Is Therefore Christ the Minister of Sin?

Galatians 2:17-18. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin?  God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”

Paul’s legal training shows up in these two verses. They are  classic “If. . . .then”  statements, showing the fallacy of combining grace with the observation of the law to attain salvation.

“if,” says Paul, “while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners”–in other words, if we who have trusted in Jesus alone are still sinners seeking a way of salvation–“Then Christ is the minister of sin.”  Is that all Christ was for? Was He only to show me how bad my sin is, how lost I am, and then leave me to save myself by my own efforts in keeping the Law?

God forbid! Christ came to be a minister of righteousness to all who believe. How futile would His death have been if it were only to show me how bad my sin is and not provide me with a way of salvation beyond my own efforts!

“If I build again the things which I have destroyed”—If I, Paul, insist upon the Gentiles’ observance of the Law, which I have proved to be abolished by the death of Christ (Eph. 2:14-15; Col. 2:14-17 and many other references) then I am rebuilding what I have taken down, making myself also a sinner by undoing my own justificiation by faith in Christ.

I had to read these verses over several times, and study a couple of my references, to be sure I have a clear understanding of what Paul was saying.  When it fell into place for me, I realized how beautifully simple it is.

Thank God for His grace to us!

A Reflection

I’m  taking a break from my Friday routine today while I’m still deciding where to go next with my Counseling Issues posts.  I want to share something with you today that I hope you won’t see as nothing more than an organ recital.  I promise not to dwell on the physical aspect, because that’s not the main emphasis here.

Because of some things I’m dealing with right now, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our physical health  can influence our  thinking, emotions, our spirit, and our behavior.  There’s nothing deeply philosophical here this morning, just thinking about some folks I know who have chronic conditions. Some are positive and upbeat. Others? Well, I don’t want to be like that.

It’s not a good day when you are told you have a condition that will not go away. The typical person needs some time to process that, and will probably go through the cycle of grieving that starts with denial, and includes anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  You can read more about that here.

It does take time to deal with the knowledge that your body will never be what it once was. We take our health for granted, moving through our days with energy and enjoyment.  Bending, stretching, twisting; running, jumping, and bouncing without giving it a thought. I wish I had treasured those wonderful days more than I did. I appreciate them now, I assure you!

I knew a woman who had a beautiful spirit. She was always smiling.  I don’t think I ever saw her when she was unhappy. She spent the last ten years of her life in a wheel chair. She had several different conditions, and they eventually had her all twisted and bent. Still, she would smile at whoever approached her. She could only look at you sideways, and she couldn’t hold her focus very long, but she always had a warm smile. After a while she could no longer speak. She developed Alzheimer’s, to add salt to the wound. The amazing thing, though, was that even when she lost herself she still smiled, still made sounds to show how pleased she was to see whoever came to speak with her.

I want to be like that. I want to NOT make people dread having to see me because they will be treated to a long and boring organ recital. My discomfort, my pain, is mine.  It doesn’t belong to anyone else.  No one else should be burdened with it.

I have a friend who developed colon cancer. He had surgery, and for a while all was well.  But his latest scans are showing some activity that isn’t good, and he has to have more tests.  His attitude?  It’s fine. Make each day count. He smiles, and really doesn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it.

I know someone else who is unable to discuss anything else besides her pain. No matter what subject you introduce, she’ll bring it back to herself and her own problems. I feel bad for her.  The pain is real, her condition is real. But I don’t want to talk  to her. I do, but I dread it.  There’s no joy.

And there’s what I guess I’m trying to say. There can always be joy.  You know, God never promised us that life would be a walk in the park. He did, however, promise that He would always be there beside us to walk through the dark times.

Psalm 23:4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

And there is my joy. I have Jesus. He knows my need, my fear, my dread. He knows and understands my pain because He made my body. He gives me comfort, and His Word gives me strength every day, all day.  I am so thankful for passages I memorized as a child. Those are the ones that come back to me when I want to indulge in a little “pity me” thinking. ‘

I’m thankful for modern medical technology that can bring some measure of relief. I’m thankful for kind and capable doctors who are taking good care of me. I’m thankful for the nearly 68 years I had before this present condition kicked in. Thankul I was strong and full of energy when my family needed that from me; thankful I had the opportunity of teaching when I was still able to go 24/7.

And now I’m thankful that, as my energy is sapped by pain, I can rest.  I work only three days each week. You can’t beat that. I’m not ready to retire completely, and God knew years ago, when I decided to go back to school so I could do my present work, that this period of my life was coming. He has prepared the way for each and every phase of my life, given me what I needed and walked beside me.

