The Joy of Forgiveness.

Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

Now Joab fought against Rabbah of the Ammonites and took the royal city. And Joab sent messengers to David and said, “I have fought against Rabbah; moreover, I have taken the city of waters. Now then gather the rest of the people together and encamp against the city and take it, lest I take the city and it be called by my name.” So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah and fought against it and took it. And he took the crown of their king from his head. The weight of it was a talent of gold, and in it was a precious stone, and it was placed on David’s head. And he brought out the spoil of the city, a very great amount. And he brought out the people who were in it and set them to labor with saws and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at the brick kilns. And thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem. – 2 Samuel 12:24-31 ESV

Because of his sin, David lost a son. Because of his repentance, David was given a son. And he named him Solomon (Shĕlomoh). The name David gave this second son born to he and Bathsheba is a derivative of the Hebrew word for peace – shalowm. There is little doubt that, after having received his punishment from God, David was grateful to have been restored back to a right relationship with God. Psalm 51, written by David as a result of his sin with Bathsheba and the forgiveness he received from God, reflects David’s heart at this most difficult period of his life. First of all, he knew his sin.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:5-6 ESV

But he wanted to be made right with God. He wanted to enjoy God’s presence and pleasure again.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit. – Psalm 51:10-12 ESV

And David pledged that if God would restore him fully, he would praise him.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise. – Psalm 51:14-15 ESV

So, with the birth of Solomon, David was obviously feeling a sense of restored peace with God and that most likely explains the name given to his newborn son. But he also gave his son another name, Jedidiah, which means “loved by the Lord”. This name too, reflects David’s understanding of God. Yes, God had punished David for his sins. But He had also forgiven and restored David. David had been broken by God. He had been disciplined for his sins and brought to a point of repentance, which resulted in his restoration. And he had learned a valuable lesson.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:17 ESV

David had experienced the truth found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In another one of his psalms, David penned these encouraging words:

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. – Psalm 32:5 NLT

The apostle Paul reminds us: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT). He wrote a similar thing to the believers in Corinth: “For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT). God loved David, so much so that He was not willing to allow David to remain in his sin. He disciplined him because He loved him. He sent Nathan the prophet to confront him. He brought David to a point of brokenness, because He loved him. And when David confessed, God restored him. In spite of all he had done, David once again enjoyed peace with God and knew that he was loved by God.

David was given a second chance. He was provided with a second son, whose name was Solomon. And it should not escape our attention that, even though Bathsheba had become David’s wife through sinful, deceptive means, God gave David a son through this very same woman. And that son would become the heir to the throne and enjoy the pleasure of God and know what it means to have the hand of God on his life.

It should not escape our attention that Bathsheba is mentioned in the lineage of Jesus found in Matthew 1.

…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah… – Matthew 1:5-7 ESV

In fact, there are three women mentioned: Rahab, who had been a pagan prostitute; Ruth, a Moabitess; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. God used these seemingly unfit, unqualified women to bring about the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ. What a timely reminder that our sins cannot derail God’s plans. His providence can overcome our proclivity to sin. Even our greatest periods of unfaithfulness are always met by His faithfulness.

The rest of the chapter reflects this fact. God gave David victory over his enemies. And David had learned an invaluable lesson.  Once again, we see Joab going to war against the enemies of Israel, but this time, David took part. No more staying back in Jerusalem while his troops did all the work. Joab effectively captured the Ammonite city of Rabbah, but called for David to bring the rest of the troops so that he might receive the glory of taking the city. He jokingly chided David, saying, I have fought against Rabbah and captured its water supply. Now bring the rest of the army and capture the city. Otherwise, I will capture it and get credit for the victory” (2 Samuel 12:27-28 NLT). And David took the city and captured the king, his crown, and all the people. And the text tells us, “thus he did to all the cities of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:31 ESV). David had returned to his primary role as the warrior-king of Israel. He went back to doing what God had chosen him to do, and God gave him success. David had sinned. God had brought discipline. As a result, David repented and God restored him. This amazing reality didn’t escape David. He would later write a psalm that reflects his understanding of and appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness:

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. – Psalm 103:8-12 ESV

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even our greatest sins, when confessed and repented of, bring God’s forgiveness and complete restoration.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
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 Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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A Turning Point.

And when he had taken him down, behold, they were spread abroad over all the land, eating and drinking and dancing, because of all the great spoil they had taken from the land of the Philistines and from the land of Judah. And David struck them down from twilight until the evening of the next day, and not a man of them escaped, except four hundred young men, who mounted camels and fled. David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken, and David rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. David brought back all. David also captured all the flocks and herds, and the people drove the livestock before him, and said, “This is David’s spoil.”

