Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: May 2016 (Page 1 of 3)

Spirit-Walking: The How To

P.AllanHow-To books sell.  Maybe because about something we’re all  “DUMMIES.”  I’m not admitting to “dummie-hood;” but, since reading the apostle Paul’s imperative,  “But I say, walk by the Spirit”  in Galatians 5:16  (see link . . . ), I’ve been asking, “How to?” 

Look at the second imperative Paul issues in 5:25:  “keep in step with the Spirit.”   Notice, too, he references to being “led by the Spirit” in 5:18.  I contend  that by these phrases (walk by the Spirit, [be] led by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit) Paul is saying essentially the same thing.  The Christian life is a Spirit-walk, Spirit-led, Spirit-step life.

These terms also paint a picture.  I walk by [means of] a walker for support and strength. When our four-family family vacationed together, three cars in caravan would follow the lead driver.  I never tried out for high school marching band fearing my feet couldn’t stay in rhythm with all the rest.  Walk by the Spirit (like me on my walker).  [B]e led by the Spirit (like us in our caravan).  Keep in step with the Spirit (like me, if I could, in marching band). 

In a sermon entitled “Live by the Spirit,” Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California, and a co-host of the White Horse Inn radio program, explains . . .

“The Spirit works in and through the Word” and  “motivates us to pray” and “causes us to live in freedom by serving one another in love.”  He summarily concludes:  “But we do not fulfill Paul’s imperative  by merely re-doubling our efforts, or by attempting to reach and attain a higher-level or more intense Christian experience. Walking in the Spirit is participating in the means of grace—Word and Sacrament—as well as things such as prayer and fellowship, the result of which is growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and progressive conformity to his image.”

Riddlebarger (one of my Reformed “go-to guys” for perspective) hardly hints at an answer here.  Certainly participating in every means of grace enables us to walk by the Spirit.  But it isn’t the walking itself.   There has to be more.

In a sermon entitled “Walk by the Spirit,” Dr. John Piper, founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota and former Pastor for Preaching and Vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. says . . .

“But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, ‘Let the Spirit lead you,’ or, ‘Allow the Spirit to control you,’ and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way, you walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.” 

Piper (a mentor through books and Internet) takes us a step closer.  But, while “resting in the promises of God” and living “by faith in the Son of God” fuel our Spirit-walk, it seems to me that “walk by the Spirit” and ‘keep in step with the Spirit” call for more action than resting and trusting.

I think Dr. Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada in his excellent book God’s Powerful Presence takes us closest . . .

“[Paul’s] appeal . . . is to ‘go on walking by the very same Spirit by which you came to faith and with whom God still richly supplies you’ . . . That is, a powerful and experiential–supernatural, if you will–presuppositional base lies behind this imperative . . . Life in the Spirit is not passive submission to the Spirit to do a supernatural work in one’s life; rather it requires conscious effort, so that the indwelling Spirit may accomplish his ends in one’s life.  One is urged to ‘walk by the Spirit’ . . . by deliberately ‘conforming one’s life to the Spirit’ (‘keep in step with the Spirit’, 5:25).  If such a person is also described as being ‘led by the Spirit,’ that does not mean passively; it means to rise up and follow the Spirit by walking in obedience to the Spirit’s desire . . .

The difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ many centuries later is almost certainly at the experiential level, wherein their dynamic experience of the Spirit both at the beginning of life in Christ and in their ongoing life in the church would have made this imperative seem much more ‘practical’ and everyday.  Since the Spirit is God’s own empowering presence, Paul expected God’s supernatural aid to enable them to live in keeping with God’s character and purposes . . .

In a world in which Torah observance no longer obtains, the Spirit is sufficient and adequate to accomplish God’s purposes in and among his people.  Spirit people march to a different drummer, and the Spirit empowers them to live in such a way that their lives evidence that fact.”

