Sunday, 27 January 2013

Taking Flight?

"Keep me running, from the shadow of my lies,
Like a gypsy, who is never satisfied,
Once you compromise your soul,
You spend a lifetime dodging the devil's toll".     Randy Stonehill.

Every now and then, a drama comes along that looks at life head on and tells it as it is.
Robert Zemekis' latest work, Flight (released in the UK this week), is just such a film - it doesn't pull its punches, as it examines what it really costs to spend life avoiding the reality about ourselves and the world we live in.

Not to give away any major details, it is sufficient to say that Denzel Washington's portrayal of a man in denial about his addiction to a lifestyle which is tellingly destructive to himself and others, brought abruptly to a point of reckoning by an unexpected event, is conveyed in a brutally honest fashion which wonderfully depicts the observation of James of a man who sees himself in a mirror, but then forgets what he actually sees (James 1:24). Given this, then, you would perhaps expect some measure of approval for the aim of this movie - that escape from the prison we make for ourselves is only possibly beyond our self-delusions - but the films 'full on' approach to the depiction of the lifestyle of the key character has brought major rejection amongst many churches in America since its release there in November. The film was given an "R" rating for its use of nudity, alcohol and drug abuse, and language, but Christian review sites have gone one better, emphasizing that this is a film that should be avoided due to some of these graphic scenes.

There is no doubt that some may find some of these scenes offensive, and painful. Personally, I found a moment in the film where the lead character is talking with someone with terminal cancer far more jarring, but films of this nature certainly provide a useful basis to address matters so commonplace in our world. As one Christian review noted, "Zemekis has shown us the glaring face of sin, and while that is not glorified, the viewer is required to stare it squarely in the eye in order to continue this journey". The issue for me is aren't we supposed to be this candid about the nature of our reality outside of Christ, because if we aren't, are we not guilty of the same manner of denial about life as the lead in this film? We can, no doubt, have differing views about the manner and nature of how such destructive behavior is depicted and examined (the Bible is actually pretty graphic in some places about that), but there is no denying that part of our role is to clearly convey the nature of darkness and light, and redemptive stories, particularly those of an extreme nature, do this well.

Back in the 1970's, when I was new to the faith, the film "The Cross and the Switchblade" and Nicky Cruz's book, "Run Baby Run'" were both very popular and used as 'evangelistic tools' especially for young people. The material in both of these is tellingly graphic with regards to the manner of material covered in a film like Flight, but this only heightened the manner of rescue in the Gospel.

As some have noted about this movie, there is a telling Christian framework as a backdrop throughout - some of it extreme, some of it poignant and prompting - and there is little doubt that the underlying message is the need for redemption. If this is the purpose of a sober reckoning of the nature of sin, I hope that movies like Flight gain a large audience.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Galatians 3

Galatians 3

“After he had sufficiently proved his apostleship, message and ministry, with strong arguments confirming that Christian righteousness comes only by faith in Christ, he turns to the Galatians and reproves their error”.

Their great folly in this affair was that they had become dangerously distracted from Christ. By holding to the notion that by seeking to keep the requirements of another message- that they could do better, be better - they had become mesmerised by a deceit, and this idea had become so pervasive, that it had caused them to become drawn away from the true focus of their faith – faith (trust) in the work of Jesus at the cross (Vs 1). That had been all that Paul had been seeking to do – to make the death of God’s Son evident amongst them – that Jesus had come and died for them, but by trusting in something else, they made that gift of no value.

The blinding subtlety of this lie had even made them forget something which was entirely obvious. They had not been rescued from their previous bondage to sin by any message about keeping particular rules or practices – this would have been of no avail. They had been set free by trusting on Christ alone (Vs 2). Why, then, were they now seeking to place their confidence in something which had never helped them and would, if they continued in such folly, totally destroy their dependence upon the one who had saved them (Vs 3)?

This, of course, raises other questions.
What was the point of being a Christian, suffering the animosity of the world, if what God has done in Christ actually amounts to no value to us at all (Vs 4)?
Had the Gospel, seen in power amongst them, come in any way related to the heinous lie now being perpetrated by those who were false teachers – did it any way condone a keeping of the law (Vs 5)?

