Another of the episodes Gary, Dale, Carl, and I recorded in Fort Payne, Alabama, recently. In this episode, we discuss an often misunderstood, misapplied, but absolutely vital Bible subject. This topic is anything but boring.
Another of the episodes Gary, Dale, Carl, and I recorded in Fort Payne, Alabama, recently. In this episode, we discuss an often misunderstood, misapplied, but absolutely vital Bible subject. This topic is anything but boring.
Some things just don’t mix. Milk and orange juice, Auburn and Alabama fans, Coca Cola and Mentos. There is one particular mix that can sometimes be fatal. Blood pressure medicine can be a great thing, but when mixed with Advil/Ibuprofen it can harm your body and even give you a brain hemorrhage. If you mix two common household items, rubbing alcohol and bleach, you can create chloroform.
It’s safe to say that some things in life just don’t mix. Twenty to thirty years after the ascension of Jesus, Paul wrote to a group of Christians in Galatia warning them of the dangers of mixing two teachings. In Galatians 1:6, Paul says, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” He goes on to say in verse 7, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Paul is writing to the Galatians to answer a simple question: “What is required for a person to be saved?” Forget circumcision (Acts 15:1), forget additional teachings, what does GOD say? His answer can be summed up as this: “We need nothing other than what is found in scripture to walk in the Light.”
Paul addresses the problem in verse six, and he uses the word “amazed” (“thaumazo”) (cf. Acts 4:13; Mark 5:20). He was amazed because these Christians should’ve known better than to listen to these false teachers. Paul’s point is that if there is anything added to that which is necessary for the maintaining of your walk in the light, it is not necessary for salvation.
These Christians should’ve known better, but sadly we are sometimes the same way. We know what’s right and wrong, yet still choose poorly. We know how our speech should be as Christians, we know how we should act and how we should think, but more often than not we make the wrong decision.
The message that these Christians were to accept was that of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and the correct way to be saved. Any requirement outside of the plan of salvation was to be condemned. If that other requirement is the sinner’s prayer, it must be condemned. If that other requirement is a “new wave of salvation,” as some denominations teach, it is to be condemned. If that other requirement is a tradition not necessary for salvation yet enforced as such, it is to be condemned. We are only compelled to follow what is contained in God’s Word.
We do this because there is only one source of truth, as Paul goes on to say in Galatians 1:7-9. No one else (not even an angel) has the authority to add to what God has already completed. Scripture is our objective standard, the one source of truth that we can count on no matter what.
Every year there are new medical breakthroughs that may change how a doctor treats his/her patient. For example, doctors used to bleed their patients because they thought there was such thing as “bleeding out bad blood.” We know this isn’t the case today and that’s because as humans our knowledge is fallible and subject to change. This is not the case for Christians.
Our methods may change as time goes on, but our message and teachings will never change. Their author is our perfect, unchangeable, all-knowing, infallible God.
We need nothing other than what is contained in scripture to walk in the light. Paul tells them what is required for salvation. There is only one Gospel that helps to walk in the light. There is only one source that the gospel has come from. We have to decide which gospel we will listen to. Will we let man ruin what God has deemed perfect? Will we let someone else tell us how to be saved? Man, on his own, doesn’t know how to be saved.
God gave us one gospel through One source, now it is up to us to make the right decision.
Gary Pollard III
Grace is a touchy subject. As with many other words commonly used in religious circles, it has potential to be misused or misunderstood. My hope is that this brief study on grace will shed some light on a confusing subject.
First, grace is possible for all men to have (Titus 2.11). It has been clearly displayed and advertised to everyone. The word “appeared” in that passage is epiphane, which means “to make an appearance.” No one is exempt from grace if they follow the right steps to receive it!
Second, grace keeps us in good standing with God if we are walking in the light (I John 1.7,8). In Acts 2.47, chairo (pronounced ky-roe) is translated “favor.” In Luke 6.32-34 Jesus uses it in a very interesting way. He says, “If you only love those who love you back, what credit is that to you?” Credit is charis, the word for grace.
