Faith in the Son, Not Self

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:10-14 ESV

In Paul’s inimitable style, he begins to weave Old Testament Scripture into his defense of justification by faith. First, he quotes from the book of Deuteronomy using the Greek Septuagint translation.

Cursed is every man that continues not in all the words of this law to do them: and all the people shall say, So be it. – Deuteronomy 27:26 GST

He concludes that those who attempt to keep the law to achieve justification before God are cursed because they are incapable of keeping ALL of the law perfectly and completely. So for Paul, “it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” because it is impossible to do. It is clear to Paul that even Old Testament passages such as Habakkuk 2:4 teach that “the righteous shall live by faith.” This was not a new teaching or doctrine but had been in place from the very beginning.

In Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament, even the great saints of the past achieved righteousness before God by placing their faith in the promises of God, not by earning His favor through good deeds. The passage from Habakkuk that Paul quotes could be better translated as: “The one who is righteous by faith will live.” In other words, a righteous standing before God is achieved by faith in God, and that faith produces life rather than death. It is NOT self-produced deeds of righteousness that produce a right standing before God; that was the false message of those who were distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:7) and leading the Galatians astray.

Once again, Paul appeals to the Old Testament Scriptures, this time quoting from the book of Leviticus.

You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 18:5 ESV).

Here Paul addresses the problem with law-keeping. Anyone who chooses to use the law as their basis for justification before God will spend their entire life under the relentless burden of perfect obedience. It will require constant vigilance and a never-ending commitment to keep every single command given by God. There will be no room for mistakes and no days off.  Every single sin will count against you. In fact, the apostle James puts the gravity of this point in fairly disturbing terms:

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. – James 2:10 NLT

So if you want to make law-keeping your preferred method of restoring your relationship with God, you will have your work cut out for you. And that work will never achieve its desired goal.

Paul brings out another important point. The law is not of faith. Keeping the law has little to do with faith in God because it is all about faith in self. It is based on self-reliance and depends upon self-sufficiency. In this system, God gives the rules and it is up to man to live up to them, and God will not be satisfied with partial obedience.

“You must keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and follow them. I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:37 BSB

The Israelites were not free to cherry-pick which laws they wanted to obey. They couldn’t ignore or overlook particular ordinances that they found to be too difficult or distasteful to obey. But in their attempt to keep the law, the Israelites began to justify and rationalize their law-breaking. They developed workarounds and loopholes that allowed them to sin without fear of repercussions. They made certain sins subjective and up for debate. In a sense, they tried to make sin seem less sinful. This led to comparison, with one sinner comparing himself to another in an attempt to justify himself. In a world filled with sinners, it’s easy to find someone whose sins are worse than your own. This leads to competitive righteousness, with each individual judging himself by another. But God doesn’t grade on the curve or compare one man’s righteousness with another’s. The law is His standard of righteousness. He is not looking for the one who can attain the highest moral score or outrank his neighbor in righteousness. He is demanding sinless perfection.

God repeatedly told the people of Israel that holiness was the standard by which they would be judged.

“For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44 ESV

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. – Leviticus 19:2 ESV

“Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. – Leviticus 20:7 ESV

There was no reward for those who tried hard. There was no gold star for effort. As Paul makes clear in his letter to the church in Rome, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Sin is nothing less than rebellion against a holy and righteous God, and that rebellion places the sinner under His wrath and condemnation and, in His justice, He must mete out the proper punishment.

This is where Paul brings in the good news. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13 ESV). In other words, Jesus took our place on the cross and suffered the judgment we deserved. The punishment for our sins fell on Him. The prophet Isaiah predicted the death of Jesus and the impact it would have on mankind:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that the Mosaic law had a requirement regarding the death of a law-breaker. “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23 ESV).

Paul has this passage in mind when he says, referring to Christ’s death on the cross, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13 ESV). Even the method by which Jesus died vividly illustrated the curse He suffered so that men might be made right with God. He endured what we deserved and did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. His death gave us access to life while our death would have led to eternal separation from God.

We are made right with God through faith and faith alone. Law-keepers don’t live by faith, they attempt to live by keeping the law. Their hope is in themselves and their ongoing efforts to live up to God’s holy standard, rather than in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Faith requires dependence upon God. We must accept His means of salvation rather than attempting to rely on our own. We must recognize our incapacity to live holy lives and place our trust in His Son’s death on the cross in our place. He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. And by His wounds, we are healed.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith, Not Self-Effort

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7-9 ESV

In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul makes a somewhat surprising argument. Having rejected the idea that adherence to the Mosaic Law was a necessary requirement for salvation, Paul brings up Abraham, the patriarch of the Hebrew nation. What makes this tactic so interesting is that Paul is using the one man that all Israelites revere, including the Judaizers, to support his argument against the need for Gentile conversion to Judaism.

Paul refers to Abraham as “the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9) and this will become the basis of his entire argument. The question becomes: Why was Abraham considered a man of faith? Was it because of something he did? In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul argued that Abraham was deemed righteous before God because of his faith.

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:1-3 ESV

Paul contends that it was Abraham’s belief in the promises of God that led to God’s declaration of his righteous standing. It had nothing to do with Abraham’s behavior or his adherence to a set of laws. Even back in the days of Abraham, God had operated on the singular criteria of faith. His relationship with Abraham was based on a simple promise that stated, “All nations will be blessed through you” (Galatians 3:

the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Galatians 3:8 ESV). This is a direct quote from the promise God made when He called Abraham out of Ur.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Abraham believed this promise and left Ur for the land of Canaan. There was no law involved because the law did not yet exist. Circumcision was not required because God had not yet instituted that religious rite. All that was required of Abraham was faith. He simply needed to believe God’s promise and obey God’s command. And he did.

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him… – Genesis 12:4 ESV

At this point in the story, Abraham’s “family” consisted of himself and his barren wife, Sarah. He had no children and, therefore, no heir. Yet, when God had promised to produce a great nation from him and his infertile wife, Abraham believed and set out in faith.

Paul uses Abraham’s faith-motivated actions as encouragement for the struggling Christians in Galatia.