The answer was and always had been no, and here, Paul will show why those who are advocating such a menace were wrong about their very own heritage.

The lesson from Genesis

Abraham, the great patriarch of the Jews, had been called from his life in a pagan society, not by a decree to keep various commands and requirements, but simply to follow God – to leave where he had lived and to trust in the one who called him (Vs 6. Hebrews 11:8-10). Likewise, as children of the same calling, we equally are to trust in the same Lord who required Abraham to have confidence in Him (Vs 7).  This is what makes us children of the patriarch and therefore true children of God – that we trust God’s call and have confidence in it.  Abraham’s role wasn’t just to have an heir who would lead to another tribe and eventually another nation – his purpose was to have a child from whose line would come the very seed of promise to Eve (Genesis 3:15, John 8:56), through whom, every tribe and people would be blessed by having faith in that very child (Vs 8), so it is by the wonderful gift of faith in God’s purposes and deeds through His Son, coming from that calling, that we are truly favoured (Vs 9). Here is the amazing work and heritage the legalists had forgotten, and here is why we can only be made right and find peace with God through the same way the Lord provided to Abraham.
The message of the Law is contrary to this (Vs 10 & 12), and is therefore a dead-end, a road to nowhere, because all it can achieve is our condemnation, as we simply are incapable of keeping its demands  (look at Jesus’ teaching about this in the sermon on the mount – especially Matthew 5:21-30). There is no refuge, no rescue, no safety here – we are only made free by the precious work of God, made ours through faith (Vs 11).

The great blessing which God gave to Abraham, of knowing Him by trusting in His promises, has become ours, notes Paul, because Christ has removed the road-block of the Law’s curse (our inability to fulfil it’s requirements) by becoming cursed on our behalf – by having Himself go through the separation of death which the Law and sin bring upon us, that we might be given new life by Him, who has nullified the Law’s requirements against us (Vs 13, 14).
In our lives, notes the Apostle, promises made between us  - wills and agreements of that nature – are treated with the utmost respect once they are deemed to be ratified, so how much more seriously we need to treat this covenant which God makes with Abraham and his offspring – the true seed, Jesus Christ (Vs 15 & 16).  The Lord bound Himself to this, says Paul, some 430 years before the Law was given, which means that the promise made to Abraham regarding His descendent, is far more essential than any Law (Vs 17 & 18).

Life and Death

So, what, then, is the purpose of the Law?
Paul tells us it only has one major use – to show us what we are by nature… those who cannot keep such demands for a truly caring and honest life, because we are poisoned by corruption. The Law exposes our nature because its confirms that we are indeed a race gone astray, in total need of the fulfilment of that promise – that one will come to rescue us (Vs 19).
Christ, the mediator between God’s holiness and our iniquity was the only one who could meet the requirements of the Law that hung over us and free us from sin and death (Vs 20). If we had not fallen, the Law could indeed have been a rule for life, but we are concluded as those who have broken such a Law, so the only escape is in Christ (Vs 21, 22).

The proper purpose, then, of the Law is to expose our poverty and thereby to push us towards God’s faithful work in sending the one who makes us free. Once it has done that, it has completed its work, and Christ does the rest, and we become brought into a new life (Vs 24-27).

The danger of the use of the law as a false gospel, is it seems so reasonable to our own estimation of what should matter – we can be pious, charitable, even noble, but that is painfully untrue, which is why really seeing the Law, and really understanding faith calls us to so much more.
Abraham was required to believe that God would bring about the promised seed from the aged bodies of Sarah and himself. Reason would say it couldn’t be. We are called to believe in a kingdom to come because of a Virgin giving birth to one who, after the cruellest death, rose to life again. The work of the kingdom leaves our own thoughts and endeavours far behind and requires us to trust in the work of one who works far above what we can ask or think.

In the new life, then – the fulfilment of God’s promises – there is no longer any of the old distinctions which made some to be Jews and others Gentiles. There is no longer a segregation of male and female (both of which are essential under the Law) – we are all the children of the seed of Abraham, looking forward to the culmination of God’s great and precious promises to that people who are His children in Jesus Christ (Vs 29).

