Fan the Flame of Faith

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:1-7 ESV

Over the course of his memorable and eventful life, the apostle Paul managed to write a number of letters, many of which would eventually form a large part of the New Testament canon of Scripture. His pastoral letters, like First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, were addressed to the churches in those communities which he had helped to start. Paul was, first and foremost, an evangelist, with a Christ-ordained mandate to take the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In his former life, Paul had been a dedicated Pharisee on a personal crusade to eradicate every last vestige of “the Way,” the name given to those who had chosen to become followers of the former rabbi, Jesus, who had been crucified in Jerusalem years earlier.

Paul, as a faithful Jew and a zealous member of the Pharisees, had deemed the teachings of Jesus as radical and a threat to the Hebrew faith. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom and as part of His divine redemptive plan, had chosen to redirect Paul’s ambitions and turn him from antagonist to evangelist.

The story of his conversion from persecutor to church planter can be found in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts. It explains how Paul had an unexpected and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ Himself. As a result of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Paul would come to realize that the rumors concerning Jesus, the itinerant rabbi who had been executed by the Romans, were actually true. He was alive and well, having been resurrected from the dead. And all as proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be all along: the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

As a result of his roadside encounter with the risen Christ, the trajectory of Paul’s life was changed forever. He discovered a new purpose for his life and a much-improved focus for his ambitious nature and high-octane personality. Paul became one of the most outspoken proponents of the gospel, focusing his evangelistic efforts primarily on the Gentile world. Over the course of his life, he would lead countless individuals to Christ, helping them come to know the joy of salvation through faith in Christ.

Paul was an apostle, literally “a messenger” of Jesus Christ, who had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry the gospel to the far reaches of the known world. And Paul would take his commission seriously, eventually embarking on three extensive missionary journeys to the far corners of the Roman Empire. And along the way, he shared the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles, revealing the truth “that Christ was crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT) and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).

Paul faithfully preached this message in cities, synagogues, public squares, before governors and magistrates, and with a tireless passion to see the lost come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And along the way, he witnessed countless individuals come to faith in Christ, including the young man to whom this letter is addressed. Timothy was a disciple of Paul’s, having been hand-selected by the apostle to join him on his missionary journeys and assist him in the spread of the gospel. The tone of this letter reflects Paul’s deep and personal affection for Timothy. Written from Rome where Paul was under house arrest and awaiting a hearing before the Roman Emperor, the letter is a highly personal and intimate message from the apostle to his young protégé and friend.

Paul’s love for Timothy is reflected in his salutation: “To Timothy, my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). Paul viewed Timothy as a son and this letter contains words of fatherly love in the form of encouragement and admonition. Paul was obviously proud of Timothy, and even complimented him for his “sincere faith.” He was thankful that God had placed Timothy in his life and longed to see his young friend again. But, since Paul was under house arrest in Rome, and Timothy was ministering in Ephesus, Paul could only pray for and write to his son in the faith. And, in part, this letter was intended to encourage Timothy to remain faithful in the face of opposition. Paul was determined to help his young coworker become all that God intended him to be. Physically separated but spiritually bound by a common belief in Christ and a shared calling to preach the gospel, Paul felt a personal responsibility for Timothy’s life and ministry. And this letter is his attempt to pour into this young man’s life by calling him to an ever-increasing commitment to his faith and his Christ-mandated mission.

Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you” (2 Timothy 1:6 NLT). We’re not told what “spiritual gift” Paul had in mind, but we know that he viewed Timothy as having been specially gifted by God and he longed to see him use every resource at his disposal to faithfully accomplish his work. And he wanted Timothy to know that because he was gifted by God, he had no reason to embrace thoughts of inadequacy or fear.  

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

This was not the first time Paul had challenged Timothy to live in the power provided for him by God. In a previous letter, Paul had provided Timothy with strong words of encouragement aimed at countering any feelings of inadequacy or inability he may have felt.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 NLT

Paul knew from his own experience just how difficult living the Christian life could be. And the added pressure of preaching the gospel and shepherding the flock of Jesus Christ made Timothy’s job that much more difficult. He was young, relatively inexperienced, and in a high-pressure career where he faced opposition of a spiritual nature.

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Timothy had been blessed to have a mother and grandmother who had modeled the life of faith for him. But he was now having to “fan the flame” of his own faith, learning to trust in the power provided for him by Christ. Paul wanted Timothy to know that he had power, love, and self-control at his disposal. He had everything he needed to accomplish that task before him. His age, inexperience, and any feelings of inadequacy he may have felt were irrelevant. He had a saving relationship with Christ, a clear calling to the gospel ministry, and the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. And Paul wanted him to know that he had a responsibility to remain faithful to his commission as a minister of the gospel because it is a “holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV).

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


The Highway of Holiness

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said, and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love, and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it, even more, when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw a faulty conclusion from His words that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. Our outwardly, gracious actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects and demands nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, and not yourself. And those who have been blessed or approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Jesus knows that the life of love and self-sacrifice to which He is calling His audience would not be easy. He is fully aware that His words have been difficult to hear and that what He has been commanding them to do would be impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them.

He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path would be quite small. But, in contrast, the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy and rather enjoyable.