So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. – Galatians 3:9 NLT

He is using the Hebrew patriarch as an example of what it means to live by faith. The Galatian believers were being told that faith was an insufficient means to receive salvation. The Judaizers were telling them that circumcision was required because it was a sign of the covenant commitment to Yahweh, the God of the Jews. It was the first step in a lengthy and legalistic process toward true faith. But Paul vehemently disagreed, using their own patriarch as the proof.

A few verses later, Paul points out that Abraham was deemed righteous by God long before the Mosaic Law was given. It would be 430 years before the law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, so there is no way that Abraham’s righteousness was tied to the law. When Moses received the promise that God would bless all the nations through him, he was 75 years old. It would be 25 years later before God instituted the rite of circumcision.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. – Genesis 17:9-11 NLT

So, there is no way that circumcision can be tied to Abraham’s faith. God declared Abraham to be righteous long before He commanded the rite of circumcision. Paul clarified this point as well in his letter to the Romans.

For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. – Romans 4:9-11 ESV

You can see why Paul was so upset with those who had shown up in Galatia representing the party of the circumcision. They were demanding that all the Gentile converts be circumcised as a non-negotiable requirement for their acceptance into the fellowship. And yet, in his letter to the Romans, Paul clearly revealed the fallacy behind this belief. He made it perfectly clear that God declared Abraham righteous long before the requirement of circumcision had been given.

The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. – Romans 4:11-12 ESV

Abraham was to be the father of many nations, not just the Hebrews. It’s important to note that God’s original promise to Abraham was made before the Hebrew nation even existed. Isaac had not yet been born.

Later on in this same chapter, Paul divulges how God intended to make Abraham “the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5 ESV). It would be through offspring that God would bless all the nations of the earth. But Paul’s Spirit-inspired interpretation of God’s promise is the most important part of his entire argument.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unpacks this familiar Old Testament passage and reveals that. all along, God’s plan had been to bless the nations through Abraham by making the Messiah one of his descendants. It would be through Jesus that the nations would be blessed by being restored to a right relationship with God the Father through faith in Christ the Son.

It would be through faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross that the nations would be blessed. The Jews (circumcised) and the Gentiles (uncircumcised) would discover the blessings of God through faith in His Son. Paul was adamant in his belief that righteousness was available through faith alone in Christ alone.

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. – Romans 4:13-14 ESV

No one could ever save themselves, including the Jews. Yes, they had the law of God, but they were incapable of living up to its exacting standards. All the law could do was expose their sinfulness and condemn them as unrighteous and unworthy of God’s goodness. The law revealed God’s righteous expectations and man’s incapacity to keep them. The law made the holiness of God tangible, but also unattainable.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. – Galatians 3:23-24 ESV

Paul wanted the Galatians to realize that their salvation was solely based on faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing was missing and there wasn’t anything more they needed to do. It was the finished work of Christ and their complete dependence upon it that had resulted in their salvation. And Paul reminded them that “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Galatians 3:9 ESV).

Faith is foundational to all that we are as believers. Without faith, we have nothing. Without faith, we are nothing.

“In walking with God, a man will go just as far as he believes, and no further. His life will always be proportional to his faith. His peace, his patience, his courage, his zeal, his works – will all be according to his faith” .– J. C. Ryle, Holiness

We are saved as a result of faith. We grow spiritually in proportion to our faith. We live our lives according to faith. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “…without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV).

Our works, devoid of faith, are worthless. And our faith, if not placed in the finished work of Christ and kept there, can easily transform into self-reliance – a kind of faith that seeks to earn favor with God through self-effort. At the heart of biblical faith is a God-dependence that recognizes self as insufficient and Jesus as the only solution to our sin problem.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Legalism and License: Two Dangers for Every Believer

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? – Galatians 3:1-6 ESV

You can sense the frustration in Paul’s words as he begins his theological defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. From his perspective, it is as if his readers have been cast under a spell. His previous efforts, while living and ministering among them, seem to have been in vain. He had gone out of his way to convince them of the grace of God made available through the cross of Christ alone, but now they were allowing themselves to be ‘bewitched” into believing that something was missing. More was necessary. They had bought into the lie that circumcision was an added requirement for salvation but Paul’s problem was not so much with the rite of circumcision as it was with the problem of legalism.

Jesus Christ died a gruesome death on the cross to provide a means of salvation for men and make possible their justification before God. He did for humanity what humanity could not do for itself; He satisfied God. His death was an act of propitiation, fully satisfying the righteous wrath of God against the sins of mankind. And yet, here were the Galatians allowing themselves to be convinced that His death had been insufficient. The Judaizers had successfully sold their formula of faith plus circumcision.

Paul’s opponents probably accused him of being against doing good deeds. They couldn’t understand why a former Pharisee of the Jews would be so opposed to encouraging the rite of circumcision. But Paul was not against good works. He was not propagating a life of moral, ethical, and spiritual complacency. Paul’s issue is with works being tied to and made a requirement for salvation and justification. He truly believed that Jesus had done everything that needed to be done for mankind’s salvation. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was fully and completely sufficient to ransom men and women from their sins and restore them to a right relationship with God.

The message of false teachers will always fall into one of two categories. Either you have not done enough to be truly saved or you don’t have to do anything now that you are saved. Theologians refer to these two extremes as nomism and antinomianism. The Greek word for “law” is nomos, so nomism means “religious conduct based on the law.” Antinomianism is “a theological doctrine that asserts the freedom of Christians from the obligation to observe moral laws” (Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers).

Two more familiar terms are legalism and license. One promotes a doctrine of salvation based on religious rule-keeping while the other encourages the rejection of any moral requirements altogether. Essentially, license propagates the idea that Christians are no longer obligated to keep God’s moral law because we have been set free from it. And while there is a degree of truth to that assessment, it can easily lead to a justification of sin and a life of moral ambiguity.

Both legalism and license share the same root problem: Self-centeredness. One places self at the center of man’s redemption, making human effort the key to salvation. The other promotes self to the point of making salvation all about self-gratification. Rather than holiness, license preaches happiness. Instead of encouraging death to self, license promotes a life of self-satisfaction.