Sunday, 20 January 2013


I got to preview Robert Zemeckis' latest movie, Flight, recently, starring Denzel Washington.
The movie has caused turmoil amongst American evangelicals since its pre-Christmas release there, for reasons I will discuss in a blog in the near future, but a helpful examination of the nature of the issues the film correctly raises can be found here.

Here's the trailer:

White Horse Inn Videos

The White Horse Inn now has a You Tube video channel!
There's some superb material here already, so click on the link and take a look.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Galatians 2

The second installment...

“Herein lies the principal point of the matter, which amounts to the true confutation of Paul’s adversaries and the unassailable defence of his teaching… that he was given the Gospel directly by Jesus Christ”.

Jerusalem, Antioch and standing for the Gospel

As Paul affirms his message has been given by God (1:11 &12), so he now shows that it’s confirmation is heaven-sent. As he goes out and preaches salvation by grace alone to the nations, the Holy Spirit is pleased to empower this giving of Christ (Antioch - Acts 11:25-30), and the people are drawn and saved by the truth. God is at work amongst us when we also seek to proclaim this same Jesus – as with Paul, nothing can be added to that message (Jerusalem - Vs 9), but the Gospel itself condemns any seeking to cripple or remove its power to make us free by binding us to rules which are imposed by traditions or beliefs made to be important by men, especially when these seek to gain authority in the church (Antioch - Vs 11-14).

The struggle is always between the things we feel we must do (or should be doing), and what IS done for us – what really makes us right with God. We all want to be like the rich young man, coming to get the ‘secret’ of being righteous from a good teacher, when Jesus shows us however high we place that mark of what we think is holy, what we think will do, it will never be high enough, and all that awaits us in that way of thinking is futility or, as with the religious people of those times, total delusion.
The power of this error is like gravity – it keeps seeking to pull us back into a confidence in something other than Jesus – look at how Peter and Barnabas become ensnared into it (Vs11-14). That is the turmoil of this life. Because we are fallen creatures, our old nature longs for something to adorn it that it can parade as a virtue, so it can boast that some good comes from its behaviour, but it is this very nature that exiles us from God and seeks to eclipse God’s work in His Son by offering us confidence in something that denies the Fall of our race and the cost to redeem us from that horror through the death of Jesus at the Cross.

The labour of the church is always to be to one end – to bring and keep us in the wonderful freedom Christ alone brings by His work. In the opening section of this chapter, Paul relates just how this has been the imperative in his ministry.

The conflict

The true work of grace always includes those who were ‘outside’ and excluded by external values of righteousness. Titus, a gentle, not only became a believer as a direct result of the gospel, but, even though he in no manner adhered to what would have been the rules of Jewish religious culture, he became a leader in the church (Vs 1 & 3. Titus 1).
Working with Jews and Gentiles, then, to bring life to the pagan world, Paul visits Jerusalem (Vs 2), and, it would appear, whilst there, he notices the beginnings of this trouble (Vs 4). This imposition of legalism would continue until it was countered by the whole church (Acts 15). Paul’s concern was to remove any voice given to those who wish to bring Christians back into a slavery to anything which alienates them from the deliverance made ours by God in Christ. Not a single moment should be given to such folly (Vs 5).

It is only when we are apprehended by the rich and sweet redemption the Father bestows upon us in His only Son, made ours freely and totally by His love, that we find true adoption and acceptance – true peace – with God, for only here is there forgiveness and life, flowing from Christ to us in His death and resurrection. How foolish, how tragic, then, it would be to seek to exchange this marvel for the leaky, tottering and failing shambles of our own piety before a God, who, outside of the life given to us in Christ, must exact the full weight and requirements of the law upon our rebellious estate – what a foolhardy error, what a terrifying choice! That is why Paul so strongly rejects and condemns this.

In that first visit to Jerusalem, Paul shows those who wish to conform our faith to something less than it really is that they are already confounded in their attempts – that the Gospel is already bringing new life to those they considered ‘outside’ of the truth (those who did not keep the law). This should have been more than enough to clarify the true nature of God’s activity amongst us – that in Christ, the walls of partition between Jew and Gentile are gone – but rather than heed the clear evidence of this, the Judaizers chose to cling to their cultural religious identity and begin to plot and then to work against this wonder – that is why they are totally condemned.

