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22 March 2019

Being good never justified anyone. Only faith does that.

Contrary to dispensationalists, this isn’t a new system introduced by Jesus. This has always been how God saved the world.

Galatians 3.5-11.

Dispensationalism—the belief God saved people one way (or various ways) in the Old Testament, but saves us by grace in the current era—is far too common in Christendom. Pretty deeply embedded, too: Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody will pipe up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They won’t mean, as John did in that reference, that Jesus is the one who made grace possible throughout all of human history. They mean grace didn’t even begin till Jesus came around. That people in the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

Nor have the really read Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a one of them in context. Paul taught salvation always came by grace. Comes by grace today; came by grace in Old Testament times. True, how salvation works was a mystery before Jesus—meaning we didn’t yet have the details of how God saved people. But Jesus came to earth and revealed it, so now we do. And grace was always the center of the plan.

As proven by the fact whenever Paul used proof texts, he didn’t quote Jesus: He quoted the Old Testament. Yep, the part of the bible dispys claim is entirely out-of-date old-covenant stuff. In fact a whole lot of Paul’s quotes actually come from the Law. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? Hence Paul made reference to them repeatedly.

As he does in today’s text.

Galatians 3.5-11 KWL
5 So is giving you the Spirit, working power among you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
6 Like Abraham “trusted God and was deemed righteous by it.” Ge 15.6
7 So understand this: These “children of faith” are like Abraham.
8 The scripture, foreseeing how God justifies gentiles by their faith,
fore-presented the gospel through Abraham—that “all gentiles will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 Hence those who act by faith are blessed with Abraham’s faith.
10 Whoever works the Law is under its curse, for this is written:
“Everyone who doesn’t persevere in doing all this book of the Law’s writings, is cursed.” Dt 27.26
11 Clearly no one’s justified under the Law:
“The righteous will live by faith.” Ha 2.4

Y’see, legalists were trying to teach the Galatians they had to follow the Law to be saved. You know, exactly like dispensationalists claim people in Old Testament times were saved. But if that were true—if the Law actually had been the way to salvation in the time before Christ Jesus—Paul would’ve presented an entirely different argument. He’d have used the very same line “New Testament Christians” regularly try to use on me: “That’s the old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone. I may have been a Christian decades longer than these “New Testament Christian” folks, but somehow they know it all.)

Y'see, the legalists had told the Galatians they had to follow the Law. And if the Law had legitimately been the way to salvation under some previous dispensation, Paul would've presented an entirely different argument. Namely the one “New Testament Christians” try to use on me: “That's the old covenant. We're under the new covenant.” (Don't forget the condescending tone, 'cause even though I've been Christian decades longer than they, somehow they know it all.)

But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul didn’t take that tack whatsoever. Not even close. He didn’t tell the Galatians, “Those guys are operating out of the old dispensation; Christ inaugurated a new one; get with the program.” It’s “I’m wondering at how you so quickly switched from your calling in Christ’s grace to another “gospel”—which isn’t another gospel.” Ga 1.6-7 KWL It’s the order that whenever anyone teaches other than grace, ban them. Quit letting ’em teach! Ga 1.8-9

20 March 2019

How’d you go from grace to legalism?

It’s not just a question for the Galatians. Loads of Christians repeat their mistake.

Galatians 3.1-4.

Because humans are selfish, we’d honestly prefer the world work to our satisfaction: We get maximum output with minimal effort, or get freebies and special favor, and who cares whether everybody else does; and if others wrong us, we take it out of ’em sevenfold. But on humanity’s better days, we’re willing to accept reciprocity and karma. In fact we look at karma as an ideal: It’s fair. It’s just. Everybody gets what they deserve. It’s considered right and moral, and it’s even upheld in many a religion. Even ours. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and all that.Ex 21.24 God forbade satisfaction and revenge, ’cause we always go way too far. But reciprocity’s acceptable.

