Today’s Scripture – August 11, 2020

Galatians 4:8-11 (NIV)
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

In view of the Galatians establishing a living relationship with God through faith in Jesus, in view of them receiving the Holy Spirit and being transformed by His work in their lives, in view of their status as mature sons and heirs, Paul is dismayed that some of them had been persuaded to turn back to being slaves and taking on the status of immature children, trying to earn their salvation through the ceremonial law. It made no sense to him.

Paul is also concerned that, by submitting to the demands of the Judaizers to approach God in their way, the Galatians were actually serving men; and not only mere men, but men who were not as spiritually advanced as they were! They had been taken in by the solemn rituals and ceremonies that had the appearance of godliness, but without any spiritual power. They had been taken in by lengthy, high-sounding prayers full of fine sounding formulas, but which never reached God’s throne.

It has been the way of mankind ever since Adam and Eve decided to be their own gods by disobeying God’s command and choosing to eat from the forbidden tree. Man-made religion, full of wonderful sounds, impressive philosophies, and even awe-inspiring buildings seems more attractive, more tangible, more real than a relationship with God established and maintained by faith.

But such man-made religions, even those based on God’s original commandments and teachings, cannot save. Those who practice that kind of man-made religion and teach others to do the same are condemned as Paul noted earlier in his letter (Galatians 1:8-9). This was the same error that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and teachers of the law for (Matthew 23:1-36). They had surrounded God’s clear commands with their own interpretations, rituals, and ceremonies, and had created from them their own man-made religion.

On the other hand, true relationship with God is neither established nor maintained by ritual and ceremony (although there are a couple of divinely established ceremonies that are a part of it). It is established by faith in the finished work of Jesus in His death and resurrection and maintained by constant communion with God through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and by the resultant obedience to His commands moment by moment. None of that can be accomplished through man-made religion or man-made rituals.

Father, there are many man-made religions in the world today. The vast majority of them are focused on placating their god or gods through appropriate rituals, prayers and obedience. But only the true faith, established by Jesus and taught by Paul and the other apostles, talks about our ability to enter into a Father-child relationship with the Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, with true heart obedience springing from that relationship, not obeying from fear, but from love. It’s an amazing thing! Help me to not only live out this faith every day, but to share its secret with everyone I meet today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2020

Galatians 4:1-7 (NIV)
What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

The context of this section (3:15-4:7) must be kept in mind in order to understand Paul’s point. As children of Abraham, by grace through faith in Jesus, we are heirs to the covenants and promises that God gave to His chosen people through their history.

However, when an heir is a child, naïve, uneducated in the ways of the kingdom, and liable to be draw aside after sparkly temptations, the law is put into place as a supervisor and schoolmaster for both instruction and protection.

This is the true function of the law and commandments in the life of a new Christian. They help us to understand God’s character, so that our lives can be lived in accordance with it. They list sins to be avoided as well as positive actions and attitudes to be pursued, and so help to shape character and thought patterns. This is essential, because we all come into the kingdom having been warped and tarnished by the world and its ways.

But Jesus came to the people God had prepared by the law, not to give them more or better laws and commandments, but to provide real salvation, transformation, and spiritual maturity so that they could be directly taught and moved by God’s Spirit living in them, so that we, His people, no longer need the threat of punishment to motivate us to obey.

As mature Christians, whose hearts have been molded and shaped into the image of Jesus, we are then able to live legitimately holy and productive kingdom lives. So we are no longer under the tutelage of the law, and we can receive the “full rights of sons”, and all the blessings, rights and responsibilities that go along with that lofty title. Thus, as “sons”, filled by the Holy Spirit who relates us to God as legitimate children, we are no longer slaves to the law, but we obey God’s commandments consistently, almost instinctively, from a purified heart and mind.

Father, You’re right! The way the chapter divisions were inserted, it is very easy to read these seven verses without the context of what goes before them. Thank You for this clarification, which makes everything so much logical and understandable. And thank You for our adoption into your family, which changes everything in our lives here and now as well as in our future. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 6, 2020

Galatians 3:26-29 (NIV)
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Far from the gentile Galatians having to undergo circumcision and rituals of initiation in order to be considered children of Abraham, when they exercised saving faith in Jesus, they instantly became children of God Himself. This is what John was saying in John 1:11-13 (NIV): He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Paul also notes that when a person becomes one of God’s children through faith in Jesus, their previous identity is completely subsumed in their new one. There is no person among God’s children who is counted by Him as Jew or Greek. Members of both categories who exercise saving faith in Jesus are considered by Him simply as “children of God”. There is no social hierarchy in God’s sight based on financial status, whether one is a slave or free, or even whether one is male or female; all are simply considered by Him to be “children of God”, standing and working in His presence on completely level ground.

