Faith or Law

Today’s reading is Galatians 3:1-14Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Rob.

You’ll remember from earlier weeks, that the overall context for the letter to the Galatians is Paul responding to false teachers, trying to get the Galatian gentiles to get circumcised, and follow the ‘works of the law’.

This is Paul’s response, reminding them of the gospel of grace, and imploring them to stay faithful to his message.

In many ways, Paul could have finished the letter to the Galatians at the end of chapter 2. He has made his point, the Galatians would understand his argument, he could move on.

However, he chooses to return the charge for a second time, and this time it’s personal. You will remember from Richard and Ian’s double act last Sunday, that Paul’s argument was more about theory, and focusing on his disagreement with Peter, but in chapter three he addresses the Galatians directly, and instead of arguing his point from his personal spiritual experience, he turns to scripture.

This could be because it was a normal Rabbinic technique, to prove a point from scripture or it could be that the false teachers he was teaching against also used scripture to make their arguments, and Paul therefore wanted to take them on at their own game.

Today we will look at the passage in three parts:

  1. The role of the spirit
  2. The blessing on faith, initiated by Abraham
  3. The curse of the law

Just before we look at the spirit, I would like to draw attention to how Paul’s entire argument revolves around Christ, and him crucified. In the last verse of chapter 2, we read ‘I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.’

In the first verse of chapter 3, we read ‘It was before your eyes that Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!’, and in verse 13 we read ‘cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’—for Paul, his argument rests on Christ crucified, without which the debate is meaningless.

The Role of the Spirit:

Paul begins the chapter by questioning them ‘You foolish Galatians, who bewitched you?!’ —note that he doesn’t call their actions sinful, but he does call them foolish, or stupid, that a lack of logical reasoning has allowed them to accept this theological inconsistency.

And why would they be foolish to accept the false teaching?

Because of the work of the spirit.

The scholar, David DeSilva writes, ‘the indisputable sign for Paul of the efficacy of Jesus’ work is the Galatians’ reception of the Holy Spirit.’ He goes on: ‘This should have been enough to show that God had approved them as part of God’s family.’

I don’t know whether you have been involved with an Alpha course, we are running a couple here at St Matthew’s at the moment. My experience is that it is when we ask the Holy Spirit to move on the weekend away that the teaching seems to make sense, as though a lightbulb comes on. When the Holy Spirit moves, He affirms the teaching from the weeks before, about who Jesus is and what he did on the cross.

So I would like to ask a question—How much should we expect the movement of the Holy Spirit and accompanying miracles to be a mark in our lives, proving what Jesus did for us on the cross?

The Blessing of Faith

This is where Paul really starts to build his argument from scripture, and to do so, Paul goes right back to Abraham, in Genesis 15Open Link in New Window, where God promised that he would be the father of a great nation.

Paul is showing here, how his message to the gentiles isn’t a new fad, but it was what God intended all along. How?

Firstly, in verse 6, Abraham believed God and was therefore reckoned righteousness. As a direct result, Paul tells the Galatians that those who believe, now, are also descendants of Abraham. The promise given to him, also included gentiles—we read that in verse 8—‘forseeeing that God would justify the gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you’.

This goes back to Genesis chapter 12, where God said that all the nations would be blessed by Israel. Paul therefore connects these together, making the powerful argument that God’s intentions hadn’t changed. That through Jesus, this has been fulfilled, the gentiles, the Galatians, we—are already included in the promise, we have been adopted into the family of Abraham, by the grace of God, and faith in him.

The Curse of the Law

Paul now pits this gospel of grace through faith, against the law, and using emotive language slams those who follow ‘the works of the law’ as cursed. What does this mean?

It is possible that Paul is using the arguments of the false teachers and turning it against them. He is after-all quoting Deuteronomy, and using the curse section, warning Israel against disobeying the agreement between them and God, as the reason why the ‘works of the law’ should not apply to the gentiles. But what is actually going on here, how does this fit with the rest of the passage?

