The Power of Pride.

2 Kings 19-20, Galatians 6

For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. – Galatians 6:3 ESV

Pride is a powerful force that can lead a man to great heights. But it can also end in tragedy and destruction. Our own success can be like a powerful drug that causes us to think we are indestructible, unstoppable, and the ultimate determiner of our own destiny. Sennacharib, the King of Assyria had a serious pride problem. He was powerful, successful, and a formidable force in the world in which he lived. He had conquered many nations. He ruled over a powerful nation and led a great army that had won victories over all their enemies. Sennacharib's pride had resulted in a god-sized ego that led him to believe in his own sovereignty and invincibility. He viewed his victories over all the nations the Assyrians had conquered as personal triumphs over their gods. Now the God of Judah was standing in his way, and he taunted King Hezekiah by saying, “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 19:10 ESV). As far as Sennacharib was concerned, Judah was just another bump in the road to his ultimate conquest of the world. But as the proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV). Sennacharib had a hard lesson to learn concerning pride and humility. He had underestimated God and over-valued his own self-worth. In his eyes, he was a self-made man who was in complete control of his own destiny.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Hezekiah, in response to Sennacharib's boastful demands for the surrender of Jerusalem, turned to God. He appealed to “the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim” (2 Kings 19:15 ESV). He acknowledged God as the one true God and the creator of all things. He asked God to hear his plea, see their plight and intervene on their behalf. He recognized that Sennacharib had defeated the gods of all the other nations, but “they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone” (2 Kings 19:18 ESV). Hezekiah's God was different. He was a living, powerful, sovereign God who had made all things, including Sennacharib. And Hezekiah's God heard his prayer. He responded with a powerful indictment of Sennacharib's pride and a sobering reminder of His own divine power. While Sennacharib may have envisioned himself as the cause of his own success, God reminded him that nothing could have been further from the truth. God asks, “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass?” (2 Kings 19:25 ESV). Sennacharib's great victories were God's doing. He was in complete control, orchestrating the affairs of men in order to accomplish His divine will. The Assyrians were instruments in God's hands to bring about His sovereign will in the world. Sennacharib was about to learn the hard way that pride does come before destruction. That very night the angel of God would strike down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians, causing Sennacharib to abandon his siege and return home, where he would be murdered by his own sons. This miraculous turn of events should have been a wake-up call to King Hezekiah that his God was in complete control. He should have recognized that his future and fate were in God's hands. The humiliation of Sennacharib should have resulted in a humble spirit for Hezekiah. But instead, he develops his own pride problem.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was a good king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 8:3 ESV), “trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Kings 18:5 ESV), and “held fast to the Lord” (2 Kings 18:6 ESV). When faced with the armies of Assyria, he had turned to God for help. He had seen God miraculously deliver Judah from the hands of their enemy without a single arrow having been shot or a solitary spear having been thrown. And when he had become deathly ill and given a less-than-ideal prognosis from the prophet Isaiah, he had turned to God again. God restored him to health and promised him 15 more years of life. Not only that, God promised to defend the city of Jerusalem and deliver it from the hand of the king of Assyria. But sadly, Hezekiah's response was one of pride. He became cocky and self-confident. He developed an attitude of indestructibility and invulnerability. When envoys from the king of Babylon showed up on his doorstep, Hezekiah took them on a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, showing them “all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them” (2 Kings 20:13 ESV). Hezekiah showed off. He wanted to impress his guests with a show of superiority, power and success. He wanted to awe them with a display of his own splendor. But Isaiah the prophet was to be the bearer of bad news. He was to remind Hezekiah that pride comes before destruction. “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who shall be born to you, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (2 Kings 20:17-18 ESV). Isaiah prophesies the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of God into Babylon. Yet, blinded by his own pride and drugged by his own self-centered perspective, Hezekiah responded, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (2 Kings 20:19 ESV). He didn't care what happened in the future. He wasn't interested in the long-term ramifications of his behavior. He was consumed with self and solely interested in his own well-being.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It was James who wrote, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6 ESV). God's grace is available to those who have learned to humble themselves under His sovereign hand. He extends His amazing grace, His unbelievable favor and mercy, to those who understand that they don't deserve it. But the prideful don't receive God's grace. Sennacharib is a perfect example of this truth. His pride resulted in his own death. Hezekiah's pride would result in the destruction and fall of Jerusalem. He would enjoy peace and security during his lifetime, but he would die knowing that the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah would eventually fall to the armies of the very envoys he had so desperately tried to impress. At the end of the day, we must all come to grips with God's sovereignty and our own insignificance. Our response to His greatness should be a growing sense of humility. We are nothing compared to Him. We are nothing without Him. Our greatest successes are His doing, not His own. Our petty plans are ridiculous when compared with His divine will. Supposedly, it was Woody Allen who said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Hezekiah was right when he said, “You are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth” (2 Kings 19:15 ESV). But later in life, as he became increasingly more obsessed with his own significance and concerned with his own peace and security, he somehow forgot the fact that God was in control. His petty plans for a safe and secure life took precedence over God's divine will concerning the people of Judah and the glory of His own name. Pride warped Hezekiah's perspective and the same can happen to me today.

Father, pride is a powerful force in my own life. I struggle with it daily. I can become so absorbed with my own significance. I want to think that I somehow have control over my life and can impact my own destiny. But help me to see that the safest place for me to be is humbly submitted to Your sovereign will and willingly resigned to Your gracious plan for my life. You alone are God. You alone know what is best. Amen

Trust in God.

2 Kings 17-18, Galatians 5

On what do you rest this trust of yours? – 2 Kings 18:19 ESV

When everything seems to be falling apart around you, where do you place your trust? Where do turn to for help and hope? It is in the darkest moments of our lives that we truly discover where our trust really lies. And it is in those moments that the enemy surrounds us and taunts us to give up. He tries to cause us to despair and dismiss any notion we may have of rescue by the hand of God as ill-placed and unfounded. Hezekiah, the king of Judah, found himself facing just such a circumstance. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen, with the people of Israel having been taken captive and exiled to the land of Assyria. Now King Sennacharib's armies stood outside the walls of Jerusalem demanding that the nation of Judah surrender. King Hezekiah was a good king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done” (2 Kings 18:3 ESV). “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, not among those who were before him. For he held fast to the Lord” (2 Kings 18:5-6 ESV). Hezekiah enjoyed the favor of God and his reign was marked by success. But the day came when the enemy came against him. The same mighty army of Assyria that had defeated Israel was not outside his walls demanding tribute. Hezekia would respond by ransacking the temple, even stripping the gold from the doors, in an attempt to appease Sennacharib and buy himself some time. But the Assyrians were not satisfied. They wanted surrender. So Sennacharib sent emissaries to demand the complete capitulation of Judah. Their message to the people of Judah has a familiar ring to it. It is the same one we hear whispered in our ears by the enemy as we face the dark moments of our own lives.

“Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” (2 Kings 18:29-35 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

It's that old familiar refrain: Will God really deliver you? Hezekiah's enemy taunted him and mocked him, even speaking directly to the people, demanding that they look at their circumstances realistically. Had any other nation's gods been able to stop the army of Assyria. Hadn't they seen what had happened to their brothers in Israel? What chance did they have against the power of King Sennacharib? Their fate was sealed. The outcome was obvious. The best thing to do was surrender and make peace with the enemy. They even promised “a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die” (2 Kings 18:32 ESV). All they had to do was refuse to trust God and make peace with the enemy, and their lives would be dramatically better off, their circumstances would dramatically improve overnight. But chapter 18 starts off with the reminder that Hezekiah trusted God. He held fast to the Lord. Now that trust was being tested. His grip on God was going to be strained as the forces of evil pulled against him, attempting to let go and give in to what appeared to be the inevitable. The enemy was taunting Hezekiah. Now he had to make a decision as to what he would do. How would he respond? The circumstances could not have been any worse. The situation facing Hezekiah could not have been bleaker. But his God had not changed. His source of strength and power had not left him. God was still in control. He was still present, even though things looked dark and desperate.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was a rare breed in those days. He was a king of Judah who actually loved and obeyed his God. He was faithful and obedient. He was God-fearing and law-abiding. But he still had enemies. He still had to face difficult circumstances. Hezekiah still had to fight against the likes of the Assyrians and the Philistines. He had to sit back and watch as the Assyrians besieged Samaria for three years and then finally defeated the nation of Israel, sending the people of God into permanent exile. He had to wonder about his own fate. He knew the people of Judah had a long history of unfaithfulness and disobedience to God. He was well aware that of their track record of idolatry and spiritual infidelity. There was the constant temptation to take matters into his own hands and solve his problems his own way. There was always the option to turn to another nation like Egypt for help. Even the Assyrians knew about this potential plan B, and warned Hezekiah, “Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him” (2 Kings 18:21 ESV). There will always be seemingly viable options to whatever predicament we face. But the real test is whether or not we will trust God. Even Hezekiah panicked and turned to the treasury of the temple to provide him with a solution to his problem. Rather than trust the God who dwelt in the temple, he turned to the gold and silver that adorned the temple. But at the end of the day, the question remained the same, “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” Hezekiah was going to have to make a choice. He was going to have to trust in God or place his trust in something or someone else. Or he was going to have to listen to the lies of the enemy and assume that he would be better off giving up than holding on to God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

This scenario goes on regularly in the life of every believer. Our situation may not be as dark and foreboding, but the reality is that every one of us faces times in which we have to decide “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” Paul reminds us that it is at those times a battle rages inside us. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). In times of difficulty, the Spirit will speak to our hearts, reminding us of the love, power and abiding presence of God. He will attempt to restore our faith in God and fill us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But our flesh will rise up inside us, causing us to doubt the goodness and greatness of God. Our sin nature will speak to us much as the emissaries of Sennacharib did, tempting us to doubt God's faithfulness. But if we listen to our flesh, the results will always be devastatingly destructive. Paul tells us, “the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,envy,drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). If we let our sin nature make our decisions for us, we will place our trust in the wrong thing. We will lose our grip on God and miss out on an opportunity to watch Him work in our lives. Hezekiah was faced with a choice. Perhaps you are faced with a similar choice today. Maybe you need to ask yourself the question, “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” Is your God big enough? Is your grip on Him tight enough? Is your trust in Him solid enough? The problem lies not with God, but with us.

