Life-long Faith.

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 had 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 more was necessary. They were buying into the lie that circumcision was an added requirement to salvation. Paul’s problem was not so much with the rite of circumcision as it was with the problem of legalism.

Jesus Christ had died a gruesome death on the cross in order 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 the propitiation for our sins. He fully satisfied 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 not been enough. They needed to do more!

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. Jesus paid it all. His 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 now that you are saved, you don’t have to do anything. Theologians refer to these two extremes as nomism and antinomianism. We might recognize them as legalism and license. One promotes a doctrine of salvation based on religious rule-keeping. The other can result in a rejection of any moral requirements altogether. In essence, it teaches that we 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 was constantly having to deal with both. In the case of the Galatians, the greater threat was legalism. They had placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but now they were being convinced that there was something missing. Which 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 done nothing in the way of keeping the law of Moses. And yet, they had 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. And Paul took it 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). In other words, Paul was asking them if they thought their salvation was up to God, while their sanctification was up to them.

The issue Paul was raising was regarding their sanctification. Not only are we saved by faith in Christ, we are transformed or made Christ-like by the very same process. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves. God doesn’t save us, then leave it up to us to perfect ourselves. 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. Paul told the believers in Philippi, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). Later on in this same letter to the believers in Galatia, he will write, “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 Corinthians, “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, “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 pursuit. Faith is a lifestyle, a way of life, and the key to our salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification.


Philippians 3:12-21

Divine Discontentment.

Philippians 3:12-21

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. – Philippians 3:12 NLT

Paul is the one who wrote, “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6 NIV). He knew that discontentment was a dangerous thing in the life of a believer. The context of that verse is important to understanding what Paul was saying. He was addressing the love of money and the mistaken understanding of some in the church who believed that a life of godliness was going to bring them financial gain. Paul was telling Timothy that godliness should produce contentment in the life of a believer, not an insatiable desire for worldly goods. If you have something to wear and food to eat, that should be enough to keep you content and satisfied.

But there was also a part of Paul that was constantly dissatisfied. He displayed a divine discontentment, but it had nothing to do with material things. His discontentment was spiritual in nature. Paul was never willing to rest on his laurels or grow content with and complacent about his spiritual maturity. He was always striving toward a deeper and greater relationship with Christ. He wanted to know Him more intimately, conform to Him more completely, and reflect His holiness more readily. Paul was far from content when it came to his spiritual life, and he expected other believers to share his passion for ever-increasing perfection. Paul knew he had been justified completely by Christ and would one day be glorified with Christ. But in the meantime, his attitude was, “I press on to possess the perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12b NLT). The Greek word Paul uses that is translated “press on” is dioko, and it means “to pursue, to seek after eagerly, earnestly endeavor to acquire.” It is an active verb that was used of a runner competing in a race who runs swiftly to reach a goal. Paul knew that he would one day be made perfect in Christ when he experienced glorification with Christ. But that was a future event that would take place at his death or with the Lord’s return. So in the meantime, Paul pursued perfection. He was not content to remain as he was. The goal for Paul was always Christ-likeness – ever-increasing conformity to the character and nature of Christ. He knew that the goal would only be achieved at the end of his life or at the return of Christ, but he kept his eyes focused on the end line.

Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). The Greek word for goal is skopos, and it means “goal marker, the object at the end of the course on which the runner fixes his gaze.” For Paul the goal was not heaven, but complete knowledge of Christ and conformity to His image. Paul wanted all believers to share that same goal. He didn’t want them to get distracted by the things of this world. His desire was that their lives would be possessed by a holy discontentment, not a worldly one. That’s why he described some “whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth” (Philippians 3:18-19 NLT). There were a growing number of individuals outside and inside the early church who were “anti-law.” They believed that it really didn’t matter how a Christian lived their life because they were saved. There was no law. They took the idea of freedom from the law to an unhealthy extreme. These people were driven by their passions. They were shameless and obsessed with the things of this life. Their satisfaction was based on earthly, temporal things. Any discontentment they experienced was only because they wanted more of what this world had to offer.

But Paul reminds his readers, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior” (Philippians 3:20 NLT). Paul reminded them to remember who they were and what the real goal was. They were to never forget about their future glorification and perfection. And in the meantime, they were to live with a healthy sense of divine discontentment, keeping their eyes on the goal and running towards it with everything they had in them.

Father, it is so easy to make this life and all that it offers, the goal. We can so easily become transfixed by the things of this world and end up seeking them more than we do our relationship with Christ. Paul was never content to stay where he was spiritually. He was always striving, pursuing, eagerly seeking, and working his way toward the final goal. He was not content to wait for his future glorification, but made knowing Christ and conforming to His image, his lifelong obsession. May that be true of me as well. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men