With Perseverance

I. Introduction

In our recent study of the Book of Galatians, Galatians taught us a lot about what it takes to become a believer, and all the misconceptions that people may have about what it takes to get into heaven.  It’s not following certain rules, it’s not performing certain rituals, it’s not anything we do.  All God asks of us is to believe in Christ Jesus, and even that ability to believe comes from God.  Remember, it is faith alone, through Christ alone, by Grace alone.  Nothing else.
We’re starting the book of James today and much of James talks about what is expected of us as Christians.  In fact, it is so much about works that you may begin to wonder what our study of Galatians was all about.  Are we contradicting ourselves, first by saying “faith alone” and then talking about works?
So before we actually start the book of James, let’s see if we can understand some of the differences between these books.  Galatians, addressed to the church of ….
… that’s right, Galatia.  Man, we are one smart group today.  In Galatians, Paul was talking primarily to the Judaizers, those teaching a “Jesus plus Moses” philosophy.  In other words, the Galatians were teaching that Jesus had done 95% of the work and we have to chip in the other 5%.  We are saved, but we still have to be circumcised, follow Jewish festivals, follow all the Jewish rules, etc.  These requirements were obstacles to new believers, and Paul was saying that circumcision, festivals and rules had nothing to do with obtaining salvation.  Jesus did it all, 100%.  Faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
The book of James is written to different audience – believers that are already saved.  James 1:2 begins,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Who are the brethren?  Right, believers in the church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  And James is talking to believers about the spiritual walk, how to understand trials and tribulations, how to grow closer to God.

II. Salvation vs Sanctification

So I want to bring this chart back up, I showed it briefly a few weeks back:
Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10
When we say, “faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone,” we are talking about what it means to be saved.  It is a one time event at the moment we trust in Christ, with ongoing effect.  But once we are a Christian, we become aware of God’s purpose for us, and aligning ourselves to that purpose is our spiritual walk.  We grow in Christ.  And this process continues until we die or are raptured.  I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved.  All three tenses are true.  And James is focusing in today’s lesson on our progressive sanctification and understanding the events in our lives.
The book of James contains 50 different commands for Christians, “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”  Are these things we must do to be saved?  It depends on which definition of “saved” we are talking about.  It has nothing to do with going to heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, but it has everything to do with understanding the loving God that created us and how we as believers are to live our lives.
So with all that behind us, let’s begin.

III. Purpose of Testing

So far we nearly finished studying 6 words in James, so let’s look at them again,
Consider it all joy, my brethren
Of the 50 commands to Christians in the book of James, we’ve already discovered the first one.  The word “consider” is an imperative, something we are commanded to do.  Let’s read the entirety of our verses for today, and then go back and study them individually.  James 1:2-15,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Whew.  Ok, this looks easy.  James is teaching us about the purpose of trials in the life of a Christian.

A. Joyful Attitude

First of all, we are to have a joyful attitude.  Verse 2,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
Various trials are hard to define.  Is James talking about running out of money?  Getting sick?  Dealing with people that mistreat you?  And the answer to all of that is yes.  Specifically, the Greek word for “trials” is peirasmós,
πειρασμός peirasmós, pi-ras-mos’; a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity:—temptation, × try.
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Basically, anything with the potential to be drawn toward sin and away from God.  While I was contemplating this and thinking of an example, I could hear my wife in the next room bawling her eyes out.  She was ok, but she was watching a NOVA special on organ transplants, and an especially touching event where a mother had to let her son, traumatized by a brain injury, be released for organ transplant.  The mother, obviously a Christian believer, was holding her son’s hand as they were wheeling him away so that his organs could be harvested to save somebody else’s life, and she was crying out, “I’ll see you soon!”
I can’t even imagine what this mother was going through.  And is this verse from James telling her to be happy about it?
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials
How does one “consider it all joy?”  First by understanding that “all joy” is not the same thing as happiness.  James isn’t a masochist.  James is telling us to continually seek the mind of God and how God will be able to use the trial for His purpose.  If we understand God is all good and in charge of all things, then all trials accomplish His purpose.  And if we know that the trials are accomplishing the will of God, then we can have an attitude of joy even in the midst of pain or suffering.  Chuck Swindoll put it this way –
“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
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We are to live our lives for the things that matter most.  If we get to thinking that our suffering is more than others endure, or more than seems fair, we can remember our savior on the cross.  Did Christ suffer pain?  Yet Hebrews 12:2 says,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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If Jesus can have joy during His crucifixion, perhaps we can find joy in our trials.

