The Letter to the Galatians Outline

When Paul wrote his letters to the churches, he frequently addressed problems they encountered.  The urgency of the problem depended on how swift he addressed it.  In the Galatians letter, Paul began with the problem immediately.  Not long after Christ’s death and resurrection, defection from the gospel began.  The influence of Judaism and the Mosaic Law remained strong among the recipients of the gospel.

The Church lived in two worlds: the world of Judaism and the world of Christ’s resurrection.  While mass conversions took place to Christ, the thought of leaving Judaism never entered the minds of the Jews.  They still had their synagogues, the Temple, sacrifices, ceremonies, and Torah.  The newness of the resurrection never led the Jews to believe that they must leave the Jewish religion and all that defined it.

Then came Paul.  He discovered or rediscovered the seeds of the gospel in God’s word to the Jews in the Old Testament through his encounter with the living Christ.  These seeds came to fruition through Christ.  Christ opened his eyes to the grace and peace (Galatians 1:3) from the unchanging covenant given from God of the Jews and the Gentiles.  As he received this revelation from Christ, he understood how the Mosaic Law never meant to be the means of redemption or what distinguished the people of God from others.  The Gentiles never had the benefits the Jews possessed (Romans 9:4).  Yet, God also called them to redemption.

Since Paul ministered the unqualified grace and peace of Christ to the Gentiles, a huge tension arose among the Jews concerning authority.  God gave Moses the Law.  Must then the Gentiles enter the Christian community of faith through the same authority – Moses?  There is precedent for this process – Gentile proselytes through circumcision.  If so, they must be circumcised and observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law to receive redemption.  Christ was not enough.  Grace was not enough.  One cannot just kick Moses to the curb just because Paul said so.  Who was he to usurp Mosaic authority?  What was Paul’s answer?  No, no, no!  No one could keep the Law.  Sinful flesh held sway over us and simply leads to defection.  Jewish history gave evidence of Israel continually leaving God.

What then?  Paul argues that God the Father and Jesus His Son gave the necessary grace and peace the Law could not provide.  This grace and peace came through the cross: Christ becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).  With this message, Paul encountered the first heresy of this young Church – the renunciation of Christ’s complete satisfaction for sin.  What are the points of this heresy?  Christ and His sacrifice were not enough.  Grace was not enough.  Peace with God was not enough.  The Galatians needed to go through the Mosaic Law to get through Christ’s redemption.  Therefore, salvation was Christ plus, grace plus, the cross plus.  What was the plus?  Human effort!  The tension was between Christ and human effort.

OUTLINE

I.            The Problem: Gospel Defection, 1:6-12; 3:1-4

A.                  The tension with the gospel

B.                  What is legalism?

C.                  Rejecting Christ

D.                 Rejecting Christ’s sacrifice

E.                  Substitutes another gospel that is human centered

II.          Defense of the Gospel from Experience, 1:11-2:21

A.                  Direct Call from Jesus Christ

B.                  Conversion and Rejection of Judaism

C.                  Affirmation by the Apostles

D.                 Showdown with Peter

III.        Defense of the Gospel from the Scriptures and History (OT), 3:1-4:31

A.                  Faith centered as shown by Abraham, 3:1-9; Acts 13:36-40; Habakkuk 2:4

B.                  Opposed to the Mosaic Law, 3:10-12

C.                  Christ centered, 3:13-14

D.                 According to promise, 3:14-18

E.                  Purpose of the Mosaic Law explained, 3:19-4:7

F.                   Mosaic Law versus the promises of God, 4:8-31

IV.        Application and Return to the Message, 5-6

A.                  The liberty of faith and the slavery of the flesh, 5:1-15

B.                  Walking in the Holy Spirit versus walking in the flesh, 5:16-26

C.                  Love as bearing burdens of others, 6:1-5

D.                 Love as doing good, 6:6-10

E.                  Keep the cross central, 6:11-18

 

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The Grace of Soul Restoration

