Galatians 1.6-10 – People Pleasing?

In response to the aforementioned legalism, Paul now gives his detractors both barrels, so to speak.

”I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel–  not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!”

(NET)

Paul seems incredulous at the speed with which the churches in Galatia seem to be deserting the one who called [them] by grace. Notice with me that Paul is not upset because they have turned away from a “religion” but that they have turned away from a person, the one who called them by the grace of Christ. Christianity is inherently personal. We love and serve and follow a living God. We are not slaves of a system of rules and regulations, here referred to as another gospel. The legalistic, works-based worldview was something Paul laboured greatly to eradicate amongst this Jesus-following community, so we can understand his frustration that the Galatians seemed to be deserting the risen Lord in favour of rules and regulations. He makes this pretty clear in vv.8-9, doesn’t he?

In refutation of this idea that Paul had come to Galatia and preached a people-pleasing, Gentile-attracting message of inclusion in the Kingdom alongside the Jews Paul quite clearly says

“Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!”

v.10, (NET)

Simply, if he were trying to please people would he have thrown out the curses of vv.8-9?

For you and for me, we would do well to see just how passionately Paul reacts to the news that this newly-formed community of Jesus followers was deserting and turning away from the truth of the One God redeeming by grace alone through faith alone backward toward a complex system of rules and regulations. We know, don’t we, that the complex system of rules and regulations will never allow us to work ourselves to God. If it did, if we could use it to earn our way into His Divine favour and into right relationship with Him, there would simply have been no reason for Jesus to have come and do what He did. Just let that sink in. If the old way worked, Jesus would not have needed to come. 

But, we know that He did. We know that He was long-promised and anticipated. We know that He was long-prophesied. We know that He came. We know that the One true God redeems and rescues and restores by grace along through faith alone. Please, don’t fall back into old ways of people pleasing, rule following, and box ticking in an attempt to work and earn your way to God. It’s a pointless and futile exercise. Put all the effort that takes into following the one way to redemption and rescue, into following Jesus. 

Daniel 4

In Daniel 4 we see another dream of Nebuchadnezzar, another interpretation from Daniel, and another application for you. The application of Daniel 4 for you then is that,

    • You too can be restored to right relationship with God.
    • You too can repent and be restored.
    • You too can push away pride, and move toward God.

One thing I really want to highlight though and leave you with as a big idea from Daniel 4 is this – there can be no restoration without repentance

 There can be no restoration without repentance.

God’s justice never focuses on punishment but always on restoration of right relationship, as we see here in Daniel 4. At the core of Biblical justice, is restoring relationship. 

Here in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar put himself above God. He put that relationship well out of order. The justice that was given to him was designed to bring things back to normal, so to speak, to undo the damage. Here we saw that Nebuchadnezzar admitted that God is over all and can bring down those who live in pride (vv.34-37). God’s justice is satisfied by restoring peace to the relationship, not in dishing out pain as punishment.

Nebuchadnezzar went from tyrannical ruling authority to living outside eating grass for seven years, but, when justice had been served he was restored, wasn’t he?

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring down those who live in pride. 

Daniel 4.37

 

There can be no restoration without repentance

 

Often nowadays you will hear about a soft form of repentance, if you hear about it at all. Something like, “you need to pray and say sorry…that’s wrong and you know it, naughty boy…“. But, that’s if you will hear about repentance at all. Repentance in the Bible, repentance in the Word of God is more than that. It’s deeper than that.

It is admission to self.

It is confession to others.

It is contrition before God.

Admission, confession, contrition, and then action. What I mean by that is that you’ve got to recognise that your sin is sin. How? Look what God says about it, look how it is portrayed in His Word. You’ve got to recognise where you are missing the mark, the mark He has set for you.

You’ve got to confess where you find you’ve missed the mark. Your faith is personal, yes. But, you are saved as an individual into a community, for accountability. James 5 talks about confessing your sins to one another and praying for one another (5.16).

So confess your sins, be honest and open with someone before the Lord, and then you’ve got to be honest with Him too. Be contrite, show a bit of contrition. Actively pursue the opposite way to which your sin was taking you. Don’t just say you’re sorry for doing this or that, for saying this or that, for not saying this or that, watching, buying, going to…Don’t just say it, do it and prove it. First, in a contrite attitude then in action.