B. Endurance

How do we find this joy?  By seeking God’s purpose.  Let’s continue with verse 3,
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
We are to know that God has a purpose to our trials.  God always tests our faith.  It doesn’t way “if” we encounter trials, but “when.”  Christians are not sheltered and pampered.  Some trials come because we are human – sickness, accidents, disappointments.  Some trials come because we live in a fallen world – earthquakes, hurricanes, floods.  And some just because we are Christians.
These trials work for us, not against us.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:17,
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
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We tend to think trials are inflicted upon us, but this scripture says even the worst trials we endure are fulfilling a purpose that brings glory to God.  Satan tempts us to bring out our worst, but God tests our faith to bring out our best.  James says it produces endurance in us.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Endurance leads to perfection?  We’re to be perfect?
Trials help us mature.  It’s easier to trust in God when things are going great, but I’m not sure that’s really trust.  It’s when times are tough that we learn if our faith is genuine.  Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:3-4,
And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Perseverance.  Endurance.  Patience.  Waiting on God.  Patience is a foundation of our spiritual journey.  Patience is the key to receiving God’s blessings.  God told Abraham to be patient and God would give him a child.  At some point, Abraham and Sarah decided God needed help, so Abraham produced a son with Hagar.  It brought great difficulties in Abraham’s life, difficulties that have endured through the ages and affect us today.  Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had a son of their own.  How much more blessed their life would have been if they had been patient, endured, persevered.
Impatient children never learn, never mature.  They want it now.  And patience can only be learned by waiting.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me to learn, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of my pride.  I thought I was patient.  Meeting somebody at a restaurant and they’re an hour late?  I can do that.  Waiting for my birthday to arrive and it is months away?  I can do that.  Waiting on the Lord to answer prayers for my wife’s health or for salvation to come to some members of my family?  What is taking Him so long?
But patience isn’t a specific length of time.  Patience is waiting.  Why hasn’t the rapture come yet?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says it’s because the Lord is patient –
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord is patient for as long as it takes.  I have prayers in my life I’ve been praying for decades.  Unanswered prayers teach me what real patience is.  So I keep praying, and I’m learning patience, perseverance, endurance.  And there’s a purpose to learning this, James 1:4,
And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To make me perfect.  I certainly don’t feel perfect.  But “perfect” here doesn’t mean without any flaws.  The Greek phrase “perfect and complete” means one who fulfills the purpose for which God created him or her and are fully attaining their higher calling.  In other words, we are content to be in Christ, we are fulfilling Christ’s will for our lives, and we need nothing else.

C. Wisdom

Am I perfect and complete?  I don’t think so.  I’m at the point in my life, though, where I see more and more how my own will for me sometimes stands in opposition to God.  God wants me to have joy, patience, endurance, produce fruit in accordance with His will.  But I want a boat.
See, my will for myself continually misdirects me from what God wants for me.  I want a boat, I want to win an argument, I want to watch television, I want a raise, I want I want I want.  If I am to be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing, then I want what God wants.  How do I figure out what that is?
James 1: 5-7,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I can trust in this promise.  Believers in Christ, if they ask for wisdom, they will receive wisdom.
I don’t think God is satisfied with the unfinished Christian.  He has a purpose for us that starts with our character which is perfected through our joy in our trials, endurance through our patience, and wisdom through prayer and study of His Word.
Unanswered prayers teach us so much besides patience and endurance.  God desires for us to trust in Him alone.  What do we do when a prayer is unanswered?  Are we patient and do we endure as God asks us to do?
I’ve experienced this in my life first-hand.  When I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life, I felt like maybe God didn’t hear me.  I listened, I waited, and there was no answer.  And I decided on my own that I didn’t need to wait on God, I could fix the problem on my own.  I could choose a course of action that I felt was best for me.
And I remembered how Abraham and Sarah didn’t wait on the Lord.  They, too, felt the Lord had forgotten His promise.
James says that if we aren’t patient and trust in the Lord’s promises, we get only the reward of our own effort.  Trusting in the Lord gave me a foundation of solid stone.  Trusting in myself gave me a foundation of shifting sand.
I still wrestle with this, trying to do things on my own instead of relying on God.  And I learned that when I do things on my own, I fail.  But when I rely on God, He never fails.  I learn through these trials to endure, be patient, ask for wisdom, and listen for His still small voice.  And every time I listed to Him instead of me, I know that He is perfecting me for His glory.
Why does God want all of this for us?  God wants to build our Christian character so that He can use us according to His purpose.  God works in us before He works through us.  And at the end of the trials, what then?  Let’s look at James 1:12.

