Christ Formed In You.

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. – Galatians 4:12-20 ESV

It would be easy to read Paul’s letter to the Galatians and simply assume that his sole motivation was to defend his particular interpretation of the Scriptures. But Paul was not just promoting his own doctrine over that of someone else. His goal was not to prove himself right and all others wrong. His objective was far more selfless and loving than that. He was out to see his readers experience the fullness of God’s love for them. He wanted them to grow up in their salvation and enjoy all that God had in store for them. And he was willing to do whatever it took to see Christ formed in them.

Paul was writing from the perspective of a pastor, not an academician. He was interested in heart change, not mere head knowledge. But Paul knew that an accurate knowledge of God and an understanding of true doctrine was essential to spiritual growth. False doctrine produces fake fruit. An improper or faulty view of God always results in a god of our own making. Truth is not relative. It is not up to our own imaginations or the insights of men. God has given us His Word in which He has revealed Himself to man. It contains divine insights into His character, will, relationship with mankind, outlook on sin, redemptive program and future plans for the world.

Paul had come to the Galatians, lovingly preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to them. He had taught them the truth regarding their own sin, their state of condemnation before God, and His gracious offer of salvation and justification through faith in Christ. He had taught them the truth and they had gratefully received it. And Paul had done this while suffering from some undisclosed physical ailment. But he had not let his health interfere with his efforts to evangelize and disciple the lost in Galatia. Perhaps this “bodily ailment” was the thorn in the flesh that Paul refers to in his letter to the Corinthian believers: “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). Whatever it was, his condition proved to be a trial to the believers in Galatia, and yet, because of the good news he brought to them, they had gladly received him.

But now, because of the influence of false teachers, the believers in Galatia were eyeing Paul with suspicion and questioning the veracity of his teaching. He asked them, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:7 ESV). Sometimes the truth of God is difficult to understand and even harder to accept. The concept of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is not something that makes sense to us. It goes against our human sensibilities. We have been trained to believe that nothing is free and anything of value must be earned. Even our much-beloved American work ethic stands in stark contrast to the grace offered by God through Jesus Christ. And the Galatians were falling prey to the words of the Judaizers who were attempting to convince them that their salvation was incomplete and insufficient. They needed more. They needed to do more. In fact, Paul accused these false teachers of making the believers in Galatia dependent upon them. Paul was preaching the freedom found in grace, while his enemies were trying to imprison believers back under the law.

Paul preached grace. And his message of grace was not just tied to salvation. For Paul, grace was an essential ingredient to the Christian life, from beginning to end. Peter felt the same way. “I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18 NLT). The danger we all face as believers is thinking that we must somehow transform ourselves into the likeness of Christ through self-effort and hard work. And while we do have a responsibility to pursue Christ-likeness, we must always remember that it is by God’s grace and through His power that we are transformed. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we could have saved ourselves. Sanctification, like salvation, is a grace gift, provided to us by God and made possible through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul knew that only God could “form” or transform the Galatians into the likeness of Christ. The word Paul used literally meant, “until a mind and life in complete harmony with the mind and life of Christ shall have been formed in you” (“G3445 – morphoō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

Only God can turn sinners into saints, enemies into sons and daughters, captives into free men, the dead into the living, and the condemned into co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Paul wanted his readers to understand just how much he loved them and how desperately he longed for them to remain in God’s grace. Their growth in holiness was to be the work of God, not the result of human effort. Our role as believers is to remain completely dependent upon the grace of God. Any effort we put into our spiritual formation is to be according to His power, not ours. As soon as we begin to think that our spiritual growth is somehow up to us, we step out of the light of His grace and back into the darkness of legalism. We must always recognize that our transformation into the likeness of Christ is God’s work, not ours. Our sole responsibility is that of dependence that leads to willful obedience. Our desire, like that of Paul, should be to see Christ formed in us. But that requires living in the freedom of God’s grace and fully reliant upon His power.

 

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Godly Fellowship.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. – 1 John 1:7 ESV

John is passing along a message he heard directly from Jesus Himself. It is a simple, yet profound message that gives us a glimpse into the character of God. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). Interestingly enough, in his gospel, John made the claim that Jesus was the light. He wrote, “He was in the beginning with God…In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1,4-5 ESV). Later on John elaborated on this light that had come into the world. He stated that God loved the world so much that He sent His only son that the world might be saved through Him. But when Jesus, the light, arrived into the world, “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21 ESV).

