Why did Jesus Come? (Part II)
“I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46)
In the first part of this blog post we looked at how Jesus came to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah 61 stating that His proclamation or message would set people free who were bound, and restore their sight. We also looked at Luke 5 where Jesus compared Himself to a physician with a cure for the sick.
The bondage, blindness, and sickness were the result of our immersion in this evil world system that kept us focused on the physical, earthly things and fed the desires of our lower, carnal nature. Being focused on this current world, and most importantly, having our hopes set on the things of this world, entraps us, making it impossible to do what is right by God, even if we desire to do so.
The freedom comes by placing our faith in the message of Jesus, that is, in His promise of eternal life, in His redemptive sacrifice to erase our past offenses, and in His assurance that we have now, by virtue of our act of faith, become true children of the living God, with His Spirit living within us. Our sincere and “living” faith in this message is demonstrated by our severance from the old world system. We no longer function with a focus on this world, but we now function “in Christ” or in the light of His future promises, with our hopes and affection set on the future we will enjoy with Him in Heaven. This faith brings to us spiritual life, and this life is what empowers us to change internally, giving us freedom from the bondage of this world, enlightening our insight to understand spiritual truths, and giving us reason to greatly rejoice. This spiritual life also produces in us the ability to be righteous, and to walk in love, which is a fruit of the Spirit.
Don’t Go Back to Bondage
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians warning them about going back into the bondage of this current evil world system. Although we most likely will not be faced with the same specific circumstances that the Galatians were faced with, the truths that Paul points out to them will certainly help us to be clear about the temptations to go back to bondage. Of course, we should also realize that this is Scripture, so the Holy Spirit had a reason to include this letter in the Bible and its content is divinely inspired, having value for us today. Let’s take a look at this letter and the surrounding circumstances in the light of the purpose of the Lord’s coming.
The background of the situation is that Paul had heard that some of the Galatians were thinking of reverting back to the practice of Jewish religious traditions such as circumcision, observance of feast days, separation from Gentiles (non-Jews), cleansing of utensils, etc. False teachers had come to the Galatians and were urging them to make this change, and in fact, that the Galatians needed to do so or they would not be true children of God.
Paul starts the letter with a reminder that Jesus came to rescue us from this evil world order. (vs. 3 & 4 – Phillips translation) “…the Lord Jesus Christ, who according to the will of our God and Father gave himself for our sins and thereby rescued us from the present evil world-order.” Note that he also points out that this is in accordance with God the Father’s will and purpose for us. This truth is at the core of the most significant event in human history: the coming of the Messiah. This is the Gospel!
Paul goes on to establish the fact that the gospel that he previously communicated to the Galatians was revealed to him directly by the Lord Jesus, and it was this revelation that constituted the “Gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews)” and that he was also appointed by God to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles”. This gospel from Paul had brought spiritual life to the Galatians. It was focused on the cross of Christ, and the need to die with Christ to this world and to then live for God. It focused on the things of the Spirit and not the things of the flesh, and on pleasing God and not pleasing men.
Paul also made it clear that when he explained his message for the Gentiles to the Christians in Jerusalem, Peter, James, John and others, that they were in agreement with him and saw no issue with not requiring the Gentiles to keep the Jewish religious traditions. Peter, James, John and the others were involved with the mostly Jewish converts to Christianity in Jerusalem. Paul’s point was that keeping the Jewish traditions was never a focus of the Gospel for any of the apostles, either among the Gentile converts or the Jewish converts.
Why so Adamant?
On the surface, this may not seem like too big of a deal. So why not just allow the Galatians to get circumcised, and honor these feast days and so on? Aren’t these things meant to be helpful? Couldn’t they just put some positive spin on them and have people view them in such a way that it would make them “spiritual”? Why was Paul so adamant about stopping the Galatians from doing these seemingly harmless things? Paul goes as far as to say that if any of the Galatians consent to be circumcised, then Christ would be of no advantage to them, and that they would be cut away from Christ and fallen from His grace. Gal. 5: 1-5 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law (keeping the Jewish traditions and regulations); you have fallen away from grace.” Paul knew that following the Jewish traditions did not require the kind of faith that was needed to walk in the spirit. He knew that the old religious approach would replace the new spiritual approach, and therefore these men would revert back to their carnal focus and it would lead to bondage. This is very important to recognize: you cannot do both. You cannot walk in the flesh and also walk in the spirit. You cannot give your attention to physical things and view them as the criteria for your relationship with God. There is no need for faith in this type of physical approach. There is no need to die to this world. There is no need to store up your riches in heaven and focus totally on pleasing God. Instead you will be focused on the earthly thing. In this case ,it is keeping the religious rules, but it can be anything else that replaces our focus on dying to this world and living for heaven. Let me say this again: Paul recognized that the approach of keeping the Jewish religious traditions and regulations would replace their current approach of considering themselves dead with Christ to this world, and alive to God. He therefore was very adamant that they not revert back to a system that allowed them to feed their lower carnal, fleshly, nature. He also knew that this approach had failed in the past because it was not based on the radical type of faith that produced spiritual life.
It is interesting that Paul also points out that if he would give in to promoting circumcision, he would no longer be persecuted by the traditional Jews, who had wanted to kill him. So Paul had a great motivation to somehow come up with a work around to allow for the Gentiles to be circumcised, but he adamantly refused, knowing the importance of walking in the Spirit, and remaining free from the bondage of the fleshly religious activities that don’t require a true faith, and don’t produce spiritual life.
In Galatians 3: 21 Paul says this (Phillips translation): “…for if there could have been a law (set of rules and regulations) which gave men spiritual life then that law would have produced righteousness.” Paul knew that following the law, which he had zealously done in the past, did not require a radical, internally transforming faith, and therefore could not produce spiritual life in a person. It is this spiritual life that then produces righteousness, that is, doing the right things according to what God requires. Paul earlier defines this radical faith: “For under the law I ‘died’, and I am dead to the law’s demands so that I may live for God. I died on the cross with Christ. And my present life is not that of the old ‘I’, but the living Christ within me. The bodily life I now live, I live believing in the Son of God who loved me and sacrificed himself for me.”
Paul sums up his point in the 5th chapter of Galatians: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” In the Phillips translation: “It is a matter of faith, faith which expresses itself in love.” Later in that same chapter he summarizes again: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’….I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
How Does This Apply Today?
I think that we can find a similar temptation for us to become focused on religious activities, thinking that this is what is important in our relationship with God. We are tempted to focus on church attendance and how much of the Bible we read per day. These things can be good but only if they support true faith; only if they keep our focus on spiritual things. The real goal is to produce spiritual life that then produces righteousness in us, or that results in love. The focus should be on keeping the world crucified to us, and us to the world. Paul says it this way: “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
There is also a clear indication for us to know if we are not in the Spirit, and these indications are just as relevant today as they were in Paul’s time. The indications are either a manifestation of the works of our flesh, or the production of the fruit of the Spirit in us: (Gal. 5:19-23) “now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication (sexual immorality), uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry (putting things before God), sorcery (manipulating circumstances by calling on evil spirits for supernatural powers), hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like, of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law.”
In order to remain free, we must keep our hearts set on spiritual things. We must keep our flesh dead. We must keep separated from, or dead to, this evil world system. It takes a constant encouragement and refreshing of our faith to patiently endure in this walk of faith, to walk in the spirit. The enemy would like to distract us by getting us to focus on other things, or by replacing this focus on the spirit with another approach that doesn’t require us to put to death our flesh.
One final quote from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, this at the end: “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.”