IV. Crown of Life

James 1:12,
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
I mentioned a few months back about the 5 crowns available to believers, and I hope you will indulge a few minutes of exploring in more detail these crowns.
The Crown of Life is mentioned here as a reward to those who endure trials and are perfected by God.  This same crown is also mentioned in Revelation 2:10 when Jesus talks to the church at Smyrna–
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
There are 5 crowns available to believers, each one as a reward for different aspects of the Christian character –
Scripture’s Five Crowns
Crown Scripture Purpose
Life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10 Enduring trials
Incorruptible 1 Cor. 9:24-27 Gaining mastery over the flesh
Rejoicing 1 Thess. 2:19-20 Winning Souls
Glory 1 Pet. 5:2-4 Shepherding God’s people
Righteousness 2 Tim. 4:8 Longing for His appearing

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  • The Crown of Life.  Joy in our trials, knowing that God has a plan.  Spiritual growth through our adversity.
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  • The incorruptible Crown.  We have eternal life that can never be destroyed, we have life forever in Christ Jesus.  Believers that endure to the end and pursue God-given ministry and triumph over sin are given an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
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  • The Crown of Rejoicing and Exultation.   These crowns come from others we minister to in this life; those believers believer become “our glory and joy” before the Lord.  We rejoice in heaven upon seeing and talking with our loved ones who we shared our spiritual growth.  (1 Thess. 2:18-20)
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  • The Crown of Glory.  Jesus promises that those who leave everything to follow Him receive a hundredfold reward in addition to eternal life.  As Christ is our Great Shepherd, those who shepherd His flock while waiting for His return are given the Crown of Glory.  (1 Peter 5:2-4, Mark 10:29-31)
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  • The Crown of Righteousness. The reward for living righteously and giving Christ the glory when facing temptation or hardship. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
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In heaven, what will we do with the crowns God has given us? We will cast them before Jesus’ feet (Revelation 4:10), laying them down as a tribute to the One who saved us, gifted us, equipped us, and lived in us. Everything good and right comes to us through the Lord, so He deserves our crowns.

V. Conclusion

So
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
Life is hard.  It’s full of trials and difficulties.  There’s pain and persecution and loss and suffering.  But God has a purpose for each of us, and it starts with our sanctification, our spiritual walk.  We can consider it all joy knowing that God is in control and He has a plan.  Romans 8:28,
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We can’t understand everything that God is doing, but He promises to provide wisdom if we trust in Him and pray to understand.  In other words, when life is too hard to stand, then kneel.
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To God be the glory.  Amen.

True Freedom

I. Introduction

We’ve been studying the book of Galatians and the truth of how God loves us, to free us from our bondage to sin. So that no one may boast by works, our salvation is secure through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. And I also know we’re supposed to study Galatians 4:8-20, but we’re not going to get that far. We’re only going to cover 3 verses today and stop in verse 10.

II. Galatians 4:8, Slaves to Sin

Today we’re in Galatians 4 beginning in verse 8, and Paul is reminding the Galatians who they once were.

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

The Galatians were pagan gentiles living in the Roman Empire. They worshipped Roman deities like Apollo the sun god and Venus the goddess of love and beauty. One of the cities in the region of Galatia was Lystra, and there’s a peculiar story about Lystra in Acts 14. In Acts 14:8-10, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the gospel, and Paul spied a man who was lame since birth and had never walked. When Paul realized this man had “faith to be made well,” Paul commanded him to stand up on his feet and walk. And the man got up and walked!

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The crowd around Paul and Barnabas were amazed at this miracle and proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be Roman gods. Not just any gods, Barnabas was Zeus, the head god, and Paul was Hermes, the fleet-footed messenger of the Gods. And I know those are the Greek names, but that’s because the book of Acts was recorded in Greek. The Roman equivalent were the gods Jupiter and Mercury.

Anyway, I digress, Paul & Barnabas immediately denied they were gods, of course, and gave credit to our Lord in heaven who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. The crowd, of course, nodded their collective heads in understanding and then immediately tried to stone Paul and Barnabas to death.

That is who the Galatians were before they received Christ. Paul reminds them in Galatians 4:8 of their past,

However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.

Before the Galatians came to Christ, they were enslaved to demons impersonating deity. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” It’s #1 on God’s list.

In the New Testament, Jesus repeats this Commandment #1 in more gentle terms; when asked by a Pharisee which commandment was more important, Jesus says in Mark 12:29,

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

If we are not free in Christ to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we are in bondage to sin. Jesus puts this bondage to sin even more strongly in John 8:44a,

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.

There is only one was to be free of this slavery to sin. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

III. Galatians 4:9a, Free in Christ

So, now we are free in Christ. Now what? Let’s look at the next verse, or rather the 1st half of the verse, Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

It’s a curious phrase. Paul is writing to the Galatians, and halfway through his sentence, he corrects himself.

God already knows us, of course. In Matthew 10, Jesus is telling his disciples to spread the good news, and that God Himself will protect them from evil in verses 29-31,

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Slide8.JPGGod knows us before we are born, Psalm 139:13-14,

For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.

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So when Paul says, “or rather be known by God,” Paul cannot be saying that God doesn’t know us. I believe Paul is using a phrase to describe our spiritual growth in getting to know God.

