Day 7: At Just the Right Time

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

It’s obvious that we live in a culture averse to waiting. Self-check out lines. Two-day shipping. Fast food. Microwave dinners. Netflix. The Christmas season is no different, at least for most of us. We easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle. Before we know it, December 25 has come and gone and we never took a moment to enjoy it.

When we pay attention to Advent, it affords us the opportunity to more intentionally meditate on God’s deliberate and meticulous plan. It’s during Advent we are reminded that “when the fullness of time had come” God sent Jesus. The Apostle Paul told his readers that before Messiah came, we were imprisoned under the law. That is, the law showed how sinful we were. We needed a deliverer and God couldn’t come soon enough! The people of Israel probably thought, Where is Messiah? We’re tired of waiting already!  If only God had rush-delivery!

But God wouldn’t be rushed. At the right time in human history, when peoples and nations, shepherds and kings, paupers and priests, had been prepared for Messiah, his words, and his actions, Jesus came. Not a minute too soon or too late.

When was the last time you slowed down? When was the last time you, with unhurried delight, met with the Lord, your spouse, a friend? Perhaps you are dealing with a “delay” right now and you wish God would hurry it up. Take heart. He sees you and cares. But he also sees the bigger picture. If he can be trusted with the right moment to send Jesus, he can be trusted in the smaller delays in your life. This Advent, let God’s deliberateness in sending his Son in the fullness of time give you pause, calm your rushed soul, and turn your eyes to worship him.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Galatians 4:1-7

  1. Do you feel rushed this Christmas season? Is there something you need to stop or say “no” to?
  2. Read v. 25. How does the freedom you have in Jesus free you from the hustle and bustle of the season?
  3. Is God currently making you wait for something? How does Jesus’ arrival at the right time in history give you reason to pause and trust God in the meantime?
  4. What practices can you integrate into your life this Advent that might help you better reflect on God’s deliberate and meticulous plan of redemption?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent


An Interview with the Apostle Paul on Faith, Works, Law, and Gospel

Thanks for joining me this morning as I interview the one and only, Apostle Paul. Paul, thanks for joining me today and helping me understand Galatians 3 a bit better. What a wonderful section, by the way! Well, anyway, let’s get started. Can you tell me the audience you have in mind?
Those who have been bewitched and are deserting him who called them in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

Wow, strong language. Why is this such an important issue to you?
It was before their eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Interesting. Well, note-to-self: a “different” gospel lacks the grace of Christ and the cross of Christ. I’ll remember that. What was your central concern as you wrote this portion of the letter?
Let me ask you…do we receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?…Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit and works miracles do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

I see. Let me try to sum that up: your central concern seems to be that faith, not works, is the foundation for the Christian’s life in the Spirit and progress toward perfection. Why is this the case?
[It was this way for]…Abraham [who] believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

What does Abraham have to do with this?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Now Paul, I’m a Gentile (Polish, German, and Italian mainly, with a bit of Serbian). And the Galatians, they were Gentiles too. Why involve this Jewish patriarch?
[Because] the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Earlier, you mentioned that we do not receive the Spirit by works of the law. What would happen if I relied on works of the law?
All who rely on the law are under a curse.

It is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

But aren’t the most righteous people in the world those who live by the letter of the law? I mean, doesn’t their morality merit favor with God?
It is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But isn’t the law of faith?
The law is not of faith, rather, “The one who does them shall live by them.”

This all seems like terrible news–no one can be perfect. How then can we be redeemed from this curse of the law?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

How did Christ become a curse for us?
[As] it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Of course! But going back to Abraham again: what then does this have to do with him and his children?
[This was] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Can you give an illustration or example to help me understand?
Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

I’m not following you.
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

I’m still lost, Paul. Can you explain further?
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Now I understand. So, just as a human covenant cannot be changed, so God’s promise (his covenant) to Abraham cannot be made void just because of the law–which came more than four centuries later anyway. In light of this, what is the purpose of the law?
It was added because of transgressions.

How long would the law be in effect?
Until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Paul, I get the Abraham tie-in. But, angels? What gives? 
An intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Alright, so the law, given by angels, is not the fullest and final revelation of God. God’s ultimate revelation of himself comes from himself—in Christ—not from someone else. If all this is true, then wouldn’t it seem that the law is contrary to the promises of God?
Certainly not!

For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Why didn’t God establish a law that could give life and righteousness?
The Scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So that brings it back to your central concern: faith is foundational in the Christian life. Those who trust in Christ receive the blessing promised to Abraham. You sure do tie up all your loose ends, Paul. But what about before Christ came and the possibility of faith in him?
Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Since we now know Christ and have faith in his finished work, does that change things with the law?
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Does that change the way God views us?
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are sons of God, baptized into Christ, and clothed with Christ. Awesome! What then are the implications of this for everyday life?
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.

Marvelous. Beautiful. To close, can you sum up your argument in 140 characters or less? (That’s a popular way people express themselves in the 21st century.)
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Thanks, Paul, for joining me! Again, Galatians 3 and this interview have proved beneficial to me, and I trust it will do the same for our readers. Praise God! 


Galatians for You Review

Tim Keller. Galatians for You. Good Book Company, 2013. $15.63 (on Amazon). 199 pp.

Galatians For You

In his newest book, Galatians for You, Tim Keller wants readers to have the powerful message of Galatians explode in their hearts. Why? Galatians is all about the gospel, and the gospel is something everyone needs everyday.