Shepherd with SheepThe Twenty-Third Psalm is timeless.  Pastors continue to read it at funerals and related events.  It brings comfort to those who weep and assurance for those encountering troubles and difficulties.  At times, those who hear it are caught up in an emotional turmoil and some of the deeper truths rush past.  Often application arises first before the meaning of a phrase or word, and some of the richness of the passage or a phrase within it breezes by as an after thought.  For this reason, in spite of the troubles or anxieties that come to mind when we approach a passage as Psalm 23, focusing on particular phrases and words compel a deeper dive into what the author may be communicating.  One important principle for guiding such a reading is realizing that works as Psalm 23 are inspired by God, and the Holy Spirit uses His word as teaching moments about eternal truths.

Upon reading it a few days ago, my eyes stopped at one phrase,

“He restores my soul (Psalm 23:3).

That is a curious phrase.  Restore suggests that something may have been taken away or became worn down and needed repair.  That thought prompted me to seek a Hebrew lexicon to determine how those who spoke the original language treated the word.  I was surprised to discover that the word “restore” has multiple meanings in the original language, one of which is bring back from waywardness.  The applicable truth is quite simple.  When God’s people go astray, He brings them back.  The Scriptures throughout affirms this truth.  Israel constantly turned away from God, but He promised to return them.  The Gospels portray Jesus as the Good Shepherd who keep His sheep and goes after the one that strays (Matthew 18:12-13).  In the same way, the portrayal of God as the Shepherd illustrates this same truth.

The Bible gives testimony that humanity always goes astray.  Even believers in Christ do so.  It is within the nature of men and women to wander off from God.  Temptation easily captures the mind and heart and takes it down a wayward road.  History from the beginning of time illustrates people following their own path.  Frank Sinatra used to bellow out, “I’ll do it my way.”  Our way is the most traveled path.  It is easier and captivates our desires while attempting to fulfill us with pleasures.

The psalmist, David, had a very different perspective.  He recognized that waywardness for the sheep meant death and destruction.  He knew that his own life crossed many destructive and tragic crossroads.  When he encountered these crossroads and encountered tragedy, he later recognized the destructive nature of his actions.  God restored him.

If we review the context of Psalm 23, that type of restoration seems to come to light.  The next phrase gives the aftermath of restoration,

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (23:5)

Righteousness suggests a contrast that the sheep have gone the wrong way, and the shepherd took his rod and staff and  restored them to the right path (23:4).  These implements give comfort, because they lead back to familiarity.  The wrong path was a frightful unfamiliar ground full of dangers.  The rod is a means of discipline for showing the right way.

The way of the shepherd is “goodness and mercy,” whereas the way away from the familiar path is evil and harshness.  The shepherd is good and merciful.  This means that he does not wait for the sheep to return to him.  They never will once they are lost in an unfamiliar pasture full of rocks and stubble.  He goes after them and restores them to the right pasture, the pasture full of nutrition for the soul (23:5).  He guarantees the believer’s safety in this life and the next.  Such safety surfaces from God’s grace of soul restoration.

Surprised by Grace: Simeon

The prophets of Israel longed to know about which they spoke. Peter wrote of them,

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Suffering played a key role in the early church, and Peter wrote to these suffering Christians to encourage them so they would not lose heart. He used the role of suffering to illustrate that just as Christ suffered, so also must they in a world which sin turned upside down. We gather from what Peter wrote a deep sense of longing arising from both the prophets and angels of God for the coming of Messiah and the redemption He brings. However, God gave the prophets a limited message beyond which they could not speak or even know. God also informed the angels that even they could comprehend only so much.

God alone laid out His plan in perfect order down the corridor of time, and He alone would fulfill the promise of grace made in ages past concerning the ultimate grace He would bestow on humanity through Messiah. God used suffering to prepare the world for this Messiah event. He did so that people would not look to themselves or their resources for deliverance but to Him, the Mighty God, Deliverer, and Holy One of Israel.