Another way to look at it is this: everybody knows there is a god because the universe declares His existence. Psalm 19:1,

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Slide10.JPGAnd we know that as God, he created the heavens and the earth, he is just and punishes the wicked, he is all powerful. But what does God think of me? How do I get to know the love He has for me? Why does He think of me so valuable that He would sacrifice His only son so that I may dwell with Him forever in the House of the Lord? My spiritual walk consists almost entirely of getting to know God intimately, only to discover that God already knows me. So let’s look again at Galatians 4:9a,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,

And now look at it in the original Greek cuz it’s fun,

νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε

Yeah, don’t understand it either, it’s Greek to me. But this word shows up twice,

γινώσκω ginṓskō, ghin-oce’-ko; a prolonged form of a primary verb; to “know” (absolutely) in a great variety of applications and with many implications (as follow, with others not thus clearly expressed):—allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.

When Paul says the Galatians are to know God and be known by God, he means to know God intimately. In fact, we are to get to know God so intimately that we know how much God already knows us intimately.

I find it comforting to know that God knows me so well. My struggles, my plans, my history, my health, my thoughts… God already knows them because He loves me. And Paul challenges me to get to know God as well as God already knows me.

IV. Galatians 4:9b, Weak and Worthless Elemental Things

Let’s continue with the rest of Galatians 4:9,

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

When we become Christians, we are free of the penalty of sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:36,

So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Slide15.JPGBut what does that mean?

When I last taught from Galatians 2, I spent a lot of time going over what it means to have faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone, and all of the rules we put in place that become obstacles to new believers. Nothing else saves – not church rules, not church attendance, not praying a prayer, not baptism. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

I was focusing on repentance, and how we are to change our mind about Jesus, in order to have faith, and it is this faith that saves us, and not by our own effort, but because of God’s love. But that lesson focused on how to become a believer and gain salvation.

But what then, once we are believers? I have this little chart that talks about our spiritual growth and the different meanings of salvation:

Phase Justification
(a one time event)
Sanctification
(or progressive sanctification, spiritual walk, a process)
Glorification
(immediately after death or rapture)
Tense Past
(I have been saved)
Present
(I am being saved)
Not sinless, but sinning less.
Future
(I will be saved)
Saved from sin’s: Penalty Power Presence
Scripture Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5 Philip 2:12 Rom 5:10

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So last week was all about the justification column. It occurs once for all believers and then that’s in the past. Once saved, we are free of sin’s penalty. For the rest of our temporal lives, we are sanctified, on our spiritual walk, and we are free of sin’s power. And then when we die or are raptured, our heavenly bodies are glorified in Christ and we are free from the very presence of sin.

So this week, let’s talk about that middle section, our spiritual walk. We are free of sin’s power as well as sin’s penalty, but not free from the presence of sin. That comes later in heaven.

So how does that tie into our scripture in Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

Sin is all around us, and we can be so easily deceived. Christians are not immune from turning to “weak and worthless elemental things.” Christian superstitions. For instance, I know realtors sometime bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house they’re trying to sell. In fact, when I went looking for an illustration for this, I was astounded to find that you can buy a St. Joseph Home Sale Kit from Walmart for only $13.90. Free shipping, too.

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And this isn’t the only example of Christian superstition – rosary beads, holy water. Have you ever seen a horror movie where the good pious people were saved from a vampire by holding up a wooden cross?

What was happening in the church of Galatia was that these new Christians had started as pagans which mandated observations of certain days such as full moons, spring equinox, summer solstice, and so forth. Once these pagan Galatians had converted to Christianity, though, Jewish Christians convinced the former pagans that they should now follow the Jewish calendar of festivals.

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There are a lot of pagan holidays. Here are some of the holidays for just this month of September 2018 –

1: Celtic Tree Month of Hazel ends (there are thirteen lunar divisions in the Celtric Tree Calendar, Hazel Moon celebrates to “the life force within you.”)
2: Celtic Tree Month of Vine begins (Vine Moon celebrates happiness and wrath and intense emotions)
22: Mabon, the autumn equinox (celebrate gifts of the earth)
24: Full Moon – Harvest Moon (storing your harvest for the winter, and a month of thanksgiving. )
29: Celtic Tree Month of Vine ends
30: Celtic Tree Month of Ivy begins (self-improvement)

But many people do not realize the pagan influences on our Christian culture. The early church began new traditions on the same day as pagan traditions, I suppose to replace them. Instead, they melded in some weird hybrid way.

a: Christmas is probably the most well-known. While we celebrate the birth of Christ at this time, what’s with the tree? Christ wasn’t even born in December since shepherd would not have been in the fields in this month. The Christmas tree’s origins are based on the pagan celebration of Odin the sun god. Yes, that Odin, the father of Thor and Loki. And evergreen trees and mistletoe were decorations honoring Odin. Odin is usually depicted as a big chubby elf with a white beard and flowing coat.

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b) Easter. What’s with the bunnies and the eggs? As a kid, I wondered what kind of bunnies laid eggs. But while Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the date is chosen around the spring equinox and celebrates new life and the end of winter. Not surprising early Christians could connect this with Jesus. Even the word “Easter” has pagan roots, named after a goddess of fertility.

