Have You Been Scammed?

Galatians 3

1Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?

5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

6In the same way, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith.”  7The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God.

8What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

10But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12How different from this way of faith is the way of law, which says, “If you wish to find life by obeying the law, you must obey all of its commands.”  13But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14Through the work of Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, and we Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:1-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter to the Galatians, like many New Testament letters, was written as a response to an issue that had cropped up within the early church. In this case, the church in Galatia had been infiltrated by false teachers who were teaching a “different” gospel. This “different” gospel is still being taught today and therefore, Paul’s words are particularly appropriate in our current culture.

The nature of the false teaching had to do with the law. The false teachers were labeled “Judaizers” because of their strict adherence to the Old Testament rules and rituals. These teachers were advocating that belief in the Jewish Messiah was just the first step in the process of salvation. It was necessary, according to these teachers, to continue to observe all of the Old Testament laws and rituals, including circumcision, after accepting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

The issue of what is necessary to be saved was quite controversial in the early church, especially when Gentiles (non-Jews) began responding to the gospel. Some within the church, particularly those who had been Pharisees before conversion, continued to advocate for strict adherence to Old Testament laws and rituals, which meant that Gentiles would have to adopt all Jewish cultural rites, including circumcision. But Paul and Barnabas disagreed and did not require new Gentile converts to become “Jewish” culturally in order to gain admittance into the church.

This issue became so contentious that the church convened a special session to discuss the matter. The details of this Jerusalem Council are recorded in Acts 15 and I wrote about it previously here.

Paul’s words to the Galatians are strong. He calls them “foolish” and asks them “what magician has cast an evil spell on you?” Most translations use the word “bewitched” to describe the response to this false teaching. The idea Paul is communicating is that they’ve been duped or scammed. One version uses the word “hypnotized”.

Why would Paul say they were “bewitched”? Exactly what was so bad about this teaching and how were they being “tricked”?

To answer that question, let’s first explain what Paul had taught and compare it with the false teaching the Galatians had begun to follow.

Paul’s gospel says that EVERYONE is a sinner and NOBODY is righteous enough to earn their way into God’s presence. Trying to follow all of the Old Testament laws is futile. It cannot be done because we are sinners and we are going to fall short. Therefore, any system that requires adherence to a religious code in order to gain favor with God is doomed to failure.

Jesus offers a different way and this is what makes it good news. According to verse 13, Jesus died in our place, paying for our sin so that we could escape the penalty the law required. We are thus saved, not by our own good works, but by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross.

The false teachers said that once a person places their faith in Jesus, they must maintain their right standing before God by the things they do, namely by following all of the commands of the law. Paul argues that if one has to follow the law to maintain their right standing before God then they are no longer trusting in Jesus alone to provide the righteousness that is needed to enter God’s presence.

Hence, if you are going to follow the law as a means of maintaining your salvation, then you must follow the law completely in order to secure it in the first place.

The differences between Paul’s gospel and the false teaching can be clearly seen in how each system views a person gaining the righteousness required to enter into God’s presence. Paul’s gospel says that Jesus gives us His own righteousness (which is perfectly holy) when we place our faith in Him. This righteousness cannot be lost because it is based on Jesus’ complete work of atonement on the cross.

The Judaizers taught that righteousness is maintained by our adherence to Jewish laws and rituals. Hence, the source of righteousness is the individual’s own good works and personal efforts.

Though these teachers acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, their doctrine was really a back-door method for maintaining a works-based system of salvation.

We do the same thing today in our Christian circles. We invite people to accept Jesus by faith and then inevitably, we think, and even teach, that being a good Christian means following a set of rules. It’s not likely that circumcision is on our list of what makes a good Christian, but you probably can come up with your own list of “sins” to avoid and “activities” that are required, or “strongly encouraged” in order to maintain your Christian “witness.”

We teach people that salvation is a “free gift” but then subtly give the impression that staying saved is more like a privilege that can be forfeited if we don’t toe the line.

Paul calls this kind of gospel and this line of thinking foolish and those who fall into this trap as being bewitched.

It turns out that this theological trickery is the oldest scam in the book. And yet, people are still falling for it today.

Reflection

How do you think you can tell if someone has been bewitched? Or, to put it another way, how would you determine if a person was following a false, rules-based gospel instead of the true gospel that Paul preached?

What are some religious activities that you may be tempted to elevate to “required” status in order to evaluate a person’s eligibility for salvation?

What are some of the “sins” that Christians have used in the past as evidence of someone not being a “true” Christian?

Why do you think people of every generation and culture tend towards rules-based religious systems as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor?

 

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Like Father, Like Son, Like Grandson

Genesis 27

1When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.”

“Here I am,” he answered.

2Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. 3Now then, get your weapons—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. 4Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like* and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing* before I die.”

5Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, 6Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, 7‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the LORD before I die.’ 8Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing* before he dies.”

11Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I’m a man with smooth skin. 12What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.”

13His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.”

14So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. 15Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. 16She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. 17Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made.

18He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”

20Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.

21Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”

22Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him. 24“Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

25Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”

27So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

“Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed.

28May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine.

29May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”

30After Isaac finished blessing him and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. 31He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

32His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

33Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”

34When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

35But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

36Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

37Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?”

38Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.

39His father Isaac answered him,

“Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above.

40You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.” (Genesis 27:1-40, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Genesis 27, we encounter a situation that demonstrates how our character traits seem to pass on to the next generation.

If you remember, Abraham was not always as honest and faithful as his reputation might suggest. In Genesis 20, Abraham deceives Abimilech, telling him his wife Sara is actually his sister out of fear that they will kill him to get her if they knew she was his wife. I wrote about this passage in my post “Old Habits are Hard to Break”. This wasn’t the first time Abraham had resorted to deception to alleviate his own fears.

In Genesis 25, Isaac also deceives Abimilech (likely a different ruler with the same name due to it being years later). He claims his wife Rebekah is his sister because he fears that because of her extreme beauty, the locals might kill him to take her if they believed she was his wife.

Now, a few chapters later, Isaac is an old man and he can no longer see. He invites his oldest son Esau to go and kill some wild game and make a delicious meal for him so that he can offer him, his oldest son, his blessing, something that was standard in the Ancient Near Eastern culture.

But Jacob and Rebekah have other plans. Jacob has already enticed Esau, his older twin to sell his birthright for a cup of lentil stew and now, with his mother’s help, he deceives Isaac into giving him the blessing that would normally be given to the older son. In this way, Jacob is establishing himself as the heir instead of Esau.

A few things stand out to me as I read this passage. First, it’s interesting to see that Esau has selective memory. He claims that Jacob had deceived him to get his birthright when the truth of the matter is that Esau didn’t care enough about his birthright and willingly gave it to Jacob in order to satisfy his hunger.

The second thing that stands out is that character traits like deception can be passed along to those around us whom we influence. Rebekah, who saw the deception of her husband in Genesis 25 is a willing accomplice, even the author of the deception that Jacob perpetrates on his father Isaac.

Because of this act, Jacob ends up fleeing his home, out of fear that his brother will kill him. This act takes him away from his family for many years.

Fortunately, Jacob is able to re-write his own story, as all of us are. This one incident doesn’t end up defining Jacob. Instead, God ends up giving Jacob a new name (Israel) and a new destiny, the patriarch of a new people who would be God’s chosen people.

Reflection

What character traits, good or bad, have you picked up from your family?

How can you ensure that you limit the negative traits you pass on to your kids?

What are some incidents in your life that haunt you and tend to define you?

How can you allow God to rewrite your story so you are not defined by that one negative circumstance?

 

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Was it Immoral for God to Ask Abraham to Sacrifice His Son Isaac?

Genesis 22

1Later on God tested Abraham’s faith and obedience. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

2“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you.”

3The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son Isaac. Then he chopped wood to build a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place where God had told him to go. 4On the third day of the journey, Abraham saw the place in the distance. 5“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the young men. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

6Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the knife and the fire. As the two of them went on together, 7Isaac said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son,” Abraham replied.

“We have the wood and the fire,” said the boy, “but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”

8“God will provide a lamb, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both went on together.

9When they arrived at the place where God had told Abraham to go, he built an altar and placed the wood on it. Then he tied Isaac up and laid him on the altar over the wood. 10And Abraham took the knife and lifted it up to kill his son as a sacrifice to the LORD. 11At that moment the angel of the LORD shouted to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” he answered. “I’m listening.”

12“Lay down the knife,” the angel said. “Do not hurt the boy in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld even your beloved son from me.”

13Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering on the altar in place of his son. 14Abraham named the place “The LORD Will Provide.” This name has now become a proverb: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:1-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Genesis 22 is one of the most controversial and objectionable passages to critics of Christianity (and Judaism).

The big question people often have from this passage that can cause doubt and skepticism has to do with this: why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? This seems immoral.

The problem with this thinking is that we are looking at it from the vantage point of our modern day morality. We KNOW that it’s wrong to sacrifice your own child. When we see or hear of religious groups or cults that practice this, we cringe in disgust, precisely BECAUSE we know that this is wrong.

But Abraham lived in a different time and a different culture than we do. Earlier in Genesis, we learn that Abraham came out of Ur of Chaldea. In this Ancient Near Eastern culture, child sacrifice was actually quite common as a means of appeasing various regional deities.

So when the Lord asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Abraham would not have had the same visceral reaction that we have today. From Abraham’s perspective, this was an expected act of allegiance to the deity.

So why does God do this if it’s wrong?

God does it precisely to show Abraham how different He is from other so-called gods. He asks Abraham to sacrifice his son as a test of faith and loyalty but then He shows Abraham that He is completely different from how the people in that culture perceived deities. Human sacrifice is not His way. God provides a substitute so that Isaac is spared. This encounter also foreshadows the gospel message – we are spared and an innocent lamb, Jesus, is sacrificed in our place.

