The Hudson and Our Inheritance – Galatians 3:1-18

Galatians 3:1-18

The Hudson River isn’t too far from where I live. It kind of reminds me of a dirty salty version of the Mississippi River, but that is beside the point. Imagine you are feeling a little risky – a little adventurous. You think, “I can swim across this thing.” So when the weather gets right, you go to the bank, wetsuit on, and just jump right in. Unfortunately for you, sitting on the couch everyday doesn’t count as proper training for something so strenuous, and you very quickly get winded. You are reaching the point of exhaustion, and to your grim despair, you aren’t even half way across. But you can’t go any longer. As soon as you accept your fate and make your peace with God, a friendly old man in a fishing boat comes and offers you a lift across.

I know at first you might be wondering why a man is out on the Hudson in a small fishing boat, but that doesn’t matter. You are just happy he was at the right place at the right time. You hop in and thank him for his hospitality. Though after a few seconds, your stubborn self catches wind and tells the man you want to get out… You can swim the rest of the way across by yourself.

I’m not too much of a swimmer. Even though I grew up right next to a private lake where I would swim EVERY day during the summer, I am not a strong swimmer. I don’t know the right strokes or how to breathe properly in the water. Not to mention I am incredibly out of shape. So anytime I go across a long bridge or see a wide river or a big lake I just think how hopeless I would be if I tried to swim across it. So, this illustration speaks to me.

After Paul shares his proposition for writing the Galatians in 2:16, He goes on in chapter 3 to explain that God has already given His Spirit to the Galatians, and that the Galatians don’t have to follow the Law if they already have the Spirit. And since they have the Spirit, they no longer have to feel like they need to mark up their flesh through circumcision. Here Paul takes a considerable amount of time to contrast; The Law and faith, the flesh and the Spirit, and being cursed verses being justified.

This is a persuasive argument from Paul. When I read this section I think of how I would write persuasive papers in high school. Appeal to emotion, refer to someone who has some level of authority, and weave some modus ponens in there like a fiend. Paul is the same way here.

First, he starts by appealing to the Galatians’ personal experience. For the Galatians to deny what God has done in their lives through the Spirit would be ignorance. In verse 5, Paul reminds them that God worked miracles among them and the Spirit moved through them because of their faith, not because they followed the Law. Paul even described the crucifixion of Christ to them so vividly when he first presented the gospel that he says in verse 1 that it was as though Christ was crucified before their own eyes. How can they deny what God had done in their lives?

Paul then goes on to present an argument from authority. Now, when we present an argument from authority, we usually quote doctors or specialists. Paul quotes a ton of Scripture in Galatians 3:10-14. If the Galatians were getting tempted by Jewish Christians to become more “Jewish” and follow the Mosaic Law, it would be harder for them to make an argument if Paul is arguing from the same source of authority that the Jewish Christians are.

Here Paul uses the promise of Abraham, the first “Jew,” the Pillar of the People of God. Paul is showing that God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham in Genesis – the promise that God would bless all the nations through him. This was only done through Christ, who is Abraham’s chosen offspring. God not only is fulfilling something that predates the Law, but is using an example of some one who was made right with God before being circumcised. Paul even says in Galatians 3:7 – “That it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” The Galatians, by being people of faith, now are considered welcomed in to the People of God and hold equal status to that of the Jews. This was without the Law, but was through their faith in Jesus Christ!

Here’s what happened. The Galatians were drowning and God saved them. They were warm and safe, but they are thinking about jumping back in the cold and dirty Hudson. Paul is trying to show them that if the Galatians go back to thinking they can do it on their own they will sink. They no longer need to follow the Law of Moses. It hasn’t helped them thus far. It won’t help them in the future. Next Paul will show them that they need to follow the Law of Christ – following the one who perfected the Law of Moses. This can only be done through faith.

Have you jumped out of the boat?

Maybe you are like the Galatians, and denying something God has done in your life. How can you deny what God has done in YOUR own life? It doesn’t matter if it was last week or in the last century, don’t forget the moments when God spoke to you. Don’t forget how God changed your family. Don’t forget that time that God healed you when the doctors said it was hopeless.

Sometimes what God has done in the past is the only thing that will keep us going in the present.

Or have you forgotten what the Gospel is about? It isn’t about following a set of rules and regulations. It isn’t about the Law of Moses. It isn’t about attending church, or going to Sunday School, or playing on the worship team. The Gospel is about how Christ came to reconcile a world that was condemned. Let’s not lose sight of Christ. Let’s not jump out of the boat – not even for humanitarianism, hedonism, or “morally sound deism.”

