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Freedom in the Cross

Have you ever had your words twisted by someone?  They accuse you of saying something that you never meant to say.  It’s not a new thing.  The Apostle Paul had to deal with it as well.

In the early church there were a group of people preaching that to be a good Christian, you needed to obey the Law of Moses.  In order to give themselves some credibility, they said that Paul was preaching the same message.

Look at what the Apostle has to say about them.

Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?  In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Galatians 5:11-12

The fact is that Paul was being persecuted for preaching about our freedom in Christ.  The Judaizers followed him from city to city, stirring up riots and dissension.  That in itself should have proven that his message was different than theirs.

He says that if he was preaching the Law, then the offense or scandal of the cross would have been rendered null or idle.  What does he mean by that?

In simple terms, it’s the cross that gives us our freedom.  It may not sound like that on the surface.  I’m convinced that we’ve missed the full impact of the cross.  We’re taught misconceptions and partial truths.

I’ve heard those who try to make it so hard to serve Christ.  They explain how Jesus said that in order to follow Him, we need to carry our cross (Luke 9:23-24, 14:27).  What they fail to mention is that He said this before He went to the cross.

So we were to pick up our cross, follow Christ to His cross, then to the grave, and then to the resurrection.  We are to identify with Him from death to life.  The cross was simply the doorway to the resurrection!

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

I don’t know what this sounds like to you; but it sounds like life, victory, and freedom in Christ to me.  The Law does not reign over me.  I need to submit to the Holy Spirit, not a written code of behavior.

That’s the offense of the cross.  It offends the self-righteous to be told, “No matter what you do, you’re not good enough.”  They like to think that their “holy” lifestyle is winning God’s approval.

The Apostle Paul has very little tolerance for these people.  I believe that the NKJV does a better job of translating Galatians 5:12 than the NIV.

I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!
Galatians 5:12 (NKJV)

This is kind of a play on words in the Greek.  The word, trouble, literally means to force out or remove from home.  So Paul is saying that he wished the ones who were removing you from your place of rest in Christ would actually remove themselves.

Knowing the full message of the cross brings freedom in knowing who we are in Christ.  You can’t cling to both the cross and the Law.  They’re mutually exclusive.  As for me, I choose the freedom of the cross of Christ!

Question: How have you found freedom in the message of the cross?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Faith and the Law

I’ve been posting about Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  We’ve been looking at the covenant we have through Christ.  It all started with Abraham – the father of faith.

According to Scripture, the covenant of blessing that God made with Abraham is still in effect.  We have access to it in Christ.  In my last post, we saw that even the Law of Moses did not set aside the covenant!

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
Galatians 3:18

This verse is a great summary of everything that we’ve learned so far.  The covenant of blessing that God gave to Abraham was passed down through his descendants.  Now, in Christ, all who believe become a part of Abraham’s family.

But there’s still a question in the back of many people’s minds.  It concerns the law.  What’s the place of the Law in the life of a believer?  Paul anticipates this question and deals with it for us.

What, then, was the purpose of the law?  It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.
Galatians 3:19-20

Before we can understand our relationship to the Law, we need to know its true purpose.  According to Paul, it was added to the covenant.  This means that in legal terms, the law is an addendum to the covenant that God made with Abraham.

That begs the question; why was an addendum necessary?  Again, according to Paul, it was because of transgressions.  Transgressions required a temporary addendum until the promised Messiah arrived.

Of course, in order to understand this, you need to know what, specifically, a transgression is.  When you read the Bible, you’ll find many different words for the general word, sin.

Transgression is a word that means the particular sin of breaking the terms of a covenant.  Since Israel was the only nation in covenant with God, you’ll find that they’re the only ones ever accused of transgressions.

Abraham was the first one in a personal covenant with God.  He trusted God in a way that kept the covenant unbroken over a few generations.  Over time, the children of Israel neglected the covenant.  They didn’t live up to the faith that Abraham originally possessed.