Then David came to the two hundred men who had been too exhausted to follow David, and who had been left at the brook Besor. And they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near to the people he greeted them. Then all the wicked and worthless fellows among the men who had gone with David said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except that each man may lead away his wife and children, and depart.” But David said, “You shall not do so, my brothers, with what the Lord has given us. He has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.

When David came to Ziklag, he sent part of the spoil to his friends, the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” It was for those in Bethel, in Ramoth of the Negeb, in Jattir, in Aroer, in Siphmoth, in Eshtemoa, in Racal, in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, in the cities of the Kenites, in Hormah, in Bor-ashan, in Athach, in Hebron, for all the places where David and his men had roamed. – 1 Samuel 30:16-31 ESV

This chapter appears to mark a turning point in David’s life. He had been through a lot since his early days as a young shepherd boy, tending his father’s flocks. There had been his surprising anointing by the prophet, Samuel. That had been followed by his unimaginable defeat of the Philistine champion, Goliath. Not long after that, he had found himself serving as the court musician for the king of Israel, Saul. Then he had been promoted to his bodyguard and eventually to the role of commander in the army of the Israelites. But then everything had gone south when Saul’s suspicions of David caused him to seek his death. That had led to David’s flight and the subsequent years of hiding in the wilderness and, eventually, to his escape to the safety of the land of Philistia, where he had been the last 16 months. But with the sack and plunder of his home base of Ziklag and the capture of his wives, along with the wives and children of all of his men, David had hit an all-time low point in his life. With his city burned, his wives taken captive by the Amalekites, and his men threatening to stone him, David was faced with one of the most difficult decisions of his entire life. And it was at this critical juncture of his life that David, rather than letting his emotions get the better of him and making an unwise decision, turned to God. He sought the Lord’s help and received it. God told him to pursue the Amalekites and guaranteed his success in the endeavor.

With the help of a captured Amalekite servant, David learned the whereabouts of the Amalekite raiding party. As the Amalekites were busy celebrating the success of their raids, David and his men attacked. While 400 of the Amalekites were able to escape, the passage tells us that David was able to get back all that had been taken.

David got back everything the Amalekites had taken, and he rescued his two wives. Nothing was missing: small or great, son or daughter, nor anything else that had been taken. David brought everything back. He also recovered all the flocks and herds, and his men drove them ahead of the other livestock. – 1 Samuel 30:18-20 NLT

God had given him victory. They were able to free every single woman and child, and recover every single item that had been stolen, along with an abundance of livestock and loot that the Amalekites had taken from other cities they had plundered. By seeking God’s will and doing things God’s way, David had experienced God’s blessing. No deception had been necessary. Complete, not partial, success had been the outcome. And David’s men went from threatening to stone him to offering him all of the plunder as his reward for saving their wives and children.

But what David does next is what reveals the life-transformative nature of this moment in his life. He returns to the 200 men who had been too exhausted to join him in the fight, and shares the plunder with them. And he did this against the wishes of a group of “wicked and worthless fellows” who had greedily advised that these men get nothing back but their wives and children. But David recognized that their victory had been God-given, and that everyone, even those who stayed back and protected the baggage, were to enjoy in the blessing God had provided. David knew that this whole affair had been God’s doing. He had given them success over their enemies – in spite of them. David knew he did not deserve what God had just done. This entire mess had been of his own making and, yet, God had graciously responded in mercy and provided victory. So he told his men:

“No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the Lord has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the band of raiders that attacked us. Who will listen when you talk like this? We share and share alike—those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment.” – 1 Samuel 30:23-24 NLT

David wanted everyone to share in the joy of the moment and experienced the material blessings that God had provided. So he not only shared the plunder with his men, but had portions of what had been taken from the Amalekites sent to the elders of Judah. As far as he was concerned, this had been God’s victory and it was only right to share it with all of God’s people.

This passage is a turning point in the life of David. It provides an important transition in the story of David’s life. Yes, he is still persona non grata in Israel. He is still a fugitive, living on the run and Saul has not given up his desire to see David dead. But his transformation from shepherd boy to king was rapidly coming to an end. Saul was still on the throne, but God’s preparation of David to take his place was almost done. And Saul’s demise and David’s rise was much nearer than either man knew.