We can raise all manner of things to prominence - a particular heritage, perhaps, a personal manner of devotion or goodness, even a code we think that we or others must abide by – but as with the seduced Galatians, we are effectively placing ourselves in real danger when these self-devised methods became as important to us, or even more important, than God’s work in His Son.

In Christ, we are made anew, made to be a realm of priests and kings to God, made to be conformed to the beauty of the nature and person of Jesus, that the world may see a faith that is caused and matured by love. Outside of Christ, we are cruel and selfish creatures, in which all that is good is twisted and bent to serve what has become corrupt and sinful and therefore can in no manner please God or truly help others or us. Enthusiasms, devotions, good works, even Apostleship, are of no value whatsoever if they take us from the Gospel.

Correctly handling the Word

Paul’s conversion and message had come directly from Christ (1:12,15&16). It was because of this that when he visited Jerusalem, the Apostles had nothing to add to what He had been given (Vs 6).  Here, again, we see the importance of this Gospel – the very men who had known Jesus as His disciples recognise that in Paul’s calling and ministry, God is clearly at work in a manner which is marvellous to behold. So splendid is this, that all they can do is re-affirm what God has already done (Vs 9) – that Paul is indeed the Apostle to the gentiles (Vs 7-8), so the entire argument against him is totally without foundation.

It was because of the authority of His calling, which he has shown us, stands or falls in relation to faithfulness to the message of Christ, that Paul refutes and condemns the error of the Judaizers when this makes its first real appearance amongst the gentiles at Antioch (Vs 11). Peter’s actions (Vs 12), siding with such behaviour, undermines and discredits the weight and validity of the Gospel itself, because they convey that methods devised by men regarding abstinence and non-essential division are actually to be valued as more important than the freedom and fellowship given to us in the saving death of Jesus. It is not, said Jesus, what we take into us - the things we eat, drink, wear and the like - which are evil, but what comes from our own hearts – what characterizes us outside of God’s care - that is truly wicked and condemning (Matthew 15:11 & 18).
Peter’s fall teaches us how easy it is for anyone to loose their footing in the faith, to begin to major in minors, become critical and judgemental of the life of others, and not see our own slipping, not into worldliness, but the censoriousness of a supposedly superior judgement or manner of behaviour or a spirit of fear that comes from a heart and life becoming disconnected from Christ.

It can be very costly to stand for the truth (Vs 13). Men had come from James and Jerusalem with this bondage. Peter stood with them, and even Barnabas, Paul’s companion, was persuaded by their error, so Paul could have also caved in and gone with them rather than stand alone – imagine what would have happened if he had… where would we see the church today?
There would have been no gospel!

Paul profoundly knew where these men were coming from – he had spent his life schooled in such religion, but he knew it was nothing but dung before the excellence of the work of God in Jesus Christ – that is why he so vehemently rejects and ejects it from the church – it has no place.

We live in a world where all manner of religious powers and authorities seek to place us back under the tyranny of subjection to law to achieve righteousness, but it is all in vain, for none of these powers can break the hold of sin and death upon us – only Christ makes us free.

God has provided a better way, which truly rescues us, and through Paul in this incident, Christ tares down the deceit which would ensnare His people, and ensures that our safe haven, only found in Jesus, is kept before us.

It is in his discerning of this matter (Vs 14) that the Apostle shows us how we can truly remain within the faith and thereby grow as we need to as God’s children. Rather than succumbing to deceit and error paraded as something which is benevolent or harmless (the false always dresses itself as something good and holy), we must become those who can distinguish between the sweet and living waters of Christ and the poisoned mire of rules and obligations devised only to cripple and control. If we learn to make and understand this vital distinction, then we will learn something that as at the core of what is necessary as a Christian – the means whereby we test or prove (weigh up) all things which would seek to require our attention as they deem themselves of spiritual value – to test these, and to then adhere only to what is good. It will correct us well, and prevent us from seeking to impose on others things that are totally indifferent in regards to the work of the Gospel, which was the error evidenced at Antioch (Vs 15).

Having placed this trouble in its context, Paul will now re-open for us the glorious message that saves us from these follies.

