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Posts Tagged ‘Galatians’

I’m so behind, reporting to you on the books I’ve been reading!  Let me catch you up.

Back in August, I read The Oath by Frank Peretti.  It is the second grown-up book I have read of his.  (Monster was a fantastic book!)  I have to say that I was disappointed.  The story started slowly, and dragged on with way too many “climaxes.”  At the end of the book the real climax was not nearly as redemptive as I hoped for.  And I think that reflects the central theme of the book that dissatisfied me: sin when it is full grown gives birth to death; men who are not redeemed are slaves to sin.  That is true enough, but there was precious little in the story about the power of God over sin, to save us from death.  What was there didn’t ring real or powerful or even theological.

The Oath centers around two vivid images of sin: a dragon growing, hungry, but hard to see and hard to fight; and a oozing sore over the heart – a sore that people want to avoid, want to deny, want to ignore, and ultimately insanely forget.

Of all the characters, the one that stood out to me wasn’t a main character.  It was the pastor of Hyde River.  He sounds like a lot of pastors: downplaying the power of evil, giving the benefit of the doubt to the intentions of wicked men, avoiding confrontation, and dreaming of bigger ministries.  His was not the blatant rebellion against God embraced by much of the community – but he tolerated and excused the sin around him, even rebuking those few in his congregation who stood for the truth.  The pastor enabled the sin in the community, did nothing to stop the men who were hurrying to hell.  At the end of the story you see which side that puts him on.

In summary: the writing wasn’t all that good; the idea not that compelling, but there were some high points of description both of human character and of the nature of sin.

After that I dabbled in a book by Philip Jenkins: The Lost History of the Church in Asia, but it wasn’t what I hoped or expected, so I gave up half way and sent it back to the library.

This was partly because I was busy reading a novel lent to me by a friend, Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.  That was a pleasant read!  Mr. Trollope confides in you, author to reader, but also uses polite denials to manipulate one into suspecting the accusation denied.  His characters are, sadly, typical of the human race.  Even his hero and heroine have their faults and foolishness.  But he begs you to love them and forgive them, just as they would treat you.  And the spell he casts worked on me.  I do love Mrs. Bold and Mr. Arabin.  From the very beginning the author painted such a picture of his characters that I was curious to see how they would perform whatever dramas and comedies he submitted them to.  I was not disappointed.

Shortly after I finished Barchester Towers, I was babysitting.  After the little boys were put to bed, I raided their father’s bookshelf, and began to read GK Chesterton’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.  Unrelated to the two movies by the same name, the book is a series of mysteries solved by a genius who knows too much about the dark side of man.  He has too often seen bad men get away with their crimes.  I marvel at the commentator’s skill at weaving into story a sort of poetic metaphor of philosophy along with his critique of politics, aristocracy, and press.

In response to a friend preaching on hyper-dispensationalism, I took the time one evening to read and make notes on Galatians with a view to the theology of dispensationalism.  Though I sympathize with the concept of dispensations, I must admit that as a whole the book says nearly the opposite of the point my friend was trying to make.  My study has prepared me for our next confrontation.

While recently on vacation I began The Letters of JRR Tolkien.  So far they are not very interesting, as they mostly predate The Lord of the Rings and any correspondence with fans or critics.

A partial viewing of Peter Jackson’s Return of the King inspired me to pick up my copy of JRR Tolkien’s Trilogy again.  What delight to revisit The Fellowship of the Ring!

As always I have a huge stack of books I desire to read in the near future: a couple about AnaBaptists, one about the Great Depression, John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, Pilgrim’s Progress, Emma, Wives and Daughters, Passion and Purity, Quest for Love, From Eternity to Here, Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The hero stays long enough to be sure the citizens are safe and able to continue their lives. He goes on to the next needy village, in each town met with both opposition and a grateful following. Without asking for anything in return, he does whatever it takes and risks his life to save the common people from enslavement and despair.