The reason that the Law was given, was so that Israel could see, in writing, the things that Abraham did out of love for God.  It was because they didn’t live this way that they needed an addendum to explain it.

So what we see is that the law was not a covenant in and of itself.  It was a temporary addendum to the eternal covenant God made with Abraham.  That’s why Jesus said…

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Matthew 5:17-18

His purpose was not to do away with the Law, but to completely fulfill its requirements once and for all.  That’s the blessing of being in Christ.  We’ll continue to look at this over the next few posts.

Question: How does knowing that the Law is already fulfilled affect your walk with God?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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Contracts and Covenants

Do you know the differences between contracts and covenants?  If you’re a Christian, then that distinction is very important.  Understanding it can be the difference between a blessed life and total frustration with your spiritual walk.

As we continue looking at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he begins to talk about covenants.  That’s important because we’re in a covenant relationship with Christ.  The unfortunate thing is that we don’t usually talk about covenants in our culture.  We’re most familiar with contracts.

Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life.  Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.
Galatians 3:15

Let’s start with contracts.  They’re based on mistrust and works.  We don’t really trust each other to do what we’ve agreed to, so the contract details out all or our responsibilities.  For instance, you fix my roof in a professional manner and I’ll pay you $5000.

Contracts also have an escape.  If you don’t fix the roof, I don’t have to pay you the money.  If you complete the work, then I can’t legally refuse to pay you.  The contract forces us to do the things we said we would do.

Covenants are a totally different thing.  They’re based upon faith and love.  In a covenant, two people pledge their lives to each other.  There must be a great faith in each other in order to do this.  Under covenant, I complete my part regardless of what you do.

Also, there’s no escape from a covenant.  They’re in effect forever.  They even affect the descendants of those who made the covenant.

The closest thing we have to covenant in our society is a marriage.  God has designed marriage to be a covenant, but in many cases, we’ve reduced it to merely a long-term contract.

In Paul’s example, he explains that a covenant can’t be annulled and another covenant can’t be added alongside it.  As I said, once entered into, it’s in effect forever.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.  The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
Galatians 3:16

A covenant is in effect throughout the generations.  In Abraham’s case, it was spoken to Christ through Abraham.  That’s because Jesus entered the earth through Abraham’s family line.

But here’s the important piece that we often miss.

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.
Galatians 3:17

There are some who erroneously teach that the Law of Moses was a new covenant that God made with Israel.  They say that once the Law was given, salvation was only obtained through the sacrificial system.  This verse exposes the fallacy of that kind of teaching.

The good news is that the covenant of Abraham is still in effect.  Over the past few posts, I’ve been talking about how the Apostle Paul explained this truth.  As believers, we can walk in the blessings of the covenant.

Of course, there’s still the question about the Law of Moses.  What exactly is our relationship with the Ten Commandments and all the laws associated with them?  We’ll deal with that subject over the next few posts.

Question: Why is it important to know that we’re in covenant with God?      

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Faith, Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Freedom or Slavery

I’ve been posting through the book of Galatians and talking about legalism vs. our freedom in Christ.  We’re looking at the Apostle Paul’s personal battle against legalism as he ministered to the Gentiles.

[This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.  We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Galatians 2:4-5

Here, Paul gives the reasons for the struggle.  The words that he uses are very scary.  They should cause us to be wary of our motivations.

He’s specifically talking about a group known as the Judaizers.  They were people who felt that in order to be saved, you had to trust Jesus and follow the rules contained in the Law of Moses.  This was particularly hard for Gentiles to conform to.  In essence, these Judaizers wanted us to become Jews first, before we could become Christians.

What concerns me is the fact that Paul calls these people false brothers.  I think that puts legalistic people on dangerous ground.  Can you truly trust Christ to save you if you think that your works play a major role in God accepting you?

Paul says that their goal was to spy on or watch with malicious intent, the freedom Christ bought for us.  They want to see our freedom and then convince us that slavery is the better option.

“You have to obey the rules if you want to be a good Christian.  After all, you can’t just live however you want and please God.”