Father, I want to trust You more. You have never given me a reason NOT to trust You. The fact that I sometimes face difficult situations is not an indication of Your weakness or absence in my life. You are there. You're always there. My circumstances are simply opportunities to watch You work and to test the strength of my trust in You. May I always be able to answer the question, “On what do you rest this trust of yours?” with the simple words, “My God!”åç Amen

Elementary Principles of the World.

2 Kings 15-16, Galatians 4

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? – Galatians 4:9 ESV

For most of us, the term, “back to basics” has a positive connotation. It carries the idea of getting back to the bare essentials, of simplifying our lives and eliminating anything unnecessary or extraneous. But in the verse above, Paul speaks of a return to the basics that is dangerous and to be avoided at all costs. He accused the Galatian believers of returning to their pagan roots. While they had been set free from their worship of false gods by placing their faith in Jesus Christ, they were once again embracing “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9 ESV). Paul reminds them that, before coming to faith in Christ, they were like children, “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3 ESV). But they had been set free from having to live as slaves to the false concepts and empty hopes of their pagan religions. They were no longer to live like they used to live, placing their hopes in rituals and religious rights and regulations. And they were to avoid listening to the claims of the Judaizers, who were claiming that they must adhere to the Jewish laws and religious customs in order to truly be saved. In other words, Paul was warning them that going back to basics was to be avoided at all costs. The elementary principles of the world teach us that redemption is up to man. They would convince us that we play the primary role in our own salvation. Satan convinced Adam and Eve that the eating of the forbidden fruit would open their eyes and make them like God, providing them with a knowledge of good and evil. So the world would convince us that we must take matters into our own hands and do whatever we must do to become like God. We must earn our salvation through our effort and appease God with our ability to keep the elementary principles of this world.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had given the people of Israel a set of laws to follow, not to see if they could do it, but to reveal to them just how holy and righteous He was and just how sinful they were. The sacrificial system was designed to provide sinful man with a means for receiving forgiveness from God and returning to a right relationship with Him – in spite of their continued disobedience and failure to keep His law. The sacrificial system kept the people of God dependent upon Him for their spiritual and physical well-being. God not only gave the law, He gave the sacrificial system. He not only revealed His expectation, He provided a means of expiation or redemption. The law would condemn them as guilty. The sacrificial system would cleanse them and declare them righteous. Man's inability to keep the law was envisioned by God and solved by the regular shedding of innocent blood through the sacrificial system. But this was all designed to be a temporary foreshadowing of something yet to come. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure’” (Hebrews 10:4-6 ESV). The sacrificial system could never remove sin completely, it could only cover it over. That “elementary principle” was temporary and incomplete. It was a stop-gap measure until “the fulness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4 ESV). Then “God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the way, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). Under the old covenant, the high priest had to enter the temple year after year, offering repeated sacrifices as a payment for the ongoing sins of men. But Jesus' death was a once-and-for-all-time payment, never to be repeated. “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26 ESV). His sacrifice was sufficient to forgive all our sins and provide us with a permanent status as righteous before God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But for whatever reason, this “good news” just sounds too good to be true for many of us. We continue to believe that there is more that we must do. So we find ourselves falling back on the weak and worthless elementary principles of this world. We listen to the counsel of the enemy and convince ourselves that there is more that we must do to get right with God. And in doing so, we devalue God's precious gift of His Son. We attempt to add to what God has already offered, essentially declaring that Jesus' death was insufficient. It's interesting to note that the Israelites regularly added to God's established sacrificial system, incorporating the practices of the pagan religious around them. In 2 Kings 16, we read of Ahaz, king of Judah, who made an alliance with the nation of Assyria. He traveled to the capital of Assyria and brought back copies of their pagan altar, commanding Uriah the priest to build a replica in Jerusalem. In doing so, he dramatically altered God's plan for the sacrificial system. He desecrated the temple of God, re-purposing the temple furnishings and creating his own sacrificial system. In essence, he came up with his own way for getting right with God. He established his own plan of redemption. God's way was not enough for him. God's sacrificial system was not good enough. Ahaz listened to the weak and worthless elementary principles of this world, and violated the revealed will of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul would ask us, “how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Galatians 4:9 ESV). Why would we want to go back to a system of rules and regulations based on man's effort, when we have been given a right standing with God based on the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ? I cannot earn a right standing before God through my own efforts. I cannot please God through sheer will power or any attempts at behavior modification. My right standing with Him is based solely on what Jesus Christ accomplished for me on the cross. His sacrificial death has made me right with God. I do not have to maintain my right standing through human effort. I do not have to earn favor with God through good behavior. Those are nothing more than the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. They may sound logical and make all the sense in the world from a human perspective. But they are false and enslaving. They rob of us of joy. They enslave us rather than set us free. But Jesus Christ has set us free from sin and death. He has freed us from the trap of human effort and any need for self-made righteousness. The world offers basic principles. God has provided redemption through His Son. One enslaves. The other sets free. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

Father, forgive me for attempting to add to what You have already done. I am so easily swayed by the elementary principles of this world. It is so tempting to see my self-effort as somehow essential to my ongoing salvation and sanctification. But I must remember that my right standing with You and my transformation into the likeness of Your Son are both up to You – not me. I can no more sanctify myself than I could have saved myself. I am completely dependent upon You. And that is the only principle I need to understand. Amen

In Need Of A Savior.

2 Kings 13-14, Galatians 3

Then Jehoahaz sought the favor of the Lord, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them. (Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians, and the people of Israel lived in their homes as formerly. – 2 Kings 13:4-5 ESV

One of humanity's greatest shortcomings has been its inability to recognize its need for a savior. There is no doubt that men have always sensed their need for salvation – from war, poverty, oppression, disease, defeat, and even death. But the problem has always been that that men tend to seek salvation from all the wrong sources. Rather than turn to God, men have turned to themselves, false gods, military might, and a host of human saviors offering deliverance from whatever problems were facing them. But God never meant for mankind to seek or find salvation from any source other than Him. Yet He has allowed us to repeatedly discover just how unreliable our pseudo-saviors really are by permitting mankind to seek salvation in anything and everyone other than Him. Even God's people were guilty of turning to sources other than God for help in time of need. Yet, when things got bleak and their false saviors failed to deliver, the people of God tended to turn their attention back to God. In the 13th chapter of 2 Kings, we read of Jehoahaz, king of Israel, faced with the unrelenting oppression of Syria, who finally turned to God for help. He “sought the favor of the Lord, and the Lord listened to him” (2 Kings 13:4 ESV). God saw their oppression and “gave Israel a savior so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians” (2 Kings 13:5 ESV). God didn't do this because they deserved it. He didn't save them because they were worthy of salvation. In fact, we're told that Jehoahaz “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 13:2 ESV). And in spite of God's salvation, the people of Israel “did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them; and the Asherah also remained in Samaria” (2 Kings 13:6 ESV). God's salvation was not conditional. It was not based on their behavior or merit, but was an expression of His mercy, grace and compassion. It was in fulfillment of His covenant promises to Abraham and David. “But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now” (2 Kings 13:23 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is gracious, loving, compassionate and faithful. In the face of man's idolatry, spiritual adultery, and persistent unfaithfulness, He continued to show undeserved mercy and grace. That God would provide a “savior” for the people of Israel after all they had done is amazing. Over and over we read of the sinfulness of God's chosen people. Each successive king did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. On rare occasions, we read of the isolated example Amaziah, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 14:3 ESV), but his obedience was incomplete and impartial. Nothing really changed. Yet God never fully abandoned His people. He continued to love them, watch over them, and protect them. Even when He eventually sent them into exile for their sinfulness, He never took His hands off of them. He ended up returning them to the land of promise, despite all they had done to rebel against Him. When we read of the history of God's people, it provides us with a backdrop against which to view the amazing grace and mercy presented in the Gospels. The coming of the ultimate Savior of Israel stands in stark contrast to the sinfulness and rebellion of the people of God. John 3:16 reminds us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Elsewhere, Paul writes, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Even thought Israel so often failed to turn to God for their salvation, God was always there, ready to provide it. And while men have consistently and stubbornly refused to seek God for their salvation from sin and death, God has so graciously continued to offer it to those who would believe.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has an innate need to try and save himself, or at least to determine who his savior might be. The Israelites were guilty of turning to false gods for help. They even turned to other nations, like Egypt, to bail them out of their difficulties. Sometimes they turned to representations of God, like the Ark or the Temple, to find security and salvation. But God has always wanted men to turn to Him in times of need, and the crux of the issue is just that… NEED. We must see our need for God. We must recognize our desperate need for salvation. That was the whole reason God gave the Israelites the law. It was a God-given, written code of conduct that clearly articulated God's moral standard for living. And it was non-negotiable. The law required perfect and complete obedience. It was not enough to obey partially. Perfection was the criteria for success, and no man could measure up. “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22 ESV). The law was holy and good because it was given by God. It was an accurate depiction of God's righteous standard for holy conduct, but the problem was that no man was capable of living up to that standard because of the presence and power of sin. God's law revealed just how sinful man really was. When Jesus came to earth, He offered an invitation to the Jewish people. He stated, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 ESV). He was speaking to a people worn out and burdened down a lifetime of attempting to keep the law. They were weary. They were laboring under the sheer weight of the law's righteous expectations. But Jesus offered them rest. He offered salvation. All they had to do was admit their own sinfulness and their incapacity to save themselves, and believe in Him.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Man has never been able to earn a right standing with God. Our own sinfulness makes it impossible. God's holiness and righteousness requires that man be sinless and righteous in order to stand in His presence. And while we might convince ourselves that something or someone else might save us from our predicament, it is not until we admit our weakness and sinfulness that we will realize our salvation comes from only one source: Jesus Christ. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). We can't earn our salvation. No one else can provide it for us. We must place our faith, hope and trust in Jesus Christ alone. He alone can save. He alone can make us right with God. He alone can provide us with the righteousness we need to stand before God as holy, sinless and fully acceptable in His sight. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV).

