If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. — John 8:31-32


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Children of God

As I read over a devotional today about Galatians 3:25–26, I was reminded of a wonderful illustration I’ve been eager to share since I read it last week.

First, the bit from the devotional, at the Ligonier Ministries site:

Jesus Christ is the only one with the inherent right to be called the Son of God. In Him, however, we are adopted as children of God, and receive all the benefits that come with that status.

That reminded me of a blog post I read at the Sovereign Grace Ministries site. C.J. Mahaney quoted a section from a book by Russell Moore (“Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches”) that recounts when Moore and his wife picked up their two newly adopted Russian sons.

Moore noted how people kept asking whether the boys were brothers. “What she wondered was whether these two boys, born three weeks apart, share a common biological ancestry, a common bloodline, some common DNA. It struck me that this question betrayed what most of us tend to view as really important when it comes to sonship: traceable genetic material,” he wrote about one woman’s insistent questions as she tried to confirm their biological identity. Then he writes, and this is the part I really wanted to share:

When Maria and I at long last received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed. We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had bought for them. We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.

They’d never seen the sun, and they’d never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door slamming or felt like they were being carried along a road at 100 miles an hour. I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance. Suddenly it wasn’t a stranger asking, “Are they brothers?” They seemed to be asking it, nonverbally but emphatically, about themselves.

I whispered to Sergei, now Timothy, “That place is a pit! If only you knew what’s waiting for you — a home with a mommy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates and McDonald’s Happy Meals!”

But all they knew was the orphanage. It was squalid, but they had no other reference point. It was home.

We knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.

They are now thoroughly Americanized, perhaps too much so, able to recognize the sound of a microwave ding from forty yards away. I still remember, though, those little hands reaching for the orphanage. And I see myself there.

We’ve been learning about, and Paul continues to write more about, how the law is supposed to point us to our need of a Savior by showing us that we are sinful. I think I often stop at the “I am sinful” part, and do not remember, look to and expect change to come from my Savior and the power of the Holy Spirit within me as a child of God.

Here’s the Ligonier devotional quote again, with the rest of the paragraph that wraps it up:

Jesus Christ is the only one with the inherent right to be called the Son of God. In Him, however, we are adopted as children of God, and receive all the benefits that come with that status. May we take that privilege seriously and obey the wisdom that He gives us in His Word. Think today on the incredible privilege it is to be a child of God and endeavor to please Him out of the sheer delight that good children take in obeying their parents.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Piper on Galatians

I have listened to a couple of sermons from John Piper today in preparation for our Bible study group's discussion of Galatians 2:11-21 on Tuesday. I wanted to link to those sermons here because I found them so helpful and interesting.

The first is called "In Sync with the Gospel," and covers Galatians 2:11-14. This one struck pretty close to me and the sort of thing I've been pondering and seeing as my major battle since becoming a Christian. The second sermon is called "Racial Diversity, Racial Harmony, and the Gospel Walk," and covers Galatians 2:11-16.

I didn't know that Galatians is a book so heavily focused on the fidelity of believers to the gospel. It is such a blessing, really, truly a blessing to be studying this book.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making it click


I came across something that I wanted to share while reading over things related to Galatians 2:1-10 last week. It was a story near the beginning of an article by John Sartelle at the Ligonier Ministries site:
She was eighty-six and her body was failing but her mind was clear. The doctor had said she would not last the month. I was on my way out of town for two days and stopped by her home. After I read some verses from the Scriptures she asked a question that still rings in my ears after thirty-seven years: “John, do you think I have done enough to be saved?” I spoke to her of God’s grace to sinners and quoted passages about Christ dying for the ungodly. Then I prayed with her and left. She died the next day. She had been a charter member of the church I was serving. She had heard the gospel preached every Sunday for over a half century. Yet, hours away from her death she was still striving to do enough to earn her salvation.
I am concerned that for many people, including some who study the Bible, pray, interact with other Christians, attend church and even believe that “salvation comes by faith in Christ,” there is still a belief that we must do things, or avoid doing certain things, to be saved. Something just doesn’t click. Some people don’t even realize that what they think is the gospel is actually not the gospel, or that their answer to the question, “How can a person be saved?” is actually not biblically correct, or that though the wording of their answer is correct, they misunderstand it. They might say that salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ but still think in terms of whether this sin will send them to hell or whether this deed will help them get to heaven.

The Ligonier article starts with a verse, Galatians 2:4: “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”

The “bondage” Paul is talking about here, as we addressed in Bible study last week, is the Law given by God to the Israelites. Today, we might not think in terms of “God’s law,” but we end up in bondage when we try to earn God’s favor, and a spot in heaven, by being good. I think of how the message of Christianity is often distorted and distilled in our culture to being about how this or that sin condemns people to hell, as if we can get to heaven if we just avoid certain sins, or if we somehow make up for those things in our past that the church clearly condemns.