So what is grace? What does it mean to you and me? If we are walking in the Light – trying our very best to follow God’s commands and allowing our faith to be the driving force of our lives – God takes care of our sin problem. When we slip up and make a mistake, God removes it from our record. This does NOT mean that we can sin all we want and God will just overlook it (see Romans 6.1,2). It does, however, mean that God is not waiting to strike us out of the book of life the moment we make a mistake.
Grace is what happens when God wants to do good for mankind. Luke 6.35 says, “Love your enemies, and do good, loan to others without expecting anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” The word kind in the bolded phrase is charis: grace. It does not mean the same thing for evil men that it does for the Christian, but it does help us to get a better sense of what this word means.
God is rooting for His children (Christians). He WANTS us to get through this life and die in Him (Psalm 116;15). He isn’t our accuser waiting for us to slip up so He can condemn us. He helps us along the way, He shows good will to us, and He gives us His grace so that we can spend an eternity with Him as long as we are walking in the Light.
When I was a student at Faulkner University, Schick Corporation sponsored a three-on-three intramural basketball competition known as Super Hoops. The school’s student activity director organized the tournament, and the winning team won a paid trip to the national tournament to compete for the national title. My senior year, four of us decided to form a team and compete for this coveted prize. We had a guy, Patrick Hunter, who was a slick ball handler and had been a point guard in High School. We had another guy, Bart Carter, who had actually played baseball at Mississippi State before transferring to Faulkner to become a Bible Major. There was me, more of an outside shooting threat if anything. But it was our fourth man, Mike Whisenant, who truly tipped the scales in our favor. He was a High School basketball star and was our big man. He also had a great shot, but we could depend on him to score inside consistently. Every team could have four players and you could rotate in and out to keep players fresh. But the guy who had to stay in, our workhorse, was Mike. It was certainly a team effort, but it was Mike who carried us to victory at Faulkner and punched our ticket to Atlanta. We got to stay at a very nice Hyatt hotel for free. We got meal vouchers, cool T-shirts, and I didn’t buy a razor for a couple of years. Although our glory was short-lived on the “national stage,” getting beat by Morehouse and then Valdosta State in a double-elimination format, we got to compete—thanks mostly to Mike’s skillset and abilities.
Perhaps that’s a crude way to illustrate a term used by Paul in Colossians 1:12, but follow me for a moment. Paul is in the middle of his prayer for the Colossians, telling them he wanted them (and by extension he wants us) to please God in all respects. The four ways to do that follow that imperative: bearing fruit, increasing in knowledge, being strengthened, and giving thanks. Paul says to give thanks to the Father, “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” The word translated “qualified” here is only found one other time, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul says “our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant.” The same idea is conveyed in both passages.
Though I could not find the Greeks using this verb in an athletic sense, it literally means “to cause someone or something to be adequate for something” (Louw-Nida 678). The adverb form of the word appears many times in the New Testament, and means “sufficient in degree, sufficient, adequate, large enough” (Arndt, Danker, et al 472). Our word means to “render competent or worthy” (Zodhiates np). God is the cause of adequacy, the One who makes us competent and worthy to receive the inheritance. We have a part to play. We must be obedient, fruitful, knowledgeable, strong, and thankful. Without this proper response to God’s grace, we do not qualify for the prize. But, who is most responsible? Who do we most depend upon? It’s not us. It’s Him!
My illustration is feeble, but it helps give me a faint glimpse of what Paul is talking about. In an infinitely greater way, I owe my eventual, eternal prize to God’s ability and identity. But, because I want to please Him in all respects, I am going to work hard and with gratitude for the One who makes it all possible.
How many times have you said that? You may project an air of confidence that would make it hard for anyone to think you felt that way or you may wear it on your sleeves. But, if honesty prevails, we’d all confess to wrestling with that thought. Daily! With Paul, facing the scope of our challenge, we exclaim, “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). BDAG informs us that “adequate” means “sufficient in degree…large enough; pertaining to meeting a standard, fit…competent, qualified, able” (472). As Paul’s words are in the context of ministry, conscientious preachers who read that statement really get it. We’re fragile pottery entrusted with a perfect, eternal, and divine message (2 Cor. 4:7). Oh, how we feel our own humanity as we preach the mind of God to others struggling with their humanity. We know our every weakness better than anyone else does.