Galatians for You is the first in a series being published by The Good Book company out of the U.K. These books are meant to serve as a guide to understanding books of the Bible, as devotional helps, or as a leader’s guide for preaching or small group study. I’m excited about this, as it looks to be an exciting and beneficial series.

In the simplest terms, Galatians for You is a layman’s commentary of Galatians. Keller tackles a section of Galatians per chapter (the six chapters of Galatians are spread out over thirteen chapters in the book), seeking to draw out the meaning of the text. Thankfully, the contemporary application is not a tack-on at the end of each chapter; rather, applications are helpfully woven throughout the exposition. Every chapter also includes three questions for personal reflection.

Keller includes a short, but insightful introduction to Galatians, and a very handy glossary  that readers will find helpful, particularly if they are unfamiliar with Christianity in general or biblical language in particular. There is also a three-page appendix on the recent debate concerning “the new perspective” on Paul and justification. Academic types may find Keller’s solution too abbreviated, but it is a helpful explanation and the average reader will benefit from its simplicity.

As you would expect, anything produced by Tim Keller is going to have biblical, culturally-aware, gospel-centered content. Galatians for You is no different. Keller hammers home the idea that the gospel is not the ABCs of the Christian life. It is the A-Z of the Christian life. This book makes God-entranced, Bible-based, gospel-soaked material accessible to everyone in the church. Believers and nonbelievers alike will have a clearer picture of the gospel and how it affects every area of life. I highly recommend Galatians for You to you!


Justification by Tweet

Late last week, I tweeted something that I thought was pretty funny, clever, and theologically informed. (The Tweet has since been deleted, and I won’t tell you what I wrote. The content of the tweet isn’t important and it won’t benefit anyone if I repeat it here.) I came home later that day and after talking to Carly she gently rebuked me about my Tweet. She said, “You know, that was really unnecessary. You kind of seemed like the theology police.”

What happened next can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit: I had this overwhelming sense that I actually needed to listen to her (crazy concept, I know…a husband listening to his wife’s correction). I looked at her, nodded and said, “Okay, I didn’t even see it that way. You might be right.” Then, I left to workout at the Y.

At the gym, I thought about what she said. God taught me a precious lesson. What was really happening, at a heart level, was that I was trying to justify myself by my Twitter account. By God’s grace, I don’t do this every time I churn out 140 characters and click “send.” But on this occasion, unfortunately, I was trying to show God, my Twitter followers, and even myself that I am righteous because of my good theology and my recognition of bad theology. I was exalting myself and my efforts rather than exalting Jesus and his work in the gospel.

Twitter didn’t exist in the first century, but if it had existed, I have no doubt disciples of Jesus, like the Galatians, would have been tempted to resort back to a works-based system via tweet rather than trust in what Christ had done for them. The Galatians put their hope in God’s law, in general, and circumcision, in particular. Here’s how Paul responded to their problem: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).

And here’s the interesting thing: Paul is writing this to Christians. The Galatians were forgetting that they were freely justified by faith. The result was that they were seeking to progress in the Christian life (what we call sanctification, see 3:3-5 and below) by depending on works instead of living out of the freedom Christ provided (see 5:1). They thought that adherence to God’s law would make them more acceptable to God and others than they already were because of Christ.

My temptation isn’t to add circumcision or dietary laws or even following the Ten Commandments to what Jesus has done. No, I feel more righteous, more sanctified, by showcasing my theological knowledge, my devotional discipline, or anything else that I think I do “well.” If Paul were writing to me he might have said, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by your Tweets, James?…Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by Twitter or theological debates or quiet times, or by hearing with faith?” (3:3, 5). In other words, my Tweets or blogs or devotional times or theological competence does not make me more acceptable to God than I already am in Christ. The pressure is off. The gospel secures my righteousness. What good news!

O Father, would that I hear the gospel with faith today! I am a supremely loved and perfectly accepted son because of Jesus’ righteousness-providing obedience and sin-bearing death. Let Christ-exalting Tweets flow from that!


I Want to Love Jesus, Not Just Know Stuff About Him

I just finished reading Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis again, making it only the second book, along with Don’t Waste Your Life, that I have read twice.

At the end of the book, the authors made the point that what they are really after is not a church method that will sell books or put butts in pews, but to spread a passion for God.  They write:

Have you noticed how possible it is to speak about doctrine and yet remain reluctant to speak of the Savior in intimate terms? I find it easy to speak with other Christians about mission or church. I can talk all day about the exegetical complexities of Romans 7. I enjoy nothing more than a lengthy discussion of some point of doctrine. But I find myself stumbling when conversation drifts toward Jesus! I suspect I am not alone. I have been attending conferences for more than twenty-five years; yet rarely have conversations in those meetings turned toward the loveliness of the Savior. What a tragic irony! One of the great glories of the new covenant is that it consists of personal possessive pronouns: Jesus is my Savior and my Lord; to me he is the all-together lovely one and the fairest of ten-thousand! Consider Paul’s great boast: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

It is so easy for me to slip into this trap. Theology and doctrine are good things. But they are only good so long as we see Jesus first and foremost. If doctrine leads to anything else other than love for God, it is, as Paul would say, worth nothing (see 1 Cor. 13).

Lately, I have been praying more and more that the aroma of Christ would ooze from my being, and that God would rescue me from the stench of puffed-up knowledge about Jesus. Having Christ’s aroma only comes from being near him — close enough that his scent rubs off on me. Oh how I long to intimately and intensely love Jesus, rather than simply know pithy trivia about him.

Lord, help my theology and knowledge to lead to love for you.