We’ve Never Done it That Way

Daily Reform, Day 62

Galatians 2:1 & Mark 7:1-8

From the Reformer

Unconvinced, the Jews fiercely opposed Paul, asserting that the Law ought to be kept and that the Gentiles ought to be circumcised, or else they could not be saved.

When we consider the obstinacy with which Romanists cling to their traditions, we can very well understand the zealous devotion of the Jews for the Law. After all, they had received the Law from God. We can understand how impossible it was for recent converts from Judaism suddenly to break with the Law. For that matter, God did bear with them, as He bore with the infirmity of Israel when the people halted between two religions. Was not God patient with us also while we were blindfolded by the papacy? God is longsuffering and full of mercy. But we dare not abuse the patience of the Lord. We dare no longer continue in error now that the truth has been revealed in the Gospel.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Churches are almost famous for being stuck in a rut. Any pastor with a fresh idea hears some folks mutter, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Most pastors think, if they do not actually come right out and say it, “Just because you always did it that way before doesn’t make it right.”

Paul admits to himself holding on to traditions. (Gal 1:4) But when he was confronted with the truth, he made the shift from established practice to uncomfortable, even dangerous, change. Each of us knows if and how we operate in opposition to the truth. If it is time for a change, make it, lest you try God’s patience. Do not cling to the old ways; cling to God.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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The Real Difference

The Martyrdom of William Tyndale

The Martyrdom of William Tyndale

Daily Reform, Day 61

Galatians 2:1 & 2 Timothy 1:8-14

From the Reformer

Paul taught justification by faith in Christ Jesus, without the deeds of the Law. He reported this to the disciples at Antioch. Among the disciples were some that had been brought up in the ancient customs of the Jews. These rose against Paul in quick indignation, accusing him of propagating a gospel of lawlessness.

Great dissension followed. Paul and Barnabas stood up for the truth. They testified: “Wherever we preached to the Gentiles, the Holy Ghost came upon those who received the Word. This happened everywhere. We preached not circumcision, we did not require observance of the Law. We preached faith in Jesus Christ. At our preaching of faith, God gave to the hearers the Holy Ghost.” From this fact Paul and Barnabas inferred that the Holy Ghost approved the faith of the Gentiles without the Law and circumcision. If the faith of the Gentiles had not pleased the Holy Ghost, He would not have manifested His presence in the uncircumcised hearers of the Word.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

There are many evidences of the Holy Spirit in a life. None is more convincing as the power to keep the faith — even in the face of persecution. The indwelling Holy Spirit safeguards faith in the hearts of true believers, even in the worst conditions. Again, this shows us that God’s grace is what effects the real difference. It is not our actions but the Spirit’s activity in us that makes the difference.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Haven’t You Heard?

Isaiah 40:21-31

From the Reformer

Hast thou not known? He repeats the same statement which he had formerly made, that the people who had been carefully taught in the school of God were inexcusable for their slothfulness, and chides them sharply for not having profited more by the doctrine of the Law, and by the other means which God had bestowed in addition to that knowledge which they possessed in common with the Gentiles. The word “know,” which is more general, is put first; because by many miracles and other proofs God had manifested his glory. Next, he asks, “Hast thou not heard?” As if he had said, “If thou hast profited nothing by being taught by actions and by word that God is never unemployed, it is evident that thou are excessively unteachable.”

—John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah (40:28)

Pulling It Together

It was in an orange Dodge Duster on a Friday afternoon. Mother took me for a ride after school. She was grim and at the same time there was a disappointment hanging on her face. We did not drive far—just half way around the block. There, in the quietness of that car, alone with her, my mother tried one last time to get through to me.

I had brought home my report card and she was dismayed again at my dropping grades. She wanted to know what was wrong and why was I only doing average work. I vividly recall sitting there like a clod of dirt, having nothing to say but, “I don’t know.”

She gave up that day. “You’ll learn when you’re ready.” She never ceased to show her disappointment at years of report cards thereafter. Yet she never chided me again—or offered her assistance. I was now on my own. This is a bad place for one who is “excessively unteachable.” I may never get to the place in my own power to where I wanted to learn.

There is one who lends strength, vitality, and renewal to those who want his assistance. Or haven’t you heard?

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Practicing Faith

Jesus Christ, Hagia Sophia
Jesus Christ, Hagia Sophia

Daily Reform, Day 60

Galatians 1:21-24 & Romans 3:21-31

From the Reformer

Syria and Cilicia are adjacent countries. Paul traces his movements carefully in order to convince the Galatians that he had never been the disciple of any apostle.

