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

Are You a Christian Who Smells?

2 Corinthians 2

12Well, when I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord gave me tremendous opportunities. 13But I couldn’t rest because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.

14But thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. 15Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. 16To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? 17You see, we are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—who preach just to make money. We preach God’s message with sincerity and with Christ’s authority. And we know that the God who sent us is watching us. (2 Corinthian 2:12-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

There’s a commercial that has been running lately on a local hit radio station I listen to.

A woman is upset that she can’t get a plumber to tell her over the phone how much they charge to unclog a drain.

Queue the sound of a harp, signifying the entrance of another person.

The woman says, “Wow, you smell good. Who are you?”

“I’m Mike Diamond, the smell-good plumber.” Diamond goes on to tell the potential customer that they will gladly come and unclog almost any drain for $99.

I’m aware of a stereotype about plumbers but it doesn’t involve how they smell. Nevertheless, the plumber in this radio spot is trying to set himself and his company apart from others in the industry by marketing themselves as plumbers who show up on time, are clean and smell good.

Paul, in this chapter of 2 Corinthians says that Christians have a smell. To some, our smell is fragrant but to others, our smell is rotten. What’s he talking about? What is going on in this passage?

Paul begins this section by comparing Christ’s conquest over death to a Roman triumphal procession. A Roman triumphal procession was a great honor that was only bestowed on generals who had accomplished great victories over a foreign enemy, usually resulting in the end of a conflict that involved great military spoils.


NOTE: For more information on the Roman triumphal process, check out this article on britannica.com


The procession was essentially a parade that consisted of political leaders in the front, followed by musicians and then sacrificial animals. Then came the spoils of war (the prisoners), followed by the general, and lastly, the general’s soldiers.

Throughout the procession, the burning of incense to the gods created a ubiquitous aroma that filled the air with a fragrance that added to the aura of the occasion.

When the procession reached its conclusion at the Temple of Jupiter, the prisoners were usually slain while thank offerings were made to Jupiter and the political and military leaders feasted.

Thus, if you were a prisoner in that procession, the aroma, though pleasant to the nostrils, was literally the smell of death. For the rest of the procession, and those cheering in the crowds, the smell signified victory.

Paul says that we as his followers have been taken captive by Christ and we are now a part of his procession. We are commissioned by Jesus to share the gospel with others. Paul says that this act of service is like a sweet perfume, an offering of worship made to God himself.

This fragrance is perceived by our fellow humans in two different ways. For those who respond to the message, the smell is life-giving, but to those who reject the message, the smell is one of death and doom.

Notice that we don’t determine whether the smell is a life-giving fragrance or the smell of doom to others. That is determined solely by the response of the listener.

Though we can’t control how others perceived our smell, we can control whether we smell or not. We can choose to not smell at all by ignoring God’s command to share the message, or we can choose to smell by sharing the message with others without regard to how they will perceive it.

We have an awesome opportunity to invite others to be a part of Jesus’ triumphal procession. The reality is that everyone is already a part of the procession. For those who don’t know Jesus, they are the prisoners who are on their way to certain death. However, If they respond to the gospel message, they can be freed from impending doom and join us as captives in the back of the procession, becoming a part of God’s mighty, victorious army!

Reflection

Paul says that when we share the good news with others, people will perceive it (smell it) in two different ways. But that presupposes that we are involved in sharing with others. What motivates you to “smell” (share the gospel) with others? What keeps you from smelling?

In your own experience, what was it about the message of Christ that made it “life-giving”?

In your opinion, what are some things we can do as Christians to make our “smell” more attractive to those we are trying to reach?

 

Photo by Lenka Sluneckova on Unsplash

You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good!

Romans 3

21But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.

23For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. 26And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.

27Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. 28So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Back in the day there was a popular song by Linda Ronstadt with a chorus that said, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good”! (see Ronstadt YouTube video here)

It’s doubtful that Ronstadt (or whoever actually wrote the song) had Romans 3 in mind when they penned the words, but this chorus is actually the sentiment of Paul’s message in Romans 3.

Paul has spent the first 2 chapters of Romans outlining how the pagan, the moral person and even the religious person are all sinful and therefore under God’s judgment.

