Christian Foundations

This blog will contain some basic Bible teaching from an Evangelical Christian worldview. I will welcome questions and comments, as long as they are relevant.

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Tale of Two Sons

"Listen! If you want to be under the Law, why do you not listen to what it says? The Holy Writings say that Abraham had two sons. One was born from a woman servant (Hagar) who was owned by someone. She had to do what she was told. The other son was born from a woman (Sarah) who was free to work and live as she desired. The son born from the woman servant who was owned by someone was like any other birth. The son born from the free woman was different. That son had been promised by God. Think of it like this: These two women show God’s two ways of working with His people. The children born from Hagar are under the Law given on Mount Sinai. They will be servants who are owned by someone and will always be told what to do! Hagar is known as Mount Sinai in the country of Arabia. She is as Jerusalem is today, because she and her children are not free to do what they want to do. But the Jerusalem of heaven is the free woman, and she is our mother." (Galatians 4:21-26 - New Life Version)


Paul is now summing up his theological arguments against legalism. He uses an illustration to demonstrate the superiority of grace over works. He takes this illustration from the Old Testament. It is the story of Abraham’s two sons: Ishmael and Isaac.

The events referred to by Paul are recorded in Genesis chapters sixteen and twenty-one. Let’s review the historical facts.

When Abraham was 75 years old, God called him and sent him to the land of Canaan. He promised Abraham many descendants. At this time, Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was 65 years old. Abraham and Sarah had no children at this time.

Ten years passed and still Abraham was childless. Sarah suggested that Abraham take her handmaid, Hagar as a concubine. Hagar was Sarah’s slave. Abraham followed Sarah’s advice and Hagar bore Abraham a son who was named Ishmael. This was outside of God’s will and the Lord did not accept Ishmael as the son of His promise.

Finally, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, God gave them a child. Sarah gave birth to Isaac who was the son of God’s promise. When Isaac was around three years old, Ishmael began to mock him creating conflict in the home. The Lord told Abraham to send Hagar and her 17-year-old son Ishmael away.

Now back to Galatians, Paul is going to use an illustration from the law, which his opponents said they were upholding. The Jews divided the Old Testament into the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. The Law was made up of the first five books of the Old Testament, which were written by Moses. So Genesis is part of the law.

The birth of Ishmael was natural. It was the expected result of Sarah’s plan. It was a birth representing doubt and the works of man.

The birth of Isaac was supernatural. It was the result of God’s promise. No one thought that after so many years of marriage that barren Sarah at the age of 90 could have a child. God gave her a child. This birth represents faith and grace.

So Hagar and her son are symbolic of the covenant of the Law which God gave at Mount Sinai. In Paul’s day, Jerusalem was the center of the system that resulted from this law. All who followed this covenant were in bondage to the Law. Even as Ishmael was born a slave because his mother was, so those born under the Law were slaves to it.

Sarah and her son are symbolic of the covenant of Grace, which God gave through Jesus Christ. The headquarters of this covenant is the New Jerusalem in heaven. Those born spiritually under this covenant are free.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Paul in Pain

"My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,  I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you." (Galatians 4:19,20 - New King James Version)

Up until this passage, Paul has been distant with the Galatians. However, in this passage, his feelings for them begin to show through. They were his spiritual children. It was through his ministry that they were born again.

But now he was having birth pains for them again. He was in terrible torment because of what he had heard was happening among them. The desire of the Judiazers was to receive praise. Paul’s desire was that Christ would be formed in them.

For Christ to be formed in us means that Christ lives through us. It means that we are like Christ.

Paul concludes this section by saying that he wished to see the Galatians in person. He also wished that he could adopt a friendlier tone. He wished that he did not have doubts about their spiritual condition and future.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Truth Hurts

"Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you." (Galatians 4:16-18, NIV)

Paul was telling them the truth. He was afraid that they would consider him their enemy because of this. This is a common human failing. We often think badly of those who tell us the truth when we do not want to hear it. It is too easy to become defensive when someone criticizes us even if the criticism is valid.

The Judiazers were zealous in seeking the favor of the Galatians. But it was not for a good purpose. They wanted to shut them out (that is what exclude or alienate means) from the freedom of Christ and the true way of salvation. They wanted to bar the doors of the abundant Christian life and prevent the Galatians from entering.

Their goal was not to help the Galatians but to build up a following. They did not care if they were zealous for God or for truth. They wanted the Galatians to be zealous for them. Beware of the person who is seeking to build a reputation. Beware of the person who loves the praise of man.

