The Law of Liberty - Introducing Galatians

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The Law of Liberty - Introducing Galatians

In honor of National Sibling Day yesterday, I thought I would share one of my girls’ favorite bedtime stories about me and my older brother as a means of introducing our new series through Galatians: “The Law of Liberty.” The story goes like this: When I was two years old, one of my favorite things to do was go into my older brother’s room and play with his toy garage. I would walk into the room and see it sitting there on the table – endless ramps for cars to zoom around on and a neatly organized row of shiny metal cars waiting for a test drive. I would grab my favorite cars and send them flying down ramps, screeching around corners, and zipping up the elevator. It seemed as though I could play with the cars forever. That is, until my older brother noticed what I was doing. As soon as he discovered that I was playing with the toy garage, he became very upset and immediately sought to boot me out of his room. After all, those were HIS cars and that was HIS garage! The cars were organized just the way he liked and every time I took the liberty of playing with his toy garage, I ruined the hard work and time that he spent setting everything up to his liking.

It’s a harmless story, but it illustrates a principle that holds true for all of us, whether we are four or forty: we don’t like people ruining what we’ve set up. When we invest our time and our lives into something dear to us, we don’t want to turn around and find that someone else has subverted what we’ve done or laid waste to our hard work – especially if we’re talking about something more precious than toy cars.

As we come to our series through the book of Galatians, this principle informs the background to Paul’s letter. Paul had visited the region of Galatia on his first missionary journey in 48-49 AD (Acts 13-14). With great power and authority, he preached the gospel to men and women in the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, facing persecution from the Jews at each stop and once being left for dead after a brutal stoning at the hands of his opponents. Nevertheless, Paul was not deterred from his mission of seeing men and women understand the gospel – that Christ died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins and to free us from everything from which we could not be freed by the Law of Moses (Acts 13:37-38). He faithfully proclaimed this message of freedom through Christ and saw the establishment of several new churches in the region of Galatia before returning home to Syrian Antioch.

It was not long after Paul returned home that he began hearing news reports from the newly established churches in Galatia. Evidently, after Paul had labored and sacrificed to preach the gospel of Christ to these men and women, Jewish false teachers (the “circumcision party,” Gal 2:12) had crept into the church, preaching a message that Gentile Christians had to live like Jews, according to the Law, in order to truly be saved. No longer were people holding fast to the idea of being saved by grace through faith in Jesus, but now believed their obedience to the regulations and customs of the Old Testament Law was a necessary condition for salvation. They had deserted the gospel of grace for the practice of Law-keeping (Gal 1:6), which was never able to justify us before God (Gal 2:16) and never able to impart life and righteousness to us (Gal 3:21). They exchanged the freedom they had in Christ for bondage to a system of Law that only exposed and condemned them for their sin (Gal 5:1).

Seeing that the precious message of the gospel was being subverted by false teachers and that the work that the Lord had done in this region was under attack, Paul boldly writes to the Galatians to implore them not to abandon their faith in Christ for ritualistic rule-keeping. He invites them to consider that the gospel frees us from keeping God’s commands as a condition for being justified (declared legally righteous) before God and frees us to obeying God’s commands as a means of experiencing life, joy, and freedom from sin. He challenges them to consider that any message that exchanges the liberty we have in Christ for a Law that is unable to provide life is a false gospel.

 As we prepare to study through this book together, I challenge us to consider if this dangerous yet subtle false gospel has root in any of our hearts, even as it had root among the Galatians. Do we view the commands of God as a means to experience the freedom and life that we possess in Christ or as a checklist of things we need to improve upon in order to gain or retain God’s favor? Has the grace of God truly changed the way we view our obedience and good works? I believe this is instrumental in understanding the “Law of Liberty” as we will see in Galatians. Through the gospel, our good works are no longer done to try to satisfy a Law whose demands we cannot meet or to be justified before God. Instead, the gospel transforms our good deeds and our obedience to God’s commands into a response to God’s grace and a means by which we experience reward and blessing. When we fail to obey, there is forgiveness in Christ. When we obey God’s commands, we walk on the path to right and good living. We are able to do this because Jesus has met the demands of the Law on our behalf so that we can be declared just in God’s sight both in our failures and our victories.

Come explore these ideas further with us this week as Pastor Casey begins this series through Galatians. Over the next two months, we will see how the gospel changes and empowers us toward obedience as a means of experiencing liberty instead of bondage, of living in the righteousness of Jesus instead of trying to earn it, and of walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh.