The truth at the heart of the issue is now reached (Vs 16). Men will seek to justify themselves by all manner of programmes that they believe makes their behaviour or character of value, but actual rightness before the Father of all can only come when we rest entirely in the person and saving work of His Son.  The law, as shown by Paul himself (Romans 1 & 2), defines one great truth for us – that we are all concluded as a race in the terrible state of sin and death, and would be totally without hope, divorced from God, without rescue (Romans 3:19& 20); that is why the Gospel is such good news. It truly sets us free.

And that is why the events which unfold, first in Antioch and then in Galatia are so tragic, for they essentially seek to replace Christ by the law, and in so doing, appear to make the Gospel no more than an instrument for miss-placed confidence in false means (Vs 17).

The Judaizers claimed that they had something ‘superior’ to other men in their keeping of certain traditions and rules, and that these were necessary for true godliness, but Paul refutes their blindness because to maintain such a belief is to entirely demean and seek to replace the free gift of God – salvation by His grace – with something menial and ineffective (Vs 18). By holding onto the law, they had lost Christ, and turned the gospel into nothing more than a false hope, but Paul will have none of it.

Christ alone does what the Law cannot and could never do – it replaces our hopeless attempts at reaching God with the one who has come from heaven to reach us. Through Christ, notes Paul, I have not only been given new life within this being so bent by corruption, but I am also, because the law can only kill, dead to any obligation to the Law (Vs 19). What matters before the Father is the nature and work of His Son, and this is what grace gives to us (Vs 20).

In conclusion, Paul contends that there is only one life, one manner of goodness, one righteousness which is of any true value in heaven and earth. If we seek to subjugate that wonderful gift to other ways of being right with God, however noble they may appear, then we nullify the power of God’s work (Vs 21), and this truly leaves us without hope. The boast of the church is a life lived by faith in the person and work of Jesus, no more, no less, and that is where Paul will seek to lead his way-laid brothers in Galatia next.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Galatians 1

We commenced a new series of studies at my church this last week on this crucial New Testament epistle. In my 40 years in the faith, this is the first time I've heard this preached on from the pulpit, so, using these messages and insights from Luther's commentary, I thought I'd also produce my own study notes for others.  I'll post the results here in the weeks to come...

The Reason for the Epistle:

Paul “had planted among them the pure doctrine of the Gospel and the righteousness of faith, but after his departure, there came false teachers, who overthrew all that he had planted and taught among them”.    Luther.

The Context:

The Gospel is the means by which all that is seditious amongst us – the devil, sin, death and the law, which germinates and sprouts false religion – is overthrown, for by this alone are we wrested from the hands of such tyrants and made free. The Galatians, having known such freedom, are wooed by false apostles from the sect grown from the Pharisees, who viewed themselves as better men for their keeping to the codes of their stock, proclaiming that true godliness is only possible for all by such means, for such outward piety spoke of their being of such heritage. Through such craft, they actively worked to deface the message and authority of Paul, deriding him as inferior in his calling and teaching to those who had come from Jerusalem and had truly ‘seen’ Christ.
Under such an appeal, the deception of authority and legalism weaves its poison, blinding not only those new to the faith, but even the learned. Claims of lineage from the Patriarchs, true Apostles and the like woo as loudly then as today, for the argument used constantly by the false against Christ is ‘we are the church – you and your kind are but a sect, of no great significance before the weight of our authority’. Therein is the pull and allure of such deceit.

The Response:

It is against this ‘seat’ and presumption of authority that Paul boldly asserts his own appointed ministry, which, given not of men, demands that no ground be given to error when espoused by anyone, even another Apostle. To abate their pride and arrogantly miss-placed religion, he shows that he will accuse any of error when required, for his calling to the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ can require nothing less.
Let the one who seeks to preach to men be therefore equally certain of his calling, his responsibility – to only proclaim this very same truth, for it is only in this that men do not ‘hear’ us, but Christ Himself.

These, then, are the initial considerations to introduce us to the epistle.