The thing is, of course, that any sin is a damnable offense. And once we’ve sinned, we can’t make up for it. We just can’t be good enough. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinners might do things right some of the time, but that’s not good enough. Salvation isn’t about picking and choosing behaviors so that we avoid enough of the bad, and do enough of the good, to be saved. Paul writes in Galatians 3:10 that “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’” If you don’t do all the things written in the law, then you are cursed. And since we are all sinners who do not keep everything in God’s law, we are cursed.

This makes the deathbed question easy to answer. “Do you think I have done enough to be saved?” The Bible says “No.” If you spend your life trying to earn your way into heaven, the answer is always “No, it’s not enough.” You haven’t done enough, because you can’t. You didn’t do everything perfectly; you didn’t keep the entire law. You are incapable of it; your sinful, depraved nature won’t allow it. You are doomed.

Or rather, you are doomed if you try to save yourself. The idea of facing death with fear in your heart that you did not do enough to earn your salvation is heartbreaking. It would be terrifying. And it’s devastating to imagine the people who face an eternity with the answer, “No.”

Being what people might call “good” does not save us. But believing in Jesus does. He’s our only option. I just pray that the Holy Spirit makes that reality “click” with more and more people, and that Christians -- myself included -- will be a people who share the gospel often and clearly.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Devotionals



A resource that I have begun using this week, and found helpful, is the catalog of devotionals available at the Ligonier Ministries website that deal with verses from Galatians. The devotionals are short and always offer a useful, succinct jumping-off point at the end for applying the truths from each section of Scripture to our lives.

One of my favorite parts of the devotionals is that they include other, related Scripture references and insight into where the verses from Galatians fall in relation to Paul’s ministry and what is recorded in Acts (where we find a lot about Paul’s ministry and travels). They pack a lot into a short devotional that is quite meaty.

You can find the list of devotionals at the Ligonier Ministries site. Here are the devotionals that are related to our Bible study’s section of Galatians for this week (Gal. 2:1-10):

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

There is Only One


"I'm Batman"?

First, a quote about Batman.


This is from commentary by Leonard Pierce for The AV Club (a website about TV, film, music, etc.) about an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.” I think you'll get the relevance. (I’m bolding my favorite bits.)

When I say that Batman is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters, I’m not really talking about a specific portrayal of Batman. Though I have some in mind (the Denny O’Neil Batman of the ’70s, the Batman of Year One), I really mean a conception of the character. And this is key: it doesn’t even have to be a conception of the character that’s ever actually been portrayed. Many people, for example, worship a God that has no real similarity to the way God is portrayed in the Bible or other “primary sources.” They like the idea of God, and they carry around with them an image of the way God is that suits them, regardless of whether or not it has any resemblance to the “real” God. It’s the same thing with Batman: the Batman I love doesn’t necessarily come from any single issue of Batman or any single media portrayal. It’s a character I more or less developed in my mind based on the appealing aspects of all the media portrayals I’ve ever seen. Most people do this, and the Batman I love may be vastly different from the Batman you love, while both of them may be at odds with any Batman that’s ever actually appeared in comics, movies, TV, and so on.

Something that hit me while studying Galatians is that there is ONE gospel, just as there is ONE God. We can call lots of things “God” or “gods,” and lots of ideas “the gospel,” but that doesn’t mean we’re right. There’s one real, true God and one real, true gospel. While we’re at it, there’s only one real, true Word of God (the Bible).

In Galatians 1:6-7, Paul says to the Galatians, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” The Galatians were believing a gospel that was “different” in that it was not like the gospel Paul preached to them, and yet was “not another” in that it was not equal or comparable to the gospel Paul preached. This new “gospel” insisted that people must be circumcised, must become Jews, in order to be Christians. Paul (and the other apostles, and followers of Christ then and now) preached the one true gospel, which insisted on salvation by faith alone. There is no other gospel that is also true. Half-true gospels still have enough wrong in them to render them worthless.

Tom Ascol writes at Ligonier Ministries that “any change in the message of Jesus Christ turns it into ‘a different gospel’ (v. 6) that keeps people from knowing God. This is why Paul writes with such passion, warning the Galatians never to tolerate anyone — not even an apostle or an angel — who would dare to preach as the gospel any other message than salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, plus nothing.”

I like how John MacArthur puts it in a sermon: “You know what the word ‘pervert’ [or ‘distort’ as in the translation above, v. 7] literally means? Reverse. You add one work to grace, and you’ve reversed it and turned it into a works system. They weren’t just fouling up the plan of salvation. They were reversing it, and turning it into a works system. You cannot modify grace. You just destroy it.”

The Bible repeatedly reminds us that salvation is by faith alone. Paul told the Ephesians in Eph. 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

People imagine "God" (or "god") in many different ways. But there is only one true God.