Paul wishes that these believers were zealous for good even when he was not with them. It would be great if we were zealous for good always regardless of in whose presence we are.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Paul's Personal Request

"I beg you, brothers and sisters, become like me, because I have become like you. You have done me no wrong! But you know it was because of a physical illness that I first proclaimed the gospel to you,  and though my physical condition put you to the test, you did not despise or reject me. Instead, you welcomed me as though I were an angel of God, as though I were Christ Jesus himself! Where then is your sense of happiness now? For I testify about you that if it were possible, you would have pulled out your eyes and given them to me!" (Galatians 4:12-15, New English Translation)
 
This passage is a break in Paul’s theological arguments. He seems to have become at this point in writing the letter overcome with emotion. This emotion floods out in a few rapidly written disjointed sentences. R. Alan Cole says that this passage has “an erratic style and grammar, springing from violent emotion.” (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Galatians, IVP, 1989)

Because of this compressed choppy style, there are many difficult phrases in this passage. However, the overall idea that Paul wanted to get across is clear. It is not at all difficult to understand what Paul is trying to say and there are no theological problems raised by this passage.

Paul when he was among Gentiles acted as a Gentile. He adapted himself to the culture of those around him as much as possible without violating moral principles. Now he begged the Galatians to be like him. Paul, who had once been a Pharisee, urged them to live free in Christ as Paul did.

Paul mentions that he had some type of physical problem when he first preached to the Galatians. There are three main ideas about what this physical problem could have been. Some suggest that Paul and Barnabas had malaria when they first arrived in Asia Minor. This has been suggested as one factor that contributed to John Mark leaving them when they arrived at Pamphylia.

Others suggest that Paul had a painful eye disorder. Many think that Paul did have some type of chronic eye problem. Those who hold to this view use verse 15 as evidence. Others suggest that Paul had some continuing physical problems because of the stoning at Lystria.

Whatever the physical problem was, the Galatians did not allow it to become a barrier between them and Paul. They welcomed him in spite of his physical appearance. They treated him as a messenger of God. They treated him as they would have treated Jesus Himself.

During the time that Paul ministered among them, they were greatly blessed. They had great joy. Their affection for Paul was so great that they would have done anything for him. The picture of plucking out their eyes for him does not necessarily mean that he had an eye problem. This was a common expression for a great sacrifice. It meant that they would do anything for him. The idea is similar to our expression of giving someone the shirt off our back.

At one time they would do anything Paul asked. Now he asks that they would reject the teaching of the legalist. Yet Paul was not sure that they would do as he requested.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Do You Want to be Slaves Again?

"In the past you did not know God. You were slaves to gods that were not real. But now you know the true God. Really, it is God who knows you. So why do you turn back to those weak and useless rules you followed before? Do you want to be slaves to those things again? You still follow teachings about special days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid for you, that my work for you has been wasted." (Galatians 4:8-11, New Century Version)

The Galatian Church was made up mostly of Gentiles. They had once worshipped idols. They now understood that these false gods had no power.

They had come to know God, or more accurately, God had made Himself known to them. They had escaped from the bondage of idol worship to the truth through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul could not understand why they were returning again to something inferior. They knew all the freedom and privileges of Grace. Now they were turning away, not back to idolatry, but to legalism: a legalism that tried to add works to Grace.

Paul says that this legalism was made up of weak and beggarly teachings. Beggarly means poor or worthless. The Galatians were falling into a system of doctrine that was worthless. It gave them nothing, but slavery.

Verse ten gives us another sign of legalism: keeping certain days as holy. The Jews had many holy days. Some were part of the Law. Others were tradition. For Christians, there is nothing holy about any specific day.

We worship on Sundays because that is the day when our Savior rose from the dead. We celebrate Christmas and Easter because they are opportunities to share the Gospel with people in our society. These days are not holy in any spiritual or mystical sense. For those who understand their freedom in Christ, one day is the same as another. We should worship God every day. We should be thankful for the birth, life and death of Christ every day.

Paul was afraid that his labor among the Galatians had been in vain. He had brought them freedom through the Grace of God. They seemed to desire slavery.

He is not worried about their salvation. Those who had trusted in Christ were eternally saved. He was concerned about the end of the Gospel ministry in Galatia. If they turned into legalism, God’s kingdom work would suffer greatly. Paul’s work in their province would have no lasting effect.

We need to be sure that we do not go into a second childhood spiritual. Legalism appeals to the flesh and has a certain attraction. However, it is a worthless system that steals our freedom and makes us slaves. It defines spirituality in terms of what we do rather than who we are. Eventually, it puts an end to ministry and gives unrepentant people a false hope.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

God's Adpoted Children

"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God." (Galatians 4:4-7 - New American Standard)

When the perfect time arrived, God the Father sent Jesus into this world. Why was this the perfect time? From a natural point of view, the Roman Empire had brought peace to Europe and the Middle East. It has established a good set of roads throughout its territory. Alexander the Great had spread the Greek language throughout the same area. This meant that after the resurrection of Christ, the Gospel was able to quickly spread. By the end of the first century, the Gospel message had reached every Roman province and according to tradition, the Gospel had reached parts of Northern Africa and South East Asia.

