June 3, 2018 |The Danger in Legalism
At what point does Christian practice become a hindrance for our faith? You likely have not wrestled with this question as I have. After all, all of the practices of Christianity are good and helpful and fruitful for our faith. That is, until such practices actually begin to compete with your faith in Jesus. This is an underlying dilemma that is addressed in the opening verses of the book of Galatians in your New Testament. To answer my question briefly, when the means to the end become the end themselves, our faith in God is hindered. Let me explain what I mean.
 
As Paul opens his letter to the churches in Galatia, we are immediately confronted with the situation that these new believers were guilty of adding to the Gospel of Jesus and claiming that salvation was found through faith in Jesus plus obedience to certain Jewish religious laws (such as observance of holy days, food restrictions, and circumcision). There’s no reason that observing holy days is sinful; after all, we observe Christmas, Easter, and a number of other days we would consider to be “sacred”. You may not restrict your diet because of religious conviction; but, many Christians have a Biblical conviction that believes consuming alcohol is at the very least not a wise thing for Christians to do. We all have certain rules that govern our lives according to our faith. And these rules are not sinful; that is, until they take the place of Jesus in our faith.
 
Following Paul’s visit to the region of Galatia during his first missionary journey (see Acts 14), a group of zealous Jewish Christians who came to be known as the “Judaizers” came to the churches Paul started. They’re purpose was to indoctrinate Paul’s converts with Jewish beliefs. Because the Judaizers were Jews who converted to Christianity, they maintained some of their Jewish heritage. And they felt it only appropriate that every Christian maintain the same Jewish convictions in order to be accepted by God. So they convinced the Galatians to adopt their Jewish beliefs as a part of their new Christian theology.
These additions to their faith did not make them more “religious”; rather, they distracted them from what Jesus came to give them — grace. The Judaizers convinced the Galatian Christians that they had a part to play in their salvation. They were convinced that Jesus saved them; but, they had to obey certain laws in order to stay saved.
 
Adopting do(s) and don’t(s) as a part of God’s acceptance is called “legalism”. Legalism takes good Christian practice (things Christians ought to do for your spiritual benefit) and makes them essential in order for God to forgive you. Simply put, it is legalistic to believe that God’s love is dependent upon your Church attendance. Should you attend Church? Absolutely. Why? To bring God glory … to hear the Word of God proclaimed … to fellowship and pray with one another. There are real spiritual benefits associated with attending Church. But does God love you any more or less if you attend Church once a week or three times a week? Absolutely not.
 
You name a Christian practice … reading your Bible, tithing, confession, fasting, missions, evangelism … all of these have tremendous benefit for your faith, your soul, your mind, and your life. But they do not have any power to offer you salvation. Only Jesus can save you. You can’t do anything to save your self.
Elsewhere, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” If we could do anything to save ourselves, we certainly would, and then we would boast about it. Paul writes you can’t save yourself, it is only by the grace of God given as a gift. This is what makes Christianity so unique — it’s the Gospel. Christian practice is is good, so long as it exists only to benefit our faith, not replace Jesus for the earning our salvation. So find joy in your faith in Jesus; and allow your Christian practice to bless your life.
 
In Jesus’ Name,
 
Ashton
 
P.S.
Do yourself a favor and read through the book of Galatians this week. It’s six short chapters can be completed in fewer than 30 minutes; or, you could read one chapter a day. In the thirteen weeks we’re going to be studying this book, you could read it 13 times and truly benefit your faith in this series. And even though God won’t love you anymore than He does now if you read it, you’ll get more out of the sermons if you do!
May 20, 2018 |When the weight is just too much…

This morning I scanned the news headlines from over the weekend as I’m sure many of you habitually do as well.  There were stories from the royal wedding (I’m still not sure why Americans are so enthralled with British totality).  There’s no surprise our own president made the headlines.  And of course there were articles written about yet another mass shooting in a Texas high school that occurred last week.

News like this has a tendency to bring despair into our morning. Since when does America have “yet another mass shooting”?  We didn’t grow up this way. But it seems that our children and grand children will grow up this way.  

As adults facing this “new reality” where nothing seems to be the same any longer, we’re too often faced with so much uncertainty all around us.  Add to the changing times the many struggles that naturally occur in the life of every adult (such as illness, grief, and hardships), life can seem to be overwhelming at times.  That’s why we’re desperate for something concrete to anchor our lives to.  Thankfully, we have Jesus.

How do Christians handle the baggage that so many of us are forced to carry throughout our adult lives? Simply put, we turn to Jesus.  He said Himself in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  

Perhaps you believe that your first response in all circumstances ought to be to seek Jesus; but, you’re not quite sure how to do that.  If that’s the case, here’s a few suggestions.

  1. Pray.  When your concerned, overwhelmed, distraught, in pain, grieving, or facing a major decision, go to God in prayer.  The Bible says in Ephesians 6:18, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”  For the Christian, prayer ought to be what we do first anytime we our hearts are discontent.  Talking with God helps us remain connected to God.  When the baggage gets too heavy to carry, tell God about it.  The Bible again says in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Prayer is one way we seek Jesus.  
  2. Repent.  Sometimes our disparity is due to the actions of someone else.  More often than not, however, the baggage we carry is due to our own personal sinful choices.  If you are struggling because of a decision that has caused you to feel separation between you and God, then you need to repent.  Anytime Jesus encountered someone in sin, He was quick to show grace and He always directed them to “leave their life of sin”.  Part of repentance involves us admitting our sin and the separation that it causes between God and us. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  God desires for us to be free of sin so He invites is to turn away from sin and toward Him (2 Peter 3:9).  Sin weighs us down; but, God is faithful to lift us up.  
  3. Help.  There’s nothing like facing the burdens of life alone.  One of the many blessings realized in the Christian life is that God didn’t create us to life out our faith alone.  He also never asked us to face trials alone either. Praise the Lord for the encouragement of Galatians 6:2 which says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”    There are tremendous benefits of belonging to the body of Christ.  There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the Christian community every time we hear of “yet another mass shooting”. People praying for those suffering truly is a helpful thing. “We’re in this together” is how we help one another carry heavy baggage.

So the next time you feel like life is hard, seek Jesus. Pray to Him…turn from your sin…and help someone who is struggling. And when you “seek Jesus first”, you give Him the opportunity to help you carry the weigh that seems so heavy to bear. 

In Jesus’ Name, 

Ashton

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One Response to “Beyond Sunday”

  1. Nancy perry says:

    Thank you. It’s a pleasure to go to church now.You not only preach from the Bible but also from your heart. If I didn’t know any difference I would think you were Dr Stanley son. I watch him 3 times each week. Keep up the great work and I will be their every Sunday if Lords willing
    God Bless you and your family.

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