Jesus is letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. It would not be due to their ethnic identity as Jews and descendants of Abraham. Jesus is presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches that all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute.

Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive the forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult.

The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea for all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring.

Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So, with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 NLT

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

A Prophet Like Me

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:15-22 ESV

The preceding verses contain a God-ordained ban on “anyone who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer,  one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 NLT). There is a special significance to these particular pagan practices because they were often used as a means of discerning the future or of obtaining divine guidance.

According to the NET Bible Study Notes, divination was “a means employed to determine the future or the outcome of events by observation of various omens and signs.” An omen reader was, in essence, a fortune-teller who supposedly possessed the power to predict the future based on the reading of signs. A soothsayer was someone who had the power to divine the future. The pagans believed that anyone who possessed the ability to cast spells could control the future. They also placed high stock in those who claimed to be able to communicate with the spirit world because these people could gain insights that were inaccessible to others. The term, “practitioner of the occult” is actually one word in Hebrew and it refers to a wizard or what we might refer to as a false prophet. The word actually means “knower” and is a reference to their knowledge or insight into the unknown. Finally, a necromancer was someone who had the ability to communicate with the dead.

All of these practices were closely associated with the pursuit of supernatural guidance or assistance. Which is why Moses bans their practice among the Israelites. The people of God were to have one source of divine input, and that was to be God Almighty, and God had chosen to communicate His will through Moses. With Moses having been banned by God from entering the land of Canaan, there was a greater-than-normal risk that the people of Israel would be tempted to use pagan practices to gain divine insight. So, speaking through Moses, God assured His people that He would continue to speak to them through men whom He would appoint.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

God would not leave them without a means of receiving His guidance and direction. And Moses reminded them that this promise of a God-appointed prophet was in keeping with the request they had made at Mount Sinai.

All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking—and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 NLT

The powerful manifestations of God’s glory had left the Israelites paralyzed by fear. So, they had demanded that Moses act as God’s mouthpiece, communicating His divine will and protecting them from God’s holiness. And God had given His divine approval of this plan, assuring Moses, “What they have said is good. I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command” (Deuteronomy 18:17-18 NLT).

The prophet of God was required to speak on behalf of God and was not allowed to communicate anything other than the word of God. In a sense, a prophet was like a preacher, disseminating divine wisdom to the people of God. He was expected to be a truth-teller, speaking only what He had received directly from God Himself. And since the prophet was God’s primary means of communication, the people were obligated to listen to and obey all that the prophet said. And Moses warned that God would hold the people personally responsible for refusing to heed the words of His prophets.

This dire warning would become particularly pertinent centuries later, when God sent His prophets to warn of coming judgment if they did not repent. God would even warn His prophet, Jeremiah, that his words would fall on deaf ears.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:27 NLT

God would promise to give Jeremiah the words to speak, but also the strength to withstand the anger of the people when they chose to reject what he had to say.

“But you, Jeremiah, get yourself ready! Go and tell these people everything I instruct you to say. Do not be terrified of them, or I will give you good reason to be terrified of them. I, the Lord, hereby promise to make you as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. You will be able to stand up against all who live in the land, including the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and all the people of the land. They will attack you but they will not be able to overcome you, for I will be with you to rescue you.” – Jeremiah 1:17-19 NLT

The role of the prophet was a divinely-appointed one, and while anyone could claim to be speaking on behalf of God, there were serious repercussions for those who did so and proved to be lying. They were to be put to death. And the litmus test for determining the veracity of someone’s claim to be a prophet was whether what they prophesied actually happened.

“…whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” – Deuteronomy 18:22 NLT

So, Moses assured the people that they would have no reason to seek the pagan forms of divination as a means of knowing the future. God would continue to speak to them through prophets whom He would appoint. Their only obligation was to listen to what the prophets had to say.

And, there is a final aspect of this passage that must not be overlooked. Two separate times Moses states, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV). The tense is in the singular. And while the context of the verses clearly indicates that there would be many prophets who would follow Moses, there is a sense in which these verses predict the coming of a particular prophet, one who would show up in the same way that Moses had. This prophet would be a deliverer, just as Moses had been. He too would be sent by God to rescue the people from captivity, but rather than deliverance from slavery in Egypt, this prophet would provide release from slavery to sin and death.

The author of Hebrews provides a comparison between Moses and this future deliverer/prophet who would be similar to, but greater than Moses.

For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

God promises to send “a prophet” who will speak on His behalf.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV

The apostle John would later write of Jesus, the promised prophet of God:

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

And John would later quote Jesus Himself as He provided clarification for what God had meant when He told the people of Israel that for all those who refused to believe His prophet, He would “require it of him.”

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

God would not leave His people without direction. He would continue to guide them and provide for them. But they were obligated to obey the words of His prophets. And the day would come when He would send His final prophet, Jesus Christ, in order to deliver the most important message ever delivered by God through the lips of man.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 NLT

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




Fakers and Posers.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’– Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

Jesus is not done addressing the danger of false prophets, those ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, whose appearance may be deceptive, but whose fruit is not. They can disguise their true nature, but they can’t hide what comes out of their heart. They can claim to be followers of Christ, but Jesus makes it clear, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). And in today’s passage, Jesus will go on to describe their fruit as lawlessness. The Greek word is anomia, and it literally means “without law.” It can be translated iniquity or wickedness, but refers to contempt for and violation of law. These false prophets may claim to prophesy in the name of Jesus, but He refers to their actions as lawless and, therefore, wicked. And they are not alone. Jesus lists others who will claim to be His followers, but who will prove to be nothing more than fakers and posers. Calling Jesus “Lord” is not what gets you into heaven. Expressing allegiance to Him is not what saves you. It is not what brings you the approval and blessing of God.