Here’s a song I love that expresses my present thinking quite well:

Jews by Nature

Galatians 2: 15-16. “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

What does Paul mean when he says “We who are Jews by nature”?  He is talking about those who, like himself, were born  of Jewish parents and are descendants of the Jewish nation. They grew up hearing of God and His mighty works and power.  They learned the Law from childhood. They were not like the Gentiles, who did not grow up in the Jewish tradition.

Both are saved by grace through faith.  Jewish sinners, Gentile sinners?  It doesn’t matter. Jesus died for all sinners.  There is no difference to God between the Jew and the Gentile, the bond and the free,  male or female. The blood of Jesus Christ was shed for all. Period.  Salvation for all is by grace through faith, believing in Jesus Christ as the only Son of God Who came to die that we might live.

The only justification with God is through the blood of Jesus.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Galatians 2: 14. “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”

14

Paul did not call a secret meeting to gather together to decide what to do about Peter.  He did not make Peter wait out in the hall while he and the other leaders decided what to do.  He didn’t circulate a petition, or gather up enough votes against Peter to know he had the winning hand before he confronted Peter.

Not Paul. Direct, to the point, and public.  Why?  Well, because Peter’s fault was public, and his behavior had influenced others who followed his example.

When we commit public sin that affects the lives of others, it needs to be dealt with on the same basis. Not unkindly, not harshly, not with dire head-shakings and hand-wringings.  No threats of a lynch mob here, or an unfriendly takeover in which Peter would be unseated from his position as a true apostle who had been mightily used of God.

I think one of the most important lessons for u s to learn here is that no one, not even Peter, not even Paul, is above reproach.  No one is immune from correction. Pastors are answerable to their people.  The people are answerable to elders and deacons, and believers are answerable to one another; we are all answerable to God.   If we would spend more time being honest with one another when we feel there is fault, and less time talking about it to people who can’t fix it, our churches might not be so likely to fracture and split, reforming and splitting again and again.

Paul simply said to Peter, “You know, you’re a Jew who is learning to live under grace, as the new Gentile believers do. Then why, my friend, would you require the Gentiles to live under the Law, as the Judaizers do?”

It’s a good question. And he’s not done yet.

Dissimulation

Galatians 2:12-13. “For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.”

It must have pained Paul to write these words.  After all, he had just come from the gathering in Jerusalem where Peter’s ministry to the Jews and his own to the Gentiles had been agreed upon; where the great truths of salvation by grace through faith were agreed upon by all, and where the Judaizers lost a lot of face. It had seemed as if there was peace and harmony among the brethren.

Paul and Barnabas journied on to Antioch and were ministering among the believers there, and preaching the gospel to those who had not heard.  Peter decided to visit them in Antioch, to see how the work was going. I am sure he was welcomed with open arms, and he enjoyed fellowship with all the believers. He ate with them, prayed with them, perhaps sang with them, and studied with them.

Until some legalists who did not understand grace showed up among them. Pharisaic Jews, perhaps believers, but they did not understand that the Law no longer needed to be observed as it had been before the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He came as the fulfillment of the law. These men “of the circumcision” still believed that every letter of the law must be fulfilled in order for a person to attain salvation.

Peter must have decided he didn’t want to offend them.  Maybe he just didn’t want to be hassled by them. We don’t know what his thinking processes were; we only know that when these men appeared, Peter would no longer share food with the Gentiles. And also, much to Paul’s sorrow, Barnabas was influenced in the same way, sharing in Peter’s dissimulation and refusing to eat with the “unclean” Gentiles.

The word dissimulation simply means hypocrisy. Peter and Barnabas weren’t the only believing Jews who shied away from the Gentiles at this time.  The influence of the Judaizers was so strong that apparently several others followed suit and began to sit off by themselves during the meals.

Kind of reminds me of the cool kids in the lunchroom who were fine having an uncool kid sit with them until the King of Cool sauntered up to the table. He wouldn’t sit with the uncool, and took his tray to a different seat. Some of his cool buddies got up and went with him, leaving the uncool to finish lunch on their own.

Of course my example doesn’t carry the weight of what was going on in Antioch.  It’s just what it makes me think of. The issues here were far more important than who was popular and who wasn’t.  The gospel of Jesus Christ was that of salvation by grace, not by works. The Law no longer was the path to eternal life, because Jesus was the supreme sacrifice Whose blood not only covered sin, but cleansed us from sin. No works, not even the Old Testament law, are sufficient to take us to heaven.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; It is the gift of God; Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

This was not just a matter of social standing.  It was a matter of the most foundational doctrine of the faith, and Paul could not let it go without setting things straight.

Peter and Paul

Galatians 2:11. “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.”

The next few verses show us some interesting things. First, apparently Peter was NOT that solid rock upon which the church was built. His fallibility is clear in this situation. Here is Peter, the one who said to Jesus, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” behaving as if he hadn’t learned a thing about grace and the gospel. The first time he felt he may be criticized by the Jews for forsaking the Law, he went right back to the Law. It seems to me that this confrontation with Paul may have been a turning point in his life, and it doesn’t seem as if he lost any standing in the Christian community.