Lets take a step back, and imagine that you are on a long journey, but you’re stuck in a huge traffic jam. The seconds turn into minutes, which turn into what seem like hours with no end in sight—until suddenly, the traffic starts to move and you’re able to proceed with your journey. A couple of miles later you see the accident which caused the traffic jam, or road block which has now been cleared to the side of the motorway.

The nation of Israel would have been well known for the various rules that they followed, they kept the sabbath, they refused to eat certain types of food, male children were circumcised etc. This law marked Israel as being different, and what Paul is saying, is that this law has become a roadblock for God’s original intention we see earlier in the passage, that like Abraham, the whole worlds would be blessed by the Jewish nation, and ultimately saved by grace through faith.

The law itself isn’t the problem, but humanity is. We are unable to keep the law, and because of that, we are cursed, because we are unable to keep the rules of the covenant relationship.

Paul now brings the entire argument back to the cross, showing the Galatians (and us), how by being crucified, Jesus became a curse for us, defeating the power of sin and death, fulfilling the law, and ending the requirement for there to be a dividing wall of hostilities between the Jews and the gentiles.

The Galatians are accepted, the gentiles are accepted, we are accepted, by grace, through faith.

As we end, I would like us to reflect on these couple of questions—

  1. What roadblocks are there in the way of God’s blessing reaching the world today?
  2. How can the fact of the cross and the gift of the spirit be applied to them?

There will be a video version of the service.

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Paul & Peter

Today’s reading is Galatians 2:11-21Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard & Ian.

Have you ever been told off in public Ian?

I guess for most of us the public telling off stopped when we left school.

When I read this passage it brought back a slightly shameful episode from years back to mind. Laura and I were playing badminton at Kingsdown Sports centre with our very good friends Mitch and his wife Chris. Mitch and Laura were one side and me and Chris on the other. I had placed a shot right on the line but Laura called it out and I disputed it but the others deemed it to be out. I am highly competitive and got very annoyed and every shot that came my way I smashed it straight at Laura. This happened for a few shots when suddenly Mitch said in a very loud voice ‘Richard why don’t you just grow up?’ The entire place went silent and everyone looked in my direction. I nearly died of embarrassment.

So I feel for Peter, publicly being told off by Paul.

So why was Peter castigated by Paul, Richard?

You will remember from Acts 10Open Link in New Window Peter had a vision about clean and unclean animals under Jewish law. In the vision God instructs Peter to kill and eat the unclean animals. Peter protests but in the end God says to him. The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter then received a message to meet Cornelius a God fearing Roman centurion who had received a visit from an angel. The Angel instructed Cornelius to invite Peter to his home to hear what he had to say. At that time Jews would not have anything to do with Gentiles.

When Peter arrived at Cornelius’s home, there was quite a crowd and verse 28 paints the picture well:

Peter said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Peter realises that God has called him to treat Gentiles the same as his Jewish Christian brothers and sisters which he indeed does.

From then on Peter saw no distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians until a circumcision group allegedly from the Apostle James arrived in Anticoch. I say allegedly because it is pretty certain James did not send them but they clearly put pressure on Peter to distance himself from non circumcised Gentiles. Peter caves in and stops sitting with Gentiles in accordance with the Jewish laws.

Peter is therefore guilty of three things:

  1. of hypocrisy by his own standards having declared publicly to Cornelius that God had showed him that everyone was equal in God’s sight. Peter was not walking the talk.
  2. he was also disobedient to God who had told him that he must not call anyone unclean.
  3. He had led others including Barnabas astray

Like me and my badminton game, Peter needed to be corrected!

Of course Paul did not do this to embarrass Peter but to deal with this insidious behaviour in the church straight away before it got out of control. Paul was clear that you could not have two classes of Christian—Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, that is a recipe for endless division and rancour. Last week Lucy spoke of Paul’s message of unity within the church and this is another example of Paul ensuring the church was of one mind under God.

So Ian, following this unity, that’s why this bust up between Paul and Peter is a bit of a surprise, isn’t it?

