Day 276: Take the high-road

Esther 7-10; Galatians 5

Esther concludes in dramatic fashion as she reveals Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews to the king. One of my favorite aspects of this story is how the foolishness of evil is revealed – especially in the ironic relationship between Haman and Mordecai. In the end, evil is defeated in the most humiliating of ways – as all of Haman’s evil plans come back on him!

But let’s turn our attention to Galatians 5, where Paul is continuing to persuade the Gentile Christians to not look to the law for salvation…

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. […] For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Galatians 5:2; 6).

And then Paul clarifies himself…

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).

Paul then paints a vivid picture of how to live by faith. He instructs the Gentile Christians in Galatia to walk in the Spirit. He lists all the ways to live in the “flesh” and contrasts them with the fruit of living in the Spirit. The fascinating thing about these two lists is that they contrast the “works” we are able to accomplish in our own power with the “works” that the Spirit can accomplish through us. Do you see the difference? One list represents “our effort” and the other list represents “God’s effort.”

This is what we are able to accomplish with our sin nature at the helm: impurity, idolatry, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, envy (5:19-21). I took out the “bad” sins just so we can more easily identify with this list…because all of this list – even the “bad” sins I omitted – are present in our churches today.

Contrast this with what God can produce in us by the power of His Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control (5:22-23)….This is the way of faith.

When Paul says that we are “free from the law,” he is not saying we are no longer under moral obligation…No! We are to live a life surrendered to the Spirit – so that our lives can no longer be condemned by the law.

In a way, it’s a higher calling – made possible only by the Spirit’s working in our life!

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Day 275: A false gospel

Esther 4-6; Galatians 4

The situation in Galatia is intriguing. Paul was originally detained in Galatia because of an unknown illness (4:13-14), so he took the opportunity to preach to the pagan Gentiles in the region. They received the gospel with joy and faith, and Paul left to continue his missionary journey. Then false teachers, trying to please the Jewish authorities, began to teach the new Gentile Christians in Galatia that they needed to also obey aspects of the Jewish law – such as circumcision and observing the holy days and festivals (4:10).

Paul was outraged! If the Galatian Christians received salvation through faith alone, then they should continue to live by faith alone! Adding requirements to the gospel makes it a false gospel… in essence, it is teaching that we are justified through works – which is impossible!

Paul continues to counter the false teachers by giving examples from the Old Testament that prove that justification has always been by faith and never by works (or the law). In Chapter 3, he pointed back to Abraham’s faith as an example (3:6) and also quoted from Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by faith” (3:11). And in today’s reading, Paul contrasts the two sons of Abraham – saying that Ishmael represented slavery under the law, but Isaac was a child of the promise…he represented faith.

And then Paul does something extraordinary… he tells the Gentile Galatians – those who used to worship pagan gods – that they are also children of the promise; consequently, they are not under the law (4:28)! This is amazing! And a truth that should set us free from works-righteousness and help us to embrace the gospel of grace.

But we mustn’t think that God has forsaken those of Jewish heritage. ABSOLUTELY NOT! God has opened the gates of heaven to all who turn to Him in faith!

We see a picture of extraordinary faith in today’s reading from the Old Testament, as Esther, puts her life in God’s hands and acts on behalf of the Jewish people…

Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:15-16).

This is the kind of faith that pleases God… a self-sacrificing sort of faith, that surrenders everything into God’s hands. Self-justification through good works is an arrogant affront to God. The love of Christ is what compels us to good deeds because our salvation has been accomplished through his perfect work on the cross! When we add anything to the gospel, it becomes a false gospel!

Day 274: Faith & Law

Esther 1-3; Galatians 3

Today, we move on to the book of Esther – which is unique in the fact that it is the only book in the Bible which never mentions God by name. But God’s hand is woven throughout its pages – in the faith of the main characters as they trust Him for their very survival.

Today’s chapters serve to introduce us to the main players of the story. Mordecai and his cousin Esther, faithful Jews living under the gluttonous Persian king, are foiled by the evil and vain Haman who plots the annihilation of every Jew throughout Persia! This dramatic story will continue tomorrow, but for now let’s turn to Galatians 3…

Remember, Paul is writing to the churches throughout Galatia because even though they accepted the gospel of salvation through faith, they were being tempted by false teachers to add aspects of Jewish law to their new Christianity. We would call this “legalism” in our modern circles. Whatever you call it, it’s wrong!

Paul makes his argument stronger by pointing out the fact that Abraham was justified by faith before the Law was given. In other words, justification by faith trumps the law!

But if it’s impossible to be saved by observing the law, this leads to the question… why did God give the Law? This is a great question because the answer reveals a meaningful truth…

The purpose of the Law is to display the holy character of God and establish the standard for righteousness. So when we compare ourselves to this holy God and this perfect standard, we can respond in one of two ways… self-justification or repentance.

Consider Adam. He had one law. Just one. And Adam had the chance to repent immediately after he had sinned in the garden… But Adam chose self-justification instead of repentance. He made excuses. He did not own his sin and ask for forgiveness.

So what is our response when we break God’s law? Will we justify ourselves and make excuses for our sin? Or, will we own our sin and ask for forgiveness? In other words, will we repent?

Repentance and faith levels the playing field. No nation, gender or race has preferential treatment – for all have sinned, and all need to be saved. The covenant of grace is powerful enough to save anyone.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:28-29).