It is sometimes at the lowest points of our lives that God chooses to step in and reveal His grace and mercy in abundance. It is at our moments of greatest need that God appears, because it is at those moments that we tend to call out to Him. When our capacity to solve our problems diminishes and our resources of self-preservation finally run out, we typically call out to God. And He hears. And He answers. And He rescues. It is the very same principle that applied to our salvation. Paul reminds us that, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). At the point of our greatest need – in the midst of our sin-saturated, self-centered, death-deserving hopelessness – God stepped in and did what only He could do. He saved us. He gave us victory over sin and death. He blessed us beyond our wildest dreams. And we are to share those blessings with others. We are to share the love of God with others.

Jesus told His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV). Our salvation is to mark a turning point in our lives, when we move from selfishness and self-centeredness to selflessness and love for others.

In many ways, the words of Paul, found in his letter to the Corinthians, fit perfectly with what we see displayed in the life of Paul in this passage. But they also apply to us. We have been reconciled to

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 NLT

Like David, we have been reconciled to God. We have been given a second chance, a new lease on life. We have been spared from a fate worse than death: eternal separation from God. And as a result, we are to share the joys and blessings of our reconciliation with God with others.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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 Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lost Hope ≠ Lost Cause.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. – Ruth 1:6-18 ESV

For Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, life had not been easy. She had followed her husband to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. But then she was forced to stand back and watch as her husband and two sons died suddenly and prematurely. She was left alone with the two widowed wives of her sons. So it is not surprising to read the words she said to her daughrers-in-law: “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13b ESV). Naomi’s conclusion, based on all that had happened to her, was that God was afflicting her. This reflects her strong belief in the sovereignty and providence of God, but also reveals a poor understanding of the character of God. She could only see her suffering as a byproduct of God’s displeasure with her of His punishment of her for something she had done. In her current circumstance, she found it difficult to find any good coming out of what had happened. The only silver lining she could see was the fact that the famine had finally ended in Judah and she would be able to return home. But she would do so with little to no hope. She even begged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, remarry and start their lives over. She considered herself too old to remarry and had resigned herself to the fact that she would remain a widow for the rest of her life.

Naomi’s bitter and overly pessimistic outlook provides a striking illustration of how easy and quickly God-followers can find themselves living as practical atheists. Naomi obviously believed in God. She believed He was afflicting her, but she did not believe He was powerful enough to deliver her. In her mind, she was too old to get remarried and have more sons. Her child-bearing days were over. Had she forgotten the stories of Sarah and her barrenness? Was her God too powerless to find her a husband and provide for her more sons? Could her God not find husbands for Orpah and Ruth from among the men of Judah? Naomi was experiencing a crises of faith. She was having a hard time finding any good in her circumstances or placing any hope in her God. Every word she said to Orpah and Ruth reeked of resignation and resentment.

But Ruth, a Moabite and a pagan, provides us with a powerful testimony of faithfulness in the face of hopelessness. Ruth was not a God-follower, yet she exhibits godly characteristics that put Naomi to shame. Like Orpah, Ruth was young and had a long life ahead of her. It would have been relatively easy for her to find another husband and begin her life over. But unlike Orpah, Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law alone. She begged Ruth, saying:

Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you! – Ruth 1:16-17 NLT

Here was a non-believer in God, expressing more faith in Him than Naomi, one of His chosen people. Ruth was willing to become a God-follower and to place herself at the mercy of God, willingly accepting His judgment, if she failed to keep her promise to Naomi. Ruth, a descendant of Lot, was going to return to the land of promise. Generations earlier, Lot had chosen the “cities of the valley” and settled outside the land of Canaan. He had pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Living by sight, he had chosen what appeared to be the best land. But Lot would go from living near Sodom to living in Sodom. And he would find himself running from Sodom, when God determined to destroy it for all the wickedness that took place within its walls. And it was not long after that event, that one of Lot’s daughters chose to have sex with him while he was drunk. And it was from that incestuous union that the Moabites were born. And yet, generations later, here was Ruth, a Moabite, pledging her allegiance to a daughter of Abraham and offering to leave her land and her people behind.

Ruth had no idea what the future held for her. She only knew that she felt a strong obligation to her mother-in-law and was not willing to let her return to Judah alone. Her faithful love for Naomi provides us with a vivid image of the lovingkindness of God. Earlier, Naomi had said, “May the Lord deal kindly with you…” (Ruth 1:8 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was checed and it refers to goodness, kindness, mercy and faithfulness. She was hoping that God would show mercy and kindness to her daughters-in-law, but she did not believe He would do so for herself. And yet, Ruth, a pagan, would show checed to Naomi by remaining with her, even to the point of death. Little did Naomi understand that this checed, shown to her by Ruth, was actually the checed of God. God was blessing Naomi through her unbelieving, Moabite daughter-in-law. And that blessing would have far-reaching implications that would last longer after Naomi disappeared from the scene.