Later on in His ministry, Jesus was approached by a group of Jews who had been present the day He had miraculously fed the crowd with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Jesus knew why they were there and exposed their motives:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” – John 6:26 ESV

In other words, they had been there for more food. So, Jesus told them:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

Jesus was trying to offer them something far greater and more beneficial than temporary food. He was inviting them to discover eternal life. But their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane and they were driven by their base desire for more food. So, they responded:

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:28-29 ESV

The work of God, that which God would have them do, was to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Calling Him, “Lord, Lord” is not necessarily an expression of belief. And Jesus makes it clear that the day is coming when there will be those who claimed to be His followers will be exposed for what they really were: Hypocrites. The difficult thing is that these very people will appear to be doing all that they do in the name of Jesus. They will prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do mighty works in His name. But Jesus describes all of it as lawless, because they do not truly represent Him.

In our current age, there are many who claim to be speaking on behalf of Jesus. They speak His name and call Him, “Lord, Lord”. Some even do miracles and perform mighty works in His name. But Jesus would have us investigate their fruit – the fruit of their hearts – because they may not be all that they appear to be. And the outward display of their allegiance to Christ may be nothing more than a cover-up for their true motives. The trouble is that, while we are here on this earth, we will be surrounded by fakers and charlatans. And many of them will be placed in our midst by Satan himself. Jesus makes this clear in a parable He told.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.,

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” – Matthew 13:24-30 NLT

We will not always be able to tell the wheat from the tares. But they will be there. It is a guarantee. But when Jesus said, “On that day…”, He was referring to a future day when the wheat and the tares will be divided and those that don’t belong will be judged and dealt with. There is a judgment coming and God will separate the sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost. And there will be those who will claim, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And they will hear Jesus say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23 ESV).

There have been and always will be those who claim to followers of Christ, but who are really nothing more than false professors. Their apparent spirituality is not what saves them. Their use of Jesus name and regular attendance in church do not bring them approval with God. They claim to be followers of God, but fail to do the will of God. They refuse to believe on Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Instead, they believe that their religious fervor will save them. They put their trust in their good deeds, prayers, fasts, and acts of generosity. They go to church. They attend Bible studies. They listen to countless sermons. But they neglect the one thing God has commanded that all should do if they desire to be made right with Him and gain His approval: Believe in His Son as their sin substitute. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they simply stated: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NLT). Belief, not behavior is the key to salvation. That is not to say that behavior is unimportant, but changed behavior is a byproduct of true belief. That is why Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). The fruit of the Spirit is what flows out of the life of the one who has placed His faith in Christ. But for those who have refused to believe in Him, their “fruit” has a completely different character and Paul describes it in his lstter to the Galatian believers:

sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these…  – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

There will be false professions. There will be those who claim to be followers of Christ, but their motives are wrong. They will say all the right things. They will do many of the things a Christ-follower would be expected to do. They will sit next to us in the pews on Sunday morning, attend our small groups, go on mission trips, give their money and devote their time to worthy causes. But the day will come when they will say, “Lord, Lord” and He will say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me.”

Remember, Jesus has already warned that the gate is narrow and the path is difficult that leads to the kingdom of God. And while there are few who will take that path, there will still be some who appear on it who don’t belong there. Their presence on the path will have nothing to do with faith in Christ, but will be based on human effort. They will profess to be followers of Christ, but will really be relying on their own merit to get themselves into the kingdom. They will appear beside us on the path, but rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be walking in the flesh. Rather than depending upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will be following desires of their own hearts and the counsel of men. And the day will come when their false profession will come face to face with the truth of the gospel and Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

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

When “The Way” Seems Wrong.

And when he had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying:

“Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”

The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all these things were so.

10 And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied:

“Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense. 11 You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, 12 and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, 15 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. 16 So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man. 17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. 18 While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia— 19 they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, should they have anything against me. 20 Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found when I stood before the council, 21 other than this one thing that I cried out while standing among them: ‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.’” Acts 24:2-21 ESV


The day for Paul’s trial before Governor Felix had arrived. A contingent of Jews, including the high priest, Ananias, as well as a hired attorney named Tertullus, had finally made their way to Caesarea and the governor called them all to appear before him. The primary spokesman for the Jewish leadership was Tertullus, who is described by Luke as an attorney. But the Greek word he used is rhētōr, from which we get the English word, rhetoric. A rhētōr was an orator or forensic advocate. To put it in more modern terms, he was a prosecuting attorney, skilled in public debate and the intricacies of legal disputation and argumentation. In other words, the Jews had brought a professional. They saw this as their chance to not only get rid of Paul, but to do heavy damage to the cause of Christ, as we will see in Tertullus’ line of prosecution.