This might sound serious, and, well, it is. Pride, so I once read, was the very first sin ever committed (cf. Ezekiel 28). That prideful sin said “you know, I can do that just as well as God…I’m pretty good…I don’t need Him…”. If this all sounds serious then, it is. It is serious with serious consequences. This should absolutely weigh heavy on you. You should be feeling the weight of this right now because if unconfessed and un-dealt with, if ignored, your sin, your pride, is leading you on that same path that Nebuchadnezzar was on: away from God.

If this sounds heavy, it is.

But just as you begin to feel the crushing weight and burden of all of this, the burden of your pride and your sin, in comes the Good News. In comes Jesus. In comes God taken on flesh. In comes the Just and the Justifier. He is so, so Just that He simply has to take action against pride and against sin. It is all so, so serious that He took care of it Himself. The price was so high that He paid it Himself, nothing else would do. He gave His only begotten Son, sinless and spotless. He stood in the gap between a Holy and Just and Righteous God and you and your sin. He stood and stands in the gap between a Holy and Just and Righteous God and you, a depraved sinner incapable of ever bridging that gap.

So, for you today – why is it even important that I acknowledge when I am proud? 

Because your pride is a sin that will bring about the justice of God. He hates it. He loves you, but He hates pride. 

What do we do about it?

Well, take Nebuchadnezzar as a pattern – he realised and repented, he accepted and acknowledged, and he was restored. As Nebuchadnezzar’s sin was pride and we saw the punishment that his sin deserved, so does yours. Your sin deserves punishment. Very simply, our deeds carry inescapable consequences.

But, instead of punishing you for your sin, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God (5.21).

So, simply, your sin and its consequences were put upon Jesus, who did not know sin, so that in him YOU would become the righteousness of God.

God the Father treated Jesus, His only begotten Son, in that moment as a sinner. God poured out on Him in those moments His wrath against sins committed past, present, and future for all who are to believe in Jesus. God is so righteous and just that He has to. Sin has to go punished for restoration to be made possible. Through His suffering on that cross Jesus secured your forgiveness, and He made your restoration possible. 

As Nebuchadnezzar was sent to live outside with animals for seven years in order to receive justice and to be brought to a place of repentance and then restoration, you have the opportunity now to repent and to be restored to right relationship with God because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. The justice your pride and sin deserve was poured out on Him. Turn to Jesus in faith, with repentance, and for restoration. 

 

 

Galatians 1.3-5 – Grace and Peace

Having introduced himself and his apostolic credentials (v.1), in vv.3-5 Paul touches on his other major subject, the legalism threatening the community of believers. 

“Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever! Amen”. 

(NET)

Paul starts with a typically Greek greeting (grace) and a typically Hebrew greeting (peace). He says that these things come from God the Father. Remember, in countering legalism Paul wants his original readers (and you) to rely only on God for grace and peace and not fall prey to the idea that they can work to achieve it themselves. 

In stark contrast to the notion that we can work our way to God by doing this or that and thereby earn His love and forgiveness, Paul makes a tremendous statement about the work of Jesus on the cross. He writes that Jesus 

“…gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever!”

This is where our grace and peace come from in the present evil age. The finished work of Jesus on the cross rescues us. Without this rescue from this present evil age, there will be no substantial or lasting peace in our lives. There can be no substantial or lasting peace in our lives whilst we are in bondage to sin’s hold over our lives (Romans 6.23a). 

The Good News for you and for me is that through His sacrifice on the cross, where Jesus willingly gave himself for our sins, sin no longer has dominion over you anymore (Romans 6.14). You are now free. Free from sin’s hold on your life. Free from the consequences that your sin has accumulated. How so? Because Jesus gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age. 

God loves you so much that He willingly gave His one and only Son to pay the price to rescue you from the consequences of your sin (John 3.16). He loves you so much that this all happened according to the will of our God and Father. He wants you to be free. He wants you to be rescued. He wants you, according to [His] will, to experience the grace and peace that Paul writes about here. You will never work toward this. You will never achieve this by yourself. Thankfully our God and Father has already taken care of it through our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age!

Galatians 1.1-2 – A Letter With A Purpose

The book of the Bible we refer to as Galatians was written, according to the vast majority of scholarly opinion, by the Apostle Paul. Most would place the original writing of it around the year A.D. 48 and would place it as being written before the council detailed in Acts 15. 

In v.1 Paul states his credentials as an apostle, and clears up any doubt that he bestowed this honour-filled title upon himself. We read,

“From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead)  and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia”.

