THE CHURCH’S RULE

“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule”.

Gal 6:16 NIV

When you wish another Christian believer well, it is customary to say something more than merely that which refers to their health. You wish them God’s blessing, or something that God can do for them or in them. Christians need more than human beings can do for them – in such every day things as greetings as well as in the bigger moments and crises of life.

What did Paul mean by ‘this rule’? The actual word he used meant a measuring rod or ruler, “the carpenter’s or surveyor’s line by which a direction is taken” (J. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p181) the original Greek word, ‘canon’ meaning the list of books which have been included in the Bible. There were many other writings that were not included, most of them having been regarded as of inferior or dubious quality. Paul saw the new creation and life in Christ as being the straight rod for any Christian church. Later, his writings were included in “the canon”, since they formed the guidance for Christian belief and conduct, as did Peter’s epistles, Jude and John’s three letters. Congregations that stuck to these guidelines would not go far wrong. They would also know “peace and mercy”. These were gifts of God and would be signs by which non-believers would be able to assess whether any congregation was a genuine Christian body of believers or not.

There are many different ways that people decide whether a Christian community is “on track”. Sometimes they are impressed by the music, sometimes by the preaching, or the charitable works, the attractiveness to youth or the pleasantness of the building. It should be by the manifestation of the new life in Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your grace be the rule which guides our congregation.

THE TRUE ISREAL

“All who walk by this standard are the true Israel”.

Gal 6:16 EHP

Sometimes people ask the question, “What is going to happen to Israel?” The real answer is, “We don’t know. We’re not God”. What we do know is that the people who believe in Jesus Christ and put their trust in him, whatever nationality or race they may be, are promised eternal life in Christ.

When he was converted to Christ, Paul abandoned his allegiance to the Jewish faith and gave himself unreservedly to Christ. And in doing so he became “a new creation”. Leaving behind his burden of guilt he stopped being “bugged” by it and by the domination of the Jewish law. He became a free man – free to serve and love Jesus and his followers. He knew, the Holy Spirit having guided him to this truth, that the body to which he now belonged was the true Israel, sons and daughters of God and joint-heirs with Christ. In effect he is saying that those who become a new creation through faith in Jesus Christ are the sons and daughters of God – and all that goes with that.

This means that people today who trust themselves to God in Christ are part of that true Israel, as were the Galatians to whom Paul wrote way back then in the first century. So were the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians and all the other Christian believers, including those in Jerusalem. This means that all the promises and blessings God offered to the Old Testament believers are inheritances which we may share, and more besides. There is a direct continuity between the Old and New Testaments, as well as between the faith in each of them.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for the assurance that I am a member of your true Israel.

A NEW CREATION

“What counts is the new creation”.

Gal 6:15 NIV

Billy Graham told a story about a person who became a new creation. She began as a New York career girl working in a high-powered advertising agency. Her fiancé worked in the same agency. Life was one whirl of cocktail parties and night clubs. The young man was transferred to Los Angeles, and she was soon to follow. She was in for a shock though. The young man had fallen for someone else, and she was all alone in a big city, her hopes shattered, her pride crushed. She had nowhere to turn for guidance or comfort.

She wandered down the city street, with nowhere to go. She passed the marquee in which Billy Graham was conducting an evangelistic campaign and wandered in, not understanding what possessed her to do so. She sat miserably through the service. The next night she went again – then again. At the end of the week she responded to the altar call and gave her life to Christ. “With the burden of guilt and rejection lifted from her through faith in Christ, she came to see that the love she had lost was but a steppingstone to a far greater and much richer love. The sense of humiliation that prevented her from returning to her former New York job vanished and the life she now entered on was fuller and richer.

The imagination she previously devoted to ‘understanding the office crowd’ now goes into presenting imaginative Bible stories to children. Her fund-raising skills are dedicated to God and his work. She became an attractive and radiant person…. she knows now that Jesus Christ is ever by her side, ready to comfort, guide and protect her” (B Graham, Peace with God, p98).

She is a new creation.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make me new all over.

A NEW CREATION

“What counts is the new creation”.

Gal 6:15 NIV

The Christian gospel is all about Jesus Christ making new creatures out of people – whether they have obeyed the old laws or not. Jesus Christ changes people’s deep inner selves and souls. From people who are dominated by sin they become people dominated by Christ, filled with love, rejuvenated in their whole outlook on life and people wanting to do good works for the glory of God.

