FREEDOM IN CHRIST

Not long ago the sound of fireworks started splitting the air. At all hours of the day and night you can hear fire crackers and rockets. It reminds us that Independence Day is coming soon. We will celebrate two-hundred and forty-two years of Independence. Many of our ancestors came to this country because they wanted to experience freedom to worship God the way they felt led. They wanted to break away from the forced religious practices of Europe only to establish colonies that were just as religiously oppressive and legalistic as in Europe. Although free from European religion, their colonies were not free. You were free to worship if it fit within the religious framework of that colony.

Christ brought freedom from the religious legalism of the Pharisees of His day. His was the sacrifice that did away with the sacrificial system of the Torah. Galatians is the Apostle Paul’s treatise against the Judaizers who followed him and wanted the Gentile Christians to follow all the Mosaic law before becoming Christians. Paul preached freedom in Christ. Speaking to the Galatians who had been “bewitched” (3:1) by the Judaizers, he wrote, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). That yoke of bondage referred to the covenant of Mount Sinai in Galatians 4:21-31.

Today there is a movement of Judaizing among Christians. A website I have seen recently is New2Torah.com. They teach that real Christians are discovering and returning to the Torah and becoming better Christians. Referring to the rite of circumcision that the Judaizers wanted to impose upon Gentiles, Paul wrote, “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (5:3). If anyone wants to keep a part of the Law, Paul says he or she is obligated to keep all the law. “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). The Jews couldn’t keep the Torah. Neither can Christians.

No one can keep all the Torah. You cannot pick and choose what parts you want to keep such as Sabbath worship or dietary laws. To keep the Torah, you must keep the required sacrifices of the Torah. Take this passage referring to making a sacrifice to God in Leviticus 3:1-2 from the Torah: “And if his oblation be a sacrifice of peace offering, if he offer it of the herd; whether it be a male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the Lord (Yahweh). And he shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar round about.” Aaron is no longer alive, and if you tried to perform this today you would be arrested for cruelty to animals. What’s more, there is no place to offer such a sacrifice as the Roman Army destroyed the Temple in AD 70. Further, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). There is no forgiveness in the sacrificial system, only a reminder of sin (Hebrews 10:3).

Hebrews 10:1, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” The substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:17).

The problem with Judaizers like those of New2Torah is that they accuse of lawlessness anyone who does not fall back into their system. That is a false dichotomy. Being free from the law does not mean freedom to sin as Judaizers misinterpret it. Paul dealt with this charge as well. He recognized that Christians are no longer under the law, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15). Peter echoed in 1 Peter 1:16, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”

Galatians 3:10-12a, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law to do them.’ But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.  And the law is not of faith’” If you go back to the Law, you are cursed. The purpose of the law was to point to the need of a Savior. No one can keep the Torah. The law is like a mirror that a person looks into and sees himself or herself. (James 1:22-25) The perfect law of the Spirit gives freedom, but the letter of the law kills. (He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6) Paul also wrote, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”(Galatians 2:21).

For more about the Hebrew Roots movement, see: https://www.watchman.org/staff/jwalker/ProfileHebrewRoots.pdf

 

What Does the Bible Say About Falling From Grace?

“You have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:4

You often hear this quote from church groups that believe that it is possible for people to lose their salvation. They will tell you that this means that a person can live like a believer for many years, attend church, tithe, and perform all the outward works of a good Christian. At some point, the person “backslides” and loses his or her salvation. They either commit some egregious sin, or perhaps a large number of lesser sins, and they fall from grace. In all the years that I have discussed this topic with those who believe in falling from grace, no one has ever been able to tell me what that point is. How does a person know when he or she falls from grace and loses his or her salvation?

One of the major themes of the Book of Galatians is the conflict between the doctrine of grace and works. Paul wrote Galatians in response to the movement of the Judaizers. This false teaching arose from a group of people who felt that it was necessary for people to become Jewish before they could become Christian. This meant that males would need to undergo the ritual of circumcision, which had been a standard mark of being Jewish or an Israelite for centuries going back to the time of Abraham.

The question of circumcision was one of the first controversies of the early church. The record of the Jerusalem Council is found in Acts 15. Verse one explains the controversy. “And certain ones came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and dispute with them” (verse 2). The question went to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to deal with it.

The Apostle Peter testified at that council about his dealings with Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian (Gentiles) Regiment (Acts 10). He gave as evidence the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles without their being circumcised. Peter concluded, “God shows no partiality” (verse 34). The Jerusalem Council rendered their decision and wrote a letter to the Gentiles: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.  If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28-29).

Notice they said nothing here about circumcision, Sabbath worship services, animal sacrifices and Jewish feasts. This would have been a good time to have said, “Look guys, if you want to be good Christians, you must be circumcised as we are. You must do church on Saturday as we do, and you must observe the Passover and all the other Jewish feasts as we do. If you do these necessary things, you will be good Christians as we are.” Remember Peter’s question at the Jerusalem Council: “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Not even good Jews could be good-enough Jews. Why then demand that Gentiles become Jews first?

We cannot keep the law. That is the point that Paul is making in the Book of Galatians. In Galatians 4, Paul compared the Law to a guardian to have authority over the son until he matured. The guardian took the son to be trained. He pointed the way to his teachers. The Law was never meant to save. It was only meant to point out our need for a Savior. Dealing with a similar problem in Colossians 2, Paul pointed out that laws regarding festivals, New Moons, and Sabbaths were “only a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17).

For Christians, trying to be saved by observing the Law is very dangerous. The Apostle James wrote: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (2:10). If you are going to emphasize going to church on Saturday, then you are obligated to keep all the Sabbath law, not just Saturday church attendance. The Commandment reads: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-10ff). Notice it does not say to work five days and have a two-day weekend. You must work six days. That is the commandment. If you fail in one point, you are guilty of breaking it all.

These same principals can apply to many man-made requirements today. Acts 15:1 “Unless you…, you cannot be saved.” You fill in the blank. Unless you get baptized, go to church, take Communion, speak in tongues, wear certain clothing, read the Bible, tithe or whatever you want to add to it, you cannot be saved. That is what Paul meant by falling from grace. It means the exact opposite of what groups use it for today. They say unless you keep our list of rules, you will fall from grace as though we maintain grace by our own ability. In fact, Paul wrote that ones who are fallen from grace are precisely those who come up with lists of saving activities.

The rest of Galatians 5:4 reads: “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” In verse 1, Paul referred to the observance of the Law as a yoke of bondage”. He wrote that if anyone submitted to circumcision as a basis for salvation, that person was obligated to keep the whole law (verse 3), “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10).

“Falling from grace” is a club that is often used to beat people into submission to a group’s distinctive marks. It compels people to regular religious activities and compliance with group standards, but it leads to a yoke of bondage. Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light. Stop trying to please people. Relax in Christ. “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).