Unloved, But Undeterred.

I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? – 2 Corinthians 12:11-18 ESV

Paul confesses that he feels like a fool. All this self-promotion is out of character for him, but he tells the Corinthians that their silence forced him to do it. They are the ones who should have been commending him. They had been the recipients of his ministry and message. They had enjoyed the benefits of his self-sacrifice and loving commitment to share the gospel with them. And as far as Paul was concerned, he had no reason to take a back seat to the “super-apostles” who were setting themselves up as his spiritual superiors. He had come to them as an apostle of Jesus Christ, armed with the gospel and backed by the power of God as revealed in the signs and wonders he had performed while among them. This had been Paul’s modus operandi everywhere he went.

Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. – Romans 15:18-19 NLT

Paul had not short-changed the Corinthians. He had treated them the same way he had every other Gentile city he had visited. The only difference was that he had not burdened them with providing for his needs while he had ministered among them. Others had funded his ministry, and before that, he had paid his way by working as a tent maker. And yet, there were those who were accusing him of deception and craftiness, claiming that he acted as if he was sacrificing on their behalf, while hiding the fact that he was receiving outside aid. There were others who were saying that Paul had simply gotten money from them by sending his surrogates to collect it, under the guise that it was going to be used for the saints in Jerusalem. In other words, they were accusing Paul of sending Titus and others to take up a collection, all the while using that money for himself. It seems that, in the eyes of the Corinthians, Paul could do nothing right. His actions were constantly under attack and his motives were always suspect.

But Paul pledges to keep on loving and giving whether they returned the favor or not. It is his sincere desire to return to Corinth for a third time and he intends to act in the same way he always had. He will love them like a father loves his children. And while he would greatly desire that love to be reciprocal, he wasn’t going to let their lack of love prevent him from doing the will of God. He tells them, “I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me” (2 Corinthians 12:15 NLT). Everything Paul had done for them, he had done out of love. He had sacrificed greatly in order that they might received the gospel. He had already written two other letters intending the encourage them in their faith and to provide them with wise counsel regarding real-life scenarios taking place in their midst. He was like a loving father, gladly providing for the needs of his children, willingly sacrificing his own needs on their behalf. And while he would have longed for them to return his love, he would not let their distrust and disloyalty sway his actions, because all his efforts were motivated by his desire to please his heavenly Father. When all was said and done, Paul was out to please God, not men. He was looking for the praise of God, not the praise of men.

Paul’s only regret was that he was having to waste time defending himself before the Corinthians. There were other pressing needs he would have preferred to address. Instead of wasting time “boasting” about his qualifications and defending his actions, he would have liked to have been helping them grow in their faith. Paul was a teacher, yet he having to spend all his time playing defense attorney. He could have given up. He could have decided enough was enough and written the Corinthians off as too stubborn and hard-headed to waste any more of his valuable time on them. But Paul was committed to their spiritual well-being. He was not content to see them languish in their faith and settle for the status quo. He was not going to allow their complacency to deter his commitment to the call of Christ on his life. He was out to make disciples, and nothing was going to stand in his way, including the false accusations of false apostles, the lack of love from those to whom he had shared the gospel, or the constant demand that he defend his actions. His attitude remained, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”

Come Back To God!

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 ESV

How easy it is to judge others from our limited, human perspective. We are so quick to assess the value or worth of others based on externals. We are even prone to establish someone’s unworthiness or lack of value based on how they look, their ethnic makeup, economic background, educational status or personality profile. In the Old Testament, we have the account of when Samuel the prophet went to the house of Jesse to find a new king to replace Saul. When he set eyes on Jesse’ son, Eliab, Samuel said, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” (1 Samuel 16:7b NLT). But God responded, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:8 NLT).

Because of the life-transforming work of Jesus Christ and the Spirit’s power to give new life to those who were dead in the trespasses and sins, Paul states, “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” (2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT). Prior to coming to faith in Christ and recognizing Him as his Savior, Paul saw Him from a purely human perspective. Paul was a Pharisee who viewed Jesus as nothing more than a charlatan, a political revolutionary and threat to the religious status quo. But ever since his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s view of Jesus had changed radically. And his view of others had changed as well – “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). Salvation was meant to be life-changing. it wasn’t just a matter of someone switching religious allegiances or choosing another way of pursuing a right relationship with God. What Jesus offered was radical, out-of-the-ordinary life transformation that resulted in a totally new life, a new nature – immediately. Those who placed their faith in Christ were instantly transformed from death to life, from darkness to light, from enemies to friends of God, from condemned to forgiven, from guilty to innocent, from outcasts to members of the family of God. And Paul says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18 ESV).