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c) Halloween. The origins of this come from Celtic pagans marking the end of harvest and the beginning of death, spirits roaming the earth and spirits of ancestors returning home. Costumes were created to keep the spirits from recognizing the living.

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What did Paul say again to the Galatians?

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years.

I think we need to give thought to the holidays we celebrate. The celebrations should be out of love, not obligation. And we should be careful to give God the glory, and not Thor or the Hulk.

V. Still Galatians 4:9b, Do Not Be Enslaved All Over Again

Look, whether one celebrates Christmas or Easter or Halloween or Valentines Day makes no difference to whether one is going to heaven or not. But Paul is telling the Galatians specifically that an obligation to follow a certain ritualist holiday is just like becomes enslaved to sin all over again.

How could that be? What is Paul really saying here? I believe he is saying that, to God, there is no difference between paganism and legalism. Whether one worships other pagan gods or whether one tries to comply with biblical rules makes no difference. Our obedience to the Lord’s commands should be out of love, not obligation or fear or compulsion and slavery to cultural expectations.

I think when we first come to Christ, we find joy and peace and life in Him. But we may also try to cling to our old ways because they’re comforting. We do them because they are tradition, or because we grew up doing it, or because our family or friends or neighbors expect us. And if those are our reasons, we have enslaved ourselves to the culture around us. We are in the world and of the world. You are in the world and of the world. And returning to our old self, our old ways, our old habits, our old sins before we knew Christ is how it’s described in Proverbs 26:11,

Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.

Slide24.JPGI know as we approach each holiday, I’m going to examine my motives. I am not interested in being a slave to the culture around me; I want to be a bondservant of Christ. So here are some of the thoughts I’ve had regarding the holidays – just for me and my household, you make up your own mind:

a) Thanksgiving. I’m still going to enjoy turkey or ham, and still celebrate a season of thanksgiving. But I’ll be sure to thank God for all His provisions. Just being thankful, in and of itself, to me is meaningless. I thank God specifically.

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b) Christmas. I’m still going to celebrate the birth of our Savior. It’s good news! And the lights are pretty, I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights and listening to Christmas music. My wife and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago, though. As she put it, “It’s not my birthday.” If I had kids, I’d probably still give gifts to express love for them. I’m conflicted on the tree, though. If I just like it because it’s pretty, then, sure, let’s have a tree. But considering the pagan roots and how I don’t see how it honors God, am I allowing myself to be enslave to the culture? Do I think people think it’s mandatory I put up a tree because I’m Christian? I want to be sure I’m honoring God with everything.

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c) Easter. There is never going to be a bunny or an Easter egg hunt or goddess of fertility in my future. But celebrating our risen Lord? Is there any better news? In the last few years, though, I’ve stopped calling it Easter and started calling it Resurrection Day.

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d) Halloween. You’ve got to be kidding.

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VI. Conclusion

Whatever you decide, make sure you examine your motives carefully. Make sure that your choice honors God and you aren’t following traditions because it’s an obligation. Don’t be enslaved to rules and regulations.

And whatever you decide – whether to go trick or treating or not, whether to have an Easter egg hunt or not – has no effect on your heavenly destination. But if you do not examine your motives and giving glory and honor to God, then you’re enslaved to culture and the world’s expectations. Your spiritual walk, your progressive sanctification, depends on your examining your motives and aligning yourself to God.

God wants our hearts in everything we do. He wants us to seek Him as He sought us. He wants us to love Him and love others out of love and not obligation. He wants us to be more like Christ because we love Christ and not because it’s a rule in the church.

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Christ came to free us, so let us be free indeed.

To God be the glory. Amen.

Liberty versus Love

Introduction

What is the most common phrase in the entire bible? “Fear Not.”

There is another very common phrase used throughout the bible, it is “one another.” These are instructions on how to get along with … well, one another. “Love on another” is used at least a dozen times in the New Testament.

• James 5:16, “Pray for one another.”
• 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Edify one another.”
• Romans 12:10, “Prefer one another.”
• 1 Peter 4:9, “hospitality for one another.”
• Ephesians 4:32, “be kind and compassionate to one another.”
• Bee Gees, “Islands in the Stream,” “from one lover to another, ah ha”

Actually, have you ever noticed how almost every love song on pop radio can apply to the love of Jesus? For instance, “Islands in the Stream” goes

Baby, when I met you there was peace unknown
I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb
I was soft inside
There was something going on

You do something to me that I can’t explain
Hold me closer and I feel no pain
Every beat of my heart
We got something going on

I mean, what a beautiful song to God, except for calling him “Baby when I met you.”

Today we’re going to wrap up Galatians 6 instead of singing songs from the Bee Gees and apply this “one other” philosophy. We’ve been talking about how the law helps us grown and obedience to the law exposes us to our sins, but at the same time, we are no longer bound to the law because of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. In Galatians 6, Paul will summarize this balance between too much law versus too much liberty, and what that means as we relate to others.

