Faith and freedom

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Read Galatians 1:1-10

Paul does not hold back his surprise at how quickly these Galatians have forgotten what he laboured so long and hard to teach them. His surprise at what has happened to the Galatians comes out in the first part of this section.

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-7)

A different gospel

It is as if they float about in the sea of forgetfulness. (James 1:2-8) Not only were these people being tossed around by every new idea that landed in their way, they were deserting the one who had made sense of their lives. They were deserting the freedom they had just recently been given for the legalism that others were now trying to bind them into. Notice that Paul did not accuse them of deserting an empty religion. He accused them of deserting a person. They were turning their backs on the very one who had, at the cost of His own life, purchased their freedom: Jesus.

Some people were preaching “a different gospel". They were teaching that, in order to be saved, Gentile believers had to follow Jewish laws and customs, especially the rite of circumcision. They were saying that faith in Christ was not enough. This message undermined the truth of the good news that salvation is a gift, not a reward for certain deeds. Jesus Christ has made this gift available to all people, not just to the Jewish nation. Beware of people who say that we need more than simple faith in Christ to be saved. When people set up additional requirements for salvation, they deny the power of Christ's death on the cross.

These people from Galatia were indeed being very foolish and it can be the same with us too. (Galatians 3:1-5) We can be foolish in two (or more) ways. The first is by ignoring the free gift of salvation, that Jesus offers each and every one of us. It’s easy enough to do: just be too busy, too tired, or listen to friends who think that being a Christian is "weak" or that Christianity is a "crutch". We are dealing here with eternal things. When we die and are confronted by God, He will ask us about our relationship with His Son Jesus. If we have to confess that we have no relationship with Jesus and can only offer excuses by way of explanation, we will find that no excuse on earth is sufficient. Ignorance is no excuse. We will have all eternity to remember the opportunities that we had to discover more, but passed up. The irony may be that those friends, who dissuaded us earlier from investigating further, have had a change of heart and asked Jesus to be Lord of their lives. We may discover too late that God is love, yes, but He is also just. (Romans 1:20-21)

The second way of being foolish is to accept God’s free gift of salvation initially, then be tempted away by other things. Perhaps, like the Galatians to whom Paul was writing, we may be tempted to think that simply accepting all that God has done for us in Jesus, is not enough: we must try to earn our salvation by keeping the Jewish religious law and being circumcised (or by doing good things or belonging to certain groups). So many people today think that, by being good, working in a church, or seeking to gain God’s approval in some other way, they can go to heaven. This is not so. There is only one way to heaven.

"For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that any who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it." (John 3:16-17)

He gave, we believe and that settles the matter. We cannot work to earn or enhance our salvation. Once we believe, put our trust in Jesus and rely on Him; that’s it! Of course, we then need to learn obedience, for that is the way to service in the Master’s kingdom – the kingdom of heaven. It is also our opportunity to express our love for Him, but it does not gain us extra points or credit or kudos so far as our salvation is concerned.

Planted in good soil

Another possibility is that we just give up because it all becomes so difficult. When we see no immediate benefit to following Jesus, we may be tempted to throw in the towel.

"He got into a boat and taught from it while the people listened on the beach. He used many illustrations in His sermon, such as this one: 'A farmer was sowing grain in his fields. As he scattered the seed across the ground, some fell beside a path and the birds came and ate it. Some fell on rocky soil where there was little depth of earth. The plants sprang up quickly enough in the shallow soil, but the hot sun soon scorched them and they withered and died, for they had so little root. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns choked out the tender blades. But some fell on good soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as he had planted. If you have ears, then listen!’" (Matthew 13:3-9)

This can happen at any stage of our Christian Life, but will almost always occur at a time of discouragement. That is why we need to surround ourselves with people who will encourage us and build us up in our relationship with God, rather than those who will try to pull us down. Run to the Father rather than run away (like Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden). Nothing we do will cause Him to love us less. Likewise, nothing good we do will cause Him to love us more. Are we sure that we have the roots of our knowledge of Jesus Christ deep in our hearts and know that we will serve Him until our dying day? We need to keep His truth for the tough days. We also need to choose to die to what we want and live for Him alone, every day, in dependence on the leading of the Holy Spirit.

There is such great encouragement in John 10:27-30: "Jesus said, 'my sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’"

So let us dig our roots deep into Jesus, spending time in prayer and reading His word. Then, however tough it may get, no demon in hell can ever pluck us out of His hand.

Truth or Lie?

In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul states this: "Let God's curses fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other way to be saved than the one we told you about; yes, if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. I will say it again: if anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God's curse fall upon him. "

He is saying, very forcefully, that no one has the authority to change even a small letter or the least stroke of the pen, of the message which has been given by God Himself – the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ. John, the apostle and son of Zebedee wrote under the direction of the Holy Spirit in his Book of Revelation:

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If any one of you adds anything to them, God will add to you the plagues described in this scroll. And if any of you takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from you your share in the tree of life and the Holy City which are described in this scroll. He who testifies to these things says ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen." (Revelation 22:18-21)

There can be no doubt as to God’s view of those who add to or subtract from His good news for His people. So let us all be warned. There is also a responsibility on us as Christians today not to receive anything that is different from what God initially showed us. It is a fact that a few so-called "leaders", in churches up and down many countries, wish to exert their own authority over the people they are there to serve. In so doing, they lead them away from the simplicity of following Jesus. All churches belong to Jesus. Christian believers are all part of His body and He is the Head. Those who are called to be leaders are there to serve the flock, not to "manage" them by rounding them up, corralling them, then speaking a mixture of truth and lies for them to agree with.

This serves as a great warning to us today. We need to pray for the gift of discernment for all teaching that we hear or see, whether it be in our local church or on the internet through applications such as YouTube and other social media. We need to read God's word for ourselves and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us its truth, because that always points us back to Jesus. If a podcast, or book, or any form of communication seems to be giving most of its attention to the speaker or writer, be very careful and ask the Lord to confirm this, rather than just accepting it automatically.

We can be very lazy when it comes to receiving teaching and many enjoy being "spoon fed". In Hebrews, there is a very strongly worded rebuke about growing up in the faith: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:12-14) This tells us very clearly that the best way to be discerning and protect ourselves from false teachers is to "grow up" in God's word. If we accept and believe all that His word tells us about being in a right standing with God, because of what Jesus has done, then we must simply read His word daily and DO it, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In particular, when we speak it out of our mouths, our faith is built up and we can use it in every situation where we find ourselves needing God’s perspective.

People-pleasers can never be God-pleasers. Winning human approval can never take the place of winning God’s approval. You and I may be called one day to give up our lives for our faith. If we are people-pleasers, it will be very hard to do it. We are more likely to seek a compromise solution and deny our Lord. Jesus Himself went willingly to die in our place on the cross. He purchased pardon for (and freedom from) the punishment that was otherwise due to us. "You can see that I am not trying to please you by sweet talk and flattery; no, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please men I could not be Christ's servant." (Galatians 1:10)


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