Tertullus started out his speech by showing proper respect for the governor, addressing him “most excellent Felix.” Then he proceeded to flatter the governor by expressing their collective gratitude for his many years of wise and proactive leadership.

2 “You have provided a long period of peace for us Jews and with foresight have enacted reforms for us. For all of this, Your Excellency, we are very grateful to you.” – Acts 24:3-4 NLT

The facts were that Felix was anything but a good governor. The historian Tacitus describes him as cruel, licentious, and base. He was a former slave who had moved up the ranks and had been appointed governor by the emperor Claudius himself. He enjoyed his position and all the power and wealth it afforded him, and would do anything to protect and preserve it. Any “reforms” he had brought about would have been for purely selfish motives and accomplished through less-than-legal means. So, the words of Tertullus were nothing more than flattering lies designed to win the governor over and make him receptive to their charges against Paul.

The charges Tertullus leveled against Paul had been well-chosen and carefully worded. First, he accused Paul of stirring up riots among the Jews all throughout the Roman empire. He wanted the governor to know that what had taken place in Jerusalem had not been an isolated incident. Paul was creating this kind of chaos and confusion everywhere he went. This charge was designed to strike fear into the heart of Felix. He reported directly to the emperor, and should news get back to Claudius that a renegade Jew from one of the provinces under Felix’s control was disrupting the peace of the empire, Felix would have to answer for it. The second charge brought against Paul was that of being a ringleader in what Tertullus called “the sect of the Nazarenes’ (Acts 24:5 ESV). The words Tertullus used were very carefully chosen and meant to strike fear into the heart of Felix. He refers to Paul as being a leader in a “sect” – using the Greek word, hairesis, from which we get the word “heresy.” Now, this word could be used in a positive manner, referring to groups such as the Pharisees and Saducees, who happened to have opposing views. But Tertullus was going out of his way to paint Paul as a leader in a dangerous and insidious group of radicals from the region around Nazareth. In essence, Tertullus was attempting to link Paul to Jesus of Nazareth, without using the name of Jesus. One of the things the Roman government feared were Messianic movements among the Jews. It was not uncommon for splinter groups to form based on a belief that they were being led by the long-awaited Messiah. The Romans were well aware of the long-held belief of the Jews in a future savior or Messiah who would restore them to power by setting them free from the oppression of Rome. By labeling Paul as a member and leader of one of these insurrectionist groups, Tertullus was attempting to paint Paul as a dangerous threat to Rome and to Felix’s power. Finally, Tertullus brought the charge against Paul that was more directly an affront to the Jews. He accused Paul of attempting to desecrate the temple. He provided no details and presented no evidence. While this final charge would have meant little to Felix, it was an attempt on the part of Tertullus to eventually make an appeal for Paul’s death. According to Roman law, the Jews could request the right to execute anyone who desecrated the temple. With that, Tertullus rested his case and invited the governor to examine Paul himself in order to corroborate their charges.

But Felix simply provided Paul with an opportunity to defend himself against the charges. It’s interesting to note that Paul, while addressing the governor in respectful terms, said nothing that could be construed as flattery. He made no attempt to heap false praise on Felix. He simply referred to the fact that Felix had been governor over the Jews for a long time, and that he was happy to have the opportunity to present his case before such a long-standing judge over Israel.

In Paul’s response, we get an insightful look into his keen intellect and thorough grasp of the circumstances surrounding his situation. As a former Pharisee, he was well acquainted with the inner workings of the Sanhedrin or high Jewish council. He knew exactly what Tertullus was trying to do. So, Paul started with the last accusation first. He addressed the charge that he had desecrated the temple by claiming that he had done nothing wrong. In spite of all Tertullus’ lofty rhetoric, Paul flatly stated:

12 My accusers never found me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor stirring up a riot in any synagogue or on the streets of the city. 13 These men cannot prove the things they accuse me of doing. – Acts 24:12-13 NLT

He demanded proof. And his clear inference was that no proof existed or they would have presented it. Next, Paul addresses the second charge accusing him of being a ringleader in the sect of the Nazarenes.

14 “But I admit that I follow the Way, which they call a cult. I worship the God of our ancestors, and I firmly believe the Jewish law and everything written in the prophets. – Acts 24:14 NLT

But Paul made it clear that he was not part of some new and radical anti-Semitic group. He was a Jew himself and a worshiper of Yahweh, the God of the Jews. He was a faithful adherent to the Mosaic law and believed all that was written by the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, this is where Paul made his move. He placed himself on the same level as his accusers, claiming to worship the same God, keep the same law and believe in the same Scriptures. And those Scriptures clearly taught that there would be a resurrection of the dead. Why is Paul bringing up resurrection at this point in his speech? What is he attempting to do? If you recall, when he was first arrested by the Roman tribune and forced to appear before the Sanhedrin, he had also brought up the issue of resurrection. That’s because he knew that the Sanhedrin was divided between Sadducees, who rejected the idea of the resurrection of the body, and Pharisee, who embraced it. When Paul had broached the subject in that context it had resulted in a virtual brawl between the members of the Sanhedrin. So, here we have Paul raising this touchy subject yet again. Paul described himself as “having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15 ESV). Ananias, the high priest, was a Sadducee, and he most certainly had no hope that there would be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. He didn’t believe in resurrection at all. Paul was goading his accusers. You can imagine the frustration the high priest and the other members of the council felt as they listened to Paul speak. They most likely wanted to disagree with him, but they knew they couldn’t without revealing that his was all nothing more than a theological disagreement between themselves and Paul. If they spoke up, they ran the risk of getting their case thrown out by Felix.

