A Family of Believers Centered on the Gospel (Galatians 1:6–10)

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A Family of Believers Centered on the Gospel

On Sunday our elders proposed a new church mission statement. At its core is the commitment is to be a “Family of Believers Centered on the Gospel.” In preparation for that “roll out,” I preached a sermon on Galatians 1 and the importance of protecting and proclaiming the gospel.

Here’s the sermon audio, with a few additional resources and response questions.

The Gospel Proper

Theological Triage: A Way to Keep the Gospel at the Center

Response Questions

  1. What is the letter to the Galatians all about? Why does the tone matter? How does it teach us to think about the Gospel?
  2. Who is Paul writing to? And why does that matter? (Hint: the church is ultimately responsible for their doctrinal beliefs).
  3. What is the gospel? Read Galatians 1:4; Romans 1:1–7; 1 Corinthians 15:1–8 for reference.
  4. How can we deviate from the Gospel? How have you turned aside—in belief or practice? How have you seen churches deviate? What do we learn from Peter’s example (read Galatians 2:11–14)?
  5. How does a church keep the gospel at the center? What role does a statement of faith play in that? What about a mission statement?
  6. Read over the mission statement and the associated Scriptures. What would you add or edit in this statement? Talk about how keeping these truths before us helps us keep the gospel at the center.
  7. Pray for the church and for our focus on the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

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Learning to Love One Another: The Gospel, Racial Reconciliation, and Burden-Bearing (Galatians 1–6)

In recent years, it’s been hard to miss our country’s rise in racial tensions. Or maybe we are just seeing what’s been there under the surface all along. Our country seems overwhelmed by all kinds of racialized sentiments. And in the church, Christ’s multi-ethnic bride continues to bear the scars of deep-seated racial division and hurt that goes back decades and centuries.

By contrast, the Bible presents a glorious vision of multi-ethnic worship, centered around the throne of God (see Revelation 5, 7, 21–22). And in Paul’s letters, there is a constant refrain for a diverse people to be unified in the work of Christ and the gift of the Spirit.  

On this point, this Sunday’s sermon focused on the gospel message in Galatians and how it relates to racial reconciliation. From Galatians’ six chapters, I drew out six gospel truths. In six points, we see that Galatians

  1. is all about the gospel;
  2. identifies a kind of division (in the church) that denies the gospel;
  3. proclaims a gospel that is international in scope and content;
  4. prioritizes faith as the fundamental community marker;
  5. teaches those who have been justified by faith alone to be passionate about justice;
  6. and calls the gospel community to seek justice in love, service, and burden-bearing to one another.

This sermon marks the second time I’ve preached on this subject. (The first was a biblical theology of race). As before, this subject is an incredibly heavy one, and one that still raises more questions than I have answers. That being said, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer that can give hope and help to the body of Christ bruised and broken by racism.

My prayer is that God would use this sermon as one small step to help our church grow as community compelled by the vision of Revelation and led by the directions of Galatians (and the rest of Scripture). May God bring healing to his church and may the power of gospel be see in multi-ethnic communities of faith. You can listen to the sermon online. Discussion questions and further resources are below.  Continue reading

No Other Gospel: Reflections from The Gospel Coalition

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
— Galatians 6:14 —

For three days this week, ten of us from Occoquan Bible Church traveled to Indianapolis to join 8,500 other followers of Christ at The Gospel Coalition’s bi-annual gathering. This year we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and its recovery of the gospel. The theme of this week’s conference was “No Other Gospel” and in less than 72 hours we heard six messages from Galatians and three messages on the historical figures of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformation heroes, including the women who contributed to the Reformation. We also sat in on countless breakout sessions related to church history and practical ministry. In all it was a much needed time of refreshment and recalibration.

In all, our trip to Indy was an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, and learning. I benefitted most from John Piper’s opening message on Galatians 1 and Tim Keller’s closing message on Galatians 6. In particular, Keller’s connection between boasting in the cross (Galatians 6:14) and spiritual transformation was powerful.

His point was this: It is not enough to know about Christ and his cross. If one wants to be changed—i.e., freed from sin and full on grace—he or she must boast in the cross. This means verbal praise but even more, it is a confidence in life that taunts all other competitors and presses deeper into Christ. There is nothing more glorious than Christ and his cross, the message of the gospel. As we cling to that truth and boast about that reality above all others, God will change us.

With that in mind, let me share a few more observations from the men who went to Indy. Hear them boast in Christ, his cross, and the chance to devote three days to worshiping. Let it spur you on and encourage you to listen to the sessions online or to join us next year. Continue reading

Made Alive By the Spirit: The Pneumatology of Galatians (pt. 1)

windIn Galatians Paul spends a great amount of time explaining justification. That is to say, he argues that people are declared “right with God” as they place their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. In this way, Paul lays the ground work for the Reformation doctrine of Sola Fide: By Faith Alone are we saved.

