Galatians 5

Read Galatians 5.

Paul continued passionately, here in Galatians 5, to argue that the Galatians must not try to mix faith in Christ with obedience to the Law of Moses (vv. 3-6).

Verses 7-10 are a slight parenthesis in Paul’s argument. Paul stopped teaching about our freedom in Christ (vv. 1, 13) and began to wonder in print about who was responsible for the false teaching that had invaded their church (v. 7). In verse 9 he wrote, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” In other words, if the church tolerates just a little false doctrine, false doctrine will eventually pervade the entire church. Like cancer cells, false doctrine consumes the body of Christ slowly, but steadily.

Also like cancer, false doctrine is often unseen and undetected for a long time, sometimes until it is too late. Paul wrote this letter like a spiritual surgeon, seeking to cut out the spreading cells of false doctrine before it metastasized and killed the whole body.

False doctrine has existed in every age of humanity and, in our digital world, we have access to more of it than ever. Have you been sampling false teaching through TV broadcasts, books, podcasts, or online videos? Remember that it only takes “a little yeast” (v. 9) to leaven the entire loaf. We must be on guard, then. We must test everything against the teaching of scripture and reject everything that conflicts with God’s word.

Galatians 1

Read Galatians 1.

As our society becomes more secular, it is a relief when we find others who profess to know Jesus Christ. However, many people and groups have adopted the name of Jesus without embracing everything that the Bible teaches about Christ. Since they claim to love Christ and may say many things about Christ that we find agreeable, we want to affirm them as Christians and fellowship with them, too.

But, the scriptures warn us here (and elsewhere) to be on guard against “a different gospel” (v. 6). The church at Galatia was caught in a struggle over “a different gospel” when Paul wrote this letter to them. After receiving the good news that Christ alone saves people by grace alone through faith alone, they welcomed teachers who said that true faith in Christ must be accompanied by obedience to Old Testament law.

Paul said that was a “different gospel” and was “really no gospel at all” but rather an attempt to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (vv. 6b-7). It was “no gospel at all” because the good news has been replaced by the old news—obey God or else. Our faith in Christ teaches that the merits of Christ’s good works on earth (theologians call this his “active obedience”) and the penalty Christ paid for sin (Christ’s “passive obedience”) are applied to us by faith. You don’t need to obey the Law because Christ obeyed it perfectly and, by faith, God has credited you with that perfect obedience.

You don’t have to fear God’s penalty for your sins because Jesus paid the penalty fully through his death on the cross. Any “good news” that requires something more than what Christ has done for us is not good news at all; it is very bad news because we can’t save ourselves or contribute to our salvation in any way. We are fallen so we will inevitably fail to do whatever good works that other gospel would require of us. And, God isn’t impressed by our good works anyway, so we wouldn’t earn anything from him even if we could be perfect.

Note that Paul warned them and us to beware of the messenger in verse 7. Even if Paul himself were the messenger or if an angelic being appeared with supplementary instructions, that messenger would deserve, not God’s blessing but God’s eternal curse (v. 8). Just in case we missed it, Paul repeated this truth in verse 9.

It is so comforting to find someone else at work who believes in Jesus, isn’t it? Our tendency when we feel isolated in a secular world is to hold on to anyone else who claims to follow Jesus, too. If they truly do follow Jesus, that is an extraordinary gift.

But, if that person tells you that you need Christ plus something else, beware! The message they have believed is not good news that sets you free from the power of sin; it is, instead, a perversion of our faith (v. 7b) which will enslave you.

1 Kings 16, Amos 2, Psalm 119:41-88

Read 1 Kings 16, Amos 2, and Psalm 119:41-88 today. This devotional is about Amos 2.

What made idols so attractive to God’s people?

What benefit did they get out of worshipping pieces of wood and stone?

What was so powerfully compelling about their theology that all the prophets, judges, and many kings could not root idolatry out of Israel?

There are several answers to that question but a powerful one is alluded to in Amos 2:7d-8b: “Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.” Those verses suggest that idols were attractive because “worshipping” them involved sex. It was immoral and against God’s law to commit adultery but, according to these false religions, you could have sex with someone else beside your spouse as part of your offering to a false god. That activity was wicked in God’s sight, as we see here Amos 2 but it was acceptable in the culture at large when it was done as an act of worship.