After some time of absence, his enemies begin to creep back in. First one citizen at a time and then groups at once, these wicked men reassert their power. With subtle trickery they ensnare the people, weighing them down with tasks and restrictions. When a brave man remembers the hero, the bad guys devise a new plan. They defame the hero. “He was a liar,” they say. “Didn’t he just come here to get power?” “He is not who he says he is, and has no authority to talk to you.” “You’re smart people. Does it make sense? He told you to change everything you’d ever believed in, your whole way of life. And now he’s not here. We’re going to stand by you and help you.”

It’s a classic tale of good guys versus bad guys, and the innocent bystanders used as pawns by the bad guys. Of course the hero is trying to rescue them, to grant them freedom from their self-serving oppressors. We have a showdown of sorts, some harsh words calling each other out. The little people hang in the balance, uncertain which man has their best interest at heart. Which man is telling the truth?

In such an epic tale of good versus evil, how do we decide? Who do we root for? Who do we follow? How do we determine which man is good?

The story at the beginning is the background of the book of Galatians. Paul is our hero, bringing the good news about salvation through Jesus to the province of Galatia. Wherever he went, he met opposition, whether it was from the Jews who didn’t embrace Jesus or from the pagans who felt threatened by a religion that worshiped God without temples, rituals, and idols. He also freed a bunch of people from the purposeless lives and oppressive requirements of their old religions. Paul taught the people about grace, about a God who wants to dwell with us – not in a castle on a hill, but right with us, even inside us. After establishing the believers and teaching them for a while, he moved to the next city, running a circuit around the Mediterranean.

In his absence, some Jews who infiltrated the Christian church, began to teach and insist that salvation was not only the work of Jesus; men had to add to it. They taught that to be saved and to continue to live a life pleasing to God, every Christian had to keep the Mosaic Law. This law included rituals about diets, hand-washing, illnesses, sacrifices, commerce, as well as moral regulations.

When the Galatians protested that Paul had taught them that nothing good they did was good enough to earn salvation, these false teachers challenged Paul. He isn’t an apostle, they said. He lied to you. He was out for his own gain. And now he has abandoned you. Many were swayed, and returned voluntarily to their oppressed way of life. Some wrote to Paul.

Obviously, we’re on Paul’s side, because he wrote half the New Testament. But put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes. How would you know which person was truthful? Which was the good guy? I mean, the Jewish teachers were all about doing good things. So was Paul.

Galatians 5 is Paul’s explanation for why a Christian is expected to do good things. Based on this chapter, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit at work in every believer. This is why a Christian may be anticipated to do good things: not because he is in need of goodness to get or maintain his standing with God, but because the works are automatic.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts this whole thing rather concisely: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Excellence is something that has been part of me for at least 15 years.  Of course, it came easy to me to be excellent in academics, or in Bible memorization.  In Awana as a third grader I joined my first Bible Quiz team.  At the time I was completely naïve, unaware of the competition or the tension or even of the possibility of winning.  The thought never crossed my mind.  After finishing both segments of the quiz, speed (like Jeopardy) and multiple choice (with paddles we raise into the air), my team sat clenching each others’ hands in nervous anticipation.  To our utter astonishment they called our team for first place.  The group of us screamed our way to the front to receive our medals and trophy.  And excellence in Bible quiz was my goal from then on.  

 

In a history of grace, God granted that I be on a winning Bible Quiz team for six years straight, unprecedented.  Everyone wanted either to be on my team or to finally beat me.  I didn’t stop working hard, because each year I desperately wanted to win.  There were no assumptions that I would win no matter what.  But I did think that if I kept giving it my all, I would be rewarded.  There was no second place, no third, no fourth – and certainly there was no place between fifth and fifteenth.  So when as a freshman I suffered my first defeat, it felt as though I had crashed into a lightless chasm.  It didn’t matter in the slightest that we had placed third.  The fact was I went to win, and I had failed. 