And, when a gentile becomes one of God’s children through faith in Jesus, he or she is automatically counted by God’s own word as an heir of Abraham, heir to all the promises that were made to him, regardless of whether one is circumcised or not. Even though God gave circumcision to the Jews in perpetuity as a sign of His covenant with them, Jesus came as the Savior not just of the Jews, but of all humanity. Therefore, a gentile does not have to become a Jew in order to be saved, but can be completely saved and adopted by God as one of His children from right where they are at the point that they turn to Him.

Father, I think that it is easy for us to get confused, wrapped around the axle as it were, because we so clearly see the externals and are used to judging others based on those. But You see directly into the heart, and that is how we are judged by You (1 Samuel 16:7). And, indeed, someone can submit to circumcision on the outside and remain totally unchanged (and unsaved) on the inside. Help us to continue to let Your word mold and shape us, and to open our eyes to all that You need to show us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 5, 2020

Galatians 3:21-25 (NIV)
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

It is vital that everyone, both Christians and Jews, understand what the true function of the law was and is. Today it is quite common among people, even non-Christians, but most disturbingly among Christians as well, to find those who believe that the way to qualify to go to heaven is to be a “good person”. And, of course, most everyone believes themselves to be a “good person”, especially when they compare themselves with others, as if God grades on a sliding scale.

But when the law is brought before a person, even a so-called “good person”, the righteous requirements of the law strip away any possible self-righteousness, leaving us clearly seeing that the best of us are guilty before God. That is the law’s purpose: to confront each of us with our own unrighteousness and need of a Savior outside of ourselves.

Thus, the law is not opposed to the promise, as if there were two options for salvation. It merely serves to show people that we need the salvation that only comes by grace through faith in Jesus. It is designed to bring us to our knees before the holy God, crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

As Paul points out in verse 21, if righteousness could possibly come through human will in obeying the law, then Jesus died for nothing, and His message to us would merely have been, “Try harder!” But the law serves to show that no one, not the best person in the whole world, can measure up to the holiness of God in our own strength.

Paul’s last statement in this section, that “we are no longer under the supervision of the law,” has been warped and twisted by some to mean that once we become Christians, we no longer have any moral requirements laid on us, and that requiring adherence to any standards at all, such as the Ten Commandments, is gross legalism. Some quote part of Romans 6:14 in support of this view, “you are not under law but under grace.” But the whole context, the whole of verse 14 (“For sin shall not be your master because you are not under law but under grace”) as well as the rest of Romans 6 shows that this is a skewed view. Instead, the salvation that come through faith in Jesus not only cleanses the heart of past sins, it gives victory over sin through the presence of the Holy Spirit working in the core of each individual, giving us power to obey God’s righteous requirements in a way that no one could ever do in their own strength.

Father, it is clear that Christianity is not and never was a “self-improvement project”. Instead, it is a rebirth, the making of a new creation, a complete transformation inside and out through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit working in each person, who then obeys Your righteous moral requirements from the heart, just as Jesus did. I know from my own experience how easy it is to fool ourselves into believing that we are “good people”, or at least “good enough”, in our own strength and efforts. But, as John writes (1 John 2:6), “This is how we know that we are in Him. Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” Universal human experience shows that this standard can never be met through willpower or desire alone, by striving to keep the law on our own. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit, received in salvation by grace through faith (Acts 2:38-39) can we meet that standard. Thank You not only for Your love and grace, but for Your transforming power and presence in my life as well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 3, 2020

Galatians 3:15-20 (NIV)
Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

The concept of covenant is an important one. God made several covenants with His people over the course of history.

  • The Adamic Covenant – Adam and all his progeny were commanded to multiply and fill the earth, and to conquer it. (Genesis 1:28)
  • The Noahic Covenant – God promised never to destroy the whole earth and everyone on it with a global flood. Mankind was required to spread out and fill the earth, to not eat meat with the lifeblood in it, and to hold each other accountable for the blood of their fellow people. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow.
  • The Abrahamic Covenant – Out of all the people of the world, God chose one man, Abram, to be the founder of the nation that He would call His own. God promised to make Abram the father of many nations, one of which would become His chosen people, and to use them to establish the nation of Israel after they had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:1-21). Abram’s name was changed to Abraham as a sign of the covenant, and his part was to walk before God and be blameless, and, as a sign of the covenant, to be circumcised, as well as to ensure that all his descendants after him were circumcised (Genesis 17:1-14).
  • The Mosaic Covenant – This was the covenant that God made with the whole nation of Israel after He released them from bondage in Egypt. God promised to make them His people, to give them a land to live in, and to give them victory over their enemies. Their part was to worship Him only, and to obey His commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).

