The Gospel for Christians

2 Kings 22.8-10 Shaphan’s example

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.

How many people, even those who know the Word of God well, know who Shaphan the secretary is? This man plays a bit part in God’s story of redemption, and yet he is worthy of consideration. Shaphan’s example shows us the value of reading the Word of God and sharing it with those whom God has put in our life. In Shaphan’s case, this was King Josiah.

Hilkiah, the high priest, finds the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord and gives it to Shaphan in v. 8. And then the end of v. 8 simply states… “he read it.” We don’t know what motivated him to read it. but by God’s grace to him, he read! And he doesn’t stop there. Verse 10 goes on to say that Shaphan read the Book of the Law “before the king.” When King Josiah hears the Book of the Law, he tears his clothes and begins to seek the Lord. As the story unfolds, God uses Josiah’s repentance to bring spiritual refreshing to Judah, even though eventually Judah will come under judgment, thus showing that God is just and always punishes sin.

Shaphan’s example to us is simple. He receives the Word of God and reads it, and then he shares it with those in his life… and good things happen.

Posted in Theology

Galatians 2.15-21 Living by Faith in the Son of God

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2.15-16)

In these verses we have the succinct statement of “Paul’s gospel,” that up to this point in the book he has only been referring to, but hasn’t enunciated. This is what he will be defending in the rest of the letter to the Galatians. The true gospel is justification through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of the law. This is the only way to justification. There can never be justification by works. This justification is received by “believ(ing) in Christ Jesus.”

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. (Gal. 2.17-18)

When Paul speaks of being “found to be sinners” this refers to when others accuse Paul of being a “sinner” because he no longer follows the law and no longer seeks justification through it. It does not mean “found to be sinners” in the sense of not being truly justified by God or in the sense of not yet being perfected in holiness. When others make this accusation and say this about Paul, does that mean they are right, and that Christ is a “servant of sin” in that he allows Paul to live sinfully by not conforming to the law’s righteousness? The answer, Paul says, is “certainly not”.

The answer is “certainly not” because it is not sinful to reject conformity to the law as a means of attaining righteousness; exactly what Peter and the other Jews were unintentionally teaching by example in their hypocrisy.

“Rebuilding what I tore down” refers to seeking once again to be justified by the law rather than by faith in Christ. If Paul were to do this, the only result would be that he would be proven to be a transgressor, because the law can only condemn, it cannot save because Paul could never attain the righteousness that is by the law (see vs. 10-11)

When Peter and others were living hypocritically, they were doing this “rebuilding” of a law-based righteousness and Paul is criticizing them for it. Verse 21 sums up the issue at stake beautifully: “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2.19-21)

Now Paul gives in contrast, the right approach to the law. Rather than using the law to seek to justify himself, he receives the condemnation of death that the law demands (“through the law…”). However, as v. 20 makes clear he receives this condemnation through his identification with Christ in his crucifixion.

The result of this is that he “dies to the law so that (he) might live to God.” Paul no longer lives, but Christ lives in him.

Then comes the key contrast that he had introduced in v. 16: between living by faith or by works of the law. Paul restates here that he lives “by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is what many have been calling recently, a “gospel-centered life”. Perhaps we need to get beyond this buzzword and use the scriptural language of living by “faith in the Son of God.”

A “gospel-centered life”, or “living by faith in the Son of God” is trusting that Jesus’ death was my death and that my righteousness is not through a works-based righteousness, but rather through Christ.

This is what Paul implicitly says in v. 21 when he contrasts righteousness “through the law” with the purpose for which Christ died. He is implying that this purpose was to make us righteous.

The problem with the traditional holiness/second blessing understanding of Galatians 2.20 is that being “crucified with Christ” is not something that happens only in those certain believers who go through a crisis of surrender at some point after their conversion. This is true of every believer who is united with Christ by the Spirit. V. 20 is describing the indicative truth of what has happened to every true believer! So live by faith in the Son of God!