Yes, indeed. But it’s also so very human—and just like us. We all often struggle with a tension and temptation sometimes between what we believe or following the crowd. We know the dispute was resolved, as Acts tells us. But Paul has to very publicly rebut this, not to save his personal reputation, but because the truth of the Gospel was at stake, and if what Paul was saying was being publicly rubbished, he had to publicly refute it to protect the truth.

Paul could have left it here but he doesn’t—How does he elaborate Ian?

In his passion for the truth, having publicly stood up to hypocritical conduct, there follows in these last verses, 15–21, a very important word. It’s a word which is central to this letter, central to the gospel preached by Paul, and central to Christianity. The word is ‘JUSTIFIED’.

It sounds like a complicated word, doesn’t it?

Yes. It comes up 5 times as verb and noun in these few verses—‘Justified’ and ‘justification’. As Paul continues his response to Peter’s conduct, he introduces us to the central doctrine of the Christian church, the doctrine of Justification by faith.

In the face of opposition and backsliding, it’s vital for Paul to make this clear—otherwise, what does the grace of God mean, and why did Jesus Christ die on the cross for you and me?

In verse 15, Paul says of himself, and Peter, ‘We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentiles… yet we know that a person is not justified by the words of the law (circumcision and all the rest of the law etc) but through faith in Christ.’

I encourage you all to read this carefully again. This is the heart of our Christian faith.
So, what does this word mean?

‘Justification’ is a legal word, and is the exact opposite to ‘condemnation’. If someone is condemned in a trial, they are declared guilty. If someone is ‘justified’, they are declared not guilty, or innocent. Things are made right again. We are ‘righteous’.

This can sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Our consciences (certainly mine does!), tell us that sometimes we are not righteous—in our thoughts, words and deeds. There is only one person who is righteous, and that is God. When those two things come together—God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness, we see clearly the things that separate us from a pure and holy God.

I believe that it’s a basic human need to be in harmony, in union with God, to be in a whole relationship with him—that everyone has, in that familiar phrase, ‘a God shaped hole’ inside them waiting to be filled.

God in his love, grace and mercy, took the steps himself, to put things right between us all, to see that justice was done—by sending Jesus to show us the way, the truth and the life, and paying the price for us, by his death and resurrection on the cross.

Being ‘justified by faith’ means making the choice, taking the personal step, to believe in the truth of Jesus Christ, to follow him and his way, all the days of our life. When we do, we are ‘Justified’—made right with God, declared not guilty—because Jesus has borne the cost on the cross, and cleared the ways for us to be back in a whole relationship with God. Our old lives die on that cross too, and we are raised/resurrected too, to new life with and in Christ.

And no hoops to jump through, no ‘works’ to do?

Absolutely not—and this is why Paul was so passionate. It’s a delusion; it’s a lie of the devil, to think that we can somehow earn our way to heaven. If we do this or that, if we try a bit harder, if we fly a bit higher… It also flatters our own egos to think that we can control things.

The great theologian John Stott put it this way. ‘Nobody has ever been justified by the law, for the simple reason nobody has ever perfectly kept the law… strict adherence to its demands are beyond us.’

The passage shows us that Paul’s detractors tried to then somehow blame Christ if we still make wrong choices. Paul dismisses this, and reminds us that when we take that step of faith and commit our lives to Jesus, not only are we justified (made right with God), Christ lives in us and with us, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We may fail sometimes, but we know and recognise this, and want to change and grow. This is because Christ is in you and with you. ‘I am a new creation, no more in condemnation, here in the grace of God I stand.’ We are justified by faith in Jesus alone. This is the truth that Paul so passionately and courageously stood firm on. And we shall be thinking more faith or observing the law next week.

Someone helped me to remember what ‘justified’ means, by suggesting I think of the word as meaning ‘Just as if it had never happened.’

What can we bring out of this for our daily lives

  1. Sometimes loving correction is necessary within church communities. We have all got to be able to give and take loving advice. This is not easy but sometimes it is necessary.

    Many years ago a friend of mine was asked to step down from a church ministry for a period by the minister because of something they had done. He returned to that ministry when he had participated in the annual act of commitment where everyone was invited to renew their baptism vows.

