Jesus’ fiercest opponents during His three plus years of ministry were the religious leaders of His day. It seems they tracked His every move and weren’t shy about quizzing Him at every turn. They would say things like “Moses said, such and such…what do you say?”
Reading Galatians in Sunday School recently, it has become very clear to me religious people had become Paul’s opposition too. The whole purpose of writing the letter to the Galatians was to reiterate that Christ is sufficient. You see the Galatians had received Christ but were being tempted by some religious leaders to put themselves under the Law of Moses. It seems the freedom Jesus and His disciples were enjoying was a bit too much for the religionists.
The more I looked at this the more I could see why “religion” is really the enemy of God. I guess I should clarify what I mean when I use the word “religion.” While there are several definitions, the way I would define it is “man’s attempt to get to God or make himself like Him.” In other words religion is a set of rules, rituals, traditions etc. that if closely adhered to will get you closer to God or even make you “like Him.” I pray that you don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying all rules, rituals or traditions are sinful or even bad. What I am saying is when you start to believe they can do anything, by way of getting you to God, outside of placing your faith in Christ, you’re deceived.
According to the scriptures “the Law” or Old Covenant was meant to point us to Christ. The Apostle Paul called it a “schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.” Once It has done that, we no longer need it, right? I mean if it’s whole purpose is to point us to Christ, and we’ve now come to Him and received Him by faith, we have no need to go back to the schoolmaster.
In Isaiah fourteen you discover the attitude behind the fall of Lucifer, and what I think is also in the minds of many religious people today. Isaiah 14:14 says, “I will make myself Like the Most High.” Wow! Did you catch that? Lucifer’s fall came about from his thinking he could “make himself like the Most High.” Remember my definition of religion? Man’s attempt to make himself “like God.” Now we might start to understand why Jesus and the early church had such trouble with the religionists. While believers had become one with God through His Spirit, the religious leaders were still attempting to make themselves “like Him” through laws, traditions and rituals. The deceived notion of fallen man is that they are independent, which is the very thing Lucifer claimed to be. He thought he could “make himself” like God. Do you see how diabolical this is?
Jesus called the proud religious leaders of His day “hypocrites, fools, blind men, cups clean only on the outside, whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones, etc.” He told them all the righteous blood that had been spilled all the way back to Abel was on their heads (Matthew 24:35). Elsewhere He told them their father was the devil and it was his lusts they were doing (John 8:44). You see Jesus wasn’t distracted by their antics; He understood exactly where their rigid, self-righteous religiosity came from.
The next time you read the letter to the Galatians just keep in mind it isn’t primarily sin Paul is dealing with rather it’s religion. His main goal in that letter was to inoculate the Galatians from the temptation to fall into religious observance rather than simple faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (bondage)–to religion that is” (Galatians 5:1). He goes on to tell them if they let themselves get caught up in “the Law”, the bondage to which he was referring, they have “fallen from grace.”
Fallen from grace is a term I think has been misunderstood for a long time. The scriptures in Galatians 5 make it clear that Paul meant if we are attempting to get in good with God by way of the Law we have turned from Christ. In other words, you can’t have both, you either trust in Christ and His work on the cross or you trust the Law which means your own power or ability to please God. If you are working for salvation it is no longer grace because grace is favor and favor can only be received not earned.
The Apostle Paul always used Abraham’s relationship with God as an example for us even in the New Testament. Way back in Genesis God promised Abraham “in you all families of the earth will be blessed.” Of course the nation of Israel is Abraham’s descendants, but the promise is for more than his natural family line.
Jesus showed us the truth about “the seed” in John 8, as he discussed with the religious leaders who Abraham’s children really were. The religious Jews continually found fault with Jesus and thought they were special simply because of being able to trace their natural bloodline to Abraham. Jesus, on the other hand, told them “If Abraham were your father you would do the works of Abraham.” They were looking only on the surface of things and their hating Jesus was the proof. You see the promise God gave to Abraham wasn’t meant for his natural children rather for those that had faith as Abraham.
In the letter to the Galatians Paul spelled it out for us saying, “Now to Abraham and his “seed” were the promises made. He didn’t say, and to “seeds”, as of many; but as of one, and to your “seed”, which is Christ.” In other words the promise is given to them that have placed their faith in the seed of Abraham who just so happens to be Christ.