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The Empty Grave Compels Us to Community

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The Empty Grave Compels Us to Community

As we celebrated Easter yesterday, I found myself reflecting on all of the opportunities and privileges that those who are followers of Jesus are granted because Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead. One of the most interesting elements is the gift of biblical community.

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INTRODUCTION

This week in “What’s in the Bible?” we examined the pinnacle of history as Jesus comes to bring redemption.  The story of the Old Testament brings into focus two distinct realities: (1) God is holy and faithful; and (2) Mankind is not holy or faithful.  Mankind has been exposed as a poor image bearer, incapable of following God’s word.  But God has promised redemption and he will do what he has promised.  As history records the failure of Man it is also recording God’s faithfulness to his promise of redemption.  A redeemer is coming.  But from where will he come?

MAJOR THEMES

This week we looked closely at the person and work of Jesus, the Church, and God’s final victory over sin, death, and Satan.  Specifically we looked at the following themes:

  1. Jesus the prophet & His message;
  2. Jesus the priest & His New Covenant;
  3. Jesus the king & His Kingdom;
  4. The Church; and
  5. The new Heaven and the new Earth.

These themes only skim the surface of the New Testament’s profound depths.  However, they are essential themes to understanding the scope of Scripture.

BEHOLD THE MAN

So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Behold the man!"

~ John 19:5

Redemptive history was awaiting its Redeemer.  The Old Testament history was full of prophets who declared God’s truth, priests who sacrificed to atone for the sins of God’s people, and kings who ruled.  But redemption did not come through any of them.  They were all flawed.  The prophets all had doubts.  The priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sin.  Power corrupted all kings.  Redemption would not come from men.  But in the fullness of time, God sent His son, the Redeemer, to do what Mankind was incapable of doing.  

Jesus began his ministry as the Prophet of Prophets declaring the truth of God without doubt.  Jesus announced the coming Kingdom of God, that all men must repent, and that God would judge all the earth.  Jesus spoke and taught with authority and boldness.  His bold teaching was confirmed by his ability to work miracles.  He healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave the blind sight, calmed storms, walked on water, cast out demons, and even raised the dead.  He feared nothing.  He clashed with the established religious authority and declared that men must follow him.  He declared that his own purpose was to do nothing but the will of his Father in Heaven.  He announced that he would fulfill every one of God’s commands.  He would be totally righteous.  He would be obedient even unto death.  He even predicted his own death, resurrection, and his own coming in judgment.  He said: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me….” [John 5:39]  He was the one who had been promised.  Jesus’ boldness to declare God’s truth and usher in the Kingdom of God made him an enemy to the kingdoms of this world and they plotted to kill him.


In the Old Testament we saw how Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Yet, their betrayal was the opportunity for God to show His sovereignty, raise Joseph to the highest office in the land, and save even those brothers who plotted to kill him.  Even so with Jesus, the wickedness of men became the opportunity for God to save the whole world. Jesus became the Priest of Priests on the night before he was crucified.  Celebrating the Passover feast with his disciples he ushered in a New Covenant by taking bread, breaking it, declaring it his body broken for us; and taking wine, offering it, and declaring it his blood shed on our behalf.  The perfect priest, the one who needed no sacrifice to atone for his own sins, was offering himself for our sins.   

Jesus was betrayed and arrested just as he had predicted.  As Jesus stood at his trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate it is Pilate who asked him if he is a king.  Jesus answered: “My kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36]  After his examination, Pilate renders his verdict and declares: “I find no guilt in him.” [John 19:4]  It is then that Pilate brings out Jesus and invites us to “Behold the man!” [John 19:5]  No court has ever rendered a truer verdict.   Jesus was perfect.  He had no guilt.  But that brief moment of pure justice was quickly replaced by the most unjust act in human history.  Pilate, giving in to the pressure of the mob calling for Jesus’ death, renders judgment that Jesus should be taken outside the city to be crucified.   The innocent man is put to death.

It is in this tragic event that Jesus reveals himself to be the King of Kings.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way:

[He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…. he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

In John 10:17-18 Jesus declared: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”  Jesus statement comes true in his resurrection.  Dying on a cross, Jesus is raised three days later.  Then he appears, first to his disciples, and then to over 500 of those who followed him.  When Jesus appeared to his disciples he tells them “All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me.” [Matthew 28:18].  God had made him king; Jesus resurrection instituted his reign as the king.