(vv.1-2, NET, emphasis added)

Paul’s role, his mission, came not from men, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father. This was refuting a worrying false teaching infiltrating the churches of Galatia that Paul was essentially some weird and wacky, self-appointed teacher of a false gospel. Donald K.Campbell writes that

“Judaizing false teachers had infiltrated the churches in Galatia, denying Paul’s authority as an apostle and teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Reacting quickly and vigorously to Peter’s actions and the threatened lapse of the Galatians into legalism, Paul wrote this strong letter prior to attending the Jerusalem Council”. 

Therein we see the somewhat dual purpose of his letter to the churches of Galatia: to refute false teaching and to combat legalism. Due to this second purpose in particular, his letter to the churches of Galatia has garnered the nickname ‘A Short Romans’ and was loved by the great reformer Martin Luther (who, apparently, referred to this letter as his wife on occasion). 

These judaizing false teachers, as Campbell writes, were seeking to divide the newly formed Christian communities by insisting that there needed to be strict observance of the former Jewish laws in order to benefit from the newfound liberty in Christ that Paul was proclaiming. We can easily imagine Paul’s position, can’t we? Working so hard to establish communities that are living radically obedient lives to the teachings of Jesus, communities that have accepted that yes, He is the Messiah and this is what it means for you, only to hear that these very communities were being divided by judaizing teachers who were insisting on legal obligations  over faith based liberty. This desperate situation was addressed in the strongest terms, as we will see as we walk day by day through his letter to the churches of Galatia. 

Paul’s original readers were being told and taught, contrary to what they had heard from him, that they had to do and be certain things in order to fully experience the salvation of the Messiah, of the Christ, of Jesus. Maybe you have been told things like that. Maybe you still believe things like that. Things like “You need to make sure you do this or that every day/week to prove you are a Christian,” or maybe something like “You are this type of Christian, which means that you should do…and you certainly shouldn’t…”

As we move through Galatians then, ask yourself questions like this regularly,

What am I doing in my life out of a sense of compulsion and not faith? 

What am I doing to tick a box?

Have I been lured into legalism?

6 Months In – What Have We Learned?

Our last in-person service at Saar Fellowship was Friday 28th February. We had a guest speaker, Pastor Pilgrim Benham from Florida, and we met at our former church office, Fellowship House. Our last ‘regular’ service was the week before that, 21st February. Beginning Friday 6th March, we started live-streaming. It’s been (a little over) six months now, so, what have we learned during this period of time? Here are five things.

Physically Gathering Is Essential

Maybe you’ve seen churches elsewhere in the world, in countries that are governed a little differently, pulling verses out of Bible books and demanding that they meet regardless of what anyone says to them or about the current situation. There is a certain amount of truth in those statements, but also a certain amount of selfishness. Nowhere in the Word (and if I’ve not read it, please do send me the passage) does it say that “Thou shalt assemble with all thine brethren in an enormous room once a week.”

We are encouraged and exhorted to not abandon our own meetings (Hebrews 10.24-25), but remember that was written to a group of people who were considering turning away from their faith wholesale, not those that needed an encouraging phrase to yell when ‘sticking it to the man and meeting anyway.’ Yes, believer, make it a priority to gather with others.

If that looks differently to February of this year, that’s ok. If there are now three of you and not three hundred, that’s ok. If you gather in someone’s home and not a rented hall large enough to house all of your believing brethren, that’s ok too. If you are not met at the door with a smile, a hug, a handshake, a cup of coffee, a comfortable seat, children’s facilities, background music, live music, physical considerations to enhance your concentration and reverence, do you know what? That’s ok too. If you are still making it a priority to gather with and as God’s people, He will be pleased.

There are no numbers or styles attached to the New Testament teaching on church (please, if you have read otherwise, get in touch.) All of this to say, yes, things are different for the time being. They will change again, we will be able to assemble en-masse once again, but, for now, make it a priority to still see one another. Please don’t sit at home and lament how you are not with others. The church is still here. Be with others. Even if ‘others’ is one or two, be with others. This season will pass and we will gather all together once again. Until then, please remember that physically gathering in some way, shape, or form, is still essential. 