That statement does have a grain of truth in it.  But it will bring you into bondage that will keep you from growing in Christ.

The fact is, the Holy Spirit had a reason why He inspired both James and 1 Thessalonians before Galatians.  They stress the truth that a believer must spend quality time in the Lord’s presence.  It’s in this way that our lives will constantly be transformed into the Lord’s image.

That has to be in place first, before you can truly walk in God’s freedom.  This is not a license to live by whatever your flesh wants to do.  It’s a freedom to walk according to the Spirit’s desire with no need for a set of rules to “keep us on the straight and narrow.”

When I look at the life of Jesus, I see the same thing.  He is the Messiah. Yet, He was always being accused of breaking the rules.

Paul understood this and wanted those under his spiritual care to be free from the bondage of religion.  The Christian walk is not about conforming yourself to a set of traditional, religious rules of performance.  It’s a personal relationship with Christ that’s constantly transforming us by God’s power.

The Apostle is writing to us from his personal experience.  The lifestyle of following rules and traditions is hard to break free from.  We see in Paul, the key to this release.

That’s why he says that he will never give in to them.  That phrase means to yield in submission.  Let me jump ahead for a moment so that you can see where Paul is bringing us to in this letter.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

Between here and there, he gives a detailed look at how this freedom should work in us.  That’s where we’re going over the next few weeks of these posts.

Question: How do rules hinder your spiritual growth?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Church

 

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Freedom for All

The Apostle Paul is a great example to us of a life lived apart from legalism.  His letter to the Galatians is a testament to how God works in us under the New Covenant.

We’ll continue to look at Paul’s story as he relates it to the church.  Remember, Galatians was written long before the book of Acts.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.  I saw none of the other apostles — only James, the Lord’s brother.  I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.  Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.  I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they praised God because of me.
Galatians 1:18-24

Paul has a very interesting story.  He spent three years in solitude after his initial salvation experience.  He used that time to pray and learn to hear from the Holy Spirit.

He then compresses what happened next into a few short sentences.  We know from the book of Acts, that Paul went back to Tarsus, his home town; because there were many who didn’t trust that he had really come to Christ.

After being there a while, Barnabas came and convinced Paul to go to Antioch.  There was a Gentile church in that region that needed a strong teacher who was well versed in the Scripture.  So Paul made the journey and became a part of that work.

Years later, during a time of fasting and prayer, Paul and Barnabas felt the call of God to go around the Mediterranean Sea, preaching the Good News of Christ.  Because of their faithfulness, Gentile churches began springing up all over Asia Minor.  The Galatian churches were a part of his work.

Paul ran into problems in doing this.  There were some who felt that Christianity was still a part of Judaism.  They felt that for a Gentile to be saved, they needed to submit to the Law of Moses.  This included all of the food laws as well as circumcision.

Both Peter and Paul had separate revelations showing them that, under grace, the Law had been fulfilled.  Then the tension came to a head, and a meeting took place.

Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas.  I took Titus along also.  I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.  But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.  Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.  [This matter arose] because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.  We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Galatians 2:1-5

The Good News of the Gospel is that we’re not slaves.  We’ve been given freedom in Christ.  The revelation that Paul received is for all time.

It’s unfortunate that many have fallen back into the slavery mindset throughout the next generations.  I believe that it’s God’s desire to once again restore His freedom to us.

Please understand; I’m not talking about a freedom to live however we want.  Instead, it’s a freedom to serve God without being hindered by a man-made set of rules.

As we go through the book of Galatians over the next few weeks, Paul will explain in detail how to walk in this freedom.  Don’t miss a single installment.  It will help you to live on a whole new level in Christ.

Question: How does following a set of rules hinder your Christian walk?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017.

 
 

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The Law of Freedom

MirrorIn my last post I talked about the need to hear a Word from God. We have to spend the time listening for his voice. But it doesn’t just end there.

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
James 1:23-24

Once you’ve heard from the Holy Spirit you need to follow through on what He spoke to you. This goes beyond simply thanking Him for speaking. There has to be a fulfillment of the assignment.

