Misusing the Law

Beware of misusing the law

There are two ways of misusing the law of God: by using it in ways for which it was not designed (misapplication) and by not using it in ways for which it was designed (negligence). From the point of view of the reformed faith, God’s law has three positive functions (show us our sin so we come to Christ, to restrain evil in society, and to show us how as believers we should seek to live).  One function it does not have is to justify those who seek to obey it.  By the law is the knowledge of sin but not justification from the guilt of our sin (Romans 3:19-20).  The Galatians were getting it wrong.  Paul graciously but boldly corrects them.


Today’s reading:  Galatians 2:1-4:31

My selection:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?

Galatians 4:21

For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Maybe Today

God rules in judgment over people and nations. No one escapes.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 13-15; Galatians 6

26 This is the purpose that is purposed
concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
over all the nations.
27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
and who will turn it back?                                                                Isaiah 14:26-27

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.            Galatians 6:7-8

Isaiah, who got a clear vision of God, Holy and lifted up, relates the oracles against various nations: Babylon, Assyria, Philistea, and Moab. All of these were, at one time or other, a threat to Israel and Judah. God assures His people through Isaiah that all these nations are under His control. He will deal with their arrogance and pride and injustice.

Paul has admonished the Galatians to reject the false teaching of those who had come to bewitch and unsettle them (3:1; 5:12). Now he reminds them that God is on the throne and will act in judgment on those who are deceived, thinking that they can sow to their own flesh and get away with it. Two errors concerning sin are in view. One, that by keeping the law we can be justified before God. This is also called “works righteousness.” Two, that sin is of no importance, so we may sin all we please with no consequences. Only through the cross of Christ may we find forgiveness of sin. God will judge those who reject His Son, who is the only Savior and the only means of salvation.

The nations of the Old Testament world have gone, removed from their proud perch. They failed to believe that God rules. Judgment is sure, and judgment is final. Christ’s death is the only way to salvation. Do not trust in your good works. Do not foolishly assume that God is not serious about our sin. Be ready to meet your God. It could be today.

Unquenchable Joy

Joy springs up in the life of those who have God’s Spirit in them.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 10-12; Galatians 5

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:1-3

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Judah and Israel were concerned about national security and relief from the oppressing nations. Isaiah came to them to speak of a Holy God whom they had offended. He was justly angry with them. Israel would be defeated by Assyria. Judah was on probation. But Isaiah also gave them hope of a future in which they would know God’s salvation. They would be comforted in the knowledge that His just anger was turned away.

The sweet promise “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” brings to mind Jesus’ words in John 7:38,  “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus was describing the Spirit that all who believed in Him would receive.

Paul tells the Galatians that in Christ they have freedom: freedom from their sin, guilt, and condemnation under the law. They have the Spirit of God and He bears fruit in their lives: love, joy, peace, etc.

There can be nothing to compare with the comfort which comes from being totally forgiven by God. No more just anger against us. If the Spirit of God lives in us, how can we not have a deep joy that springs up like water from a well? Let the joy of your salvation fill you today.

Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. Isaiah 5:15-16

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.  Galatians 3:13-14

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts. It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day. It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one. The people were living in denial. They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God. It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them. They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1). They needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5). They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20). So do we.

The Galatians’ situation is even more perplexing. Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers are turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope. Paul is astonished. Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem. It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God. This attitude comes from not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin. Usually both.

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death. He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse that was upon us through the law. Do a heart check today. Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.

Legalism Dies Hard

The law was meant to point the world to Christ, never to save.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 1-3; Galatians 2

11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats. Isaiah 1:11

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. Galatians 2:19-21

Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah. Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing. God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices. But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses? Yes, but they were missing the essential part. The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin. These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition. God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed. He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).

In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring. The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God. Paul is deeply agitated (Galatians 1:6-9). His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error. To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.

Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation? Perhaps, as justified  people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness. Beware of straying from the basis of our justification which was purchased by the death of Christ, and not by anything we could ever do. Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness. Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.

His Desire is For Me

It is wonderful to know that the one you love so much, loves you just as much. How much more to know that the Eternal God knows, loves, and has set you apart for Himself before you were born!

Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 6-8; Galatians 1

10 I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me. Song of Solomon 7:10

15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Galatians 1:15-17

Human love is a reflection of the love of Christ for His Church. For that reason, we can learn a little about Christ’s love from real life love stories.

In Solomon’s Song, he tells us of a beautiful and passionate love between a man and a woman. They describe each other with tenderness and awe. Each has found in the other all they could ever want in a spouse. No one or nothing could draw them away. They long to be together. They revel in being desired by each other.

In officiating weddings, I frequently use a famous prayer by Dr. Lewis Evans, the same one our pastor prayed for us. The next to last paragraph says, “May they never take each other for granted, but always experience that breathless wonder that exclaims, ‘Out of all this world you have chosen me!’” Amen.

But there is an even greater love. It is the love of God. It is love which existed before time. It is love which planned our existence and, if God is pleased, chose us to be His own and to do His will. Paul was enthralled with the wonder of God’s grace, His undeserved, unmerited favor. Paul never stopped exclaiming with breathless wonder, “Out of all this world, God has chosen me!”

