Running Well by Standing Fast (Galatians 5:7–12)

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” —Galatians 5:7–9

The race of faith is one in which if you are cut off, you take the blame. If you’re tripped, you’re at fault for not being ready. If you’re not running well, it’s because you’re not standing fast (Galatians 5:1). Enemy interference is expected. This is no gentleman’s race. It is a race for warriors.

The word translated “hindered” can carry the connotation of being cut off. It’s hard to avoid the double entendre. By circumcision the Judaizers were trying to cut the Galatians off in the race of faith. The knight cannot reason that he committed treason because his opponent had a bigger sword.

If you are duped by a false teacher, the blame falls on you. If you eat the apple, you cannot blame the serpent. Tolerated lies are soon digested. Stand firm. Do not submit. Give no quarter.

Rest assured, the serpent and his spawn have been crushed under the crucified foot of Christ. Our Lord will manifest this victory when He returns in glory and the serpent is crushed under the feet of the saints (Romans 16:20). But the saints are those who persevere in the faith. So, paradoxical as it may seem, if you are to run well, you must stand fast.

If (Colossians 1:21–23)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,

he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. —Colossians 1:21–23

This once/now contrast is only a reality if. Colossians 1:21 is true of all men. All men were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, but for many, there is no contrasting now, as evidenced by the failure of this if. This is not to say that a Christian can revert from their now of reconciliation to their once of alienation. It is to say there is evidence that they never made the transition. Who they once were, they’ve always been and still are.

This is not an if of grounds, but an if of evidence. When a doctor says, “If you have these symptoms, then you have the flu,” the symptoms are not the grounds or cause of the flu. Coughing doesn’t make you sick; being sick makes you cough. Symptoms are not he grounds of sickness; they are the evidence of sickness.

Continuing in the faith does not make you reconciled, any more than sneezing makes you sick. Continuing in the faith evidences reconciliation. If one is reconciled, they necessarily show forth this evidence. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 4:13).”

The saints of old spoke of “the perseverance of the saints,” whereas we hear “once saved always saved,” or “eternal security.” Perseverance does not say less but more than these other terms. “Once saved always saved,” taken alone, is a neutered version of perseverance. “Eternal security,” is a good enough term, but often disguises an emasculated doctrinal definition. Perseverance says God’s saving grace not only secures your justification and glorification, but keeps you on the road of sanctification that runs from one to the other. Listen to how the Westminster Divines teased this out.

They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

The flip side of perseverance is preservation. We persevere in the faith because God preserves our faith. What God gave, He keeps. By God’s power, we are guarded through faith for salvation (1 Peter 1:5). We will remain faithful because God is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24). Our continuing is the result of His sustaining (1 Corinthians 1:8–9).

If you do not continue, your once is your now. “But I walked an aisle, I said a prayer, I have a Bible with a date in it, I was baptized, my parents and my pastor told me I was saved.” There are two serious problems here. First, you’re grounding assurance of your salvation in something you did in the past instead of what Jesus did in the past. Second, you’re not meant to find assurance about your future by looking for grounds in the past, but evidence in the present. Is there fruit that you have the root of salvation in Jesus’ work of reconciliation? Are you continuing in the faith right now, stable and steadfast, not shifting?

If not, don’t try to continue in a faith that you’ve never had. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved with so great a salvation that you will continue in the faith.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” —Jude 24–25

The Bugs Bunny of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:1–22)

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).”

1 Corinthians 10:12 is the Bugs Bunny of the New Testament. We think we know that text, but if we could have a conversation with that passage I’m sure he’d reply, “They don’t know me very well, do they?”

When you think of this text who comes to mind? Is it the legalist who thinks he’ll stand because of all his do-goodery? Or, does the libertine who leaves the gathered worship of the church and fellowship in the Lord’s Supper to go participate in a pagan temple worship feast and sexual immorality come to mind? If not, read the chapter.

Why would such a man think he stands? Because of the spiritual privileges he enjoys, notably, the sacraments. He’s been baptized. He feasts at the Lord’s table. This isn’t the person who thinks he stands because of his self-righteousness, but his gospel freedom (1 Corinthians 10:23). He likely doesn’t look at his baptism as a good deed meriting salvation, but as a “visible word” declaring the salvation that has freed him. He doesn’t believe the Lord’s Supper earns credit, but testifies to the credit he’s received because of Christ. He rightly sees baptism and the eucharist as pictures of the gospel, the gospel that has freed him, but wrongly reasons that he is so free, he can indulge in certain practices without consequence.

Is there a sin you think yourself free to indulge in? A sin that you easily squelch your conscience by reasoning, “I’ve been baptized. I eat at the Lord’s table. I’m free. This sin can’t hurt me.” If you reason from the sacraments that you’re free to sin, you show that you don’t understand the gospel quite as fully as you think. You don’t understand the freedom you boast in. Jesus frees us not only from the penalty of sin, but also the power of sin (Romans 6:1–4; 1 Corinthians 10:13). You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.

Certainly the legalist needs to hear this warning too, but not exclusively. The gospel-majoring libertine must hear it also. As Luther illustrated, humanity is like a drunken man who having fallen off one side of the horse, climbs back up only to fall off the other. We need to tell both the legalist and the libertine that they can’t ride a horse, and that all who feast at the marriage supper of the Lamb, follow the King of kings and Lord of lords riding on white horses.

A “Christian” of Leafy Show (Matthew 21:18-22)

American’s knowledge of figs is generally limited to Fig Newtons, so some knowledge of fig trees is especially helpful here. But before we get on that highway I want to emphasize the sense in which I use “helpful.” You don’t need to be an expert on ancient customs and practices to read your Bible. If you carefully read your text, and have a thorough knowledge of Scripture you can read with confidence. You will make greater strides in understanding if you steep your mind in the Old Testament rather than a book about old customs. Nevertheless, such knowledge can be helpful.

It is March/April. A fig may be putting out leaves at this time and if there are leaves it is certain that there is an early, edible fruit bud. This bud will fall off and the better fruit will be ripe in June. This is why Mark says that it “was not the season for figs (Mark 11:13).” This is why Jesus didn’t go to another tree. This tree was an early bloomer, it stood out. Jesus is on the highway to Jerusalem and Figgy’s Diner had a light flashing “open.” Jesus pulls off the highway, but the doors are locked and the place is desolate. This tree flirts fruit, but only gives leaves. R.T. France comments, “Its precocious show of foliage promised, but did not provide.”

That information is helpful, but much more helpful are texts like this:

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter. Give them, O Lord— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death. —Hosea 9:10-16 (ESV)

The fig tree is often a metaphor for Israel. Fruit is expected, but Israel proves fruitless. John the Baptizer said “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees (Luke 3:9).” Jesus is the lumberjack. This miracle is the only miracle of judgment, of cursing, we see Jesus do, and it plops itself right here after Jesus purges the temple, and before he has a showdown with the priests. The point? There are lots of leaves, but no fruit, so the axe is coming down.

Are you a “Christian” of leafy show? Like Adam and Eve do you try to hide behind leaves of your own making? Church attendance, Bible study, small group participation, zestful singing, being involved in lots of Christian activities and programs can be nothing more than leafy show. How do you know if you are producing bitter leaves or sweet fruit? Here is a question to help you answer that question; do you approach things like prayer, Bible study, the worship gathering, as leaves to show, or streams to tap your roots into? Do you say of the things listed above, “I do…,” or “I need…”?