Next, Paul gave his recollection of the events that had taken place in the temple and had led to his appearance before Felix. He described his presence in the temple to offer sacrifices and make purification. And he firmly denied any wrongdoing, even questioning why the Asian Jews, the very ones who had accused him, were not present at the trial. He even demanded that the members of the Sanhedrin present clear and compelling evidence as to why he had appeared before them in the first place. The truth was, at the point of Paul’s arrest, no one had been able to agree on what it was he had done wrong. There was no evidence presented or clear and compelling charge brought against him. And it was at this point that Paul brought back up the resurrection of the dead. He recalled that the only thing he had said at the time of his arrest that seemed to have caused a stir was, “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day” (Acts 24:21 ESV).

Paul’s whole point in bringing up the matter of the resurrection was that, when he had done so at his trial before the Sanhedrin, there were those on the council who had declared, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” (Acts 23:9 ESV). Even the council had been divided over his guilt or innocence. Paul knew if he could expose the fact that all of this was nothing more than a theological debate, Felix would be prone to dismiss the trial as unnecessary and irrelevant to Roman concerns. The whole reason Paul was standing in front of the Roman governor was because the Jewish religious leadership refused to accept that Jesus, the one they had crucified, had actually been the Messiah and had risen from the dead. Even the Pharisees, who believed in resurrection, refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. None of this was about desecration of the temple, insurrection, or crimes against the state. It was all about the Way, the gospel of Jesus Christ and His offer of justification before God through faith in His sacrificial death on the cross. Paul was preaching hope. But the enemies of the gospel will always see it as a threat to be exterminated, not a life-changing gift to be embraced.

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

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

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

Misdirected Zeal.

37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:

1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.” Acts 21:37-22:5 ESV

At the close of chapter seven and the beginning of chapter eight, Luke introduced us to Saul for the very first time. Luke indicated that Saul “was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison” (Acts 8:3 NLT). He was a man on a mission. He was obsessed. And he honestly thought he was doing God a huge favor by ridding the world of any and all Christians he could get his hands on. In fact, in today’s chapter, he explains the mindset behind his passionate persecution of the church.

3 I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. – Acts 22:3-4 NLT
He was highly motivated and demonstrated extreme eagerness to please and honor God through his actions. We know that when he had stood by and watched the stoning of Stephen, he not only held the coats of those who threw the stones, he “agreed completely with the killing of Stephen” (Acts 8:1 NLT). He was convinced that the killing of Christians was a good thing. He saw them as dangerous heretics and criminals who opposed the Mosaic law and the Jewish religion. But something had happened to Saul. He had a personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus and his life had been dramatically transformed and the trajectory of his life had been radically altered. He was no longer the same man.
And as he stood in the Court of the Gentiles, having been rescued by the Roman cohort, from a beating at the hands of the Jews, he recounted to the crowd just what had happened to change his life. He asked the captain of the Roman soldiers if he could be given a chance to address the crowd, the very ones who had been attempting to end his life. Paul saw this as a unique and unavoidable opportunity to share his story. And when the captain, having learned that Paul was not the radical Egyptian revolutionary he supposed him to be, allowed him to speak. And Paul addressed the crowd of Jews in their own language.
Not only did Paul address the crowd in their own language of Aramaic, he let them know that he was one of them, a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia. He was a Hellenistic Jew, born in the Roman-controlled region of Cilicia. Tarsus was a major city, located in what is today southern Turkey. Paul wanted the Jews in his audience to know that he was a Jew, not some upstart Greek-speaking troublemaker. And he proceeded to give them his curriculum vitae, explaining that he had a significant Hebrew heritage and a formal education that was more than a little bit impressive. Paul wasn’t bragging, but he was attempting to get his audience’s attention by highlighting his religious and educational resumes.
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel.” – Acts 22:3 NLT
He wasn’t a newcomer to Jerusalem or some kind of country bumpkin from the sticks. He had been raised in the capital city and trained under one of the most revered of all the Jewish rabbis and teachers of the day. He was well-educated and more than familiar with the religion of his forefathers. Paul had been a Pharisee. and he would later describe himself as having been one of the best of all the Pharisees.
I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. – Philippians 3:5-6 NLT
Paul had been a law-keeping, card-carrying Pharisee who had an impeccable record of human-based righteousness. He had Hebrew blood coursing through his veins and a no-holds-barred obsession with the Hebrew faith. If you looked up the word, “zealous” in the dictionary, you would have found Paul’s picture out beside it. In fact, Paul referred to himself as “being zealous for God.” The Greek word he used is zēlōtēs, and it refers to someone who burns with zeal for something, but also someone who defends and upholds something, vehemently contending for it with all his power. Paul had seen his pre-conversion mission as somehow God-ordained. But he had really appointed himself, having determined that he was doing the will of God, without having ever received his assignment from God. Paul was a self-appointed vigilante for God. He was kicking tail and taking names. His mission in life was to eliminate any and all Christians from the face of the earth – one at a time, if necessary. And Paul openly confessed, “I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison” (Acts 22:4 NLT). He had taken his job very seriously. And he had not been content to restrict his efforts to the city of Jerusalem. He had gone to the high priest and solicited formal documents that would allow him to take his little show on the road, seeking out Christians wherever he could find them.
Back in chapter eight, Luke recorded that “A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.) But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison” (Acts 8:1-4 NLT). And he had received official papers giving him permission and power to search and destroy all Christians found in the city of Damascus.
I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished. – Acts 22:5 NLT
And he challenged his listeners to fact-check his claim by talking to the high priest himself. He would corroborate the authenticity of his story.
But this is where his tale takes a dramatic turn. He had set them up. They were on pins and needles, having heard him share some insights into his life story that none of them would have ever guessed in a million years. Here was a former Pharisee and student of the famous Gamaliel, and he had just been accused of teaching against the law of Moses and of desecrating the temple by bringing uncircumcised Gentiles into the area reserved only for Jews. How could he have done such a thing? What had forced this Pharisee to abandon his Jewish faith and turn his back on his own people? At this point, the crowd is far less interested in beating Paul, as they are in hearing what he has to say. They were mesmerized and intrigued. And Paul was going to take advantage of their rapt attention to share the most dramatic and unexpected part of his story. He had been one of them. He had grown up in the same culture and under the same conditions as they had. He had been circumcised, taught in the synagogue, attended the various feasts and festivals, trained as a Pharisee, and emersed in the rights, rituals and religious rules of Judaism. So, what had happened? That’s where Paul will pick up his story:
“As I was on the road, approaching Damascus…” – Acts 22:6 NLT
Remember. He had been on a mission. He thought he was acting on behalf of God. He had truly believed he was doing God a favor. He was zealous and energetic in his efforts. He had been determined and disciplined to carry out his mission. And, like the people standing in the crowd, listening to his words, Paul had been convinced that he was right. He had fully believed that his agenda had been God’s agenda. But he was in for a big surprise and so were they.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