Those two thoughts lead me to the next one: This is the way disputes are properly to be handled among believers.  Not in raucous business meetings where there are power struggles, where harsh words are said that cannot be retracted. Paul “confronted Peter to his face,” speaking man to man. He didn’t go around gathering support for his side of things and criticizing Peter before their conversation took place. He went right to Peter.

Next time, we will see how that all turned out.

Friday Counseling Issues: Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Is it possible to treat Bipolar Disorder without medical intervention?

Well, sure.  It’s also possible to eat popcorn without butter, but what would be the point of that? Image result for buttery popcorn

I stated in an earlier post that my hard-and-fast rule is that I will not see a client who has Bipolar Disorder unless that client is compliant and faithful with his meds. The reason for that is simple.  When a person is in a manic swing, he is not reasonable. There is no talk therapy that can bring him down so that you can have a helpful therapuetic conversation.  The medication is vitally important, and sometimes it takes a while to get the proper set of meds, properly balanced, for every client. Everyone’s chemistry is a little bit different from everyone else’s.

When a client is effectively medicated–and I don’t mean she’s in LaLa Land–then she is more able to listen and process conversation that can be helpful in controlling her behavior.

Here is something I will always say to a Bipolar client:  “I’m sorry you have Bipolar Disorder. That’s no fun, and I know it has caused you and those who love you a lot of pain.  One thing you need to know, however, is that having Bipolar Disorder does not give you a pass to behave horribly, or to not follow the rules everyone else has to follow.  It just means that things are going to be harder for you, and you’re going to have to learn some skills that will keep you from getting into trouble and hurting the people who love you.

“Understand that you’re not the only one who has to live with a difficult condition. Some people are deaf. Some are blind. Some have severe food allergies. Some are autistic.  This is part of life, and we all have to deal with what we’re given. You can feel sorry for yourself, or you can get a grip and work hard.  Coming to therapy on a regular basis will help you to stay on track.  Taking your meds faithfully will help, too.  Work with me,  It will help you.”

Here are some talk therapies that can be helpful for Bipolar Disorder:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Interpersonal/social rhythm therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Prodrome detection therapy – particularly useful for preventing mania relapses
  • Family-focused therapy

Cognitive Behavorial Therapy is based on the premise that it is what you think about that controls how you feel and what you say and do. Learning to recognize common cognitive errors, and to tell yourself the truth, is, in my opinion, one of the best therapies out there.

For example, one cognitive error would be, “I have Bipolar Disorder, so I can’t help how I act or feel. There’s nothing I can do.”

That’s not true. There are many things you can do.  I will help you learn to recognize wrong thinking, and to replace it with truth.  The truth here is, “You have Bipolar Disorder, so you need to learn to recognize symptoms that you are going into a manic swing, and to put up safeguards. Your family can help you.”

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) is designed to help people improve their moods by understanding and working with their biological and social rhythms. Originally developed as a form of psychotherapy for a single clinician and a single patient, the program has since been adapted to work in several different kinds of settings, including inpatient and outpatient groups. IPSRT is a compelling adjunctive therapy for people with mood disorders, and it emphasizes techniques to improve medication adherence, manage stressful life events, and reduce disruptions in social rhythms. IPSRT teaches patients skills that let them protect themselves against the development of future episodes.

A major goal of the IPSRT team is to expand the program’s use and the resources available to clinicians wishing to learn the IPSRT model, as well as to provide additional support to clinicians already trained in IPSRT.

( taken from www.ipsrt.org)

Psychoeducation is invaluable for both the patient and his family.  It is important to understand  exactly what Bipolar Disorder is, and how to cope with it.  There is wonderful information these days, easy to access on the internet, at the library, perhaps at your doctor’s office.

  • Prodrome detection therapy – particularly useful for preventing mania relapses. Here is an excellent resource for this information: http://bipolar.answers.com/prevention/avoiding-bipolar-relapse-with-prodromal-detection-therapy

Family-focused therapy is helpful because it doesn’t separate the person who has Bipolar Disorder from the rest of the family members. It can help with conflict resolution as well as support and accountability for the patient.

Please understand that what I have mentioned here is only a bird’s-eye view.

There is more.  Some people swear by light therapy; others by a Bipolar-specific diet, others by supplements.  Keep in mind that there is a snake oil salesman out there for every condition imaginable.  You have to be discerning when you read about this stuff, and don’t go off on a tangent.  If it seems weird, it probably is.  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Always consult a doctor or therapist who has experience in treating Bipolar Disorder.  I learn new things from my clients all the time. The study of the human brain continues to intrigue me. New and helpful information is always out there.

The main thing is not to give up. Never, never, never, never quit!