Sunday, October 3, 2010

Things to Die For

I haven't posted on my blog for a long time, like I often do. But I am drawn to write once more, and this is a good thing as any to resume writing. Today is a Sunday and the second in a series by my church (CCF) on the Book of Galatians. It felt easy enough to understand and some points struck me as quite pertinent in my life, especially at this juncture. Because of this I felt I should write a quick version of the lessons and thoughts that I had today.

Preached today by Pastor Peter Tan-Chi Sr., we studied the second chapter in Galatians.

The first five verses show something about tradition, and those who hold to them too much, that they may impede the gospel. To a person like me who sees traditions held by cultural momentum all too often, this particular idea was rather amusing. Certainly traditions are valuable and a great many have practical sense. But we should be careful that they do not get in the way or mire down the core aspects of the Gospel.

We were reminded of some equations to think about, one that Ptr. Peter is fond of using when speaking about Faith and Salvation.

1. Faith in Jesus + 0 = Salvation
2. Faith in Jesus + Good Works = Salvation
3. Faith in Jesus + 0 = Salvation (which leads to -> Good Works)

We are told that by Faith ALONE because of Grace, one is saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) and this so no man may boast of his salvation.

The next part (Gal 2:6-8) speaks further and establishes that regardless of station, ergo those men who are of 'importance', makes no difference. In the eyes of God, all men are equal. This goes on however, to establish that although all men are equal in matters of salvation, sin, and the like - God reaches out to all of us differently. We are all different individuals and thus respond to God's Word in different ways.

This is illustrated by the fact that even in the early days, different apostles spoke to different groups: Peter for the Jews, Paul for the Gentiles. This is important to know - and is practiced by our Church, as an example. Different ministries reaching out to different people. An example given - you don't invite a Makati businessman to a bible study group in Tondo. This is not to say that one is better than the other, but as human beings we all have different levels of comfort and ease - certainly, we do not want to scare people while sharing the Gospel!

"Target Evangelism" therefore, is a valid and useful method of sharing. JZone for High Schoolers, Singles Ministry for young adults after college, Backstreet Kids ministry, the Host ministry, the Song Ministry, Sports Ministry - and other examples I cannot recall were given.

We are also shown that the early church had multiple 'pillars' or leaders - showing the importance of having a type of leadership where there is a team-style. It was at this point I think, where we were reminded of the importance of having peers to help keep us accountable to God. Leaders of the Church, like everyone else, are human and can be just as prone to failing as anyone else.

In fact it shows in Galatians 2:11-13, that the apostle Peter actually committed mistakes. It shows that due to 'peer pressure' from traditionalist Jews, Peter gradually withdrew his presence from Gentile gatherings, until even others were affected and similarly, stopped sharing and mingling with the 'Gentiles'. Paul acted here and reprimanded Peter for his mistake.

Ptr. Peter also points out a very real example - that in our culture of 'pakisama', we often are pulled in to 'go along' for the sake of friendship. This is a weakness in our culture, and like the Apostle Paul did for the Apostle Peter, we should have the courage to point out the Truth. It is of great importance that in issues of 'truth', we must have the courage to correct others.

"Pakisama" shouldn't be treated in the way we often do. When a person is wrong, a person is wrong. Indeed, we should be glad when people correct us. We shouldn't divert the issues and avoid them. Humility is something we should all remember. As friends and brothers/sisters in Christ, we should show our love not by abiding by another's mistakes, by acting in love to correct them.

Peter, was a long-standing pillar of the Church, one of the original disciples of Jesus himself, and here he was being corrected by a 'new' apostle. Many people nowadays might respond with something like - 'Sino ka ba? Hindi mo ba akong kilala?' or sentiments to the like. Instead, Peter listens to Paul's words.

In Gal. 2:14, the apostle Paul reminded Peter that we are saved by GRACE alone - not by traditions or habits, which should flow FROM our Salvation, but are not the cause OF it. Our lives must reflect this Grace through and through - the good news of the Gospel.

Gal. 2:15-16 speaks of being 'justified' - and we are told that in the Greek translation the word used was 'dekaios' which is a legal term that means "Not Guilty". It means that a person is completely absolved, as if no criminal action had ever occurred or was committed. It is a complete and total forgiveness.

"We put our faith in Christ," it says here, as the truth of our justification, not in the mere observance of the 'Law'. The Law being referenced here is the Law of Moses or the 10 Commandments. This does not mean that observance of the Commandments is useless - but that just following this does not entail salvation.

The succeeding verses (Gal 2:17-21) points out other important things. First is that
it points out that true salvation and true faith is the kind that effects change within us. But nonetheless, this does not mean we shall not ever sin again - it does mean however, that there is a real change in our hearts.

Indeed, it warns against hypocrisy - 'If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.' This is because what is 'destroyed' is one's old life of sin, when one accepts Christ.

"No Longer I, but Christ" is the central point of the succeeding verses. Ptr. Peter reminds us that we should not view the Christian life as boring duties, but as a joy. If we should see these things as onerous, then it is important to reexamine ourselves and more closely know the Gospel.

We are also reminded that a Christian, as a person who has Christ in one's self should remember to never ever sell one's self short! We have been saved by Grace and God's Love, and we are special in the eyes of our Lord. We should therefore always strive for excellence and not fear it or shy away from it.

Ptr. Peter ended the day's sermon with a simple story illustrating an example of Grace, which I paraphrased below:

A professor in a university wanted to show his students the concept of Grace in a way that they would appreciate and understand. So for the next few weeks, he dedicated a great effort into reviewing them in classes, showing them where in the books they could find the answers to questions that would come up in their test, and other things one could expect

On the day of the exam the professor gave them their test papers one at a time and told them not to turn it over so they could start together. Carefully he distributed each paper to each student - then once that was done, told them to turn the exam sheets over.

On each paper was their name as well as the answers to each of the questions, with the last part of the test stating simply that each answer was correct - and each of them would get an A for that test.

To each student he walked up and asked, "Do you know what grade you got on this exam?" to which they would reply, "An A." He would follow up that question with, "Did you work for or deserve this A?" He knew well that they all had reviewed and studied for the exam - he had done the reviews with them after all. But no one could really say that the A they were being given was one they had gotten for by their own work.

It was an example of 'Grace', given to them by their professor.

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