Jesus has done it all


In Galatians, chapter two, we read about Paul’s visit to James, Peter and John in Jerusalem to discuss the problem of Jewish teachers coming to the newly-established Gentile church and claiming that becoming a believer by grace through faith is not enough. They insisted that there had to be more: in this case, that you could only become a believer by keeping the law as well, including circumcision. These "Judaisers", as Paul called them, had gone to every place - certainly in the province of Galatia - and we know that they had also gone to Antioch and caused confusion amongst the new believers there.

This situation was very close to Paul’s heart because he had recently returned with Barnabas and others from his first "missionary journey". This included time in Galatia. (We know about his visits to Lystra, Derbe and Iconium from Acts, chapter fourteen.) They had established churches in these places and given the new believers a firm grounding, by teaching them that salvation from sin was possible only through faith in Jesus Christ. The new believers learned more about Him through reading their scriptures, what we now call the "Old Testament", especially the law of Moses and the prophetic writings. Also through their personal experience of the Holy Spirit working in and through their lives, which had been completely changed by their new-found faith.

A problem with false teaching

Suddenly, Paul was receiving reports back from these new churches that disturbed him immensely and caused him to question (and be questioned on) what he had taught them. In his own mind, Paul was convinced that what he had passed on to them was exactly what he had received from Jesus Himself (during the "time-out" that he took in Arabia - Galatians 1:17). He wanted to eliminate any nagging doubts about his own teaching and, eventually, to find time to go back and repair the damage.

Initially, Paul went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, Titus and others to check out his doctrine with James, Peter and John, the acknowledged leaders of "The Way". They responded by treating the matter very seriously and convening what is now known as the "Jerusalem Council" - a comprehensive debate about what had happened to the Gentile (non_Jewish) believers as they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. (Galatians 2:3) The evidence from all the reports that they received was that the new churches had formed as people had believed, been baptised in water and drenched in the Holy Spirit. The conclusion of the council was that: "If God has accepted these people without having to keep the law, then how can we do otherwise?" They wrote a letter to the churches, confirming their decision, and sent Paul, Barnabas and Titus, together with their compatriots, back to Antioch to pass on the good news to them.

We have said already that it is vitally important that we surround ourselves with Christian men and women who are experienced in their Christian lives and who are not afraid to speak honestly and frankly. They should be people who will tell us if they think that what we are teaching is not in line with what the Bible states. We don't want people who will simply agree with us, whatever we say. As believers, we should always be able to have a full and frank discussion with other beleivers about why we believe what we have said. This should not present any problems to any of us and will help to develop our joint understanding of what the Bible teaches. Remember: challenge and change will never hurt anyone if done in love with confirmation from God's word. (Ephesians 4:15) This was very much Paul's approach. When Peter started behaving differently, because he was with other Jewish people, to how he had behaved previously with non-Jewish people, Paul opposed him to his face. (Acts 2:11-16)

Read Galatians 3:1-14

The glorious truth of the matter is that the law given by Moses itself points us to Jesus. Through this law, we recognise that we can never be justified - made just as if we had never sinned - by our good behaviour or our background. We also have to look at what the law itself foreshadowed: the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the sin of the entire world. In other words, every sin - past, present or future - has been dealt with through Jesus' death on the cross. Some people ask, "if that is the case, why can every person not go to heaven, to spend eternity with Jesus?"

Well, the Bible answers this question. In John 3:3-8, when the lawyer, Nicodemus, was asking Jesus various questions, Jesus responded: "With all the earnestness I possess, I tell you this: unless you are born again, you can never get into the kingdom of God. Unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, that person cannot enter the kingdom of God. Human beings can only reproduce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven; so don't be surprised at my statement that you must be born again! Just as you can hear the wind but cannot tell where it comes from or where it will go next, so it is with the Spirit. We do not know on whom He will next bestow this life from heaven."

Later on, when still talking to Nicodemus, Jesus made the most mind-blowing and heart-stopping statement: “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) This salvation is open to all and fully paid-up for any who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and who receive Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God's laws and God's gift

If it had been possible to be justified by keeping God's laws, then there would have been no need for Jesus to come to the earth. There would have been no need for Abraham to have believed God. There would have been no need of faith or grace, by which we must be saved. In fact, there would have been no need for any of the amazing things that God has done for His people – both Jews and Gentiles - down through the ages. All that would have been necessary would have been for you and me to keep God's laws - to manage a system of tick-boxes if you like. So many people today seem to think that it would be better to have a relationship with God that is governed by keeping laws. They think that they would be happier - more content - with such a system because it would be fairer.

The problem is that all the evidence and experience of the Old Testament went to prove that human beings are totally incapable of keeping God's laws. It just doesn’t work that way! Indeed, we all fall at the very first hurdle: "Love the LORD your God with ALL your heart." Fortunately, because of His enormous love for human beings, God has graciously provided a means by which it can work and we can be supremely thankful that it does. He sent His own Son, who was able to keep God's laws, and who then paid the penalty for all of our law-breaking. More than that, God then allowed all who put their faith in Jesus to be "born again" (of the Holy Spirit) and to live the rest of their human lives "in Jesus".