Do you marvel that God was pleased to reveal His Son to you? God was not forced to do it. He chose to do it because it pleased Him to do it. Like the bride in the Song, never stop exclaiming, “I am My Beloved’s and His desire is for me.”

The Big Picture

Today’s reading: Galatians 5:1-Ephesians 2:22

My selection: Ephesians 1:11-14

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

My reflections: Here we get a glimpse of God”s great eternal purposes for mankind. God is uniting all things in Christ (vs. 10). His purpose is the praise of His glory (vs. 12, 14). Those who hope in Christ have an inheritance in all this that God is doing. The guarantee of that inheritance, of which we have not yet acquired possession, is the Holy Spirit. Those who believe have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

How should we respond to this? We should keep this great view of the purposes of God before us continually, lest we become discouraged with the depressing news of the day, man’s inhumanity to man, endless political corruption, war, deceit, etc. We should seek to grow in the knowledge of our ultimate hope in Him, as Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers (vs. 15-23).

My challenge: Walk in the Spirit with which He has sealed you. Do not lose heart. Keep the big picture before you, today, and every day. God has put all things under the feet of Christ and has given Him as head over all things to the Church. He will fulfill all His purposes to the praise of His glory. Never forget it.

Tomorrow’s reading: Ephesians 3:1-5:33

The Dangers of Misusing the Law

Today’s reading: Galatians 2:1-4:31

My selection: Galatians 4:21

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?

My reflections: The reader of this epistle to the Galatians, if he ignores the rest of the Bible, could easily reject the doctrine of the third use of the law, that is, that the moral law is given as a means of guidance for the believer. The moral law shows us our sin and leads us to Christ (first use). The moral law restrains evil in society (second use).

Context is important. Paul is dealing with the problem of the Galatians reverting to the ceremonial law, exemplified by circumcision, as a means to salvation. So the errors to avoid are:

1. Reliance on the law as a means of being reconciled to God.

2. Confusing the ceremonial law, the law of sacrifices and circumcision, which was fulfilled in Christ perfectly and must no longer be observed, and the moral law which, though unable to justify us, guides the believer in God’s ways and must be observed.

It is clear, as we see in the Galatians 5-6, that Paul was not advocating antinomianism (the belief that the law is suspended and need not be observed by Christians) nor was he advocating disregard for holiness in life. What he opposes in Galatians 1-4 is trust in circumcision, and by extension the Old Testament ceremonial law, as a basis for justification before God.

My challenge: Never trust in your works for acceptance before God. Trust in Christ’s perfect keeping of the law for us. Never disregard God’s moral law, embodied in the ten commandments, as the basis for knowing God’s will. Study, know, and obey His law if you would walk wisely before Him.

Tomorrow’s reading: Galatians 5:1-Ephesians 2:22

Prone to Wander, Lord, I Feel it

Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 11:1-Galatians 1:24

My selection: Galatians 1:6-8

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

My reflections: The temptation to stray from the true gospel was powerful to the Galatians. They began to doubt that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They were drawn back to trust in the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, such as circumcision, for acceptance before God.

My challenge: What temptations lure you away from the truth of the gospel? Be vigilant in resisting the attraction of human reasoning or the allurement of popularity and social acceptability that can make you prone to wander and desert the true gospel.

Tomorrow’s reading: Galatians 2:1-4:31

The Test of Ministerial Integrity

Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:18

My selection: 2 Corinthians 6:3-5

3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

My reflections: Paul was completely committed to the ministry of the gospel. He saw himself as a servant of God. His desire was to be sure there were no obstacles in anyone’s way.

What kind of obstacles?

We get a clue by what he says next (vss. 4b-10). If the attitudes, characteristics, and experiences he mentions were not descriptive of his ministry, there would be a basis for discounting the validity and authenticity of his life and work. If Paul’s life did not match his message, that would create an obstacle for those who heard him to believe what he preached. For example, he says that he and his fellow-workers have demonstrated great endurance. They did not give up when faced with opposition, even severe opposition, like: afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, etc. Furthermore, their lives were characterized by godly virtues, like: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, and truthful speech. He does not credit himself for this, but, rather, the power of God and the weapons of righteousness on which he elaborates in Ephesians 6.

In western evangelical Christianity today, there is a tendency to point to material success as a badge of authenticity of a ministry. Huge mega-churches with impressive music, exciting programs, and entertaining sermons are often considered to enjoy God’s presence and blessing. Yet Paul’s ministry was carried out under the worst conditions of opposition. Paul did not point to the success of his ministry as the badge of authenticity of his ministry. Enduring imprisonment and hunger, not successful TV ratings and the applause of man, was Paul’s proof of God’s blessing.

My challenge: How do you evaluate God’s hand upon a preacher or a church? Does that preacher endure opposition and buck the tide of popular opinion or does he flow along with the culture, telling people what they want to hear? Beware of being seduced by the superficial and temporary success of ministers and ministries that lack both the willingness to endure opposition and the godly qualities that combine truth and love. Beware of churches that succeed by human means but lack the power of God.

Tomorrow’s reading: 2 Corinthians 11:1-Galatians 1:24