Friday, July 21, 2017

“Justification by Faith Alone”

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July 22, 2017
Sabbath School Study
Galatians 2:15-21

Presented by Larry R Evans

Introduction

”A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”  Galatians 2:16

A few years ago, I was on a flight from Seoul, Korea to Tokyo, Japan.  I had been in a conversation with my seatmate about my visit to her country and a few other places that I had visited.  She turned to me and asked, “What in the world do you do?” My answer surprised even me, “I travel around the world to bring hope.”  She then exclaimed, “I used to go to church but when no one could answer my questions, I quit going.”  She expected me to ask what the questions were but instead I began telling her stories about hope.  I told her about a young adult who was at the end of his rope with despair and contemplating suicide but when he heard about God’s love for him (in 4 simple points) and how He is in the business of restoring purpose and meaning to anyone’s life, he readily accepted my invitation to pray and commit his life to Jesus.  I also told about how my wife’s 13 years of visitation with the man who murdered our niece brought hope to this man causing him to leave the religion of Islam and seek to become a Christian.  Finally, in desperation because I did not ask what her questions were, she blurted out:

1.     Who wants to go to heaven and float around on a cloud?
2.     Why would anyone want to go to heaven and be with a God who torments sinners with unending fire in Hell?
3.     Why would any person want to go to church when hypocrites go there?

It was a fascinating discussion that ended not only with prayer 30,000 feet in the air but also a commitment on her part to go back to church.

Why do I tell this story when our subject is about “Justification by Faith Alone”?  I do so because the questions she raised and the subject for our study today is all about God and how we perceive His character and the plan he has for each of us.  Stay tuned.  I’ll unpack that with our study because I believe that how we understand God is ultimately the fundamental issue behind the passage that is being examined today.

Much of what Paul is saying in Galatians is about “law.”  As you may know, the word law can mean many things such as: the 10 commandments, the entire Old Testament and man-made religious laws.  Context is the best way to determine which law or laws are being referred to.  However, does it really make any difference if we are justified (or declared righteous) by “faith alone?”

So, with that introduction, there are a number of terms we need discuss as we go through the lesson:

1.     What is justification?
2.     What is righteousness? Whose righteousness are we talking about and can we achieve it?
3.     What is meant in our passage by “works of law” and “belief”?
4.     What is “faith” and what is meant by the “faith of Jesus?”

That’s a huge undertaking for the 20 minutes given for our study.  I would like to emphasize again, that our outcome should leave each of us with a greater appreciation of the character of God and the hope and assurance that comes from that appreciation.

Let’s begin by reading the entire passage:  Galatians 2:14-21.  Before we do, please note why the subject came up at all in the message left for us by the Apostle Paul?  Was it a theological debate or was it a social concern or both?  Is the way we respond to others who differ with us a reflection of our theological beliefs or are we making an ego defense statement?

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”  -- Galatians 2:14-21 (NKJV)

It becomes clear that Paul is addressing a “social” concern between the relationship of Jews and Gentiles. No doubt the social concern has theological implications.  Of all people, Peter betrayed his own theological understanding. How did he do that?  While he was with the Gentiles he ate with them.  But then, things changed when he was in the company of his fellow Jewish believers whose acceptance he desired. Behind this, however, was the belief that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised just has the Jews had been.  He then reverted to the idea that acceptance by God required “faith + circumcision.” This caused Paul to react!  He feared that the gospel would be weakened—not strengthened by such a formula. Paul saw the compromise so blatant that it would minimize Christ’s own sacrifice and even taint the understanding of who God is.

Although Peter was a leader of the church, he was acting like a hypocrite. He knew better, yet he was driven by fear of what James and the others would think. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap.” Paul knew that he had to confront Peter before his actions damaged the church. So, Paul publicly opposed Peter. Note, however, that Paul did not go to the other leaders, nor did he write letters to the churches telling them not to follow Peter’s example. Instead, he opposed Peter face to face. Sometimes sincere Christians, even Christian leaders, make mistakes. And it may take other sincere Christians to get them back on track. 