The time finally arrived. Anticipation rose to its highest peak. God now commanded His angels to shout gladness and joy from the heavens, their desire fulfilled. A star announced the Consolation of Israel and the Gentiles. Magi arrived at the house in which the baby slept and bestowed gifts at the feet of this newborn (Matthew 2:11). They looked upon the grace of God with awe.

There is more. Grace awaited an old man who longed for Messiah. He knew he would not die or face Nunc demittis[1] or “Now you dismiss,”

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, New Revised Standard Version).

Like the prophets of old and the angels, Simeon simply longed for Messiah. He knew God would fulfill His promise. But when? Signs pointed to a future time, but no one knew exactly not even the prophets. He lived to serve God. The Scriptures describe him as “just and devout,” or righteous and God-fearing. Luke emphasizes that he communed with the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit was his constant guide and companion. While Simeon walked with and in the Spirit, the coming of Messiah remained undisclosed.

One day, the Holy Spirit sent him to the Temple. To Simeon, this prompting must have been simply a normal one. His communion with the Spirit was a common occurrence from what the Scriptures suggest. Off he went down the dusty street, perhaps praying as he walked with the tentative gait his age conveyed on him. He goes about his worship, a custom he relished. He hears footsteps echoing down the Temple corridor. These were not the normal footsteps of routine visitors making their way in to offer worship.

His half-closed eyes widened. Is it…? Can it be? He straightens himself up as much as an old man could and makes his way to his feet from his knees. His anticipation heightens as he begins to tremble. He squints and sees two shadows coming closer and closer. A couple enters the light of the Menorah candles on the altar. The woman carries a baby in her arms. Yes! Yes! Surprised by grace. Messiah! He stretches out his arms with a soft smile and tears streaming from his eyes. The woman comes closer and hands him the baby as Simeon sighs with joy. He speaks,

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, New Revised Standard Version).

He pauses, turns to the woman, and continues,

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35, NKJV).

He performs his final service for his God. He declares Messiah and His mission. He prophesies the agony and pain His mother will experience. He tells of the promise fulfilled for redeeming the lost. He calls for God to give his Nunc demittis (“Now you are dismissing”) so he can rejoice with the angels in heaven. He passes the mantle to John to declare,

Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight” (Mark 1:3).

[1] Latin for Simeon’s words after he saw Jesus and translates into English as Now you are dismissing or Allow me to depart. It is often sung as an evening canticle at Christmas.

Surprised by Grace: Mary

All of us know the story of Mary the mother of Jesus. The Scriptures speak highly of her and give us many details about her. She fearlessly stood with her Son before the cross as He died for our sins. She prayed in the upper room with the disciples and witnessed their choice of Matthias to replace Judas. She received the Holy Spirit when He came upon the disciples on Pentecost. The writers of the gospels relied on her as a resource to record the life of Jesus. Yes, she played a pivotal role in rearing Jesus in bringing Him up in the fear of God. Although He existed as God come in the flesh, “He learned obedience…” (Hebrews 5:8), we cannot deny Mary’s participation in teaching Him. Yet, while she gave birth and mothered Jesus, she acquiesced to His rule over her as her Savior and Lord.

Mary-JesusAs we enter into her story, we discover the surprises she received from God. The first of these surprises came about when an angel of the Lord appeared to her. This was no ordinary angel. Rather, God sent Gabriel the archangel, among the highest of God’s angels. Gabriel dwelled in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), in His royal court as His personal servant (Maxwell Davidson, “Angels” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). It took a special messenger with a special message for Mary because she would bear the Son of God. Gabriel declared to her,