Both of these extremes are dangerous, and Paul found himself constantly having to deal with both of them. In the case of the Galatians, the greatest threat to their faith was legalism. They had placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but now they were being convinced that something was missing. This is why Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2 ESV). The answer was obvious. As Gentiles, they had been oblivious to the Mosaic Law and had done nothing to keep any of the commands it contained, and yet they had managed to come to faith in Christ and had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. None of them had done anything to deserve this incredible gift of grace from God.

Paul took his argument a step further, asking them, “After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). Essentially, Paul was asking them if they thought their salvation had been up to God, but their sanctification was somehow up to them. Now that they were saved, were there some “next steps” they had to take to remain saved?

The issue Paul is raising is that of sanctification, their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. Paul firmly believed in salvation by faith alone but he also believed that faith, if left alone, was not true saving faith. In his first letter to the churches in Corinth, Paul shared some stern words of warning about their lack of spiritual maturity.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in Christ. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

He and Peter saw eye-to-eye on the matter of sanctification. It was Peter who penned these powerful words of admonition and expectation:

…get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment… – 1 Peter 2:1-2 NLT

But Paul was adamant in his belief that good works of any kind were not an add-on to salvation. In fact, Paul believed that sanctification was also a byproduct of faith, not human effort. He wanted the Galatians to understand that not only had they been saved by faith in Christ, but their transformation into His likeness was accomplished by the very same process. That is how he could confidently tell the believers in Philippi, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)

For Paul, there was no such thing as self-sanctification. A man can no more sanctify himself than he can save himself. God’s plan of salvation is all-inclusive and designed to culminate in a finished product that reflects His glory and Christ’s likeness. Paul wanted the Galatians to understand that God didn’t save them and then leave their spiritual transformation up to them.

Again, Paul is not discounting the role of good works in the life of the believer. He is simply emphasizing the source from which those good works are to flow. Later in this same letter to the believers in Galatia, he writes, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22 ESV). God not only saves us; He sanctifies us.

Paul told the Corinthian church, “And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT). We don’t make ourselves more like Christ; that is the Spirit’s job. Our role is to remain submissive and obedient to His activity in our lives. Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13 ESV).

For Paul, the entire process of salvation, justification, and sanctification was the work of God. At no point does the responsibility for redemption fall on man. The only thing we are required to do is trust. We are to submit our lives to His will and relinquish our right to self-autonomy. Paul stated his position well back in chapter two: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

Faith isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event; it is a life-long process, orchestrated by God and powered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Faith is a lifestyle, a way of life, and the key to our salvation, sanctification, and ultimate glorification.

The Galatians didn’t need circumcision to complete their salvation. What they needed was continued faith in the grace and goodness of God. He wasn’t done yet. Paul knew that the Galatians had not yet arrived. Their salvation had been accomplished but their sanctification was a work in process. God, through the indwelling presence and power of His Spirit, was molding each of His children into the likeness of His Son; a process that the apostle John said will one day be made complete when Jesus returns.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure. – 1 John 3:2-3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God’s Love Can’t Be Earned

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:17-21 ESV

Paul’s take on the universal problem of sin is best summed up in his oft-quoted statement: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). He went on to say, “and [all] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-26 ESV).

When Paul used the word “all”, he included the Jews. Even the Israelites, who were the descendants of Abraham and God’s chosen people found themselves in the same condition as the unrighteous Gentiles. They were all guilty and stood condemned before God because of their sins. Because while the Jews had received the law of God through Moses, they had been unable to keep God’s righteous decrees perfectly and completely. In their attempt to be justified or made right with God by keeping the law, they only found themselves condemned by the law.

Paul recalls exactly what he said to Peter when the party of the circumcision had come to town.

“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:15-16 NLT

He acknowledged that the Jews had been set apart by God and extended very unique privileges as His people. His statement, “not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles” does not claim that Israelites are without sin but that their sinfulness is judged differently. They are held accountable to keep the law because the law was only given to them. Paul makes this point clear in his letter to the Romans.

When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it. – Romans 2:12 NLT

The Judaizers were claiming that without the requirement to keep the Mosaic Law, the Gentiles would end up living lives of lawlessness and license. But Paul disagreed. He knew that the law was given to expose the sinfulness of the people of Israel. It was meant to display the true nature of their hearts. For centuries they had lived under the laws that Moses had given them but had repeatedly violated or simply ignored them. Their hearts were not in it. In fact, God had declared of them, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13 NLT).

For Paul, the issue was always about obedience, and from what he could see, there were Gentiles who were better at keeping God’s law than the people of God themselves.

For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. – Romans 2:13-15 NLT

God had given His law to the Israelites to demonstrate their distinctiveness. No other nation was blessed with direct access to Yahweh and the privilege of living under His righteous laws. Moses put it this way:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” – Deuteronomy 4:7-8 ESV

But as great as the law was, it could never justify anyone. The law’s sole purpose was to expose the Israelites’ incapacity to live set-apart lives. The law was clear but their hearts were unclean. This led Paul to paint an unlikely scenario.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? – Galatians 2:17 ESV

He’s posing the question of whether Jesus’ claim of justification in Him alone was intended to lead Jews into sin. And for Paul, the answer is an emphatic, “Certainly not!” It would be ridiculous to suggest that Jesus’ statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV) was encouraging people to ignore the law altogether, causing them to sin. He is the one who also said, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose” (Matthew 5:17 NLT).

Jesus came to fulfill or keep the law. As the sinless Son of God, He was the only one capable of living up to God’s righteous standards. Jesus’ perfect obedience is what made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

So, all this talk about the law and the proposal of a circumcision requirement for all Gentile believers was more than Paul could handle. Jesus had accomplished it all on the cross and there was nothing more necessary. The proponents of circumcision were attempting to add circumcision as a necessary requirement for all Gentiles to “complete” their salvation experience. They were teaching that it was disobedience, and therefore sin, for the Gentiles to refuse circumcision. But Paul argued that justification through Christ reveals that all are sinners, regardless of whether they have been circumcised or not. Jews and Gentiles all stand before God as guilty of sin and worthy of death, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

When men finally come to the realization that they are completely incapable of justifying themselves before God through human effort, they are forced to recognize their own sinfulness and guilt. That is what Paul means when he says they are “found to be sinners.” The process of being made right with God through faith in Christ necessarily exposes our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. But that does not make Christ a servant of sin. In other words, it is not that Christ is leading us into or encouraging us to sin, but He is simply exposing our sin to us. We discover that, as Isaiah says, even our most righteous acts are like filthy rags before God – stained, contaminated, and unacceptable (Isaiah 64:6).