 

There’s more to the story, of the journey God continued leading me on through Bible Quiz until my senior year – and how I got to share the lessons as a coach.  But today I want to write about that concept of no place but first.  No success without the best.  This is a definition of excellence. 

 

I’m reading a book called Godcast (review coming soon of course), a collection of single-page devotionals written by an Assemblies of God pastor and radio/tv host.  In chapter 196, Dan Betzer writes about mediocrity in the house of God.  Now I’m no advocate of demanding perfection in the worship performance each Sunday, or of dazzling buildings on which no expense was spared.  Nor do I think that God always wants us to have a well-polished speech to deliver as Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, or sermons.  Sometimes He wants us to be the humble vessels through whom His message can be spoken.  And whether you know the words you’re going to say or not, every teacher should have properly studied, meditated, and prayed for what he is going to say. 

 

Yet the message is inspiring.  As a teacher, do I say, “Well, I read over the passage a couple times, and I have an illustration, so I’m all set”?    How many times have I as a blogger decided I didn’t feel like revising my post?  And what about as a Christian?  Do I consider myself good enough as long as I’m not really bad? 

 

Every Monday night I attend a Bible study.  Presently we are going through Galatians, and I’m wrestling with the implications of grace and Christian liberty.  What is legalism, and how should we reconcile Christian holiness with Christ-given grace?  One answer that seems clear at this point in my life is that legalism says “If I follow the rules, I am good.”  But isn’t that what Judaism proved impossible?  Grace is the other side, the side that so delights in the life bought through Jesus’ death and given through His resurrection that it delights to please God, not flirting with the line of trespass, but safe and free well inside the bounds of God’s righteousness. 

 

I can’t help but mention that this doctrine of Galatians meets a complementary parallel in Romans, wherein is found the association between faith, grace, life, and righteousness. 

 

God calls us to excellence, to the extraordinary experience of walking in the Spirit, turning aside neither to the right or to the left, each action born of faith and love and Christ alive in me. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

 

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Yesterday a friend was sharing how puzzling it is to him that God despises child-sacrifice (such as the kind recorded in the Bible, to the idol Molech) but God still asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him, and even that God Himself practiced human sacrifice in the form of His Son, Jesus. 

 

Sacrifices to idols and to Molech are an effort for man to please god by giving him a thing most valuable.  Our most valuable offerings cannot appease God.  Only a perfect sacrifice could satisfy the requirement that remission must come by the shedding of blood.  Only God Himself was good enough. 

 

God, even more than life, is the highest priority.  Faith in Him is more important than anyone’s life, and disobedience is not justified even in a situation where a life is at stake. 

 

The child sacrifices to Molech had more to do with bartering with god than with repentance for sins or faith.  Abraham, in contrast, was the patriarch of faith, and the Bible implicitly says that the command to sacrifice Isaac was about Abraham’s faith (interesting since Isaac was old enough to have resisted Abraham, but he didn’t). 

 

Abraham’s faith was tested when God asked Him to sacrifice Isaac.  But what does child sacrifice really have to do with faith? 

 

Hebrews 11 explains why he got so much credit for his faith in the story of sacrificing Isaac:

 

Hebrews 11:17-19, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,  Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:  Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”

 

Abraham believed God would make his son live, no matter what.  God also knew when Jesus gave His life that there would be a resurrection.  Jesus knew about it, and told His disciples to expect Him to come back on the third day. 

 

Even if Abraham just believed Isaac would not stay dead, we might think that he was self-deluded and irrationally hopeful rather than a man of great faith, unless God gave Abraham a strong reason to believe this.  Did He? 

 

Abraham had some difficulties believing God’s plan for him.  Years into the covenant and promises, Abraham and Sarah still hadn’t born any children.  So Abraham tried things his own way, siring Ishmael through Hagar, his wife’s slavewoman.  God made it quite clear that He had promised a son through Sarah, and that Ishmael was not the heir. 