Father, thank You for the reality of salvation made possible through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for doing for me what I could never have done for myself. Now help me to realize that this new life You have saved me to live, is only possible through the power of Your Spirit. I am no more able to live righteously on my own than I was able to save myself from sin. Make me ever more dependent upon You for my daily salvation from sin and self. Amen

Partial Restoration.

2 Kings 11-12, Galatians 2

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:19-20 ESV

Every now and then, we get a feint glimmer of light shining in the darkness that seems to characterize the histories of Judah and Israel. The house of Ahab, the wickedness of Jezebel, and the ongoing dynasty of godless kings is occasionally broken by a single individual who provides a small degree of hope that things might change – that reformation and repentance might come to the people of God. But these moments of spiritual change and national restoration are short-lived and woefully incomplete. In the midst of all the murder, insurrection, and royal intrigue going on in these chapters, we are introduced to the story of Joash, a young boy who had to be hidden from his own grandmother in order to prevent her from killing him along with his siblings. Athaliah, the mother of King Ahaziah, upon learning of her son's murder, decides to make herself the queen of Judah. To secure her reign, she has all the royal family murdered, but her grandson, Joash, is secreted away by the chief priest and hidden in the temple for six years. At the age of seven, he is crowned the king of Judah and given the responsibility to lead the people of God and attempt to restore them to a right relationship with Him. His reign starts off well, as they renew their covenant with God. They even “went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars” (2 Kings 11:18 ESV). Joash would reign over Judah for 40 years, and, for the most part, he would prove to be a good king who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Jehoiada, the chief priest, proved to be a worthy mentor. “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places” (2 Kings 12:3 ESV). The temple, long neglected during the years when the people were worshiping Baal, was in desperate need of repairs. Funds had been set aside for that purpose, but after 23 long years, the priests had failed to spend a single cent on the repair of the temple. As a result, Joash had to intervene and give the money directly to the workers just to ensure that the work was done.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In chapters 11 and 12, there is no direct mention of God's divine interaction in the events that took place. While we know He is sovereign and in control of all situations, it is interesting to note His perceived silence in all that goes on during the 40-year reign of Joash. Jehoiada, the priest, “made a covenant between the Lord and the king and people, that they should be the Lord's people, and also between the king and the people” (2 Kings 11:17 ESV), but we do not hear anything from God Himself. The efforts of the people to destroy the house of Baal and eliminate the worship of this false god from their midst was admirable, but it appears to have been nothing more than an outward display of faithfulness. Their hearts were still not wholly dedicated to God. They continued to worship false gods and treat the one true God with contempt. As a result, God would allow the Syrians to besiege Jerusalem, prompting King Joash to raid the treasury of the temple and use the sacred gifts to pay off King Hazael. Rather than turn to God for help, they relied on the gifts that had been dedicated to God to buy their protection and safety. Unlike the great king, Solomon, Joash knows no peace during his reign. He is powerless against his enemies and seems to have no hope that God will intervene on his behalf. From what we know of God, He stood ready to help His people at any time, but He required that they return to Him and obey Him faithfully and completely. As long as they worshiped other gods they would find Him distant and unwilling to act on their behalf. Their attempts at reformation would prove inadequate and their redemption and restoration would be incomplete. Joash himself would end up murdered by his own servants.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The apostle Paul reminds us that self-reformation never measures up. It is impossible for man to redeem or reform himself. Joash put in a noble effort, but all his reforms proved inadequate. Regardless of the covenant he and the people made, they would find it impossible to remain faithful to their promises. Like all those who had come before them, they just couldn't muster up the energy to keep their end of the covenant they had made with God. Paul writes, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 ESV). The Old Testament continually reveals man's incapacity to live in obedience to God's commands. Even the good intentions of some of the best people always fell short. Joash meant well, but he could not reform the nation or restore the people of Judah to a right relationship with God. Neither he or they had it in them. But Paul realized that it was through the law that he discovered his true nature as a transgressor of the law. His efforts to attempt to keep the law only revealed his incapacity to do so. Self reform was never going to accomplish what he needed. Any attempt by man to redeem or reform himself will always fail. Which is why God sent His Son to accomplish what no other man had been able to do. Paul makes it clear that if “righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21 ESV). If man could reform himself, Jesus never would have had to come and would have never needed to die. But He did.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My attempt to live the godly life does come from my own self-effort. It comes from Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). I cannot reform myself. I cannot change myself. I must rely on the grace of God and the power made possible through the indwelling Spirit of God. I must recognize that any reformation on my life is made possible by Christ's death, His righteousness and God's power. I must regularly remind myself that God not only saved me, He must sanctify and change me. I must regularly rely on His strength to do the impossible in my life. Like Joash, I will find myself confronted by the enemies of God, but I must trust in Him to deliver me. I must not attempt to bargain with the enemy or try to buy him off. God wants to give me complete victory over the enemy and reveal His power in my life. But I must continually realize my need for and dependence upon Him.

Father, self reform has never worked for me. Yet I keep trying to do it on my own. Help me to learn the invaluable lesson that the spiritual reformation of my life is a work of the Spirit accomplished through Your power. I must turn to You. I must rely on You. I must acknowledge my own human weakness and rely on Your divine power. Amen

Divinely Appointed.

2 Kings 9-10, Galatians 1

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a ‘servant’ of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 ESV

God had prophesied that He would completely destroy the house of Ahab, the former king of Israel. He had sworn to not only kill Ahab himself, but to “cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel” (1 Kings 21:21 ESV). God was not going to leave a single descendant of Ahab alive. He was also going to bring judgment against Jezebel, the queen, for all her wickedness and her worship of Baal. Her life would end in a gruesome manner. “The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel” (1 Kings 21:24 ESV). But a lot of time had passed since these dire words had been spoken on God's behalf, and Ahab's descendants were all doing fine and well. His son, Joram, was reigning over Israel and continuing in the sins of his father. Joram's mother, Jezebel, was still alive and well, worshiping her false gods and having a negative influence over her son and his kingdom. But God was not done. He would fulfill what He had promised. But He was going to do it through a man. God would appoint a human to accomplish His divine will. God could have easily eliminated Jezebel and all the descendants of Ahab on His own, but He chose to accomplish His will through the means of a man. He handpicked Jehu as His divine instrument of judgment, and Jehu would prove to be zealous in his efforts to eradicate every remnant of Ahab's household from the face of the earth.

What does this passage reveal about God?

What God says He will do, He does. He may delay. He may appear to have forgotten. It may even seem as if He has changed His mind. But God always fulfills His prophecies and promises. For those who remain faithful to Him, like Elisha, it can sometimes be frustrating and confusing to watch from the sidelines and watch as His divine word goes unfulfilled. Elisha had to have wondered when God was going to do something about Ahab and Jezebel. He had to question whether God was going to ever fulfill His divine judgment against the house of Ahab. Baal worship continued to thrive in Israel. Jezebel continued to wield her evil influence and bask in her role as the queen mother. Joram, the son of Ahab, still ruled over Israel, continuing the sins of his father. But God was not done. He had not forgotten. He was well aware of what was going on and He had a plan for accomplishing His divine will. So when the timing was just right, God chose Jehu. He raised up just the right man for the task. Jehu was not a godly or righteous man. But he was zealous and he was thorough. He was a warrior who was not afraid to get his hands dirty, which was going to be important, because the job God had for him was going to be gruesome and grim. He was going to act as God's hand of judgment against the house of Ahab, and so he was going to have to be thorough and unrelenting in his mission.

What does this passage reveal about man?