    Q: Sometimes loving correction is necessary, as well as standing firm to the truth of our faith.

    When do you find it difficult to ‘stand’, and perhaps easier to go with the crowd?

  2. That we should be careful not to judge other Christian brothers and sisters or other Christian denominations or practices—we are all one under Jesus Christ.

    I was brought up in quite a rigid and sectarian way—in fact in our house Anglicans were pretty well written off as nominal Christians, which means that they weren’t Christians at all, they just went to church—apart from my saintly Grandmother that is! In turn I vowed I would never darken the door of a free church or a Baptist church ever again when I left church at 15—God in his graciousness dealt with my bias as over the years I have preached quite a lot in free churches and Baptist churches. It was a joy to spend time with my brothers and sisters from other denominations.

    Q: What can bring us together as Christian communities, and what ‘works’ may needlessly separate us?

    Q: Do you sometimes spend too much time ‘striving to succeed’, rather than resting in and trusting our faith in Jesus Christ?

There will be a video version of the service.

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Galatians: Paul Accepted by the Apostles

Today’s reading is Galatians 2:1-10Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Lucy Bush.

This separate video will be available from 2pm Sunday.

If you are anything like me then reading this passage in Galatians 2Open Link in New Window is quite confusing. You’ll be relieved to hear, as I was, that this is not surprising because the translators have done their best to make sense of it, but in the original Greek, Paul writes in incomplete and confused sentences. It’s important to note this because it shows that he was passionate about his writing. Sort of like when we might write an email in the heat of frustration (I’m sure none of you ever do this) and then when you come back to it you notice a load of typos. That’s similar to what we have here!

What is actually happening here?—let me set the scene for you. As Imogen noted a few weeks ago in her introduction to the letter, Galatians is a letter written by Paul to some churches he had set up in Galatia. However, in his absence they had been listening to some false teachers, who told them they needed to be circumcised, and told them that Paul was a false apostle—that he shouldn’t really be trusted.

In this passage we’re looking at today, Paul is writing to the Galatians and recalling a prior visit to Jerusalem. He is doing this to prove to them that he can be trusted as a sound teacher, and to remind them that there is no need for circumcision. And I wonder if anyone can see in the first couple of verses why Paul went to Jerusalem? Have a look in your Bible and I’ll come back to it in a minute.

Why did Paul go to Jerusalem?

So, Paul is in Jerusalem and he’s brought Titus with him. He’s come to see the three leaders of the church there—Peter (also called Cephas in this passage), James and John. These are likely leaders that the false teachers with the churches in Galatia would respect, so you can see Paul is appealing to the Galatians about his authority and trustworthiness, by writing to them with a story about his encounter with Peter, James and John. He requests a private meeting with these three leaders, but some others sneak in, who want to convince Titus that he should be circumcised.

Titus is a gentile convert (like the Galatians) so has not been circumcised. And we read in this passage that the apostles aren’t convinced by the false teachers, so Titus doesn’t get circumcised.

Now back to the question I asked—why did Paul go to Jerusalem? I’m sure you found in v2… because of a revelation from God! While Paul is appealing to the Galatians and telling them that Peter, James and John agreed with his stance on circumcision, he wants them to know that at the same time he isn’t beholden by their ruling. He is desperate to stay on good terms with them, but it is God who called him to Jerusalem in the first place. And as Gaby pointed out last week, the gospel that Paul proclaimed hasn’t been passed onto him by humans, but by Jesus Christ himself on the road to Damascus (Galatians 1.12Open Link in New Window). Paul is wanting the Galatians to know that not only do the Jerusalem church leaders agree with him, but Paul’s very authority to teach comes from the Lord Almighty. He is proving that the churches in Galatia should listen to Paul and not to these false teachers.

Now that we’ve made sense of what was happening in this passage, I’d like to draw out two main points. The first is about unity, and the second is about grace.

Have a think about—how do you define ‘unity’, and how do you define ‘grace’?

How do you define ‘Unity”?