So, in Galatians, chapter three, Paul severely chastises the Galatians for even giving the "Judaisers" room to discuss the matter. Paul continues: "Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" (Galatians 3:1-5) The answer, of course, is that the Galatians were not saved by observing God's law, but by believing what they heard. It was the same for Abraham: "So also Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness". (Galatians 3:6)

Paul makes a very clear statement to the Galatians. He might just as easily have made that statement to people in our day who believe that they will arrive in heaven after death, based on the fact that they have been "good people" (whatever that might mean). They believe that whatever they have done wrong will be outweighed by the good that they have done. They believe that, even if they have taught others things that are wrong, if it was done with "good intentions", then that will somehow be overlooked on the day when they stand before the judgement seat of Christ. But God Himself says something very different. Where His kingdom is concerned, we cannot simply make up our own rules. In Revelation 21:27, it clearly states: "Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be in heaven". There will be no appeal, no process of consideration. We are dealing here with the Almighty God who knows everything. The "Lamb", of course, is none other than Jesus, the "Messiah" ("Anointed One"). The basis on which our name appears in His book of life is plainly and simply this: have we received His free gift of salvation by grace, with faith in all that Jesus has done in His death and resurrection?

The way of love

Paul makes clear to the Galatians that, once they have given their lives to Jesus, they belong to a far bigger family. They belong to the "household of faith" which started with Abraham. As Christians today, we belong to this same household. If we rely on faith rather than on keeping God's laws, we receive the same blessings as faithful Abraham. Abraham’s faith was so strong that he believed that, even if his son Isaac were to die by his hand at God’s command, God would raise him up again to fulfil the promise He had made to him before Isaac’s birth: that he would be the "father of many nations". (Hebrews 11:8-19)

If we start trying to live by legalistic rules - even rules based on God's laws - Paul describes this state of affairs as a curse: "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.’" (Galatians 3:10) If we want to live by God's law and be justified by it, then we have to keep the whole law, every "jot and tittle" (Matthew 5:17-18) of it - the very smallest of small print. It won't do to manage 95% of it or even 99.9% of it. It has to be all of it, all of the time - that is, all of the time!

The Bible says that this is the standard: When asked by a pharisee (who was an expert in God's law): "Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus answered: "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40) Now, how do we stack up to that in our own lives? Perhaps, now, we can begin to see the truth of what Paul said to the Galatians, who had the same problems that we do today about believing by faith: "Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, 'The righteous will live by faith.'" The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The one who does these things will live by them." (Galatians 3:11-12)

Jesus bore the results of our sin and our failure to live according to God’s laws. But He Himself kept that law. It has all been done for us. There is now nothing more to do except to accept the amazing, free gift that God wants to give us: eternal Life. (Galatians 3:13-14) Crucifixion as a means of execution was supposedly designed by the Romans. Yet, the Bible described it way back in the Old Testament. (See Deuteronomy 21:22-23.) These Galatians would have understood entirely what Paul was talking about when it came to crucifixion, for they lived during a time when that barbaric method of death was widely used. Jesus died that death so that you and I might have our sins completely washed away and receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. That is something to praise God for every day!

Read Galatians 3:15-22

Paul’s absolute certainty and knowledge of God's law comes out in this passage. Don’t forget, he had trained under some of the finest lawyers in Israel, notably Gamaliel. He knew the religious law inside out, but here he brings it down to a level that you and I can understand.

God’s covenant, which was to benefit all of Abraham's descendants, was given as a promise by God to Abraham and was never changed or varied. The promise was: "All nations will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18) Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, so the same promise applied to Him as well. Paul explains that the blessing promised to Abraham came through his faith. Similarly, this same blessing is extended to non-Jewish people through faith in Jesus, Abraham's descendant. It does not depend on any law. If it did, then nobody would be in a position to receive it. Instead it depends upon the grace of God. This was God’s plan all along: a worldwide family, whose badge was faith in the "Messiah" ("anointed one") - His Son. "What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." (Galatians 3:15-20)

God's laws were given to us as a kind of "schoolmaster" to teach us that for humans to keep rules and regulations - even God's rules and regulations - is totally impossible. "Since that’s true, should we consider the written law to be contrary to the promise of new life? How absurd! Truly, if there was a law that we could keep which would give us new life, then our salvation would have come by law-keeping. But the scriptures make it clear that the whole world is imprisoned by sin! This was so that the promise would be given through faith to people who believe in Jesus Christ." (Galatians 3:21-22 - The Passion Translation)

Read Galatians 3:23-29

The death of Jesus has opened the gates of the prison of sin. If we choose to put our faith in Him, then we are free to go. Unfortunately, even though everyone would wish to go, there is only one way out: through faith in what Jesus has done. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to bow the knee to Him!

The prison of sin

The purpose of God's law is to lead us to Jesus and to point us to the one and only way! Once we become Christians, we are no longer under the supervision of His law. When we have given our lives to Him, there is no longer any need of God's law for us because, in Jesus, that law has been entirely fulfilled and we are born again into the family of God. In Jesus and through His atoning death on the cross, the demands of the law have been fulfilled and we have entered into life. In Jesus, we are all one. There is no differentiation. If any person (red, yellow, black, white, of any colour any tribe or nationality) - any person - is in Christ (has been born again by the Spirit of God) then that person is a child of Abraham by faith and an heir to the promise that God gave to him and to his Seed (Jesus).

"You have all become true children of God by faith in Jesus Christ! Faith immersed you into Christ and now you are covered and clothed with His life. And we no longer see each other in our former state (Jewish or non-Jewish, rich or poor, male or female) because we’re all one through our union with Jesus Christ. And if you belong to Christ, then you are now Abraham’s 'child' and a true heir of all his blessings because of the promise God made to Abraham!" (Galatians 3:26-29)

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