From the moment he was chosen by God, Jehu seemed to have taken his assignment seriously. He immediately assassinated Joram, king of Israel, and Ahaziah, the king of Judah. He then rounded up the 70 sons of Ahab and had them executed. But he wasn't done. He then wiped out all the prophets of Baal and everyone who worshiped this false god with them. Finally, he destroyed the temple of Baal and turned it into a latrine. Jehu was thorough and complete in his efforts to carry out God's judgment. He was just the right man for the task. But he was far from God's man. The writer of the book of Kings tells us, “But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son Nebar, which he made Israel to sin – that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and Dan” (2 Kings 10:29 ESV). He destroyed all the remnants of Baal worship, but continued to bow down to the false gods that Jeroboam had made. Rather than worship the one true God in the right way, he worshiped a false representation of God in the wrong way. His was a counterfeit faith. Jeroboam had erected the golden calves in order to keep the people of Israel from returning to Jerusalem to worship God. He had made a counterfeit version to replace God's divine plan for men to receive forgiveness for sins. He made his own gods, his own temples, and his own priesthood. “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:31 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God can and does use men to accomplish His divine will. Sometimes those men are not always godly men. They are not always faithful men. God used Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to bring about His divine judgment on Judah. He used the king of Assyria to bring judgment on Israel. God is able to use any and all men to accomplish His will and bring about His plan for mankind. But His desire would be that those who call themselves by His name, would follow Him faithfully and obey Him fully. Jehu had been appointed by God to bring judgment against the house of Ahab, and he performed his task admirably and completely. But God would have preferred that Jehu lead the people back to worship of Him as the one true God. Jehu's decision to persist on worshiping Jeroboam's false representations for God would lead to the eventual downfall of Israel.

In Paul's day, there was a constant threat to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It involved those who wanted to add to the good news of Jesus Christ by requiring Gentile believers to convert to Judaism and keep the laws and rituals associated with it, including the rite of circumcision. Paul called this “a different gospel.” He saw it as a distortion of the truth and labeled it “a gospel contrary to the one we preached” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). He stood so opposed to this false gospel, that he wrote, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). Paul viewed himself as an instrument in the hand of God, bringing His message of salvation and redemption through Christ to the people of his day. He was not preaching a man-made religion or some kind of human version of the truth. The gospel he preached had been given to him by divine revelation. He had received it directly from Jesus Christ Himself, and he was going to faithfully communicate that truth to everyone he met. Just as the Israelites had received the word of God on Mount Sinai, Paul had received a personal revelation from God. But unlike the Israelites, Paul was unwilling to alter that word one iota. Paul had been set apart by God. He had been called by God's grace. God had been pleased to reveal His Son to him. So Paul, like Jehu, took his divine appointment seriously and he accomplished it faithfully. Both were used by God. But the difference between these two men is stark. Paul remained true to His God and refused to accept any false version of the truth. He would not tolerate “a different gospel” or a variation of the truth. He was a defender of the gospel and a proclaimer of the word of God. He took His role seriously and accomplished it faithfully – refusing to fear men or seek their approval.

Father, I want to be an instrument in Your divine hands, faithfully accomplishing Your will and carrying out Your plan. I want to be used by You. But like Paul, I want to proclaim Your truth, not some man-made variation of it. I want to be faithful to Your calling on my life. Unlike Jehu, I don't want to do Your will partially or incompletely. I don't want to try and please men or worry about what they think of me. Rather, I want to be a faithful servant of Yours, carrying out whatever task you have for me . Amen

Two Covenants.

Galatians 4:21-31

These two women serve as an illustration of God's two covenants. – Galatians 4:24 NLT

The Old Testament and the New Testament. Two covenants made by God with His people. Paul uses the two wives of Abraham and their two sons to serve as illustrations of the differences between these two covenants. Hagar was actually the handmaiden to Sarah, Abraham's wife. When years passed and Sarah still found herself barren and unable to bear a son for Abraham, she came up with the bright idea of giving her handmaiden to Abraham so that he might have a son through her. This was her attempt to help God out. And Abraham willingly and eagerly agreed to the plan. The result? Ishmael. Paul makes it clear that "the son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God's promise" (Galatians 4:23 NLT). God had made a promise to make Abraham fruitful and give him more descendants than the sand on the seashore. But when God's promise appeared to be bogged down, Abraham and Sarah decided to step in and fulfill the promise of God on their time frame. Ishmael was the child born by human effort.

But God had not needed any help when it came to fulfilling His promise. He simply had a different time line. He refused to accept Ishmael as the substitute, in spite of the pleadings of Abraham. Instead, in the course of time, God gave Abraham a son through Sarah, even though she was quite old and barren. God fulfilled His promise in His time and on His terms. Isaac would become the child of the promise. Again, Paul uses these two women to illustrate the differences between the two covenants. Hagar would come to represent the law. She illustrated life lived by human effort. Her son was the result of human effort and planning. But he was not the fulfillment of God's promise. His birth could not substitute for God's promise. And as Ishmael and Isaac grew older, Ishmael would persecute Isaac out of jealousy. Ishmael knew that he was not the heir, even though he was the first born. And those who lived according to the law were persecuting the rightful heirs of God even in Paul's day. The believers to whom Paul was writing were "children of the promise just like Isaac." They were children of God born by the power of the Spirit of God. But those trapped under the law were persecuting them, attempting to force them to earn their rightful place in God's family through human effort. But Paul reminds them, "dear brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman; we are children of the free woman" (Galatians 4:31 NLT). We are free. We are heirs. We are beneficiaries of the promise of God completely as a result of the efforts of God alone. Like Isaac who was born by the miracle and power of God, we have been born again by the grace and mercy of God made possible by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. None of it is due to our effort. We have not earned it and we do not deserve it. God alone saves. We can't save ourselves. And we can't sanctify ourselves. Human effort plays no part in God's redemptive plan for man. It is His promise and it will be fulfilled according to His terms and through His power alone.

Father, thank You for this reminder that my effort is unnecessary. I don't have to try to earn Your favor through my own energy. But so often I try to come up with ways to help You out. I try to step in and do what I seem to think You are incapable of doing. But Your promise doesn't need my help. It is all based on You and You alone. My position as Your child has nothing to do with my worth or my works. It is all Your doing. Amen.


Galatians 4:1-20

Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (of should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? – Galatians 4:8-9 NET

Why would anyone who had been set free from slavery ever voluntarily subject themselves to it again? That is Paul's question in this section of his letter. He reminds the believers in Galatia that they were at one time slaves to the basic principles of this world. In other words, they had been subject to the sad state of affairs made possible by the fall. They had been under the constant influence and control of Satan, their own sinful flesh and the world. At one time they had been slaves to their so-called gods – gods that didn't even really exist. Theirs had been a pointless and hopeless existence attempting to search for release by turning to false gods that offered false hope. But Paul reminds them that "in the fulness of time" – at just the right time – God sent his Son to buy them freedom. Jesus Christ had bought them out of slavery and set them free. As a result, they were no longer slaves, but God's own children, adopted into His family. They knew the one true God and He knew them. But now, as a result of the influence of the Judaizers, these so-called Jewish believers who were attempting to convince the new converts in Galatia that they must keep the law and adhere to the rituals and requirements of Judaism, the Galatian Christians were becoming enslaved again. Paul accused them of "trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years" (Galatians 4:10 NLT).

Paul plead with them to live in freedom, not slavery. He begged them to not return to the same kind of slavery from which Christ had set them free. Paul's greatest desire was that Christ would be fully developed in their lives. But he knew that a return to those basic principles of this world would hinder their spiritual growth. Even as believers, we are all still under the influence of Satan, our sinful flesh, and the world. We can still fall prey to the temptation to earn favor with God through our own self-effort. The enemy would love nothing more than to enslave us again to a life of works and pride-based effort. He wants us to see God as a task-master who demands what we can't deliver. He wants us to live in fear of God, not as children, but as slaves. Satan doesn't want us to see ourselves as God's children, but as His powerless pawns, condemned to try to keep Him pleased in order to escape His punishment and earn His favor. But Paul won't stand for it. And while he can't personally visit them, he does the next best thing – he writes them and pleads with them. He speaks truth to them. He exposes those who would do harm to them. Because unless they learned to embrace their freedom in Christ, they would never truly grow in Christ. Those who see themselves as slaves will tend to live and act as slaves. But those who truly understand that they have been freed from the basic principles of this world will enjoy all that freedom brings. They will relish their status as children of God. They will take advantage of His indwelling Spirit and allow Him to do in them what they could never have done on their own.

Father, we live in a fallen world and we are surrounded by the basic principles of this world. Ever since the fall, mankind has been in a hopeless quest to rectify their relationship with You. They have been searching for You. They have been trying to figure out to fix all that is wrong with them and with the world in which they live. But You have provided the solution through Your own Son's death. You have set us free from having to search for a solution or from having to earn back Your favor. But it is so easy to fall back into that old mindset. It is so easy to think that nothing is free and we must do something to get You to love us. But it's all a lie. Keep us focused on the truth. Keep us aware of the fact that we are free in Christ. Amen.


Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law. being kept as prisoners until the coming faith could be revealed. – Galatians 3:23 NET

There is an interesting thing happening in what Paul is saying in these verses. We know that he is talking about faith and juxtaposing it against any kind of merit-based salvation. Paul is contrasting the faith required to believe in Jesus and accept Him as your Savior and the false gospel of works being taught by the Judaizers. But if we're not careful we could easily turn faith itself into a kind of works that is based on our own human effort. We can make it all about OUR faith and wrongfully conclude that it is still about us having to DO something to merit salvation. Then we can end up in scary places, comparing the amount or degree of our faith as compared to other Christians. We can wrestle with the size of our faith and wonder if our faith is large enough, strong enough or sincere enough. But in verse 23 Paul states, "Now before faith came..." I think it strange that he would be talking about the faith of the Galatian Christians. He tells them that they were being held prisoner under the law "until the coming faith would be revealed." Is Paul saying that they were prisoners until they could muster enough faith to believe? Has the ball been in their court all along and they just didn't have enough faith? More and more New Testament scholars are making the determination that the faith Paul is talking about is the faith of Christ, not faith in Christ. When Paul says, "Now before faith came," he is speaking of the faith of Christ, or better yet the faithfulness of Christ. It was Christ's faithfulness to God and His faith in God that qualified Him to be our sinless substitute on the cross. He was completely faithful to the law. He never wavered in faith or doubted the plan of God for His life. He was obedient to the point of death. His faith in God was so great that He willingly gave His life, knowing that God would raise Him up three days later. It is the faith and faithfulness of Christ that set us free, not our own limited faith.