From a spiritual point of view, it was the perfect time. The nation of Israel had failed God. Rather than being a shinning light to other nations, their leadership was corrupt. Their spiritual teachers were self-centered bigots with a self-righteous attitude who had no real knowledge of God. Among the Gentiles, there was a growing spiritual hunger as the old Greek and Roman gods lost their hold on the masses.

From a prophetic point of view, it was the right time. God over a period of at least four millennium had being given prophetic messages about the Messiah. With over 300 prophecies about the Messiah, it would be impossible for anyone to fulfill them by coincidence.

So at the perfect time, God sent His Son to the earth. He was born of a woman. Some critics claim that Paul did not know about the teaching of the virgin birth. This phrase shows that he did.
Otherwise, to say that Jesus was born of a woman is pointless. This phrase is only significant because Jesus was born of a woman but was not born of a man. He had no human father.

Jesus was also born under the law. He was born a Jew. He obeyed the law fully for his entire life. He is the only one who has never broken the Law. He kept the law completely so that He could be the perfect sacrifice for us. Through His life, His death and His resurrection, He provided all that we need in order to be freed from the bondage of the law.

Rather than being under a system designed for spiritual children; because of Christ, we are in a new dispensation designed for spiritual adults. And God has adopted us as His adult sons. We are not under governors or tutors or stewards. We have freedom in our relationship with God.

It can be confusing when we read some New Testament passages that refer to us being born into God’s family and others that speak of God adopting us into His family. Both are correct. When a person is saved, they are born again. He becomes a member of God’s spiritual family. His condition is that of a spiritual infant.

At the same time, God adopts us. In Roman times, a wealthy man would sometimes adopt a son especially if he had no children to inherit his wealth. The man would invite a group of his friends together and then bring the young man out and formally announce that he was adopting the man. The young man would then have all the rights and privileges that a natural son would have.

When God adopts us, we are given all the rights and privileges of an adult child of God. Our position is that of an adult heir within the household of God. A new Christian is a spiritual baby as far as their understanding goes, but their position is that of an adult.

Because we are children of God, He has given us His Spirit. God’s Spirit teaches us that we can call God, Father or Dad. We are not slaves to the Law like those in Old Testament times. We are full-grown sons and daughters of God. And since we are His children, we are heirs of all His riches in glory.

The Galatians had experienced the joy of being God’s heirs. They had known the spiritual freedom that exists in Christ. But they were going into a second spiritual childhood.

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Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Child Heir

"Let me show you the implications of this. As long as the heir is a minor, he has no advantage over the slave. Though legally he owns the entire inheritance, he is subject to tutors and administrators until whatever date the father has set for emancipation. That is the way it is with us: When we were minors, we were just like slaves ordered around by simple instructions (the tutors and administrators of this world), with no say in the conduct of our own lives." (Galatians 4:1-3 - The Message)

The word translated minor or child means an infant or baby. It also is used of a minor, a child in contrast to an adult. Paul says that the child of the owner of the household is really no different from the child of a slave in the household. Both are required to obey those in authority over them.

In fact, the heir of the household, when he is a child was required to obey the slaves that he would one day own. The two positions that Paul mentions in verse 2 are not the same as the child-attendant that Paul mentions in chapter 3.

Guardian or tutor is a general word used for a steward given a certain area of responsibility. This word was used for the guardian given responsibility for the general well being and training of the master’s children. They would often have other slaves, such as the child-attendant, under their direction who would directly take care of the children.

Steward or Governor or Administrator referred to the chief slave who was responsible for the affairs of the entire household. He was the overseer or household manager. He was often more a friend than a slave. In most cases, he had considerable authority and freedom in managing the affairs of the master’s house. He was in charge of all the household slaves and all the children.

The phrase in verse 3 “the elements of the world” or "simple instructions" has been the center of much debate. Elements refers to the rudimentary principles. It was used of children learning the alphabet. World, in the Greek, is kosmos. It had many shades of meaning.

When examined in context, the most likely interpretation is that Paul is referring to the Law as being the ABCs of the natural realm. It was designed for a time when people had a limited amount of spiritual understanding and required a guardian to protect their well being and a steward to oversee their affairs. This was the Law. During its dispensation saved people did not enjoy the freedom in Christ that we have now.

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