Describing Jesus later, his disciples said of him simply that “he went about doing good”. It follows that those people whom Christ has made new and who live “in him” will also go about doing good. They will be new in their understanding of God, no longer fearing him as a merciless tyrant. They will be new in the company they keep – seeking always the fellowship of God’s people and endeavouring to build up that company and promote its interests. They will be new in their sympathies, extending love and compassion to those who are weak, poor, and neglected. They will be new in their beliefs since their acceptance by God through the grace of Jesus Christ will overshadow all other ideas and concepts. They will delight in the Bible, despite not understanding every word or passage. They will always seek the activity of the Holy Spirit and his influence in their lives since he will shape them after the pattern of Jesus Christ. They will try to determine the truth about Jesus by asking for the guidance of the Spirit. They will have new understanding of their stewardship of all that God commits to their trust. They will have a new sense of freedom from guilt and an awareness of their roles as disciples of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for making me a new creation.

FORBID IT LORD THAT I SHOULD BOAST

“God forbid that I should boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Gal 6:14 NEB

“The cross for Paul was not something to escape, but the object of his boasting. The truth is that we cannot boast in ourselves and in the cross simultaneously. If we boast in ourselves and in our ability to save ourselves, we shall never boast in the cross and in the ability of Christ crucified to save us. We have to choose. Only if we have humbled ourselves as sinners shall we give up boasting of ourselves, fly to the cross for salvation and spend the rest of our days glorying in the cross.

As a result, we and the world have parted company. Each has been ‘crucified’ to the other. ‘The world’ is the society of unbelievers. Previously we tried to be in favour with the world. But now we have seen ourselves as sinners and Christ crucified as our sin-bearer, we do not care what the world thinks or says or does to us. ‘The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’.

So then, Paul has contrasted false and true religion. On the one hand was the Jewish law, standing for the outward and the human, a formal external religion and our own efforts to save ourselves. On the other is the cross of Christ as the new creation, the finished work of Christ on the cross to redeem us and the inward work of the Spirit in our hearts to regenerate and sanctify us. These are fundamental parts of the gospel. You have to grasp that Christianity is first inward and spiritual, and secondly a divine work of grace” (J. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p180).

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help me to glory in Christ’s cross.

THE PROBLEM WITH THE CROSS

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

Gal 6:14 NIV

“What is there about the cross of Christ which angers the world and stirs them up to persecute those who preach it? Just this: Christ died on the cross for us sinners, becoming a curse for us. So, the cross tells us some very unpalatable truths about ourselves, namely that we are sinners under the righteous curse of God’s law and we cannot save ourselves. Christ bore our sin and curse precisely because we could gain release from them in no other way. If we could have been forgiven by our own good works, by keeping the (Jewish) law in every respect we may be quite sure there would have been no cross. Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying’. Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.

And of course, men and women do not like it. They resent the humiliation of seeing themselves as God sees them and as they really are. They prefer their comfortable illusions. So they steer clear of the cross. They construct a Christianity without the cross, which relies for salvation on their works and not on Jesus Christ’s” (J. Stott, The Message of Galatians, p179). Our pride gets the better of us until we submit, totally, to Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, get the better of my pride.

WHERE THE FOCUS SHOULD BE

“I am going to boast about nothing but the cross of our Master, Jesus Christ”.

Gal 6:14 EHP

When you make obeying a set of rules and regulations the aim and object of your faith, then, if you achieve success in obeying them, you have achieved something meritorious. If you are that way inclined, you can brag about it. You can chalk it up as one of your attainments, like getting a hole-in-one on the golf course or passing a university degree. The emphasis is all on what you do. It gives you a sense of one-up-man-ship compared with other people who faltered and failed. When Paul shifted the focus to the cross of Christ and made that the centre of his faith he placed the whole emphasis on something God had done. This is far healthier than emphasizing something you’ve done. By emphasizing what God has done you stress how indebted you are to God. Then you can’t brag, flaunt yourself or compare yourself with someone else.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Take a leaf out of the apostle Paul’s book and boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ. On the cross Christ atoned for your sins, did for you what you couldn’t do for yourself, and has put you for ever in his debt. You should always be praising God for what he’s done, making you a new person in Christ Jesus, for ever renewing and redeeming you. He also gives you a message to share – the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. This is the greatest message in the world and living for Jesus is the greatest life any human being can have. Live it to the full and share it with others.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let me focus on Jesus alone.