Take a look at verse 24: "Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ..." Our subjection to the law was in place until Christ came. He is the one who set us free. It is belief or faith in His faithfulness that is the point here. In verse 25 Paul says, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian." Now that Jesus has come and lived a perfect life of faith, faithfully keeping the law of God and obediently following the will of God, He has satisfied the just penalty that God had imposed on mankind. He has provided a way for us to be made right with God. We can be declared righteous, not based on anything we have done on our own, but simply by having faith in the faithfulness of Christ. We must believe that what He has done has been effective and requires nothing more from us. In verse 26 Paul says, "For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith." While our faith certainly plays a role, it is the object of our faith that must be the focus. It is the faithfulness of Christ that gives our faith its power. Paul seems to be saying that if the Galatian believers put their faith in the wrong thing – like circumcision – it will be ineffective. What gives our faith its saving power is the faith of Christ, exhibited in His death on the cross. It is not the size, but the object of my faith that matters. Prior to Christ's coming, a Jew could put as much faith as he wanted in the hope that obedience to the law could save him, but it would never happen. The Pharisees had faith in the law. They had faith in their own ability to keep the law. But their faith was misplaced. It was all about them, when Jesus told them that it had to be all about Him. Our faith must be in the faith and faithfulness of Christ. It is what He has done that saves. It was He has accomplished that sets us free from the law. In verse 27, Paul tells us that we have been clothed in Christ. We now wear His righteousness, not our own. It is that fact in which we place our faith. I stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and do not have to depend on my feeble attempts to manufacture righteousness. Apart from Christ, all my best efforts are as filthy rags in God's eyes. But thankfully, I don't have to place faith in my efforts, but in the faithfulness of Christ alone.

Father, never let me mistakenly make all this about my faith. It is not the degree of my faith that counts, but the object. Don't let me try and take credit for anything I do. It is all because of what Christ has done for me. It is because He was faithful that I can even have faith. He has provided me an object in which to place my faith that can actually deliver. Thank You. Amen.

The Promise & The Law.

Galatians 3:15-22

Why then was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

From the very beginning, God had intended for man to be made right with Him through single individual who would somehow satisfy His just and holy demands. God had made a promise to Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. He had promised Abraham that his "seed" – singular – referring to a single individual, would be the source of this blessing. From the family tree of Abraham would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would bless the nations with His provision of salvation through faith in His sacrificial death on the cross. Paul makes it clear that this promise of the coming Messiah was given 430 years before the law was given at Mount Sinai. And the law did not replace the promise. "The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise" (Galatians 3:17 NLT). In other words, God would be changing the rules in mid-stream. Rather than God making a promise or covenant that was unilateral and unconditional, He would be placing impossible conditions on our ultimate salvation. But the covenant God made with Abraham did not include conditions. It was not dependent on Abraham's actions or behavior. It was purely based on the faithfulness of God. So then why did God bother to give Moses and the people of Israel the law? Paul has made it clear that the law was never intended to save mankind, so what was its purpose? Again, Paul tells us, "It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins" (Galatians 3:19 NLT). He clarifies this thought in his letter to the Romans. "…it as the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet.’ But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of coveting desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power" (Romans 7:7-8 NLT). The law was given to make it clear what God's holy and righteous requirements were. The law put in writing what God's expectations of man were. And by revealing His expectations, it also revealed man's limitations. It showed man just how impossible it was to live up to God's standard. When men tried to obey the law, it actually resulted in more sin, rather than less. Knowledge of God's demands revealed an inherent desire to break those demands. Our own sin natures rebelled against God's law.

Basically, the law was intended to show us our desperate need for a Savior. Trying to obey the law showed men that they were incapable of saving themselves. The couldn't live up to God's standard, so God provided another way. He sent His own Son to live as a man and do what no other man had ever done: keep the law to perfection. Jesus became the fulfillment of the law. He was completely obedient to the law, resulting in a sinless, spotless life. He kept the law. He met the standard. He fulfilled the requirement. And therefore, satisfied the just and righteous demands of God. So Paul asks, "Is there a conflict, then, between God's law and God's promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God's promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ" (Galatians 3:21-22 NLT). For Paul, it always goes back to this one thought, this one truth. Man can't save himself. Man can't live the kind of life God requires on his own. He needs a Savior. The law shows us our desperate need for a Savior. "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood" (Romans 3:23-25 NLT). God gave the promise before He gave the law. And God will fulfill the promise because His son fulfilled the law. We have nothing to add except our faith.

Father, I have no problem admitting or acknowledging my sinfulness. It is painfully clear to me. You have shown me my sin, but You have also revealed to me the solution. And it has nothing to do with my effort to stop sinning. It is solely based on the sacrificial death of Your Son in my place. You promised to bless all mankind and You have. You have provided a way to be made right with You and it has nothing to do with my ability to earn or deserve Your favor. It is all because of what Jesus Christ has done on my behalf. Thank You! Amen.

Faith, Not Works.

Galatians 3:1-14

What's more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, "All nations will be blessed through you." So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. – Galatians 3:8-9 NLT

This is obviously a huge issue to Paul, because he is still talking about it well into the body of his letter. He is going out of his way to let the Gentiles know that there is nothing more that they need other than their faith in Christ. These men who had showed up declaring that the salvation of the Galatian believers was incomplete because they had failed to convert to Judaism, were in Paul's eyes, false brothers. If what they taught is what they really believed, they weren't truly believers at all, because they had believed a false or other gospel. They somehow believed that their "Jewishness" put them ahead of the curve, After all, they thought, Jesus had been a Jew. He had kept the law and obeyed all the ceremonial requirements, and so did His disciples. So if someone wanted to be one of His followers, they concluded, he had to become a Jew. But Paul puts that logic to rest. First and foremost, because that is NOT what Jesus taught. But secondly, because the good news had always been based on faith, not works. Long before the law had been given, God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith, not because of his obedience or adherence to any laws or requirements. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells them, "Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about begin made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God's way. For the Scriptures tell us, ‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith’ (Romans 4:1-3 NLT).

Paul is using the patriarch of the Hebrew people as an example of faith. He was chosen by God because he was Jewish. He wasn't seen as righteous by God because he kept the law, because it didn't even exist yet. He wasn't even deemed righteous by God because he had been circumcised. Again, Paul writes to the Roman Christians, "Was he counted righteous only after he was circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? Clearly, God accepted Abraham before he was circumcised! Circumcision was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous – even before he was circumcised" (Romans 4:10-11 NLT).

Law keeping has a certain attraction to us as human beings. It appeals to our pride and sense of self-accomplishment. From the time we are children, we are trained to aspire to get the gold star on our homework or the A+ on our paper. We are driven to make it on to the winning team. We become obsessed with achievement and recognition for our efforts. This attitude infiltrates and permeates our entire lives, even our spiritual lives. We look for ways to measure up and can actually end up competing with others to see who is the most spiritual. We use criteria like quiet time, prayer, service, giving, Bible study attendance, and biblical knowledge to achieve some degree of righteousness and prove our spiritual depth. But Paul warns us just like he did the Galatian believers, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life" (Galatians 3:11 NLT). Studying the Bible, prayer, service, and giving are all evidence of a life of faith, not the means to get there. These things don't make us right in God's eyes. We can't earn His favor or acceptance through effort. We do these things because we believe in His Son and have accepted His gift of salvation made possible through His death on the cross. Then we read the Bible to get to know God and His Son better. We pray so that we might share with and hear from Him. We serve because His Son served us and left us an example to follow. We give because we have been given to abundantly by God and have been called to share out of that abundance with others.

It is so easy to let an attitude or earning based on effort creep into our spiritual lives. And Paul is warning us to watch out. Faith leads to righteousness, not hard work. Belief in Jesus Christ as your Savior is the only requirement God has placed on us. Any obedience to His laws or commands that comes based on a life of faith, will be based on an attitude of gratitude, not earning or merit. I have nothing to prove to God. I have nothing I need to do to make God love me any more than He already does. I don't have anything I need to do to keep God pleased with me. He loves me even when I was still trapped in my own sinfulness and sent His Son to die for me. God didn't save me because I deserved. And it takes real faith to believe that.

Father, salvation by faith alone is so counter-intuitive. It goes against our human reasoning. It makes no sense. Nobody gets something for nothing. Everything in life has to be earned. But You have made salvation a gift. You gave us Your Son in spite of us, not because of us. You gave us what we could never have earned or ever deserved. And it takes faith to believe that. Help us to continue to replace faith in ourselves with faith in Your Son. Amen.

A Point of Contention and Contrast.

Galatians 2:11-21

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT

To some, this whole confrontation between Paul and the Judaizers may appear overblown. Paul may come across as petty and too harsh in his opinions. After all, how can he be so sure that he's right and everyone else is wrong? Aren't they welcome to their own opinions? Can't there be more than one way for people to be made right with God? According to Paul, no. And he has already made it perfectly clear why he could be so adamant in his opinion – because it's NOT his opinion. It is the word of God given to him by Jesus Christ Himself. For Paul, this was serious stuff. It wasn't just a matter of a difference of opinion, it was a case of truth versus falsehood, the word of God and the lies of the enemy. Paul was so firm on this point that he was willing to confront one of the recognized leaders of the early church, the former disciple of Jesus, Peter.