 

Then Abraham believed God, but Sarah doubted until she conceived Isaac.  God reiterated that the promise to make Abraham many nations, to bless the world through his Seed, (the Covenant) was through Isaac:

 

Genesis 17:15-16, 19, “And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.”

 

They gave birth to a son.  So Abraham had learned his lesson about doubts.  He knew that either God would intervene, or God would raise Isaac back to life. 

 

Abraham knew that God’s command (to sacrifice Isaac) could not supercede God’s promise (to make Isaac into many nations).  This point is made in Galatians:

 

Galatians 3:17, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” 

 

The just always lived by faith. 

 

In Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, I see a vivid example of God’s plan for salvation depicted in the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac. 

  • The promise was from God, and He would keep it. 
  • The son was miraculously given by God. 
  • The command was God’s. 
  • The faith was in God. 
  • And the substitute sacrifice was God’s. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Last Friday I had some of my dear friends over to spend the night.  As the girls fell asleep to a movie in my living room, I prayed for them because I had to.  There was no urgent need, but urgent feeling.  The next day as we spoke I felt convicted to get back to praying specifically on a regular basis.  I have been praying, but it has been need-based, and not diligent. 
 
Sunday morning my pastor preached on prayer.  I know this fact, even though I wasn’t there, and that’s enough.  Sunday afternoon there was a youth leaders meeting where the veterans reiterated the essential role prayer plays in making a meeting or ministry successful.  Filled with a sense of the needs, and the knowledge that God wanted me to refocus, I had a marvelous Sunday and Monday filled with intentional prayer.  And then I stayed up late, and slept in and stayed up and slept in.  I’ve been praying, but it hasn’t been the intentional, set aside time I resolved to do. 
 
Wednesday my mom taught the Awana Sparks about the Lord’s Prayer, and in our weekly debriefing of funny things kids said, she shared part of her lesson.  Afterward I read a new article on one of my favorite websites – it was on the Lord’s Prayer, too. 
 
This week I also received in the mail the newest Michael Card album, Hymns.  The first or second song (most listened to if you push play right before you fall asleep each night) is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  There is a part of that song I remember a pastor talking about a long time ago.  The author of the hymn wrote “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it… Here’s my heart, o, take and seal it…”  He did wander.  That’s the testimony of his life.  He knew himself.  His heart needed sealed. 
 
So does my heart, because it wanders.  In some ways this week has been beautiful, but it’s only because I’ve spotted God’s grace and messages, not because I’ve had victory in yielding to them.  I know everything about the need to be content, but I just am not content.  My heart isn’t focused.  I’m not diligent with my time or energy, or responsible with my money.  I’m tired. 
 
On Sunday something said at the leader’s meeting reminded me of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  Like a breath of keenest fresh air to one suffocating, I needed every ounce of the hope in that verse.  There is conviction in Paul’s words also.  That is what I want to focus on today.  
 
Proverbs 4:20-27, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes;
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
 
The word “keep” in verse 21 is shamar, “keep, give heed” like a shepherd or watchman. The word “keep” in verse 23 is natsar, “guard, watch over.”  So Solomon’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit, are to be kept.  And my heart is to be kept.  How is this done? 
 
The first thing Solomon mentions after this command is speech.  There is a lot about speech in Ephesians, but this reminds me also of James, whose vivid description of the tongue as the spark that sets a forest on fire opens with “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 
 
We’ve probably all heard the question, “Who’s being walked?  The dog or the human?”  A man holds a leash with the cord wrapped around his hand several times in the manner of a bull-rider.  The dog strains ahead, eager, easily distracted.  Sometimes the man seems to be pulled along against his will.  Other times the firm hold on the leash restrains and directs the pet.  The image of a bridle in James is that of me being both dog and master, horse and driver.  The bridle doesn’t just restrain; it guides.  It controls and regulates.  This is self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit involve a self-command or restraint. 
 
