The Gospel for All: A Lunchtime Confrontation 

All-inclusive.

Who doesn’t love to see those words when you’re booking a cruise or going to a vacation resort? When my wife and I went on our honeymoon to Jamaica, we found out how amazing those two words can be. We could eat at all the Sandals restaurants and order whatever we wanted without paying the bill (except for that little bill I paid before we left the States). But then we encountered multiple people on staff at this all-inclusive resort who wanted a tip: the men who put our bags on the bus, the bus driver from the airport to the resort, the bag boy who brought our bags to our room, etc. All the sudden that “all-inclusive” feel was out the window. I felt a little cheated.

What is my point?

In our interactions with those around us, I’m afraid many of us who claim to believe an all-inclusive gospel for all sinners actually cheat some out of it. We freely and joyfully hold out the living water to those who are like us, while avoiding or withholding it from those who are not like us. Sometimes we even expect something more from them than we do from others before they can receive its benefits.

In Galatians 2, we encounter a rare scene where one Apostle publicly rebukes another for conduct that was, “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). What sort of heinous and ungodly actions were committed that warranted such a public rebuke? Sexual immorality? Drunkenness? Blasphemy? Nope. Switching lunch tables. 

Well at least that’s what it would look like from our perspective. What was so wrong with Peter’s decision to switch lunch tables? Can’t a guy eat with whoever he wants to at mealtime? And isn’t Paul’s open rebuke for something so trivial a little overboard? Maybe this reminds you of school fights in the lunchroom over the most ridiculous things. But Paul isn’t one to make a fuss over trivial matters, especially when it involves rebuking another Apostle. The truth is, Peter’s actions that day were far from innocent.

Jesus had called Simon to be his disciple and renamed him Peter (“rock”). Once a headstrong man with a foot-shaped mouth, Peter became a rock-like leader at Pentecost. Yet here, in a moment of personal weakness, Peter caved to the fear of man (Gal. 2:12b). Of all people, Peter knew the universal scope of the gospel. God had personally given Peter a vision of his intentions to save Jews and Gentiles through faith in Christ, and even sent Peter on the first apostolic mission into Gentile territory where the Spirit fell on those in Cornelius’ household (Acts 10). The issue of salvation for Gentiles became such a big deal that the leaders in Jerusalem called a council to clarify the matter (Acts 15). What was at stake in this council was the gospel itself. Was there hope for anyone outside Judaism? Is there any way possible for Gentiles to be accepted by God or are they all destined to hell forever? Thankfully, the council recognized the Spirit’s regenerating of both Jews and Gentiles and from there on the gospel message was freely offered to both.

Problem solved. Catastrophe diverted. But not quite. Peter knew the gospel was a message of free grace to all who will turn in faith to Christ, but like us, he struggled with national pride. He sometimes acted in ways that communicated another gospel. Not one of grace for all sinners, but one of judgment for those who don’t meet the mark through law-keeping.

Our scene plays out with Peter happily enjoying a meal with his new brothers in Christ from Gentile lands. Smiles and laughter fill the table as food is passed back and forth. Unity abounds and the Spirit is working. Then a door opens and everyone looks. In walk a group of angry-looking Jewish men adorned with their long robes and bushy beards. They look at Peter in disgust and glance with hate at the Gentile believers sitting beside him. The Gentiles move their eyes from these angry men to Peter’s reaction. And they see it. Peter’s demeanor has completely changed.

The once welcoming and happy Peter now looked fearful and serious. The encouraging conversation they were just having was cut short. Peter rose from the table as if he was a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He walked away from these Gentile believers like they all the sudden had contracted a contagious virus. No more eye contact, no more physical contact, no more friendliness. Then, to their dismay, Barnabas also followed suit. Then all the Jewish believers as well. The Gentiles all the sudden felt unclean all over again. The unity they once shared with Jewish believers was severed. Perhaps they thought to themselves, “I thought the blood of Jesus could cleanse all sinners. What about the gospel? Is it all too good to be true after all? If this Apostle and all his Jewish brothers now avoid us like the plague, then are we really forgiven and accepted by God?”

This simple scene of switching tables was presenting a serious threat to the gospel. Someone had to do something and fast. But who? It would have to be someone with the authority of an Apostle.

Enter the Apostle Paul.

The once diehard Jew who persecuted Christians, couldn’t sit still at this scene. He didn’t get up from the table when Peter did. When Paul saw this, he stood only to raise his voice so that all present could hear him. The echo of Paul’s voice through the dining area left everyone stunned in silence. “Peter! If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?” We can only imagine what was going on in Peter’s mind at this point. Perhaps Peter was rushed back to the scene where he had denied Christ for fear of a little girl and the rooster had crowed three times. He had done it again and he knew it. The pain of his foolish actions struck his heart like a sharp arrow and he probably felt he could run away and weep his eyes out all over again. Paul was determined to not only spare his brother Peter from a life dominated by fear, but he also was determined to reassure all Gentile believers that the gospel really is good news for them.