Of course I remind you God’s personal practice, his ideal for his followers, is grace. Is for us to not be fair, but generous and forgiving in other people’s favor. He’s gracious to us, so we need to be gracious to others. ’Cause if we don’t pay it forward, he’ll actually stop.

Problem is, humanity uplifts karma so much, we dismiss grace in its favor. Radical forgiveness is “unrealistic”—is idealism, is bleeding-heart liberalism, is coddling people who will just take advantage of your generosity. (You know, exactly like Christians who take advantage of God’s grace.) It’s why we have Christians who actually teach against grace. In its place, we get the Christianist idea that God only gives us a nice afterlife. But in this life, you gotta work for whatever you get; God’s freebies are limited to eternal life and New Jerusalem, and that’s it.

This is why legalism slips into Christianity so very easily. Once God initially saves us, that’s as much as he does on his end. Everything else is stuff we earn, on our own steam. You want Jesus to grant you a fancier crown when he returns? You gotta work for the baubles. Do good deeds. Do some ministries. Share the gospel with pagans; you get a jewel for every new soul you bring to Jesus. And if those new converts share Jesus with still others, you get a little bit of credit for them too. It’s God’s multi-level marketing program.

In this way, the gospel begins with God coming near to us to save us… and devolves into us chasing God lest our relationships with him evaporate. They turn into legalism. Happens all the time; even in churches which denounce legalism. Because karma is so embedded in human culture, we fall back on it by default, and wind up teaching it instead of grace.

That’s the answer to Paul’s rhetorical question, “What put a spell on you?” The Galatians had missed the point of good works. They‘re how people live now that we’re saved. Not how we stay in God’s good graces. Not how we guard our salvation, keep our salvation, even earn extra salvation in one of heaven’s higher levels. These ideas are mighty common in Christendom, but run wholly contrary to Jesus’s self-sacrifice, in which he paid for everything. Seriously, everything.

Galatians 3.1-3 KWL
1 Unthinking Galatians. What put a spell on you?
Before your very eyes, Christ Jesus was presented as crucified.
2 I only want to know this from you: Is the Spirit given to you
by working the Law, or by hearing and trusting?
3 This is why you’re unthinking: You started in the Spirit, and now you finish in the flesh.
4 Did you suffer so much for nothing? (Because if you’re right, it’s really for nothing.)

Yeah, a lot of translations like to render verse 1, “You stupid Galatians” or “Oh foolish Galatians.” ’Cause yes, the opposite of wisdom is stupidity, and if the Galatians weren’t being wise, they were of course acting like morons. But these terms come across more harsh than the word Paul used, ἀνόητοι/anóhiti, “not [using one’s] mind” or “not thinking.” The Galatians had skipped a few steps in their reasoning. Their life in God’s kingdom began by hearing the gospel and believing it. So how had they since come to the conclusion their salvation was in any way based on the commands of the Law?

Well, like I said: Humanity thinks reciprocity is important, so humans insert reciprocity into our religion. Exactly where it doesn’t belong.

19 March 2019

By Law we’re good as dead. So live for Jesus.

Being freed from the Law’s consequences doesn’t mean we ignore it. It still defines goodness.

Galatians 2.14-21.

To recap: Simon Peter (whom Paul calls Κηφᾶς/Kifás in this passage, ’cause that’s his Aramaic name כיפא/Kifá Jn 1.42), in a lapse of judgment, was segregating himself from gentiles. Paul objected ’cause Peter’s motivation wasn’t based on the gospel, but on legalism: We’re not right with God, nor saved, because we obey the Law. We’re right by trusting God, and only by trusting God.

Galatians 2.14-16 KWL
14 But when I saw they weren’t orthodox with the gospel’s truth, I spoke to Kifa in front of everyone:
“If you Jews live gentile, not ‘Jewish,’ why do you obligate gentiles to live ‘Jewish’?
15 We’re naturally Jews, not gentile sinners:
16 We know people aren’t right with God by working the Law. It’s through trusting Christ Jesus.
We put our trust in Christ Jesus so we can be right with God through a faith in Christ.
Not in working the Law: No flesh is right with God by working the Law.”