The Spirit is like my walker.
He gives me support and strength to walk in the Word-centered ways he desires.
I’m urged to walk.
“Walk by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the lead car in our caravan.
He, in my new-born nature, leads me in the Word-centered paths he wants.
I’m urged to follow.
“[Be] led by the Spirit.”

The Spirit is like the marching band conductor.
He sets the Word-centered tempo and pace he favors.
I’m urged to keep in step.
“Keep in step with the Spirit.”



O PreacherHow insufficient!  One day a year we memorialize our fallen “warriors.”  The word is nearly a misnomer; so many hardly more than kids.  Cut down in brutal wars between nations that chose war over peace.  Husbands, sons, brothers, uncles and now wives and daughters and sisters and aunts.

As a New Jersey kid, Memorial Day was an off-school day, to swim or play ball or picnic.  It signaled the start of summer.  Death was far distant; the future was full of fun.  Never once did I think of grieving wives or parents who this day remembered heartbreaking loss, families for whom this day didn’t mark summer’s start but their loved one’s terrible end.

Maybe because I’m old I realize now the brevity and fragility of earthly life.  A lifetime has shown me the value of freedom, even as I’ve learned more of the brutality and selfishness of men.  So I thank God for these who fought and died.  Not all of them wanted to fight.  Many must have been terrified and wanted to run.  But they fought, and mind-numbing numbers never came home.

The accompanying video is from Hillsdale College.  A fitting memorial—until the Day Isaiah prophesied dawns . . .

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.  Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore
Isaiah 4:2-4).

Amen.  Even so come, Lord Jesus.

Tell Friend (Even Enemy)

O PreacherSince health-driven retirement from pastoring just over two years ago, blogging has been my main ministry.  For years I’ve wanted to write.  Still dream of a book.  Thank God for WordPress and the Internet!

The Old Preacher now has 252 subscribers!  Not many compared to “the big boys”, but the biggest “congregation” I ever had in 44 years of ministry.  And people from over a dozen foreign countries.  (I assume they read English, or maybe they’re all “accidents”.)  Anyway, thank you!  I sincerely pray that the Lord uses his Word and what I write about it to further his good, saving purpose in your life.

I’m just an ordinary guy.  I know I’m not the only one (or even the most important one) was has input for Christ into you.  So I really appreciate your reading.

May I ask you one thing?  Send your tithes and offerings to . . .  NO!  NO!  NO!  If you know someone who you think might benefit from this blog, would you tell them about it?  I’m asking only because I want to do my small part to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible.

Thank you so much again for reading. 

Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart
(Psalm 37:4, NRSV).


O PreacherSounds like a low-budget horror movie.  Or a TV preacher’s new “blessing”.  Spirit-Walking.  Actually it’s the way the apostle Paul directs the Galatian church (and us) to live the Christian life.  (Note:  Haven’t read “The Summit:  The Spirit”?  Good to read now—

Paul continues with a “But”, contrast.  What’s Paul “but-ing”?   Submitting again to a yoke of slavery (5:1) by accepting circumcision (5:2) and so obligating oneself to keep all God’s Law (5:3).  Also, using Christ-given freedom from Law (5:1) as an opportunity for the “flesh” (5:13) . . .

But I say, walk by the Spirit,
and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit,
and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,
for these are opposed to each other
to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
(Galatians 5:16-18, ESV).

” . . . walk by the Spirit” . . . “Walk” literally translates the Greek, perapatayte.   Figuratively perapataye is translated “behave, conduct oneself, live”.   Under sunny skies and rainy, along a woodsy path, down a plunging, stony trail into a dark valley, up and up a mountain side to a spectacular panaroma.  Perapatayte pictures the Christian way of life as an ongoing walk.

” . . . walk by the Spirit”By” implies means, mode, method.  Yesterday morning I went  to my chiropractor’s office (don’t ask) by truck (sitting in the seat, not dumped in the bed).  Paul directs the Galatian church (and us)  to walk through the Christian life, not by means of personal effort to scrupulously keep God’s Law, but by means of the Spirit.  “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts . . . ” (4:6).  The Spirit doesn’t hover way up in heaven but indwells us who believe in Christ.  By means of the now-indwelling Spirit, we are to walk.  Paul couples his command with a promise . . .