Yet, the struggle I mention is not just the preacher’s burden. The best Christians I know live each day fully aware of their inadequacies and insecurities. No matter how many good works they do, how faithful in attendance and duty they are, or how actively they seek opportunities to serve God, they struggle at times. May I suggest that this is one of the biggest blessings of living the Christian life. No, we don’t want to live in a shroud of guilt. Not at all! But, consider what happens when we acknowledge our glaring insufficiencies. We can see our utter dependency on God that much better.
Could Moses have really led the Israelites for 40 years on his own ingenuity and oratory? Could Jeremiah have really faced his audience on his own temerity? Could a renewed Peter have really preached that Pentecost sermon to Jesus’ killers on the merits of his own homiletic greatness? Could Paul have really transformed the first-century world on the foundation of his cosmopolitan experience and top-notch education from Gamaliel University?
Repeatedly, throughout His ministry, Jesus decries the Pharisaical tendency of trusting in self (Luke 16:5; 18:9). Ultimately, it’s a farce anyway. I may struggle with different weaknesses than you, but I still struggle. While that is never an excuse to give up and indulge in sin (cf. Rom. 6:1-2), it is a great, daily starting place to appreciate our need of God’s favor and friendship. We are not going to make it through this world on our own merits. As the beautiful old song suggests, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee, every hour I need Thee….”
Here’s the beautiful thing that happens when we recognize our shortcomings and inabilities. We become an empty vessel that God can fill to accomplish His work. God will open doors of opportunity for us to do, by His might, what we could never have hoped to do without Him. Whether doors of service (teacher, elder, preacher, deacon, etc.), lives of holiness, or works of obedience, we will live in amazement of His power. Or, as Paul put it, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20-21). Take heart, Christian! You’re not doing this alone. You can’t! But, what can God not do? That thought is exciting and thrilling. With that in mind, no mountain is too formidable. He’s got this!
Deuteronomy was apparently a favored Old Testament book for our Lord. It was this last book of the Pentateuch Jesus quotes each time He is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Mt. 4:4,7,10). His writing on discipline (Mt. 18:16) and divorce (Mt. 5:31; 19:7) draw on Moses’ writings in that book, too. It is interesting, considering Christ’s propensity to reflect upon the book of Deuteronomy, to see the instructions given under the old law in dealing with prodigal sons:
If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father
or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them,
then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of
his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he
is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to
death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear
of it and fear (Deut. 21:18-21).
Interestingly, these statements are found in the context of meting out inheritances to sons. Notice, however, the way God chose to deal with profligate (i.e., wasteful and immoral) sons under the first covenant. There seems to have been a perceived tie between rebellion toward parents and rebellion against God. The worst case scenario for such a child was the death penalty, the men of the city hurling the rocks.
How shocking Jesus’ story might have been, seen in the context and in contrast to the law under which the Jews still served at the time! As He so often did, Jesus points to a new way of divine dealing with mankind. The Prodigal (i.e., wasteful) Son in Luke 15:11ff was certainly stubborn and rebellious, wanting free from the rule of his father. Yet, the father allowed the son to depart. The son lived in total dissipation and then longed to come home. The homecoming he received from his father was totally unexpected. He was joyfully, lovingly welcomed. In fact, the hard-hearted, begrudging brother is depicted as having greater spiritual problems since he refused to follow the father’s lead.
We are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). We all are in need of the Father’s grace and forgiveness. We also are instructed, by the Father’s perfect example and the older brother’s wrongheaded response, about how to receive our prodigal brothers and sisters who want to come home! Thank God that because of Christ, we have a new way to handle prodigals and to be handled as prodigals who come back to the Father!
Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10). He is the author of audacity, and he showed it first in Eden. He is at work today through temptation and suffering to try and dismantle our faith. He is a presence in our personal lives (1 Pet. 5:8). If there’s hurt, he’s happy. If there’s sin, he’s satisfied. He can’t force anyone to sin (Js. 1:13-15). He can’t make us fall away (John 10:28-29). But, he’s at work. Paul writes about something that has long mystified the Bible student, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. In that passage, we have:
Paul reveals Satan’s involvement in that thorn. This troubles me. I have never asked for a thorn in the flesh and I have no reason to think Paul asked for his, but he got one anyway. What do you do when you have a thorn in the flesh? Consider at least three things Paul teaches us in this powerful passage.
No one is immune from thorns. Who’s talking in this text? The great apostle Paul, a man God gave revelations, who’s preaching across the world, converting so many, and achieving name recognition for the best of reasons. If you ever thought anybody would be sheltered for doing right, it would be him. But Paul says there was given to him a thorn in the flesh. That makes me uncomfortable. I need spiritual lessons about God and myself, as Paul and even Job, who Satan was allowed to buffet, did. If a great Old Testament patriarch and great New Testament preacher had thorns to deal with, I know I am not immune.
Sometimes, God lets the thorn stay. We may have to accept that our given affliction may never come to an end as long as we’re on this earth. A recurring or chronic illness, constant adversary, or irreversible limitation may not be removed. I wish I knew why God told Paul “no” and why he sometimes tells us “no” when we ask for our thorns to be removed. But, even if we keep the thorn, God’s grace is sufficient and He can use that very thing to accomplish good through us for the Kingdom. God uses thorns to supply us with humility and grace. If our thorn comes and stays rather than comes and goes, God will use it for our good and to accomplish good if we will properly view it.
Thorns are growth opportunities. If we remain faithful to God through our thorns, we will spiritually grow. Satan is rebuffed and defeated, as he was with Paul and Job. But, for every Paul and Job, how many have let affliction and adversity destroy their faith? We know God’s power eclipses Satan’s. But don’t underestimate this enemy (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7). One of Paul’s final points in the letter is about God’s great power (13:4). Paul was weakened by affliction, but he could endure because of faith. God is more powerful than Satan and Paul’s thorn is but one proof of it. Lyte wrote,
As woods, when shaken by the breeze, take deeper, firmer root,
As winter’s frosts but make the trees abound in summer fruit;
So every Heaven-sent pang and throe that Christian firmness tries,
But nerves us for our work below, and forms us for the skies.
Is it a trial or a blessing in disguise? Doesn’t it depend on how we view it and what we do with it? Satan wants to use afflictions to destroy us, but God is greater. He can transform our tragedies into triumphs. Trust Him through the thorns. The roses will appear!
We were living in Cairo, Georgia, and I was in the third grade. It was during a game of kickball on the playground and I was the “pitcher.” A kid kicked it hard and I caught it. As the ball hit me in the gut, I felt a sharp pain. Something wasn’t right. My parents took me that week to see the local doctor. He thought it might be a hernia. Exploratory surgery in Thomasville instead revealed a tumor on my liver. My parents and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, where I was checked into Egleston Children’s Hospital. Extensive testing there and Emory Hospital, the general campus for Egleston, led my team of doctors to the same conclusion. It was cancerous. They tried to prepare my parents for how slim my chance of survival was. Even if their diagnosis was wrong, surgery and attending blood loss may well be more than I could stand. My parents maintained great faith, and my dad solicited prayers from congregations all over the place. Dr. Gerald Zwiren, who led a team of highly-skilled doctors, brought the news to my parents that I survived the surgery and later shared the oncology report that my tumor was benign. That was close to 40 years ago and to this point I have never had further complications. I certainly received a second chance.
Periodically, I ponder at length what I have done with that second chance. The scar I bear from that surgery has long since become invisible to my daily view. I suffer no lingering consequences. That event is certainly not why I chose to become a preacher, as if to try and pay a debt to God for saving me. Sadly, despite His mercy in sparing me, I have sinned in ways great and small that reveal, in addition to all else, a failure to appreciate that blessing. Spiritually, whether as a preacher, husband, father, or Christian, I am saddled with the realization of how far I have to go. With the help of His Word, His providence, and His strength, I continue to try to make the most of this extra time He gave me back in 1979.
