Sunday, September 19, 2021

Galatians & Thessalonians: Faith in Jesus, Encouragement for Trials, & the End Times

“A duck hunter was with a friend in the wide-open land of southeastern Georgia. Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke. Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted. He realized the terrible truth; a brushfire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it. Rifling through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for--a book of matches. He lit a small fire around the two of them. Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come. They didn't have to wait long. They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves. The fire came near--and swept over them. But they were completely unhurt, untouched. Fire would not pass where fire already had passed.

The law is like a brushfire. I cannot escape it. But if I stand in the burned-over place, not a hair of my head will be singed. Christ's death has disarmed it. “

Adapted from Who Will Deliver Us? by Paul F. M. Zahl.

The message of the book of Galatians is very clear: You are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the works of the law.

The letter to the Galatians was at it’s heart, a letter to Christians who were being infiltrated by Jewish Christians who felt that it was important to obey the old testament law of Moses. They were insisting Christians be circumcised, which was part of the law of Moses, and that they would need to follow all the commands of the Old Testament. And from Paul’s letter it appears that some in the church had fallen to this idea.

He wrote to them extremely frustrated saying, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?”

Let’s take a look at Galatians chapter 3 verses 3 through 6, “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”-Galatians 3:3-6

So Paul is citing the example of Abraham, that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And he compares that to us believing that Jesus really is real and our savior, and then it is credited to us as righteousness.

You get the picture from that of it being credited to their account, sort of a transaction.

But what’s interesting is that actually in the book of James it says something very similar: “20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

Very interesting, two different letters, two boundary lines. That’s generally how I see it, when two scriptures outline two different perspectives, I’m seeing the outer boundaries of what justification means. It is by faith, and yet the faith is completed and lived out through obedience. One edge is from James the other edge is from Paul, we want to be in between those two points in our understanding.

But returning to Galatians, we see Paul very upset with this group of churches in Galatia. He writes to them in Chapter 5, 4-6, “4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” -Galatians 5:4-6

The book of Galatians is very important and powerful, challenging us to understand that our salvation comes through faith in Christ, not through trying to obey the law of Moses. But I was talking with another pastor recently about a month ago, and we were talking about how the book of Galatians is sometimes abused and misused in our day and age.

Galatians is unfortunately sometimes used as Christians to claim that any challenge to live in purity in Christ, to live out sanctification, and to practice holy living is simply “legalism.”

Now legalism is the concern of the letter that Paul writes here, but legalism based on attempting to obey the law to be justified.

But Paul rightly indicates in numerous places in Galatians that one who understands that Jesus Christ is their savior alone, should be living the most pure and holy life in response to that. Paul very expertly balances Christian freedom in Christ, with total obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take a look at a big chunk of Galatians chapter 5, and listen in these words for commands to holy living.

Galatians 5:13-26 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 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.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Walk by the Spirit not by the flesh.

These are the acts of the flesh that you must avoid at all costs.

These are the fruits of the Spirit that you ought to practice.

If that wasn’t enough we get another explicit command in Galatians, the flagship book often misinterpreted to mean “you can do whatever you want in Christ” and it says this, Galatians 6:7-9 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

The book of Galatians teaches grace through faith in Christ, yet it also teaches a radical obedience to Christ, a practice of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses daily, this is the book in which Paul famously wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, the life I live now I live by faith in the son of God who loves me and gave himself for me.”

Praise God. Let’s turn to 1st and 2nd Thessalonians today. These were very early letters of Paul, the earliest letters of Paul that we have on record, from about 52 AD. Galatians is actually a bit later, around 55 AD. These are letters written to a church under severe persecution, which was common for the early church during this time.

They are being persecuted, killed, and tortured by the authorities in Italy, and this causes many of them to worry and fret about the return of Jesus. So these two letters get into end times topics quite a bit. Very interesting. Some of the believers in Thessalonica are seeing such severe suffering that they worry that perhaps Jesus has already come and they’ve been left behind. But Paul encourages them to continue to have faith in Jesus and realize that day has not come yet. Thankfully the church is Thessalonica is flourishing since Paul planted it. And through the persecution they only continue to flourish.

The first three chapters contain encouragement for the Thessalonians, a report from Timothy from his visit, a challenge to live sexually moral lives, and then in chapter 4 we hear a bit about the end times, which is what I want to focus in on today.

It says in 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

The Lord reminds us that it hasn’t already happened. There will come a day when Jesus returns, and the dead in Christ will rise, and if we happen to be alive at that time, we will rise as well.

Then in chapter 5 we hear about this dreadful moment when all humanity will be judged, call the “Day of the Lord.” It says, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Second Thessalonians is a short letter, only 3 chapters, and Paul is dealing with false teachers who are once again leading the Thessalonians astray about the end times. In fact Paul signs this letter with his own signature because false letters are being circulated as well.

But once again in 2nd Thessalonians we see Paul addressing concerns about the end times, and particularly the day of the Lord.

2nd Thessalonians chapter 2:1-4 says ,”Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”

So apparently this anti-Christ figure will gather all religions under one tent, a sort of universalism, and claim to be the god of all. And he will demand to be worshiped. Truly shocking. But we see the seeds of it in the world today, don’t we?

Then it says in verse 7-8 “7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”

Some think that the one holding back the lawlessness in the world is the Holy Spirit, some say it’s the body of Christ itself holding it back, and when we’re taken away, that is the rapture event. But in any case, the anti-Christ will have his time, and then Jesus will defeat him by simply speaking.

To conclude the letter, Paul deals with reports that some of the believer in Thessalonica are becoming idle and disruptive.

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” -2 Thessalonians 3:6-10

Some of the believers began to use the concept that the day of the Lord had already come to be lazy and stop working, and they started just living off the church’s generosity. Bad idea. Paul writes, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

In conclusion today, we see the Lord sharing with us about how to understand our salvation in Christ, as grace through faith in Jesus. And we see God commanding us to stand firm during trials and difficulties, and to have a biblical understanding of the end times.