No wonder God’s people were so devoted to this type of false worship. “Sex sells,” as the advertising proverb goes. There are no false religions in our setting, that I know of, which offer sex as part of the liturgy. But, as you know, sex is used to sell products, to sell movie tickets, and to get plays on music videos.

Sex is also packaged and sold as a product in itself through pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs. Our world is as interested in and as obsessed with sex as any generation in human history has been; sex is now the idol instead of being a feature of worshipping an idol.

The Bible commands us not to commit adultery or fornication but it also commands us not to lust after other people sexually. Loving and serving God requires us to guard our hearts and our eyes and to remind ourselves continually that our bodies belong to God and to our spouse. 

Have you drifted into sexual sin or flirted with it in your mind?

Are you careful about what you see and where your mind goes when it wanders?

Are you thinking inappropriate thoughts about someone in your life who is not your spouse?

Have you acted on those thoughts at all?

Let this fragment of two verses this morning turn your mind in repentance toward God. Ask him to purify your heart and be obedient to that desire in how you act toward others, think, and look. Don’t join the idolatry of adultery; ask God to help you glorify him with your mind and body.

1 Kings 12, Joel 1, 2 Timothy 4

Read 1 Kings 12, Joel 1, and 2 Timothy 4 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel (aka “the Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the division.

The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of lightening the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?!

These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier? 

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead. 

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made.

That’s often what false doctrine–false religion–does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way.

A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error.

Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves.

A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images.

The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas. 

Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, Ephesians 2

Read Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, and Ephesians 2 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it was a whitewash (vv. 11-12).

It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace.

Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread.”).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” speakers who speak encouraging, motivating words. However, these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b). The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

Judges 8, Lamentations 2, Romans 14

Read Judges 8, Lamentations 2, and Romans 14. This devotional is about Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All the devastation that God had warned about through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Their pride as God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that lead to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? If the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time.

What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.

Numbers 33, Isaiah 56, Acts 19

Read Numbers 33, Isaiah 56, and Acts 19 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 56:10-12.

Because there are always problems and struggles in the present, we tend to hope that things will be better in the future. That hope for the future creates a market, therefore, for teachers and prophets who will tell us that things are going to get better. They assert that God’s blessing is coming even if his people are living in sin or worshipping idols.

In these verses of Scripture, God confronted Judah’s leaders. Although these leaders are not directly specified, they are called “watchmen” (v. 10a), “dogs” (v. 10c, 11a), and “shepherds.” These titles suggest spiritual leaders. They might mean false prophets, priests, Levites, or all of the above. What are these spiritual leaders like?

  • They are supposed to be watchmen but they are blind (v. 10a-b) so they are unable to see spiritual danger when it comes.
  • They are called “dogs” in verse 10c. Dogs were despised in ancient Judaism, so they were not bred and kept as pets but as helpers to shepherds. Instead of being on alert for predators of the sheep, however, these dogs “cannot bark… lie around and dream” because “they love to sleep.” Like the blind watchmen of verse 10a, they were worthless for alerting God’s people to spiritual danger.
  • Finally, “they are shepherds who lack understanding,” meaning that they do not care for the sheep but for their “own gain” (v. 11e) and pleasure (v. 12a-b).

The greatest indictment of these bad spiritual leaders was their message which Isaiah described in verse 12c-d: “…tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.” Instead of warning Judah that God’s judgment was coming like a good shepherd, a good watchdog, and a good watchman would, these false spiritual leaders prophesied better days to come. Their intention was not to get God’s people to repent but to reassure God’s people that the best is yet to come.

One sign of a false teacher in any age, then, is a relentlessly positive message.

When someone speaks for God but forecasts prosperity and hope only, with no mention of sin, no warning about God’s judgment, and never a word (in this age) about the blood of Christ, that person exhibits the signs of false spiritual leadership described here in Isaiah 56.

I know what kind of teaching you get here at Calvary but I also know that my voice is not the only spiritual influence in your life. Whether you read stuff on the Internet, listen to radio preachers or watch them on TV, think carefully about what you are being taught. Turn off anyone who prophesies only better days ahead with no call for repentance, no warnings of God’s judgment, no offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ alone.

The good news, the best news, is that Christ died for our sins not that Jesus wants you to be rich and free from pain. So get your good news from that kind of teacher.