In Galatians 2:16, he writes,

A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and no by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

And again in Galatians 3:10–14,

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…but the law is not of faith, rather…’Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’–so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

However, this leads to the question, for those justified by faith, what does Paul say about sanctification? If salvation (in this case, righteousness) has nothing to do with personal holiness or obedience, how does Paul’s gospel restrain anyone from gross immorality or ethical indifference? His answer is the Holy Spirit. And in systematic fashion he unfolds in Galatians a powerful description of what the Spirit does in the life of the believer. While Paul does not undertake the task of providing a comprehensive pneumatology, he does provide a rough outline of the Spirit’s work from conversion to consummation, with the absence of the gifts of the Spirit.

In what follows, I will outline a brief pneumatology from the book of Galatians. Here is the outline. I will tackle three of these today and three in the next week or so.

  1. Born of the Spirit (4:29)
  2. Received the Spirit (3:2–3, 14)
  3. Alive in the Spirit (5:5, 25)
  4. Walk in the Spirit (5:16)
  5. Desires of… Led by… Fruit of the Spirit (5:17, 18, 22–23)
  6. Walk in the Spirit (5:25)

Continue reading

What is the Law of Christ?

In Galatians, a letter that denounces the works of the law (see 2:16), Paul argues that Christians ought to fulfill the law by love (Gal 5:13-14) and to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).  However, a good investigative question in Galatians 6:2 is “What is the law of Christ?” and “What is it doing in Paul’s letter?”  In other words, Why would Paul advocate the “law of Christ” when he has been fighting against the Judaizers and their radical use of the law?

Richard Longenecker in his Word Biblical Commentary on Galatians offers a helpful definition and sets on a good course to answer those questions.

He writes that the law of Christ are those “prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel (usually embodied in the example and teachings of Jesus), which are meant to be applied to specific situations by the direction and enablement of the Holy Spirit, begin always motivated and conditioned by love” (275-76).

Therefore, we see that Paul steers a third course that is different than nomism (Christ + law) and lawlessness (no law at all).  It is not just a middle road, or a Hegelian synthesis, but a third way.  On the one hand, he contests nomism with its advocacy that the covenant keepers must continue to do the works of the law.  He does this by asserting a view of the law of Christ that is not based on law-keeping but on Christ’s fulfillment of the law for Christians.  Accordingly, the law of Christ is a finished work, and one that requires faith not works. Moreover, the deciding factor between the two is the presence and  power of the Holy Spirit.  Fulfilling the law of Christ is not a human work, but the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer, because after all, the first fruit of the Spirit is love (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

At the same time, Paul avoids lawlessness, because in fulfilling the law of Christ he shows that the gospel has ethical implications and entailments.  The law of Christ is accompanied by the life-giving and life-changing Holy Spirit and it is the love of the Spirit which fulfills the OT law.  Therefore, the difference between the law and the gospel is that the gospel tells you what has been done and it gives you the Spirit to live a holy and loving life.  The law had no such power.

So why does Paul use the term “law of Christ”?  He is turning the Judaizers on their head, saying “You want to talk about law?  Let’s talk about law!  The law of the born again believer is the law of Christ! What Christ has done, what he is doing, and what he will one day complete.  It is from him, through him, and to him.  He is the one who fulfilled the law and who by his death destroyed the law.  He has now put in place a greater law and it is the one written on human hearts by His Spirit.  Walking by the power and direction of the Spirit is a far greater “law” than anything Moses ever recorded; it is an inside job and one that has a power that the Old Covenant never did.”

May we walk in the power of the Spirit and fulfill the law of Christ as we love, serve, and minister to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Why then the Law? : Counter-Intuitive, Gospel Logic

“Why then the law?”

In Galatians 3:19, Paul poses that question, and in the rest of the chapter, he sets out to explain the purpose of the law.  To answer his own question he says that the law came to increase sin (v. 19; cf. Rom 5:20; 7:7ff) and to imprison all mankind under sin (v. 22).  Why would God do that?  Why would God do something that would increase law-breaking in the world?  If God knew that adding law to the world would increase sin, why wouldn’t he do something else to help rehabilitate his people?

Because God is not in the business of rehabilitation!  His aim is to destroy the works of the devil, defeat death, and render powerless the curse of the law. So…

God sent the law to enfeeble and imprison all mankind–Jews and Gentiles–in order to that all who are held captive by the law would feel the effects of its shackles, so that the sinners woudl be spurred to long for the gospel of grace.  In God’s wisdom and according to God’s word, it appears that God instituted his law to crush us in our self-confidence, to reveal our wickedness, and magnify our unworthiness, so that in the end, you and I would look away from ourselves, disgusted by our sin, and to gaze upon Christ, the only one who can free us from the law, sin, and death.

Like chemotherapy, God’s law does not make us better; it makes us worse, so that our lives might be spared as we turn to the Great Physician.