Paul shared this experience with the Galatian believers because he discovered that the old cronies who influenced Peter were trying to influence them to forget the gospel as well. Paul went on to explain to this church, “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:16, 21b).

What about you reader? You’d probably affirm that Christ came to save sinners from all walks of life and we should share the gospel equally with all people. But how does that play out in your life? Are there some that you avoid sharing this message with?

Christianity is an exclusive faith in that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet Christianity is inclusive of all who would come to Christ, no matter race, ethnicity, or past lifestyle choices. Do all groups of people from all walks of life equally feel the same warmth of the gospel pulsating from your life towards them? Those who have engaged in homosexual lifestyles? Those of a Middle Eastern descent? Those of a darker complexion? Those who live on the “other side of the railroad tracks”? Or are you communicating a message to them that says, “You don’t measure up because you’re not the right ethnicity or you’re sins are too grievous or you’re too different”?

Revelation 7:9 tells us that God’s future kingdom in heaven is made up of people from all walks of life who are washed in the blood of Jesus. Let’s make sure we’re expressing the same gospel to those different from us as to those like us.

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The Gospel in Job 9

Job is a hard book to read.  We squirm when we see what happened to Job, we squirm when we recognize the same thing could happen to us, and we seem to squirm even more when we understand God Himself was behind all the events of Job’s life.  Many people point out the suffering and relief of Job in how it points forward to the suffering and exaltation of Christ, but I want to point out something different – something from Job 9:32-33, which says:

“For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him that we should come to trial together.  There is no arbiter between us, who might lay His hand on us both.”

Before you move on from this and back to your duties of the day, stick with me.  In context, Job is frustrated.  He clearly does not know what we know as the readers.  We got to read chapter 1-2 and see the Devil come before the heavenly council ending up with Job to test, and test hard.  But Job does not know why these events have happened and by the time chapter 9 comes into view Job’s friends  have begun telling Job that these things have taken place because he has sinned.  Job responds by pleading the case for his innocence and is clearly frustrated with his friends.

In chapter 9 as he is talking through his frustration, Job mentions something strangely fantastic.  In 9:32-33 Job speaks about his desire for someone to be in between him and God, a mediator of sorts, or an arbiter.  The language of this is precious.  Job is yearning for someone to grab hold of him and grab hold of God and bring the two closer together.  The interesting thing here is that Job feels what every human being feels.  What is this?  We all feel that left to ourselves, God and us are at odds, far away, distant, estranged, and separated.  This feeling of separation from God, which feels more like exclusion, is the sinful human condition which causes most people to do all sorts of wicked things to get closer to God.

What Job desired, what every human longs for, God has already provided.  He has sent His Son into the world to remove the estrangement between Himself and us through the work of His Son Jesus Christ.  Galatians 4 says it like this:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Because God has sent His Son into the world, we can be estranged from Him no longer.  What Job desired, trusted in, had faith in, and looked at from a distance – we can taste for real.

Does God Stand Against You?

How many of you are fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien? How many have read Lord of the Rings? How many have read The Hobbit? Well, it doesn’t take long to notice I’m a huge Tolkien nut when you enter my office and see all the characters from all the movies atop my bookshelf in the form of Pez figurines.

It’s a funny thing when you make a book into a movie isn’t it? There’s so much material in the book that is often hard to reproduce the same story in film. One interesting thing the director Peter Jackson has done with Tolkien’s works is to make both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit into trilogies. Each movie is then given a specific title pertaining to its place in the overall plotline. Now whether or not you agree with what Peter Jackson is doing when he chooses these titles is a matter for another time, what I want to draw your attention to is the title to the second film in the Hobbit trilogy. It’s called – The Desolation of Smaug. It’s a perfect title for this second film because the word “desolation” draws attention to the utter misery the dragon Smaug brings upon the Dwarvish kingdom of Erebor and the neighboring city Dale. These kingdoms were wealthy beyond belief, sturdy, secure, seemingly safe. They were the kingdoms of renown in Middle Earth. Yet, when Smaug came, desolation came with him. Anguish, ruin, decay, despair, violence, poverty, isolation and bleakness came upon these people. This is not so different to what took place in Nahum’s prophecy over the city of Nineveh; ruin, decay, anguish, violence, utter-misery, a whole people being cut off. Except in Nineveh’s case there was no dragon fire, there was something worse, the consuming fire of the wrath of God.

