation with God. We want to have a part, to feel as if we in some way "deserve" God's reception of us.
The truth of the Gospel, however, is that nothing more is required for salvation—only believing and receiving, an opening of one's life to say yes to God.
Are you willing to make it that simple for a person to accept Jesus as Savior?
We tend to regard simple things as being simplistic and of less value. There is nothing simplistic about the Gospel, however, and nothing easy—perhaps the most difficult thing that a person can do is push his own pride out of the way and admit that he needs the love of God and can do nothing to earn it.
A Application for Today
The little boy crumpled up the piece of paper and threw it on the floor. It joined at least a dozen other crumpled up balls of paper.
"What are you working on?" the boy's mother asked as she entered his room, saw her son sitting at his desk, and saw the pile of paper growing around his feet.
"I'm trying to draw a picture for God," he said.
"What are you drawing?" Mother asked, unfolding and smoothing one of the discarded pieces of paper.
"You and Dad and me and Jane," he said.
"Looks like Buffy the dog is here, too," Mom said. "So why have you thrown away your work?" she added, smoothing out a second drawing.
"None of them are good enough for God," the boy said. "I'm a bad artist. I can't get it right."
The mother pulled her son close. "I feel certain that God would like any of these drawings that you have done," she said. "They come from your heart. But what you draw for God isn't nearly as valuable to Him as you are. He loves you, regardless of your art skills."
"I know," the boy nodded as his mother held him close. "But I wanted to give Him something great."
"Give him your heart," Mom said. "That's the greatest gift you can give. And you know what?"
"What?" the boy asked.
"When you give God your heart, He gives you His."
Do you struggle today thinking that you have to do something in order to win God's approval? His love? His forgiveness?
Do you struggle with feelings that you are unworthy of God's love?
What is it that God really wants?
S Supplementary Scriptures to Consider
Paul noted that the Galatians had been freed from pagan rituals when they came to Christ, but had then resorted to religious rituals. In essence, they had turned from one list of things to do to another list of things required. Paul wrote:
When you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain (Galatians 4:8–11).
Were there certain protocols that you followed or rituals that you kept before you became a Christian, hoping that these deeds would make you "good enough" for God?
Are there things that you do today with a secret hope or belief that these things will keep you from losing your salvation? Is there anything that you don't dare "stop" because you fear that God will be so angry with you that He will cast you away?
Are there certain rituals that you believe you must follow in order to retain God's favor and protection? How did you develop these beliefs? Did they come from God or your own thinking?
What do you believe the apostle Paul would say to you if you answered yes to any of the above questions?
Paul told the Galatians that the false teachers were attempting to influence them, not for their good but in order to cause division in the church. The false teachers sought to exclude those who didn't follow their teachings and to create personal fan clubs among those who did. Paul wrote:
They [the false teachers] zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, for whom I labor in birth again unto Christ is formed in you. I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you (Galatians 4:17–20).
Are you aware of a situation where religious rituals took precedence over relationships and caused division among God's people? How do you think God felt when His children were hurt?
Paul had experienced both spiritual bondage to the law, and spiritual freedom in Christ:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.... For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything but faith working through love (Galatians 5:1, 6).
Why do you believe some people who have experienced spiritual freedom in Christ might be tempted to return to rituals, practices, or beliefs that kept them in spiritual bondage?
What does the phrase "faith working through love" mean to you?
In what ways does the love of God free us to do what God desires, rather than what mankind requires?
Paul focused on the motive for those who were teaching that the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised—they were seeking to elevate themselves as spiritual authorities and to exert power:
For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation (Galatians 6:13–15).
Are there any religious rituals that you believe can create a "newness" of spiritual life?
Most rites and rituals within the Christian faith are called an "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality." They function as a witness—both to the person participating in the ritual and to those who are observing it—that a spiritual transformation has taken or is taking place. Have you ever participated in a ritual that you believe was reflective of a change in your inner being?
