By Faith.

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.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 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”—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 own inimitable style, he begins to weave Old Testament Scripture into his defense of justification by faith. First he quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 using the Greek Septuagint translation: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things written in the book of the law, to do them.” And 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.” And it is clear to him that even the Old Testament Scriptures teach that “the righteous shall live by faith.” Here he quotes from Habakkuk 2:4. In Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament, even the great saints of the past achieved righteousness before God through faith in Him. The passage from Habakkuk that he quotes could better be translated: “The one who is righteous by faith will live.” In other words, our righteousness is achieved by faith in the word of God and, as a result of our faith, we live. It is NOT our living that produces righteousness. That was the false message of those who were troubling the Galatians and distorting the gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:7).

Once again, Paul appeals to the Old Testament Scriptures, this time quoting from Leviticus 18:5: “The one who does them shall live by them” (Galatians 3:12 ESV). Here Paul addresses the problem with law-keeping. If you’re going to use the law as your basis for justification before God, you will have to spend your entire life keeping them. It will be a never-ending task of trying to live up to and keep every single command given by God. There will be no room for mistakes. You can’t afford to have an off-day. 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 maintaining a right relationship with God, you will have your work cut out for you. And that work will never achieve its desired goal.

Paul brings out an important point. The law is not of faith. Keeping the law has little to do with faith in God. It is all about faith in self. It is based on self-reliance and depends upon self-sufficiency. God has given the rules, now it is up to man to live up to them. And in order to make the task more attainable, man, in his law-keeping, begins to justify or rationalize his law-breaking. Sin becomes subjective. Man develops loop holes and work-arounds to somehow make his sin seem less sinful. He begins to compare his sins with those of others. He attempts to find others whose sins are more egregious than his own. It becomes a case of righteousness by comparison. Somehow we convince ourselves that God will grade on the curve and excuse those sins we’ve committed. He will simply reward us for having tried hard. But Paul would have us remember that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Our sin demands a payment. Our rebellion against a holy God brings us under His wrath and condemnation and, in His justice, He must punish our sin.

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 in our place. The punishment for man’s 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 is 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 refers to this passage 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 illustrated the curse of God He took on in order 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. 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 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.

When Getting Back Means Letting Go.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. – Hebrews 11:23 ESV

We read it Exodus 1, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8 ESV). Joseph was gone. Time had passed and the preferential treatment received by his family was about to be a thing of the past. The descendants of Jacob had been fruitful during their peaceful stay in Egypt and their dramatic increase in number got the attention of Pharaoh and raised alarm bells in his mind. What if we go to war and they decide to turn against us and side with our enemies, he reasoned in his mind. Paranoia set in and he determined to turn them into slaves in order to control them. The book of Exodus tells us exactly what happened:

…the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. – Exodus 1:13-15 ESV

But that wasn’t enough for Pharaoh. It was their sheer numbers that worried him, not their military might. After all, they were predominantly shepherds. So he came up with a plan. He commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill all male children as soon as they came out of the womb. He was going to take care of his perceived problem by infanticide. But fearing God, the Hebrew midwives refused to obey the command of Pharaoh and when he confronted them about their blatant lack of follow through, they said, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them” (Exodus 1:19 ESV). They practiced an early form of civil disobedience and God blessed them for it. So when Pharaoh’s initial plan failed, he came up with another one.

Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” – Exodus 1:22 ESV

This is where our passage for today comes in.

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. When the child grew older, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, “Because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.” – Exodus 2:1-10 ESV

The couple involved in this story were Amram and Jochebed. They were just an obscure couple who, like all the other couples living at that time, were struggling with fear and apprehension due to the edict of the Pharaoh that their male children should be sacrificed to the Nile. And I believe it was Pharaoh’s intent that each and every Hebrew male child thrown into the Nile was to have been a sacrifice to Hapi, their water and fertility god. The symbols for Hapi were the lotus and papyrus plants. Papyrus was a reed that grew along the banks of the Nile and it was used for everything from paper, rope, furniture and boats. Hapi was believed to be the greatest of the Egyptian gods and was thought to be the make of the universe and the creator all all things. Each year, at the time of the flooding of the Nile, the people would throw amulets, sacrifices and other offerings into the river to appease Hapi and to ensure a fruitful season of planting and harvest.