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


No Other Gospel.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! – Galatians 5:7-12 ESV

Paul took this issue very seriously. As far as he was concerned, it had little to do with the rite of circumcision itself, but it had everything to do with the integrity of the gospel. God had sent His Son as the one and only means for mankind’s salvation. His sacrificial death on the cross was God’s sole solution to man’s sin problem. The law was never intended by God to save men, but to condemn them of their sins. The law revealed the holiness and righteousness that God demanded in a non-negotiable, hand-written form. It left no grey areas or anything up to man’s imagination. But man, in his sinful condition, was totally incapable of keeping the law. And this was no surprise to God. He had intended all along to send His Son in human form, in order that He might keep the law and become the sinless substitute and unblemished sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, died on behalf of sinful men, and His death provided the only means by which men might be restored to a right relationship with God. Paul wrote to the Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV).

Anything and anyone that interfered with that message was considered an enemy by Paul. He didn’t suffer false teachers lightly. He would not tolerate those who preached a different version of God’s gospel. That is why he started out this letter to the Galatians with very strong words concerning those who were amending the gospel of God.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:6-9 ESV

In today’s passage, Paul commends his readers for running the race well, but then accuses them of allowing others to knock them off course. They had accepted Christ by faith and were living the Christian life in faith, but then had run into an obstacle along the way. The Greek word Paul used was ἀνακόπτω (anakoptō) and it refers to something having its progress hindered, held back or checked in some way. The Judaizers, who were demanding that the Gentile converts in Galatia be circumcised, were actually hindering them from obeying the truth as found in the gospel. They were adding unnecessary requirements. And Paul made it clear that his new rules were not from God. “This persuasion is not from him who calls you” (Galatians 5:8 ESV). And the real danger of this kind of teaching was that it would soon permeate every aspect of their faith, causing them to walk away from the grace offered by God and back into the legalism of the law. Which is what Paul seems to be saying when he writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” This kind of false teaching would become like an uncontrolled cancer spreading through the church in Galatia and robbing them of the freedom they had found in Christ.

But Paul expressed his confidence that the Galatian believers would reject this false teaching and remain faithful to the life of faith.And he assured them that, regardless of what others might have said, he was not a proponent of circumcision. Yes, he had encouraged Timothy to be circumcised, but that was a different case altogether. Timothy, a young disciple of Paul’s, had a Jewish mother who had become a believer, but his father was Greek. In the book of Acts we read, “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3 ESV). It had nothing to do with Timothy’s salvation, but with his ministry to the Jews. Paul knew that they would never listen to an uncircumcised Gentile, so he encouraged Timothy to undergo circumcision to make him acceptable to the Jews and provide him a platform to share the gospel with them.