The long awaited Redeemer had come.  God’s son came to follow every command, every word, of his Father.  He did what Mankind fails to do.  He told the truth, he lived the truth, and he was the truth.  He was faithful even to death.  He accomplished God’s will perfectly; he saved us by taking the punishment that we deserved.  He sacrificed himself for us.  It was for this that God raised him up as the king over all creation.

THE CHURCH & GOD’S ULTIMATE VICTORY 

Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of his reign as king.  But Jesus first act as king is to commission his followers to go throughout the world and make disciples.  Jesus commission is to create a Church; a body of people who will worship, serve, and act as witnesses to King Jesus.  It is a people who will become more like Jesus and who will do what God commands.  Those who believe in Jesus and who follow him, who become God’s image bearers, God promises eternal life and adoption into His family.

We read of the arrival of God’s Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.  God sends the Holy Spirit to the Church to empower it to take the Gospel to the world.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts the heart of sin, that leads people to repentance, and that produces faith in the heart of the believer.  The first example of the Holy Spirit’s work is at Pentecost.  Peter, preaching with the power of the Holy Spirit, delivers the Gospel to the crowds gathering in Jerusalem.  Three thousand were added to the Church that day.   

The Book of Acts also describes the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  While the entire Old Testament had restricted God’s covenant to the people of Israel, Christ’s New Covenant opens up God’s promise of redemption to the Gentiles.  Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles.  He spends his life as a missionary to the whole world and carries the Gospel far beyond the borders of Judea planting churches and creating disciples.  It is through the expansion of God’s Kingdom to the whole earth that God’s promise to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring is finally fulfilled. 

The final book of the Bible is The Revelation of Jesus Christ {“Revelation”).  Revelation gives an account of the vision of the Apostle John.  John witnesses God’s final victory, judgment of the world, and re-institution of the paradise that was lost with Adam and Eve’s first sin.  God wins.  We await the final fulfillment of God’s total victory and the consummation of Christ’s Kingdom on this earth.

CONCLUSION 

All of God’s promises in the Old Testament came true in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is God’s redeemer.  Jesus is God’s image bearer on this earth.  He is what man ought to be.  His appearance on the stage of world history begins the final chapter of God’s drama of redemption.  We are a part of that final chapter of God’s plan.  We are his disciples if we believe on him.  It is the duty of disciples to become more like their master.  As we conform to the image of Christ we seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven; to live by his Word.  But first we must know God’s Word.

Study the Bible.  It is the only way to know what God has commanded.  It is the only way to grow as a disciple.  It is the only way to become like Jesus.

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THE DRAMA OF REDEMPTION - PART 1 (OLD TESTAMENT)

INTRODUCTION

This week in “What’s in the Bible?” we examined God’s work in history as he creates Mankind in His image, punishes Adam and Eve for their disobedience, and begins His work of redeeming Mankind through a chosen people.  God’s work in history plays itself out over the course of thousands of years and in thirty-seven different books all of which play a role in advancing the drama.  The stage is set for the pinnacle of history where God Himself will appear on the scene of history to accomplish the redemption that He has promised.

MAJOR THEMES

There are hundreds of themes that run throughout the Old Testament; an exhaustive examination of these themes may take multiple lifetimes.  We are intentionally examining eight themes that play a major role in helping us to understand the events that unfold in the New Testament.   These themes include:

  1. The creation and fall of man;
  2. The entrance of evil into the world;
  3. God’s promise to Abraham;
  4. Joseph’s life and God’s sovereignty;
  5. Moses and God’s redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt;
  6. God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s failure to keep the covenant;
  7. God’s judgment on Israel and the punishment of exile, and
  8. God’s promise of a new and everlasting kingdom and covenant.

Understanding these themes is essential to understanding Jesus’ message, mission, and significance to the redemption of mankind.

SETTING THE STAGE FOR CHRIST

The Bible tells the story that sets the stage for the coming of Christ by bringing the human problem clearly into focus.  Faced with a perfect and holy God, mankind is exposed.  Created in God’s image and charged with reflecting God’s glory to the world, Adam and Eve are inadequate for the task as they fall prey to Satan’s temptation and disobey God’s command not to eat the forbidden fruit.  But Mankind’s unfaithfulness is contrasted with God’s faithfulness and his unfailing sovereign plan to redeem His creation.  These two themes set the stage for the pivotal moments in human history that are recorded in the New Testament.

