Posted in tolle lege book reviews

Tolle Lege: “Christ Has Set Us Free: Preaching and Teaching Galatians”

I’ve always known there were drawbacks to not being on social media.  I often find myself out of the INTERPERSONAL loop but I learned recently that I was quite out of the INTERSECTIONAL loop as well.  Until a month or so ago I’d never even heard of intersectionality, was only vaguely aware of critical race theory and thought “progressive” was a type of insurance.  More than a few eye-opening blog posts and podcasts later and I’m way more aware than I ever wanted to be of the presence of these movements in the church and the tsunami of anti-social media shared/hurled between Christians I love and respect. 

I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe in one kind of Justice and one kind of Gospel.  So it was with alarm that my recent education revealed there has now spread throughout the church a new, if not IMPROVED, at least socially APPROVED, variety of both.  It was difficult enough to hear the bitter animosity from the lips of a beloved friend toward others who are resisting this wave of leaven– part of me wanted to excuse him on grounds of his own past hurts by the people he was attacking– but then I heard his same words echoed by other pastors and teachers that I had long held in high regard, some of them contributors of the volume I am reviewing right now.

As I sifted through the cacophony of intersections and theories, of justices and gospels, of posts and casts that seemed intent on convincing me that I stand condemned on the basis of skin-tone alone for the oppression of millions and the 50-year-old murder of one in particular, the words of Paul to the Galatians kept ringing in my ear.

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:6,7).

“O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you?  It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (3:1).

“Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (3:3)?”

“How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more” (4:9)?

“I am perplexed about you” (4:20).

“You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?  This persuasion is not from Him who calls you.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (5:7-9).

What was this bewitching new gospel the foolish Galatians were being troubled with and to which they were enslaving themselves?  The first hint is that it was “man’s gospel,” designed to “please man” and gain “the approval of man” (1:10,11). In other words it was a socially acceptable gospel foisted upon them by “false,” “influential” brothers intent on destroying the freedom of some and showing partiality to others” (2:4-6).  It’s here that we get to the main hot-button issue of that day: circumcision.  This might seem laughable to us who are so entrenched in more universal egalitarian issues like race relations and sexual ethics.  But circumcision it was and it was having a serious impact on the church and it’s adherence to the truth of the gospel.

The Gospel Coalition’s “Christ Has Set Us Free” (Crossway, 2019) is a beautifully written look at the book of Galatians with contributions by Thomas Schreiner, Gerald L. Bray, John Piper, Sandy Willson, Peter Adam, D.A. Carson (who co-edited the volume with Jeff Robinson Sr.), Thabiti Anyabwile, Timothy Keller, and Sinclair Ferguson.  I hadn’t planned on reviewing this book and was honestly a little disenchanted with The Gospel Coalition in general after reading certain articles and listening to podcasts from the MLK50 Conference.  But since it was Galatians that I thought spoke so clearly to the hot-button issues of our day, I felt I should at least see how they would interpret the epistle themselves.  

The biggest weakness in the book is that they seem to sidestep today’s issues all together.  Instead the authors juxtapose the issues Paul was addressing with those faced by Luther over 1000 years later during the Reformation.  This juxtaposition proves to be one of the book’s great strengths as it serves to maintain a point of focus throughout the text even though each chapter is written by a different author.  Several of these authors were new to me but I enjoyed all of them and was reminded over and over again why I had been so blessed by some of these guys in the past, including Luther.  It was fascinating to read about his take on Galatians and how he applied it to his own situation.  Bray examines this thoroughly in the second chapter.

“The late medieval church had the gospel, but it had added its own superstructure of penances, devotions, and works of different kinds, which Christians had to perform if they were to be properly reconciled to God.  To Luther this was blasphemy.  The cross of Christ had done all that was necessary, and to suggest that something more was required was to doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work.  It was in this context that Luther’s doctrine fo justification by faith alone came to its full expression” (29).

Piper identifies this same doctrine along with the doctrine of the supreme authority of scripture as the material and formal principles of the Reformation and adds that they are also the focus of the book of Galatians.

“Chapters 1 and 2 deal mainly with the formal principle—Paul’s apostolic authority.  Chapters 3 and 4 deal mainly with the material principle—justification by faith apart from works of the law.  Chapters 5 and 6 deal mainly with what that looks like in life” (37).

The rest of the authors do a fantastic job in the remaining chapters fleshing out exactly what those principles mean, how Paul applies them to the Galatian situation, why their absence would be a direct assault on the gospel, and what their application would look like in the life of the believer both during Paul’s time and Luther’s.  Which brings me back to the book’s great weakness.

Piper begins his chapter with a serious and, I think, timely warning.  But it’s just left dangling out there and never picked up again.  

“Paul says, ‘Cursed!’—damned—be those who lead people away from the curse-removing gospel of Christ…This is happening to people in your church and your family.  They are being exposed to kinds of “gospels”—which are no gospel—every day.  They are being lured away from Christ as their supreme treasure and away from grace.  And they need to hear a very serious word from you” (36).

It’s almost as though Piper knows there’s an elephant in the room but he’s not willing to identify it or give the rebuke himself.  Why is that?  Why not point out the false gospel right then and there and offer that serious word against it?  

So as not to be guilty of the same.  Let me do the dirty work.  Because Piper’s right.  I have seen this yoke of slavery taken up by family and friends, other brothers and sisters in Christ, and yes, even members of The Gospel Coalition.

In Paul’s day the Judaizers were insisting that Gentile believers be circumcised, or be justified by their FLESH.  That’s a false gospel.