Have you ever participated in a religious ritual or practice that had no personal meaning for you? How did you feel? What were the ongoing results?
I Introspection and Implications
1. To what extent are we creatures of habit? Does this work for us, or against us, as we come to Christ, accept Him as Savior, and then seek to follow Him as our Lord?
2. We live in a society that places high value on achievement as a means of acquiring status. What challenges have you faced in your Christian walk when it comes to feelings of worthiness? Do you see yourself as being a successful Christian? Why or why not? How does your definition of success relate to God's definitions of success?
3. Most people label themselves as "overachiever," "underachiever," or "average." Why are these labels inappropriate when it comes to salvation? How are these labels counterproductive to our ongoing spiritual growth?
C Communicating the Good News
What must a person do to experience God's free gift of salvation?
What must a new convert do to be fully acceptable to God?
What must we do to grow spiritually? What scripture would you use to support your answer?
Chapter TwoLesson #2
JUSTIFIED BY FAITH
Justification: to be forgiven of sin and put into right relationship with God
B Bible Focus
When Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified ...
For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Galatians 2:11–16, 19–21).
Many people have a strong desire to fit in with others around them. Peer pressure is not limited to teenagers or young people. People of all ages and in all strata of society desire the approval of others. The believers in Antioch were no different. They were adapting their behavior to fit in—keeping the customs and rituals of Judaism when they were with Jewish Christians, and keeping the customs and rituals of the Gentile believers when they were with them.
Paul labeled their hypocrisy for what it was. The Jews had been saved by faith, not by keeping the law. Their means of salvation was the same as that of the Gentiles. To resort to law-keeping was to create two different classes of Christians.
The word "hypocrisy" was well known to the Gentiles of Galatia. Greek theater made extensive use of masks. One actor might play several roles by means of different masks. The word hypocrisy relates directly to one face wearing two or more masks. The happy face of comedy and the sad face of tragedy came out of this theatrical device. Paul clearly taught the believers in Galatia that the wearing of spiritual masks was not warranted in Christ. Our integrity as Christians rests in our being the same person regardless of circumstances or settings.
Christianity does not allow any separate-but-equal paths when it comes to salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the gift of eternal life. There is only one path—the one that leads directly to the cross and the acknowledgment that Jesus' death on the cross was the definitive, substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for sin. What Jesus accomplished on the cross has been made available to all mankind for the remission of sin. Nothing else is required, and nothing else can substitute or compete with the final work of the shed blood of Christ Jesus on the cross.
Do you ever find yourself adapting your language or behavior to "accommodate" the beliefs of others who are not Christians? Perhaps at work? Perhaps in a social setting?
Do you ever find yourself cringing at the possibility that you may have to defend your belief in Christ Jesus as being the only means of salvation, forgiveness of sin, and a transformed life?
Do you ever find yourself searching for ways of accommodating the customs or rituals of people who visit your home or become members of a social club to which you belong?
Do you ever find yourself "shutting down" and refusing to fully engage in conversation with a family member who is opposed to Christ and critical of your relationship with Christ?
Every person faces challenges when it comes to maintaining integrity and refusing to fall into hypocrisy. How do you handle those challenges? What do you do if you feel that you have been hypocritical?
To what extent is it acceptable to adapt to others and still maintain a strong witness for Christ?
A Application for Today
As the thirteen-year-old climbed into the family van, she immediately burst into tears. "What's wrong?" her parents asked in unison.
"Just drive, please," their daughter pleaded. "Let's get out of here."
Dad complied, but two blocks away, he pulled into the parking lot of a neighborhood park. "What happened?" he asked.
Excerpted from Encounters with God by Henry Blackaby Richard Blackaby Thomas Blackaby Melvin Blackaby Norman Blackaby Copyright © 2008 by Henry Blackaby Richard Blackaby Thomas Blackaby Melvin Blackaby Norman Blackaby. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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