Mankind’s inability to follow the word of God is an over-arching theme of the Old Testament.  We see it as the world sinks into darkness immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve.  In Genesis 6:5 we read: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  Mankind’s evil is so pervasive that God considers totally destroying his creation but chooses to save one man’s family who he finds righteous before him, Noah.  God’s plan of redemption does not fail as Mankind is saved through Noah.

As the world continues to sink into darkness after Noah, God’s sovereign plan of redemption continues.  Out of the darkness God calls Abraham.  God promises to bless the world through his offspring and to give Abraham’s descendants a “Promised Land” in Canaan. 

Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph, is another victim of the evil hearts of Mankind when his own brothers, motivated by jealousy, sell him into slavery in Egypt.  But Joseph’s misfortune is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his sovereignty as he raises Joseph from a lowly slave to the highest position in all of Egypt.  Then in a dramatic turn of the tide, God uses Joseph to save the very brothers who sold him as a slave.

When Joseph’s descendants become slaves in Egypt, it is God who sends Moses as His rescuer.  It is God who gives the Law and establishes Israel as a Holy Nation set apart to serve Him. The Law, the priesthood, and the sacrificial system will sanctify the nation making it able to serve God’s purposes in the world.  God leads Israel to the Promised Land.   As the world falls into darkness it is God who will bring light to the world through the lowly tribes of Israel.  In Deuteronomy 7 God makes it clear that he did not choose Israel because they were the best, but because of the promises he made to Abraham.  Here we see God’s faithfulness to do all that he has promised.  His sovereign plan of redemption cannot fail, even when men do.

Israel does fail; it does break the Law.  The story of Israel is the story of a nation constantly pursuing idols.  Once again, we see Mankind’s inability to keep its obligations to God.  But God does not forsake Israel or the promises He made to Abraham.  In the end, Mankind’s unfaithfulness brings to light God’s faithfulness to the promises He has made.

God is patient.  He send’s envoys of grace to Israel, the prophets.  God commissions his prophets to declare the truth.  Acting as God’s prosecutors, they proclaim the indictments against God’s Holy Nation, the constant rebellion, the consistent idolatry, the persistent unfaithfulness.  Acting as God’s mediators they call the people to repent.  Finally, acting as God’s spokesmen they deliver God’s judgment when the nation fails to repent and persists in rebellion.

Rebellion against God always brings consequences.  For Israel it was civil war and a shattered kingdom.  Israel splits into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  In a diminished state and without God’s protection, both kingdoms fall to the nations around them.  The Holy Nation is humbled and exiled, brought to its knees until it repents.  Finally, after 70 years in captivity the Holy Nation returns to the Promised Land.  But the return is not a return to its former glory; this time it will be a mere vassal to the great empires around it.  But God is preparing Israel’s glory for another.  Salvation will come from God, who will send a king to establish an everlasting kingdom.

As the pages of the Old Testament draw to a close there is the overwhelming sense that God’s plan of redemption will not succeed through the obedience of mere men.  Israel’s failure to keep God’s commands have erased the hope that an earthly king or kingdom can save the world and establish itself as God’s image bearer to His creation.  Salvation must come from somewhere else.

Four hundred years of silence follow the conclusion of the Old Testament.  God does not speak through Special Revelation for ten generations.  But God is still preparing the way for his Messiah.  The Babylonian and Persian empires that conquered and exiled Israel give way to Greeks and then Romans.  Israel and the Promised Land is reduced to a backwater province compared to the grand stage of world events.  But God is at work setting the stage for the Gospel, God’s declaration that he will bring salvation through his chosen Messiah; the Christ.   The world is about to change.

FORESHADOWING CHRIST

The church father, Augustine of Hippo, is quoted as saying: "The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed, the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed."  The Old Testament is not simply a history book.  It looks forward to the coming of Jesus and hints at his coming through the stories it contains.  As Jesus says in John 5:39: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me….”.   Examples include the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, God’s deliverance of Joseph from slavery in Egypt, Moses’ rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt and the Passover, the giving of the Law and the priesthood, kings David and Solomon.  Each of these and many more are early pictures of the ultimate messiah who will come and rescue his people once and for all. 