In Luther’s day Rome was insisting that people pay indulgences, or be justified by their FUNDS.  That’s a false gospel.

In our day the whole world is insisting that white heterosexual males feel guilt simply for being born and not experiencing the same forms of oppression that a million other categories of people have felt, imagined to have felt, identify with someone who has felt, or imagine that they identify with someone who has felt, are declared justified for having felt.  In other words, we are now to be justified by our FEELINGS.  That’s a false gospel. And it’s a bewitchingly, socially acceptable gospel to be sure—man centered, man pleasing, man approved—destroying the freedom of some, showing partiality to others…it’s like Galatians played on repeat.

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law [i.e. flesh, funds, feelings etc] but through FAITH in Jesus Christ, so also we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by FAITH in Christ and not by works of the law [i.e. flesh, funds, feelings etc], because by works of the law [i.e. flesh, funds, feelings etc…] no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16).  

That’s the only Gospel.  And I’m pretty sure Paul just stated the same thing three different ways just to be clear.  Just in case though, he repeats himself several more times in 3:11, 3:24, and 5:4, just to name a few.  Paul also points out that where you have the true gospel, you are led by the Spirit in freedom.  But where you have a false gospel, you will have evidence of the flesh and the law, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.”  But “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:19-24).

Yes, in response to an article written by one of the authors of this excellent book, I am guilty of the murder of one man.  But that man was not Martin Luther King Jr.  That man was Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  And of that murder I have been declared justified through FAITH in God’s justice poured out on His Son on my behalf.

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Christ Has Set Us Free” is an excellent book.  But it doesn’t address the false gospel of our day.  I would encourage Christians everywhere to pick up another short book instead.  It’s called “Galatians.”  You’ll find it in the Bible.  

9781433562617

(I was provided with a free copy of this book by the publisher but am not obligated to write a favorable review.)

Posted in 2018/19 Friday Factoids

Final Friday Factoid

We found a new video series called “What You Aren’t Being Told About Astronomy” which shows how unstable the evolutionary theory is.  Every time they discover something new it further disproves this theory.  The host, Spike Psarris, used to be a firm evolutionist himself but while working in the US Military Space Program his eyes were opened to the truth of a designer.  He does a great job in this series explaining details in the universe that could never have happened accidentally.  It’s a good series for older kids but younger kids might get bored because it’s so long (by Joel, age 13). Here’s the link  to Psarris’s website https://www.creationastronomy.com

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I think Joel might be working up to taking over my book reviews for Crossway :).  I wanted to end our year in astronomy with one more review myself.  This one is actually for a podcast called “Good Heavens.”  If listening to a couple astronerds engage in a stimulating conversation about astronomy click here to link to their growing archive of episodes.  The thing I love about Wayne and Dan is that every time they’re getting really excited about something astronomical and you think they’re just going to burst with enthusiasm, one of them will say something like, “That reminds of this verse in the Bible!” and they’ll go straight to scripture to see what it has to say about what they’re discussing.  That’s exactly what creation is designed for us to do.  If you’re looking at the heavens and NOT being inspired to get to know the Creator of it all better through His Word of revelation to us, perhaps you need new eyes.  It is our hope and prayer that this blog may have been used in some way as a means to open someone’s eyes to the glories of God through the study of His Word and His amazing works in the heavens.

Posted in 2018/19 Devos

The Last Devo

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).”

Well friends, we’ve come to the end.  Nearly 200 star studded passages later, we’ve reached the end of the Bible, the end of the school year and thus, the end of this blog.  I’m sure there’s a handful of verses about the sun or moon or stars that we missed but in general I hope we all have a better understanding for just how clearly the heavens are declaring the glory of God and how not just the firmament, but every element of creation plays a part in the great redemptive drama writ and wrought by our Creator and King. 

From the epic beginnings of Genesis to the last Amen of Revelation these cosmic beacons gloriously fulfill their divinely appointed purpose to separate day and night, to be signs, to mark time and seasons and to give light on the earth.  Jesus Himself warned us in Luke 21:25-28 that there will be a time when the signs in the heavens will bring terror on earth.  But those who look for and long for His coming needn’t be filled with the same “fear and foreboding” when they see these things take place.  No, Jesus tells us to instead, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

The book of Revelation describes many of those foreboding heavenly signs but opens with this amazing image of Jesus standing in the middle of the churches and holding the angels of those churches as stars in His hand.  He’s in our midst and holds our  destinies in His hand!  No matter the circumstances befalling the world around us we can stand up straight and say with confidence, “Our redemption draws near.”  The Redeemer Himself says, in the last chapter of Revelation, 

“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each on for what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, beginning and the end… I Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.  I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

Did you catch that part about the churches?  Revelation doesn’t just open with Jesus standing in the midst of the churches, it ends with Jesus stating that the testimony John was given was specifically FOR the churches!  Oh how I need that testimony when I’m feeling discouraged about the messiness of church life.  Tonight, especially, as I’ve heard the pain of what brothers and sisters are experiencing in their churches, and seen the tears, and witnessed the bitter ramification of corporate wounds, and worried over the wayward path of The Bride, tonight I needed that testimony of John.  I needed to see Christ standing in her midst (Revelation 1:20).  I needed to feel the thunderous roar of the great multitude crying out,

“Hallelujah!  For the lord our God the Almighty reigns.  Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready;  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure (Revelation 19:6-8).”

I needed to hear “the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’” And I needed to straighten up and say with them, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:17-20).”

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.  Amen.”