The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Monday, December 10, 2012

Called To Be Saints (Part 2): Called in the Grace of Christ

By: Thomas Clayton Booher (The Elder)

Galatians 1:3-6

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel---

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1906-1929. In 1929, he led a conservative movement out of the Northern Presbyterian Church to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the new school Westminster Theological Seminary. Machen taught at Westminster in the same chair he held at Princeton until his death.

Machen was unusually erudite in the original language of the New Testament. He wrote a beginner’s Grammar, which was used in my first year of Greek. I still have it – it brings back the fascination I felt when I first opened its pages and began to study the words and grammar Paul wrote in.

Machen remarks[1] that Paul added something in his greeting to the Galatians that he did not include in his other letters, and that was a forthright clarification of who Jesus Christ is. He is the One who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age.

There was good reason Paul made that point at the forefront without delay, for the whole letter is a defense of the true gospel against Judaizers who were preaching a different gospel. They were teaching that salvation was obtained not through Christ alone but by additionally observing certain Old Testament rites (circumcision) and holy days (Gal 4:10; 5:2, 3). To state it another way, Christ did not completely do away with Old Testament ritual. Salvation was not by grace alone through faith alone. In addition to faith, salvation required the keeping of certain practices of Old Testament religion.

Giving the Judaizers their due, they seemed to have no requirement to continue animal sacrifices, presumably because they conceded that Christ’s sacrifice was the end of any further need for sacrifice. But this did not appease Paul who recognized that if the keeping of any part of the Old Testament cultic practice was necessary to be saved, then salvation comes not by grace, but at least in part by works. It is to make Christ and his sacrifice without effect, Gal 5:4; Cf 1 Cor 1:17.

Paul then expresses his surprise and wonder of how so many in the churches of Galatia were turning away from the One “who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.” It is not that Paul assumed that the Christians of Galatia would eventually turn away, and that he was caught off guard by it happening so soon. His wonder is that they so easily and so quickly turned an attentive ear to a message that was so contrary to the one he preached to them and which they, apparently, gladly received at one time (cf Heb 10:32-35). This was not a matter of adiaphora (such as whether or not eating meat offered to idols was a sin, 1 Cor 10:23-31; or as today when we differ over premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism). It was not an issue around the periphery of the Christian faith, but at the heart. It struck at the core principal of grace, the very thing that God calls us in.

We are called by God, and the calling does not come to us in wrath and condemnation; how awful if that were the character of God’s calling – a calling in which God would take his people through the very sufferings of the One who gave himself for our sins and bore God’s wrath for us. That is the grace! He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Rom 8:32; For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Cor 5:21.

Our calling is in grace, and Paul specifically identifies it as the grace of Christ. The prepositional phrase, of Christ, could be interpreted in two ways. It could mean that the grace is the possession of Christ who exercises it toward us. Or, it could mean that the grace is Christ himself. Given Paul’s pointed statement in verse 4 that Christ gave himself for our sins, it is more likely that the grace Paul has in mind is the grace that is summed up in Christ – Christ is the essence and epitome of grace because he bore the wrath that we might bear the blessing.

This grace in which we are called, that is, this sphere of unearned favor and blessing, which God purposed to bestow on us through the suffering of Christ, has a purpose behind it. It is for deliverance ....that He might deliver us.... Consider the thing from which we are delivered, how it is such a monstrosity that anything we may encounter in the transience of life – sickness, pain, poverty, violence, betrayal – is mild and gentle by comparison. We are delivered from the present evil age. Paul does not speak of a nondescript, innocent age. Rather, it is an age that is inherently, intrinsically, through and through, evil. It is a world in which men drink iniquity like water (Job 15:16), where every intent of the thoughts of the heart are evil continually (Gen 6:5), and the heart is so deceitful it is unpredictable in its expression of sin (Jer 17:9), in which the Devil himself is the prince and power of the air (Eph 2:2), and the sons of men are sons of disobedience fulfilling the base desires of the flesh and mind (Eph 2:3). It is an age in which everything is in some manner the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15),  an age which is passing away (1 John 2:17) and will some day be consumed by fire and be no more (Rev 21:1; 2 Pet 3:7-10). It is a world in which each one born into the human race is a slave of evil (John 8:34; Rom 6:6, 16-18, 20; 2 Peter 2:19).

Our calling is in grace, which implies a calling to utter humility. We can do nothing and have done nothing to get ourselves into this grace and we can do nothing to keep ourselves in it. It is all of God, from beginning to end. We have nothing to offer, we can only receive. If there is any worth, it is an alien worth, not our own and we should never forget it. We should live in the light of it, looking unto God for continual help as he alone is our strength and shield (Ps 28:7), who works in us both to will and to do his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

Are you a sinner still under God’s condemnation? Do not be proud. Do not think there is something you must do. While in Bible college I worked in the kitchen of the Lourdsmont nunnery and a school for troubled young ladies. It was located across the road from the college. Our site was once a monastery and the companion to Lourdsmont. Every day I ran into and had wonderful conversations with Sister Helen. We talked about everything: history, teaching, reading, cooking... life in general. She even gave me her class notes she used to teach her students English. We also talked about the gospel. When I finally pared it down to the essentials, that it is by grace alone, through faith alone, she looked at me in wonder and said, “But we have to do something.” That was a typical Roman Catholic response. It is akin to the Judaizing theology in which something was added to faith.

But it is by faith alone because it is all of grace. Again, are you a sinner under God’s condemnation? There is no time in which you can prepare yourself for God to accept you. You have nothing to offer which is not tainted by unlawful desires, greed, self-aggrandizement, or falsehood. The best you have to offer, the cream, is as a filthy rag before God, Is 64:6. But that is the beauty of grace. It requires no preparation on our part. It requires only a humble and contrite heart (Ps 51:17), and when your eyes are opened to the holiness of God and the sinfulness of your heart, humility and contrition follow – you flee to Christ who alone can forgive, cleanse, and transform you.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

[1] Skilton, John H., Machen’s Notes On Galatians, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1973, p 27.

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