Paul notes that these covenants, each made by the eternal God, are eternal themselves. Each is intended to draw God’s people closer to Him, and to enable them to progressively know more and more of Him and of His character. But the commandments in the Mosaic Covenant don’t replace the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. The promise to become a part of God’s chosen people is a covenant of faith. Abraham didn’t have the Ten Commandments or any of the rest of the law. Instead, he believed the promise God made to him, and then obeyed each directive that God gave him immediately out of love and devotion, and thus he stayed within the covenant.

The purpose of the law in the Mosaic Covenant was to reveal God’s holy character more completely to His chosen people. It was designed to help them to see how far they fell short of His holiness in their own strength, making them crave a deliverer. And it also continually reminded them, through the sacrificial system God instituted, how dreadful and costly sin was. Every sin required a death. And the failure of the sacrifices to remove sins from their hearts, even though they had to be made anyway, was designed to open their hearts more fully to their need for a deliverer who would not only remove from them the penalty for their sins, but who would give them power over sin so that it would no longer rule over them.

Father, we often see and study these covenants in isolation, seeing each as a replacement for the previous one. But each of these covenants is still in effect. And we are still enabled to become one of Your chosen people by faith, just like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and all the people who followed the pillar of cloud and fire out of Egypt. Even the New Covenant, instituted by the sacrifice of Jesus, comes with yet a clearer revelation of You and Your character, and is to be entered into by grace through faith. And when we do enter in, we become one of Your chosen people who keep Your commands, not in order to earn our admission, but purely out of love and a commitment to live as Your people. Thank You for this light. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 2, 2020

Galatians 3:10-14 (NIV)
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

The Judaizers taught that only by becoming a Jew, including males submitting to circumcision, and then by observing all the fine points of the law, including all the additions and interpretations that had grown up around it, could faith in Jesus for salvation be effective. But Paul, a former Pharisee, came at the issue from an entirely different direction.

Paul understood that no one, not even the staunchest Pharisee, had ever succeeded in keeping the whole of the law in both letter and spirit. And, according the law itself (Deuteronomy 27:26 as quoted here by Paul), that put them not among the blessed, but squarely among those who were cursed. If we depend on keeping the law for our salvation, then we must keep it perfectly, both internally and externally, or we fail completely to earn our salvation by it.

Salvation through the law is salvation by works. But the prophet Habakkuk (2:4) wrote that the righteous, those who are truly justified, live, are saved, by faith, not by their own efforts at keeping the law. John emphasizes the same point in John 1:17.

We are no longer under the curse of trying to save ourselves by keeping the law flawlessly. This is precisely because Jesus became a curse for us by allowing Himself to be hanged on a tree, crucified on a wooden cross. And, as a result of His sacrifice, salvation is now available to both Jew and gentile by grace through faith in Him (Romans 3:21-24).

This had been God’s plan from before the creation of the world. He knew that when He gave the law to Israel from the top of Mt. Sinai, it could not save. Instead, He gave it to His people as a schoolmaster, to help them to become aware of their massive internal sinfulness (Romans 3:21, 7:7), until they cried out for mercy and grace. The sacrificial system that He put into place was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for sin (John 1:29) that would finally be able to bring true forgiveness and reconciliation to the people of the world. And, as a result of people turning away from their own efforts at righteousness (like the Pharisees and the Judaizers practiced) and turning instead to God for mercy and grace by faith in Jesus, He could then pour into each life His Holy Spirit to effect a literal and complete transformation of each person, a remaking of that individual into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). That transformed person would then be able to keep His commands (Ezekiel 26:27), not by their own efforts or in order to win salvation, but as a result of the transforming presence and the power of God’s Spirit working unhindered through their life.

