Galatians 1:1, Acts 13:9

Saul becomes Paul

To discredit Paul’s message of salvation by grace through faith alone (sola fide) those wanting a works oriented religion challenged his credentials. They impugned the source of his teaching. and they attacked the legitimacy of his message. Therefore, Paul begins his letter to the Galatians with “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” To understand the origin of this conflict we need to understand what happened on the first missionary journey that took Paul to Southern Galatia where he preached the gospel in various cities: Perga, Attalia, Pisidia, Lystra,  Iconium and Derbe.  This missionary journey is recorded for us in the Book of Acts.

The first word in the letter Paul wrote to the Galatians is “Paul.” Up to Acts 13:9, The Apostle was called by his Jewish name, Saul. It made him acceptable to his Jewish audiences. When he joined Barnabas and John Mark on the first missionary journey to Galatia, his role changed radically. To begin with the journey was led by Barnabas who brought his cousin, John Mark, along. Both Barnabas and John Mark were solid Jewish believers. I would argue that their intention was to go to the Jews only, but while on the Island of Cyprus a “Jewish” false prophet attempted to prevent the governor, Sergius Paulus, a Roman Official, from accepting the faith. It was then that Paul stepped up and cursed the false “Jewish” prophet with blindness. Sergius Paulus became the first gentile convert under the Apostle Paul’s ministry. It is interesting that after Acts 13:9, Saul becomes Paul from that point on. Some early church fathers think that Saul took his gentile name at that time to honor his first convert who had the same name. But I see it as part of God’s plan to move Paul from a Jewish focus to a gentile focus. But more importantly to move Paul from a Law focused ministry to a Grace focused ministry. John Mark deserted the mission when they reached Perga. I believe he did so because he could not subscribe to a ministry that offered God’s salvation freely to any sinner by faith alone. He was still chained to the standards of the law.

Being of the tribe of Benjamin (As we read in Philippians), I’m fairly certain that his parents named Saul for the first King of Israel who was also from the tribe of Benjamin, Saul, the King, was head and shoulders taller than most of the men in Israel at that time and it made him stand out. It is interesting that “Paul” means “small” or “little.” Maybe that was an intentional change for this proud Pharisee who was humbled and knocked to his knees and blinded by the Lord. Paul’s blindness led to his salvation, but not so with the “Jewish” false prophet. Instead it led to the salvation of Paul’s first gentile convert. The Jews who insisted on forcing the Law into the salvation equation were as furious with Paul’s message as the Religious leaders were of Jesus who put Himself above the Law. Religious people hated Jesus. Religious people hated Paul. Religious people are violently opposed to a salvation message that is freely offered to irreligious people.

Galatians 1:1

The Attack on the Gospel

The first verse in Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins with a defense of his ministry. He preached a salvation “apart from the Law” and that greatly enraged the Jew’s. It even enraged the Jewish converts to Christianity because they were insisting that the Gospel included training in righteous living, i.e., living up to the standards of the law.  Believing in who Jesus was and what Jesus did was insufficient for salvation. One must also strive to keep the laws of Moses. If the Jewish converts to Christianity permitted Paul to preach the pure, unadulterated Gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone, apart from the law, then any pagan any gentile any gross sinner could be saved without having to conform to the standards of Jewish righteousness. Therefore the legalists of the day attacked Paul and his message. They argued that Paul taught license to sin. Paul only proclaimed half of the Gospel. It wasn’t enough to believe one must also obey the law.

The conflict wasn’t just between Paul and the legalists.  It wasn’t just a conflict between personalities or preferences. It was a conflict over the heart of the entire Gospel message. It was a conflict that began in the very first generation of Christianity as witnessed in the book of Galatians which is the first letter written chronologically as well as many episodes in the book of Acts.  It is also is a conflict that continued through every generation and brought the church to a radical revolution over the issue in what is known as the Protestant Reformation. The reformers argued for “sola fide” which means one is saved by faith alone. The established church argued that faith is not enough. Good works are essential for salvation.

The conflict continues today. Many sects and denominations still argue that works are essential for salvation, but what is more dangerous to me is the pastoral focus on works. While some preachers and teachers argue for salvation by faith alone their preaching and teaching takes the focus off of what has been done for them on the cross and focuses more attention on what we do. They pay lip service to salvation by grace through faith alone and say that works are not essential yet week after week continue to preach a message of good works and righteousness. This essentially turns Christianity into just another religion. All religions teach ethical and moral standards. All religions have rituals, regulations and resolutions. Paul’s argument is essentially that Christ did not come to set up another religion but to destroy all religion and open the doors of heaven to all people alike based on a finished work that he accomplished for us on the cross of Calvary.  When Jesus said, “it is finished” he meant it.

 

Genesis 2:2-3, Mark 2:27,28, Matthew 11:28-29

He Gives Rest

In the creation account we read about what God did on the seventh (Sabbath) day. He rested!  Genesis 2:2-3 tells us “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had 16 lord of the sabbathdone. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” Tim Keller tells us, “According to the Bible, it is about more than just taking time off. After creating the world, God looked around and saw that ‘it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). God did not just cease from his labor; he stopped and enjoyed what he had made. What does this mean for us? We need to stop to enjoy God, to enjoy his creation, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The whole point of Sabbath is joy in what God has done.”