Beyond the stories that foreshadow Jesus’ ministry are the prophecies that boldly declare the coming of the Christ.  Scattered throughout the Old Testament are clear and subtle prophecies that point towards God’s redemption through Jesus.  Hundreds of years before Jesus birth, the prophets declare he that he will be born of a virgin, that he will heal the sick, make the lame walk, make the blind see, willingly submit to death, be flogged, struck, spit upon, have his hands, feet, and side pierced, die, and be resurrected after three days so that our sins would be forgiven.  The foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection is boldly and clearly declared in the Old Testament for those with eyes to see.

CONCLUSION

It is impossible to understand the full significance of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection without the Old Testament to give us perspective on the problem Jesus came to solve.   The Old Testament establishes God’s sovereignty, grace, mercy, and faithfulness and contrasts it against Mankind’s impotency, fallibility, selfish conceit, and faithlessness.  We are poor image bearers.  It is not a humanist story of man climbing up to God.  It is God who is at work to bring about redemption; reaching down to Mankind.  When Mankind fails time and again to do what God commands, and to live by God’s word, it is God who remains consistently faithful to do everything he has decreed that He will do. 

God’s plan for redemption will not fail.  Join us this week as we examine the decisive turning point of history this week in the New Testament.

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God Speaks!

Introduction

We had a great time kicking off “What’s in the Bible?” this past Sunday.  In our first week, we covered some fundamental issues by looking at how God communicates with us and what He says.  The purpose of the first class was to set the table by helping us to appreciate just how remarkable it is that God has communicated to us through the Bible.  Over the next few weeks we will eat the main course as we examine some of the major themes of the Old and New Testaments.  

The Fundamental

God is the creator of all things and he possesses complete knowledge about all things.  This is the fundamental truth of all reality.  God created the entire universe from nothing.  He does not take pre-existing material and form it into a universe.  He creates the universe from scratch.  All of the universe's attributes or properties come from God. God knows what the universe was in the beginning, knows what it is now, and knows what it will become.  He created it in its minutest detail.  Accordingly, he must understand it in its minutest detail.  We call God’s ability to create a universe out of nothing His omnipotence.  We call God’s categorical and exhaustive knowledge of that universe His omniscience.  Understanding God’s creative power is absolutely essential to understanding our complete dependence on God for knowledge.  God is the Author of reality.  He speaks and the universe leaps into existence.  He is saying something to us through the creation.  If we are going to understand anything about the universe, we must understand what God is saying.

General Revelation

We are part of God’s creation.  We rely on God to reveal to us truth about the universe.  It is through Nature that God first reveals himself.  David sung in Psalm 19:1-2 that "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”  Likewise, the Apostle Paul argues in Romans 1:20 that “[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine naturehave been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” God speaks to us through his creation.  We call it His “General Revelation” to Mankind.  It is general because it is made to everyone who can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the world around them.  But even though it is general in its distribution, it is specific in its message.  That message is this: God is all powerful and has created everything, including us.  

The Problem

There is a problem; we reject God’s General Revelation.  Mankind is self-centered.  We are the center of our own universe from the moment we are born.  Infants care only about what they can immediately see, touch, taste, hear, and smell; things beyond their immediate perception may as well not even exist.  Our education is a discovery that things do exist beyond us; it is a discovery of reality “out there”.  But most stop far short of the ultimate conclusion of a reality beyond us.  Most refuse to recognize that the reality beyond us points to the Author of that reality who we should worship in gratitude.  This Author has given us everything we have; we owe our existence to Him.  But we are not grateful.  We will worship only those things that we can understand, control, or that serve us.  We exchange the truth about God for a lie.  We worship the creation rather than the Creator.

God does not stand the lie.  His wrath is directed towards mankind because we lie.  We worship things that are not worthy of worship.  God will put a stop to it.  It will be stopped either by destroying the liar or transforming him.  

Special Revelation

God has chosen to transform Mankind.  He has chosen to call to himself a people who will be his representatives; who will speak the truth.  It is through God’s Special Revelation that we learn of God’s plan to transform man from a liar to a bearer of truth.  Special Revelation is God’s declaration of His plan to save Mankind.

Special Revelation is a part of God’s General Revelation.  God’s entire created order is his General Revelation, Special Revelation is that part of it that is sanctified [i.e. set apart] to redeem mankind.  Without Special Revelation we would be ignorant of God’s plan to save us.  God’s Special Revelation comes to us through his direct speech to the Patriarchs, Moses, prophets, and finally through His Son.  It is the voice of God that reveals the purposes of God in our redemption, the drama of our redemption as it plays itself out in history, God's imminent final judgment on sin, the person and work of our savior Jesus Christ, God’s instruction to his people for salvation and good works, and God’s final victory.