Galatians 6:1-5, Bearing Burdens

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

Paul tells us to carry each other’s burden, and provides a hypothetical example of a Christian brother or sister “caught in a sin.” The Greek word Paul uses for “caught” means “to take before” or “to forestall” before he can conceal his crime. It also implies there is an element of surprise.

So, all of Galatians has been to teach us we should balance legalism with liberty. Here, Paul teaches us that it is our responsibility to approach our brothers and sisters who are caught in a sin. But then he cautions us about our attitude when we approach a brother or a sister.

A liberal, anything goes attitude is easy to see as destructive. If somebody else sins, what business is it of mine? That’s up to them and God. Why should I get involved?

• What is wrong with a liberal attitude toward a brother’s sin?
• What is wrong with a legalistic attitude?

Legalism can be far worse than liberalism. A legalistic approach exposes our poor motives, our poor heart, our poor love of Christ. Remember the story in Act 21:27? Legalistic Jews stirred up the crowd and accused Paul of bringing Greeks into the temple and defiling it just because they had seen Paul with a Greek in the city. They tried to kill him over rumors and suspicions that had no basis in fact. Or what about the Pharisees who dragged the adulterous woman before Jesus? Did the Pharisees care about the adulterous woman?

The Pharisees exposed the adulterous woman for their own selfish purposes. They wanted to exalt themselves by stoning the woman. They wanted to make themselves look good by making somebody else look bad. The spiritual man should restore the sinner gently. The Greek word for “restore” is also used for mending a net or for setting a broken bone. The goal is not to elevate ourselves, but to help the brother who is sinning.

• How should we as believers approach someone who has sinned? How do we restore a Christian who has strayed?

We should remember that the proper attitude in approaching a brother or sister is one of meekness and love. Legalism will instead give us an attitude of pride and condemnation.

• Verse 4 says we should test our own actions without comparing ourselves to somebody else. What’s wrong with comparing ourselves to others? (Leads to either feeling superior and complacent or inferior and hopeless).
• What does it mean to test our own actions?

If you’ve been involved with a church for a long time, you probably realize that church people are messed up people. God didn’t send His son to die for us because he wants us just to be better people. He sent Jesus because we are messed up. We need a savior.

• Although sins are all equal in the eyes of the Lord, addressing some sins are harder than others. If a brother has an addiction to alcohol or drugs, for instance, that’s much harder than correcting a gossiping tongue. What sins in ourselves and others around us do we simply accept? What keeps us complacent?

Verse two says we are to carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, we fulfill the law of Christ. Our natural reaction is not always a good reaction; when our brother sins, it a burden. It’s a shackle. It can drag us down and it can keep us from experiencing the joy in Christ. Instead of condemning our brother in a legalistic way, as the Pharisees did, remember that Christ tells us to help our brother carry that burden.

• Verse 5 tells us to carry each other’s burdens. Verse 5 tells us to carry our own burden. Are these two verses in conflict? (We are all individually accountable to God.)

Galatians 6:6-10, Sharing Blessings

Verse 6 through 8 expands on Paul’s teachings about carrying one another’s burden.

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Let’s tackle these one verse at a time. Verse 6, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” In this precept, Paul tells us that instructors in God’s word shares spiritual treasures, and those that learn are to share material things. We must remember that what we do with material things is evidence of how we value spiritual things. Matthew 6:21, Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

But we must realize the spiritual principle behind this precept. Verses 7 and 8 says that God wants us to give to that we may receive an even greater blessing. God teaches us throughout the bible that we will reap what we sow. A farmer that sows wheat can expect a harvest of wheat. We can use our material goods to promote the flesh, or we can use our material goods to promote the spirit.

We all want good harvest. We want Godly friends. We all want the best that God will provide. But the principle here reminds us that once we have sown the seed, we cannot change the harvest. We will reap what we sow. Money sown to the flesh will bring a harvest of corruption. That money is gone, it can never be reclaimed. Money sown for God’s purpose will produce life, and in that harvest will be seeds that can be planted again. If every believer looked at his material wealth as seed and planted it properly, we would all be reaping a bountiful harvest.

• What is an example of a bad harvest?
• Where were the seeds for that bad harvest planted?
• What is an example of a good harvest?
• How can we sow to the Spirit?

It’s also important to realize that it’s not just what we sow, but how much we sow. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, ” Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” If you sow spiritual and material gifts around you generously, your harvest will be bountiful.

After the precept and the principle, now Paul tells us the promise in verse 9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We are promised a bountiful harvest if we sow generously, either in this life or the next. We are cautioned, though, to keep our spirits up. The King James version doesn’t use the words “give up;” it says “for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” It’s spiritual fainting, getting weary in the work of the Lord, fainting, stopping.

• What causes physical fainting?
• What causes spiritual fainting?
• How can we prevent spiritual fainting?
• In verse 10, why does Paul add, “especially to those who belong to the family of believers?”