There is only one gospel, as there is only one God. The reality is that we all develop ideas of God, and the gospel, according to our experiences and influences. Like Leonard Pierce says about Batman, “It’s a character I more or less developed in my mind based on the appealing aspects of all the media portrayals I’ve ever seen.” We do this with God, too, creating Him (or him) from the most appealing — or sometimes the least appealing or most confusing — aspects of the “God” we hear about at church, from family and friends, in classes, from experiences, from tragedies and miracles, from whatever sources directly or indirectly influence us. We create God out of second-hand knowledge and skimming the Bible. And our culture encourages us to politely smile and let everyone believe in their personal gods, as if those creations and God are equal and even the same.


That’s OK for Batman, but that isn’t OK for God. There’s only one God, and only one gospel, and only one source for the absolute truth about both. The best influence in our quest to believe in a God that does match the true one is His word. (And it helps to have others learning alongside you, and teachers who are striving to also know this one true God.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Links for Galatians 1:6-12

In the age of the Internet, supplementing your personal Bible study time with resources can cost you no more than the monthly fee you already pay for Internet service. Even the Bible is available online, plus commentaries, Bible dictionaries, sermons, articles and lots of other stuff that can help you understand the verses that confuse you, or broaden your understanding of the ones that already make sense.

Not all resources are created the same, of course. Like with Internet shopping, it's best to start with the places you know and trust. You don't want to put your bank account at risk by giving your debit card information to any website that offers something fun for sale. You also don't want to open yourself up to false doctrine in the pursuit of knowledge.

Even the people we trust can be wrong sometimes. We should pray for discernment and we should also make reading the Bible our primary goal. The Bible itself is the only Word of God, and it is the place that the truth comes from. And when it comes to the vitals, I think that there are teachers and pastors out there who get things right. They can help us learn and grow in our knowledge of the Bible, which can then make us better at recognizing false doctrines and skewed representations of "the truth."

I wanted to share a few links to sermons and articles I found very helpful in my study of Galatians 1:6-12 last week:

1. Sermon, “When Not to Believe an Angel” (Galatians 1:6-10) by John Piper. I recommend listening to the sermon. It's about a half hour long. You can also read the paraphrase.

2. Sermon, “Devoted to Destruction” (Galatians 1:6-9) by John MacArthur. This sermon is more like an hour long. You can also read the transcript.

3. Article, “Getting the Gospel Right” by Tom Ascol, Ligonier Ministries

4. Article, “Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel — And Why So Many Christians Think It Is” by Albert Mohler. This is a really interesting, helpful article about one of our pervasive, present-day false gospels.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Returning



Okay, so the first attempt at this blog lasted for 19 posts. I am going to give it a go again, as I find myself thinking of resources and experiences in Bible study that I'd like to share.

Right now I am blessed to be involved in a women's Bible study group that has started, this month, to read Galatians together. We aren't reading a book about Galatians; we're reading Galatians itself. I feel motivated and excited when I imagine a roomful of women talking about the verses I'm studying.

And you know what? Reading the Bible is good. It feels good. It is good for me. It's good for my spiritual health. It's a little like flossing your teeth, or eating an apple. You know it's good for you, that it's even crucial to your well-being, and you want to do it, but you also don't want to do it sometimes. Sometimes you just have to choose to do it, even if you're tired or want to do something that's easier or more entertaining. Sometimes you'd rather melt peanut butter and chocolate in a bowl, pour in some powdered sugar and dip a candy bar into it (you know, for a snack). But when you do make the choice to read the Bible, or eat an apple, or floss your teeth, you are glad you did it.

When you read the Bible, you don't waste your time. The Bible is powerful, and at the end of the day, it's my time reading it — and listening to sermons, meditating, reading articles and other things related to Bible study — that makes me feel more at peace, more fruitful with my time, and never regretful about how I spent that part of my day. I can't learn all there is to know about God; meanwhile, every choice I make and everything about my life is only enhanced by knowing Him better. How do I do that? How do I know what is true and truly right? By studying the Word of God.

In April last year, I started to read a book of the Bible, or a portion of a larger book, each month. I didn't do this every month, or as regularly as I'd like. In 2010, I read 1 John, the Gospel of John, 2 John, 3 John and Jude.
Sometimes sermons, articles, commentaries and other online resources helped to flesh out my understanding of what I read.

With my Bible study group starting Galatians this month, I decided to read Galatians 1-3 for my personal monthly study as well as focus on the verses weekly that we will discuss. I might continue to read Galatians 1-3 throughout February, since I got started late on my readings this month, or I might move on to Galatians 4-6. I'm not sure which specific direction I'll go, but the goal, regardless, is to read and to meditate on God's word more regularly and consistently. I've got nothing to lose that's worth keeping, and a lot to gain. I also like the idea of focusing primarily on one book or portion of the Bible at a time, since I don't retain much when I just read a passage once or twice.

And in the meantime, I will try to resume posting on this blog. Which reminds me: I am hoping to find others who would like to contribute to the blog. If you are interested, please leave a comment on this post or email me directly if you have my personal email address. And in the meantime, I hope you'll be reading this blog ... and, more importantly, God's Word.