Special Revelation is compiled into Sacred Scripture, or what we commonly refer to as the Bible.  The Bible is an amazing repository of God’s words to Mankind.  Its purpose and function is to shake the foundations of our self-centered worldview and direct our gaze to the One who made us.  Written over 2000 years, by more than forty authors, and containing sixty-six separate books it maintains a consistency that speaks to its divine Authorship.  God uses the human authors as his agents to write a truly divine book with a plot and a narrative that climaxes in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The entire Old Testament points toward, anticipates, and foreshadows the coming of the Christ.  The New Testament reveals the watershed moment when Christ defeats sin and death and secures the redemption of Mankind at the Cross.

Conclusion

God uses the Bible to change the hearts of men and women.  His words have been used for centuries to turn hearts towards Him so that we begin to see God as preeminent in all things.  When we see God as preeminent, it transforms us.  We see our own failings more clearly and we repent.  We come to understand our need for a savior and so believe in Christ and His work.  Finally, we begin to love and desire the good purposes of God and so we obey Him; seeking to accomplish His purposes in this world.  We become God’s representatives of the truth.

Join us in studying this amazing book! 

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WALK IN THE LIGHT - INTRODUCTION TO 1 JOHN

Light is indispensable to human experience.  It is difficult to imagine existence separated from the light that allows us to comprehend the world around us.  Even those who are born blind, and thus without access to light from their earliest days, live largely dependent on others who can see and help them.  Our dependence on light is so pervasive that it serves as a suitable metaphor for knowledge itself.  We say that a person has “seen the light” when we want to convey that they have finally gained understanding.  “Light” is a virtual synonym for knowledge, meaning, and understanding.  To live without those things is to live in darkness.

The motif of “light” is used consistently in Scripture to describe the person and work of God.  In 1 John 1:5 the Apostle identifies God with light.  God’s first creative act in Genesis 1:3 is to produce light and to separate it from the darkness.  In Exodus, God proceeds his people in a burning cloud that provides lights to the Israelites but casts a foreboding shadow of darkness on the pursuing Egyptians [Exodus 10].  When Moses encounters God on Mt. Sinai his face begins to glow [Exodus 33].  When Christ is transfigured in Matthew 17 his garments shine with the glory of God.  In John 1 Jesus is called “the light of men." When Paul encounters Christ on the Road to Damascus it is through a light brighter than the noonday sun.  The New Heavens and the New Earth in Revelation 21 do not need a sun or a moon because God’s glory gives them light and Jesus is the lamp.  

In 1944 C.S. Lewis wrote his essay “Is Theology Poetry?” in which he sought to answer the question of whether Christians believed in Christianity not because it was true, but only because they found the story of the Gospel to be a pleasant fantasy.  It is an important question.  How do we know that Christianity isn’t just a myth that we enjoy reading about, hearing about, and pretending is true?  Lewis answers the question with his famous quote: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Most apologists might defend the truth of Christianity by pointing to the manifold evidence of its historicity, by providing rational arguments for theism, or by pointing to Christianity’s amazing influence on the world.  They might try to dazzle with a vision of the sun itself.  Lewis shrewdly beckons us to look not only at the lofty sun in the sky but also to all that it illuminates. On Lewis’ analogy we can look at Christianity and see the historical and rational arguments for it, but Christianity’s true gift is that it illuminates the rest of reality.  It lifts the darkness from this world and helps us to see God’s purpose and meaning for our lives and for all of history.  It makes sense of the world.  We know Christianity is true in part because it allows us to see the truth in everything else.  It is not just a pleasant fiction that we abandon when confronted with the real world.

When a person comes to understand and believe the Gospel, it changes everything.  Before the Gospel, the world was covered in darkness.  But when the Gospel is declared it sheds light on everything.  As the Psalmist says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” [Psalm 119:105].  Without the Gospel, men grope around in the dark doing what feels right but without any knowledge about where they are actually going; to their destruction.  But the Gospel illuminates the path.  There is no more need for groping.  The Gospel shows us the way we should go.  The Gospel shows us the way to life.