So, Paul contends, why would anyone want to rebuild what has been torn down? Why would we want to return to trying to earn favor with God through rule-keeping? The law could never save anyone. All it could do was condemn and accuse. This did not make the law an accomplice in man’s sin, but the law was God’s holy and righteous means of revealing the full extent of man’s rebelliousness against God. Paul put it this way:

Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

As a result, Paul says, “I died to the law — I stopped trying to meet all its requirements — so that I might live for God” (Galatians 2:19 NLT). He learned to stop trying to earn favor with God through religious rule-keeping. His life was no longer based upon human effort. He had died alongside Christ and had been given a new life with a new nature.

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20 NLT

Paul wanted his readers to know that they had a new power within them, provided by God and made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross. They no longer had to trust in themselves and their own self-effort. They were to trust in the Son of God and rely on the Spirit of God who lived within them.

Paul had no desire to rebuild what had been torn down. He didn’t want to go back to his old way of life, attempting to please God through law-keeping. He remembered all too well what that life had been like. The more he had tried to keep the law, the more his sinful nature seemed to resist and rebel against the law. If it said, “Don’t covet”, he wanted to covet all the more. Like a child who is told not to do something, he felt compelled to do it more than ever. Now that he was free in Christ, he had no desire to go back to the enslavement that came with trying to keep the law. And he didn’t want his readers to fall back under the law either.

The bottom line for Paul is that if righteousness could have ever been achieved through the law, then Jesus’ death would have been meaningless and unnecessary. But as Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV).

Jesus died so that we might live. He fulfilled the law we were incapable of keeping. He did what we could never have done for ourselves; He made us right with God. So now our obedience to God’s righteous standards is motivated by a sense of love and gratitude, not duty. We are no longer trying to earn God’s love, but simply returning it. We are not trying to make Him accept us, but we are only trying to express our appreciation for having already done so. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

By Faith Alone

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that 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 not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. – Galatians 2:11-16 ESV

During the early days of the church’s growth after Pentecost, there was a natural or, better yet, supernatural division of responsibilities. Peter, along with James and John, “had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:7b ESV). Yet Paul wrote, “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised” (Galatians 2:7a ESV). Jesus had given Paul his commission and declared Paul to be “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).

God had divided up the task of disseminating the gospel, but He would not tolerate a dividing of the gospel message. It would be by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That is why Paul claimed, “…when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11 ESV). Those are bold words and can come across as a bit arrogant, but they simply reflect Paul’s determination to proclaim the gospel message he had received from Jesus Himself. As a former Pharisee, he knew all too well the pantheon of rules and regulations associated with Judaism. Paul still considered himself to be a faithful Jew. But he knew that when it came to salvation and man’s justification before God, the works of the law were worthless, “because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 ESV).

Paul’s primary issue with Peter was his hypocrisy. When Peter came to Antioch to witness the ministry firsthand, he gladly associated with the Gentile believers, even eating with them. But when a group of men showed up who represented “the circumcision party,” Peter disassociated himself from the Gentiles. Paul does not provide the identities of these men but indicates that they had been sent by James, the de facto head of the church in Jerusalem. They could have been members of the church in Jerusalem.

What made all of this so confusing and frustrating for Paul was that the leaders of the Jerusalem church had given Paul their official seal of approval.

James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. – Galatians 2:9 NLT

This letter was likely written before the Jerusalem Council, a gathering of church leaders to discuss the matter of circumcision. There were those among the Jewish Christians who believed that circumcision was a necessary requirement for a Gentile to be welcomed into the faith community. Paul and Barnabas would be a part of this event and present their side of the argument. But they would face stiff opposition from the other camp.

But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” – Acts 15:5 ESV

But long before this seminal event took place, Paul was forced to confront Peter about his duplicity. When members of the circumcision party arrived in town, Peter altered his behavior, choosing to disassociate from those he had earlier embraced. Peter’s course reversal irritated Paul because it sent a mixed message to the Gentile believers. Peter’s actions would have brought into question the validity of their salvation, and Paul was not willing to let that go unchallenged. To make matters worse, Peter’s decision influenced Barnabas and the other Jewish believers in the church to follow his example. They withdrew from fellowship with the uncircumcised Gentiles as well, creating a rift in the local faith community. Peter’s face-saving decision ended up dividing the body of Christ and Paul would not stand for it – regardless of Peter’s position as the elder statesman of the apostles.

As far as Paul was concerned, Peter stood condemned. He was guilty as charged. Paul boldly claimed, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14 ESV). They were guilty of adding unnecessary requirements to the gospel, and were, in essence, preaching a different gospel.

Paul had opened his letter with these words of warning:

…there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But 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. – Galatians 1:7-8 ESV

Peter’s actions were hypocritical and ultimately divisive. They caused the Gentile believers to doubt their salvation. Since they had not been circumcised, they were tempted to see themselves as somehow lesser Christians or perhaps, not Christians at all. They would have also wondered why Paul had not told them about circumcision if it was a non-negotiable requirement for salvation. So Paul’s ministry and message were at risk of being undermined.

But for Paul, there was no question about the truth of his message. He was confident that salvation was through faith in Christ alone. Circumcision was not necessary. He even reminded Peter and the other Jews, “we know that 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 not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 ESV).

Paul made this same claim in his letter to the Romans:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.– Romans 3:21-25 ESV

Paul would stubbornly hold to his belief that salvation could only be received by faith. No human effort was required. No rules had to be obeyed or rituals observed. Nothing was to be added to the offer of salvation. There were to be no addendums or alterations of any kind. Salvation was the work of God, not men. We bring nothing to the table. We are made right with God not by what we do, but by what Christ has done for us. All men stand before God as sinful and worthy of condemnation. His judgment against our sin is just and righteous. Our penalty of death is well-deserved and well within HIs rights to enforce as the righteous judge of the universe. But He provided a means by which all men, including Jews and Gentiles, might be restored to a right relationship with Him, despite themselves.