Remember what God did in history when Christ came and made us Children of Abraham – Children of His inheritance. Remember what God has done in your life through His Spirit. And never forget… It all centers on Christ’s faithful act on the cross and our faith in him.

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Independence and Immunity – Overview of Galatians 2:1-14

Galatians 2:1-14

My family loves the show Survivor. Though it has been a couple years since I’ve watched the “reality show” that was the catalyst for them all, I still love the show. The strategy and deception that goes on in the tribes is suspenseful. To win, one needs to be good enough to win competitions and nice enough to have friends, but they can’t be too good or too nice, because then people will vote them out because this “nice guy” is a threat.

Every season, Survivor is in a different location. There are usually entirely new people every season (except for a couple fan favorite seasons). CBS has done a pretty good job balancing out having a general theme, but changing the show enough to where people stay interested. There is one challenge that the show seems to have every year. It is one where the contestants balance on a pole in the water. This is usually one of the last “immunity” challenges the contestants have. They have to stand on a wooden pole in the water, and whoever can stay up the longest makes it to the next round. While the show may change throughout the seasons, most serious watchers know to look for this competition at some point every year.

Though my whole family doesn’t have a big party celebrating the finale anymore, I’m sure the show still holds a special place in all my family’s hearts as it does mine.

In the second chapter of Galatians, Paul starts a balancing act of his own. Paul’s main aim in this section is to show his independence. He is trying to show that his gospel came directly from the Lord and hasn’t been changed by anyone. He is trying to show that his gospel is the same as the church in Jerusalem while stressing it is his own gospel, and not theirs that he is preaching.

It’s a tough situation for Paul to balance. If he seems too independent, the false teachers in Galatia will call Paul a rogue and dismiss him. However, if Paul seems too dependent, the false teachers will call Paul a liar and say that their message is really in line with those in Jerusalem. It is almost a catch-22 for Paul. He needs to show the Galatians that his gospel is his own, while also showing that it is the same gospel the pillars in Jerusalem preach. These pillars are Peter, James, and John.

If Paul seems too independent of Peter, James, and John he might not get their approval. It isn’t that Paul needs their approval to be validated theologically. Paul knows the authority of his gospel. It came from God. Paul knows these men are seen as “pillars” of the Christian faith just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the pillars of Israel. To lose their approval would be detrimental to his mission not his message. Not to mention it would cause disunity, one of the biggest issues Paul addresses in his writing.

We need to make sure we have the same thing in our life. We need to have a faith and a relationship with God that is our own, but we need to surround ourselves with people to make sure we don’t start thinking Christianity is something it isn’t. In verses 11-14, Paul talks about how even Peter stood condemned for excluding the Gentiles by eating with a group called “The Circumcision.” We must balance how we handle ourselves in situations, we need to balance our message of hope, and we need to help others to stay balanced as well. We are in this to win immunity – eternal life in Christ. Will you keep balance?

Egalitarianism and the Jim Crow Laws of the Church, Part One.

Rosa Parks sat unmoved in her seat. A woman known to be so soft-spoken had apparently had enough. One can imagine how so humbly and quietly she would explain to the driver of the bus that she was not going to move from the seat she was in. What those in Montgomery might have called “separate but equal” was only separate. It surely was not equal. And Rosa knew that it was her right to stand up for what she believed in by staying seated where she was. When she was arrested that day, she probably didn’t realize the impact that she would have on her community and throughout the country. From the day of her arrest for over a year after, the Montgomery Bus Boycott took place, and momentum was building in what we now know as the Civil Rights Movement.

The problem with the Jim Crow Laws was that being separate wasn’t really being equal. The laws were taxing on all people in the African American community. Children were forced sometimes to walk to schools further away because the schools closest to them were for whites only. Some were refused jobs and services merely because the color of their skin. And it took the quiet yet unmoved voice of a meek woman in Alabama to stir the hearts of the people to finally say that enough was enough.

Today, in the church, I feel like there is a spirit of the Jim Crow Laws still alive but manifested within another group within society – women. Complementarianism believes that men and women are equal, but that God created them separately, and, with that, they have separate roles. With this they make sense of passages like that in Colossians and Ephesians where wives are told to submit to their husbands, and passages like that in Corinthians and Timothy where women are told not to speak in church, teach, or be in a spiritual position over a man.

But are men and women really equal if we force different roles on them?

How do we decide what these roles are?

