AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH - January 22, 2006 :
THE FEARLESS AUDACITY OF THE LIFE OF GRACE IN CHRIST
I THE FEARLESS TEST
We saw last time that Paul, having met two of the apostles in Jerusalem, three years after his conversion, was moved to go again, after fourteen years, following missionary work. It happened when a controversy raged. The issue concerned those who wanted circumcision to be a work REQUIRED for salvation, just as some make the same spiritually idiotic mistake today, insisting on adding their trifling and trivial little works to those of the Lord who purchased eternal redemption at Calvary, and justifies freely through His blood (Heb. 9:12, Romans 3:23ff.).
You get some today who imagine in the gross darkness of their spiritual presumption that 'unless you are baptised you are not saved,' rescinding Christ's gracious words of salvation uttered ON the Cross TO the repentant criminal beside Him. While baptism undoubtedly can seal the thing, it is no substitute, the baptism that matters being that of a good conscience in the Christ of the resurrection, as Peter declares (I Peter 3:21): its symbolism is not to be confused with what it shows! As well claim you are not married unless you wear a wedding ring: to be sure, it helps, is fitting, but is in another realm. For all that, there should always be baptism, in parallel with its forerunner, circumcision, as in Colossians 2:11-12, which was for the infants of believing households. This in both cases, is a testimony, not a saving act, whether showing all things under Christ in the household, according to covenant: or on believing adults, unbaptised, the fact of their salvation.
The Church of Rome specialises in requirements in addition to anything Christ can do, which the Church or you or someone or something has to do to get you there; and in so doing pours shame and disgrace on the Cross (versus Galatians 6:14 which requires it as the cynosure of glory, from which nothing can take anything). It is here joined by some others who want the pageantry more than the purity of the faith.
Similar, or even worse is the idea of babbling away in 'tongues' as being 'necessary for salvation', surely one of the most anti-biblical eruptions of fantasy known in history, when Paul would rather speak 5 words without tongues than 10,000 with them in Church (I Cor. 14:19), and says NOT ALL have the gift, and that it must never displace the presentation of the word of God, or be without rendering into intelligible language. In that reprobate case, it would turn the least into the most! a millionth into infinity, yes what is mere parallel, into pride! Man can never leave alone his sinful substitutes for the Gospel of grace, even if it damns him! Often man wants to keep old symbols when fulfilled, to invade with new ideas, or tell God new ways of administering grace, so that it depends on the weakest link, and Christ indeed died in vain. Some even make themselves the co-Saviour, while NO other name is permitted (Acts 4:11-12), and thus act as if to make Christís death in vain!
Let us return to the symbols, however. It is not that such relatively small things, items like baptism (now) or circumcision (then), as introductory symbols of the covenant, preliminary in the Old Testament or consummatory in the New, are without significance; but to put them in the same plane or plateau as the Cross or free salvation is like a land owner worshipping a cheque book, whereas it is the land which is the real source of the wealth. Hebrews makes the point severely in Chs. 8-10, for it is not the blood of goats or bulls, sprinkled (of course) in various 'baptisms' (the word used in Hebrews 9:10) which avails. These merely portrayed the point. It is the blood of CHRIST who died, man for man, which covers the case where faith receives it (Romans 3:23ff.). NO GLORYING may ever make this less than the very compass of salvation (Galatians 6:14), and what some would like to be added makes Christís all sufficient death in vain (Galatians 2:21).
Paul declared that he went to TEST things in Jerusalem, and so was it tested as this huge controversy erupted. He was UNAFRAID to test, because light is free and truth is manifest. What is to be lost! What is of the light comes into it. He FOUND that the apostles added nothing to the revelation given to him, and small surprise in that, since the prophecies of the Old Testament and the fulfilments of them in the New Testament are so clear, numerous and unavoidable; and the same God who inspired them, and brought them to pass in Christ, also aroused Paul from his persecutions to inspiration. Thus with Paul and the other apostles, there was there that delicious unity with the LIGHT TURNED ON! (I Corinthians 2:9-13).