All of us who are New Testament Christians face the same spiritual situation. We suffered the terminal condition of lostness in sin. By all human calculations and efforts, nothing could be done to save us. Yet, when we responded to His grace by believing, repenting, and being baptized (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), He gave us all a “second chance.” We passed from death to life. More than that, God gave us a way to continually receive the benefits of the blood and grace of His Son as we strive to walk in His light (1 Jn. 1:7-10). You may have messed things up badly in your life. You may feel that it is impossible for God to love and forgive you. Friend, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). God is the God of the second chance! His diagnosis is perfect, and His is the only one that counts! Trust in the Great Physician. He has never lost a patient who followed His prescription!
My brother and fellow preacher, Brent Pollard, finds the most interesting historical facts—an ability which makes his preaching illustrations most interesting. He sent me an article about the Oise-Aigne Cemetery in northern France. Though I have actually visited that cemetery, I had no idea about the existence of an auxiliary burial plot known as “Plot E.” While the 6012 military personnel buried in the four main burial plots lost their lives in World War I, the 94 interred in Plot E are infamous, disgraced soldiers who died for their crimes during or after World War II. These men either murdered fellow soldiers or raped and/or murdered 71 people in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Algeria. “No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road” (warhistoryonline.com).
These men were supposed to be fighting for the freedoms and rights of American citizens, but instead they were most dramatically undermining the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness of the unfortunate ones who crossed their paths. For their crimes, they not only paid the ultimate penalty but were buried in disgrace and immortalized with infamy. They are remembered as “the dishonorable dead.”
The book of Revelation refers to the “book of life” (20:12), implying that it is possible for one’s name to be blotted out of it (3:5). However, those whose names are not found in that book will be “cast into the lake of fire” (20:15). Those who take away from the words of this revelation—and by application any other (cf. Gal. 1:6-9)—“God shall take away his part of out of the book of life” (22:19). More specifically, John says, “And nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). For the ungodly and disobedient, John lays out in apocalyptic terms how unthinkably horrible it will be to die unfaithful to Christ. He says, “He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (14:10-11a).
Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). The faithful will receive glory and honor and reward (Mat. 25:34-40). The unrighteous, however, will go away into everlasting punishment (Mat. 25:46). No one will deserve heaven, but will go there thanks to God’s amazing grace and his or her conscious effort to walk in the light (1 John 1:7-10). Those who know not and obey not the gospel will endure something eternally worse than a firing squad, a hangman’s noose, or blameworthy burial (2 Th. 1:8-9). Though the world may believe less and less in the reality of hell, the Bible’s position on the matter has not changed. Knowing the terror of the Lord, may we persuade others and, ourselves, be persuaded (2 Cor. 5:11).
Earlier today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint-session of the United States Congress. It was an impassioned plea, from beginning to end, as he spoke in his broken English about the trials his people have endured for many months now. He gave poignant examples of brave men who were killed for their courageous stand against ruthless enemies. One of his imploring calls for help invoked our own past path as a nation and our pursuit of liberty. It was about then that he exclaimed, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”
Poroshenko was speaking not of the Ukrainians but of the Russian people, who he believed had been fed the idea that freedom is a luxury that they should not necessarily expect to enjoy. He rebutted such a view. We have such a hard time in our nation comprehending life in a land where freedom is such an elusive commodity. But, for those people, it is a daily battle!
In the spiritual sense, this stated idea is most true and important. Sin is a horrible dictator and master, brutalizing and bringing death to those who are under its power. Eternity is in the balance for us. Will we leave this life as free men and women or as slaves? What makes this so much more paramount is that it is harder to discern spiritual bondage than physical bondage. We may think ourselves perfectly free all while toiling in the chains of darkness!
Paul made his own impassioned plea to the saints at Galatia. He wrote them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1). Can you imagine a nation or even an individual who had endured torture and seen loved ones murdered now enjoying the rights and privileges of freedom but volunteering to return to that former way of life? It is unthinkable, unless we speak in the spiritual sense. People continue to run toward and embrace the enslaver of souls. To any one, we would implore, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”