Peter knew this stuff already, but that’s the thing about legalism: We’ll get so fixated on being good, we’ll forget it’s the cart, not the horse. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, but how’d we get the Spirit? By being good? No; by trusting God, who in response sealed us with his Spirit. Goodness doesn’t come first; humanity is too messed up for that. We gotta begin with faith. We gotta trust God to save us. Which he graciously will, not as a reward for goodness, but as a response to our trust in him.

Paul goes on, so let’s go on.

Galatians 2.17-21 KWL
17 If we who strive to be right with God in Christ, are also found to be sinners ourselves,
does Christ justify the sin? Absolutely not!
18 For if I destroy something, then build it again, I demonstrate I myself was wrong.
19 For because of Law, by Law I’m good as dead… so I can live for God!
I’ve been crucified with Christ. 20 I no longer live. Christ lives!—in me.
The life I now live in flesh, I live by trusting God’s Son, who loves me and handed himself over for me.
21 But I don’t set aside God’s grace!
For if being right with God came through Law, Christ died for nothing.

Paul’s academy trained him in rhetoric, so he knew how to give speeches and how to debate. Whenever Paul states “Absolutely not” (Greek μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghénito, “it ought not be”), it’s in response to the sort of counter-argument someone might raise against him. Possibly he heard this argument from the legalists in the Antioch church: “You claim you’re following Jesus. But you sin. Everybody sins. You shouldn’t, but you do. So are you saying Jesus is okay with your sins? It’s fine with him if you sin? (Because certainly we would never say this.)”

So Paul preemptively deals with that one: No it’s not okay to sin. No Jesus doesn’t nullify the Law so that our sins are no longer sins. Paul’s not saying that. Nobody’s saying that. Just because we’re anti-legalism doesn’t mean we’re anti-Law. That’s a common mixup; one both legalists and Law-breakers use to their advantage. Legalists use it to accuse us of being unrepentant sinners; libertarians use it to be unrepentant sinners and call it “anti-legalism.” And Christians tend to skip Paul’s answer, or claim it means something entirely different, and use it to defend legalism or libertarianism, depending on their biases. They’re both wrong. Paul upheld the Law, Ro 3.31 but understood its proper place: It’s the cart, not the horse. Grace is the cart.

18 March 2019

Paul challenges Simon Peter.

Because it’s so easy to fall into hypocrisy.

Galatians 2.11-16.

Today’s passage is, as the title says, about Paul challenging Simon Peter. Because he had to: Peter had behaved one way when he first came to visit Antioch, but as soon as the legalists showed up, Peter was behaving another way. Paul identified it as hypocrisy—hey, anybody can fall into it with the right kind of peer pressure—although maybe Peter was legitimately swayed by the legalists’ arguments. But either way Peter was profoundly wrong, and Paul had to tell him so.

(And I remind you Paul frequently refers to Peter as Κηφᾶς/Kifás, a transliteration of כיפא/Kifá, Aramaic for “rock”—the original nickname Jesus gave him. Jn 1.42)

Galatians 2.11-16 KWL
11 When Simon Kifa came to Antioch, I personally stood against him, because he was wrong.
12 For before certain people came from James, Kifa was eating with gentiles.
Once they came, he withdrew and segregated himself, afraid of the circumcision party.
13 The other Jews were hypocrites with Kifa; so much so, Barnabas was led into hypocrisy with them!
14 But when I saw they weren’t orthodox with the gospel’s truth, I spoke to Kifa in front of everyone:
“If you Jews live gentile, not ‘Jewish,’ why do you obligate gentiles to live ‘Jewish’?
15 We’re naturally Jews, not gentile sinners:
16 We know people aren’t right with God by working the Law. It’s through trusting Christ Jesus.
We put our trust in Christ Jesus so we can be right with God through a faith in Christ.
Not in working the Law: No flesh is right with God by working the Law.”

I’ll dig into Paul’s reasoning in a moment, but first I gotta tackle a few things. First, how this passage is really, really popular with Christian know-it-alls.

