Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Going Under the House
We start out so well. We come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and we?re filled with excitement and that ?first love? feeling. Once the realities of the flesh with dwell with and the world we dwell in begin to sink in?we face a fork in the road of our Christian maturity. We experience difficulties and feel defeated or insecure. We make mistakes and start feeling bad about ourselves and that God must not love us as much.
So we slowly begin to take control back from God. We control our environment by putting ourselves into a Christian bubble and we control our behavior by looking to a list of things to do and not do in order to please God. We fall into legalism.
This becomes even more probable when we see others around us who seem to have ?success? by doing this. Such was the atmosphere in the Galatian churches with no less than the Apostle Peter providing support (unintentionally, I?m sure). Thank God for Paul, who isn?t afraid of calling anyone on the carpet for violating the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let?s pick up the letter as Paul defends his gospel to the Gentiles free from the traditions of the Jews.
Paul continues his narrative around just who was the source of and who approved of the gospel that he preached that included the Gentiles in the church without becoming Jews or following the Mosaic Law. He visited Jerusalem to get to know Peter, not to get the gospel from him or get his gospel approved.
In Paul?s second visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30), he came to provide famine relief in response to a prophecy from Agabus (Acts 11:28) who prophesied about a famine in Jerusalem. The date was probably around 46 A.D. or so. This is fourteen years was after his conversion. He took, among others, Barnabas?the man who accepted him as a Christian and went with him on his first missionary journey, and Titus, a Gentile believer.
This was not the Jerusalem Council visit that Paul will allude to later, but this meeting was in private so as to settle differences between leaders. It was not for Paul to get approval but to simply ?inform? them of the revelation of the gospel that Paul had received from Jesus. Paul doesn?t use the word ?Apostles? to refer to the leaders he met with. There is a note of derision here, as the meeting he had was apparently infiltrated by Judaizers who maybe wanted to make trouble for Paul, who was merely stating that Gentiles could become Christians without becoming Jews or being circumcised. The ?real? church leaders were apparently not even there.
But Paul wanted to make sure that the church leaders in Jerusalem had not gone along with the Judaizers and against the direct revelation of God to him. Otherwise he?d be spinning his wheels.
3 ? 4
As a sign that Jerusalem did not disagree with him, he notes that Titus, who was a full-blooded Gentile, had not been asked to become circumcised. So Paul reveals that the issue arose because some Jews (whether Christian or not we don?t know) had snuck into the church and wanted to bring everyone under the Jewish system, with its laws and traditions.
Their philosophy is summed up here: Acts 15:1-2 ?Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: ?Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!?
Notice the motivation was to ?enslave us.? Bringing yourself back under the Law will enslave you to a set of rules, rather than to a freedom-based, dynamic relationship with God.
Isn?t that nice of Paul? Had he not prevailed, we all might have had to submit to Jewish customs and the Mosaic Law. In fact, we?d all be sunk because, as Paul will state in a moment, no one except Jesus has ever been able to actually adhere to the Law.
6 ? 10
Paul isn?t dissing the Apostles, but he is making it clear that he is independent of them, while unified with them. They added nothing to his gospel and even encouraged him in his mission to reach the Gentiles. There is mention of ?remember the poor.? Palestine was a poor area filled with poor people. Interestingly, helping the poor was the exact thing Paul came to do!
11 ? 14
This incident, in Antioch, Syria, may be why Paul is a little guarded in his praise for the Jerusalem church leaders. Antioch, where people were first referred to as ?Christians? was filled with Gentile believers who ate and fellowshipped with Jewish believers. Paul records an incident where when Peter arrived from Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians withdrew from fellowship with the Gentile believers. Paul, standing for the truth, had to confront him, no matter how ?important? he was.
The Judaizers held Peter in high regard and somehow thought he supported their position of making Gentiles Jews first. Even his own partner Barnabas got carried away but Paul would have none of it and confronted them publicly.
Paul knew that Peter had set aside some of the Jewish traditions, like the food laws, and so lived like a Gentile. He is pointing out the hypocrisy of living to impress based on the group you are with.
15 ? 16
Here then, is the crux of Paul?s argument. If you were born a Jew you will always be a Jew. But being a Jew doesn?t make you holy any more than going into a hospital makes you well. You have to be seen by a doctor and have medication or surgery applied in order for healing to take place; otherwise your disease will kill you. It?s the same with the disease of sin. We all have it, it is 100% fatal, but following Jewish customs and the external obedience of the Mosaic Law will not cure you from your sin. We?ll get more to the role of the Law in the next chapters.
Here he makes the definitive statement that ?by the works of the law, no human being will be justified.? Instead, our standing before God comes only through Jesus? fulfillment of the Law, then living that obedience through us. We get that life through trust and reliance (faith) in Him and His work, not ours.
17 ? 18
Paul is basically answering a possible objection to his argument. That is, does relying on faith in Jesus instead of obedience to the law set aside the morality contained in the law? This is a struggle for many Christians. God?s character is God?s character. The goal is the same, to be like God, but the source and methods to arrive there are very different. It all depends on whether you are doing it, or God is going it for you?an external achievement or an internal reality that you often can?t see very well. Just because Christ justifies us doesn?t mean we can live any way we want, but the reality is that we will struggle with the flesh our whole lives, sometimes more than others. That doesn?t mean you go back to obedience when you fail, it means you go back to your knees and ask for God?s forgiveness and cleansing.
To try to rebuild a relationship with God through the Law once you?ve found grace would be the height of folly and actually breaking the Law:
Deut 18:18-19 ?I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name.?
That ?prophet? is Jesus Christ.
Then comes one of my favorite verses in the Bible:
19 ? 20
These verses are so rich they really form the backbone of the entire book.
?Through the law I died to the law? ? Jesus lived a perfect life under the Law of Moses, then was cursed by that same law (Deut 21:23). Just as Christ was raised from the dead into new, indestructible life, we can only ?live? to God through that resurrection, not through our efforts.
So how do we die if it was Christ who died?
?I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.? Paul put it this way in Romans:
Romans 7:4-6 ?Therefore, my brothers, you also were put to death in relation to the law through the crucified body of the Messiah, so that you may belong to another?to Him who was raised from the dead?that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions operated through the law in every part of us and bore fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, since we have died to what held us, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law.?
When Jesus died on the cross, you were there with Him, since He died specifically for your trespasses.
The life you have now is life given to you by Him. Even though you live on in the body (the ?flesh?) that new resurrection life is coursing within you, and when you lay down the ?tent? of your body, God will give you a new one to along with the life in your soul.
So now we live ?by faith? which is the trust and reliance on Jesus? life ? His presence in us, changing us into God?s character, and His promise of coming back for us.
You don?t rely on your abilities to please God, but Jesus? ability to please Him and make you please Him.
The Judaizers were indeed ?setting aside? God?s free gift of new life by pulling people back into the merit-based system of the law. If that was the way it was supposed to work, then there was no reason for Jesus to die.
- Legalism stratifies us ? grace levels us out
- Following a prescribed list of do?s and don?ts dooms you to failure (16), so die with Jesus to the Law and let His life live the Law out in your life
- Legalism is idolatry as you trust in your accomplishments rather than God
- Acting good is an anesthetic that keeps you unaware of the real depth of evil in you!
- Legalism focuses on the list. Faith focuses on God and our relationship with Him
- Legalism can change but only faith and grace can transform
- Don?t let others you respect pull you back into an achievement oriented walk