In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy and Charlie Brown are having a discussion. Lucy asks, “Why are we here on earth?” And Charlie Brown replies, “To make others happy.” Lucy considers this for a moment and then asks, “Then why are the others here?”

When we carry each other’s burdens, God has a purpose that we should strengthen each other, not tear each other down or become weary. Our brother or sister in Christ is a receiver of our blessings so that they may in turn become a transmitter of blessings. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 says as we abound in love for one another, we overflow in love for all men.

In Malachi 1:10-13, the people are bringing food to the temple as a sacrifice to God, then they complain that the food doesn’t taste good. The people complain they are bored of worshiping the Lord. The material possessions they bring the Lord are not the best of their, but their diseased and crippled sacrificial lambs. They are sticking their noses in the air and acting as though they were superior. Superior to God Almighty! And God says their sacrifices are worthless. In fact, He says He wishes they would just lock the temple doors so the people would stop lighting useless fires on His altar.

We are good witnesses for the Lord if we do good works for Him out of love, but also use encouraging words. And because we’re all messed up in one way or another, Paul tells us not to criticize our Christian brothers and sisters when they fall, but we are to encourage and restore them gently, and we are to carry each other’s burdens. With our material and spiritual gifts, we are to sow abundantly. And God promises we will reap abundantly and have abundant life in our Lord Jesus.

That’s something to be thankful for every day, is it not?

Living by the Gospel

Usually when I post a bible study lesson, it’s all formatted nice and neat. The new bible class is an interactive format, and I thought that preparing a full lesson might inhibit discussion. So instead, I’m just posting my outline and thoughts; this week’s lesson explores the balance between legalism and freedom.
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Introduction

Story: Cockayne’s Syndrome

Ralph Dury was all smiles when he celebrated his first birthday with a very special party yesterday. The youngster suffers from Cockayne Syndrome, but his parents, Melanie and David, are determined he should enjoy his life to the full.

Thanks to the generosity of Wearsiders, Ralph has been celebrating after receiving the £4,000 needed to turn his Seaburn bedroom into a specialised sensory room.

Melanie, 38, said: “Everyone has been so generous, we are absolutely delighted. It is amazing and the room will be a huge benefit to Ralph.” Ralph’s condition means he will probably never walk or talk, but Melanie and David, 40, who are also parents to Annie, 11, say their son is a beautiful, happy youngster who is always smiling.

Ralph is one of just a handful of children – about 15 in the UK – who have the congenital type of the disorder, which is so rare it took doctors months to give the family, of Alston Crescent, a diagnosis.

When Ralph was 24-hours old doctors noticed he had cataracts on both eyes and started to find the underlying problems. The youngster soon became ill with a viral infection and hospital staff
discovered his feed was going into his lungs, leading to him now being tube fed.

Doctors carried out exhaustive tests on the baby, but it was only when Melanie mentioned to the family geneticist that Ralph had become sunburnt, despite being in the shade, that a skin biopsy was sent to a specialist and the diagnosis of Cockayne Syndrome was confirmed.

Cockayne Syndrome is a rare disorder characterised by failure to grow, impaired development of the nervous system, abnormal sensitivity to sunlight and premature aging.

The condition can cause hearing loss, eye abnormalities, severe tooth decay and problems with internal organs.

Knowing her son’s time will be limited, Melanie has quit her job as a college lecturer to care for him and is looking forward to playing with him in his new sensory room, which should be ready in a couple of months.

I’m not going to diminish the tragic medical problems that this family is facing. But spiritually, many also fail to grow. And while we recognize a physical growth problem is cause for serious concern, we have come to accept a lack of spiritual growth as normal.

• What are some signs that let us know there is something physically wrong with a child’s development?
• What are some signs of healthy spiritual growth and development?
• Does spiritual growth “just happen,” or must we do something to promote it?
• Which is more important to spiritual growth: learning God’s Word, or applying God’s Word?
Galatians 3:26-29

Aside: Galatians 3:26. NIV uses “sons”, TNIV uses “children.” KJV uses “children”.

Who are the children of God? Does it include non-Christians? Does it *exclude* non-Christians? Paul is talking to Jews here, so it’s important to realize that both Jews and Gentiles enter God’s family the same way, by faith in Christ.

Last week, Debra taught us that we are no longer under the law, but the law was necessary as part of the old covenant. Now, as believers, we are no longer under the law’s supervision.

Verse 27, is baptism required? Is it fulfillment of law? Does it save?

What do you think it means by “put on Christ?” The Greek word is ????? (endy?) and means to put on clothes, but it also means “to sink into.” What image does this give you of baptism? What image does this give God of us?

Verse 28. Proud Jewish men thanked God that they were not Gentiles, slaves or women. Gentiles thanked God for not making them animals, barbarians or slaves. Are some of God’s children “better” than other children? What’s a word for this attitude? (Pride or prejudice). How does this manifest itself today?