God is light. And as His Son, Jesus is also light. Jesus is not simply a reflection of God, but God in human form. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). When Jesus entered the world, He penetrated the pervasive darkness that permeated everything. Sin had infected the world and the lives of men – even those of the people of God, the Jews. Jesus came to change all that. He came to expose sin. “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5 ESV). Jesus didn’t just come to provide us a model for living. He came to provide us with the capacity to live holy, light-filled lives in the midst of a dark, sin-filled world. “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:5-6 ESV). How did Jesus walk? In the light. Jesus was the light and yet He walked in the light of God’s will. This speaks to that mysterious truth regarding the unique nature of Jesus’ divinity and humanity. He was the God-man – 100 percent God and 100 percent man. As the Son of God, He was the image of the invisible God. As the Son of Man, He was a human being who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). Jesus walked in the light. He lived in obedience to the commands of God. He allowed the Holy Spirit to direct His path and guide His steps. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1 ESV). Jesus’ entire life and death was dedicated to doing God’s will. In His high priestly prayer, prayed near the end of His life, Jesus was able to say, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4 ESV). Everything about His life gave evidence that He not only was the light, He walked in the light.

And John wants us to know that we should have the same goal for our own lives. Fellowship with God and with His Son should be accompanied by light, not darkness. To claim to have fellowship with God and yet live a life characterized by darkness or sin is to live a lie. “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6 ESV). The idea here is that of continual, repetitive, unrepentant sin. It is a lifestyle characterized by darkness rather than light. Instead, “whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8 ESV). Our lives should give evidence of our fellowship with God. Our ability to fellowship with one another should give evidence of our fellowship with God. Anything we do that is characterized by righteousness is of God. It is a product of, the fruit of the Spirit of God within us – “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Living in the light exposes sin in order that we might confess it. But living in the light also produces fruit. It causes our faith to grow. It purifies our character. The more intimate our fellowship with God through Christ, the more intense the light will become in our lives. That light will have an effect on our lives. John puts it succinctly and practically. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9, 11 ESV). But “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:10 ESV). We are to walk in the light, as He is in the light. And that regular, consistent exposure to the light will gradually transform us into the image of Christ.

Proverbs 26d

Confusing Counsel.

“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.” – Proverbs 26:4-5 NLT

It’s hard to read these two verses and not be a bit confused by them. They appear to be in direct contradiction of one another. Which is it? Don’t answer the foolish arguments of a fool, or be sure to answer the foolish arguments of a fool? First of all, we need to establish just what kind of fool these verses are talking about. Because, in the Book of Proverbs there are five different types of fools described, not just one. There are five Hebrew words used when speaking about fools and this one is the word kecîyl – which refers to a fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, or arrogant one. The best way to describe him is that he is a sensual fool. This is the individual who rejects the discipline of his parents or any and all authorities in his life. He is determined to make the wrong choices, regardless of any counsel provided. He tends to focus on that which brings him immediate pleasure, never planning for or thinking about the future. It isn’t that he has a mental deficiency, but he simply chooses to reject the wisdom of God, and glories in that of which he should be ashamed. This kind of fool is unreasonable and unteachable. His motives and methods are subtle and he should be avoided.

The reason it is important for us to know what kind of fool this Proverb is talking about is that we tend to lump all the verses about fools together. And when we do that, it can become very confusing. These verses are not talking about a simple fool (pethîy). The Hebrew word used for the simple fool describes a child who lacks discernment, has no ability to recognize cause-and-effect, is immature, gullible and intensely curious. This kind of fool is to be corrected, disciplined, and counseled. But the fool described in these verses is one that has become stubborn and set in his ways. The issue addressed in these verses is not whether you can or should answer a fool. This kind of fool will likely remain a fool regardless of whether you answer him or not. It is really about the common sense you need in determining how to answer a sensual fool. If you answer him in the hopes to convincing him he is wrong, you will only become embroiled in an argument that leaves you looking as foolish as he is. But if you answer him with the intent of exposing his foolishness, pride, and arrogance, you can walk away knowing that you have done all you can do. It is not your job to change him. You will never argue this kind of fool into seeing reason. These verses are warning us to go into the situation with our eyes wide open, knowing just what kind of fool we are dealing with. One of the big takeaways has to do with our intent. Arguing with a sensual fool is a waste of our time. Exposing a sensual fool is sometimes all you can do, in the hopes that it will help them see their own pride and foolishness. But someone who has reached this stage of foolishness will most likely remain just as they are. Their problem is not a lack of knowledge or cloudy thinking. It is pride, arrogance, and a lack of wisdom. Their hearts are not in love with God. And until that changes, no amount of discussion will change their situation.

Father, there are so many sensual fools in the world. And I have found myself falling into that category at times over the years. Give me the wisdom to know how to answer this kind of fool. Help me recognize them for what they are and realize that only You can change them. I have an obligation to expose their foolishness and pride, but I have to understand that I will never argue them out of their foolishness. Only you can change their hearts. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org