” . . . and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  “Flesh” here doesn’t refer to our physical body or (what this word often brings to mind) sexual sin.  Usually, as here, it refers to our human nature.  Us apart from Christ.  And that “us”, our nature, sinfully seeks opportunities to gratify its desires.  That’s what lies behind Paul’s earlier warning:   ” . . . do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (5:13a).

See Law’s weakness?  “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  “You shall not covet . . . your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17).  The Commandments may give us pause, but are powerless to push away our sin-nature’s desires.  ” . . . if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (3:21).  God’s Law is ” . . . holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), but is “weakened by the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  So “God has done what the law . . . could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3,4).  God the Actor.  God the Giver.

Why, though, does “Spirit-walking” work? . . .

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Our human nature is wired to gratify its sinful desires.  The Spirit of God’s Son sent into us opposes sinful desires with Holy Spirit desires.  Think magnets.  Point two north-seeking magnet poles toward each other and they repel.  So the Spirit’s presence in our fallen human nature creates resistance.  The opposition “keeps you from the doing the things you (that is, your fallen, sinful human nature) want to do.”

Two important points.  One, though justified (in right-standing with God) and Spirit-filled, we have to contend with our sin-nature’s desires as long as we’re in this body.  ” . . . we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). 

Two, we must “walk by the Spirit.”  In other words, the against-the-flesh activity of the Spirit in us is not without action on our part.  Take a young man with natural-born baseball-pitching ability.  It’s there in his arm—the strength, the finesse, the feel, the touch.  But he has to develop it, work out, practice, pitch in crucial games.  We have to “walk by the Spirit.”

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”  If we are “Spirit-walkers” we are not “under law” (don’t have to post-note the Ten Commandments to our refrigerator and grim- faced sweat to obey them today), because we are being “led by the Spirit.” Hint:  here’show to “walk by the Spirit”.  Be led by the Spirit.  More on this next time.

Let’s finish now by allowing God’s Word to strengthen our faith.  We are not doomed to sweaty, desperate efforts to be a better Christian.  We are not imprisoned by God’s good Law we can’t hope to keep.  We are not sentenced to create our own more-workable system of religion to sooth guilt-feelings.  WE ARE NOT LEFT ON OUR OWN.

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under law,
to redeem those who were under law,
so that we might receive adoptions as sons.
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,    
crying, “Abba!  Father!”
So you are no longer a slave, but a son,
and if a son, then an heir through God.
(Galatians 4:4-7).







The Summit: The Spirit

O PreacherWhen our little family of five  finally reached the summit of woodsy Mills Reservation in Montclair, N.J., we gazed 15-20 miles out and saw a wonder:   the majestic skyline of New York City rising up from the waters of New York Harbor.

Today we reach the summit of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions  and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Galatians 5:16-26).

Paul has argued that justification (right-standing) with God comes by faith in Christ Jesus, not by our effort at keeping either God’s Law or our own religious rules and regulations.  He has argued, therefore, that to be justified Gentiles (non-Jews) needn’t and mustn’t be circumcised in addition to trusting Christ.  This absence of law-keeping (circumcision being the sign of the Law Covenant), however, raises the question of license.  Does Paul mean we are free from restraints to our sinful nature?  Does he mean we’re liberated from law to do whatever we want?  No.  “For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the sinful nature, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13,14).

How, though, can we use our freedom from Law (and laws) to fulfill the Law; that is, to serve one another in love?  At this summit, Paul tells us:  by the Spirit.

He’s already referred several times to the crucial role of the Spirit . . .

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham
might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus,
so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit
(Galatians 3:14).

