Boast in Christ

“As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh … that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ”

Galatians 6:12

The apostle Paul is addressing those Christians who are not living in a manner consistent with what he has written in this letter. The reason they are not living that way is that they are trying to avoid criticism and persecution from those who choose to live by moral and ritualistic law. They were boasting in their carnal achievements in keeping that law. To avoid criticism they conceal their faith in Christ alone and speak of their fulfillment of the law. Paul denounces that as hypocritical. All any Christian has of which to boast is Christ crucified and risen again (v 14).

Obedience to a code of law or disobedience makes no difference. What is absolutely essential is “a new creation” (v 15). Unless one is born of God he is not saved. The new creation that we are in Christ is what God does and not what we do and therefore we have nothing of which to boast.

Jeremiah, in accord with Paul, wrote, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me” (9:23-24a). The one who strives to appear wise in the world is a fool before God. The one who is wise before God will appear foolish to the world. To avoid the persecution of criticism we can boast of our moral and ritualistic performance. That may make us appear wise to carnal, nominal Christians and the world but it persecutes Christ’s people who choose to identify with Christ.

Paul tells us that there is no fence-sitting here. We are either with Christ or persecuting Christ. He ought to know because he had persecuted Christ by persecuting His church with religious zeal. He only had a change of heart when he met Jesus and it was revealed to him who Jesus is and what He has done for him. It was then God was able to make him a new creation.

We may boast that we sing the right songs, pray the right prayers have communion at the right frequency, use the right translation of the Bible and have the right doctrines but these avail nothing unless we are born of God and are therefore a new creation in Christ. “… who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

A New Creation

“As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Jesus” Galatians 6:12

Paul had already addressed the matter of allowing false teachers to seduce Christians into falsely representing Christ and the Gospel. There were Jews who tried to compel Gentile Christians to be circumcised and live under the Mosaic Law. Even Peter had been persuaded to compromise under pressure from the Jews (2:11-14). Peter’s compromise led to Barnabas and other believing Jews also playing the hypocrite with him (2:13).

In the verse quoted above we note that the reason for their compromise was to avoid some degree of persecution. Peter, Barnabas and other Christians had buckled under the pressure of those who wanted to bring them under the bondage of the law and thus they falsely represented Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Much of this letter of Paul addresses this false teaching (i.e. 2:16-17; 3:24-25).

In the closing words of his letter Paul exhorts Christians to resist being drawn or seduced into coming under the bondage of the law. The enemies of Christ and the Gospel will employ the threat of or actual persecution in an attempt to persuade us to revert to their carnal way of thinking. The ways that Satan uses to achieve this have not changed. He will undermine the validity of key parts of the Bible or try and discredit those who proclaim the Gospel. This he had achieved with Peter and Barnabas until Paul rebuked them. Trying to appease those who proclaim a bondage type of gospel is not an act of Christian love because it communicates a false gospel that cannot save. Many who profess to be Christians are still deceived into believing that belonging to a particular religious order or living a humanly imposed moral standard or ritualised life will give them entrance to heaven. Paul puts those notions to death by saying that none of these have any bearing on where we spend eternity. In Adam we inherit sin and death. What we need is a new heredity. That is only possible in Christ and Paul writes that it will take an act of the Creator (6:15).

In Christ Christians are free from the requirements of the law because Jesus Christ fulfilled those requirements on our behalf. However that does not mean we should indulge the carnal nature. Having been created new in the likeness of Christ we will want to live as He lived expressing the new nature we have in Him.

Writing Scripts

“You were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord” Jeremiah 42:20

The small, unprotected and disorganised remnant of Judah that remained in Judea must have felt vulnerable and unsafe. Those who had obeyed the Lord and surrendered to the king of Babylon were safe but removed from the land. Of those who had not obeyed the Lord most were now dead and only these few remained.

The armies of Babylon had gone home but they still felt that the Lord’s hand was heavy upon them and they were at risk. Since everything Jeremiah had prophesied had come to pass they went to him and asked him to seek the Lord’s counsel.

They promised that they would obey the Lord regardless of “whether it is pleasing or displeasing” (v 6) but the Lord knew their hearts and was determined to reveal their hypocrisy. What is revealed is that they had already chosen what they would do and were just seeking the Lord’s confirmation. This is often the way people relate to God when they do not have a genuine personal relationship with Him.

We need to be careful that we do not follow the example of these people. When we pray we should make up our minds to do as He reveals regardless of the response. Let us be sure that we have not already settled our direction before we hear the Lord’s response to our prayer. If we have, we will make up scenarios or accounts of events that will seemingly justify our actions even when contrary to God’s revelation and word to us. True prayer allows the Lord to respond as He chooses with the full intention of obeying whether it seems pleasing to us or not.