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28)
This declaration troubled Mary. That is, her emotions appeared to overwhelm her thoughts with intense perplexity and confusion rather than expressing joy as Gabriel encouraged her to experience. Favored? Blessed among women? What kind of message is this? God surprised her with grace. Gabriel continued in his greeting,
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30)
Gabriel wanted Mary to know that what he said was not simply idiomatic or an ordinary greeting as we often express ourselves to others such as,
Bless you!
or,
Have a good day!
or again,
I wish you well!
Rather, Gabriel declares God’s grace twice to Mary, not with a frivolous phrase, but with meaning and the full weight of God’s promise. God embedded His guaranteed redemption in this grace. God gave Mary genuine and earth-shattering grace. In the same way that Noah found favor or grace in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8), so also did Mary. The favor or grace toward both Noah and Mary was momentous and historic. It was redeeming grace. Just as God redeemed Noah and his family, He also set apart Mary to bear the Redeemer of humanity. This grace amounted to far more than wishing one well or a reaction of “Bless you.” This grace possessed eternal weight and results, because God’s word has repercussions for eternity. What could prepare Mary or us for such grace?
Grace does come in surprising ways, especially when unexpected. Mary had a difficult time handling this grace from God. It initially confused her to realize that the King of all existence and the redemption of sinful humanity would grow in her womb and receive birth from her. Rejoice? Finally, after Gabriel finished speaking, she said,
“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
What an example for us toward whom God declares grace! God surprised Mary with grace. He also does that with everyone who belongs to Him. God’s grace is not a frivolous declaration from Him such as “Bless you, my Son.” When God blesses us with grace, He does so with purpose, power, and resoluteness.
When God appeared to Isaiah as he worshiped in the temple, Isaiah fell prostrate on the ground and shook as he cried,
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5)
The same trembling and fear came upon him as descended on Mary. He recognized the grace of God with great humility and received it in similar fashion. God’s grace causes such a response. It bends us to the earth and causes us to recognize our state – those in need of the Savior, for it comes with overwhelming mercy and love stunning in our encounter with it. How does grace bend us to recognize our state and simultaneously lift us up with mercy and love?  Forgiveness and complete acceptance.  Everyone who believes through the touch of the Holy Spirit, receives forgiveness and total acceptance before God the Father.  Grace surprises us and catches us off guard in a similar way that it did with Mary.
The group Hillsong presents this same surprise of grace in their lyrics:
And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you
From Hillsong, “I Stand in Awe of You”
Awe expresses surprise and wonder.  Christmas is a time that represents God’s surprising grace that lifts our face to His. Does God’s stunning grace captivate you?
HAVE A GRACE-FILLED CHRISTMAS

Surprised by Grace at Christmas

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” — Matthew 1:21

Have circumstances entered into your life that totally disrupted it?

Then consider the story of Jesus’ parents. Joseph discovers a disturbing fact that his fiancée is pregnant, and he is not the father. What was he to do? Normally betrothals brought in gifts and dowries. This one bestowed confusion and bewilderment. What was he to do? We receive a hint of his reaction. He wanted to put her away quietly so she and her family would not be embarrassed. Then he encounters an astonishing announcement. God surprises Joseph with grace.

This newborn will

“…save His people from their sins.”

Nothing in the biblical story prepares us for these words. They are sudden and abrupt. Isn’t it just like God to meet difficulty and tension with unexpected and abrupt words of grace?

Craziness often drowns out “comfort and joy” for us during Christmas. Sometimes we would rather say, “Bah, humbug!” Alienation, loneliness, loss of hope, and depression have their sway with many. Compulsion marks gift giving. The message the angel of the Lord announced spoke of a sinful world. Luke described the world as steeped in moral darkness (Luke 1:79). The fact is that all of us live in moral darkness in our separation from God. The Bible says death results from our sinful state. All of us stand on the same level of having sinned against God. What are we to do?

The good news is that in our moral confusion, anxieties, alienation, and fears God surprises us with grace. Faith in Jesus delivers us from hopelessness and fear. What are we to do? Trust our lives to Him! This is the Christmas message that caused the shepherds and wise men to rejoice. God surprises us with grace through Jesus and forgives us of all wrongdoing. Christmas and grace intersect in the manger. Surprise someone with grace this Christmas.