Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Category: Galatians

On suicide and despair

This past week, a news story caught my attention.  A young New York dietitian committed suicide.  By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life.  She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field.  She had friends and co-workers that valued her.  Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world. 

And yet, she felt empty.  Here’s part of the note she left behind:

I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired. 

I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?

Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness.  Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point.  We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.  “Absolute futility.  Everything is futile.”  What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…

All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say.  The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…

There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.

These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed.  They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years.  If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage. 

However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective.  It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again.  But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied.  And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.

Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us.  This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty.  But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.

If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus.  You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings.  Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective.  We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone.  Your family is here for you.

Keep Pressing,

Do we have to follow the Law?

Every so often, the modern church wrestles with problematic question of what to do with the Mosaic Law.  Do we still have to obey the 10 Commandments?  What about the other parts, that nobody does…like animal sacrifice, dietary restrictions, and ceremonial washings?

The early church dealt with the same questions, and some people were trying to add the law’s requirements in addition to following Christ.

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

A little cultural context will help here.  If you were a Jewish teacher of the law, then you were at the pinnacle of the Jewish social, religious, and political society.  For those who became Christians and had come out of Jewish culture, their understanding of who the top people are was formed by looking at the lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Paul had to spell out the relationship of the law to the believer for the church in Galatia also:

Galatians 3:23-26
Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.  The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.  But since that faith has come, we are no long under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Since Jesus came to fulfill the law’s requirements for all of us, those who trust Jesus for eternal life have been declared righteous (i.e. – not guilty) and will not be judged by the law.  As such, the Mosaic Law no longer governs the life of a believer.  Apparently, these wannabe teachers Timothy was encountering in Ephesus were so blinded by status-seeking that they did not grasp this foundational truth…and so they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Does this mean that the Mosaic Law is useless and should be set aside entirely?  Paul doesn’t think so:

1 Timothy 1:8-11
Now we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.  We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but
for the lawless and rebellious,
for the ungodly and sinful,
for the unholy and irreverent,
for those who kill their fathers and mothers,
for murderers,
for the sexually immoral and homosexuals,
for kidnappers, liars, perjurers
and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

The law still serves a legitimate purpose in this world – it continues to show sin for what it is.  The law clearly points out the ways in which humanity has driven a wedge between us and God.  The law points out that we can’t bridge that relationship canyon with our own efforts.

Given the multicultural mix that was the city of Ephesus, the law was certainly applicable to those outside the church…and so was the law’s penalty – eternal separation from God.

When used legitimately, the law is good because it reminds us how much we needed to be rescued, and how much those outside the family still need that rescue.

Keep Pressing,

The Trinity in action

Did you know that there are some words common to Christian discussions, which are not found in the Scriptures?  Two examples include the words “Atheism” and “Bible”.  Try to find them in a concordance (a dictionary-type book that alphabetically lists all words used in the Scriptures), and you won’t find them.  However, the concept of both Atheistic beliefs and the collection of God-inspired books forming the Bible are clearly taught within God’s Word.

Atheistic beliefs:
Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

God inspires the Bible:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Another Christian term that critics like to point out as being “un-Biblical” because it is not found in the Bible is the word Trinity.  Many believers struggle to understand, let alone explain, the concept of a 3-person/1-being God.  God has always been “one” in direction, purpose, and essence. 

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

However, we do find throughout Scripture that each person – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – are identified as God (Galatians 1:1, Titus 2:13, Romans 8:14), and each person relates to the others in specific, unique roles and actions (John 15:26, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:3).  There are many other Scripture references that could be used to further these points, but the ones cited are a good starting place.

While we may not fully understand all the particulars of how God is like this, we can certainly recognize the Trinity when we see it in action.  Paul brings up the concept of the Trinity as he instructs Titus to teach the Cretans.  Look for the actions of each member:

Titus 3:4-6 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior

When we read these verses, we find that Paul refers to both God the Father and Jesus Christ as Savior and also states that it is the actions performed by the Holy Spirit that saved us.  The fullness of the Godhead, all three persons of the Trinity, were involved with our rescue from the penalty of our sinful living. 

You can easily tell the importance of a project based upon the rank of the one who leads it.  A project led by a Manager has a different emphasis from a project personally led by the CEO.  Given that all three members of the Trinity participated in our salvation…the value that God placed on us and our rescue cannot be understated.

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit acted in concert to redeem us, and not because of righteous things we had done, but because of [God’s] mercy.

When I stop, take a deep breath, and let that one truth sink in…it blows my mind.  Literally makes my head hurt.  I struggle to fathom it.  It’s almost too good to be true, right?

Gifts are like that.  Spend some time thinking about it, you’ll be glad you did.  When you’ve fully wrestled with it, when you’ve accepted his gift that none of us deserve, there’s only one thing left to say:

“Thank you.”

Keep Pressing,

The trustworthy message

After giving Titus clear expectations for how a church leader is to treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others, Paul then moves to the most important requirement…how the leader handles God’s message of salvation.

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If our church leaders are going to be God’s representatives, then they must know God well.   Knowing God begins with hold[ing] firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, for the Scriptures are how God has revealed himself to humanity.  If he doesn’t know God, he will be unable to give those under his care the encouragement they will need, nor will he be able to correct those who oppose God’s message.

Opposition will come.  Although rescue from the penalty of sin is good news, not everyone wants to hear it.  Among those that actually do hear the message that Christ paid the full penalty for our sins are plenty of people that think they must still also earn God’s favor, as Paul points out:

Titus 1:10-11 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.  They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

The “circumcision group” were those who taught others that in addition to believing in Jesus, a person must also be circumcised and follow the Jewish law.  This wasn’t just a local problem on Crete either, as all throughout his ministry, Paul dealt with those who preached

Belief in Jesus plus following the Jewish law equals Salvation from sins

Whenever anything is added to Jesus’ death on the cross for our salvation, the message is no longer “good news”.  In fact adding anything to the gospel message negates the work of Christ.  Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians deals with very subject.

Galatians 2:16 So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:21 …for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Galatians 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.

Do Christians today deal with these kinds of pressures?  While no one is proclaiming circumcision as a salvation requirement, there are many who insist that in addition to faith in Christ it is necessary to “do good works” or “persevere to the end of their life” or “make Christ lord of their life” in order to be truly saved.

Don’t get me wrong, those are good things to do.  And we should endeavor to reach for those goals.  However, adding any contributions on my part to Christ’s death on the cross is doing the same as what the “circumcision group” was trying to teach.  Do you believe that Christ was telling the truth with his last words on the cross? It is finished – the single Greek word means “Paid in Full”.  Either Christ paid it all, or he lied to us just before he died.

This is the trustworthy message – that Christ paid our entire sin debt, we add nothing to his payment – and Paul wanted Titus to only select leaders who hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If we want to avoid being led astray, we must have leaders that get this right.

Keep Pressing,