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.

Ancestry Matters

Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old?” John 3:4

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in ancestry. Online access to data enables us to discover some of our ancestry without even leaving home. There is also a television program dedicated to searching out the ancestry of well known people. There have been surprises one way or the other. All kinds of questions may turn out to have unexpected answers.

One thing is certain and that is that if we are able to trace our ancestry back a hundred or so generations we would discover that we all have Noah and his wife as ancestors. If we follow that back further we discover that we are all descendants of Adam and Eve. As descendants of Adam we inherit the curse that his sin brought – death to intimacy with his Creator evidenced by bodily death (Genesis 2:17; 3:17-19). The consequence is that all of Adam’s descendants have inherited a sin nature, no intimacy with our Creator and bodily death.

We are helpless to change our ancestry. That is history and no amount of rewriting will change the fact. People who try to rewrite history by denying our ancestry in Adam and replacing it with a fiction story are only deceiving themselves and fail to understand Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’ question. Rather than rewriting history we need to have our ancestry actually changed. Hence we have Nicodemus’ question that ordinarily would defy an answer.

When Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again (born from above)” (John 3:3) He was saying that he needed a new ancestry. Not surprisingly Nicodemus realised that this was humanly impossible. On another occasion Jesus said. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). This is essentially what Jesus was endeavouring to communicate to Nicodemus. What was necessary in order for Nicodemus to enter the Kingdom of God was impossible with men but not with God.

Everyone trying to enter God’s Kingdom by their own effort will fail because he cannot change his ancestry. John made this clear in the early part of his Gospel. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ is the condition that must be met and then God will create us new in Christ. That which is impossible with men God achieves in response to faith in Christ.

By the birth of Jesus into the world and the His death and resurrection He is able to change our ancestry from the first Adam to the last Adam, Himself. In Christ alone we have God as our Father.

Spiritual Health

“Until Christ is formed in you” Galatians 4:19

When a baby is born the expectation is that the baby will grow to be a toddler, a child, a teenager and to adulthood. This growth is not just physical but also mental, emotional and social. We all recognise that something is wrong if any of these things do not occur simultaneously with the others and at appropriate times.

Learning and maturing take place through parental and other teaching processes and the numerous experiences that a person endures from birth. All this is just head knowledge unless translated by life’s experiences. How many times have we had to learn the hard way? We may forget or disregard instruction and that has led to painful consequences. The wise person will make the most of these opportunities and learn from them.

When a person is “born from above” Jesus Christ is “born” in them by the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and the natural expectation is that the spiritually newly born will grow to spiritual maturity. We call it “new birth” and “born again” in recognition of the fact that God has created something new that did not exist before.

Spiritual learning and maturity come through instruction that originates in God and application in and through life experiences. When we forget or disregard instruction we may suffer painful consequences and hopefully be the wiser in future.

In Galatians 4:8-20 Paul expresses his fear that the Christians in Galatia were not growing or maturing in the way that would normally be expected. Something was wrong and he knew what it was.

He had called them “foolish” (3:1) because they had turned back to following religious ritual and works as a means of trying to please God instead of enjoying a relationship with Him. This had never pleased God before so why would it please Him now? That is why he called them foolish. They had been justified by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and they should remain true to that by continuing to live by faith (3:11).

The object of faith for Christians is Jesus Christ. The Word of God is the source of knowledge of Jesus Christ. Christ will be formed in us as we grow to maturity spiritually and for that we need the nourishment of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit teaching us through the experiences of life in conjunction with that word. The Lord engineers our experiences with a view to bringing us to maturity. How well we enjoy that journey will depend on our willingness to trust in His sovereign leading and submit to His headship.

When a child does not develop in all areas, physical, mental, emotional and social, we recognise that something is wrong. When a Christian does not go on to spiritual maturity we know that something is wrong as well. Let us all press on to maturity. This will require spiritual food, spiritual exercises, development of godly attributes and service to others. If we allow any of these to fall away we will fall short of spiritual maturity.

True to Kind

“This is a faithful saying … If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself”  2 Timothy 2:11, 13

Paul encourages Timothy and all of us to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v 1) through faith in who Jesus is. There will be reward for remaining faithful. Paul gives the examples of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer to show that God is faithful. But even if we are not faithful God remains faithful. Why is this? It is because God and all His creatures are true to kind. God cannot act contrary to who He is and that is a foundation stone of true Christian faith.

The Bible reveals two things that God cannot do: God cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18) and God cannot act contrary to His Divine Nature (2 Timothy 2:13).

In an attempt to reduce penalty or even avoid penalty the defence of an accused may call witnesses to demonstrate that the actions of the accused were “out of character”. This is wholly untrue. All of God’s creatures act absolutely according to what they are. We all act exactly according to what we are. The natural person is always in rebellion against God and can do nothing but sin. The problem is not what we do but what we are. What we do is the outworking of what we are. A person may be able to suppress behaviour but they cannot change what they are. “There is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10).

Sinful thoughts, words and deeds are the symptoms of what we are. As in the case of one before a judge we may try to escape penalty by claiming otherwise but God will not be deceived. We are sinners and there is no remedy until we admit that we are sinners by nature. We cannot change what we are. At best we may be able to change some aspects of our behaviour but that will never make us compatible with God.

God is holy; God is undefiled; God is without sin; God is love; God is righteous and just; God cannot deny who He is and if we are to come into His presence and have communion with Him then what we are must be changed. We cannot change what we are. This is why Jesus makes the emphatic statement that “you must be born again” (John 3:3). This is not a command but a statement of fact. To have communion with God we must have the same nature. This is only possible by way of a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 6:15) through which we are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

When Jesus died on the cross He took our sin nature to death as well as the penalty for sin acts. In His resurrection He opened the door for a new life (Ephesians 2:10). The Gospel of Christ reveals God’s remedy for the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) but also the remedy for what we are. Jesus’ resurrection necessitated His death on the cross; for us to live the resurrection life we must die to self.

God cannot change who and what He is. He is holy and without sin. If anyone is to come into His presence it is they who must be changed. Only Jesus Christ is able to do that for He alone bore our sin and rose again.