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
(Galatians 4:6)

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit
the righteousness for which we hope.
(Galatians 5:5)

Many commentators make justification by faith the letter’s summit, not the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.  I respectively disagree based on  the specific occasion which prompted Paul’s letter . . .

I would like to learn just one thing from you:
Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law,
or by believing what you heard?

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you
because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
(Galatians 3:2,3,5)

The issue at hand isn’t the start of the justified life (by faith or works?) but its goal (by the Spirit or our works?)  I imagine the Judaizers might have argued, “Good.  You started with faith in Christ.  But if you’re going to make it to the end and be right with God on the Last Day, you need circumcision and devotion to Law-keeping.”  No, Paul lashes back.  “Justification comes by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone.  And with justification comes adoption by the Spirit . . . ”

But when the time had fully come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,
to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son,
God has made you also an heir.
(Galatians 4:4-7).

Justification by faith in Christ is, as Martin Luther wrote, an alien righteousness.  That is, by faith we receive the righteousness of Christ and are therefore “legally” put in right-standing with God.  Similarly, the work of the Spirit is alien.  God sends the Spirit of his Son from outside us into our hearts.  Thus starts a transformative relationship in us by the Spirit.  Not “legal”, but “experiential”.  This is why Galatians 5:16-26 stands as the summit of Paul’s letter.

When our little family gazed from Mills Reservation at New York City, we might have “oohed” and “aah-ed” and excitedly pointed out certain iconic buildings.  But when we turned to trek back down the trail, we weren’t changed.  Not true of the Spirit- summit.

And all of us, with unveiled faces,
seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror,
are being transformed into the same image
from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 3:18)

I invite you to sing the video-prayer above and enter the Spirit’s powerful presence with me . . .


America: Dark Days Ahead?

P.AllanI confess:  I’ve been slowly surrendering to Trump.  Better than Hillary, I tell myself.  But then I read Denny Burk’s blog (below) and time-out my surrender.

Why write politics when my blog tag-line is “Viewing the World through God’s Word”?  Just look at religious freedom’s fraility under President Obama’s administration.  Ideology matters.  To the nation and to the church.  Both work best when God’s Word is honored, even if only lukewarmly.  So, like the old prophets, we clearly speak God’s revelatory Word.  See what Christians have suffered already, because they brought their faith to business!

As I said, I was slowly surrendering to Trump—gradually deleting the #NeverTrump thing.  When he released his list of potential Supreme Court nominees, I almost dumped surrender-to-Trump entirely (though I choked a bit on his, “or someone like this”).  Then I read Denny Burk’s blog .  I don’t agree with him about everything.  Further, this blog offers no counsel about how to vote.  It just reminds me that darker days may lie  ahead for America.  And that  drives me to pray.

Why the list of 10 judges does not placate the concerns of #NeverTrump

Posted: 19 May 2016 06:07 AM PDT

Donald Trump has released a list of conservative justices that he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court were he to be elected president. The list is an obvious attempt to win-over conservatives who are reluctant about his candidacy. But this list does not alleviate the concerns that many of us have about his candidacy.

First, Trump did not commit to pick anyone from the list! In fact he said he might pick someone who is not on the list. So the list means nothing. It’s no different from what he has previously said. And we are again being asked to trust the judgment of a man who changes his positions daily and who is a liar. Add to that his open support for Planned Parenthood and his total lack of interest in the Constitution, and it is not difficult to see why so many remain skeptical. How can he be trusted to appoint a solid justice?

Second, Trump’s would-be SCOTUS appointments do nothing to alleviate the larger issues with his candidacy. His character, temperament, and authoritarian tendencies suggest that he would be a menace to our Constitutional order. Robert Kagan explains in provocatively titled piece, “This is how fascism comes to America”:

The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well.

But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone…

What [GOP enablers] do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that laid down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?

This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him.

Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, I think, are what caused Senator Ben Sasse to press Trump just last night:

Let’s drop the name-calling & get specific. In particular Q 5: Will you commit to rejecting exec. unilateralism?

— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) May 19, 2016

An answer from Trump has not been forthcoming.

Earlier this month, Ross Douthat put a fine point on the issue:

But above all it is Trump’s authoritarianism that makes him unfit for the presidency — his stated admiration for Putin and the Chinese Politburo, his promise to use the power of the presidency against private enterprises, the casual threats he and his surrogates toss off against party donors, military officers, the press, the speaker of the House, and more.

All presidents are tempted by the powers of the office, and congressional abdication has only increased that temptation’s pull. President Obama’s power grabs are part of a bipartisan pattern of Caesarism, one that will likely continue apace under Hillary Clinton.

But far more than Obama or Hillary or George W. Bush, Trump is actively campaigning as a Caesarist, making his contempt for constitutional norms and political niceties a selling point. And given his mix of proud ignorance and immense self-regard, there is no reason to believe that any of this is just an act.

Trump would not be an American Mussolini; even our sclerotic institutions would resist him more effectively than that. But he could test them as no modern president has tested them before — and with them, the health of our economy, the civil peace of our society and the stability of an increasingly perilous world.

In sum: It would be possible to justify support for Trump if he merely promised a period of chaos for conservatism. But to support Trump for the presidency is to invite chaos upon the republic and the world. No policy goal, no court appointment, can justify such recklessness.

What Counts? Only Faith Working through Love

O PreacherDon’t misread this title.  It doesn’t mean what it seems.  It comes from the apostle Paul’s declaration in Galatians 5:6 . . .

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything,
but faith working through love.

Paul doesn’t suggest nothing else matters, but faith working through love.  He means rather in the context of being in right standing with God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything.  The only thing that counts in  being right with God is faith in Jesus Christ—faith that shows itself through acts of love.

I wrote about this in a previous blog (  But I’ve since realized how important this text is for what follows (5:16-26).  I’ve come across three important observations by Dr. Gordon Fee in his book, God’s Powerful Presence.  Before passing them along, just a word about circumcision.

A non-issue for us.  However, in our context it represents both our futile attempts to be right with God by trying to keep his Law (centered in the Ten Commandments) and our attempts to be right with God by constructing our own rules and regulations.  “Real Christians don’t drink, smoke or chew or hang around with girls who do!”  Not sure I got that old slogan right.  But you know what I mean, right?  Legalism.  Extra-biblical rules and regulations we make necessary for being righteous before God.

It’s in that context that Paul writes, “In union with Christ Jesus keeping God’s laws or your self-created rules counts for nothing.  The only thing that counts for being right with God is faith in Christ Jesus that shows itself in acts of love” (my paraphrase).

Here, now, is Galatians 5:13-15 from which Fee identifies three important points we should note before moving on . . .

You, my brothers, were called to be free.
But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;
rather, serve one another in love. 
The entire law is summed up in a single command:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
If you keep on biting and devouring each other,
watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

One:  “Freedom from enslavement to Torah (Law) paradoxically means to take on a new form of “slavery”—that of loving servanthood to one another.”

In Paul’s allegory (4:21-31) he refers to Jews under the law as the daughter of Abraham’s wife’s maid servant (Hagar) who “bears children who are to be slaves [to Law] (4:25).  Earlier he wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13).  And later, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

Then he warns, “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love” (5:13).  A reminder, as someone wisely noted, Christ freed us not so we can do what we want, but what we should.

Also a reminder that God designed the Christian life to be lived in community with one another.  Therefore, we don’t speak of attending church, but being the church.  Therefore, Jesus gave us a new commandment:  “Love one another . . . By this all people will know you are my disciples” (John 13:34,35).

Two:  “Love of this kind is the way the whole of Torah (Law) is ‘fulfilled’.”

“The entire law is summed up in a single command:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Fee explains:  “The aim of Torah . . . was to create a loving community in which God’s own character and purposes are fulfilled . . . as God’s people love one another as he loves them.”  The Law, of course, is powerless to do this.  But the Spirit is, in the title of Fee’s book, God’s Powerful Presence”.  Thus he empowers believers to live toward fulfilling the Law, which is the Law of love.