In this passage, we see unity worked out in a number of ways. Firstly, Paul himself is clearly committed to unity. He goes to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders. Even though he knows that he has been sent by God, he wants to stay in good standing with the other apostles—he wants to stay unified. We’ll see next week that it certainly wasn’t always easy, but Paul is committed to them.

We also see that the apostles—Peter, James and John are also committed to unity. They agree to meet with Paul. We see the pressure from these Jewish Christians saying that Paul should be circumcising new believers, like those who pushed into their meeting in v4 (spies). Peter, James and John would have these requests on the one side. But they were able to see past this, recognise God at work in Paul and Barnabas too, and allow the gentiles, the new believers to not be circumcised. And they even agreed to minister amicably alongside one another to different groups—Peter to the Jews and Paul to the gentiles (v7).

We see here at the very start of the Christian movement, that they made space for people with a different spiritual identity—those who worshipped differently. And they also made space for different cultural identities, which requires humility. Some were Jews by birth who had encountered Jesus, others were gentiles, i.e. not Jewish! People like you and me today. Sometimes in the western church we think almost that we were here first—when actually before this point, the gentiles—people like you and me – weren’t welcome. How does that change our view of people around us today?

Something that stuck out to me as I was preparing this talk is how inclusive Paul’s insistence against circumcision was. And I’m mainly thinking about women here. Because if these false teachers taught that circumcision was the marker by which you are saved, women are excluded from making a choice of their own. Instead, they continue to be bound by the men in their life and judged either “in” or “out” of the faith by the actions of the men around them – most likely their father or husband. I don’t know if Paul was thinking of gentile women at the time of writing, but he goes on in chapter 3 of this letter to say that famous verse ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ This plea for the Galatian churches to avoid the false teachings about circumcision is a radical unifying statement for all followers of Jesus Christ.

And finally on unity—in verse 10 they agree to look out for the poor. It’s commonly agreed among scholars that this is referring to the church in Jerusalem which was impoverished for a variety of reasons. And indeed Paul went on to take collections from his gentile churches to send back to the church in Jerusalem—remembering each other not just spiritually, but practically acting as a unified body and sharing their resources.

How do you define ‘Grace’?

The false teachers were trying to encourage the new Christians in Galatia to be circumcised, because they didn’t fully understand grace. They were still trying to live as though they needed to earn their salvation—like grace could be earned by being circumcised and living to the Jewish law. And this is why Paul was so passionate about this—as we see in his dodgy grammar. Because Paul turned his life around and away from this very religious stuff that these false teachers were now advocating.

Gaby spoke to us last week about our how our lives have been changed by knowing Jesus—and Paul’s life had been radically changed from that of a very law-observant, zealous Jew! If following the Jewish rules had been the route to salvation, then Paul would have been on that path. But instead, Jesus met him on the Damascus road and turned his life around—turned him away from his zealous pursuit of the law and towards grace that cannot be earned. This is why he is so passionate here.

One commentator wrote of the lure of pride that we humans have—we are seduced by the idea of saving ourselves, of controlling our own salvation. We want to make sure that we are doing something we want an outward attainment of our salvation. But that is not how grace works. This commentator suggests that Christians should continually hold up their views for scrutiny among other Christians to make sure we don’t fall into this trap. I’d encourage us to ask questions about this and to share with one another as we pray together, and in our midweek small groups, to ensure we’re all following Jesus’ gospel, not another one that tells us that if we work hard enough, we will be saved.

In summary, we have here a passionate letter from Paul to the Galatians, telling them about an encounter with the apostles in Jerusalem. He tells them this to show that he has authority in what he teaches, and to highlight that his authority is from God. Paul insists that the new gentile believers, like the Galatians, don’t need to be circumcised and that belief in Jesus Christ is sufficient for their salvation. Paul and the other apostles show their commitment to unity within the church despite their differences, and the conclusion that they reach together about new believers not needing to be circumcised is a reminder that we cannot earn salvation, but we are instead recipients of God’s grace.