In Syria and Cilicia Paul won the indorsement of all the churches of Judea, by his preaching. All the churches everywhere, even those of Judea, could testify that he had preached the same faith everywhere. “And,” Paul adds, “these churches glorified God in me, not because I taught that circumcision and the law of Moses should be observed, but because I urged upon all faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

There are always those religious folks who want to lord their practices over others. We do this and you do not. But Christians can not boast in such things. Christians must not lord over others any practice, even if it seems the practice is so right, so practical, so religious, that others should also engage in that practice. Practices are merely overflow of faith. So it can not be the practice in which one boasts; it is always the source of the practice.

When our only boast is faith in what Christ has done, we will practice that faith without boasting in our works.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

 

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Telling the Truth, Daily Reform, Day 59

Galatians 1:18-19 & Ephesians 4:11-16

From the Reformer

Was it necessary for Paul to go under oath? Yes. Paul is reporting personal history. How else would the churches believe him? The false apostles might say, “Who knows whether Paul is telling the truth?” Paul, the elect vessel of God, was held in so little esteem by his own Galatians to whom he had preached Christ that it was necessary for him to swear an oath that he spoke the truth. If this happened to Paul, what business have we to complain when people doubt our words, or hold us in little regard, we who cannot begin to compare ourselves with the Apostle?

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

It surely did not matter to the false apostles whether Paul was telling the truth or even claimed to be telling the truth. We may easily imagine them laughing at his claim. Perhaps it did not even matter to the Galatians that Paul claimed to be telling the truth. Some believed him and many, no doubt, did not. It was simply important to Paul himself that he made the oath.

Are you telling the truth? Are you living the truth? The ability to make such an oath is a good checkup on your spiritual and moral health. Are you able to say all this day, all this life, that you are telling the truth? If you are so able then what others think makes no difference.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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The Cross, Daily Reform, Day 58

Albrecht Dürer, Christ on Cross
Albrecht Dürer, Christ on Cross

Galatians 1:18-19 & Ephesians 2:13-18

From the Reformer

Paul minutely recounts his personal history to stop the cavil of the false apostles. Paul does not deny that he had been with some of the apostles. He went to Jerusalem uninvited, not to be instructed, but to visit with Peter. Luke reports the occasion in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts. Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles and related to them how Paul had met the Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus, also how Paul had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Paul says that he saw Peter and James, but he denies that he learned anything from them.

Why does Paul harp on this seemingly unimportant fact? To convince the churches of Galatia that his Gospel was the true Word of Christ which he learned from Christ Himself and from no man. Paul was forced to affirm and re-affirm this fact. His usefulness to all the churches that had used him as their pastor and teacher was at stake.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Paul insists on this detail in his journey with Christ because of his insistence that the the Galatians themselves adhere to true gospel of Christ in God. The gospel points to the cross, not to the keeping of rules. The gospel highlights the incarnate God having kept the law for us since we could not do so. The cross is the surest proof that God desires our friendship more than anything else.

When we were unable to do those things that would allow us access to the divine relationship, God died for our sins, uniting us to him by faith in his work. His final work is the only deed we may rely upon; our deeds amount to nothing. Law-keeping is religion and self glorification, whereas the cross is the law fulfilled and the glory of God. The cross points to what he did; religion points to what we do. Cling to the cross, for only in this way do you cling to the gospel, and to friendship with Christ.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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A New Thing, Daily Reform, Day 57

Paul by Rembrandt
Paul by Rembrandt

Galatians 1:15-17 & Acts 10:9-43

From the Reformer

I went to Arabia before I saw any of the apostles. I took it upon myself to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles without delay, because Christ had called me for that purpose. This statement refutes the assertion of the false apostles that Paul had been a pupil of the apostles, from which the false apostles inferred that Paul had been instructed in the obedience of the Law, that therefore the Gentiles also ought to keep the Law and submit to circumcision.

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

God was doing something new through a man with an old, old spirit. Here was Saul of Tarsus, steeped in the ways of his forefathers, a Jew among Jews. He was a Pharisee an expert at interpreting the Law of Moses. Yet God opened his heart to spread his loving favor to the Gentiles too. His grace called for no special conditions. And the Gentiles were not to be second-class citizens of the kingdom of God. Indeed, it appeared they were getting off easier than the Jews. Gentiles must submit their hearts to God but were not asked to submit to circumcision.

