Defending the Gospel Together

Please Read Galatians 5 and 6. You may want to review the last two blog posts as well.

The Holy Spirit is not a psychological tool to be used whenever we need comfort or a boost of energy. John Owen certainly did not intend his explanation of killing sinful habits to be understood like that. And neither are we to focus so much on overcoming our sinful thought patterns that we lose sight of the main teaching of this passage in Galatians.

Paul wrote to encourage his readers to stand firmly together on the gospel of justification by faith alone. He wanted them to resist people who changed the Bible’s main theme by saying one could be made right with God through a ritual, tradition, moral practice, or anything else added to faith in what the Lord Jesus Christ had done for them. Here is the main idea of these two chapters: They were to firmly stand up to false teachers, but always with kindness and humility, and self-control. And the only way they would be able to do that was through the Holy Spirit’s working in their own hearts (Galatians 5:13-26).

We are not to shrink back from standing up for the truth or resisting teachers who are wrong on the gospel. However, it is possible to be firm and clear and, at the same time, humble and kind. It is not easy during the emotions of controversy; you will need grace and enabling power from the Holy Spirit to maintain your self-control. That is why Paul included some detailed instructions in Galatians 5 and 6. Bear one another’s burdens; bear your own load; support your teachers; don’t devour one another through envy and strife; do not provoke one another; walk in the Spirit; do not grow weary or lose heart; be proud only in the cross of Christ.

It is good to recount those times when God’s unmerited favor has enabled you to stand up for the gospel with clarity and gentleness. We should speak often of God’s grace and mercy to us, and urge others to seek both. Remember those times when you failed to control yourself during controversy and was far from kind or gentle. It is humbling, isn’t it? Both memories make us more expectant of grace for the next time the gospel has to be defended.

My, my. We need much grace as we work out standing firmly together on the good news that Jesus Christ offers salvation to those who will turn from their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We also need much grace to search our own hearts and rid ourselves of attitudes, behaviors, and thought patterns that are deserving of God’s anger. Our own sins do not cancel out Paul’s advice to defend the gospel and reject false teaching. But, holding firm on the certainty of God’s wrath to those who continue living as if they were in charge, instead of God, is both possible and necessary. And, that can be done without condemnation.

Charles Spurgeon lost many close friends and fellow-workers when he stood firm on the gospel of grace in London among his Baptist associates. He wrote of his pain in being rejected, and even reviled, by people he had long been in association with. Many lost their focus during this emotional controversy and were far from kind or humble. He eventually had to pull out of the Baptist Association. But, his stand made it clear that salvation was not from our own choice, but through the sovereign work of God in our hearts and minds.

The English Puritans who read John Owen and believed in the heart-work of killing sinful habits needed this same grace to speak the truth with kindness and self-control and humility. Many of their followers failed to do that, and so “Puritan” has come to mean stiff-necked, arbitrary, harsh, self-righteous. We must not make the same mistake as we teach our children and grandchildren to reject homosexuality, abortion, filthy entertainment and music, disrespect for those in authority, laziness, and dishonesty. These can be rejected without haughtiness or condemnation toward others, but with humility and watchfulness, lest we nonchalantly accept sinful behavior as the norm and use mercy as an excuse to do whatever we wish.

It would be tragic to be known as the generation of Christians who caved in on the gospel, failed to teach the wrath of God against all ungodliness, or who acted with rude, harsh condemnation of those who are trapped in their sin. May the grace of the Spirit be with each of us. We feel our need of Him. And we will work all this out in community with other Christians.

For Christians Only

Could you please keep your Bible open to Galatians 5-6 and Colossians 3:3-18? You might want to reread the last post.

Once you have identified some habitual sins–either things you do, ways you relate to others, or what you think about, you need to counter those with their opposites. This takes some thought. And some humbling admission on your part that these habits are displeasing to God. Paul says some are easy to recognize (Galatians 5:19). But, others may sneak up on us so that we need help in thinking all this through (Galatians 6:1-5). Sexual sin is easy to identify even though our society tries to redefine everything. But, desires, and the strong emotions they generate are much easier to dismiss as okay, or even good. Thinking patterns need to be changed as well. You have to work it out yourself. And keep coming back to it until the habit is replaced with something much better–like forgiveness, thankfulness, kindness, mercy, love. Read Colossians 3:8-18.

Confused? Don’t know what is “right” and which desires are “wrong?” In working things out for yourself, it helps to have a standard of righteousness–a measure of what is right or wrong. If your desires and emotions cause you to act in violation of the Ten Commandments, you know these desires are leading you astray no matter how good they seem. Ask yourself, “Does my habit of thinking, reacting, desiring cause me to dishonor those in authority positions? Or to lie? Or to steal? Or to covet? To hate? Or get involved in sexual sin? Or to love something more than I love God? Or to seek my own pleasure or work above keeping the Lord’s Day?” The Moral Law was given to all people everywhere to use as a measuring stick… to show us what sin is. We don’t have to wonder and search and search for it. They are ten ways telling us that we really need a Savior!

John Owen reminded his readers to watch for and take note when we are given strength or any of the fruit of the Spirit, such as peace, patience, self-control. “He gives gracious assistances against the power of sin” is a vital reminder (John Owen, The Holy Spirit, (Christian Focus Publications, 2004, Scotland), p.259=271.) . He wrote this between 1672-1683, but this biblical principle is still true today. We must expect grace, wait for it, depend on it to destroy sinful habits. Owen also told us to cherish this principle of holiness: that God provides us spiritual strength to think, do, and be what is pleasing to Him. Paul reminded us that there is never a law against acting in kindness, gentleness, humility (Galatians 5).

In addition, there will be no true heart work without fear of the Lord–a deep respect for His majesty and His right to demand our obedience to His word. That is why it is so important to teach our children and grandchildren that God created them and all things and not let the theory of evolution destroy their sense of God’s majesty.

In mercy and truth
Atonement is provided for iniquity;
And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.

Fear and respect for God motivate us to kill sinful habits…not to add hoops for us to jump through or make ourselves acceptable to God, but because there is much reward in wise living. “Mortification of the flesh” (as the English Puritans called it) requires careful thought, much repentance, and a reliance on God’s favor toward us. As Paul said, “His grace is sufficient…”