The culture of the day had more impact on his social behavior in this instance than his own gospel belief.   This seems to be “Lesson #1” – Beware: the power of our past can overshadow even what we have come to believe in our minds.

Instead of learning what the law was to teach “them”, the laws were interpreted as a way of convincing or persuading God to accept or favor them!  The advantage of knowing God (or “of” God) gave caused the Jews to have sense of superiority over the Gentiles whom they referred to as “sinners.” The truth is, God was already favorable towards them!  What was needed was a change of mind and heart.  This truth is born out even in the Old Testament when the 10 Commandments were given.

Often the 10 Commandments are read with little attention to their preamble. Before any commandment was given, God reminded his “saved” people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Ex. 20:1)  If already delivered/saved why was the law given?  Clearly, in the context of verse 1, they were given as guardrails to give direction and to keep them from falling back into the ways of Egypt!  The law was never a means of being saved.  I’ve never heard anyone who advocates that the 10 Commandment law is no longer binding include verse 1 with that thought yet they are inseparably linked.  God’s grace always precedes anything He asks of us.  Our obedience is not a matter of changing God’s mind.  Rather, our obedience is a response of gratitude for what He has already done.  We trust His wisdom and not that of our surrounding culture.  The Sabbath, for example, is not a means of earning favor with God or assuring us of a place in heaven.  The Sabbath is a reminder of what God has already done and serves as a call to place our trust in Him and not in Human wisdom or speculation. A reversal of that concept is a human tendency and it was this trap that led Peter to compromise the divine principle.

The terms used by Paul and bantered back and forth in Sabbath School classes can be confusing.  Let’s take a look at verses 15,16a where a number of key terms are used:

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, . . .”

1.     “justified” – [Dikaioo) to be regarded or declared just or innocent – declared righteous. In Romans 5:1 Paul says, “we have been justified through faith . . . “

2.     “the works of the law Implied is the assumption that the works of any law would serve as the basisforf justification.

3.     “by faith in Jesus Christ”There is but one way to be justified or to be found “righteous” and that is by accepting Jesus and allowing His righteousness to be yours.  As one commentator (Herman N. Ridderbos) wrote: “. . . justification come to man not from his works, not from something in himself, but from his relationship with Christ.”

George Knight reflects our earlier point regarding Exodus 20 and the preamble of the 10 Commandments: “In short, obedience does not lead to a saving relationship with Christ, but it doe flow out of it as Christ lives out His life in us (Galatians 2:20).  Justification, for Paul, always leads to ethical living.” (Gospel’s in Conflict, p. 40)

John Calvin, the great Reformer,  summarized Paul well when he wrote,
“Paul’s meaning therefore is: “We, who appear to excel others, — we, who, by means of the covenant, have always enjoyed the privilege of being nigh to God, (Deuteronomy 4:7,) have found no method of obtaining salvation, but by believing in Christ: why, then, should we prescribe another method to the Gentiles?”

Conclusion

So much more could and needs to be said but perhaps the heart’s desire of David found in Psalm 143 expresses the truth of Galatians 2:14-21 quite well:

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
Give ear to my supplications!
In Your faithfulness answer me,
And in Your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous. (vss 1,2)

I spread out my hands to You;
My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. (v 6)

Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
Revive me, O Lord, for Your name's sake!
For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. (vss 9-11)

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Note Regarding Circumcision:

The rite of circumcision is introduced for the first time in Genesis 17 when Abram, who was 99 years old, was promised to be the “father of many nations.”  In verse 4-5 God says He would make Abram the “father of many nations.”  Abram would not make himself the “father” of many nations.

Associated with this promise is the statement by God that He “would give” the “whole land of Canaan” to Abram and his descendants.