In the story, Jochebed makes a small boat made of reeds and places her newborn son in the river in order to protect him from Pharaoh. But rather than seeing her act as a sacrifice to Hapi, she was placing him in the hands of Yahweh, the God of the people of Israel. The author of Hebrews seems to indicate she and her husband somehow knew that there was something special about this child. The New International Version translates the phrase as “they saw he was no ordinary child.” Luke records in the book of Acts, “At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house” (Acts 7:20 ESV). The word, beautiful is the same Greek word used in the Hebrews passage. Somehow God communicated the uniqueness of this child to his parents and they determined to save his life. Jochebed made a reed boat and placed him in the river, trusting in the sovereign will of God to protect him. And God did just that. Luke goes on to record, “and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:21-22 ESV). When Jochebed set the basket in the river she had no idea what was going to happen. But she had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). She placed her faith in God and He came through. Somewhat ironically, but not coincidentally, Moses was rescued into Pharaoh’s daughter and adopted into the family of the very man who was out to destroy him. God was at work.

Amram and Jochebed did not know what God had planned. They simply knew that their son was somehow unique and special. They placed him in river fully trusting in God to do with him as He saw fit. What they did, they did by faith. And like Abraham with Isaac, when these two parents entrusted their son to God, they received him back. Jochebed would be given the unbelievable opportunity to nurse the very son she had placed in the basket, not knowing what would happen to him. She had been willing to give up that which she loved to Him in whom she believed. And she would live to see her son become more than she could have ever dreamed or imagined. God would use her child to set His people free from their captivity and fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham all those years ago. The very act of placing their son in that reed basket and setting him afloat on the Nile was an act of faith in God. They were trusting in the One whom they could not see to do what they could only hope for – the preservation of the life of their son.

2 Chronicles 13-14, 1 Timothy 3

The Mystery of Godliness.

