When you read any of the letters of Paul, it is necessity to pay close attention to the very first statement. In his first statement, Paul will give you the context and the subject matter for the whole of the epistle. So, when we read the first thing out of Paul’s mouth is that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, not of men or from men, this tells us what we’re about to be getting into.
The importance of this subject is obvious. It is something that we read over and over in Paul’s letters. It is by faith that we’re saved, and not of works, lest any man should boast. It is by grace, through faith, that we have received eternal life and an inheritance.
Where does this concept come from?
I want you to notice in your Bible the 11th chapter of Hebrews. If you can’t memorize it, at least memorize what it is about. Get comfortable going back to it and consulting it. Example after example is given in Hebrews 11 about how these people in the Old Testament did extraordinary feats through faith. When the commentaries argue about what made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable, but Cain’s despised, they usually look at the sacrifice itself. It is the author of Hebrews that pops that bubble. It isn’t by what Abel sacrificed, as if he knew the pattern of Leviticus 1-7 before the Law was given, that his sacrifice was accepted.
Abel offered in faith.
Right down the line, one after another, example after example is given to these people that we think were righteous because of their deeds, and yet over and over again it is because of their faith. Was it because you obeyed the rules of what good Christian boys and girls are supposed to do that you were saved? Did you become Christian because you were born into Christianity? Are you righteous because you always do what is right? From where does your righteousness, salvation, holiness, etc stem? If you claim it anything other than faith, then you’re outside of biblical Christianity.
It is at this point that we must examine the word faith itself. What kind of faith is necessary to be saved? Do we simply say, “I believe in God”, and therefore we’ll go to heaven? It is about simply professing “yes” to all of the doctrines in the Apostolic Creed that makes us to go to heaven? This cannot be so, for we read over and over again of the necessity to be “born again”, a “new creation”, and/or “resurrected”. These terms are synonymous, and all give the implication that there has to be some sort of change in the heart.
The Hebrew word tshuva (meaning repentance) actually has that kind of connotation. Faith is more than “belief”, if by belief we simply mean that we acknowledge something’s existence. The faith that moves mountains, the faith that is salvational, the faith that brings about sanctification, the faith that Paul speaks of, of which Jesus taught, is about the heart. It is about something within pivoting. No longer is it enough to simply go to church on Sunday morning. No longer is it enough to say the right things without the reality in our midst. No longer is it enough to learn all of theology and the endless debates. What is more important is God, and God’s heart, and God’s thoughts, and God’s perception of things.
I’ve asked the question before: “If we’re calling ourselves Christians, then shouldn’t we at least know the words of Jesus and try to live them?” So often people can quote Paul right and left, but the words of Jesus get confused. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a sermon, or a teaching, or someone just talking to me that would say, “It’s like that story where the rich man was in hell and Lazarus was in heaven…” That wasn’t a story; it was a parable. Then, they’ll talk about that parable of when Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead. That wasn’t a parable; it actually happened. This kind of confusion is across the board; all of Jesus’ parables seem to be spoken of as stories, and the real life stories get spoken of as parables.
Faith gets it correct.
Faith is concerned about truth.
Faith in concerned about the words of God.
Faith chooses to be the outsider if necessary, simply because it is more important to stand with Christ and His teaching than with contemporary ‘Christian’ culture.
Is it by faith that you are saved, or by the VBS? Is it by faith that you are saved, or by hearing the word of God? Is it by faith that you are sanctified, or by reading your Bible? Is it by faith that you come to God, or through prayer? These stupid things that we’ve erected as means to get to God are a hindrance. Can you come to Christ in the gutters on the street, or must you be in a pew? Can you come to Christ without knowing the words of the 23rd Psalm, or do you need to know what the Bible says before you can ‘believe’ it? Is it by faith, or by knowledge? Is it by faith, or by works? Even the study of Scripture and daily prayer can be a work if by it you think you are righteous.
This is one of the most difficult things to believe, and yet one of the most freeing things as well. The teaching of total depravity has damaged the Body of Christ. We have been so convinced of our sin nature and depravity, that we’re never going to get free from sin until we die, and therefore we beat ourselves up over every little thing that we no longer live by faith at all. If we have a good day, then we seek for any insignificant thing to repent about. If we have a bad day, then Lord pity us, because what terrible wretched worms we are!
Those are not the words of faith.
Faith perceives that you are enough in Christ, and therefore anything else is a lie. It isn’t about what my heart says, for I have an advocate with the Father who is greater than my heart.
Believest thou this?
Paul was not sent from man, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. It is based utterly upon the resurrection of the dead. For this reason, Paul is able to go on by saying that Jesus gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.
Do you believe this present age is evil?
Let me rephrase:
Do you believe that the mindset of the present age is evil?
It is the mindset of this present age that promotes works. Think about it. What is the first thing that you get asked when you meet someone?
“What do you do?”
By this, we mean, “What is your occupation?” The way that you answer that question then determines how far up the ladder you are, and there is an instant judgment made of you. We do the same thing in Christianity, following the exact same mindset. The pastor is seen as “more spiritual”, and therefore closer to God, they who have been in Christ longer and have more of the Bible memorized are seen as “higher up” on the totem pole, and even they who are called “prayer warriors” are given special honor because they’ve been recognized for their passion in manipulating God and the Holy Spirit. I tell you that prayer warriors aren’t “commanding” the Spirit in the name of Christ, but simply channeling demons.
At what point do we stop the madness and ask what in God’s name are we doing? When do we look around and notice that our Christianity looks nothing like anything the Bible speaks of positively? Is there a moment when we realize that it isn’t about your position in the Body, what you do for occupation, how much you read the Bible, how often you pray, how much of the Bible you’ve memorized, or any other thing we’ve called “spiritual”? Or, do we simply continue in the mindset of this present evil age, living as cadavers in a pew, sitting next to those people we call our “brothers and sisters”, yet being a million miles away in spirit, not knowing the needs of those we claim to be united with, unwilling to find out, and continually promoting the “me first” mentality in simply attempting to be seen as having worth and value through the way that the ‘church’ teaches that you find worth and value?
I tell you that any ‘church’ that would give a model of righteousness that relies upon whether you live up to the commands of Scripture is not the Church, but Babylon.
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
There isn’t any mention in that statement of Abraham’s deeds being righteous. We know that he did do righteously, but it wasn’t because of his deeds that he was righteous. Abraham believed God – had faith – and it was credited to him as righteousness. Any other definition of righteousness is false. The righteous do righteously, not because they know what is the “right” thing to do, but because they have faith. Faith transforms the heart, and the transformed heart does righteously.
This is the subject matter of Galatians, and this is what we’ll be examining over the next few weeks.