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 NLT

Faith alone in Christ alone. That is the only requirement.

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. – Romans 3:28-30 ESV

We are made right with God by believing in what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. He died so that we might live. He rose again so that we might have eternal life. He has done it all.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

In Defense of the Gospel

1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. – Galatians 2:1-10 ESV

As Paul continues his defense of his apostolic ministry and message, he relates how he actively ministered the gospel among the Gentiles for 14 years before making his way to Jerusalem – the primary hub of the rapidly expanding Christian movement. Paul records that he and Barnabas made the trip together. According to Luke’s account in the book of Acts, Paul had been helping Barnabas minister to the Gentiles in Antioch. Luke provides important insights into what transpired in the early days of the gospel’s growth in Jerusalem. After the stoning of Stephen in Jerusalem, many of the new followers of Christ fled for their safety out of fear for their own lives.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. – Luke 8:1 ESV

Paul, up until his conversion, had played a major role in that persecution, and Luke goes on to say that it resulted in believers moving even further away from Judea.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. – Acts 11:19-24 ESV

The gospel’s expansion into the region of Phoenicia, the city of Antioch, and the island of Cyprus forced the leadership in Jerusalem to develop a plan for overseeing their rapidly expanding network of fledgling congregations. This organic growth was fueled by those whose lives had been transformed upon hearing the gospel on the Day of Pentecost. Jews from all over the known world had traveled to Jerusalem for this annual feast. In the Book of Acts, Luke records that these ethnic Jews and proselytes to Judaism heard the good news of the gospel being proclaimed in their own languages from a small group of uneducated Galilean men.

…at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” – Acts 2:6-11 NLT

Peter took advantage of this captive audience and preached a powerful message that resulted in more than 3,000 individuals coming to faith in Christ. In time, most of these new believers were forced to return to their native countries. Some attempted to remain in Jerusalem out of a desire to remain under the teaching of the apostles but eventually, they made their way home, taking the gospel with them.

These unofficial missionaries were effective in sharing the news that had transformed their own lives. When news reached Jerusalem that the gospel had taken root in these far-flung regions they sent Barnabas to investigate. What he found was both encouraging and concerning. He knew that these new converts to Christianity were going to need assistance and oversight. Their knowledge of the gospel was rudimentary at best and they had received no exposure to the teachings of Jesus.

Barnabas, familiar with Paul’s ministry to Gentiles, decided to recruit him for the ministry needs in Antioch. Barabas traveled all the way to Tarsus to find Paul and for the next year, they would minister to the new congregations in Antioch.

Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.) – Acts 11:26 NLT

Eventually, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to provide the apostles with a report of their activities in Antioch. More than likely, Barnabas wanted Paul there as an expert witness. But Paul makes it clear that he returned to Jerusalem because of a vision he received from God, not because of the invitation of Barnabas.

I went up because of a revelation and set before them…the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. – Galatians 2:2 ESV

As Paul has already made clear, he is not a man-pleaser. He wanted the Galatians to understand that everything he did was under the direction of God, not men. He truly believed that God wanted this matter of the conversion of the Gentiles to become a top priority among the leadership of the growing church. It was essential that all of the apostles be on the same page regarding how these newly converted Gentiles were to be handled.

There were still some who were expecting them to be circumcised and to adhere to the rules and rituals of Judaism. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles had been hounded by a group of individuals who were demanding that all Gentile converts be circumcised in order to validate their salvation. Paul had vigorously opposed this teaching as a distortion of the gospel message, exposing it for what it was: a blatant contradiction to the message of faith in Christ alone.

In these opening verses of chapter two, Paul informs his readers that he was willing to stand up to the much-revered apostles of Jesus, including Peter, James, and John. Paul was not starry-eyed or awestruck in his meeting with these men. If anything, Paul viewed himself as their equal. While he had not had the privilege of serving as a disciple of Jesus during His three years of earthly ministry, Paul had received His ministry commission from Jesus Himself.

He clearly stated his purpose for going to Jerusalem: “to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain”  (Galatians 2:2 ESV). Paul had no doubts about the accuracy of his message, but he was very concerned about the influence of the Judaizers and those who were propagating some kind of hybrid form of salvation that included faith in Christ as well as adherence to Judaism. If those who were demanding circumcision of the Gentiles were not stopped, the purity of the gospel would be damaged. 

Paul was preaching a simple plan of salvation that was made possible by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone. Nothing else was necessary. To add any other requirement would produce a “contrary” gospel. Any attempt to add good works or obedience to a set of rules or regulations to the gospel would only end up invalidating it.

Adding a requirement of circumcision would undermine the message of the gospel and add an unnecessary barrier or roadblock to the path of salvation. So his trip to Jerusalem was intended to defend his God-ordained message and convince his peers that his ministry to the Gentiles was valid and his message was complete.

As Paul would later tell the believers in Rome, circumcision was a matter of the heart, not the flesh.

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. – Romans 2:28-29 ESV

While circumcision had been a God-given sign or seal of the unique relationship the people of Israel had with Him, Paul argued that the indwelling Holy Spirit was God’s new seal of approval. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13 ESV).

Man has always been obsessed with the idea that there is something he must do to earn favor with God. We are wired to believe that we must work our way into God’s good graces, but the beauty of the gospel is that everything has been done for us. There is nothing for us to add to the equation. It is Jesus plus nothing so that no one can boast or brag. Salvation is the work of God, from beginning to end. As the great old hymn, Rock of Ages, says…

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Called, Commissioned, and Confident

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:11-24 ESV

Paul will spend a great deal of time in this letter defending his apostleship so that he might validate his message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Some were questioning his right to claim apostleship and were attempting to undermine his credibility. But Paul had no doubts about his calling or the commission he had received directly from the lips of Christ. So he provided his readers with a brief history of his salvation story. Likely, they were already familiar with the story, but perhaps this rendition provided them with some extra added details. He began by clarifying that the message he preached had not been given to him by any man. Paul had not learned it from any human teacher and he had not been led to faith by any particular individual. In fact, he had been personally witnessed to by Jesus Himself. On that fateful day on the road leading to Damascus, Paul had an intimate encounter with Jesus, the resurrected Christ. He had been struck blind by the very one he had been on a rampage to discredit and whose disciples he had been out to destroy.