We live in a driven society. Every employer wants to know how good a candidate can be at multi-tasking. I expect that in comparison to earlier, less technological generations, we are all a little obsessive compulsive. We need to keep our lives in perspective. Although the Sabbath, created for man, includes the idea of resting from our labors it is far more than that. It is necessary in order to find inner rest for our souls as well. Keller goes on to say, “We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for your salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will you be able to ‘walk away’ regularly from your vocational work and rest.”

In Mark 2:27-28 Jesus called himself “the Lord of the Sabbath.” He’s the Lord of rest! One of my favorite passages is Matthew 11:28-29. Jesus calls us all in that passage when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” After the fall man’s work was never as effective as it was intended. “Labor” in bringing forth children was part of the consequences for sin. “Labor” in the fields that would bring forth thorns and thistles instead of wheat and grain made everything difficult and painful. But the work of Jesus on the cross of Calvary done on our behalf is perfect. It’s complete.  The only real rest to be found in this sinful world is to rest confidently and comfortably in the hands of Jesus. No one or nothing can rip us from his loving care!

Galatians 5:25, Acts 4:33

Giga Grace!

The Greek word for “great” is mega! You know it as we use it to measure large or huge quantities like megatons. Luke tells us in Acts 4:33 that the Apostles had “mega-power” and “mega-grace.” He writes, “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” The NIV uses the phrase “much grace.” When we think of the idea of sharing our faith with others, sharing our faith story with others, it is very often reduced to a “mega-work” rather than a “mega-grace” experience. We’re often exhorted to tell others, we are ambassadors for Christ, our mission is to make disciples, etc. Of course, these are true, but testifying to the love of God expressed through His Son Jesus should never be done from a guilt or compulsory motif. It becomes a work that is displeasing to God.

There is a radical difference between testifying to God’s love from a “grace” relationship with God and testifying to God’s love from a “works” relationship with God. One writer said this: When the concept of our relationship to God is service-oriented, we will relate to Him as a divine Employer who scrutinizes our activity to make sure it is up to standard. Our focus will be on our performance as we attempt to do the things we believe He requires. This mindset reflects a legalistic view of the Christian life, a view that’s erroneous. God doesn’t want us to focus on our service to Him. When grace rules our lives, we focus on Him. In doing so, we experience intimacy in such a way that service becomes a natural overflow of the love relationship we have with Him. When we focus on our performance, Christian service becomes perfunctory and lifeless. When we are obsessed with Him, our service is literally energized with divine life.

The appreciation of God’s love for us as expressed on Calvary’s Cross must remain the motivation behind our work and service. It must not be motivated out of guilt or performed as a compulsory task. Service is truly a joyful experience! Paul actually tells the Galatians that it’s a dance. He writes in 5:25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” The mega-fruits of the spirit are nourished, watered and fertilized by God’s mega-grace. As far as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control go there is no “law” regarding these things, they are the fruits that grow from God’s Spirit indwelling our lives. Our walk with the Spirit is a dance. The Spirit leads and we follow with all the love and joy imaginable.

Chuck
For all the previous devotions go to www.chucklarsen.com

Genesis 4:15

The Mark of God’s Grace

Cain’s life is marked by God’s grace everywhere you look. Even though he offered an inferior sacrifice to God, God did not abandon him. That’s grace. God 24 grace of godapproached Cain in a fatherly manner giving advice and counsel concerning Cain’s attitude. That’s grace. God exhorted Cain to resist temptation and live honorably in His presence. That’s grace. After he murdered Abel, the Lord confronted him in his sin and offered an opportunity to repent. That’s grace. Cain resisted God’s grace and failed to repent. Even so, God placed a sign on Cain that would protect him throughout his natural life (Genesis 4:15). Now that’s amazing Grace.

What that mark was has been the subject of debate for millenniums. Some argue that it’s a tattoo of some kind. There’s a website www.bodyart.com which has a blog on “Cain’s Mark.” Some suggest it was a special hairstyle. That’s funny. Others have suggested it was his color, i.e., he was made black. An Eastern Christian writing says “the Lord was wroth with Cain. . . He beat Cain’s face with hail, which blackened like coal, and thus he remained with a black face.” Until recently the Mormon’s taught this and refused admittance of any black man to the priesthood. (How strange is that?) It’s not possible. One ancient Rabbi suggests that God gave Cain a dog that went with him everywhere he was and protected him. I can imagine a huge Doberman with a spiked collar and a surly disposition. Some renaissance painters put a horn in the middle of Cain’s head. I don’t think so! Some argue that the word “mark” should be translated as “sign.” God gave Cain a sign that assured him of his protection from vengeance. Maybe! Who knows?

But whatever the mark was, it is certainly an indication of God’s grace for one of his created beings, even a murderer. God offered Cain His Amazing Grace of forgiveness and restoration. But Cain refused. He offers all of us sinners the same thing. And Like Cain, we all need it. Horatius Bonar wrote in 1861:

Not what these hands have done
Can save this guilty soul.
Not what this toiling flesh has borne,
Can make me whole.

Thy Grace alone, O God;
To me can pardon speak;
Thy power alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.

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