It was all God’s doing, not man’s. Salvation is the work of God, from beginning to end. He is the one who reconciles. He is the one who redeems, restores, forgives, justifies, regenerates, and sanctifies. He provides new life. He places His Holy Spirit within us. And He accomplished it all through Christ. God sent His Son to be the payment for the sins of mankind and to be the acceptable sacrifice, whose innocent life was given to satisfy the His just demands and holy wrath against man’s rebellion against Him. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). It was through Christ that God had determined to restore His lost creation. It was through Christ that God had ordained a means by which He could satisfy His own righteous judgment against sin while providing a means of showing His love for mankind.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 ESV

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

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. – Galatians 2:20 ESV

This message of God’s love and offer of reconciliation had been given to Paul and his companions. They had become ambassadors of God, sharing the good news of how men and women could be made right with God and restored to a right relationship with Him. “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NLT). They viewed themselves as conduits of God’s grace. They were vessels in the hands of God, pouring out His goodness and grace upon all those they encountered, not pre-judging or predetermining who deserved to hear. They simply told of God’s Son; His death, burial and resurrection; His offer of salvation; and the simple, solitary requirement of faith. They shared. God saved. Christ had provided the means. Paul simply shared the message. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT).

Sharing the gospel is really quite easy. It is simply pleading with people to come back to God. It is a desperate, loving appeal for them to accept the only means by which they can be restored to a right relationship with God – by faith in Jesus Christ. It is not up to us to determine who deserves to hear. It is not up to us to judge who is worthy of receiving the message. It is not our job to predetermine who we would prefer to have as a brother or sister in Christ. We have been given the message of reconciliation. Like Paul, we have been appointed ambassadors by God, with the sole responsibility of spreading the good news of His Son’s death and resurrection to a lost and dying world. God’s offer of salvation is non-discriminatory, and so should our appeal be.

 

 

Controlled By the Love of God.

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Corinthians 5:11-15 ESV

Paul has just told the Corinthians that there is a day coming when all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV). It is with that thought in mind that Paul refers to the “fear of the Lord.” It is an awareness of the future judgment of our present actions that should create in us a sober-minded evaluation of all that we do in this life. As believers, we should carefully consider all our thoughts and actions based on the knowledge that we will one day answer to God for all that we have done in this life since coming to faith in Christ. Paul told the Romans, “Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God … each of us will give a personal account to God” (Romans 14:10, 12 NLT).

Paul was not saying that he feared the judgment of God in the sense that he might lose his salvation or his place in heaven. It was just that he had a strong motivation not do anything that might bring the displeasure of his God on the day of judgment. He lived to please God. He wanted to do the will of God. And so he was unwilling to let what men thought about him in this life overshadow or influence the importance of what God would think about his actions when he stood before the judgment seat of Christ in the next life. That is what led him to persuade others. That is what prompted him to risk all in order to save some. His reputation took a back seat to the message of redemption. What concerned Paul the most was what God thought of him. “But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (2 Corinthians 5:11b ESV).

It seems that Paul had to spend a great deal of time defending his apostleship. Unlike the original disciples of Jesus, Paul had not been there at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He was not one of the twelve. He had not been personally taught by Jesus and, therefore, his opponents argued that he had no authority. On top of that, it also seems that Paul had a less-than-impressive aura about him. He was evidently small in stature, unimpressive in appearance, and had gained a reputation for being a second-rate communicator. He even admitted as much in his first letter to the Corinthians: “I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4 NLT). The only reason Paul attempted to defend his apostleship or say anything about himself that might be construed as bragging was to that the Corinthians might be able to silence his critics who kept trying to diminish his influence among them. Paul didn’t mind if people thought he was crazy, as long as he knew that he was being faithful to God. And even if he did come across as somewhat crazy, it was only because he was obsessed with sharing the gospel with as many people as he possibly could. When it came to the good news, he was “out of his mind.”