The truly amazing thing about Paul’s testimony was the radical nature of his transformation. One day he had been on his way to the city of Damascus to arrest any Christians he found there, and then just days after his conversion, he was proclaiming Christ in the synagogues of the region.

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:19-22 ESV

Even the Jews who heard him preach in the synagogues of Damascus were shocked at the undeniable transformation that had taken place. Paul, the persecutor, had become a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-appointed exterminator of Christianity had become its divinely-commissioned defender and proponent. There was nothing that could explain this radical change in his life other than the power of God.

Up until that point, Paul had not met a single apostle of Jesus and had received no instruction of any kind. He had simply had a divine encounter with Jesus., and then he spent three years in Arabia. We’re not told exactly where Paul went or what he did while he was there. But it is likely that Paul, a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, spent his time reviewing all that he knew in light of what he had just experienced. His understanding of the Word of God was to be radically changed by the new revelation he had received from Jesus. It could be that Jesus did for Paul what He had done for the two disciples along the road to Emmaus when He appeared to them immediately after His resurrection.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

And after Jesus had left them standing by the roadside, they said to one another,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32 ESV

Whatever happened during those three years in Arabia, Paul was to return a dramatically changed man. He went immediately to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James but he did not go to seek their approval or to get their permission. He was virtually unknown to the believers in Jerusalem, but his conversion had become the talk of the town.

“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” – Galatians 1:23 ESV

Paul was a changed man. He not only had a new calling, but he enjoyed a radically new nature. His heart had been transformed. His passions and pursuits had been redeemed by God. Paul confessed that God, “who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:15-16 ESV). Paul knew that his conversion was God’s handiwork from beginning to end. His change of heart could not have been explained any other way, and because his salvation was the work of God, what he preached was the word of God concerning salvation through His Son.

It would seem that Paul’s greatest defense of his gospel message was his gospel transformation. The dramatic and virtually overnight change in the trajectory of his life was the greatest testimony to the validity of his message.

Far too often, what Christians proclaim about the gospel is not present in their own lives. They tell others of its transformational power, and yet their lives reveal little of that power at work. They talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, but their knowledge of Him has grown little since the day they first met Him. They can easily recall the day they came to faith in Christ, but they have a difficult time providing examples of how they are living by faith on a day-by-day basis.

Paul’s strongest proof of his message’s authenticity was his personal life change story. The gospel was believable because his life made it visible. The transformative work of God in his life was the greatest proof of the gospel’s power and veracity. When Paul showed up in Jerusalem, he was relatively unknown to any of the believers there, including the apostles. But everyone had heard the details of his conversion story.

The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” – Galatians 1:23 NLT

This former Pharisee who had worked directly for the high priest and the Sanhedrin of the Jews, had undergone an inexplicable change of heart. Now, rather than persecuting and arresting Christians, Paul was one of them. And the three years he had spent in Arabia had brought the Christians in Jerusalem a much-welcomed respite from the arrests and threats to their safety. It’s doubtful that the Jewish religious leaders gave up their attacks on the fledgling churches in Judea, but their greatest proponent had dramatically changed the religious landscape by changing teams. Paul was now a follower of Christ and he states that the Christians in Jerusalem “glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

A Different Gospel

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— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But 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.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:6-10 ESV

Paul can’t believe what he is hearing. It had probably only been a few months since he visited the province of Galatia and helped launch the first house churches. But now he has received word that those who had accepted Christ were beginning to abandon the gospel message they had delivered to them. But it’s not that they’re walking away from the faith altogether, but that they’ve traded in the gospel for a new and improved version.  It seems unlikely that Paul had been unclear when he told the Galatians about  Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Since his commissioning by Jesus Himself, Paul proclaimed the gospel in countless towns and villages around the Mediterranean Sea. He had developed a very effective ministry strategy that resulted in thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus, and the message he shared with the Galatians was the very same one he had shared in Corinth:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 ESV

The heart of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That is what Paul believed and that is what he preached. He had had a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus after His death, so he knew the resurrection was true. He was also a firm believer in the gospel’s transformative power because it had radically changed his life. So, when he received news that the believers in Galatia were “so quickly deserting” the gospel for a “different” one, he was shocked and saddened. This news left him with no other choice than to confront the believers in Galatia and those who had led them astray.

The phrase, “so quickly deserting” is actually one word in Greek – μετατίθημι (metatithēmi), and it means “to transfer one’s self or suffer one’s self to be transferred” (“G3346 – metatithēmi (KJV):: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible.

Under the influence of others, the believers in Galatia had begun to transpose or translate their allegiance from the gospel that Paul had preached to another version that the Judaizers were promoting. Paul called it ἕτερος (heteros) – “another” gospel – that was different in nature, form, class, and kind. It wasn’t an expansion of Paul’s gospel, but it was a different gospel altogether. It was a distortion or perversion of what Paul and the apostles had preached. Yet those who were preaching this contrary gospel didn’t make that distinction. They were promoting it as the gospel of Jesus Christ. They were pawning it off as the real thing, which made it so dangerous.

Paul was so adamant in his stance against these purveyors of counterfeit gospels, that he desired them to be “accursed” – ἀνάθεμα (anathema). In essence, Paul was delivering them over to God’s judgment. The Greek word Paul used means “a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed” (“G331 – anathema (KJV):: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. These are strong words from Paul and they convey just how seriously he took the matter. For Paul, the gospel was not something to be toyed with, added to, expounded upon, or distorted in any way.

Paul was not in the ministry to win a popularity context. He wasn’t interested in telling people what they wanted to hear or delivering his own version of the truth. He was out to preach the good news of salvation made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was determined to preach a message of life change and transformation. His was a message of faith, not works. It was based on the law of the Spirit of life, not the Mosaic law. The gospel that Paul preached made man completely dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. No one could save themselves. No one was capable of earning favor with God through human effort, and anyone who taught that man could achieve righteousness and earn justification with God apart from faith in Christ alone was preaching a false and deadly gospel.