Questions for small groups:

  1. Do we sometimes think we can earn our salvation by doing things? What sort of things?
  2. Why do you think Paul uses the word ‘enslave’ in verse 4? How do you feel about this?
  3. What might it look like to embrace different spiritual identities, as the apostles did?
  4. What experience do you have of embracing different cultural identities? Is there more the Church could be doing to embrace different people?
  5. Have you considered being unified with all of the Church? What might it look like to act practically on this?

There will be a video version of the service.

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Galatians: Paul’s Calling

Today’s reading is Galatians 1:11-24Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

When we lived in London I used to work for a church leader called Paul Cowley. He is a man who has come a long way in his life from humble beginnings in Manchester. His parents were both alcoholics and he didn’t have much of a childhood, he just used to go to the pub with them.

Paul’s story of conversion is one from deep darkness to light. It is told in his autobiography…Thief Prisoner Soldier Priest. Paul was once a nasty piece of work, a hell raiser but he was utterly transformed like the apostle Paul was by the gracious gospel of Jesus. Paul Cowley now preaches the gospel all over the world when he used to steal, lie and womanise. He was on a path that led to destruction but meeting Jesus changed his life.

This is similar to the story of his life that the apostle Paul refers to in Galatians…

Paul the apostle was a difficult man. He persecuted Christians and we know from Acts that he approved the death of Stephen, holding the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death, Paul was so angry at the Jesus people he wanted to get rid of all them, dragging them into court when he could. In his own words, “violently” persecuting the church and trying to destroy it.

Paul shares his story here so eloquently you can almost see the story happening in front of you… we see this young man so passionate and zealous hating anyone that stood against the faith he believed in for the traditions of his fathers.

My friend Paul Cowley and the apostle Paul were both radically changed by the gospel.

How is it that these words change people’s lives?

Paul tells us in verse 11 that this is not man’s gospel. Paul received it from Jesus himself but for each of us the gospel is actually the power of Jesus. We were not saved because someone shared their faith with us… we were saved because the gospel of Jesus impacted us… in Alpha at the moment I am not trying to persuade our guests with fancy footwork why Jesus is real and why they should believe. I don’t try and argue into them 6 unquestionable facts or bamboozle them with story after story of God’s miracles in my life. I am trusting that when they hear the gospel their hearts will be softened and they will respond to God.

Some will bow the knee to Jesus and some won’t but it’s God’s business who he is drawing and calling. Our job is to put on the best Alpha we can and let him do the rest.

Paul tells us that God had set him apart before he was born… if it’s true for him, it’s true for us… we are set apart by God.

Now we don’t all have the same calling exactly as the apostle Paul or Paul Cowley but we do have good works that have been prepared for us to do and telling people about Jesus is some of our role in fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

When I was younger I had dreams to earn lots of money, buy a nice house, meet a nice man, have kids. My actual life has been much more varied and exciting than I thought although I never made loads of money or bought a house… I did however live and work in the inner city, make friends of people of all nations, reach out to the physically poor with the love of Jesus, live in Tenerife and go to Oxford University to study theology. If I had been without Christ I think I would have a list of littered relationships behind me, possibly a serious alcohol problem, my character would have been much more flawed with a lot of anger and bitterness and I can’t imagine that my mental health would be up to much. God has helped me so much. The life I could have led that would have followed a path of bitterness and destruction was replaced with a path of faith, courage, peace and fun.

I wonder what is it that is different about you now than the you that you would have become if God hadn’t chosen you? What might your life have been like without Christ in it?

For some of us we shudder, the alcoholics, or spouse beaters or immoral people that we could have become are not the people we want to think about. For others of us it might be small things, that dishonest decision you were tempted to make at work and didn’t, that affair you might have had, but didn’t, that gambling or porn addiction that started to take you… that’s not to say that the battles we face aren’t still raging , we all have struggles and issues. I heard a testimony recently of someone who became a Christian but carried on seriously gambling for 10 years before he was able to break through… the Lord is working on us bit by bit… hopefully you are aware of your sin and how the devil continues to try and trap you back in your old life…

But the problem is that you can’t be trapped back in your old life because that old life is gone.

the you, you once were has disappeared. He or she is an old creation… you are now a new creation and you can like Paul say… I was once this… you may display some of the behaviours of your old life but I can assure you, if you are in Christ then you are a new creation, a new you.