Y’see, they use it to defend their practice of criticizing Christian leaders. ’Cause Peter, they figure, was a significant Christian leader. He’s St. Peter. The guy whom Roman Catholics treat like Jesus’s vice-president. The guy we imagine as heaven’s doorman, letting people in or keeping ’em out, loosely based on Jesus telling Peter he was getting the kingdom’s keys. Mt 16.19 He was Jesus’s best student, the guy with two letters in the New Testament, the guy who preached on the first Christian Pentecost; the guy who first brought the gospel to gentiles, the guy who raised the dead and cured the sick and got miraculously freed from prison. That Simon Peter.

Yeah, after reading the gospels and seeing how Jesus had to correct Peter so frequently, we know the guy wasn’t infallible. It’s why Jesus didn’t designate one vice-president, but 12 apostles. Leaders need an accountability structure. But that structure should consist of mature Christians of good character… and know-it-alls lack good character. They’re proud, impatient, argumentative, and otherwise produce bad fruit. But they justify themselves by pointing to Paul: “He had to correct Peter, and in the same way I have to take leaders down a few notches when they go wrong.”

So what they enjoy about this passage is Paul sticking it to Peter. But “sticking it to him” is not what was going on here.

11 March 2019

Holy communion: Regularly eating and drinking Jesus.

An introduction to Christianity’s most frequent ritual.

Holy communion, or “communion” for short, refers to the Christian ritual where we repeat what Jesus did during his last Passover with his students:

Mark 14.22-25 KWL
22 As they ate, Jesus took bread; blessed, broke, and gave it to the students,
and said, “Take it. This is my body.”
23 Taking a cup, giving a blessing, Jesus gave it to the students, and all drank from it.
24 Jesus told them, “This is the blood of my relationship, poured out for many.
25 Amen! I promise you I might never drink the product of the vineyard again
—till that day I drink it new in God’s kingdom.”

Roughly we do the same thing. There’s bread, wafers, matzo, saltines, oyster crackers, or those little Chiclet-size pills of flour you can buy by the case; there’s wine, non-alcoholic wine, grape juice, grape-flavored juice (made with 10 percent juice, which I like to call “10 percent Jesus”), or grape drink; Christians ritually eat it ’cause it represents Jesus’s self-sacrificial death. And we’re to do it till he officially comes back. 1Co 11.26

Holy communion is more of a Protestant term. Orthodox and Catholic Christians call it eucharist, from the Greek εὐχαριστέω/evharistéo, “to bless” or “to give thanks,” like Jesus did when he blessed the bread and wine. Christians also call it “the Lord’s supper,” “the Lord’s table,” “the divine service,” “the breaking of bread,” and for a lot of Catholics just “the sacrament”—the one they do all the time, as opposed to the other sacraments.

But communion emphasizes the fact we’re connected to Jesus. And to one another, through our relationship with him. For a lot of Christians, that’s why we do holy communion: It’s a reminder we’re Christ’s body, 1Co 12.27 which is why we just ate a little bit of him.

Well, not literally ate him.

Well… some Christians are entirely sure we do literally eat him. ’Cause they take the bible literally, so when Jesus said, “This is my body,” they figure he’s not kidding: It is his body. He turned it into his body. He still turns it into his body; as soon as the bread gets blessed for holy communion, hocus pocus (or in the original Latin, hoc est enim corpus meum, “this is my body,”) and now it’s Jesus. All the bread’s atoms got swapped with Jesus’s atoms.

The rest of us are pretty sure Jesus was using a metaphor, although Christians vary as to how far the metaphor goes. Martin Luther figured Jesus is spiritually (maybe sorta physically too?—but it’s debatable) with the bread and wine, but of course they don’t literally change into Jesus. But for most Protestants they’re just symbols which represent Jesus.

I gotta say, though: If your church is using stale bread and cheap juice to represent Jesus, you’re doing a pathetic job of representing him. Put some effort into it, Christians! Yeesh.