Father, those are amazing promises, the fulfillment of Your amazing plan. How sad that so many people today, both non-Christians and Christians, are still stuck trying to please You and earn Your favor by striving to keep Your commands in their own strength. Forgive us, Lord, and help each one of us to surrender ourselves to your true salvation, which is only by grace through faith, not something we can earn, but a divine gift (Ephesians 2:8). And then help us to open our hearts to the transforming, sanctifying work of Your Holy Spirit, so that we can be remade into the very image of Jesus, living out that gracefully bestowed salvation by a life of obedience and power in Your strength, and to the eternal glory of Your name. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 9, 2020

Galatians 3:6-9 (NIV)
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Just as he did in Romans 9:6-9, Paul points the Galatians back to Abraham, the spiritual father of all God’s people, and to the faith by which he was saved, faith that was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham wasn’t saved by obeying God’s law. The law had not been given and wouldn’t be given for nearly 500 years. And he wasn’t saved by circumcision. He had a covenant relationship with God for at least 24 years before God commanded him and his descendants to be circumcised.

The Judaizers had a generally correct concept, which was that those who were saved by faith in Jesus became the people of God, spiritual descendants of Abraham. Their error was in putting the cart before the horse, dictating that a person had to become one of God’s people before they could be saved (a spiritual impossibility), and mistaking circumcision, the outward sign of the Old Covenant for the Jewish people, for the inward act of being grafted into God’s people (the spiritual reality).

Instead, it is those who have faith in God and in what He has done through Jesus, who trust in His work and who receive salvation by grace through faith who are His New Covenant people, whether those people are Jews or gentiles. No amount of external surgery will make a person one of God’s own, and no lack of that external surgery can keep the faithful heart from being accepted by God.

Paul points out that God had foreshadowed this new reality in His promise to Abraham, that all nations (the Hebrew word is the word for “gentiles”) would be blessed through him, through his faith, not through his circumcision, which came a long time after that promise.

Father, as simple as this way of salvation is (You made it simple for us!), it is dissatisfying for some. There is something in our corrupted hearts that loves to be able to congratulate ourselves for the good things that come into our lives. We rebel, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, over “charity” or grace, things that come to us without our own effort, without a cost to us. And that even applies to salvation. Many would like to be saved on account of at least some small action or sacrifice on their own behalf that makes their salvation real, whether it is circumcision, joining a church, or doing some good work. But You make it clear that the only thing that we can do to be saved is to have faith that the gift has already been paid for in full. All we can do is receive it gratefully. Thank You that You made it simple, and thank You, too, for giving us the grace that we need to receive it as it is given: freely and fully. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 8, 2020

Galatians 3:1-5 (NIV)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Paul had heard that a number of gentile believers were buckling under pressure from the Judaizers, being persuaded that they had not really been saved under Paul’s ministry. The Judaizers were telling them that they had been deluded by Paul, that only Jews could be saved by Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. So, there was a two-step process for a gentile to be saved. They first had to become a Jew by being circumcised and agreeing to obey all the Jewish law (as well as all the rabbinical teachings on and interpretations of that law). Then, and only then, could faith in Jesus save them.

Paul was so stunned at this news that he sarcastically declared that the only possible explanation for this drastic change of heart was that they had been bewitched, had fallen under an evil spell. Of course, Paul didn’t actually believe that evil spells or witchcraft were based on anything real, just like idols (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). But he was using that terminology to attempt to show the Galatians how far beyond reason their capitulation to the teachings of the Judaizers was.

Paul’s gospel presentation was not at fault here. He had clearly presented Jesus as the crucified Savior through whose poured-out blood the sins of all humanity, both Jews and gentiles, had been atoned for.

Nor was the initial salvation experience of the Galatians somehow deficient. When they believed and were baptized, they had all experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit, as well as the evident personal transformation that naturally came along with His presence in their hearts. That had all been real, and so had the very tangible miracles and answers to prayer that they had experienced since then, that had been just as much a hallmark of the Galatian Church as of any Jewish-majority Church.

And, in order to experience all those things, not a single one of them had had to be circumcised. They had experienced salvation by grace alone through faith alone. But somehow the Judaizers had convinced at least some of them that all that they had experienced up to that point had been an illusion!

Father, how quickly we can be persuaded to forget things that we know are true under the persuasion of skilled speakers, things that we have seen the evidence for ourselves. How quick we are to turn away from what You tell us in Your word is true, because public opinion is moving in a different direction and we either don’t want to be considered backward, or narrow-minded, or “on the wrong side of history,” or we fear persecution or negative reactions. Lord, help us to stand firm and steadfast on what You say is true, and never waver, no matter how much persuasion or pressure is directed toward us. As Jesus prayed for us, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) And Your word will be true forever and ever. It never changes. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 7, 2020

Galatians 2:17-21 (NIV)
“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

Paul’s point in verses 17 and 18 is that the Jews had great pride in their knowledge of God’s law, and in their ability to keep that law in their own strength. Paul himself believed at one point in his life that he was faultless in obeying the law (Philippians 3:6).