On a visit to the region of Galatia, Peter had sat down and eaten a meal with Paul and some of the Gentile Christians – even though the men in this group were uncircumcised and not converts to Judaism. But later, when some Jewish friends of James, another former disciple of Jesus, came to Antioch, Peter snubbed the Gentile Christians, refusing to associate with them. It seems that Peter did not want to offend his Jewish comrades. Evidently, these men were not willing to associate with the Gentile believers because they were uncircumcised and, therefore, unclean. Peter's actions appalled Paul. And in spite of Peter's rock star status in the early church, Paul confronted him. As far as Peter was concerned, his actions were giving credence to the message of the Judaizers and leading others to believe that faith in Christ was not enough. But Paul made it clear: "Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law" (Galatians 2:17 NLT). Case closed. Because otherwise, if these Gentile believers had come to salvation through faith in Christ alone, and then discovered that they were actually sinners because they had refused to keep the law, then the message Jesus had given Paul would have been the impetus or cause of their sin. As far as Paul was concerned, that was ridiculous and impossible. Jesus never taught that salvation was some combination of faith in Him PLUS adherence to the Jewish law. The law was never meant to save anyone. It simply revealed the full extend of man's sinfulness. The law was intended to stand as a standard of God's righteous expectations. It was His measuring stick, by which He judged the righteousness of men. And no one measured up. No one kept the law in its entirety. The law exposed man's sinfulness and revealed just how far he fell short of God's righteous standard. Paul says, "For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me" (Galatians 2:19 NLT).

But Jesus came to fulfill the law. He took on human flesh, lived as a man, and kept the law of God to perfection. He did what no other man could have ever done. He satisfied the righteous standard of God. Which is what made Him the perfect sinless sacrifice, worthy to offer His life in place of ours, as a payment for our sins. And when He died, we were crucified with Him. Our old selves, our sinful selves, were put to death. And by dying with Christ, we were freed from having to keep the law. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, "You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ" (Romans 7:4 NLT). As a result, we no longer have to try to keep all the requirements of the law in order to be made right with God. This is not about self-effort anymore. It is about faith in Christ – alone. To try to add to this message or require anything more for salvation to be available, is to treat the grace of God as meaningless. It is to treat the death of Christ as insufficient. "For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die" (Galatians 2:21 NLT). But He did die because He had to. It was a necessity. "There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12 NLT).

Father, man is always trying to figure out a way to play a more significant role in his own salvation. We so desperately want to earn or deserve Your grace. We want a set of rules to keep or standards to live up to. But we can't even keep the rules we make, let alone the righteous standard You demand. And yet, You offer us a restored relationship with You through Jesus Christ – completely apart from our own self-effort, and then we try to add things to it. Help us grasp the unbelievable nature of what Christ has made possible through His death. He is the key to our salvation, nothing more, nothing less. There's nothing more that needs to be done. Amen.

Chosen By God.

Galatians 1:11-24

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. – Galatians 1:15 NLT

In the eyes of the new believers living in the region of Galatia, Paul is just another man with another message. They can think of no reason to give his message any more credence than any other man's. Yes, Paul had been to the Roman province of Galatia on his first missionary journey, and had visited Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. He had brought them the Good News of Jesus Christ, but there were others who had slightly different opinions regarding what it meant to be a Christ-follower. They were promoting the idea that it wasn't enough to simply believe in Jesus as your Savior, you also had to be converted to Judaism and adhere to its laws and ceremonial requirements. These Judaizers, as they were called, were so zealous in their beliefs, that they had actually followed Paul on his first missionary journey, spreading their pseudo-gospel among the new converts. Now these new Gentile converts were faced with a decision regarding who to believe – Paul of the Judaizers. Both claimed to have the message of good news. Both claimed to be speaking truth. But who were the Galatian Christians to believe.

Paul presents his case clearly and concisely. He tells them that his gospel message is not some man-made invention or the product of his fertile imagination. He didn't get it out of a text book or from a classroom. Instead, he had "received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12 NLT). The message he had preached on his first missionary journey to Galatia was exactly what Jesus had given him personally. Paul's story was not an ordinary one. Prior to his conversion, he had been a hired bounty hunter, working for the Jewish religious leadership, pursuing and persecuting these new sect called Christian that had risen up after the death of Jesus. Paul was a well-educated Pharisee, trained under Gamaliel, a revered Jewish rabbi. Paul described his prior life by saying, "I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did" (Acts 22:3 NLT). He persecuted the followers of the Way, the term used to describe those who had become Christians or Christ-followers. It was his obsession to find them, arrest them, and make sure that they were punished for their heresy. Paul knew what it meant to be a fervent follower of the traditions of the Jews. He had been a law-keeper of the first order.

But something happened. He had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ while he was on his way to Damascus. Paul says, "Then it pleased him [God] to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles" (Galatians 1:15-16 NLT). For the next three years, Paul lived in Arabia. While there, he was isolated from the other apostles, receiving his instruction directly from God, not men. Paul's message was from God, not men. Paul had been chosen by God to deliver a very specific message to the Gentiles, and it did not include conversion to Judaism and adherence to the Jewish laws and sacrificial system. The Good News Paul delivered was based on faith in Christ alone. Nothing more, nothing less. He had no problem declaring his message superior to that of the Judaizers, because he knew that his message was divinely given and not to be tampered with. Paul was not out to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to proclaim the Good News of faith alone in Christ alone. The era of works-based righteousness was over. Jesus had died to deliver men from the dead-end pursuit of earning favor with God through self-effort. It was His works that saved, not man's. And Paul was chosen by God, even before he was born, to be the conduit of that message to the Gentiles.

Father, it is amazing to think that You had Paul in mind before he was even born. You had a job for him to do long before he even existed. Your plan of salvation is comprehensive and complete. There are no diversions or detours. You are never caught off guard or surprised. You know Paul was going to persecute the Church. But You also knew that he was going to accomplish for Your Kingdom, because that had been Your plan from eternity past. Your choosing of men is never without reason and our salvation is never without purpose. You have a job for each of us to do. We have been called and commissioned to serve You. Help us see our divine job description and take it seriously, just as Paul did. Amen

Pseudo Good News.

Galatians 1:1-10

Obviously, I am not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant. – Galatians 1:10 NLT

After a brief, yet heartfelt greeting, Paul cuts to the chase. He is writing to new believers living throughout the region called Galatia (now modern Turkey), and he wants to warn them about a problem he sees going on among them. He pulls no punches, but is extremely blunt with his assessment of the situation. "I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ" (Galatians 1:6 NLT). Paul is completely baffled by the reports he has heard coming out of Galatia. Of the 13 letters that Paul wrote that became part of the canon of Scripture, this is believed to be the first one. It was likely written some time around 49 A.D. Since the time of Jesus' resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Gospel has spread throughout the known world. It had made its way to Galatia and Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. But as the Gospel spread, so did a lot of false teaching. There was no New Testament Scriptures at this time. There were few, if any, elders or leaders for these new congregations of believers springing up all over the place. There was little in the way of an established doctrine for the Church. Much of what Paul and others wrote in these letters became what we now have as the New Testament. Their writings, penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became the foundation of the doctrine to which we still adhere today. They were addressing issues and problems that were creeping up as the Gospel spread and the Church grew in numbers. Immediately after Pentecost, most of the early converts to Christianity were Jews, but that had begun to change as the Good News was carried around the world. Increasingly more and more Gentiles, or non-Jews, were coming to faith. And because Jesus and His disciples had been Jews, there was a strong tie to Judaism in those early days. Many of the Jewish converts were of the opinion that belief in Christ was simply an extension or add-on to their Jewish faith or heritage. In other words, becoming a Christ-follower also required that you become a Jew, submitting to all the Jewish laws and traditions. In time, a group who held an extreme form of this view rose up. They came to be known as the Judaizers. It seems that they were having a strong influence in places like Galatia, telling Gentile converts that their faith in Christ was incomplete or inadequate. They were teaching that faith in Christ alone was not enough. More was required of them. They must also become converts to Judaism, all males must go through the ritual of circumcision, and they must keep the Law and adhere to all Jewish traditions and customs. As you can imagine, this caused a great deal of confusion for these new believers.

And it caused a great deal of anger in Paul. This became one of the major themes in his letters. He warned his readers, "You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News, but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7 NLT). Paul makes it clear that what these believers are hearing is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is some kind of an aberration. It is a "different way," but not the one true way. It is a false gospel, but not the true Gospel concerning faith in Christ alone. And Paul gives his feelings about this pseudo gospel and those who are promoting it: "Let God's curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who practices a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you" (Galatians 1:8 NLT). Paul was anything but tolerant and inclusive. He was not a proponent of the heresy that all religions lead to God. He was not politically correct or willing to accommodate all views. As far as he was concerned, there was one Gospel and it did not include conversion to Judaism or adherence to the Law. The Gospel Paul preached required faith in Christ alone and nothing more. It was faith-based, not works-based. It had no place for earning or merit. What made the Good News good news was that it was a free gift, unhampered by human effort or achievement. Gone were the days when sacrifice and law-keeping were the required means of pursuing a right relationship with God. No amount of either one had ever truly made anyone right with God. But with His death on the cross, Jesus had satisfied the just demands of God once and for all. He had paid the price for our sins with His own life. No more lambs needed to be sacrificed. No more hopeless attempts at trying to keep the Law to perfection were necessary. Salvation had been provided by Christ and was not dependent on the efforts of man anymore.