2 Chronicles 13-14, 1 Timothy 3

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. 2 Chronicles 12:1 ESV

We have already had more than enough evidence of the sinfulness of man. At one point in human history, things had gotten so bad, that God destroyed everyone on the planet, except Noah and his immediate family. The sad state of affairs that led to this devastating consequence were as follows: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). And even after the flood, when mankind was given a second chance, the descendants of Noah ended up in the same sad condition – living in sin and in disobedience to God. So God chose Abram, in order to create a nation with whom He would have a unique and special relationship, dwelling among them and allowing them the privilege of experiencing His presence and living as His chosen people. But even the people of God would find themselves living godless lives more often than not. And yet, along the way there were a few glimpses of goodness and godliness along the way. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9 ESV). The book of Hebrews describes Abel as a man of righteousness, Enoch as having pleased God, Abraham as obedient to God, and Moses as a man of faith who “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26 ESV). There have been men and women throughout history who have been faithful to God and who have lived their lives, according to the book of Hebrews, “by faith” in the promises of God. Many of these individuals never had the pleasure of seeing the ultimate fulfillment of the promise for which they waited. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Their faith was in God, the one who made the promise, not the promise itself. They were willing to trust God to fulfill what He had promised to do, because they believed in His character and relied on His faithfulness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It should amaze us when we read about a man like King Asa. “And Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment” (2 Chronicles 14:2-4 ESV). This man was like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant, polluted land. His reign would be marked by peace, and it was the direct result of his faithfulness to God. God was blessing Asa for doing what was good and right. Unlike his predecessors, he removed the idols to false gods. He commanded the people to “seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandments” (2 Chronicles 14:4 ESV). Asa placed his faith and hope in God, because he knew that he and the people of Israel were totally dependent upon God. “And Asa cried out to the Lord his God, ‘O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you’” (2 Chronicles 14:11 ESV). And we’re told that the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled. God responded to the faithful, dependent call of Asa. He graciously stepped in and rescued the nation of Israel from the threat of possible annihilation at the hands of a much superior enemy. All God was looking for from them was godliness. In other words, He wanted His people to be focused on Him, dependent upon Him, and faithful to Him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Godliness was not impossible in the days of Noah, Moses, Abraham, Joseph, David, or even Asa. But it was not easy. Only on rare occasions did some of these men enjoy the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So much of what they had to do was dependent upon them. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that they had to live by faith. They had to place their trust and hope in God, based on nothing more than the promises of God. Asa didn’t know whether God would save he and the people of Israel, but he knew that God could. So he turned to God. Again, the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV). These people all placed their faith in God and were able to endure great trials and accomplish great deeds on God’s behalf. They key was the object of their faith: God. He was the source of their strength and salvation.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes of the conduct of the people of God, stressing how believers “ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV). He writes about offices of elder and deacon, stressing a man selected for either of these roles should be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3 ESV). They “must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain” (1 Timothy 3:9 ESV). Paul was describing godly conduct within the church, the family of God, the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 ESV). But then Paul gives the secret to godly conduct. He says, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16 ESV). Then he goes on to describe this great mystery. It is the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is salvation made possible through faith in Jesus Christ that makes possible the life of godliness. Man cannot achieve true godly behavior apart from Christ. Man’s salvation and redemption is made possible solely through the work accomplished by Jesus on the cross. And His sacrificial death and atoning sacrifice was proven worthy and acceptable to God by His resurrection from the dead. God raised Him back to life because His sacrifice had accomplished its objective. Jesus was “vindicated by the Spirit” through the restoration of His life by the power of the Spirit. Angels were the first to see the resurrected Christ at the tomb. Men were given the unique privilege of seeing Him alive after having seen Him die. They proclaimed this great news to anyone and everyone who would listen, saying, “He is risen!” And because He is risen, we have been given the power to live godly lives, through the power of His Spirit living within us. We can conduct our lives in a godly manner because we have been given God’s own Spirit. All because of what Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf. God has done for mankind what we could never have done for ourselves. He has made possible the life of true godliness. And when we live in His power, as the people of God, we become the pillar and buttress of the truth, displaying the love and faithfulness of God to a world that desperately needs to see it.

Father, I cannot live a godly life without Your help. But by Your power, You have given “to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 ESV). Thank You for sending Your Son to not only save me, but to provide the means by which I can live a life that is pleasing to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Genesis 13-14, Matthew 7

Separate AND Different.

Genesis 13-14, Matthew 7

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12 ESV

It’s interesting to note that after Abram made what appears to be a non-authorized side strip to Egypt, he returned to right where he started. Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes this point quite clear. He uses two phrases, “at the beginning” (Genesis 13:3) and “at the first” (Genesis 13:4) to emphasize that Abram eventually returned to where he belonged – the place where God had told him to go in the first place. It’s also interesting to note that one of the consequences of his trip into Egypt was the accumulation of a lot of material resources, due to Pharaoh’s attempt to assuage his guilty conscience regarding Sarai. Moses tells us, “Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2 ESV). What appeared to be a blessing was to prove to be a problem. It wasn’t long before he and Lot were at odds over the pasture land and water rights. Competing agendas led to conflict and, eventually, the need for separation. It became necessary for Abram to part ways with Lot. So he offered his nephew first choice when it came to the land, and Lot chose well. In fact, Moses makes it clear that he chose best. “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other” (Genesis 7:10-11 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