Evidently, the false teachers in Galatia had been saying that Paul was also a proponent of circumcision, most likely using the story of Timothy as evidence. But Paul denies that charge and asks why he is still being persecuted by the Judaizers if they are all on the same page. No, Paul was adamantly opposed to these men and he made his position clear. For Paul, the very nature of the cross was an offense to the legalists. Jesus’ death had removed any vestige of self-righteousness or the possibility of justification by works. The cross symbolized Jesus’ once-for-all-time payment for the sins of mankind. Nothing more was necessary. But for the legalists, this party of the circumcision, the cross was not enough. So Paul had some harsh words for them. He compared them the pagan priests who practiced ritual castration as part of their worship, and he wished that they would do the same to themselves. Paul was not necessarily wishing physical harm on these individuals, but was really expressing his desire that they be cut off from the local fellowship of believers. He saw them as a real danger to the spiritual health of the church. In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul had similarly harsh words regarding these men”

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. – Philippians 3:2-3 ESV

In our desire to be tolerant, we sometimes run the risk of allowing dangerously false doctrines to infiltrate the church. But when it came to the doctrine of salvation, Paul was anything but tolerant. He would not accept alternative views. He would not abide by those who offered a different gospel. For Paul, there was only one means of salvation and it was by faith alone in Christ alone. And if anyone preached a different gospel, Paul called them out. And we should do the same. It is NOT true that all roads lead to the top of the mountain. It is false to believe that there are other ways for men to be made right with God. Jesus Himself said,  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).




Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. – 1 John 4:2 MSG

1 John 4:1-6

There are so many versions of Jesus being offered up today that it’s hard to keep track. There is Jesus, the life coach, whose sole purpose was to provide us with a model for self-improvement. Just follow His instructions and you can be just like Him. Then there’s Jesus, the moralistic monk, who gave us a host of wise sayings to quote and even to live out if we so choose. This Jesus was kind of a Hebrew Muhatma Gandhi, who spoke against social injustices and promoted peace and love. There’s Jesus, the martyr, a radical peasant who tried to bring about a social revolution, but died while trying. His faithful followers picked up where He left off and kept the spirit of His cause alive. There’s even Jesus, the Son of God, who whose a man chosen by God to be a living example of what it looks like when men learn to live in harmony with their Creator.

But the problem with all these versions of Jesus is that they are not the real Jesus. They may give us brief glimpses of some aspect of His life or a partial view of His nature, but they leave out the most important, life-altering point of His existence. He is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God who took on human flesh, in order to pay for the sins of mankind and satisfy the just demands of a holy, just and righteous God. John made this point clear at the very beginning of his letter, stating, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:1-2 ESV). Jesus, the eternal life, had been manifested or made known to John and the other disciples. They had seen, touched, and heard Him. They had spent over three years living with Him. They had seen Him perform miracles, transfigured, walk on water, raise the dead, and suffer a brutal death by crucifixion. But they had also seen Him alive three days after He had been buried in a borrowed tomb that had been surrounded by guards. They had heard Him say that He was going away, but that He would be returning for them some day. And they had clearly heard His parting words as He gave them His great commission to spread the good news regarding Him to all the world. This is the Jesus John preached. This is the Jesus Paul proclaimed and gave his life for. This is the Jesus of Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, Titus, Timothy, the Philippian jailer, Lydia, Silas, Barnabas, James, Tabitha, Phillip and millions upon millions of others over the last 2000-plus years.

But we live in a society that has a difficult time accepting the truth about Jesus. So they re-invent Him. They come up with their version of Him that makes Him more palatable and acceptable. The Jesus of John and the disciples is too intolerant and demanding. Their version of the gospel doesn’t come across as good news at all. So people reject it or simply revise it to suit their tastes. In his book, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Lesslie Newbigin writes:

The gospel is news of what has happened. The problem of communicating it in a pluralistic society is that it simply disappears into the undifferentiated ocean of information. It represents one opinion among millions of others. It cannot be “the truth,” since in a pluralistic society truth is not one but many. It may be “true for you,” but it cannot be true for everyone. To claim that it is true for everyone is simply arrogance. It is permitted as one opinion among many.

The problem is that John and the disciples present Jesus as the only way. “Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God” (1 John 4:2 MSG). Even Jesus Himself claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He wasn’t one way among many. He wasn’t just another option. He was the only way. The exclusive, no-other-alternative-available way. It was A. W. Tozer who said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” But I would add, what comes into our mind when we think about Jesus is what will determine our relationship with God. Jesus was and is the Son of God. He is the God-man, 100 percent deity and 100 percent humanity. A mystery that is inexplicable by man, but essential for the salvation of mankind. Jesus lived a sinless life. Yet He was required to die a sinner’s death, in order to pay the penalty due for the sin’s of mankind. He died in our place. He took on our sin and the punishment we deserved, so that we might receive forgiveness, pardon, and escape from the condemnation of death. But we must believe that He was who He claimed to be. We must accept the gift that He so graciously offers. We must believe in and trust our lives to the Jesus Christ as sent by God, proclaimed by the apostles, taught in the Bible and confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. No other Jesus will do. No other way will suffice. No other version of the truth will work. “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5 ESV).

Truth Is NOT Relative.