Introductory Comments:
Verse 1: Paul is called to be an Apostle ‘by God the Father through the Resurrection of His Son’. This is the seal of His ministry (the work of God in Christ), not the  ‘shadows’ of the Old, but the splendour, the fulfilment of the New, which (vs 2) has gathered a great harvest amongst the world, and makes us right with God (vs 3). Such a gift only comes to us from the Father through the Son, because it is only through Christ, in His life and work, that God has truly given us Himself, even to becoming ‘sin for us’ (vs 4) that He might truly justify the ungodly. There is no message, no purpose in Paul’s life but to give Christ to us, for in Him, God has given all, and it is for us – for our sins, and the whole fall of life coupled to this.  Here resides the true excellence of redemption, the great comfort and fulfilment of all that was promised.

As with those false teachers, we would prefer to see our sin as minor faults, undone by some easily resourced goodness or merit, but the giving of Christ to death for our corruption conveys how great our fall has been.
Christ comes not to judge, but to rescue us from this, and that should be our single sure comfort. It is when we truly behold and trust in Him as this one, the lamb given for us that we are already in the kingdom which is coming, delivered from this present evil in this world. All that is now subject to malice through the devil’s tyranny, in and under sin, shall be ended.
Our own skills or devices do not deliver us, but only because He has set His great mercy upon us – it is purely of grace.
It is by fastening our eyes upon this, the will of the Father, through Christ, that we are drawn and carried into the richness of His love. It is by apprehending Christ, in all His saving work, that we find the only refuge, the only haven in our broken world, for it once again makes God our Father. It is this great salvation which leads to true thanksgiving (vs 5).

It is in the context of this backdrop, reminding them of the great and precious work of grace, that Paul now begins to address their error.

The Trap (vs 6)
Aware of the beguiling that has befallen his brethren in Christ, Paul seeks to expose the deceit, which has plagued them by fully declaring the nature of seduction that has snared them. Another Gospel – a counterfeit derived from the delusion of self-worth in our beliefs and actions – has beset them through the deadly reasoning of the Judaizers. These thieves of souls are where Paul’s anger will focus, for they are seeking to prostitute the precious message of unmerited mercy and corrupt God’s work into a cancer which only crowns the ugly, vile abilities of our fallen piety as honourable and redemptive.  Here we see the true work of Christian ministry – to care and serve the beloved with truth given in love, and to bring the message of anathema against those who would wound and kill His children. This dual work is vital. The Galatians had received the word of life, but quickly, this was corrupted, and they were turned away from Christ, from His righteousness, to seeking other merits by their own works, because of false teachers denying the value of the Gospel and replacing this with a spirituality based around our works. We must be those who watch and guard the church, so we do not fall by such terrible error.

The church at Galatia and other places was greatly harmed by this, but Paul is careful to call them back to what they had forgotten amidst this illusion.  They need to return to the Father, the one who came to them only in the richness of the grace found in and through Jesus Christ. Here is the heart of the matter – not through Moses, or circumcision, or works; only in the message of grace were they called and delivered. It is Christ who so called them, by mercy and by love, and it is to this same Jesus they must now return to escape the futility of self-righteousness.

Error will always seek to cloak itself beneath the lie of offering virtue. The poison of false religion is the appeal to our own pride, our own ‘goodness’ that we, like Eve, might find merit in the very thoughts and deeds which have already been deemed as evil because they merely steal life, kill the truth, and destroy the world. How easily, when so beguiled, we can become the very heralds of a ‘faith’ which only makes men blind to the one who has died to make them free, because we have believed a lie, and are thereby disrobed of the beauty of grace.

There is nothing we can or should add to Christ’s work for us, for He who has begun this work, will complete it, not through teachings which mask and mar that completed rescue, but by placing Jesus and His salvation before us through His word and sacraments. It is when our eyes are distracted from this Jesus by all manner of ‘other’ things that we must do, that Satan woos us into the cul de sac of confidence in our own merits, which is merely another means of seeking to find mercy through a keeping of the law, rather than resting in His grace.

The Lie (Vs 7)
After the Gospel, says the deceiver, there is the need to ‘move on’ to something higher, deeper, more orientated around what you yourself must do’, but Paul counters this perilous folly.  It was not the case that his teaching was incomplete or faulty, as some had charged, but that these very teachers had arose to re-establish what the Gospel rejects – namely, our achieving some form of reward or merit by our keeping of certain rules imposed by others. This must be ‘added’ to Christ to ensure we are truly godly.

