Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Oh Foolish Christians

Do you ever wonder how you can go from having a relatively peaceful heart to being overwhelmed with dizzying tension?

I do. 

I wonder how it is that I can rest in Christ's love for me one minute, and the next minute I'm struggling to keep my bearings. I falter and succumb to unbelief and think, the good news cannot be that good. There must be a catch. For all the bad things I've done, for all the wrong things I think, surely, I must have to make up for it in some way.

I have a friend who I speak with regularly and most of our conversations end with reassuring each other that it really is o.k.,

and that the gospel really is what it is, and really means what it says.

The Galatians struggled in much the same way we do today. They heard the gospel. But after a while, other voices became louder and challenged their faith. Weakened by the lies of the enemy, they fell into wrong thinking, believing that they should have Jesus and hang on to a few traditions. Like the Galatians, we have heard the gospel. And like them, we are easily persuaded to believe a "Jesus +" gospel. Oh, it may look the same. It's dressed up in all the ways the gospel is supposed to be dressed - but with a few "accessories." Nothing outlandish.

Just deadly.

We've bought into this other gospel because it convinces us that we must contribute something, and, what we bring to the table is actually worth something. We like this "improved" version. The only problem is it leads to death. Not a redemptive death. A permanent death. That's why Paul wastes no time setting the Galatian believers straight. I appreciate the way he tells it like it is:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. 

Knowing that others played a part in their unbelief, he shakes his fist at those who preached a false gospel to them:

Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. 

He continues:

I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 

Paul asks them:

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 

He argues by stating:

If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 

Some may say, c'mon Paul. What are you so riled up about?

Paul could have easily walked away from this dog fight. He could have left the Galatians alone to figure it out for themselves. Or, he could have encouraged them along their "Jesus +" way and exhorted them to just do the best they could. But Paul knew a little something about that option. You see, Paul had a story. A pretty amazing story. This is how he tells it in Philippians:

[I was] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul did not realize it at the time, but his legacy, education, and religious devotion had not brought him any closer to God. In fact, it left him wholly separated from the one true God he tried to worship with all his might.

Paul may have thought his story was complete since he was living the good life of religion and devoutness. It's then, that Paul's story takes a miraculous turn.

His story continues in Acts

La conversion de Saint Paul by Luca Giordano
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

But rise...

Those two words hold the power of life for the threat-breathing murderer turned Apostle Paul. It would be easy to believe a kind of cleaned up version of Paul's conversion. You know the one where Paul stops persecuting Christians and apologizes to everyone he's hurt. He starts talking up Jesus to all his friends. Then, Jesus comes and says, "Well done, now rise.But that's not how the story goes. The Bible says, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 

But rise

Jesus was talking to Saul at the time, not Paul. Jesus was talking to the same old persecuting self-righteous Pharisee on his way to persecute more Christians. In the moment of Saul's murderous contemplations, Jesus commands, but rise. Jesus in essence said, I know you are persecuting me even now, but I am changing your story. In the midst of your evil doing, I love you and I died for you and because of my great love for you, I am raising you from your death. Make no mistake, you can't raise yourself, you're dead in your sin.

But rise. 

By my power, you will live. 

As Paul recounts his story, he now knows better than anyone that the flesh holds no power for salvation. Paul knew first-hand the part works played in his own salvation. Zero. He knew the lineup of "good deeds" he had accumulated and they were worth absolutely nothing. Paul had experienced the new life promised in Christ and he would never be the same again. He would never stop preaching the one true gospel and reminding believers, even today, that it is For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

No comments:

Post a Comment