It never ceases to amaze me how God can use even our apparent acts of rebellion and disobedience to accomplish His will for our lives. There is no indication that God ever commanded Abram to go to Egypt. It appears that the decision was solely Abram’s. And while it could have turned out poorly, God intervened and protected Abram and Sarai. I can only guess that Abram walked out feeling pretty proud of himself for having escaped Egypt with not only his wife and his life but an increased net worth. And God was going to use this new-found financial windfall to accomplish His will for Abram’s life. God wanted to separate Abram from Lot. It seems quite obvious that these two men had two competing agendas. Lot was driven by his own personal desires and passions. When given the chance, he chose the best. He selfishly selected the prime real estate for himself, giving no thought to the fact that the region he chose contained the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, a point Moses makes perfectly clear. In fact, Moses leaves nothing to the imagination, making a clear distinction between the land in which Abram settled and that in which Lot pitched his tent. “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Genesis 13:12-13 ESV).

God was going to not only separate Abram from Lot, he was going to make sure that Abram was separated from Sodom and its inhabitants. The entire conflict over resources was used by God to protect Abram. Verses 14-17 record God’s reiteration of His covenant promise to Abram. God was going to give Abram the land of Canaan. Not only that, He was going to bless Abram with innumerable offspring. When Lot chose the well-watered, fruitful Jordan valley, it was well within the will of God. It was what God had intended all along. And it wouldn’t be long before both Lot and Abram recognized that God’s will was well worth waiting for.

What does this passage reveal about man?

What a contrast between these two men. One was chosen by God. The other was a free-loader, a hanger-on who tagged along for the ride, having never received a call from God. This is not to say that Lot was not right where he belonged. God clearly used this man to accomplish His will. In fact, Peter refers to Lot as a righteous man. “if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard)” (2 Peter 2:6-8 ESV). Evidently, Lot was a God-worshiper, but he also struggled with a love affair with the things of this world. He wanted to have it both ways. He pitched his tent toward Sodom, then wrestled with his conscience over all to which he exposed himself and his family. He found himself separated from Abram and separated from God.

And yet, we see in Abram a man who chose to trust God. He gave Lot first dibs when it comes to the land and placed his future in the hands of God. And interestingly enough, God would use Abram to rescue the very man who selfishly chose to reward himself with the best land. In doing so, Abram was living out the Golden Rule long before Jesus spoke the words as recorded in Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Rather than judge Lot, Abram rescued him. Abram chose to build his house on the solid rock. He placed his trust in God and rested in His provision and providence. Lot unwisely built his house on sand. He cut corners and took chances, and reaped the whirlwind. He proved to be a fool, because he chose to live his life according to his will instead of God’s. Two men. Two contrasting life styles. One chose to live for himself, while the other chose to live for God. One chose selfishly and the other, selflessly. One chose temporal blessings, while the other was willing to wait. One, in an effort to experience all that life had to offer now, exposed himself to danger and spiritual destruction. The other was willing to see what God in store in the future. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abram was willing to live in temporary conditions, making his home in tents, “For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 ESV). Abram and Lot. Two men who lived separate AND different lives.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The constant temptation is to live like Lot. While he had not been called directly by God, he was part of the family that left Ur of the Chaldeas with Abram. In that sense, he had been set apart by God to live the same life of faith to which God had called Abram. But he chose to live by sight, not faith. He was driven by his senses and controlled by his passions. And his choices would come back to haunt him.

If I had been Abram, I would have let Lot suffer the consequences of his poor choices. But Abram exhibited the very characteristics taught by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount. Rather than judge, Abram intervened and rescued. He didn’t fret over what Lot got, but trusted his “Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11 ESV). He determined to enter the narrow gate and walk the less-chosen path. He wisely chose to build his house on the solid rock of God’s faithfulness. I want to live like Abram. He wasn’t perfect, but he was persistent in placing his faith in God. Yes, he sometimes doubted, but he kept coming back to the one thing he knew he could trust: the Word of God. I want to live my life separate AND different. I want to live a life that is holy, different and distinctive.

Father, help me to keep my faith in Your never-ending faithfulness. Don’t let me be swayed by the temporary blessings of this world, but wholly lean on the eternal blessings provided by You through Your Son Jesus Christ. This world is not my home. I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up elsewhere. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men