Paul wasn’t out to please men. If he had been, he wouldn’t have preached the message he did. No one likes to hear that they are sinners and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). No one enjoys being told that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Who wants to be told that they are under God’s wrath and totally incapable of doing anything about it? And yet, that is the message Paul preached, repeatedly and unapologetically. He wasn’t tickling ears or trying to win converts with a Your-Best-Life-Now message. He was telling them what they needed to hear: the good news of God’s grace made available through the death of His Son.

Paul passed on his dedication to the purity of the gospel message to Timothy, his young protégé in the faith.

Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:2-4 NLT

Since the day that Jesus commissioned His disciples to take the gospel to the four corners of the earth, there have been untold numbers of counterfeit gospels that have tried to turn people away from the truth regarding faith in Christ alone. The situation in Galatia was not new and it didn’t catch Paul by surprise. Everywhere he turned, he had to counter the words of those who would add to the simplicity and purity of the gospel message, and the same thing is still taking place today.

There are many gospels today. Some are slight variations on the real gospel. Others are complete aberrations, distortions of the truth of God masquerading as hope. They tell people what they want to hear. They make false promises. They take salvation out of the hands of God and place it in the hands of men. Religious rule-keeping becomes the means of redemption. Self-effort replaces dying to self. Men become their own saviors and salvation becomes little more than an escape from the troubles of this life rather than the promise of eternal life. False gospels almost always show up in the form of either legalism or license. They promote self-salvation or self-gratification. They become all about living up to a set of rules or living as if there are no rules. Both are false. Both are dangerous. And Paul would have us avoid them like the plague.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Peace In the Midst of the Storm

1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:1-5 ESV

Paul wrote this letter to followers of Christ living in the southern portion of the Roman province of Galatia. The churches there were likely founded by Paul on his first missionary journey, so he had a vested interest in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. Since these relatively new churches were located in a Greek-speaking Roman province, they would have consisted primarily of Gentile converts to Christianity. This is not to say that there were no Jews in their fellowships, but it seems more likely that Paul is writing to those who had little or no understanding of Judaism Jesus’ role as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.

Based on the content of Paul’s letter, it appears that these Gentile converts to Christianity had come under the influence of Judaizers. These were individuals of Jewish descent who expressed belief in Jesus as the Messiah, but who also demanded strict adherence to all Jewish religious laws and customs. Paul refers to these individuals throughout the letter and not in flattering terms.

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:14 ESV

The word Judaizer comes from the Greek verb Ἰουδαϊκῶς (ioudaikōs) which means “as do the Jews.” The Greek word for Jew is Ἰουδαῖος (ioudaios) and the similarity is obvious. In the verse above, Paul is setting up a contrast between the lifestyles of Gentiles and Jews but his primary point is the not-so-subtle teaching of these Judaizers who were demanding that true faith in Christ required conversion to Judaism and adherence to all its laws and customs.

Since Paul’s last visit to the region, these men had infiltrated the churches in Galatia, claiming to be Christ-followers but teaching a different brand of salvation than the one Paul had proclaimed on his first missionary journey.  These Judaizers seem to have popped up wherever Paul planted churches and their presence caused much confusion and consternation to the new converts that Paul left behind. And because of Paul’s constant travels, he was left with no other recourse than to address this issue through the use of letters.

Because of the vital importance of his letter’s content, Paul opens up with a brief defense of his apostleship. There seemed to be no shortage of individuals who were willing to question or even deny the validity of his claim to being an apostle. After all, every other apostle had been a disciple of Jesus. They had been personally chosen by Him and spent three years of their lives following and learning from Him. But Paul was a latecomer who claimed to have been appointed an apostle by the resurrected Lord. Luke records the testimony of Paul as he shared it before King Agrippa:

“I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:12-18 ESV

Paul’s fantastic “Damascus road experience” was constantly coming under question by those who opposed him. They denied he had the right to speak on behalf of Christ as one of His apostles. It’s likely they raised doubts about the veracity of Paul’s claims and peppered him with questions. They probably demanded verification and evidence that any of Paul’s “testimony” ever took place.

Their rejection of Paul’s claim of apostolic authority led them to deny his credentials and reject his right to preach a gospel that was based on faith alone in Christ alone. As Jews, they saw Paul as a traitor to his Jewish heritage and the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It seems likely that these men also raised suspicions about Paul’s trustworthiness by reminding the believers in Galatia about his former life as a member of the Pharisees and a persecutor of the church.

But Paul vehemently defended his apostleship in virtually every one of his letters, and this one is no exception. He opens up by describing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” The title “apostle” means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders” (“G652 – apostolos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible.

It was a common Greek word and was not unique to Christianity. This is why Paul quickly clarified that he was an apostle “not from men nor through men” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). In other words, he had not been sent by men or had not received his message from men. What he shared he received directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. Just a few verses later in this letter, Paul explains, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV).

Luke records that immediately after Paul’s conversion, Jesus appeared to a disciple named Ananias and told him to go to the house where Paul staying and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).

There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was a messenger sent from Jesus. This is why he boldly claimed that he was an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). The Greek preposition Paul used is dia and it can mean “by reason of” or “on account of” (“G1223 – dia (KJV):: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible.

Paul was not a self-proclaimed apostle, but a God-ordained one, by virtue of his commissioning by the resurrected Jesus. His salvation had been made possible by God and the content of his message had come directly from the Son of God. He will spend the rest of this letter defending not only his apostleship but the gospel itself. Paul was less concerned about his reputation or identity than he was with the integrity of the gospel message. He wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. Just a few verses later Paul denies any desire to engage in a popularity contest with the Judaizers.

I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. – Galatians 1:10 NLT

The gospel was under attack and Paul was ready to go to war to protect it. And this deep desire to preserve the simple message of the good news compelled Paul to go on the offensive.

But there was another desire that motivated Paul. He wanted the recipients of his letter to enjoy the grace and peace of God. He wanted them to comprehend the magnitude of the remarkable gift they had received. Jesus Christ had given Himself for their sins so that they might be delivered from the present evil age. The world in which these new believers lived was hostile, anti-Christian, and intolerant of their beliefs. Many of them had already suffered persecution for having placed their faith in Christ. Some had been rejected by family members and ostracized from society. Others were under constant pressure to give up their faith or simply compromise it.