Are they birthed within us or oppressed on us by centuries of conditioning?

And what does the Bible really say about the roles of men and women?

There are many passages in the Bible that can be taken as being for complementarianism or for egalitarianism. I will address important women throughout Salvation History before going into Paul’s letters, where things get more controversial. In this post I will specifically look into the Old and New Covenants. I apologize if I leave anything out, but for time’s sake, I can only write so much. I will try not to sound too scholarly or come across as condescending. Feel free to comment if you want to add to anything I address whether it is positive or negative.

The Old Testament:

In Genesis both man and woman are said to reflect the image of God (Gen 1:27-28). And though Eve was the one who ate the apple, Adam is seen as the type or the personification of sin within the world (see Romans 5) – a man once made in glory contrastingly seen as the carrier of sin in the world. This is seen more theological here rather than historical, but truth be told, I think that about most of Genesis. Genesis is written in the form of a myth – meaning that though many of the things said are true in some aspects, they aren’t meant to be literal or historical (especially the Creation story) so to make doctrinal statements on gender roles solely based on this passage would not suffice for either camp.

Rahab and Ruth are both women of importance in the Old Testament for a couple reasons. The fact that they are women mentioned in the Bible for helping bring along Salvation History is of importance, the higher importance being that neither of them were Israelites. The fact that God would use non-Israelite women to tell the story of how He was working within His Covenant people is phenomenal when considering all its implications theologically. Later, these women will even be included in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospels.

There are also many other notable women worth mentioning in the Old Testament. There are too many for me to mention them all, but here are a few. Deborah is both a judge and a prophetess, and she delivers the Israelites in a way equal to Gideon and Samson and others (Judges 4). Along with that, the prophesy in Joel 2 considering the outpouring of the Holy Spirit talks about it being imparted on both male and female. Esther is another woman of some notoriety, being used by God as a vessel – playing out further the story of Salvation History. There are more women who are of prominence in the Old Testament, but to say much of many of them would be speculation at best.

The Gospels:

The Gospels, believe it or not, have some pretty interesting things to say about women and their potential role in society. In Matthew chapter 1, like mentioned above, there are several women mentioned in Christ’s genealogy – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (though not by name), and Jesus’ mother, Mary. Luke’s gospel is especially full of instances where Jesus treats women (any person marginalized in society actually) differently in terms of the norm of his day. Luke 8 talks about Mary Magdalene traveling with the disciples. This is enhanced even more in Luke 10, when Mary is sitting with the apostles learning at the feet of Jesus. In this specific reference, Martha, her sister, gets rebuked for getting mad at Mary for not doing what was “assumed” of her by hosting and helping Martha serve the guests.

Also, in Luke 24, Mary and other women are attested as being the first women to witness the resurrected Lord. At the time, women’s testimonies were seen to be of low value (they couldn’t even hold testimony in court!). So, the fact that the Gospel writers include women testimonies in their letters is astounding. These are not only mentioned in Luke, but there are references of women in the other resurrection accounts as well.

The only other Gospel account of relatively high prominence is the Samaritan woman in John 4. In this passage, Jesus talks to a woman who is living in adultery. In this pericope, Jesus tells her that worshipers of God won’t be judged by the nationality they were born in or what Temple they worshiped at, but that God is now looking for people who will worship in Spirit and in truth. In all of the Gospels, this is the most plainly Jesus ever speaks of who he is as Christ and Lord. For him to say that to a woman is again crazy to contemplate!

Marks of the New Covenant:

Some people look at what Paul says in 1Corinthians 14 and 1Timothy 2 to say that women should never speak in church or be in a role of leadership, but Joel’s prophesy that is fulfilled in the New Testament at Pentecost seems to differ. At Pentecost, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit was given as a mark of the New Covenant – God’s Spirit now dwelling within each believer. God’s Spirit isn’t just given to men but also to women, and both were expected to exercise those gifts (Acts 2). Acts 21 mentions women who were known for prophesying. Women were seen as an integral part in the early church and were expected to exercise in spiritual gifts, some of which I will specifically note in my next post.

Another mark of the New Covenant was baptism. Baptism at the surface doesn’t seem to be equalizing men and women, but I think that it is a minor theological point that God was putting across at the New Covenant. Let me explain. The people of God in the Old Testament were the Israelites. To be a part of the people of God one had to be born in. The mark to show that one was an Israelite, a follower of God, was specifically circumcision. The mark of circumcision was started in Genesis 15 when Abraham made his covenant with God. God said He would bless the whole world through Abraham. A mild problem with circumcision though was that it was a sign that only the men had within the community.