Here, too, we find the focus for the Christian life:  as part of the Christian community, the church.  As we, empowered by the Spirit, love one another as members of the church, the whole of Law is fulfilled in our relationships with one another.

Three:  “Freedom from Torah (Law) does not mean ‘lawlessness’.”

This was the Jews greatest objection to the absence of Torah.  If we don’t let it fence us in any longer, do we have license to gratify ourselves however we wish?  As we’ll see in the coming paragraphs, the Gospel provides a new fence.

As long as we’re in these bodies, sin is in our nature.  And typically, we view sins as personal, not as relational.  That is, wrong before God and hurtful to us, but not to the church.  I would suggest that every personal sin “bad marks” the whole Christian community.  And some, of course, like gossip, directly harms the Body.  Such “lawlessness” corrupts us all.

But the Gospel of Christ, the Gospel Paul preached, is not lawlessness.  It is Spirit-saturated.

With this preface in mind, next time we’ll finally reach the summit of Paul’s letter:  the exciting, transforming, powerful presence of God the Holy Spirit.

Image result for photos of the holy spirit



Does God Really Exist?

P.AllanI mean God as revealed in the Bible.  The Triune God.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit.  Occasionally (thankfully not often!), especially when I’m hurting and he seems silent, I wonder if all this God-talk is just that—talk.  A creation of humans ages ago passed on from generation to generation until we have a “sacred book” all about him.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders if God is really there!)

On those occasions I return to three realities—two objective, one subjective.

First, the universe.

Random?  Chance?  When I see photos of the galaxies and read the intricacies of the human body, I shake my head and marvel at the naturalist.  I realize then that naturalism is an ideology, not science.  So much complexity, so much power, so much beauty.  The universe screams, “INTELLIGENT DESIGN!”.   And when I look at humans, when I listen to us communicate and love and, yes, even hate, I scream “PERSONAL INTELLIGENT DESIGNER!”  The jump from there to God is a mere step.  If God doesn’t exist, how then does the universe?  Because the universe exists, God does.  What I see, taste, touch, hear and smell isn’t just universe, it’s creation at the word of the Creator God the Father through the Son by means of the Spirit.  Yes, God really exists!

Second, Jesus’ resurrection.

He never really died?  Disciples stole the body?  Come on.  All such  theories on their face are laughable.  Twelve disciples suffered martyrdom (and God alone knows how many other believers) refusing to recant their testimony that crucified Jesus the Christ ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  As prophesied.  According to hundreds.  They laid down their lives rather than deny what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.  Chuck Colson, now with Jesus, pointed out how hard it is to keep a conspiracy quiet.  Had the disciples stolen the body, somebody eventually would have snitched.  Besides, what happened to the body?  If Jesus did rise from the dead, he’s all he claimed to be.  The resurrection joyfully shouts, “God really exists”.

Third, the Holy Spirit in my spirit.

This is the subjective reality, a sense, a feeling, an inward witness.  John Piper talks about the Bible being self-authenticating.  That is, when I seriously read it, it authenticates itself.   Something tells my mind and heart that it’s truth.  I would call that “self-authenticating” power GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT.  He makes the written word “come alive” so I know it reveals reality.  The same is true when I quiet down to pray and deeply think.  There’s an inner sense that God is there.  He really exists.  I just know that I know.  The Bible and the Spirit tell me so.

I could mention more, but these are my three bottom-line realities when painful circumstances whisper to my rational mind, “Maybe God isn’t there after all.”  When I hit those bottom-line realities, I bounce back up.  All things, then, become possible.  Nothing is random or chance.  I’m not alone.  And no matter the circumstance, he wins in the end—and I do too, because I am his through faith in Jesus his Son, indwelt by his Spirit.

Francis Schaeffer memorably titled one of his books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.  Yes, he is!