Solomon goes on to talk about our eyes.  Ok, I can’t resist.  One of the best songs kids ever learn is “Oh be careful little eyes,” and actually I think we should make teenagers and adults sing it, too.  Do you remember it?  Oh be careful little tongue what you say, oh be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.  Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  Oh be careful little feet where you go.  Tongue, Eyes, Feet.  Ponder your path.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep control of your tongue.  Guard your heart.  Commit to focusing on wisdom and truth and goodness.  “Set your mind on things above.”  
 
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit.  All the virtues are connected.  Love is a choice.  Joy is something we are commanded to have.  Peace, Philippians tells us, is a result of giving our anxieties to God in prayer.  Patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.  Meekness has been described as power under control.  This may be what Mr. Darcy had in mind when he defended his character and his quiet nature by saying, “Where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”  While at first impression this seems like another evidence of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance, it has been suggested by those sympathetic to his character that what he was saying was a strong enough mind knew how to keep his pride – his selfish impulses – under control.  His reluctance to speak when he might be tempted to go too far is a sign of his meekness rather than of his pride. 
 
Dennis Prager is a strangely blended Jewish moralist who speaks, writes, and hosts a radio show.  Though his is by no means an absolute authority, he makes a good point by saying that happiness comes from the mind making choices over the instinct for fun or pleasure.  The mind knows better than feelings.  It can make choices based on the long-term.  Essentially he is saying that self-control brings happiness. 
 
Self-control, or temperance, is from the Greek egkrates, “strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate, continent.”  Strength is active, working both on itself and on progress.  Tolkien describes a curb not only as a limit to where one can go, but as a tool for navigation: a ditch, bank, or curb would enable one to stay on a road in the dark or in a fog.  So limits restrain us, but they also get us to our destination.  Solomon warns against off-roading. 
 
Peter says to add temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance (2 Peter 1:6).  A pastor is told to be temperate in Titus 1:8.  He is also required to be sober: “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”  Titus 2:5 uses the same word to describe that which a young woman ought to be taught.  It is translated “discreet” in KJV.  Modesty is a consequence of discretion.  Sobriety is the opposite of drunkenness or dissipation, in which control of yourself is loosed.  Dissolution is a word meaning exactly that “cut loose”, and it leads to all sorts of sinful indulgence and decadence.  I need to be moderate. 
 
Paul depicted this virtue in 1 Corinthians 9, in the metaphor of an athlete. 
 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain. 
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
 
Every man who strives for the mastery (enters the contest, contends for the prize) is temperate in all things.  Verse 27 says “I keep under my own body,” the word used here is a practice of athletes, to use their bodies roughly to make themselves tough or conditioned.  It comes from a word for the part of the face that turns into a black eye if punched.  Some Christians known as ascetics took this too far; they were so focused on abusing themselves that they forgot to do anything fruitful.  Rather, this is the same word Jesus employs in Luke 18, where He is teaching me to be diligent in prayer. 
 
Luke 18:1-8, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end,
that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary. 
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself,
Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her,
lest by her continual coming she weary me. 
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them? 
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?”
 
The judge was made weary (kept under, conditioned) by the widow’s persistent appeal. 
 
Back in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also says that he brings his body under subjection, he makes a slave of it using stern discipline.  One stern discipline, an exercise in self-control and dependence on God, is fasting.  Fasting should never be about indulging my own cravings, whether sensual, for food, for the praise of men, or to soothe my conscience.  Isaiah 58, beginning in verse 3, contains God’s design for fasting. 
 
Isaiah 58:3-11, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
                            to undo the heavy burdens,
                                                   and to let the oppressed go free,
                                                               and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. T
hen shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,
and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.”
 
In a paradoxical way, while fasting is about denying one’s self, it is for the purpose of releasing bonds and weights.  Fasting is reliance on God, not only for what I don’t have, but also with what I do.  Fasting is always accompanied with prayer.  1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus speaks on prayer, He goes into teaching on fasting.  Though food is good, or other things from which you might fast, the exercise of self-denial and sacrifice and dependence and focus on God is good.  All things are lawful, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, but not everything is beneficial.  When I practice what is beneficial, I am stronger for the unexpected temptations when I must deny myself. 
 