Hear Martin Luther’s stunning commentary on how the law tills the soil of our heart, preparing the way for justification, but not accomplishing justification itself:

The Law with its function does contribute to justification–not because it justifies, but becasue it impels the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable.  Therefore we do not abolish the Law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ…; for its function and use is not only to disclose the sin and wrath of God but also to drive us to Christ [Amen!]… Therefore the principle purpose of the Law in the theology is to make men not better but worse; that is, it shows them their sin, so that by the recognition of sin they may be humbled, frightened, and worn down, and so may long for grace and for the Blessed Offspring: [Jesus Christ]!” (Luther on Galatians, quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, p. 137).

When was the last time you heard something like that?  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” namely that God intends  to “humble, frighten, and wear you down” so that you will find grace in time of need (Heb 4:16).

The law shows us our need, our weakness, and our God-forsaking sin.  It points us to Christ, the blessed redeemer and the one who is full of grace and mercy.  He is a sympathetic high priest, who extends to us God’s hand of favor, when we look to him in faith.

May we embrace the law with its terrifying vision of ourselves, and may we flee to the gospel where we find forgiveness and freedom purchased on Calvary’s hill.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Beware of “Do-It-Yourself Christianity”

Yesterday I preached on Galatians 2:17-21, and in my sermon I emphasized  the dangers of “Do-It-Yourself Christianity.”  I described it as the kind of Christianity that arises from a debtor’s ethic, one where someone  saved by grace tries to ‘repay’ God for his grace.  Paul adamantly opposed to this grace-nullifying kind of Christianity (Gal 2:21) and warned the Galatians and us to beware of working out in the flesh what God gives only by faith and the power of the Spirit.

Wonder if you suffer from Do-It-Yourself Christianity?  Here are ten symptoms which might indicate an emphasis on living the Christian life in the power of the flesh.

  1. If you ever pray, “God help me to be the best Christian I can be.”
  2. If you take pride that you are not like those other people.
  3. If you believe Christ died and rose again, but you do not know how those events impact your daily life.
  4. If “What Would Jesus Do?” summarizes your understanding of the Bible and Christianity.
  5. If you base your Christian faith on the “decision” you made and/or the “aisle you walked,” instead of the death Jesus died and the life he gives you by faith in him.
  6. If prayerlessness marks your daily life.
  7. If, in the words of Robert Fulghum, you learned all you needed to know about God, the Bible, and Jesus in VBS and Sunday School.
  8. If putting to death the deeds of the flesh means simply continuing to maintain the manmade barriers–no smoking, no drinking, no cussing, no long hair, etc.– instead of learning to walk by faith and love the unloveable (among other things) in the power of the Spirit.
  9. If confessing sin sounds something like this, “God forgive me for the things I have done, whatever they are.”  When the Spirit convicts, He pinpoints specific areas of sin and disobedience.
  10. If fear of doing wrong moves you to separate from ‘sinners’ and establish greater barriers to protect you from sin, instead of walking in the Spirit, praying for the lost and asking God to make you a Spirit-filled vessel whom God can use to shine light into the darkness (cf Gal 5:16).

Bottom line, do-it-yourself Christianity is trusting in yourself to continue what Christ has begun.  When you compare that mindset to that of the Apostle Paul and Jesus Christ, you will soon realize that such thinking is bankrupt of the gospel.  Gospel living is a life marked by daily repentance and fresh faith in the living and active word of God.  Salvation is not marked by checking a box, but is marked out by Spirit-produced fruit (cf Gal 5:22-23).  Sadly, American Christianity is rife with do-it-yourself Christianity.  It is a kind of religion that confesses Jesus, but denies his power.

May we repent of our self-reliance and learn to walk by faith in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

In need of the gospel more today than yesterday, dss

What is a Christian?

In his Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther has a number of choice statements about the gospel, faith, and conversion.  Commenting on Galatians 2:16, hear how this Reformer defines a ‘genuine Christian’:

(For those not familiar with King James English, please forgive the hath’s and saith’s)

We therefore make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not he who hath no sin, but he to whom God imputeth not his sin, through faith in Christ.  That is why we so often repeat and beat into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.  Therefore when the law accuseth him and sin terrifieth him, he looketh up to Christ, and when he hath apprehended Him by faith, he hath present with him the conqueror of the law, sin, death, and the devil: and Christ reigneth and ruleth over them, so that they cannot hurt the Christian.  So that he hath indeed a great and inestimable treasure, or as St. Paul saith: ‘the unspeakable gift’ (2 Cor 6:15), which cannot be magnified enough, for it maketh us the children and heirs of God.  This gift may be said to be greater than heaven and earth, because Christ, who is this greater gift, is greater (Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, trans. Erasmus Middleton [Reprint: Grand Rapids: Kregel Classics, 1979], 72).

It bears repeating, “a Christian is not one who has no sin,” but one who has advocate with God the Father, Jesus Christ our mediator.  In him do erring sinners find pardon and relief when they come to him in faith.

Since our natural tendency is to work for our salvation and to trust our own religious accomplishments, we must, as Luther says, “often repeat and beat into [our] minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness” comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone and not through our own works.

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

dss