You Are Responsible For Your Choices

Something else we have learned this last six months is that you, individual you, is responsible for your own choices. By this I mean that we as the organisation of the church can provide as much for you as we can, but it is down to you to make the choice to engage. For example, this is what we provide for our church family each week;

  • 6 short (c.500 words) Bible teaching devotionals, Saturday-Thursday, via the church website, app, and Facebook (many of these have been turned into books by a faithful few in the church family),
  • 2 Bible teaching podcasts; Walk the Word, a verse by verse teaching, and IMMERSE, a deep-dive conversation,
  • 1 playlist of worship music, with lyrics, for church online,
  • 1 Scripture reading from someone in the church family, for church online,
  • 1 live-streamed, expositional, Christ-centred Bible teaching every Friday,
  • and multiple Bible studies and home groups throughout the week.

All of that to say that we can provide, but you must engage. Charles Spurgeon once said, loosely, that God feeds the birds of the air, but He does not throw birdseed into their nests. 

When this season of life began around six months ago, the prevailing attitude among people seemed to be that they wanted to use this time to deepen their faith, to lean into their gracious, loving, Heavenly Father all the more. We do that through His Word, through prayer, through learning more about Him and loving Him more as a result. So, we decided, if that is what people want, that is what we will provide. Simply, it’s there for you, so take advantage. You are responsible for your choices. Please, when this season is over don’t look back and think “Well, I wish I had used my time more wisely, more productively, more for God’s glory.” 

There Are Doers of The Word, And Hearers

This third point kind of sticks together points one and two – there are doers of the Word, and there are hearers (James 1.22). You can listen all day long to the encouragement to make God the master passion of your life, to physically gather with other believers for mutual encouragement, edification, and equipping, to the exhortation to use your time well, but, at the end of the day, sadly some will just hear. Please, don’t let that be you. Hear what God is saying to you. Hear what God is saying through His Word, His Son, through circumstances, and His people, and then do something about it. Please don’t sit and soak in the Word as if you’re in a tepid bath. Hear it, take it in, and then do something with it. Yes, your life looks differently now to how it did six months ago, and, in all probability, differently to how it will in six months’ time. But, don’t use that as an excuse for not doing anything. Yes, some things are closed. Yes, there are measures in place that might restrict certain activities that you might normally do with more freedom. But what is stopping you living out your faith day by day? Be a doer.

Perspective Is Paramount

The fourth point is possibly the most important for your own mental health and wellbeing. Your perspective is paramount in all of this. For a quick example, think: are you down and depressed over the requirement to wear a mask in the supermarket or are you happy to oblige in order to limit the spread of a virus? You know, in some parts of the world people wear a mask if they have the slightest sniffle. They do this for others. At the core, that is a very Christian principle, isn’t it (Philippians 2.3)? How you choose to view what is going on in your life right now will have a huge bearing on how you feel about it. We’ve talked about feelings before (recently actually – here) and how important they are, but how they need to come second to faith and truth. Again, how you choose to view what is going on in your life right now will have a huge bearing on how you feel about it (Matthew 6.22). 

God Is Still God

Finally, we have learned in this last six months that God is still God. We might like things to change, we might like things to be different, but they are not. The short-term future looks very uncertain, doesn’t it? Corrie Ten Boom said that we should never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. In all truth, you don’t even know what this afternoon will bring. He does. We don’t know why some things happen, sometimes there isn’t enough evidence for us even to surmise. He does. He knows all there is to know. He knows when we will next gather en-masse as His church at Saar Fellowship. He knows what you are choosing to do at the moment and why you are choosing to do so. He knows if you are hearing or doing. He knows how you are feeling about everything that is going on. He knows all there is to know. We don’t know why things like this happen in our lives, but through His self-revelation in creation, in His Word, and through the person of Jesus, we know enough about God to trust Him. We know who He is. We know how He is. Simply, we know enough to trust Him. Yes, things look and feel very different right now. But also yes, God is still God, still sovereign, still on His throne, and therefore nothing happens outside of His permission or declaration. 

All of this to say that whilst things have been very different this last six months, we need to hold on to a few truths;

Your church family is still here, you are not alone – be with them.

You still have the liberty and free will to choose what you are filling your time with – choose God-glorifying things.

The current state of the world by no means removes the imperative for you to live out your faith – be a doer, not only a hearer.

You need to fight every day to take captive your thoughts and feelings – try to view God’s perspective first and foremost. 

At times when you don’t know, trust what you do know – God is still God.

Our hope and prayer is that this next six months are as different to the last as they can be. The church is still here, the church never closed, and we are here for you. The Lord loves you, and so do we.