Paul’s perspective was that, crazy or sane, “Christ’s love controls us.” He was motivated by love for the lost and a Christ-like compassion for believers. And his love for others was the direct result of God’s love for him. The apostle John wrote, “We love each other because he loved us first. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:19-20 NLT). And how did God show His love for us? “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). It was that very love that motivated Paul. And because of what Jesus Christ had done for him, Paul was willing to risk all in order to tell all about the good news made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. – 2 Corinthians 5:15 NLT

God’s love for us required that Jesus die in place of us. His death on our behalf made possible our new life. And that new life has freed us to live for Him, not ourselves. And our new-found capacity to live unselfishly shows up in our desire to share His love selflessly with all those we meet. “For the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV).

 

So Now…

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:9-13 ESV

We live in an interim stage. The “perfect”, as Paul refers to it, has not yet come. The Greek word he uses is teleios and it refers to “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” It can also mean “full grown, adult, of full age, mature.” He uses childhood and adulthood to compare our present situation with what is to come as a child. At the present time, under our current conditions, we don’t know everything. We have limitations because of our flesh. So God has given temporary helps in the form of spiritual gifts to compensate for our lack of knowledge and understanding. Tongues, knowledge and prophecy are present-age necessities designed to help man grasp the reality of God’s truth. But the day is coming when they will no longer be necessary. The apostle John described our present limitations, but assured us of our future completeness when Christ 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” (1 John 3:2 NLT).

Paul explains that the gifts, while given by God, are like childhood qualities that will done day be outgrown. We will give up “childish ways” because we will be fully mature in Christ. In the meantime, we are hampered by a limited perspective, an earth-bound, flesh-restricted outlook that prevents us from seeing all the truth of who God is and what we will be. We have partial knowledge. We suffer from incomplete understanding. So God provided the gifts to help us speak truth and edify one another. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes our current predicament, describing our earthly bodies as tents. They are like temporary dwellings in which we are forced to live, much like the Israelites lived in tents during the 40 years they wandered in the wilderness.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. –2 Corinthians 5:1-7 NLT

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that their true hope lies in the future, not the present. But in the meantime, we are to live according to faith, hope and love. Our faith is to be focused on what is to come, the final fulfillment of our salvation, when we will be glorified and united with Christ in sinless perfection. We are to place our hope on that future reality. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). We hope in what we cannot see – our future glorification. As Paul says, “we live by believing.” And our faith and hope are to be accompanied by love. In fact, he says that of the three, love is the greatest. When Christ returns and our glorification takes place, faith and hope will no longer be necessary. The unseen will have become visible. We will see Him as He is and we will be like Him. But love never ends. It will continue on throughout eternity, because it is the very nature and essence of God Himself. We will love and be loved. We will live in an environment of perfect love, unhindered by sin and no longer impacted by hate.

The Corinthians were obsessed with the gifts, but for the wrong reasons. They didn’t understand their purpose. They saw them as spiritual badges of honor that gave them precedence and importance over one another. They failed to recognize their God-given purpose of enlightening and edifying one another. And their use of them was not accompanied by love. But Paul reminds them that love trumps all – even now. We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience the unhindered love of God. When we use the gifts He has given to us, we are expressing His love to one another. We are sharing and caring for one another. The gifts were intended not only to reveal the truth of God, but His love. Paul will close out this letter with some powerful words of encouragement: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV). We live in the now. And it is going to take faith, hope, strength, endurance, and patience. But none of these will be successful if we fail to love. Love brings heaven to earth. Love makes the future present, the unseen visible, and our hope tangible.

Love Lived Out.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV

It is virtually impossible to read these verses without considering Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit found in his letter to the Galatian churches:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

It is important to keep in mind that Paul’s discussion of love found in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians follows his discussion regarding the spiritual gifts. Those gifts, given by the Spirit of God, would most certainly reflect the fruit that He produces, and love would be included. To operate under the influence of the Spirit, utilizing a gift given by the Spirit, but without love, would be impossible. God is love and the same can be said of the Spirit of God. When we live by or under the influence of the Spirit, our lives will exhibit His loving nature. And Paul lets us know exactly what that love looks like.

It is patient – it puts up with a lot, including the offenses of others. It doesn’t seek to get even or enact revenge.

It is kind – it acts benevolently. In other words, it reveals itself in tangible expressions of kindness and goodness to others. Even to those who hurt us.

It isn’t envious – the actual Greek word means to “be heated or to boil with envy.” God’s kind of love rejoices with others, rather than getting jealous of what they have.

It doesn’t boast – It is impossible to love like God and grand stand at the same time. When godly love is in operation, it is other-focused, not self-promoting.

It isn’t arrogant – God’s love requires humility, not pride. It doesn’t have an inflated sense of its own self-worth.

It isn’t rude – you can’t say you love someone and treat them in a disrespectful or unseemly way.