Posted in Theology

Judges 8.22-35 Gideon’s ephod

Here at the end of Gideon’s story, when he very easily could have taken the kingship of Israel because it was offered to him by the people, he refuses and says that Yahweh is the rightful king of Israel. So even in the degraded time of the judges, there was still a knowledge of Yahweh and the uniqueness of Israel as a nation under his rule rather than under human rule. This is also reflected in the other judges in that they are not referred to as kings, but rather as judges. The word for “judge” and “judging” is the same word used in Exodus 18.13 to refer to Moses deciding cases that the people of Israel would bring to him. The picture I get is that the judge was a person who would be a conduit through which God’s rule over the people would be administered. Someone had to make decisions when there were disputes.

But the irony is that while the existence of judges (rather than kings) points to this tacit acceptance that they were a nation under Yahweh, there is still a constant looking to the gods of the Canaanites that oppress Israel throughout the book (the baals). And here at the end of Gideon’s story, something similar takes place. But rather than being a local deity, it is the ephod that Gideon makes out of the earrings that are given to him from the spoil of the Midianites.

In the same way, as the people of God in the New Covenant, we can often give lip service to being the people of God who look to Jesus Christ as our King and Lord, but who begin to in reality serve the gods of our age rather than being completely faithful to Jesus as our only Lord.

But what is the place of Gideon’s ephod in this subtle falling away from serving only the true God–Yahweh.

The golden earrings are rightful spoils of battle that came from a victory that God gave Israel. But rather than dedicating these to God and putting them in the treasury of the Lord (something we see David doing in 1 Chron. 26.27) Gideon makes an ephod of them, which becomes a snare to Israel. It is not clear what Gideon intended this ephod to be used for (an ephod was something that a priest would wear when doing religious ceremonies), but the fact that Israel “whored after it” shows that it is looked to in the place of God. Whoring is a word that is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to service to idols in the place of God.

We know that the tabernacle existed and the sacrificial system was active in the time of the judges because it is mentioned in 1 Samuel 2.22 in the story of Samuel (it was at Shiloh. It is also referred to as “the temple of the Lord” in 1 Sam. 1.9, 3.3), but there is only a passing reference to it in Judges 18.31. So it appears that in the time of the judges, while there were some (like Elkanah, Samuel’s father, 1 Sam 1.3) who would worship at the tabernacle, the majority of the Israelites, rather than seeking Yahweh exclusively, would look to the baals and things like this ephod as sources of help and blessing. We are not told in what specific manner these things were served.

But when you get to v. 33, you can see that the ephod of Gideon was a stepping stone back to serving the baals, after an initial return to the Lord under Gideon. Perhaps the lesson to be drawn them from the story of Gideon’s ephod, then, is that idolatry or turning away from the true God in spiritual adultery (whoring) can be an incremental process. There can be a subtle shift from full devotion to God to a devotion to something that looks like it is devotion to God but is actually devotion to something else. In this case, it was the ephod that symbolized the victory that God had given Gideon over the Midianites. I want to be careful not to read too much into the story and to start describing what this service to the ephod actually looked like because we are not told those details. But I wonder if the application to us as the New Covenant people of God is that there can be a similar subtle shift from serving God to looking to other things that look like service to God but are actually only stepping stones to full idolatry and serving the gods of the world around us.

An example that I wonder about is the way we often begin to rely more on the thinking and values of the world rather than on the Word of God in the way we plan and carry out our ministry in the church. We depend on human management insights and marketing techniques. We look to make our ministry more attractive and appealing to people in ways that appeal to their fleshly desires rather than exalting the God of the Bible. This eventually leads to a situation where the gospel of Christ is obscured and people are attending church and enjoying it, but whose lives are not at all different from those of the broader society around them. They are serving the same baals that the society around them serves and the church (as a people) has no distinctive identity in the broader society.

For a time, there may be a distinctiveness in terms of belief systems. In other words, there may be an intellectual assent to the historic doctrines of the Christian faith, but eventually even these will be abandoned. 

Posted in Theology
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