The Book of 1st John is written to spread the light of the Gospel.  John begins the book by confirming that he has seen with his own eyes and touched with his own hands the risen Christ [1 John 1:1-2].  To return to C.S. Lewis’ analogy, John has looked directly into the Sun and he knows it is there.  Then John turns to the implications.  He tells us how the world looks in the light of the Gospel.  How should we then live as we walk in the light?

John’s message is clear.  He says:  “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” [1 John 1:6]  Those who continue to walk in darkness after they have heard the Gospel have not understood and believed no matter how much claim otherwise.  Christians are not perfect.  Even those who walk in the light of day occasionally stumble.  But the persistent stumbling of those who have no light is avoided.  John continues in chapter 2: “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.  By this we know that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”  [1 John 2:4-6].

Disciples walk in the light of the Gospel.  It changes their lives.  They live out the implications of the Gospel daily.  For disciples, the Gospel helps them to put the entire world into perspective.  It guides their paths.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean to walk in the light?  How are we to walk in the same way as Jesus?  In five glorious chapters, John begins to unfold what the Christian life should look like.  It is a life fixed on the same love that Christ showed to us through the Cross.  Join us as we study 1 John together and begin to walk in the light of the Gospel and reflect that light to a world filled with darkness.

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GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN RUTH

Where is God in the Book of Ruth?  He is rarely mentioned.  But his presence is on every page as he sovereignly directs the outcome of the story like an author crafting a novel. The Book of Ruth presents a perfect opportunity to discuss the Sovereignty of God as he works through people to bring about redemption and blessing.  It can be difficult for the modern mind to grasp the sovereignty of God.  God’s sovereignty implies that he is in control of all things.  The concept of God’s sovereignty runs contrary to our desire to be in control of our lives. The concept of God’s sovereignty appears to stand as a barrier to our desire to be in control.  But perhaps that desire to be in control is not a healthy desire.

 After all, the Bible clearly teaches the sovereignty of God.  In Isaiah 46:10 God declares: “My purpose will be established and I will accomplish all of my pleasure”.  In Psalm 115:3 the psalmist says: “Our God is in heaven; he does all that he pleases.”  In Proverbs 16:9 Solomon declares: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”  Paul emphasizes in Romans 8:28 that God works all things together for good for those who love him and who are called according to his purposes. In Ephesians 1:11 Paul makes it clear that God works all things according to the counsel of his will.   Not some things.  God works all things according to his will.

God’s sovereignty is clearly seen in scripture through two stories.  In the first story Joseph’s brothers act out in jealously over their father’s great love towards Joseph.  They seize Joseph, consider murdering him, and settle on selling him into slavery in Egypt.  Over the course of time Joseph is raised from a humble slave in Egypt to Egypt’s highest official.  Joseph encounters his brothers after many years when they come to Egypt to escape a deadly famine and he assures them that he has forgiven them and makes this claim:

"But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

Here we see God working through people to bring about His result.  God is the author of Joseph’s story.   Joseph suffers great tragedy and difficulty at the hands of his brothers, is redeemed by God’s grace, and is put into a position to bless others and save his kinsmen from famine.  That was God’s plan all along.

But the story of Joseph points forward to Jesus, who is the greatest example of God’s sovereignty in the Bible.  Like Joseph, they very people who should have loved Jesus are the very ones who betray him.  The Jewish religious authorities act out in jealousy and self-interest fearing that Jesus and his growing popularity will mean a loss of their own prestige among the people.  They seize Jesus of Nazareth, accuse him under false pretense, plot to have him killed and then carry out his murder with the help of the Romans.  But after three days Jesus is raised from the dead.  When Peter first declares the Gospel in Jerusalem he makes this claim:

"Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed....  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…. Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  

Again, here we see God working through people to bring about his result.  God is the author of Jesus’ dramatic story.  Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan of God.  Jesus suffers the greatest tragedy at the hands of his own people, is redeemed when God raises him from the dead, and is put into a position to bless others, to save mankind from its sins.

It is this same rhythm of tragedy, redemption, and blessing that we find in the Book of Ruth.  Naomi and Ruth suffer.  Naomi loses her husband and her sons, Ruth, her husband.  Ahead of them, as far as they can see, is nothing but great difficulty.  But God is at work.  He has not left Naomi and Ruth forsaken.  Through Ruth’s faithfulness and hard work she catches the eye of Boaz.  Boaz treats her kindly.  Ultimately, through the wise counsel of Naomi, faithfulness of Ruth, and kindness of Boaz, there is redemption.  Naomi and Ruth are saved from great hardship.  Boaz obtains a wife.  But the rhythm doesn’t end there.  The story ends with a post-script.  Ruth bears Boaz a son, Obed.  Obed has a son, Jesse.  Jesse is the father of David.  David becomes king of Israel and receives the promise from God that his Son would inherit an everlasting kingdom. It is through the line of David that Jesus would come.  The pattern of tragedy, redemption, and blessing continues.  God is the author of Ruth’s story. 