The timing of the promise to Abraham is extremely important also. You see Abraham lived 400 plus years before the Law was given. Abraham lived before the giving of the Law, Temple, priesthood and sacrificial system. God promised Abraham something, he believed it and was considered righteous. Paul masterfully defines this for us in Galatians telling us the Law came all those years later but it doesn’t nullify the promise. The Law was added because of transgressions until the promised Seed came. Now that Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, has come the law has served it’s purpose.
Paul understood Abraham to be an example to all that walk by faith. He pulled Abraham’s story out each time he wanted to make his point about living by faith. God had a covenant with Abraham and that’s what he wants with us. It was never his intention to give us a series of hoops to jump through in order to make ourselves worthy. He’s known our powerlessness all along but we were deceived. We thought we were able to do something to make ourselves righteous so God gave us the Law. God’s hope is after we have tried and tried to make ourselves holy we will finally be willing to simply receive the seed of Abraham. It truly is only in him that all families on the earth will be blessed.
We’re studying Colossians in our small group at the jail. As we went through the second chapter I shared with the guys something that isn’t written directly in the letter. The church at Colossae had a group of “Gnostics” telling them they needed some sort of secret knowledge in order to be in with the in crowd. It was as if Christ isn’t enough. Paul wrote them a letter to reassure them Christ was indeed enough. He told them “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority…” When I see the word complete I understand that to mean there is nothing lacking.
Paul wrote many of his letters to answer specific questions and deal with certain problems that had arisen. Without the privilege of reading the letters that were sent to him we have to deduce what the questions were by how he answered.
For instance the Galatian church had been infiltrated by a group of religious Jews. They were telling the Galatians they had to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be made right with God. In other words they were trying to convert the Gentile believers to Judaism. After all, from their perspective if you weren’t circumcised you were cut off from the Covenant. Therefore Paul wrote the Galatians to reassure them Christ was enough. They could not mix Christ with the Law.
Of course there were also other things Paul shared with the churches. The Corinthian church’s problems weren’t with false teaching but rather immaturity. Paul wrote them to tell them how to get along with each other. They were acting like children. They were jealous of each other, there was immorality, they had lawsuits between believers, and it seems they simply didn’t know how to behave during worship times. Paul wrote to them about freedom in Christ and how to look out for our brothers and sister’s well being. Essentially he was telling them how to conduct themselves like a parent would. This was the theological equivalent to “Keep your hands to yourselves and do what you’re supposed to do and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing!”
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is more about the church than error. Like usual Paul starts this letter telling us who we are in Christ. He tells us we were “chosen in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before him.” The New Covenant is written to the new man in Christ. This is why Paul always begins with who we are in Christ and then proceeds on to what our role is in the ministry.
The Ephesians’ letter tells us some magnificent things about the church. Paul tells us in the first chapter we are “the body of Christ.” We are not independent or separate from him. He is our head and we are in union with him. He tells his body what to do. In fact as Paul said in Galatians “It is no longer I but Christ.” The second chapter we are told the church is “The Temple or dwelling of God in the Spirit.” God has taken up residence within us his believers. He doesn’t live in a building down the street but within us! We are a living temple indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God—AMAZING!!
The third chapter of Ephesians tells us the church is given the privilege to reveal a mystery. God is revealing his wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through us his church. The fourth chapter tells us we, the church, are “The New Man!” God has given the church “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” in order to help us grow up into a mature man.
As we look into the fifth chapter of Ephesians we discover the church is in union with God. Paul uses the illustration of marriage. He says, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” When Tracey and I were married she took on my name. If she didn’t become “One” with me she could never be a “Lewis.” But the reality is now she is a “Lewis.” Everything that is mine is hers. This is the same with Christ and his church. We have been joined spirit to Spirit and everything that is his is ours.
The sixth chapter of Ephesians shows us the church is a Soldier. Once we have come to realize we are the body, Temple, new man and bride we are to come to the understanding that there is still a fight. We are told to put on the “Armor of God.” Paul tells us about each part of the armor, but I wanted to share just one thing with you. This is the “Armor of God” it isn’t our armor per se. When the enemy looks at us in God’s armor he doesn’t see us at all, he only sees God. This brings us back to Colossians chapter three “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Ultimately what Paul is saying is exactly what the whole of the Bible and all of creation is saying. Look to Christ! “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Written by Louie