“Horses for courses” – as Paul sort-of said. He was recognised as the chief apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews), whilst Peter was the chief apostle to the Jews. Paul’s qualifications for apostleship had been attacked by certain Judaistic elements in the Galatian churches, on the basis that he was not an ‘original’ and also that his gospel was a watered-down version of the discipline required by the Law. Paul spends this chapter countering those two points. He had specifically travelled to Jerusalem to check with his fellow apostles that he was not being heretical in any way. This showed Paul’s humility and his confidence in his gospel. The following truths were discovered:
- The Jerusalem apostles did not insist on Titus (a Gentile) being circumcised
- Paul’s message of grace was not contradicted, and nothing needed to be added to it
- God does not have a favourite people!
- James, Peter, and John (the key leaders in Jerusalem) recognised Paul and Barnabas as equals to them in every way
- The gospel includes a compassionate, active concern for the poor in society
Later, Paul shows himself of equal authority to Peter when he rebukes him for a lack of integrity and an outbreak of hypocrisy. Out of fear, Peter had behaved differently when alone with the Gentile believers, compared to when there were some strict Jewish Christians present. A lack of integrity and consistency across our personal lives is a serious drawback to the gospel. Let us examine ourselves to see if we are different people at work, at home, in church gatherings, and in our neighbourhoods etc. If the Holy Spirit prompts us to be more consistent, then listen carefully and ask for prayer from your fellow believers. Avoid hypocrisy at all costs!
Then we come to the heart of Paul’s gospel, that made it distinct from anything that had ever been said before in history: A person is made acceptable to God by believing in Jesus Christ alone – without any contribution from the works of the Law. He says that three times in verse 16.
If the true gospel is preached correctly, and God’s grace is emphasised as it should be, then it will nearly always raise the question: “So does that mean that we can just sin all we like and still be saved?” If that question is asked of you, you know that you are on the right track as a preacher or witness. When other Christians start accusing us of preaching ‘cheap grace’, we should not be worried!
And the answer, in the purest sense is “Yes, we can”. If we are forgiven, then we are completely forgiven – past, present, and future sins. Whatever we do, we cannot out-sin the Saviour. Not for Paul is the unbiblical, satanic doctrine of “damnation until our next confession”. We have been set free forever! The price has been paid forever. Our future sins were included in the original price paid. We are forever free!
However, a genuine faith also comes with a new birth, a change of heart and a hungry desire to obey and please the Lord Christ. So the genuineness of our saving faith is always evidenced by a hatred of sin, a strong desire to please God, an affinity to God’s people, and a servant heart that loves others and denies self. Paul puts it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ and I (the old Saul) no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (v20).
So the answer to: “Can we believe and just do what we like?” is: “Yes you can, but No I can’t” – not if you have real faith inside you. This is the paradox of the gospel. Paul holds the line, though, that obedience to the Law of Moses does nothing to obtain for you the grace of God. If it did, then do you really think that the Father would have put his Son through all that suffering? Would you have?
ISAIAH 35 and 36
“Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and make this world new again!” That is the effective cry of Isaiah in today’s chapter 35. It is also the cry of every generation of desperate people, weary of the monotonous circuit of life and death, prosperity and famine, freedom and captivity, joy and depression – and it is to them and to us that the Lord graciously sends this prophecy of hope.
As you read on, it seems to speak on several levels: clearly painting a picture of a restored desert land with life-giving irrigation and stunning scenery, food in abundance and a peace-loving population. But this does not really explain the true depths and the ultimate fulfilment of this wonderful message. This new land is infused with the miraculous – in fact, with life everlasting – the lame not only walk again but leap around with shocking athleticism! Blind people are given 20:20 vision and those who are deaf receive ‘pin-drop’ hearing again. I wouldn’t expect to find any remaining trace of cancer, MS, heart disease, kidney failure, paralysis, or infertility here either! This place that was once a desert has become (again) a garden of plenty and full of satisfying long lives.
The clue is “The Highway” – and this is where our literal prophecy moves into metaphor and allegory – the Highway of Holiness. There were roads built up as raised causeways in ancient times, joining one temple to another, on which the holy priests were permitted to travel in safety – but only if you had kept yourself pure for the work of God. Isaiah and God extend this thought to describe the whole life of the believer – especially for us, the Christian. We are together on that ‘Way of Holiness’; Christ has made us pure already and we are safe from harm and from deadly attack. If you are ‘in Christ’ today, then you are a new creation: the old has already gone and the new has already come. The roaring lion who is the Devil is not permitted to touch us and we are protected from the foolish thoughts and corrosive philosophies of this surrounding corrupt world.
We, the redeemed, are walking on this Highway and we will continue to walk on it. It is part of our eternal life that Jesus has already opened the door for us to enter. Everyone that He loves – and who loves Him – is also on that Highway with us; it is not a straight road and there are bends, so some on the journey ahead of us are, for the time being, out of sight. But don’t worry, soon we will take that same path and they will be back in clear view again.
It is also a journey of incredible joy – of singing, of praising the King, of celebration and of laughter. It is filled with the conversations of the Redeemed of God. What else can people do, who have already willingly given up what they could not keep, in order to receive as a gift what they can never lose! Those on the Highway will make it to the City. Fact! “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”. It is interesting and significant that the gladness and joy will overtake and overwhelm them even before they reach their ultimate goal, the City of God. Why? Because once you are on that Highway, you are in most senses already in that City.
Sorrow and sighing will be banished – and He will wipe every team from our eyes, since there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4). Where we are headed, there cannot be any of these obsolete things, since there will be no reason for them to exist.
Chapter 36: The prophecy takes us – for now – back with a bump to a world of pain, famine, and fear. Sennacherib, the hated king of Assyria is about the besiege Jerusalem and Hezekiah’s armies and people, with a view to mutilating some, killing others and enslaving the rest. The commander of the forces of evil mocks the people of God and questions whether their God can possibly save them now. The temptation is to give in to their fears and surrender, to cut their losses. “Have the gods of any nations ever delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria?” As we see in the next few chapters, the wise and faithful leader – King Hezekiah – keeps faith with his Lord, even when things are getting so desperate and seem to be following the prediction of the enemy commander. The darker the situation gets, the more that Hezekiah puts his trust in God. It seems a million miles from a broken, besieged Jerusalem to that City of God, but in reality, it is only just around the corner, out of sight. Keep the faith!