Recall the context of Nahum as we enter into chapter 2. The prophet Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh and they repented. Close to 120-150 years later we learn that though genuine, the repentance of Nineveh didn’t last long, perhaps it only lasted for that generation that heard Jonah. Well, their wickedness not only returned but grew in its violence, and into this violent city a century later God sends another prophet, Nahum, not with a message of grace like Jonah, but with a message of judgment. In chapter 1 of Nahum we see the Divine Warrior speaking to both Nineveh and to Judah. He speaks a comforting word to His people and says He will crush the Assyrian capitol of Nineveh and bring their wickedness to an end. It is a harsh and terror filled word for Nineveh to hear this Divine Warrior say He will make of end of them quickly. Once we enter into Nahum 2 we see this Divine Warrior begin His assault on Nineveh and carry out the judgments He had previously announced in chapter 1.

Notice the “Call to Arms” in 2:1. As we saw God mock Nineveh and its leaders by calling them names in Nahum 1:10-11, so too we see God toy with Nineveh using more satire, mockery, and ridicule in Nahum 2:1. “The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts, watch the road, dress for battle, collect your strength.” Though God is the Divine Warrior with no equal, He calls His enemy to meet Him in battle, ready, watchful, and full of strength. He does this even though it is painfully obvious who the winner of this matchup will be. This is not a David vs. Goliath battle, this is not mono e mono fight, this infinite Creator ablaze in His glory is lining up against finite creation aware of its own imperfection and weakness.

“Meet me in battle the Lord says, prepare your strength, do everything you can do to get ready, I am upon you and I will scatter you!”

This makes me think of a truth given to us in the letter to the Galatians.  Though God may mock His enemies, He can never be mocked Himself: “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked…” (Galatians 6:7)

Abraham, Moses, Paul, and Jesus – Unified Entirety

A Brief Description Denoting the Intricate Relationship, Comparison, and Connection of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants in Direct Relation to their Application to the Letter of Paul to the Church in Galatia, particularly 3:15-18

Galatians 3:15-18

“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.  This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”

Definitions

1) Abrahamic Covenant: Where God promised: 1) To make of Abraham a great nation and bless Abraham and make his name great so that he will be a blessing, to bless those who bless him and curse him who curses him. All peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham. 2) To give Abraham’s descendants all the promised land. 3) To make Abraham the father of many nations and of many descendants and give “the whole land of Canaan” to his descendants. (See Genesis 12-17) Circumcision is to be the permanent sign of this everlasting covenant with Abraham and his male descendants.

2) Mosaic Covenant: Where God promises to make the Israelites His treasured possession among all people and to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation if they follow God’s commandments (Exodus 19-24).

The Relation of the Covenants to Galatians 3:15-18

God made a covenant promise to Abraham and this promise will stand forever. Because God made another covenant promise with His people through Moses at Sinai does not mean the former covenant made to Abraham is void and no longer needed. The two covenants, though different in content and application for the people of God, find their the fulfillment in Jesus. The Abrahamic Covenant is fulfilled in Jesus, because He is the one Descendant who’ll bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). The Mosaic Covenant is fulfilled in Jesus, because He is only One who can keep the Law of God, which points out our need for Christ (Galatians 3:24) and reveals the righteousness provided to us through His Law-keeping (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Bottom line? When God interacts with His people He does so through covenant. All of the covenants (Covenant of Works, Covenant of Grace, Noahic Covenant, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic Covenant, Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant) contain requirements of the people of God, and more so exist to point to Jesus, find their fulfillment in Jesus, and reveal glorious things about Jesus.

F: The Fruit of the Spirit – The Absent “S”

Galatians 5 holds the passage we refer to as the “fruit of the Spirit.”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

This passage, though much loved, is often misunderstood because people add an “s” to the end of one word. What I mean is that Paul says these above characteristics are the “fruit” of the Spirit, while most call them the “fruits” of the Spirit. Notice the “s?” Does this matter? YES! If we hold that there are “fruits” of the Spirit, than we could rightly interpret the verse as saying just that, there are fruits of the Spirit of God that are commonly found among the Church. Not everyone has them all, but they’re all present within the Church as a whole. This is wrong, wicked even.

THERE IS NO “s” on the end of “fruit.” Therefore, we can correctly interpret the verse to mean that once one becomes a believer in Jesus, the Spirit of God will begin to produce His fruit in our lives. This fruit, consists and contains all of the above characteristics. The implication of this correct view is that ALL of this “fruit” must be present in our lives to some degree. We’re not free to say, “I have kindness, but not patience.” or “I’ve got goodness, but no self-control.” If we’ve been born again by the Spirit of God, the Spirit will produce His fruit in us. If the Spirit is there in you – every characteristic of His fruit will be present (although not fully) as well.

Application: Have you been banking on that “s” to cover up your unholy life? If you cannot find at least an ounce of all of these characteristics in your life, you must ask yourself if you really know Jesus. Because those that know Jesus, have the Spirit, and those who have the Spirit, have His fruit.