In this chapter, Paul finalizes his argument that all people are no good. It’s doubtful that he could bust out the lyrics as soulfully as Ronstadt but Paul’s message is essentially, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good….baby you’re no good.”

Perhaps you disagree with this assessment. After all, a lot of people think that people are basically good. And many would argue that at least SOME people are good. So how can Paul say ALL people are NO GOOD?

It all comes down to how you define good. We (people) tend to define good in relative standards that make us look good and feel good about ourselves.

For example, if Hitler is the standard of bad, then I feel good about myself because I’m reasonably confident that I’m a better person than Hitler.

And that’s the problem. Everybody is using a different standard of goodness and each person’s standard tends to be derived in such a way that they themselves end up on the good end of the spectrum.

Is this not blatantly obvious? How many people would actually say they are no good? Very few, in my experience. Even the most hardened criminal is likely to point to someone whom they believe to be a worse person than they are as their comparison for measuring and evaluating goodness.

But God’s standard of goodness is different than ours. God doesn’t use Hitler or Stalin or any other authoritarian tyrant as the standard for what is good. God uses HIMSELF as the standard of goodness.

With God as the standard of goodness, we can see that being good requires us to be as good as God is, which is impossible. This is why Paul says in verse 23 that “all fall short of God’s glorious standard” and it explains how Paul can say that ALL are NO GOOD!

That may seem like really bad news, and it is, but fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. There is good news, really good news actually.

Paul states that God has created a different way for us to be made right in his sight. Before Jesus, Jews tried to maintain a right standing before God by following the Law – the long list of legal requirements as outlined in the Torah – the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Adhering to all these religious requirements (over 600 of them) proved to be impossible for even the most devout God-follower. It simply highlighted the reality that we are sinful and incapable of fully following God’s rules consistently.

God ‘s better way involves us being made right with God when we trust in Jesus to take away our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, he actually was being punished for our sins and, according to verse 25, God’s righteous anger is satisfied as a result of Jesus’s death.

When it says that God’s anger is satisfied, it’s saying that God’s punishment has been poured out on Jesus instead of on us. So when we trust Jesus to pay for our sin, we receive a full pardon from God and there is no longer any punishment reserved for us.

However, we can still choose to reject Jesus and continue to follow the old pattern for achieving a right standard before God. We can choose to be evaluated by our works and our own ability to live up to God’s moral standards. In that scenario, we will be found guilty and we will experience punishment for our sins because we’ve rejected Jesus’s alternate method of paying for the penalty of our sins.

Or we can choose the better way…trust Jesus, receive a full pardon for all of our sin and experience a right standing with God that saves us from the punishment that we actually deserve!

Reflection

What is the standard you have been using for determining goodness? How close is your standard to the one Paul says that God is actually using?

What would you say to a person who claims to be a good person?

What would you say to someone who claims that it’s not fair that God would condemn anyone to an eternity in hell? What arguments would you make to demonstrate that it is fair and just?

 

Photo by Nick Gavrilov on Unsplash

The Beginning of the Gospel?

1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—

3“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8, NLT)

The beginning of Mark is different than most of the other gospel books. The first words are “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ.”

What I find interesting about this statement is that Mark starts off stating that the gospel is about Jesus Christ but then he immediately shifts to some Old Testament passage in Isaiah, followed by a description of John the Baptist, a fiery preacher who lived out in the desert, wore weird clothes and baptized people in the Jordan river.

If the gospel is about Jesus and Mark’s book is about the beginning of the gospel, why is it that we don’t see or hear anything about Jesus until halfway through the first chapter (verse 9)?

I think what Mark’s account demonstrates is that Jesus is the center of the gospel story but he’s not the whole story. The Isaiah passage along with the verses describing John the Baptist indicates that God is always working behind the scenes and preparing people for the arrival of Jesus.

The gospel is indeed about Jesus. He’s the central figure. Without Jesus, there is no good news. But even before Jesus shows up, God is working, paving the way and preparing people’s hearts for the arrival of the king!

Reflection

In what ways did God prepare you for the arrival of Jesus in your life? Who are the key people and what are the key situations that paved the way for you to recognize the king?

What are some ways you can be involved in being a gospel-paver for others?