But Paul now knew that that legalistic righteousness was a delusion. In order to truly be saved, one first had to admit that he or she was a sinner, as sinful as a gentile. That was a stumbling block to many of the Jews, but the true gospel states very clearly that all have sinned, both Jews and gentiles (Romans 3:20-24).

That reality doesn’t mean that Jesus promotes sin by helping people to realize that they are sinners. Instead, He merely reveals the sin that is already there, even if it is staunchly denied. A deeper sin would be to go back to claiming legalistic righteousness again, moving away from the mirror that exposes our sin, and taking solace in our own ability to obey the rules.

Paul’s gospel, just as valid for the Jew as for the gentile, is based on the law. Through the law which defines sin and through which the solution for sin is clearly shown to be the Messiah, Paul had died to the law, as had ALL followers of Jesus. He had turned away from self-righteousness and covering up the sinful heart that lay within, and instead had surrendered to faith in Jesus through whom genuine transformation could be experienced.

Paul’s final word in confronting Peter is the great truth that if anyone could be saved by works of the law, then the death of Jesus was needless. All that would have been necessary was a prophet to urge the people to do better. But no one, neither the law-wise Jews nor the law-ignorant gentiles could ever be declared genuinely righteous on their own, so Jesus was absolutely essential for both. As far as salvation was concerned, the Jews had no “edge” over the gentiles.

Father, these were all things that Peter knew, and even taught. But his actions were not in accordance with what he knew inside. And even though Paul doesn’t tell us how this all turned out, we can be confident that Peter repented and amended his ways immediately. A marvelous illustration of both confronting sin in love, and of responding to that correction with humility. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 6, 2020

Galatians 2:11-16 (NIV)
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

Paul shows us in this section that Christians, even Christian leaders, even apostles, are not immune to social pressure. But he also shows us that folding to that pressure is decidedly not okay, and is, in fact, hypocrisy, a deadly sin that must be confronted for the sinner’s own good.

Paul first shows how the hypocrisy demonstrated itself. Peter had come to Antioch, and while he was there he had lived out the truth of the gospel, that in Christ all are brothers and sister, and lose their former identity based on language, social status, gender, former religion or descent (Romans 10:12; Galatians 3:28-29). That is until “certain men came from James.” These men were Judaizers, who were very cautious about accepting gentiles as full members of the Church.

After these men showed up, Peter hung out with them and the other Jewish Christians, no longer openly associating with the gentile Christians out of fear of being censured by those brothers from the Jerusalem Church. His subtle compromise drew others to separate themselves as well, including even Barnabas, Paul’s partner in his first mission trip to the gentiles.

Paul recognized this for what it was: the deadly sin of hypocrisy. Peter was acting differently for these Jewish Christians than he acted when they weren’t there. And even though it wasn’t comfortable, Paul cared too much about Peter’s soul and the souls of those who were being led astray by his example to let it go.

His confrontation, sticking to the sin in question and never shading into an ad hominem attack, focused on his change in behavior. When the Judaizers weren’t present, Peter lived like a non-denominational Christian, enjoying the fellowship and close association with both Jewish and gentile Christians. But when the Judaizers came, he snapped into their mold, acting as if he thought that the Jewish believers were somehow more legitimate in their Christianity than those who had not been circumcised.

Paul pointed out to him, in front of everyone, that his own gospel taught that salvation came only through faith in Jesus’ finished work, and that circumcision, dietary regulations and dress codes did not add anything to it. His challenge was for Peter to be consistent in living out what he believed, and what he taught others, and to not let peer pressure make him into a hypocrite.

Father, this speaks so clearly to us today, calling us to not get caught up in the exclusionary politics which operate so strongly in some denominations, which prevent partnership in the essential work of growing the kingdom of God, and which serve only to divide and fracture the body of Christ, making it ineffective. And it challenges us to be firmly loving when one of our brothers and sisters is led astray into sin, whether by peer pressure, carelessness, or bad examples. Their souls are far too precious to You (and should be to us as well!), to allow them to continue in sin. However, as Paul so wonderfully modeled for us, such confrontation of sin must be done in love, with great care for the individual, and without resorting to personal attacks or attacks against the person’s character or assumed motives. The goal must always be to draw them away from their sin, back into being a powerful and effective witness for the gospel. Thank You, Lord, for helping me to see this so clearly. Amen.

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