It is in this context (the phrase “Then God said” in verse 9 makes this link explicit) that circumcision is given as “a sign” of what “God” would do.  It was given as an expression of God’s intent to bring salvation to the whole world without being dependent on procreation.  God, Himself would be the One giving them the land, the One making the promise to bring it about.  It would not come about through what man would do to create a lineage but rather through what God would do.

Circumcision, then, is a sign that the parent had accepted by faith their partnership with God.  They acknowledged that their future is a gift by God and thus their dependence rested upon what He would do for them.

Circumcision was always meant to be a sign of faith and not as a means of “works.”  The gift of God was distorted and turned it into the works of man and ultimately mischaracterized God and impeded His promises.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Man Called Peter

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The Person of Peter

Sabbath School Study for
April 1, 2017
Larry R Evans

It has been said that, “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.”  -- William Booth.

As we begin our study of the 1 and 2 Peter, it is good to pause and look at the man called Peter.  This fisherman became a major leader in the team Jesus called to be His closest associates.  Jesus did not choose a perfect man when he chose Peter.  As we trace his development, we are tempted to draw premature conclusions.  We tend to do the same thing with one another, giving little slack for development.  It is much easier to judge his whole life by some of the impetuous mistakes Peter made.  Jesus, however, saw something that others, including us, fail to see.

I’m reminded of an adage that was used when I was being trained as a church consultant: “Weaknesses are strengths overextended.”  In other words, when a weakness is observed there is often a strength being disguised by some weakness that has caught our attention. Examine the weakness and see if the same trait has a positive counterpart.  Jesus sees beyond the weakness, the character flaw, the weak points and sees possibilities.  Such is the case with the Disciple Peter. 

Peter made some pretty glaring mistakes but Peter also learned how to surrender, how ask for forgiveness and then, how serve from a heart filled with love for Jesus.  We have much to learn from Peter, ever keeping in mind, that “The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1.     What makes us “worthy” to become coworkers with Jesus or should we wait until we are worthy?

2.    Where does the power for serving faithfully come from? How do we connect?

3.    In what ways are we “unworthy”? Should this even be a consideration?

4.    How can we express our gratitude for even being considered as a “coworker” with Christ?

5.    Why must we leave “everything” in order to follow Jesus?

THE DANGERS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY.

“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” – Augustine

“Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility.” -- Jonathan Edwards

Luke 5: 1-11
Peter Learns to Fish


1.  What makes us “worthy” to become coworkers with Jesus or should we wait until we are worthy? Can we serve worthily?  Is there a difference between being worthy and serving worthily?

·      Luke 5:1-11  What was it that Peter had to unlearn before he coiuld learn the very principles that would make him a great leader? 

·      What did he know how to do well:
o   How and when to fish. 
o   That people don’t walk on water.
o   How storms at sea can become vicious.
o   He knows his trade, the way of the sea, the way fish behave, how to cast his nets, how to manage his boat and therefore he is self-confident. 
o    
·      Could it be that what he thought was his greatest strength set the stage for his greatest weakness?   If so what was it?  What was it that Jesus was trying to do with his miracle?  Was He providing a material gain for the day?  Feeding hungry people?

o   Why would a miracle cause Peter to say, “I am, a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) What can we learn from Peter’s confession?

Some have said Peter’s problem was “self-sufficiency.” What does self-sufficiency mean?

Dictionary:  needing no outside help in satisfying one's basic needs”  How does this apply to our Christian walk.

“The sufficiency of my merit is to know that my merit is not sufficient.” --Augustine

What brought Peter to the conclusion that he was a “sinful man”? (Lk 5:8)

What did he learn that led Jesus to affirm him as “a fisher of men”?