Paul was not operating his mission under the old ways or even at the instruction of the apostles. His directive was straight from God. Nevertheless, it harmonized with apostolic precedent, since Peter was also instructed by God to extend his grace to the Gentiles. God shows no partiality. (Acts 10:34) And so, neither must his preacher.

Paul reached out to those people his own people had shunned. He followed the injunction of Jesus. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8) God was doing a new thing through Paul, the most unlikely candidate available. He also did something new through Martin Luther, another unlikely prospect. What can God do with you if you obey him without delay?

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Seeing the Light, Daily Reform, Day 56

Galatians 1:16 & John 1:1-5

From the Reformer

Once Paul had received the Gospel from Christ, he conferred with nobody in Damascus. He asked no man to teach him. He did not go up to Jerusalem to sit at the feet of Peter and the other apostles. At once he preached Jesus Christ in Damascus.

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

When he was 23 years old, John Calvin, a contemporary of Luther’s in France, like Paul, had a sudden conversion. He believed that God had personally addressed him in the scriptures. From that point, Calvin’s life was directed toward God instead of the law and humanism. His life was immediately changed, as was Paul’s on the Damascus road, as was Luther’s in a lightning storm. All transitions involved light: Paul’s a blinding light that may have been the glory of Christ himself, Luther’s lightning, and Calvin’s illumination in God’s word.

Of course, all three may be understood as seeing the gospel light: Paul heard Jesus speak on the road and then spoke for him, Luther was driven from the storm into a thorough exploration and exhortation of scripture, and Calvin became an ardent student and teacher of God’s word.

Only by the illumination of God may one see the light and change. When you do “see the light” in some area of your life as the Lord speaks to you in his word, obey. Obey immediately, else the change may never come.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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Modern Day Pharisees, Daily Reform, Day 55

Crucifixion, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, by ordinaryfool http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-11769404

Galatians 1:15-17 & John 1:14-17

From the Reformer

Paul does not mention the Jews, for the simple reason that he was the called and acknowledged apostle of the Gentiles, although he preached Christ also to the Jews.

We can hear the Apostle saying to himself: “I will not burden the Gentiles with the Law, because I am their apostle and not their lawgiver. Not once did you Galatians hear me speak of the righteousness of the Law or of works. My job was to bring you the Gospel. Therefore you ought to listen to no teachers of the Law, but the Gospel; not Moses, but the Son of God; not the righteousness of works, but the righteousness of faith must be proclaimed to the Gentiles. That is the right kind of preaching for Gentiles.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

Too often our message to our co-workers, family, friends, and church is riddled with law. You should not do this; you should have done that. Why do we insist on this egregious error? We know better; really we do know better but we insist on having our own way, of looking better than the other guy.

What if we preached Christ crucified instead of crucifying our friends and family? Might they then change for the better? Might we?

What if we changed our expectations of others to keeping faith in Christ instead of keeping our interpretations of the law? There used to be another group that insisted others keep their version of the law. Jesus had some very specific thoughts about that group.

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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The Revealing God, Daily Reform, Day 54

Isaiah scroll from Qumran
Isaiah scroll from Qumran

Galatians 1:15-17 & Ephesians 4:11-16

From the Reformer

“It pleased God,“ says the Apostle, “to reveal himself in me. Why? For a twofold purpose. That I personally should believe in the Son of God, and that I should reveal Him to the Gentiles.”

—Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

Pulling It Together

God’s purpose in creation is to form a community of beings who are devoted to relationship with him. He does this by revealing himself within a person. This happens when a person is devoted to the particular revelation of God called his word or the scriptures. Scripture is the primary, dependable manner by which one begins to know God and to be devoted to friendship with him. It would be a rather one-sided relationship if you simply talked to God all the time but never listened. One listens in the word. It would be a presumptuous relationship if you decided willy-nilly who God is and what he is like and were devoted to your idea of God. Of course, this is precisely what so many people do but the only way to truly know God is for him to reveal himself within you through his word.

One proceeds from study of scripture to prayer that is based on it and to fellowship with others in whom God is revealing himself. There are many ways through which God reveals himself in you but scripture is primary. Further, to fulfill God’s purposes in a life, one must come to the point of revealing God to others. God reveals himself in you so that he may reveal himself through you. This is proper and obvious since God desires friendship with everyone — not simply you (2Pe 3:9).

© Mark E. Ryman, Daily Reform: Devotions with the Reformers

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