In our current culture, God does not need to ask us to sacrifice our child to show our loyalty because He has already revealed His nature on this issue.

So if someone claims that God is asking them to sacrifice their child as a test of faith, or for any other reason, we can be certain that it is NOT the Lord who is making the request, but likely the devil himself!

For more on God’s view of human sacrifice as a form of worship and appeasement, see Jeremiah 19:4-5 and  Jeremiah 32:35.

Reflection

In the past, how have you reconciled or explained this passage to others who object to it as being “immoral”?

What would you say to someone who claims God is asking them to do something that seems to go against Biblical morals and ethics?

What questions or doubts do you have about God’s character or Biblical passages? How can you gain awareness and understanding of those “sticky” passages in order to strengthen your faith?

 

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Old Habits are Hard to Break

Genesis 20

1Now Abraham moved south to the Negev and settled for a while between Kadesh and Shur at a place called Gerar. 2Abraham told people there that his wife, Sarah, was his sister. So King Abimelech sent for her and had her brought to him at his palace.

3But one night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you took is married.”

4But Abimelech had not slept with her yet, so he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent man? 5Abraham told me, ‘She is my sister,’ and she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’ I acted in complete innocence!”

6“Yes, I know you are innocent,” God replied. “That is why I kept you from sinning against me; I did not let you touch her. 7Now return her to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and your entire household will die.”

8Abimelech got up early the next morning and hastily called a meeting of all his servants. When he told them what had happened, great fear swept through the crowd. 9Then Abimelech called for Abraham. “What is this you have done to us?” he demanded. “What have I done to you that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? This kind of thing should not be done! 10Why have you done this to us?”

11“Well,” Abraham said, “I figured this to be a godless place. I thought, ‘They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ 12Besides, she is my sister—we both have the same father, though different mothers—and I married her. 13When God sent me to travel far from my father’s home, I told her, ‘Wherever we go, have the kindness to say that you are my sister.’”

14Then Abimelech took sheep and oxen and servants—both men and women—and gave them to Abraham, and he returned his wife, Sarah, to him. 15“Look over my kingdom, and choose a place where you would like to live,” Abimelech told him. 16Then he turned to Sarah. “Look,” he said, “I am giving your ‘brother’ a thousand pieces of silver to compensate for any embarrassment I may have caused you. This will settle any claim against me in this matter.”

17Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and the other women of the household, so they could have children. 18For the LORD had stricken all the women with infertility as a warning to Abimelech for having taken Abraham’s wife. (Genesis 20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

In Genesis 20, we find Abraham resorting to one of his old habits – deception. Abraham, fearing the locals, convinces his wife to go along with his story that Sarah is his sister, which is technically true, but still deceptive because Sarah is actually Abraham’s wife.

If you’ve followed the story of Abraham, you know that he did the same thing with the Egyptian Pharaoh in Genesis 12:10-20.

In both cases, Abraham feared for his life, thinking that if people knew Sarah was his wife, they would kill him to get her.

Throughout the Bible, Abraham is regarded as a great man of faith, and yet we see him resorting to deception on multiple occasions in order to protect himself.

What are we to make of this?

First of all, Abraham is not innocent. Abimelech pleads his innocence to the Lord, to which the Lord replies, “I know you are innocent….that is why I kept you from sinning against me.”

Secondly, Abraham does not demonstrate much faith in this situation or the situation in Genesis 12. In both cases, Abraham resorts to deception because he’s afraid that the locals will kill him because of Sarah’s beauty.

Yet Abraham had been promised by God that he would become the father of many nations. In fact, God changes his name from Abram, which means “exalted father”, to Abraham, which means “father of many”. In addition, God had promised that his wife Sarah would bear him a son and it would be through that son that his covenant promises would emerge (see Genesis 17).

If Abraham was such a great man of faith, why does he resort to deception to save himself? Wouldn’t a man of faith tell the truth and trust that the Lord would provide? Wouldn’t a great man of faith trust the Lord to save him from the locals instead of taking matters into his own hands?

The reality is that Abraham was just like us. We often see Abraham taking matters into his own hands, as he does in this situation and also when he decided to father a child through his wife’s maid, Hagar, instead of trusting the Lord to provide a child through his wife.

The story of Abraham gives me hope to know that I don’t need to be perfect in order to receive God’s blessing. Abraham doesn’t always demonstrate faith and he often falls into old sinful habits, but he’s regarded as a great man of faith, not because of these incidents, but because of how he responds to the Lord’s leading and direction and how he finishes his life.

Reflection

What are some of your old habits that you are prone to fall back into?

In what kinds of situations do you find it difficult to trust God for the outcome?

What steps or habits can you implement in your life to ensure you are regarded as a person of faith?

 

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