The people who came to Jeremiah with this request received a wonderful response – stay where they are and God would be their provider and protector until all Israel was brought back. If they chose to disregard and disobey the word of the Lord, contrary to their promise, they would suffer the very thing they sought to escape.

They had already made up their minds and instead of believing God’s revelation concerning past events and their current situation, they invented their own version that would make their decision look reasonable (44:16-19). In so doing they called God a liar (43:2). The Lord’s response to these people was, “Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves” (44:7). It is so illogical for people to choose against the revealed will of God. One can only wonder at how often we have rewritten our own history so as to put ourselves in a good light when in fact we are disobeying the word of the Lord.

The issue was not so much about where they should be physically but where their heart is toward the Lord. The same is true for us. The Lord will also test our heart motives in prayer. He doesn’t do this to harm us but to reveal where our heart really is so that our relationship with Him may become more intimate. God’s warnings were for Judah’s good, as they are for us, so let us take Him at His word and not try and write our own scripts.

Things Above

“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)

Since Paul has written that some things are of no value it should get our attention and an attempt to know what those things are so we can avoid them. He has made a comparison between the Gospel of Christ with regard to our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection and manmade religious regulations (v 21).

There is religion that appears to be wisdom but it is not from God, it is “self-imposed religion.” In other words, it is created in the minds and imaginations of people. It is an attempt to appear pious or spiritual and perhaps even to attempt to gain favour with God without Christ or just giving Him lip service. Our fallen nature is corrupt with pride and works in subtle ways such that we want to be able to say to Jesus, “Look at what I have done for You.” This is nothing short of pride but our deceitful hearts will dress it up to counterfeit humble service if we are not careful.

It is most certainly appropriate to take care of our bodies and even to discipline our bodies as Paul writes that He did. However, it is possible that pride may move us to go beyond what is necessary and also to think that we gain favour with God just for this discipline. The sure evidence that our motive is wrong is that we hold a dim view of those who don’t measure up to our self-imposed standards or practices. Paul continues saying that no matter how much self-discipline we apply to our bodies it will not bring about spirituality. Neither will it keep us from sinning.

All the religious practices that God gave to Israel were only “shadows” (v 17). A shadow has no substance. It is not real. It has no power. The real “substance” is Jesus Christ. Hence Paul had earlier written, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). This is why Paul goes on to write, “Since you were raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on the things of the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

By all means we should care for our bodies and our world but that can never be a substitute for a personal intimate relationship with the living and risen Jesus Christ. Even the God ordained rituals given to Israel are only a shadow without substance. They are the shadow of Jesus Christ and it is He that we seek and set our minds on.

No Debate

“Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yes, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance, and I will not arbitrate with a man.” Isaiah 47:3

It appears that many people think that God is much like our legal system that can be moved to give puny sentences, even for fairly serious criminal offences, or even be given what amounts to a non-sentence – a “good behaviour” bond.

After being found guilty of a crime lawyers do their best to get their client off the hook so far as penalty is concerned. They may claim it is someone else’s fault or the result of unexpected circumstances. They may try and shift the blame to society, to parents, to friends or just being with the wrong crowd; anything in an attempt to reduce their client’s responsibility. An appeal that it is “out of character” is always false. We all act according to our character. An offender may come to court with an outward appeal that is unrecognisable to their friends. A new suite, neat hair and groomed in all outward appearance including body attitude and facial expression; anything that gives an appearance of righteousness is appropriated.

Anyone who thinks that God can be fooled by this hypocrisy will be bitterly disappointed. The unforgiven sinner who appears before Him will be wholly exposed as to his guilt as one naked before God. There will be no hiding behind the excuses that one may use in an earthly court and no one will be cleared by blaming the devil. He did not make them do it.

Isaiah 47:4 reminds us that God is holy and is therefore unable to allow sin in His presence. This is the basis of God’s judgment. He is holy, He is sinless and totally without corruption.

Anyone who thinks they will be able to debate or argue with God with regard to entrance into His kingdom is grievously mistaken. He says that He “will not arbitrate with a man.” Each person will have to accept responsibility for their own choices and actions. They will not be able to shift blame and they will be held accountable.