The sign that a person is now part of the people of God, the church, is baptism. Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward change of status within believers. And all believers, man and woman, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, were all linked in water baptism and by the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The sign was no longer only something that Israelite men could possess, but it was an act that all people could willfully participate in! To be a believer meant to break the tradition of the former practices that separated the people of God from the outside world, and to now embrace the old and “new” traditions which are now to bring all people together in Christ. This is at the heart of the Gospel and almost every other book of the New Testament.

The church today doesn’t have a problem having a woman in an unpaid position. They just don’t call her a pastor but a “pastor’s wife.” But as soon as she is officially recognized and given a salary, the gloves come off. Many within the church also don’t have a problem if a woman works as a children’s pastor (in some churches it is expected!), but they have a problem when a woman is put in a position over men who are her own age. This is inconsistent if one is using 1Corinthians or 1Timothy as a basis for their “complementarian” claim.

Just as Rosa Parks opened the door for the Civil Rights Movement, there are many women who recently have opened the door for women’s rights and women in ministry within the church. Some of the first people to start the Pentecostal Movement in the early 1900’s were women. Aimee Semple McPherson is another woman evangelist who reached prominence in the 1920’s and 1930’s. There are also many women missionaries throughout the years who should not be forgotten either.

There are so many women who have not only impacted the church, but they have impacted Salvation History and the history of the world at large. I don’t think that God has a problem with women in ministry; if he doesn’t have a problem then neither should we. And even though this is only half of the argument, I encourage you to study the subject yourself. Dig into the Scriptures. Study them for yourself. There are so many questions that need answered theologically, philosophically, and psychologically. But let’s not be afraid to push the door open. Things will never change for the better if we don’t question the norm.

The Drunken. The Rich. The Choice.

Carl was stumbling down the street that night. Since that night, I’ve seen him parade down the street like this almost every weekend. I wouldn’t even call us acquaintances really. I met him one day while street evangelizing with a group from our school.

Carl was in a heated discussion with a lower-classman from Central Bible College. I was watching from a near distance – waiting for an opportunity to cut in, since I am no good at the small talk that entails to starting a debate as such. From what I understood, I could only tell a couple things about Carl: that he was a deist, and he was a little tipsy.

So I found an opportunity to enter the conversation as I realized the freshman was entering a stage of dumb-founded-ness by what Carl was saying. I could not let this half-drunk “know-it-all” show my God up! So I used some apologetic word trickery (nothing like Jedi mind tricks, yet a little conniving to do to a drunk man – though he was a very intelligent inebriated person) and got him to get to a place where he didn’t have an answer.

“Why would an ‘impersonal god’ make relational beings?”

It was as though Carl never thought of this question before. I stood there, waiting for Carl to decide what he wanted to say, how he wanted to answer, and then the unthinkable happened… he changed the subject.

I always thought if someone was shown the truth, that they would see this truth, and in turn, accept. But this night it didn’t happen. Carl changed the subject, made a phone call, and got a ride out of there within the next five minutes. I really wasn’t being offensive. Before that, he was the hostile one towards the poor freshman. And here I was wondering how someone who seemed so logical could just ignore something so obvious right in front of their face. And then it hit me…

Carl didn’t want to believe in God, because then he would have to give God his life.

And Carl didn’t want to do that. He seemed pretty happy in his drunken stooper, in his fermented bliss of ignorance, because he didn’t want to give up control of his life. He wanted to remain coaxed by the hedonistic lifestyle he was living.

This story reminds me of a parable that Jesus told. There was a rich man who would walk by a poor beggar, Lazarus, every single day. When both men died, they both ended up in some existential abyss described only as “Abraham’s Bosom.” The rich man cried out to Lazarus and Abraham, who was at Lazarus’ side. The rich man begged to Abraham to send Lazarus so that he could return from the dead and warn the rich man’s family of the coming judgment. But Abraham said, “…. they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

One of the greatest gifts that God has given us is free will. And in the end, people will do what they want. You can have all the answers to their questions, show all the flaws in their arguments, but you can’t change a person’s mind. They can only do so, and that is itself only by the grace of God.

I think part of surrender is being able to accept that you don’t have control of everything. Let go of the burden that is holding you down. Whether it’s a loved one, a family member, or a co-worker – keep persevering – but know that God is ultimately the One who convicts hearts, and the only One that can lead one to repentance.

And all you can do is point people toward Him. They have to choose themselves to follow Him.