It doesn’t insist on getting it’s on way – we can know we are loving like God does when we aren’t out for our own good. Love is selfless and sacrificial.

It isn’t irritable – when the Spirit’s love is operating in us and through us, we won’t be easily provoked. We will have a resilience and resistance to the words and actions of others.

It isn’t resentful – God’s kind of love doesn’t keep score, making a list of all the wrongs done to it. And it most certainly doesn’t seek to get even.

It doesn’t rejoice at wrong doing – when we love like God does, we won’t find pleasure in the sins of others. And we won’t love sinning ourselves.

It rejoices with the truth – godly love finds pleasure when others do what is right. It allows us to rejoice alongside them, rather than being jealous of them.

It bears all things – Spirit-empowered love is able to put up with all kinds of people and circumstances.

It believes all things – When are loving like God does, it allows us to maintain our faith in the midst of all kinds of situations and when surrounded by all kinds of people.

It hopes all things –godly love doesn’t become hopeless or defeated by what happens to us or what people do to us.

It endures all things –no matter what those we are loving might do or say. It patiently, persistently maintains its faith in the face of difficulties and difficult people.

It never ends – the kind of love Paul is describing is everlasting, not short-lived. There will never some a time when godly love becomes exhausted or non-essential.

But when it comes to the spiritual gifts, they have a shelf-life. They will not always be needed. When Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth, there will be no more need for prophecies, tongues, or the gift of knowledge. All will be fulfilled. God’s plan will be complete. But love will prevail and persist, because God is love. So godly love should have preeminence in our lives. And if we are truly operating under the control of the Spirit of God, we will exhibit the characteristics of love. Our spirituality will be marked by love, not envy, deceit, or provocation. Godly love unites and never divides. It is always flowing out and never turning in on itself. When all is said and done, the kind of love Paul is describing is the love of God flowing through us to others.

The apostle John gives us a much-needed reminder of just how vital love is and the wonder of God’s love for us that should motivate our love for others.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:7-12 ESV

The Fruit of Righteousness.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

When we live according to or under the control of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to worry about producing the works of the flesh. His power can only produce good fruit, those characteristics and manifestations that align with God’s will and reflect godliness. Living dependent upon and in obedience to the Holy Spirit never results in either legalism or license, the two dangers facing the believers in Galatia.  And yet, like them, we can find it so easy to live according to our own sinful nature and end up trying to work our way into God’s good graces or taking advantage of His grace by living in sin and expecting Him to simply forgive and forget.

When we live according to our sinful nature, the outcome is always destructive, not constructive. Driven by selfishness and pride, we make ourselves the highest priority and end up using and, at times, abusing others. We tend to view others as competition. We struggle with envy and jealousy, anger and distrust. People become tools to get what we want and to satisfy our own self-centered agendas. Our sinful flesh has no love for God or others. It only loves self. Unknowingly, we become our own god, expecting the world to revolve around our wants, needs and desires.

But when we live in willful submission to the Spirit of God, we find ourselves with a supernatural capacity to live in love with God and in harmony with others. We suddenly want what He wants. We see others as more important than ourselves. We look for opportunities to extend grace and express love. The fruit produced in our lives becomes other-oriented instead of self-centered. It becomes uplifting and edifying, meeting the needs of others rather than feeding the insatiable appetite of self. What the Holy Spirit produces in us and through us is fully pleasing to God and there are no laws prohibiting its presence in our lives. Yet the works of the flesh are all in contradiction to the will of God and are specifically prohibited by the law of God. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the law, because our lives produce fruit that is free from condemnation. Paul elaborated on this very thought in his letter to the Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV

Paul encouraged the Galatians to live by the Spirit – to live under His control. They could either live under the influence of their old sin nature or that of the Spirit. And he wanted them to remember that those “who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 ESV). Those sinful passions and desires, while not completely gone, no longer have to control us. We have an alternative resource – the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul told the Romans, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV). If we try to live according to the law, we will be depending upon the flesh again. And if we assume that we can practice license, doing whatever we want, because we are guaranteed eternal life, then we are also allowing the flesh to control our lives. And the end result of both legalism and license is death. Our lives will be characterized by rotten fruit that does no one any good. But if we set our mind on the Spirit and His will for us, our lives will be characterized by life and peace, fruitfulness and selflessness, and a love for God that finds expression in our love for others.

