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Tag Archives: Legalism

Look Out for the Dogs

When I was in college, a dog attacked a child in our neighbor. While this girl survived, her face was scarred for life. Before this incident, this dog never had any issues with aggression. Yet, something happened, triggering this violent outburst. Perhaps, similar accounts in the first century inspired the apostle Paul to warn, “look out for the dogs.” The dogs are directed at a specific religious sect known as the Judaizers.

Look out for those dogs [Judaizers, legalists], look out for those mischief-makers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we [Christians] are the true circumcision, who worship God in spirit and by the Spirit of God and exult and glory and pride ourselves in Jesus Christ, and put no confidence or dependence [on what we are] in the flesh and on outward privileges and physical advantages and external appearances—Philippians 3:3-2.

This religious group infiltrated the leadership within the Church of Galatia. Unable to let go of their Jewish traditions, these zealots began to added stipulations to salvation. Forcing Gentile believers to be circumcised, the Judaizers broke Moses’ command in Deuteronomy 4:2. Therefore, when Paul compares these religious leaders to dogs, he is suggesting that they are ripping apart God’s commands.

O you poor and silly and thoughtless and unreflecting and senseless Galatians! Who has fascinated or bewitched or cast a spell over you, unto whom—right before your very eyes—Jesus Christ (the Messiah) was openly and graphically set forth and portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the [Holy] Spirit as the result of obeying the Law and doing its works, or was it by hearing [the message of the Gospel] and believing [it]? [Was it from observing a law of rituals or from a message of faith?] Are you so foolish and so senseless and so silly? Having begun [your new life spiritually] with the [Holy] Spirit, are you now reaching perfection [by dependence] on the flesh, Galatians 3:1-3.

In the passage above, Paul compares the Judaizers to practicing witches. This expression refers to the legalism and rituals that the Judaizers adhered to and practiced. While writing to the Church at Thessalonica, Paul recalls a visit to Berea, impressed by their careful consideration of new teachings. These noble leaders were a model for other churches to emulate, Acts 17:11. As you encounter similar legalism today, remember the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 so that you won’t be deceived by the next pack of dogs that comes along to invoke a power grab in your church.

by Jay Mankus

Taking Off the Training Wheels

The first bicycle was invented by German Baron Karl von Drais in 1817. The British developed training wheels years later to stabilize the back wheel of a bicycle. Training wheels are an additional wheel or wheels mounted parallel to the rear wheel of a bicycle that assist learners until they have developed a usable sense of balance on their bicycle. In a first century letter to the Church at Galatia, the apostle Paul refers to spiritual training wheels.

Now before the faith came, we were perpetually guarded under the Law, kept in custody in preparation for the faith that was destined to be revealed (unveiled, disclosed), 24 So that the Law served [to us Jews] as our trainer [our guardian, our guide to Christ, to lead us] until Christ [came], that we might be justified (declared righteous, put in right standing with God) by and through faith, Galatians 3:23-24.

Due to legalism that infiltrated this church via a religious sect known as the Judaizers, Paul addresses the role that the Jewish law should play in Christianity. While Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as a counselor, Paul compares the Torah to a personal trainer. The Old Testament was designed as a guardian, to guide followers of God to Christ. While the Judaizers tried the overemphasize the Law, Paul reminds new converts to Jesus that individuals are justified by faith, not works.

But now that the faith has come, we are no longer under a trainer (the guardian of our childhood), Galatians 3:25.

In the passage above, Paul is calling first century Christians to take off their training wheels. This is accomplishing through living by faith. Following a set of rules is good for training, but faith is designed to live out what you believe. Just as a young child develops enough confidence to ride their bike without training wheels, mature Christians need to start applying all that they have learned, Joshua 1:8. Therefore, if you want to make a difference in 2021, let faith be your guide.

by Jay Mankus

My Ultimate Appeal

The 2006 film Amazing Grace details the life of William Wilberforce.  Wilberforce was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to stop the Atlantic slave trade.  Despite battling health issues, Wilberforce persisted through initial failed attempts to persuade fellow politicians.  Before his death in 1833, Wilberforce was responsible for steering anti-slave trade legislation through the British parliament.

“The Bible is my ultimate appeal… slavery is contrary to the example and precepts of our body and merciful Redeemer, and of his apostles… Slavery then is a national sin,” Angelina Grimke.

Fourteen years before the Civil War began, a woman from the south felt compelled to make an appeal to Christian women who also lived in the south.  Using the Bible as her main point of reference, Angelina Grimke wrote letters to persuade other believers.  One of these letters is on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.  Excerpts from the quote above can be found within a display on the Bible’s impact on ending slavery.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery, Galatians 5:1.

The apostle Paul makes a similar appeal during the first century.  However, the context of the passage above refers to spiritual slavery.  Some churches, denominations and leaders used fear, legalism and peer pressure to make followers conform to their demands.  A group known as the Judaizers began to infiltrate the church at Galatia.  This sect held on to Jewish rituals, adding circumcision to salvation by forcing members to comply.  This practice goes against free will as God doesn’t force individuals to do anything.  Rather, God gives people the choice to accept or reject Jesus.  Any teaching that strays from this is a form of slavery according to Paul.  Just as Angelina Grimke makes her ultimate appeal, God longs for souls who hunger and thirst for the Bible to avoid falling prey to ungodly beliefs.

by Jay Mankus

A Memorial Day Offering

Like a feud between siblings, the origin of the first Memorial Day celebration is clouded by history, with over 25 American cities taking credit.  The initial holiday was coined Decoration Day, based upon a 1867 hymn Kneel Where Our Loves Are Sleeping.  Inspired by the end of the Civil War, ladies of the South decorated the graves of dead confederate soldiers.  Although president Lyndon Johnson officially declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, the debate continues today as several cities had spontaneous celebrations back in the 1860’s.

Acts 10:4 introduces another memorial day, one with a spiritual background.  Legalism within the Jewish faith had exploded by the first century, creating social barriers between Jews, Gentiles and half-Jews due to inter marriage.  Like a leper, outcast by society, Gentiles were not initially accepted by the 12 apostles, who focused on reaching all the Jews within Jerusalem, Acts 1:8.  However, the persecution led by Saul caused early church leaders to shift directions in Acts 8:1-4 toward believers located in Judea and Samaria.  When the time had arrived, the prayers of a Gentile named Cornelius were answered.

An angel of the Lord came to Cornelius in a vision one afternoon, Acts 10:3.  While silent for years, God brings him great news.  Cornelius’ prayers and gifts to the poor have not been overlooked, brought to light in a memorial offering.  The final touch is communicated to Peter in a vision found in Acts 10:9-16.  This occurred so that legalism of Jewish Christians would be broken, lifted to welcome any Gentile into the kingdom of God.  Since Jesus died once and for all for all sin, 1 Peter 3:18, as a memorial offering for mankind, God’s goal was to eliminate cliches, factions and social barriers within the church, Colossians 2:20-23.  In view of this, don’t let holiday shopping, weather or worldly ways keep you from offering up a Memorial Day prayer!

by Jay Mankus

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