Richard Pendlebury recently shared his testimony at Alpha and this is a man who is fully aware of what he was and what his life would have looked like without Christ. I think he used the words, “I’d probably be dead by now if I hadn’t become a Christian.” What a blessing to everyone that he isn’t.

You may not be able to look back on a moment of conversion but if your life now is the same as it would have been without Christ then perhaps you should question if you really have grasped the gospel?

Then we get that moment of change in Galatians 1:15Open Link in New Window BUT

How many of us have experienced that BUT in our lives… we were going along fine, living our lives, muddling along with what we believed about life and then there is a pinnacle moment a BUT…

But then I went on Alpha or but then I went to a carol service and heard about Jesus… but then my father died and I questioned life… but but but
Paul’s was “BUT when he who had set me apart before I was born and who called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his son to me…”

Let’s just pause there for a moment… if this is true for Paul, it is also true for you right… so according to this God set you apart before you were born

You are chosen, hand picked by God himself to be a disciple and this is something you can enjoy and remind yourself when you remember the past… you were once in the dark but now by the grace of God you are in the light. You have been part of God’s plan since before you were born…

When he “Called you by his grace and was pleased to reveal his son to you.” (1:15-16)

There are some things here that really excite me. The first is that it gives God the creator of the universe pleasure to reveal his son to you… WOW

How do we give God pleasure? By letting him reveal his son to us.

Before you knew Christ what were you?

For some of us we were blessed enough to grow up in Christian homes and we followed the Lord from our youth but for others of us we weren’t… we have a past… things that we did ways we lived that we perhaps are ashamed of

BUT as we see here in v. 15 it was God who set Paul apart before he was born that also set you apart before you were born…

Paul said that they said of him…
“He who used to persecute is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

What do they say about you? What does your family think about you and your faith? Are you the one who can be relied on with a judgemental Christian outlook or do your family secretly confide in you when things get tough? Do people who don’t share your faith ever ask you to pray? What does the outside world think of your faith? Are you ever bold or brave enough to ask them?

I did and I was interested to see who answered and what they said and also if they made other comments about faith. One girl said this:

Gaby, I feel you walk the walk and talk the talk. My biggest issue that keeps me from joining any denomination are the Christians who go to church on Sunday, but you see them treating others cruelly, then criticize the non believer for not following Jesus.

Our walk is a signpost to others. What do they say of you? Do you tell them what you used to be like and how Jesus has changed you? Sometimes we’re ashamed of who we were so much we prefer not to tell but Paul has no such scruples. Paul tells us what he was like before no holds barred.

“And they glorified God because of me. “ How could this be true of your life?

Only God can reveal that to you. What have people got to glorify God about because they know you?

Paul the apostle, Paul Cowley, Richard Pendlebury, Gaby Doherty all profess to have lives that are totally transformed by God. You too may agree. If you don’t perhaps you would like to have that experience. There’s no magic wand of a transformed life. When we turn to Christ we are instantly justified and made right before him but the sanctification of our lives, the living out new patterns and being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ takes a bit longer! But as we become more like him people will glorify God for the changes in us and the people we have become.

Lord God,

As we turn to you, perhaps for the first time perhaps for the 10,001 time we also you to cleanse us from our sin, remind us that in you we are a new creation. Help us to remember what we were but to glorify you in the people we are becoming as we become more like you. Help us to trust you with ourselves and our lives so that others will glorify you because of the changes they see in us.

Amen.

Questions to discuss or think about

Do you know people whose lives have changed dramatically because of becoming a Christian? Who are they and how did they change?

Please fill in the blanks…

I was once _______________ but now I am _________________.

Who were you before you became a Christian and who are you now in Christ?

How has Christ’s gospel changed you?

What have people got to glorify God about because they know you?

What is it that you do that only you can do that in it people see God’s work in you?

There will be a video version of the service.

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