I must be ready, then, by exercising self-control, to do good works.  Pray with perseverance and persistence.  Be steadfast.  Stand therefore.  Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober, that you may be ready in and out of season to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.  Hope is even described in the Bible as an anchor – the image of stability and strength.  Do not be slothful, but fervent in whatever you do.  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Last fall I read George MacDonald’s The Highlander’s Last Song: a beautiful book if you read it for the descriptions of the Scottish landscape and life, and for the romance. When I read it, I was trying to enjoy some easy fiction instead of deep theology, but my discernment alarms started to go off when he wrote about the Cross.

A burdening selection: “Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering is a piece of the darkness of hell. God is willing to suffer, and ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but no suffering is satisfaction to him or his justice… He knows man is sure to sin; he will not condemn us because we sin… [mother speaks] Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the satisfaction of the sinner’s endless punishment? [son] I do not… Eternal misery in the name of justice could satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken… The whole idea of the atonement in that light is the merest figment of the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own invention. The sacrifices of the innocent in the Old Testament were the most shadowy type of the true meaning of Christ’s death. He is indeed the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. But not through an old-covenant sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty. No, the true atonement of Christ is on an altogether higher and deeper plane. And that is the mystery of the gospel…” (The Highlander’s Last Song, originally “What’s Mine’s Mine” by George MacDonald, this edition edited by Michael R. Phillips and copyright 1986, published by Bethany House)


Tonight, opening Tag Surfer on WordPress, I came across this post (and sermon link – advertised as only 14 minutes) titled, The Cross. The author begins, “The Father was not punishing Jesus in our place on the cross.” In the fourteen minute sermon, though he uses several Bible verses, all of them are taken out of context, contexts which usually include a reference to the blood of Christ taking away our sins, redeeming us, etc. I felt at one point like there was a blow to my heart, when he reported that at the Crucifixion, Jesus and God cheered and celebrated. So much for man of sorrows, and sweating blood in Gethsemane. And the whole way through this horrible, deceptive sermon, this man is associating the biblical view of the Cross and atonement with darkness, with a shackled and blind and guilty perspective of our own that we project onto the Cross, creating a mythology. That is not true! The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus had to suffer and die on a cross so we would not have to die. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice, the lamb, the substitutionary atonement, the righteous fulfillment of God’s wrath against our sin. By His stripes we are healed.

The wonderful young men over at Elect Exiles have been doing a wonderful job reminding their readers what the Cross was. Come on, readers; click the links!!

Why Did Christ Die?
Christ’s Righteousness, Not Our Own
Saving Reconciliation
The Need for Reconciliation

I started looking up the verses about why Jesus died. There are a lot. There couldn’t have been a better reminder of what my God did for me, this Good Friday. (all verses are from the KJV)

Isaiah 53:5-10, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Romans 5:8-11, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”

1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”

Colossians 2:14, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;”

Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 26:28, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

Galatians 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

1 Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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To hear someone tell you that the keyword of Romans is grace is so much less than discovering it for yourself. Since God has been busy revealing grace to me everywhere I look, I should not be surprised to find it again in Paul’s famous epistle. To be honest, grace is such an overwhelming subject that I have been unable to think of one coherent thing to say about it. One facet I’ve been exploring is the concept of being “disciplined by grace.”

Last night at Awana our high school group (called Journey) was studying Romans. We’re actually on chapters 9-11, but a verse from chapter 6 caught my eye. “You are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) I’ve studied Romans at least three full times before. Always I’ve been so focused on the first half: not under law. Legalism has been such a danger to the church that its opposite, grace, has been neglected in study.