Despite the similar patterns of the stories of Joseph, Jesus and Ruth there is an important difference.  In the stories of Joseph and Jesus, God acts through the jealousy and self-interest of Joseph’s brothers and Jesus’ persecutors.  God is at work in the background overcoming these human motivations and using them to bring about his desired end.  Self-interest is the natural inclination of mankind.  It is a fruit of the flesh [Galatians 5:19-21].  It is part of our nature separated from God.  To use Joseph’s brothers all God must do is let men be men.  God could have found a million different ways to whisk Joseph away to Egypt.  But he chooses to use his brothers’ vain motivations to bring it about.  God could have found another way to sacrifice Jesus on our behalf.  But he uses the evil inclinations of the High Priest to do it.  God ordains both the means and the ends.   It is his definite plan.

But while God’s work in the story of Joseph and Jesus is in the background, it is in the Book of Ruth that we see God’s activity in the foreground.  In the Book of Ruth, God works through the wisdom of Naomi, the faithfulness and selflessness of Ruth, and the kindness of Boaz.   The characters in the Book of Ruth act with virtue.  This is the work of God.  Wisdom, faithfulness, selflessness, and kindness are not natural to mankind.  Wisdom is from above [James 3:17].  Faithfulness, selflessness, and kindness are fruits of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23].  The motivations and actions of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz are evidence that God is at work in their midst.  That God is working actively on their hearts.  Not content to let men be men and women be women, acting from self-interest for their purposes, God is molding and shaping the hearts of these characters.  When God’s people do good we are “his workmanship” [Ephesians 2:10].

What are the implications of God’s sovereignty for Christians?  There are many, too many to discuss them all here. But here are three.  First, we should understand that God is at work in all things, even in the evil actions of others.  Ultimately, all things cannot fail to serve God, even if they do so unintentionally.  It is not unlike how every character in a great novel ultimately serves the author of the story, even its greatest villain, because they unintentionally serve to bring about the author’s end to the story, usually involving the villain’s demise. 

Second, we should realize that our ability to do what is good is directly related to God’s active work in us.  If we are going to act with virtue, and not just from vain self-interest, it must be God working through us.  That is why Paul exhorts the Philippians to work out their faith because “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” [Philippians 2:12-13].  As you observe others doing good, as you do good, give thanks to God.  When you see good in others, when you see kindness, faithfulness, self-control, know that it is God working very actively in their lives to bring it about.  Give thanks to God for it.  Pray that God would work that way in your life always.

Finally, realize that your actions matter.  The most common objection I hear to God’s sovereignty is an appeal to fatalism.   The objection is usually phrased like this:  “If God is in total control of what happens then it doesn’t matter what I do.”  But it absolutely should matter to us.  What we do matters because God works in this world and uses what we do to accomplish his purposes.  God will always work all things together for good. The last thing we should want is for God to work around our selfish interests to bring about this result.  Rather, we should seek God’s active work in our lives.  We should diligently ask God to give us a pure heart so that our actions will be aligned to his purposes.  We should ask God to help us set aside our self-interest and seek His interests.  We should ask God to work in us like he does in Ruth and not work through us like he does through Joseph’s brothers.

There is one last point.  Christians and non-Christians alike often seek to do good in order to obtain God’s blessing.   We sometimes think, “If I do good, God will bless me.” I have to point out that this is just another form of self-interested motivation.  It is a type of manipulation where we try to get what we want from God by giving him what we think he wants.  It is a way of trying to maintain control, to dictate terms, to retain our sovereignty. 

We must realize that God’s sovereignty means that if we do what is good then we are already blessed.  Because when we do good it means that God is already at work within us and through us.  When God works goodness through us it might lead us into untold hardships, persecution, and difficulty in this world.  It certainly did for the Apostles.  But Jesus commands us to “take courage, I have overcome the world” [John 16:33].  Do good and rest content in the blessing of goodness God has given to us, trusting the promise that God redeems from difficulty, and will put us in ever greater positions to bless others.

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