Note the insightful statement by Ellen White:

“Why is it that many seem to think that a responsible position exalts the man? Why do they become so self-sufficient when they are so utterly dependent upon the atoning Sacrifice? Why is there with some so great a want of tenderness, so little heart work? It is because those who are self-sufficient have not fallen upon the Rock and been broken. This is why there is so little trust in God, so little earnest, contrite repentance, so great a lack of fervent prayer. Well may the questions be put by every instructor: “Have I received the Holy Ghost since I believed? Have I received Christ as my personal Saviour?” Let these questions be solemnly answered.” { CSW 111.1}

Confidence and self-confidence are not the same. What’s the difference?  Are the dangers of self-confidence and self-importance still dangers today?  Note the warning by Ellen White:

“Oh, what care should be taken by all who claim to be Christians that they do not call their passions and self-importance religion. By showing vanity, by longing for distinction, many hide the person of Christ, and expose themselves to view. There is such self-importance in their own ideas and way, and they cherish such a pleasing sense of their smartness, that the Lord cannot bestow his Holy Spirit upon them. If he did, they would misinterpret it, and exalt themselves still higher because of it. Their self pleasing ideas are a great hindrance to the advancement of the work. Whatever part they act self is the main picture presented. Their own zeal and devotion is thought to be the great power of truth. Unaware to themselves, all such are unfaithful stewards. They swerve the work in wrong lines. Self-importance leads them where they will be left to make false moves.” --Ellen White in KC – the Kress Collection (1985) An Evil Work, To Every Man His Work.

What can we learn from Ellen White’s acknowledgement to her husband of her own imperfections?

MR No. 1426—Ellen White Acknowledges Her Imperfection
(Written to “Dear Husband,” May 16, 1876, from Oakland, California.)

“It grieves me that I have said or written anything to grieve you. Forgive me and I will be cautious not to start any subject to annoy and distress you. We are living in a most solemn time and we cannot afford to have in our old age [Ellen White was 48 years of age and her husband was 54 when this letter was written.] differences to separate our feelings. I may not view all things as you do, but I do not think it would be my place or duty to try to make you see as I see and feel as I feel. Wherein I have done this, I am sorry.” { 20MR 23.1 }

THE CALL TO FAITHFULNESS
Strong Leaders Know How to Say, "I Was Wrong"
Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75

Do you agree with the following? 

“How can there be great faith where is little faithfulness?  --William Gurnall

“There is no guarantee that men faithful to God will be recognizable by their numbers, their talents or their success.”-- lain H. Murray

Peter was sure he would never “disown” Jesus?  Why do you think he said that?  Where did he make his mistake?

Peter made a terrible mistake and so did Judas? Both were remorseful but each responded differently?  How and Why do you think that was the case? Was pride a factor in making their mistakes?  Was pride a factor in how they chose to resolve the problem they help create?

Note the insight by Ellen White:

“Peter saw the error into which he had fallen, and immediately set about repairing the evil that had been wrought, so far as was in his power. God, who knows the end from the beginning, permitted Peter to reveal this weakness of character in order that the tried apostle might see that there was nothing in himself whereof he might boast. Even the best of men, if left to themselves, will err in judgment. God also saw that in time to come some would be so deluded as to claim for Peter and his pretended successors the exalted prerogatives that belong to God alone. And this record of the apostle’s weakness was to remain as a proof of his fallibility and of the fact that he stood in no way above the level of the other apostles. [ AA 198-199]

A CONCLUDING HOPEFUL THOUGHT

A Changed Peter While Retaining Personal Strengths

“Before his great fall he was always forward and dictatorial, speaking unadvisedly from the impulse of the moment. He was always ready to correct others and to express his mind before he had a clear comprehension of himself or of what he had to say. But Peter was converted, and the converted Peter was very different from the rash, impetuous Peter. While he retained his former fervor, the grace of Christ regulated his zeal. Instead of being impetuous, self-confident, and self-exalted, he was calm, self-possessed, and teachable. He could then feed the lambs as well as the sheep of Christ’s flock.” – Ellen White, 5T:334-335