My Bible turned to Romans 6, I scanned the short two pages (including a bit of chapter 5). There, it seems, is the whole concept of being disciplined by grace. We know that faith produces works, that anyone who is truly saved will bear fruits of righteousness (which are by Jesus Christ). This does not happen on our own, but as a result of God’s grace, the activity of the Holy Spirit in us.

Even at the end of the passage, arguably the key verse, Romans 6:23 talks about grace. In every translation I checked, I find the word “gift” in this verse. Actually the Greek is charisma, which is accurately translated as gift – BUT is a derivative of charis, grace. Charis is used several other times just in Romans 6, let alone the other 15 chapters. So I suggest that we should read gift in verse 23 as “gracegift.” We miss so much in English. What charisma indicates is the product of grace.

In Romans 5-6 we see that grace:

  • Brings salvation. We are justified by faith, which gives us access to the grace wherein we presently stand. Romans 5:16 says that the free gift is justification of many offenses. Finally Romans 6:23 provides the contrast between the consequences for our sin: death, and the great gift we who are justified receive instead: eternal life. (See also: Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-12, Galatians 2:20-21)
  • Is the opposite of legalism. Galatians expounds this theme, and is echoed in Romans 6:14: “You are not under law, but under grace.” In Galatians I believe Paul uses “walk in the Spirit” as virtually synonymous with “under grace” in Romans. Galatians also says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
  • Is not an excuse for licentiousness. Romans 6:1 asks the question: should we sin a lot, so that grace will abound? This is not an accurate understanding of grace. Grace is God’s power in us to walk in newness of life. Grace proves that sin does not have to control our lives anymore.
  • Enables righteousness. Throughout Romans 6 there is a taut balance between the necessity of righteousness as a product of grace and our new life through Christ and the danger of going back to the law, doing good for goodness’ sake. In between is also the horrible ground of doing no good at all, which would equally defeat the point. By grace are ye saved unto good works, which God prepared beforehand for you to walk in them.
  • Is our new master, rather than sin. The end of chapter 5 makes this point, which is then developed by chapter 6. Paul writes in 5:17 – “… much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ.” Over at the Elect Exiles, Disciplined by Grace explains Titus 2:11-12 with regards to grace. First, it brings salvation. Grace’s second activity is teaching, which is the same Greek word Paul used in Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Thus the word means to discipline, teach, train, rear. The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but now grace is our teacher. Romans 6:14 says, “…Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.”

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

For refers us back to the rest of chapter 6, all about being presently, as believers, under grace.

Gift is charisma, which I discussed above.

This gracegift is eternal life. Eternal life starts when we accept God’s grace and continues forever. It is life, not just a get out of hell free card. The grace of God gives us the life we now live in the flesh, by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. The life is through Jesus Christ, in His power, for His purposes, to His glory.

Our Lord tacked on to the end of Jesus’ name is a title of authority. The apostles recognized Jesus’ authority by calling Him Rabbi, Teacher, Master, Lord. John often referred to Jesus simply as “the Lord.” Here Paul is saying something about who Jesus is. He is our Lord, our authority. He is the Master, the giver of all good gifts. While the law came by Moses, grace and truth, John tells us, came by Jesus Christ.

We walk by faith and under grace. Faith talks about leaning not on our own wisdom, yielding control, following instantly and without explanation. Grace talks about leaning not on our own strength, praising and thanking God, obeying, but not because of rules – because we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives, and “spiritual” gifts, and sanctifies us from sin. This washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit is as much God’s work as the mercy by which we’re saved. I sigh just in re-reading this paragraph, because the words and themes are found all over the Bible, not only in Romans. How exciting!

My life reminds me that walking by grace is the path of thanksgiving and rejoicing and humility and prayer often. All those we are commanded to do. Though I am not theologically a legalist, I sometimes find those hard to do, when I am depending on my own resources to accomplish anything, rather than seeking God. When I am, how impossible not to rejoice, to say with Jeremiah, “His mercies are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness!”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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