So Paul boldly and aggressively deals with this issue right up front. He is anything but subtle. And he makes it clear, "I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God" (Galatians 1:10 NLT). Paul is a servant of Jesus Christ. He answers to Him and Him alone. He cared more about what God thought about him, than what men did. This was not a popularity contest for Paul. He had been commissioned by Jesus Himself to take the Good News of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone to the world. He would not tolerate the teaching or preaching of any other gospel. He would not put up with those who attempted to redefine the Gospel as Jesus plus anything.

Father, it is so easy to try to add to the Gospel. We so want to put our twist on it. We want to add rules and requirements that are unnecessary and only muddy the water. We crave achievement and recognition for our efforts. We have been brainwashed to believe that we have to DO something to earn Your forgiveness and favor. But salvation is a gift. It was made possible by what Your Son did on the cross. It has nothing to do with human effort or earning. As we read through the letter of Galatians, help us see where we may be trying to add to the Gospel even today. Open our eyes and help us give up all attempts at self-righteousness and once again place our faith in the righteousness of Christ alone. Amen.

The Law of Christ.

Galatians 6

Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the Law of Christ. – Vs 2

We are an individualized society. Every man for himself. Pull yourself by your own bootstraps. Maintain your independence. And this attitude has infiltrated the church. Even when it comes to our spiritual walk, we take an individualized approach. It's all about MY walk with Christ. We ask each other, "So, how's YOUR quiet time." You can hear it the kinds of phrases we use, such as, "I have a PERSONAL relationship with Jesus." If Christianity was a sport, spirituality would be a singles event. Now, there's a certain degree of truth to all of this. We DO have a personal relationship with Christ. But God never intended for us to live out our faith in isolation. He placed in the context of community. He created the family and the body of Christ. He left us in this world. We are surrounded by people and He expects us to grow alongside them and with them. The testing ground of our spiritual maturity is community.

Paul seems to share this view, when he tells us to "bear one another's burdens." Paul paints a picture of someone who is weighed down by an oppressive load. The Greek word means "a heaviness, weight, or burden." This individual is staggering under the weight of a load that they don't have the strength to carry. This isn't talking about a physical burden, but it could be an emotional one, or financial, relational, or spiritual. The inference seems to be that we all have some load that we are carrying that is too much for us. No one is immune. And the answer is not to suffer in silence, to go it alone. No, Paul says we are to step into one another's lives and help. But that also means we have to let someone else help us. We have to let them assist us. And most of us find that hard to do.

Paul tells each of us bear the burdens of the one next to us. We are to literally "take up with the hands, take up in order to carry or bear, put upon one's self, or bear what is burdensome." We are to step into their lives and give them a helping hand with whatever it is that they are struggling. That means we have to be close enough to the other person to see their problem. We have to be sensitive so that we can be alert to their need. If we are self-absorbed and self-consumed, we will never notice the needs all around us. But if we will look up and take our eyes off our own little world. we will see that their are brothers and sisters staggering around with all kinds of loads and who, if not helped, will fall under its weight. Listen to what Paul says in Romans:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. – Romans 1:1-2

There it is again. We are to bear the weaknesses of those without strength. Instead of always pleasing ourselves, we are to please others. The New Living Translation says it this way, "We should please others. If we do what helps them, we will build them up in the Lord." We are to accommodate ourselves to their needs, and not our own. Paul gives further insight into the mindset in his letter to the Thessalonians:

Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Fulfill the law of Christ

Paul says when we bear one another's burdens we are fulfilling the law of Christ. We are doing what He commanded us to do. In John 13:34, Jesus said, A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." We are to love as Christ loved. Bearing one another's burdens is one of the greatest examples of the love of Christ lived out on this earth. It is not normal or natural for us to do this. We'd rather get than give. But Jesus says to give to, share with, care for, encourage, and love one another. That takes community. Seeing the burdens of others takes proximity. But it also requires sensitivity. You can't bear if you don't care. You'll walk right past those in need if you don't care about their hurts, sorrows, and sufferings. This will take time. It will require sacrifice. It may get messy. You may find yourself tired from the effort of helping someone else carry their burden. But you'll also find yourself blessed. And you'll discover that as you're helping someone else carry their load, your own load has become a little bit lighter. Why? Because there is someone walking behind you with their hands holding up the burden on your own back. That's the way the body of Christ is supposed to work.

Father, give me a burden to help others carry their burden. Make me a load-bearer, a burden lifter. Help me get my eyes off my own little problems, and begin to see the needs of those around me. May we become a people of grace, who extend the love of God to all those around us as we step into their lives and help them bear the burdens of life. May we love in just the same way that we have been loved. Amen

The Spirit-Filled Life.

Galatians 5

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. – Vs 25

The Spirit-filled life. We talk a lot about it, but how much do any of us ever really experience it? Sure, I believe in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit as much as the next guy, but when Paul says things like, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry the desire of the flesh" (Vs 16), I have to ask myself the question, "Am I really experiencing that on a daily and regular basis?" Am I seeing the fruit of the Spirit listed in verses 22-23 manifest itself in my life on an ever-increasing basis? Am I being "led by the Spirit" (Vs 18)?

These are all legitimate questions that each of us as Christians need to ask ourselves. Because the role of the Spirit in our lives is critical to our ongoing sanctification or growth in holiness. Having Christ formed in me is impossible without the Holy Spirit. So Paul tells us to "walk by the Spirit" and to "live by the Spirit." In verse 16 Paul uses a Greek word that literally means to live your life or conduct your life. The Message paraphrases verse 16 this way: "Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit." We are to "take each step of the Christian life in dependence on the Spirit to have victory over the flesh and its works" (Ryrie Study Bible notes). So when Paul says, "walk by the Spirit," he seems to be talking about our conduct or actions being motivated and directed by the indwelling Spirit of God.

In verse 25, Paul uses a different Greek word when he says, "live by the Spirit." It has to do with life and less with conduct. Paul seems to be saying that we have our new life in Christ because of the Spirit, so we should conduct or live out that life in the power of the Spirit and not our human flesh. It all goes back to the issue of salvation by faith and sanctification by faith. I can't save myself and I can't perfect myself. Both are a work of the Holy Spirit. So all those fruits Paul mentions are only available through, by, and from the Holy Spirit. As I live or conduct my life in dependence upon Him, I will see His fruit produced in my life. In verse 18 Paul says we are to be "led by the Spirit." The picture is of an owner leading its livestock in order to get it to go where he wants it to go. It means "to lead by laying hold of, and this way to bring to the point of destination." The Holy Spirit is literally taking me by the hand and guiding and encouraging me to reach the final destination He has for me: Christ-likeness.

If you look at the list in verses 22-23, they are all other-oriented. This fruit is not for me, but for others. The presence of the Holy Spirit in my life and my submission to Him will reveal itself in the way I live with and treat others. In verse 14, Paul reminds his readers of the fact that the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And as we live out our lives in the power and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, we will show our neighbors love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fruitfulness, gentleness and self-control. They will not only see these things in our lives, but experience and enjoy them in their own lives.

We wouldn't be here if it weren't for the Holy Spirit. And we won't ever reach our final destination (Christ-likeness) without the Holy Spirit. No amount of human effort or energy will accomplish what only He can do in us. So let's let Him live out of us, not just in us. Let's rely on His power, not ours. Let's follow His leadership, not our own. Let's follow His path to our final destination instead of our own.

Father, Thank You for placing Your Holy Spirit within me. Forgive me for not allowing Him to lead me. I tend to lean on my own strength to make it through life and handle the challenges that come my way. I know where you want me to go in terms of spiritual maturity. But I try to get their own my own strength and according to my own directions. But it never works. Help me to lean on Your Holy Spirit and follow His plan, not mine. Only You can make me increasingly more like Your Son, and that is my desire. I want the fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence in my life to become evident in my life, so that I might love those around me as Christ did. Amen

Deified DNA.

Galatians 4

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you. – Vs 19

I've always found this interesting. Here is Paul, a hard-nosed, type-A personality, the preeminent apostle of the church of God, a guy who had been stoned and left for dead, flogged, shipwrecked, and persecuted, comparing himself to a mother about to give birth. Not exactly something you'd expect from a guy like Paul. But what is he saying? What's his point?

Paul is obsessed with the spiritual development of the believers in Galatia. He wants to see Christ formed in them. That is, he is passionate about seeing them develop and live outChrist’s nature or character in their daily lives. That is what spiritual formation is all about. It isn't about more Bible knowledge. Sure, we need to study God's Word, but for the purpose of discovering more about Him and His Son Jesus Christ. We are to learn more about Him so that we can become like Him. spiritual formation isn't about activity, no matter how spiritual that activity may appear. It's about Christ being formed or fashioned in you, like a baby being formed in the womb of its mother. His character is growing within you, maturing and becoming increasingly more distinct day after day.

Spiritual formation was an ongoing theme for Paul. Take a look at just a few of the passages that reflect his commitment to spiritual growth and increasing in our Christ-likeness.