II THE CLAIMS OF CONSISTENCY AND THE GRIP OF GRACE
In fact, Paul went further, and this going further is one of the major features of his consecrated life in Christ. Thus, in Galatians 2:11-17, he found a situation where he actually rebuked Peter. There was in Jerusalem, it appears, a group of people who - right next door to the Temple, wanted to please and not upset needlessly the zealots who had not yet realised that this was now all old hat, a former epoch - a symbolism of splendour if you will, but now replaced by the substance of infinity: God had come to earth as man to die once for all for sin. In fact, it seems that Paul almost went too far here, and in Acts 21 we read how he took a vow and went into the Temple. Now this might have led to a sacrifice, and what a marvel that the great apostle to the Gentiles was preserved from falling here, for he was arrested before the horror happened. In fact, we read that this was scheduled - Acts 21:26. A sacrifice for a vow when Christ had died! What a horror that would have been...
At length, Peter was affected by the same idea. He had been eating freely with the Gentiles - a lesson, you recall, he had been taught in the extraordinary vision experience with Cornelius the centurion, when he had been commanded to eat 'impure' flesh, and then realised the point of the vision. He was then a real instrument of grace in the extension of the Gospel of grace to the Gentiles, as in his works in Samaria (Acts 8), and in Lydda and Joppa (Acts 9), where in the interests of presenting the Gospel he healed one for 8 years a paralytic, and raised Dorcas from the dead.
However, when Peter learned that some were coming from Jerusalem and James, he decided to crimp his ways, and not now to eat with Gentiles. This, if intended to prevent controversy, would have been able to invent error, as if a point of view which needed the leaven of grace, required compromise!
Paul boldly pointed this out to Peter (whose humility under rebuke seems one of his greatest features), challenging him to this effect: if you went freely with the Gentiles, so showing the example, why are you making Gentiles live as Jews (by requiring Jewish customs and ways as a cultural norm)! If normally he was free in the grace which makes all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28), why not now! This PRACTICAL application of the principles of grace, with no allowance for the symbolism that wanted to ADD (rather than be fulfilled), was thus highlighted and became part of Paul's address to the Church at Galatia.
III LIFE IN CHRIST HAS ALL THE
LIBERTY OF A SKI
IT IS FREE, BUT CONTROLLED
Now we come to the heart of the matter: WORKS of the law do not justify; going about to establish our own righteousness is not even relevant (except as rebellion - as in Romans 10:1ff.). If (Galatians 2:17-18), we tried to fulfil the past things as a sort of careful addition to the Gospel of grace, then all talk of omitting them would be a talk of sin, and the liberty in Christ which allows their fulfilment, so that they are no more binding on you, would be ridiculous. Why, it would mean, Paul indicates, that Christ would be ministering not righteousness but sin, constantly piling up sin in us by leading us away from appointed tasks! Yet there are NO SUCH TASKS! If you build up those things, you merely make yourself a sinner, not one liberated by the Lord.
As in II Corinthians 5:15, Paul makes the point that CHRIST DIED FOR ALL so that those who live might NOT live for themselves but for Him. He swallows up your death which means your life is consigned WITH Him, instead of to hell, and then breaks forth from death IN Him who died, so that, as Paul says in Galatians 2:20, it is NO LONGER I who live but CHRIST LIVES IN ME: thus his present Christian life is by faith in Christ. Fleeing to Christ for refuge (Hebrews 6), he has an anchor beyond the veil, and anchors are not things you try to hold onto; they are firmly attached to the ship's structure. In Christ, debts are discharged, and death is not aborted but overcome, while a man is borne into a new life in which he is born anew, IN Christ, by whom, as seeing Him who is invisible, he walks and works.
If you work differently, does not Christ die in vain while you try to pack in your polluted portions, as if you were the very equal of God! (Galatians 2:21). THIS LIFE (for Christ is the way, the truth and the life) is for the living. Its pre-condition is repentance INTO LIFE (Acts 11:19), and the life is that of Christ, who taking the outside, renews the inside, making all things new. In Christ ONLY, you get not a new component or situation merely, but a new LIFE, so that it DERIVES from HIM, as a branch from the vine, the Holy Spirit parallel to the Ďsapí which flows between them. This life has control, capacity, power and direction, just BECAUSE it is yielded ABSOLUTELY to Him. It is in weakness you are strong.
When thus strengthened, you can like Paul, even be audacious, like Stephen, fearless because free in Him. Where love and mercy meet, truth and pardon consort, in the Gospel; man is not missile but a productive sheep, bearing spiritual wool and led in the paths of righteousness by the God who knowing all, guides well. If he must fight, it is by faith that he does it, as in Hebrews 11, and as trusting in the Lord who alive, never languishes, happy in the liberty of love and the clarity of truth.