I like the illustration that James gives us here. It’s important for us to understand just what he’s saying to the church.

In my last post I talked at length about the Word of God being more than just Scripture, but God speaking to us. As James continues on that theme, he starts to give us more detail. We can’t ignore the implications of what he’s teaching.

When I read the Bible, I know that it’s the same for everybody. The life of Jesus, the teachings of the Apostles, and the histories don’t change from generation to generation. The truths that we read are timeless, and apply to everyone for all time.

A mirror is a completely different piece of equipment. What I see in a mirror is not at all what you would see. As a matter of fact, what I see when I first wake up in the morning is nothing like what I see as I’m preparing to go to bed.

Every time I look into the mirror, it’s a unique experience. That’s another reason why this has to be about our time spent with the Holy Spirit – hearing His voice. Whenever we spend quality time in the presence of God it should be a one-of-a-kind encounter.

What I need to hear from God today, may be about something totally different than what He speaks to me tomorrow. The Lord wants to work in us and in the lives of those around us. For that to happen, I need to hear from Him on a consistent basis.

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.
James 1:25

Listen to what James calls this encounter. The perfect law that gives freedom. There’s absolutely no way he could be talking about the Old Testament here. Paul said almost the same thing in his letters.

Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:15-17

It’s obvious that freedom can only come through the Holy Spirit. He wants to speak a word that’s tailor made to the situations we’re facing. I believe that hearing and doing what the Spirit speaks to us is the perfect law that gives freedom.

It’s through time spent in the Spirit that God writes His law on our hearts. That’s where we find the freedom to live for Him without hindrance.

Question: What was the last thing the Lord spoke to you about?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 

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What’s a Transgression?

Question MarkI’m taking a few posts to talk about what happened on the cross. We usually emphasize the resurrection, but in the cross there was an incredible release of power. In my last post I talked about the curse of the cross.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

To say that we were sinners is a huge understatement. The word sin, itself, covers a lot of ground. It simply means to miss the mark. There are many types of sin that we fall into. But it says in this verse that the piercing that Christ received was specifically for our transgressions.

What are transgressions? A transgression is the sin of breaking covenant with God. Through the Bible the only ones who could be guilty of this was Israel. Again and again they transgressed the covenant. If we are going to understand the cross, then we must look at the covenant involved.

Abraham was the first person in history to cut a personal covenant with God, Himself. As a matter of fact, the word covenant is thrown around a lot in Christian circles and we’ve missed its importance.

Up until the time of Abraham, all of the covenants of God dealt with the entire human race. These included the covenants with Adam and Noah. But when God approached Abraham, the covenant became personal.

God’s words to Abraham were, in effect, “If you accept my covenant, then your family will become mine.” This placed the Hebrew people under the direct influence of God. He was now responsible to direct, protect, bless, and provide for them. It was an incredible event that took place when Abraham trusted God for all of this.

But what happened after that? Many teach that when Moses came along, another covenant was instituted. They say that the covenant of the law was now in effect. Nothing could be further from the truth. Listen to how Paul, an expert in the law, describes it.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
Galatians 3:19a

According to Paul, the law was added. This is an important truth for us to grasp. The Law of Moses was not a new covenant with the children of Israel. It was an addendum to the existing covenant that was made with their father, Abraham.

Why did they need this addition? Again, Paul is clear in his explanation. It was because of transgressions. Over and over again, Abraham’s descendants kept breaking the terms of the covenant.

Abraham’s relationship with God was based on love. He loved and obeyed God. He did everything God asked of him, not out of a sense of obligation, but of trust and friendship.

In the Law, God put in writing the things that Abraham did out of his love for God. So the Law was simply a way for God to remind the Israelites of the cost of being in covenant with God. It also showed them how impossible it was for them to live up to it.

Question: Why did Christ need to bear our transgressions?

© Nick Zaccardi 2014

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Power of God, Revival, The Gospel

 

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