And all of us have had that veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 (NIV)

Paul's heart was to see heart transformation take place in the lives of those to whom he ministered day in and day out. He wanted them to embrace the reality that they were new creatures. They had new identities. They were children of God. Heirs of God according to Galatians 4:7. He wanted them live out of the reality of who they really were in Christ – a people who had been changed, not being changed. We have Christ's nature within us. Now it is being formed or fashioned so that it grows into full maturity. We are not sinners trying to become saints. We are saints who happen to sin. We have a new DNA, a new nature. And Paul wants to see that new nature become increasingly more apparent in our lives. We won't be completely like Christ in this life. But we should be making progress as the Christ-nature within us grows and matures. Then one day, we are told, we will be like Him. We will be glorified and completely sanctified, with a nature just like His.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2

The day is coming when we will have resurrected bodies, just like His. We will be completely pure, just like He is. We will be sinless, just like He is. And we will be completely and entirely righteous, just as He is. But until that day, Christ's nature is growing inside us and being revealed with us. Do you see it? Better yet, do those around you see it?

Father, Thank You for giving me a new nature. I have Christ living within me. I am not the old Ken I used to be. I'm not even a new and improved version of the old me. I am a new creation! I have a new nature, the nature of Christ. And You are maturing that nature within me. May His nature become increasingly more evident in my life, especially to those around. Let them see Christ in me, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Amen

A Work Of The Spirit.

Galatians 3

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? – Vs 3

You may feel like I have a one-track mind, but I can't help but notice that Paul is driving home this works-righteousness issue again. He is hammering home to the Galatians that they can't allow what they began by faith to turn into some experiment in the power of human effort. It seems that these people were buying into the idea that if they could somehow keep the Law, along with their faith in Christ, they would be pleasing to God. They had bought into the lie that they could make themselves righteous just by keeping a set of rules. So Paul literally screams at them "Are you so foolish?" Have you lost your mind? What are you thinking? I like the way this verse reads in the New Living Translation: Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?"

They had started in the Spirit, but were trying to finish what God had begun in their own self-effort. But don't we do the same thing? We place our faith in Christ. We acknowledge that we can't save ourselves. We recognize that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We add nothing to the equation. But then we somehow think that's where the grace ends and our effort begins. He saves us, but we have to sanctify ourselves. We have to discover the right set of rules to keep in order to become truly righteous. And there are always plenty of people ready and willing to tell us what the rules are. In Paul's day, it was the Judaizers. In our day, it's well-intentioned individuals who have failed to understand that our spiritual growth is a work of God, not man. So they come up with their own list of rules and regulations to keep. They decide what the actions and activities of a godly person look like and then lay those expectations on all those they meet. They even attempt to model this kind of life. They are busy for God. They work out their faith with fear and trembling. They have quiet times, pray a lot, serve even more, memorize scripture, go to Bible studies, and try to eliminate anything of a worldly nature from their lives. But in spite of all this, many of them lack joy and peace. They smile a lot and praise God in all things, but behind their mask of super spirituality is a person who feels they can't do enough to please God. So they work harder and do more. Why? Because they have been led to believe that spirituality is all about doing. It is behavior-based. And because they are stuck on this treadmill of human achievement, they invite others to join them, because they don't want to be alone.

But Paul reminds us, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Vs 26). I don't have to earn sonship, I already have it. I don't have to do anything to merit God's favor, it's already mine. He LOVES me! Yet how easily we buy into the lie that God is somehow displeased with us and demanding more from us.

This distortion has kept us tied down, guilt-ridden, weary, lonely and isolated from each other. We've seen God as disgusted by our failures and have been left trying to somehow earn our way back into His favor. Most of us sadly came to believe that while we are justified through faith by grace, somehow we must mature and heal by some other means. We have become the "buck up" people. And though it hasn't worked, we didn't know another way. So, we've just learned to try harder. But the day of self-righteous, religious performing for cheap applause truly is coming to an end. It has brought us nothing but enhanced skils in hiding, proving, striving, posturing and bluffing. Many of us, all over the world, have grown desperately tired of it. - Two Roads, Two Rooms, Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch

Have you lost your senses? Have you bought into the lie that more is required of you before God will love you? Do you think that God has left it up to you to become what He expects you to be? Is your spiritual maturity your responsibility? If so, then Paul's message is for you. You are trying to "become perfect by human effort." And the result of all that effort will always be disappointment and defeat. Because true spiritual transformation is a work of the Spirit, not the flesh. Only He can change us. And until we recognize that reality and begin to live in it, we will never enjoy the peace of knowing "that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

Father, keep reminding me that Your grace is enough. Forgive me for the times I begin to believe that it is all up to me. It shows up in all my busyness and self-effort. I somehow think that I have to do more. I have to work harder. And I fail to rest in the fact that you are perfecting me in spite of me. I know I have a part to play. I can't just sit back and do nothing. I know I need to read Your Word. I know prayer needs to become a more significant part of my life. But I also know that anything I do, apart from the power of Your Holy Spirit, will accomplish nothing. Bring me to my senses. Help me remember that You love me and that You are making me into the likeness of Your Son. Amen

The Grace To Change.

Galatians 2

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. – Vs 21

I love the way this verse is translated in the New Living Translation: "I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die." The Message paraphrases it this way: I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily."

The grace of God versus the works of men. It is amazing how often this theme has come up already in our readings in the New Testament. It was a problem then, and it is a problem today. Somehow we want to take the grace of God and replace it with some form of human effort or achievement. In Paul's day it was the Judaizers (converted Jews) who wanted to force the Gentiles to be circumcised and keep all of the requirements of the Law before they could be considered saved. They were adding to the Gospel message. They were attaching a list of rules and requirement that must be met before someone could truly be saved. And Paul would have nothing to do with it. In fact, he calls Peter a hypocrite and condemned him to his face for siding with the Judaizers over this issue.

Paul makes it very clear:

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. – Vs 16

We cannot be justified or declared righteous before God based on any amount of good deeds or rule keeping we attempt to do. We cannot earn favor with God by working harder or doing more. We can't make Him love us more or make Him love us less. He simply loves us because of our relationship with His Son Jesus Christ. Yet how often do we try to earn favor with God by trying to do more for Him? By attempting to change our behavior? By working a little bit harder on our sin? We really have convinced ourselves that the following formula works:

Less bad behavior + More good behavior = Holiness

So we go through behavior modification, working on our sin and hoping to gain some kind of brownie points with God. But all that is just another form of works-righteousness. It is exactly what Paul was condemning in this chapter. Paul says that we have died to any form of law-keeping. "For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God" – Vs 19. Jesus' death on the cross paid the penalty for sin that the Law demanded. So Paul could stop trying to keep the Law as a means of winning God's acceptance. He was accepted by God because of Jesus. Case closed. Paul summarized his thoughts in verse 20:

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.

Listen to what the New Living Translation says: So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." I live my life on this earth, not having to trust in my own self-effort or on what I can do, but on what Jesus Christ has already done. And knowing that He loved me and gave His life for me. Sure, I still need to change. I need to grow. I need to cease from my sinful behavior. But I do it out of love for God and in recognition of His grace. I want my life to reflect who I have become in Christ: A child of God. So I choose to say no to sin. I choose to accept God's ongoing grace that gives me the power to change. I understand that I can no nothing on my own, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

Father, Thank You for Your grace. Thank You that I do not have to change myself to gain favor with You. I don't have to change before You will love me. You chose to love me when I was still a sinner and now You continue to love me even when I am a saint who chooses to sin. You keep extending grace to me day after day, giving me the desire to change and providing the power for that change to take place. Forgive me when I fall back into my old habit of trying to change myself in my own strength. When I do it is as if I make what Jesus did on the cross as of no value. Help me to remember everyday of my life that I am who I am because of Christ and I will become who You want me to be because of Christ. And not because of me.  Amen

It's A Process.

Galatians 1

He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy. And they were glorifying God because of me. – Vs 23-24

Transformation. Isn't that what the gospel is all about? Being radically changed from the inside out. In two sentences Paul summarizes the change that took place in his life. He went from the persecuted to being the persecuted. He went from destroyer to disciple. This one time Pharisee on the ladder to success, was now a new man with a new heart. Yes, his change was more radical than many of ours. And it was more immediate. Or was it? Paul says it was well over three years. During this time he grew in the faith and was prepared by God for the task for which he was called. And all the while he was going through the transformation of his life and character, heart and soul, mind and spirit. The life of Paul is a perfect example of the verse in Romans 12:2.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This passage was written by none other than Paul himself. And he spoke from experience. He had been and was still being transformed as he daily renewed his mind. As we read in 2 Peter, Paul was daily growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. That is how transformation takes place. Sure, Paul had been saved on the road to Damascus, but God was not done with him. That was just the beginning of a transformational process that would continue until the day God took Paul home to be with him. Transformation is a daily, ongoing process by which we are changed, step by step into the likeness of God's Son.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

Paul was being transformed. Are you? Am I? And are people glorifying God because of us? Paul's transformation was more than just a story about life change. It was visible, undeniable, and in many ways, unbelievable to those who were witnessing it. Paul was a changed man. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. He had a new heart, a new nature, and they revealed themselves in a new passion: spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. How is your transformation showing up in daily life? Can others see the change taking place in you? Is it radical? Is it impacting the way you talk, act, think, and live? When we allow God to continue His transformational work in our lives, transforming us into the image of His Son, with ever-increasing amounts of glory, others will sit up and take notice – and glorify God. They'll have to admit that the change is not man-made, but God-produced, and give Him the glory He deserves. I like the way The Message paraphrases Romans 12:2:

Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Fix your attention on God and you'll be changed from the inside out.

Father, Thank You for continuing Your transformational work in my life. Sometimes it seems painfully slow. Other times it seems as if nothing is happening at all. But You are faithful and You continue to work inside me to make me into the man You want me to be. The same power that saved me is slowly sanctifying me, making me more like Your Son every day. Help me keep my attention fixed on You, so that I might be changed from the inside out.  Amen