But there is good news! Christ Jesus died for our sin! Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We cannot gain eternal life or entrance into heaven by attempting to mitigate our culpability or reduce the penalty for sin. God will not arbitrate. However, we may gain eternal life and heaven as a gift but that gift is bound up in Jesus Christ. John writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (1:12, 13). Later John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

If we try and debate with God about our sin He will not hear or participate. He knows all there is to know and He judges with perfect justice. However if we agree with His judgment of our sin and the due penalty He pleads with us to ask Him to forgive us our sin as a gift; the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Religious Activity or Resurrection Life

“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33

Religious activity and resurrection life cannot coexist. When the resurrection life of Jesus Christ comes religious activity ceases. Likewise, when one indulges in religious activity, resurrection life will be lost. Matthew 23 is one of a number of passages that record Jesus words to men who chose religious activity over life.

The men that Jesus says are still under condemnation were men who taught the Scriptures (vv 3); were present at all the religious functions (v 6); were active in and well respected by the community (v 7); they were enthusiastic in evangelism (v 15); they respected the house of God (v 16f); they were meticulous in giving the tithe (v 23) and in righteousness (vv 25-28); and they honoured the former prophets of God (v 30). They were also regular in prayer and fasting (9:14; 23:14) yet for all this, Jesus says, they remained condemned. The answer is in verse five, “they do to be seen of men.” These people believe that spiritual life is obtained through performance and so that is where their focus lay, in themselves and in others.

People who are interested in religious activity will express it in criticism, obstruction and a superior attitude toward those who are truly living resurrection life. They will be critical as the Pharisees and scribes were of Jesus and His disciples because Jesus and His disciples did not act in accordance with their understanding of the Scriptures. They believe they are superior to those who are humble before the Lord (Luke 18:9-14).

Religious activity does not only apply to false religions but sadly it is also in the Christian church. In John 10:10 Jesus is recorded as saying, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” He says “life” not activity. We must not confuse activity and life. The difference lies in the motive of the heart.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and, “I am the true vine … abide in Me and I in you … without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 4, 5). Apart from this life we may exhaust ourselves with activity for no spiritual fruit. When the Lord’s assessment of our works is revealed it would be immeasurably sad to discover that all we have produced is wood, hay and straw that will be destroyed by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

When we complain about the structure and administration of the church and make no comment about the lack of resurrection life are we not merely practicing religious activity? Do we grieve over the lack of people receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and being discipled? Do we complain that the baptistery remains dry? Do we mourn for the lost?

We cannot change others by coercion or manipulation. That is not God’s way. It is a work of the Holy Spirit within the heart. We are able to ask and let Him change ourselves. Let us not mistake religious activity for resurrection life. If we do we will rob ourselves and our children of that which Jesus freely offers. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:14). “I am the bread of life” “I am the … life” (John 6:48; 14:6).

The Truth Revealed

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:19, 20

God has given us the planetary system for several very useful purposes and one of them is to note the passing of time. Most of us know our age and could readily state it if asked. Some may be inclined to be less than honest in their answer. The passing of years is also helpful to remind us that we are not going to be on this earth forever and we would do well to reflect on the direction our lives are taking and the ultimate destiny at which we will arrive.

James makes it very clear in his letter that what we do is the outworking of what we believe. That being the case, reflection will reveal what we really believe and what we are. It is very easy to say we believe certain things but our actions and attitudes, our likes and dislikes, will reveal the truth of the matter. What we may say may be proven to be a lie by what we do; or it may confirm that belief.

The Bible states in many ways that salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone and it also states that such faith will bring about certain attitudes and behaviours in accord with that faith. James throws out the challenge to show faith without works knowing full well that it is impossible (v 18). It isn’t that good attitude, behaviour or works merits salvation, but that genuine salvation will produce good works. The evidence that a dead person has been raised is that they express the attributes of life. Among other things, they will move, speak, eat and sleep so that we can see they are alive. The same is true of one dead in trespasses and sins whom God has made alive to God (Ephesians 2:4-10).

While the passing from one year to another is no different from any other day passing to the next we can use this marker of the orbit of earth around the sun to measure not just the passing of time but also our growth in faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul often spoke in terms of pressing on toward Christ and knowing Him more intimately (Philippians 3:10). When taking time for reflection we will come to a more reliable evaluation provided we do not look only into our intellectual belief but at what our attitudes have been and the kind of behaviour they produce. Do they indicate that we have been drawing ever nearer to Jesus, that we have been serving His interests or that we have been serving our interests?  In reflection does our life match the direction that John the Baptist made his aim, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30)?

It is interesting that in his letter James poses this as a question rather than as a statement. “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” It may be that the pride in us would rather not know that the lack of godly expression in our attitudes and behaviour reveals the lack of Jesus Christ in our lives.