Paul gives the Galatians an important insight into living according to the Spirit. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). No compartmentalization. No hidden areas. No secular/sacred split. The Holy Spirit wants to influence and infiltrate every area of our lives. He wants to control every aspect of our character, eliminating the vestiges of our old nature and replacing it with the nature of Christ. And it will show up in the form of fruit that is God-produced and edifying to everyone around us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do – He has provided a way for sinful men and women to live lives characterized by the fruit of righteousness. His Spirit within us is the key to seeing His righteousness flow out of us. The Spirit of God is the means by which we live as children of God.

The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Christ lived out in our lives for any and all to see. It is not hidden, but visible. Their display in our lives is evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. They are supernatural and impossible to duplicate in our own strength. We can attempt to mimic them, but we can’t manufacture them. We can fake them, but not make them. And if we try to emulate them without the Holy Spirit’s help, we will end up producing nothing more than conceit, anger and jealousy. Our self-made love will be insincere and self-serving. Our flesh-produced joy will be short-lived. Our self-manufactured peace and patience will last only as long as our troubles stay away. Only the Spirit of God can produce in us the righteousness of Christ. And when He does, God is glorified, we are sanctified and the lost are impacted by the love of God.

The Self-Delusion of Self-Effort.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. – Galatians 4:8-11 ESV

There is a common belief, even among evangelical Christians, that all people are seeking after God. But the Bible seems to paint a distinctively different picture of mankind. Ever since the fall, humanity has been on a trajectory away from God, not toward Him. Men have not been seeking after God, but for anything and everything but Him. They have sought to make their own gods. Adam and Eve knew God intimately and personally. They had a daily and uninterrupted relationship with Him. But after the fall, they found themselves cast out of His presence. And the further mankind got from Eden, the more distant their recollection of God became. Paul paints a vivid picture of this fading knowledge of God in his letter to the Romans:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:21-23 ESV

God’s character was visible through His creation. Paul writes, “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20 ESV). But as time passed, men began to lose their perception of God and their ability to recognize His attributes in the world He had made. They lost their knowledge of the one true God and began to create gods that reflected the qualities and characteristics they deemed necessary for deity. Paul says they worshiped the creation rather than the creator. They even worshiped other men.

But Paul reminds the Galatians that they have had their knowledge of God restored, and it was not something they had achieved. It was not as a result of their own searching or seeking. He emphasizes the fact that they have come to be known by God. It was God who had sought them out and not the other way around. He had chosen to know them and have a relationship with them. He had determined to make Himself known to them through His Son. As the apostle John put it, “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (1 John 1:18 NLT). As a result of placing their faith in Jesus Christ, they had come to truly know God for the very first time. Up until that point, they had been “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8 ESV). They had been worshiping false gods. They had been limited in their spiritual understanding and were stuck worshiping the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9 ESV). Their spirituality was of this world and not of heaven. While thinking they were seeking and coming to know God, they were actually moving away from Him.

But God had chosen to seek them out. He had called them to Himself and opened their eyes so that they could see the truth found in His Son’s death, burial and resurrection. For the first time they had been able to see the depth of their own sin, the hopelessness of their condition, and their need for a Savior. Rather than attempting to earn their way into God’s good graces, they relied on the grace of God as expressed in the finished work of Christ. But Paul was concerned that these very same people, who had discovered the secret of justification by faith in Christ alone, were allowing themselves to become enslaved again. They were listening to the false teachers who were preaching justification by works. Suddenly, grace was not enough. The death and resurrection of Christ was insufficient. More was required. Human effort was necessary. But Paul completely disagreed.

There were those who were trying to convince the Gentile converts in Galatia that they were not truly saved unless they became circumcised and began to keep all the Jewish rituals, feasts and festivals. That is what Paul means when he refers to observing days and months and seasons and years. These outsiders were convincing the Gentile believers that their salvation was incomplete. They needed to do more. Their faith in Christ was insufficient. And it was this false teaching, a form of legalism, that Paul stood against so strongly. He would not tolerate it or allow it to take root among the churches in Galatia. Earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul had stated his amazement at how quickly and easily the believers there had turned their back on justification by faith alone.

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. – Galatians 1:6-7 ESV

There was no other gospel. There were no other requirements. The salvation offered by God was not based on human effort, but on faith in Christ alone. The works of men had never made God known to them. Self-righteousness had never earned anyone access to God. The righteousness God required was only available through faith in Christ. As Paul told the Romans:

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:16-17 NLT

We don’t seek God. He seeks us. We can’t earn God’s favor. He must willingly extend it to us through His Son. When it comes to our justification before God, self-effort is self-delusional. We would do well to remember the personal testimony of Paul to the believers in Philippi: “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).