This focus upon the show of the outward – that we are seen to be pious by form – mischievously enchants us to gain a confidence in a tainted and grotesque caricature of the true righteousness, found and given only in Jesus – and places our confidence back in the heinous religion of our fallen nature – the fig leaves which hide our true estate of being poor, blind and wretched outside of Christ.

The message of the false is always the law, for this is used as the key to place our gaze upon ourselves, not to reflect our sinful estate, but to bind and busy us by imposing a system of demands. Paul bluntly writes that this nothing but perversion – a ploy from hell itself to replace confidence in Christ’s finished work with the folly of trust in our own paltry actions. It is a lacing of the clear streams of grace from God through His son with the deadly taint of self worth to overthrow God’s salvation.

Such an appeal entices, for to the natural, fallen world, it welcomes the building of all manner of means to bring approval by our terms, our resolutions, our endeavours, casting aside the folly of a God who works through the folly of something so unappealing as death upon a cross, but therein resides its downfall, for to be right with God, it must be through His work and His alone.

The Curse (Vs 8 & 9)
There is only one conclusion to any message, any scheme, any mode of religion outside of the Father’s grace bestowed through His Son – it is eternally accursed. It simply has no power to do us good, but only power to harm and devour us. No teacher from heaven or on earth must be trusted or given place, says Paul, if it seeks to confound or reject or discredit the saving work of God in Jesus, for this alone has come from God. The only result in finding confidence in anything else is excommunication, for by trusting in a lie, we can become no more than aliens to God’s work and family – this lie kills!

Paul contends that no message, no ‘church’ or ministry, no authority or office can ever be viewed or placed above the Father’s work of saving us through Christ, but there are clearly those at work who hurl wicked and blasphemous doctrines and arguments against this in order to enslave us in the vanity of empty and murderous deceit.

The Ministry of Paul (Vs 10)
Paul now begins to open and unpack what he had touched upon in verse 1.

Paul’s message is imperative, because it does not seek to entice through those beliefs which so naturally appeal to us (that we’re really not that bad, so we can please God in ourselves) but to see our true estate and God’s true mercy. He knows this places his work on a collision course with those who pander to our abilities and our pride, but he cannot compromise on the need to declare what God has done. It is this sure truth that compels him - he must proclaim the good and renounce any message which does not affirm the wonder and splendour of God’s finished work in His son.
This is always the true work amongst us – to know God by the life brought to us only in Jesus, and to share this with each other in our ministry and worship, and with the world through our witness as those who delight in Him. This is never easy, and many will hate us for it, especially those seeking to be right by their own doing, but we must join with Paul in proclaiming the truth that is in Jesus, for it is our only hope and sure rescue.

Since those early days which followed Pentecost, there has always been an array of teachings abroad in the church which encourage us to look in all manner of places for approaches and access to God which primarily appeal to our desires for ‘special’ treatment, but climbing such ladders, seeking to please men, says Paul, is of no avail, and, as we shall see, he can state this for good reasons.

Paul’s calling and Apostleship was unique (Vs 11 & 12). He received His message from Christ Himself, and not from men or by other means (see Verses 15-17).
Here was a man who had been schooled from his youth in the very religion he now declares deadly; a man whose zeal for such notions of piety had literally known no bounds, but encountering Jesus Christ had changed everything (Philippians 3:5-8). A man who was once entirely committed to obtaining righteousness through keeping the law  (Vs 13 & 14) is now constrained by Christ’s saving grace to labour to rescue others from the error and deceit of those who would trifle with and belittle the very revelation of God in Christ, saving us by grace alone.  He refers to his own calling here – God revealing His Son in Paul’s message - to certify that we are grounded in the faith when we receive and abide in the message he has declared, rejecting any teaching which seeks to blur or replace this.

As in Paul’s own experience, a message that encourages all manner of religious obedience can most certainly generate all manner of devout and earnest endeavours, practices, zeal and an abundance of exterior piety, which can fool ourselves and others that we are deeply spiritual, but it cannot deliver us from the poisonous canker of sin and wickedness we all harbour – it merely seeks to re-define such malignancy as of no consequence. Christ comes to break the power of sin and death and to truly make us free, not by our own impoverished attempts at what we cannot obtain, but by the power of His death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb – that is the heart of Paul’s message, and it is that difference that makes all the difference.