I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. – 1 John 2:21 ESV

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). That’s a rather exclusive, intolerant and non-subjective statement. Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life – not just one of many options or alternatives. Nobody gets to the Father without going through Jesus. And when John tells his readers that they know the truth, He is referring not only to the teaching concerning Jesus, but to the person of Jesus Himself. They know Him personally. They know Him as He who is from the beginning. He is the life. He is eternal life. He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He is the propitiation for their sins and their advocate before the Father. They know THE truth. And anyone who teaches anything other than that is a liar. No matter how reasonable what they say may sound. There are not variations of the truth. There is only THE truth – Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul had to deal with this problem in the early days of the church. He wrote to the believers in Galatia, warning them, “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 were those who were presenting a different version of the truth. They were selling a variation of the truth which was really just a lie. And Paul was very blunt in his assessment of these individuals. “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV). A contrary or contradictory gospel is a false gospel. Any good news that does not present Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life is ultimately bad news. And yet, we are so susceptible to subjective truth. So were the believers in Corinth. Paul had to reprimand them for their unhealthy tolerance of alternative truth narratives. “You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed” (2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT). Paul feared that their “pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent” (2 Corinthians 11:3 NLT). Rather than keep their focus on the truth about Jesus, they would allow themselves to be distracted and deceived by the lies of the enemy. If you recall, when Satan tempted Eve, he didn’t totally contradict the word of God, he simply twisted the truth and turned it into a subtly deceptive lie. He got Eve to doubt God’s word, not reject it. And that is what the enemy does with us regarding the truth. His goal is not to get us to reject it outright, but to simply distort it or dilute it by creating a more acceptable version. But if it denies Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, it is unacceptable. If it presents Jesus as one of many ways to God, it is a lie. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). So either He was a liar or He was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And John has gone out of his way to remind his readers that they know the truth. They know Jesus. They know Him who is from the beginning. As a result, they know the Father. They have a relationship with God because of what Jesus has done. And their sins have been forgiven. They are strong. The word abides in them. And they have overcome the evil one.

The lies are all around us. The enemy is constantly attempting to get us to accept false versions of the truth – distorted variations on the theme. But we know THE truth. It is Jesus. Jesus the Son of God. Jesus, God in human flesh. Jesus the sinless sacrifice. Jesus the payment for our penalty. Jesus the resurrected Christ. Jesus our advocate. Jesus our coming King. He alone is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes into a right relationship with God the Father but through Him. There is no other truth. There is no other way.

Galatians 1:11-24

Chosen By God.

Galatians 1:11-24

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. – Galatians 1:15 NLT

In the eyes of the new believers living in the region of Galatia, Paul is just another man with another message. They can think of no reason to give his message any more credence than any other man’s. Yes, Paul had been to the Roman province of Galatia on his first missionary journey, and had visited Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. He had brought them the Good News of Jesus Christ, but there were others who had slightly different opinions regarding what it meant to be a Christ-follower. They were promoting the idea that it wasn’t enough to simply believe in Jesus as your Savior, you also had to be converted to Judaism and adhere to its laws and ceremonial requirements. These Judaizers, as they were called, were so zealous in their beliefs, that they had actually followed Paul on his first missionary journey, spreading their pseudo-gospel among the new converts. Now these new Gentile converts were faced with a decision regarding who to believe – Paul of the Judaizers. Both claimed to have the message of good news. Both claimed to be speaking truth. But who were the Galatian Christians to believe.

Paul presents his case clearly and concisely. He tells them that his gospel message is not some man-made invention or the product of his fertile imagination. He didn’t get it out of a text book or from a classroom. Instead, he had “received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 NLT). The message he had preached on his first missionary journey to Galatia was exactly what Jesus had given him personally. Paul’s story was not an ordinary one. Prior to his conversion, he had been a hired bounty hunter, working for the Jewish religious leadership, pursuing and persecuting these new sect called Christian that had risen up after the death of Jesus. Paul was a well-educated Pharisee, trained under Gamaliel, a revered Jewish rabbi. Paul described his prior life by saying, “I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did” (Acts 22:3 NLT). He persecuted the followers of the Way, the term used to describe those who had become Christians or Christ-followers. It was his obsession to find them, arrest them, and make sure that they were punished for their heresy. Paul knew what it meant to be a fervent follower of the traditions of the Jews. He had been a law-keeper of the first order.

But something happened. He had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ while he was on his way to Damascus. Paul says, “Then it pleased him [God] to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16 NLT). For the next three years, Paul lived in Arabia. While there, he was isolated from the other apostles, receiving his instruction directly from God, not men. Paul’s message was from God, not men. Paul had been chosen by God to deliver a very specific message to the Gentiles, and it did not include conversion to Judaism and adherence to the Jewish laws and sacrificial system. The Good News Paul delivered was based on faith in Christ alone. Nothing more, nothing less. He had no problem declaring his message superior to that of the Judaizers, because he knew that his message was divinely given and not to be tampered with. Paul was not out to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to proclaim the Good News of faith alone in Christ alone. The era of works-based righteousness was over. Jesus had died to deliver men from the dead-end pursuit of earning favor with God through self-effort. It was His works that saved, not man’s. And Paul was chosen by God, even before he was born, to be the conduit of that message to the Gentiles.

Father, it is amazing to think that You had Paul in mind before he was even born. You had a job for him to do long before he even existed. Your plan of salvation is comprehensive and complete. There are no diversions or detours. You are never caught off guard or surprised. You know Paul was going to persecute the Church. But You also knew that he was going to accomplish for Your Kingdom, because that had been Your plan from eternity past. Your choosing of men is never without reason and our salvation is never without purpose. You have a job for each of us to do. We have been called and commissioned to serve You. Help us see our divine job description and take it seriously, just as Paul did. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men