IT’S SO SUPERFICIAL

“All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe”.

Gal 6:13 EHP

Down all the ages there have been Christian leaders who have supposed that the big thing in Christianity has been to obey the laws set out in some parts of the Bible. Before his conversion to Christ Paul had done just that and he had found that it had generated in him a huge sense of guilt. He had found it was quite impossible to obey ALL the laws. Whilst you were obeying one you were slipping up over another. And when you did obey something it made you proud. You were inclined to be like little Jack Horner who “Put in his thumb and pulled out a plum and said, ‘What a good boy am I’”. Many of the rules had been elaborated by human beings – and whilst you were concentrating on them you were missing out on fellowship with God, losing contact with Christ, forgetting about the love which was everything.

This conflict with the fanatics of the law was a massive issue in the church of Paul’s day. The misunderstanding that they created was rife in most, if not all, of the churches. Had Paul not insisted with every fibre of his being, Christianity could have slipped back into being nothing more than a sect within the Jewish faith. And the conflict that raged caused much tension between the Jewish faith and the emerging Christian church.

New generations of Christians have sometimes concocted new sets of laws and have sought to impose them on the Christians of their day. You need to be vigilant to ensure that laws don’t creep in again via the back door!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, prevent us from becoming slaves to laws again.

OBEYING THE LAW OR FOLLOWING CHRIST

“These people who are wanting you to be tied to the old Jewish law want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death”.

Gal 6:12 EHP

Christianity is not a set of rules and regulations. Most religions are. And the faith from which Jesus came made the observance of a long list of rules a big thing. Many of the people in the communities of Galatia were wedded to that old way of life and wanted to impose it on the new converts to Christ. Here, nearly at the end of his letter to them, Paul wanted to reiterate the point he had previously made that knowing and serving, following and living for Christ was now the big thing – not tying yourself in knots over any of the old list of rules.

That old religion had placed great emphasis on observing some rituals and ceremonies. Paul says those are merely outward and superficial actions that often have no corresponding internal disposition – they are not “spiritual” things at all. Paul’s great desire was not to chalk up a list of the services he’d performed – he wasn’t into “ticking boxes”. He wanted to live close to Christ, because he was a fanatic of the cross. That, he believed, was the heart and centre of Christian living. When you do that you get all these other peripheral things into perspective.

Live near to the cross. Develop a “faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death”. The cross is not just a symbol to haul out on Good Friday – and then put away till next year. Jesus invites you to live at Calvary three hundred and sixty-five days of the year.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Jesus, keep me near the cross.

A PERSONAL LETTER

“See what big letters I make as I write

to you now with my own hand”.

Gal 6:11 GNB

What an amazing book the Bible is! It is a collection of many different kinds of writing. Several books within it are largely historical. Some are sheer theology. Some are poetry, others collections of wise sayings. And Paul’s writings are personal correspondence, as are John’s letters, James, Jude and Peter’s two letters. In this brief sentence Paul unveils a secret – in all likelihood an unnamed assistant served as his secretary, writing what he had dictated, but then he took the pen to add his own personal signature. In this way he authenticated the whole letter.

Paul never knew that his letter to the Galatians would become Holy Scripture, nor any of his other writings. But what he wrote was so precious that people “framed it” so to speak, cherishing his every word. In fact, it was only about this time in history that the Jewish “church” listed the thirty-nine books we call the “Old Testament” and defined them as their “Bible”. There were other religious writings that they excluded!

The miracle is that God has used this odd assortment of writings to speak to people. He still does. God speaks to Christian believers in the twenty first century using the words Paul wrote to sort out the beliefs and thoughts – and mistakes! – of the struggling Christians in Galatia in first century Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He was the only guide they had. Their faith depended on his wisdom and his faith in Jesus Christ. Be grateful both that Paul framed and articulated our faith in the first place and that it has been preserved – and translated – down all these centuries.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for the men and women who wrote the Bible.