Christ Set Us Free to Be Free

O PreacherNo smoking.  No dancing.  No movie-watching.  Requirements for membership in the church where I grew up.  Leaders meant to keep us from sin.  But they implied people observing the ban helped make “real Christians”.  Specifics in the 1st century Galatia churches differed, but in principle were the same.  In today’s text the apostle Paul concludes his argument against justification by human rule-keeping . . .

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).  “Christ redeemed (or, set us free from) the curse of the law . . . ” (3:13)  so we could be free from “a yoke of slavery”  (futile law-keeping as the way to justification with God).  “Stand firm,” Paul urges.  “stubbornly resist, hold your ground against the slavery-yoke Judaizers want to hang on your Gentile necks!”

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:2-4).  With “Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you” Paul asserts his apostolic authority and issues three warnings . . .

First, get circumcised and Christ will mean nothing at all for you.  Second, get circumcised and you’re legally bound to obey all God’s laws.  And, third, try to be right with God by law-keeping and you’re cut off from Christ and, like withered blossoms on a flower, you’ll have fallen away from God’s undeserved, unmerited love and favor.

But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:5,6).  But, writes Paul, we who are justified by faith in Christ, are waiting by means of the Spirit the glorification in righteousness we hope for.  We are justified now.  Are being sanctified now.  And will be glorified in the new creation.

That’s because joined to Christ the circumcised Jewish believers have no advantage and the uncircumcised Gentile believers have no disadvantage.  Only one thing matters:  faith—faith that shows itself through acts of love.  Paul doesn’t mean faith plus love equals justification.  He means the faith that justifies works by doing love.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law [circumcision being the identifying mark of the law covenant]” (3:13).  ” . . . the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (5:14).

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.  I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be (Galatians 5:7-10).  Using a race analogy, Paul ruefully reminds them how well they were running.  But someone cut in and blocked them from continuing to obey gospel truth.  God who calls you, Paul asserts, isn’t the source of this change-your-course persuasion!  Like “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”, the Judaizers are affecting the whole church.  Yet, I’m confident because of the Lord, says Paul, the Galatians will focus on the gospel I preach and the confusion-planter will pay!

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:11,12).  Puzzling what Paul means by “if I am still preaching circumcision.”  Perhaps the Judaizers argued, “Look, Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3).  And he doesn’t stop the Jewish tradition. He still is pro-circumcision.  So get with it and get circumcised.  Paul retorts:  “If I’m preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  If I were preaching circumcision, the offense of the cross would be a non-issue.”  (The Jews viewed a crucified Messiah as a shameful, offensive idea.)  To say it another way, Paul is being persecuted by Jews for the offense of the cross.

Let’s not “biblically correct” Paul’s words in verse 12.  He really means he wishes the gospel-agitators would slip with the knife and castrate themselves.  Slash off the whole of the private parts.  Paul is furious at the offense this heretical preaching brings to Christ and at the harm it ravages on Christ’s  church.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Galatians 5:13-15).  Taking a deep, calming breath, Paul calls his readers “my brothers” and repeats their call to be free (see 5:1)—free from justification by law-keeping.  But they must not use their freedom from law-keeping to “indulge the sinful nature”.  (Justification and adoption by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still possess a sinful nature as long as we’re in this body.  We’re not to gratify its lusts.)  Freed from the slavery of law, not freed to indulge our sin-nature, but freed to be servants in love to one another!

What’s going on in the Galatia churches?  Chaos and division.  The Judaizers are preaching “a different gospel”.  Some are buying in, others aren’t.  Think of church splits you’ve been part of or heard of.  Believers become animals, “biting and devouring one another”.  Paul calls them back to what the law in summary calls them to:  love.  And he couples that call with a terrible warning:  “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

* * *

When we add rules and regulations to faith in Christ for justification, we make the cross valueless and puff up human pride.  Rule-keeping is like meriting a chest of medals.  (My medals are more than yours!)  And pride breeds “biting and devouring one another.”  Through faith in Christ we’re free.  Not to gratify our lusts.  But to serve each other in love.  Only Christ can make that happen.