We face the same threat today. But we must remember that we have been delivered from this age. Yes, we’re still here and surrounded by increasing levels of animosity and pressure to compromise our convictions, but we are not alone. We have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the promise of our future eternal state.  God has promised us an eternal existence in His presence, free from the effects of sin that brought pain, sorrow, and death to the world.

Yet as we wait for that day, we are to live as children of God. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT).

Paul’s call to his readers will be for them to remain steadfast. He wanted them to remain committed to the truth of the gospel and faithful to the call of Christ on their lives. It would not be easy, but it would be well worth the effort in the long run. Regardless of what they might be experiencing, they could rest in the fact that they were right in the middle of God’s will for their lives.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Light-Giving, Life-Restoring Love of God

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. 15 And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. 16 And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days. – Job 42:10-17 ESV

Rather than seeking vengeance against his accusers, Job graciously interceded for them and God forgave them. He did for these men what they should have done for him. Yet, in 42 chapters of recorded history, not once did Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, or Elihu lift up a single prayer on Job’s behalf. Their words were directed at him, but never for him in intercession to God. Whatever sin they believed Job to have committed, they could have called on God to provide forgiveness and restoration, but they refused to do so. And now, when given the opportunity to get even, Job revealed his true character and prayed for his tormentors.

Without knowing it, Job was keeping the command that Jesus would give centuries later.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? – Matthew 5:44-46 ESV

Luke records a slightly different version of this same command.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. – Luke 6:27-30 ESV

And Jesus went on to provide a strong source of incentive for demonstrating this gracious and unexpected kind of love.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:35-36 ESV

Because of his willingness to love his enemies, Job ended up experiencing the truth behind Jesus’ words. He became the recipient of God’s mercy and magnitude. The text states, “the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!” (Job 42:10 NLT), and it was all because Job demonstrated undeserved love and grace to those who had caused him much pain and suffering. Job did so, not because he was expecting a great reward but because he had survived his encounter with God and had lived to tell about it.

Job knew that he had experienced the mercy and kindness of God. His demand for an audience with God had been out of line and his assertions that God was somehow unjust had been undeserved and worthy of God’s wrath. But instead of judgment, Job had received nothing more than a stern reprimand. Now, much to his surprise, he would receive a double blessing from God.

So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He also gave Job seven more sons and three more daughters. – Job 42:12-13 NLT

This list is meant to take the reader back to the opening chapter of Job’s story.

He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area. – Job 1:2-3 NLT

God effectively doubled Job’s material wealth and graciously replaced the ten children he had lost. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, states that Job was 70 when his suffering began and that he lived another 140 years after his fortunes were restored by God. This doubling of his life span would have been another sign of God’s gracious reward.

This man who had lost everything, including his reputation and former status as a well-respected leader in the community of Uz, was welcomed back with open arms by all those who had abandoned him in his darkest hour.

…all his brothers, sisters, and former friends came and feasted with him in his home. And they consoled him and comforted him because of all the trials the Lord had brought against him. And each of them brought him a gift of money and a gold ring. – Job 42:11 NLT

Notice that his friends “consoled him and comforted him” after his fortunes were restored and he graciously hosted them in his own home. Job was the one who took the initiative. There is no indication that they reached out to Job or offered to provide him a costly feast in their own homes. But Job held no grudges and refused to be bitter about their former treatment of him. He opened up his heart and home and showered them with undeserved love, and this gracious act prompted them to respond with money and gifts intended to forestall any act of revenge and assuage their own guilt. They knew Job had every right to be angry and the resources to seek retribution.

But Job was content to live out his life with an attitude of gratitude to God. He lived an additional 140 years, enjoying the pleasure of watching four generations of his offspring grow up right before his eyes. He would have attended weddings and celebrated births. He would have reveled in the daily blessings of God and vividly recalled those dark days when his life had been turned upside down by unexpected and inexplicable events. And there is no indication that Job ever received an explanation for what had happened.

It’s interesting to note that the text seems to place the responsibility for Job’s losses on God. It clearly describes Job’s sufferings as “the trials the Lord had brought against him” (Job 42:11 NLT). But this phrase is in the context of Job’s friends offering him consolation and comfort. It may be that they still held the mistaken view that Job’s suffering had been the judgment of God for sins he had committed. Yet, the opening chapters reveal that it was Satan who was behind the disasters that devastated Job’s life. Yes, God was aware and provided Satan with permission to implement his diabolical plan to test Job’s faithfulness, but God was not the author of Job’s misery and pain. In fact, God is displayed as the restrainer and restorer throughout the story. He is the one who put a limit on Satan’s aspirations. The enemy could test Job’s allegiance to God but he was prevented from taking Job’s life. Everything that Satan took from Job was eventually restored – twofold. God plays the part of redeemer and restorer. He came to Job’s defense, not because he deserved it but because God is gracious and loving and cares for His own.

King David provides a timely reminder for all those who express belief in God and place their faith in His unwavering love and mercy.

The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
    like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone—
    as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
    with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
    of those who are faithful to his covenant,
    of those who obey his commandments!

19 The Lord has made the heavens his throne;
    from there he rules over everything. – Psalm 103:13-19 NLT

Job would live an additional 140 years and throughout all that time, he would experience the unconditional and unmerited love of God. Not only that, he would grow in his understanding of God’s sovereignty and providential care. Had Job not experienced his season of pain and loss, it is likely his grasp of God’s sovereignty and gratitude for God’s love would never have deepened as it did. His appreciation for God’s love, mercy, grace, power, and provision had been deepened by the darkness as well as the light.

The apostle Paul provides an apt summary of the events of Job’s life and he does so out of his own experience. He knew what it was like to suffer for the sake of his faith. He understood the pain that comes with living in a fallen world, and while he prayed for God to remove the source of his pain, he clearly heard God say, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). Which led Paul to say:

“So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Job’s darkness had been dispelled by the light of God’s righteousness and his life had been restored by the undeserved outpouring of God’s love. He had come to know that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.