The distinctions between God’s children are evil distortions. In reality, we have nothing of our own to offer Christ that Christ did not already give us. Our self-righteousness appear in heaven as filthy rags unless we put on Christ. There is a phrase attributed to Martin Luther that we are “snow covered dung heaps.” Should we be proud of the dung, or of the snow given to us by Christ?

Galatians 4:1-7
Verse 1. Heirs are underage; the Old Testament was our guardian. When we grow up, we will inherit Salvation when we accept Christ.

Verse 3, “elemental Spiritual forces” or “basic principles.” Like ABC’s, elementary school.

Verse 7. Slaves to what? The Old Testament law. Does this abolish the law?

So then does legalism, a strict adherence to the law, show spiritual growth or spiritual bondage?

Paul’s admonition to the Galatians was to stop behaving like slaves to the law, but as sons of the law.

Are we completely free of the law? How, then do we interpret John 14:15, where Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands.”

Here are some differences between slaves and sons:
Sons Slaves
Same nature as the Father Does not
Has a father Has a master
Obeys out of love Obeys out of fear
Rich Poor
Has a future Does not

What are we?

Galatians 4:8-11

Free from our old ways.
What are some ways we place ourselves back in bondage?

Verse 9: Why does Paul add “or rather known by God” to his message? As believers, do we find God? Or does God reach out and draw us? If we credit to ourselves that we find God, is it a sin?

Verse 10: Is it wrong, then, to celebrate Christmas or Easter?
If we observe special days in order to gain some spiritual favor, then we are sinning. We are relying on our own works, we are relying on the law, but we are free from the law. But if we observe special days as worship, as service, as an expression of our liberty and freedom in Christ, it can be a blessing.

Romans 14:4-13 says we are not to mandate religious observances. Romans 4:5-6a, “Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. Those who regard one day as special do so to the Lord.” In other words, we do not praise people for celebration, nor condemn people for not celebrating. But if a man believes he is saving his soul or growing in grace because of his religious observances, then he is guilty of legalism.

How can we apply this information to observances at Second? What about how we feel about other churches, such as the Catholic church or Joel Olsteen or pentacostal or Church of Christ?

Galatians 4:12-16
Verse 12: Become like me, for I became like you. Paul adjusted to the culture of the Galatians without compromising his Christian convictions. How can we adjust our behavior to influence our culture and society for Christ? At work, at play? What is the risk? (We risk compromising our convictions).

Verse 15: “Torn out your eyes” lead some scholars to believe that Paul has a vision problem, his thorn.

Verse 16: Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? This is difficult for me. Why should we tell people the truth? Should we tell people what Jesus says, or what we think He means? How can we know whether what we’re saying is the truth? The Judaizers believed they were telling the truth by preaching adherence to the law.

I recently saw a quote I liked that went something like, “This is a witness: live your life in the Spirit. People will want what you have. When they ask, don’t tell them what they have to do; tell them what happened to you.”

I think the urge is to tell people what they have to do. We tell new believers, we tell old believers. We talk about believers. Speaking the truth, I think, involves trying to understand scripture for ourselves, but too often we try to understand it for somebody else.

Galatians 4:17-20

Is enthusiasm always good? Enthusiasm, by itself, is neutral. On the other hand, to be enthusiastic about good is always good.

We are enthusiastic about new believers. We also discussed the importance of baptism and a recognition to be free of the law, yet to obey it out of love, not fear.

Knowing this, what advice do we give new Christians? What changes are necessary to become a Christian? What changes are necessary to grow as a Christian? Are these changes mandatory?

The Galatians had embraced a false doctrine of works, and verse 20 shows Paul had become perplexed about what to do. Paul’s letter to the Galatians implores us to put on the clothes of Christ, to become more and more like Him, not out of fear, but out of love. That’s why we have bible study – it essential for spiritual grown, not stagnation. It helps us take on His character.

What steps can we take to make sure we are not misled by false doctrine?

Growth in Christ implies life in Christ. If we do not grow, we do not live. What steps can we take to become more spiritually mature?

What holds us back:
• Spiritual warfare
• Ways of the world
• Pride, war against self
• Lack of knowledge
• Lack of understanding
• Drifting away
• Rebellion
• Distraction

What grows us:
• Prayer
• Quiet time
• Attending church
• Attending bible study
• Fellowship with other believers
• Reading the bible on our own
• Serving – evangelizing, donating, hosting. Practice makes perfect.

In the story of David and Goliath, we focus as children on the fact that David slew Goliath with a mere stone. As spiritually young, we learn that we can do all things through Christ. But David did not slay Goliath on the spur of a moment. There was a lifetime of preparation, of training, prayer, and obedience. At the moment David was challenged, he was ready. Paul reminds the Galatians – and us – that we are to continue to grow in the freedom Christ has given us so that we may fully recognize the inheritance given to us as children of the Living God.

Galatians 4:21-28

We are children of the free, not children of slaves

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