This is one reason right doctrine is so important.  What we believe matters.  And what we must believe and stubbornly stand firm in is the truth of the gospel . . .

We have been crucified with Christ and the old “us” no longer lives.
And the life we now live we must live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved us and gave himself for us.
We must not nullify the grace of God,
for if righteousness were through rules,
then Christ died for nothing.



Changes in the Religious Globe

O PreacherA fascinating report courtesy of the Pew Research Center  . . .

7 key changes in the global religious landscape

What will the world’s religious landscape look like a few decades from now? A new Pew Research Center study attempts to answer that question by projecting the changing size of eight major global religious groups through the year 2050 based on a variety of demographic factors.

The study uses data from 198 countries and territories on fertility, age composition and life expectancy. It also looks at rates of religious switching – where data is available – and migration between countries, and puts all of these factors together to provide the best estimates for the future.

There are many storylines in this data, which can be explored through the full report or on our interactive Global Religious Futures website. Here are a few of the key findings:

1Muslims are the fastest-growing major religious group, largely because they have the highest fertility rate and the youngest population. As a result, the Muslim population is expected to increase from 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population as of 2010) to 2.76 billion people (30% of all people in 2050). At mid-century, Muslims will nearly equal Christians – the world’s largest religious group – in size.

Christian and Muslim Population Projections

2The share of the world’s population that is Christian is expected to remain steady (at about 31%), but the regional distribution of Christians is forecast to change significantly. Nearly four-in-ten Christians (38%) are projected to live in sub-Saharan Africa in 2050, an increase from the 24% who lived there in 2010. And the percentage of the world’s Christians living in Europe – which fell from 66% in 1910 to 26% in 2010 – will continue to decline, to roughly 16% in 2050.

3The number of religiously unaffiliated people, also known as religious “nones,” is increasing in places such as the United States and Europe, and we project continued growth. Globally, however, the opposite is true: The unaffiliated are expected to decrease as a share of the world’s population between 2010 and 2050 (from 16% to 13%). This is attributable mostly to the relatively old age and low fertility rates of large populations of religious “nones” in Asian countries, particularly China and Japan.

Size of Religious Groups, 2010-2050

4In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, with corresponding rises of religious “nones” as well as Muslims, Hindus and others. At mid-century, Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion in the U.S.: Muslims are projected to be more numerous than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

5Buddhists, concentrated in Asia, are expected to have a stable population (of just under 500 million) while other religious groups are projected to grow. As a result, Buddhists will decline as a share of the world’s population (from 7% in 2010 to 5% 2050).

6Indonesia is currently home to the world’s largest Muslim population, but that is expected to change. By 2050, the study projects India to be the country with the largest number of Muslims – more than 310 million – even though Hindus will continue to make up a solid majority of India’s population (77%), while Muslims remain a minority (18%). Indonesia will have the third-largest number of Muslims, with Pakistan ranking second.

7The farther into the future we look, the more uncertainty exists, which is why the projections stop at 2050. But if they are extended into the second half of this century, the projections forecast Muslims and Christians to be roughly equal in number around 2070, with Muslims the slightly larger group after that year.


This raises a few questions for me . . .

Since Muslims are projected to equal Christians by 2050 because of high fertility rates and a young population, are we Christians losing our young people and not focusing enough on raising devoted Jesus’ followers?

Why is the world’s share of Christians predicted to remain steady?  Does it mean we are becoming less and less evangelistic (that is, disobeying Jesus’ Great Commission)?

What will we do about Europe with its drastically-shrinking Christian population?

Will we make changes in how we live as Christians so that our shrinking numbers in America will be reversed?

This report does not indicate a dynamic church in the U.S.   Do we care?  Should we?  The church of Jesus Christ will triumph in the end, but are we doing all we should now?

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