The Law that leads to Grace :: Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Galatians 3.24
So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.

Reflection: The Law that leads to Grace :: Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We have looked at grace from several different angles this week. As we move through this weekend, let us pray through these responses to Paul’s description of the Law’ inability to save us.

The Law that leads to Grace
Oh, God, may we not rely on the Law, except to point us back to grace.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

We love your Law, Lord. But we know that the Law does not, will not, and cannot justify us.
We rely instead, Lord, on faith.

Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 

We cannot live by the Law. If we could, then Christ’s death was for no purpose.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 

Christ’s death opened the path of grace through faith to all people. In Christ, God came near and extended his hand to us. And his arm was not too short to save. He saved us not based on anything we have done, but in response to his own promise and purpose for all who have faith. 

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Help us, Lord, to remember…
The Law exists to point us to, and cause us to cry out for, grace.
Those who think they can live by the Law are deceived and hopeless. Cursed.
Those who are hopeless in everything else, clinging only to grace, are raised to life. Blessed.
Whatever form of moralism we seek to add to grace is a failure of faith, doubting the value of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Thank you, God, for grace through faith that cannot be downgraded and a Law designed to lead us to grace.
May the felt reality of Christ’s incomparable grace extended to us, cause us to season our lives, our tongues, our actions, our prayers, and our inner being with grace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Cry of the Church
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 23 (Listen – 5:38)
Galatians 3 (Listen – 4:39)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Samuel 24 (Listen – 4:48) Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)
1 Kings 1 (Listen – 7:52) Galatians 5 (Listen – 3:22)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Downgrading Grace
Grace, once gained, can be forgotten and replaced with a smug and damaging form of self-righteousness.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/downgrading-grace/

Read more about Of Grace and Thorns
What is important about Paul’s thorn is not what it is…but the sufficient grace of God that sustains Paul.

Downgrading Grace

Scripture Focus: Galatians 2.21
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Reflection: Downgrading Grace
By John Tillman

Grace, once gained, can be forgotten and replaced with a smug and damaging form of self-righteousness. We can forget too easily from what Christ saved us and at what cost. This is a dangerous form of amnesia and Paul will not allow the Galatians or even the prominent leaders of the church to fall into it.

Paul shows us a model for biblical confrontation in Galatians. He is direct. He is personal. And he is restorational. 

Galatians may not seem as stridently corrective as some of the passages from the letters to the Corinthians, but Galatians is the only letter of Paul to contain all correction and no praise. Paul gets straight to the point and does not hesitate. He confronts the Galatians head on telling them that he is amazed they are abandoning the gospel of grace through which they were saved. And he relates his story of boldly opposing Peter to call out this downgrade of grace and cheapening of the gospel.

Paul got personal with the Galatians and with Peter. When confronting them about favoritism, Paul quoted Peter’s testimony from Acts 10.34 saying “God shows no favoritism.” When he confronted Peter, he discussed personal practices and details with Peter, telling him exactly what Paul considered to be wrong about what Peter was doing.

Paul never lost sight, even in a corrective mode, of the unity and grace for all found in Christ. Paul’s often quoted passage about being “crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” demonstrates a shared life in Christ and is a part of his dramatic speech to Peter on his visit to Antioch. 

Christ’s sacrifice is at the center of Paul’s argument against any other action being any part of salvation. The sufficiency of faith in Christ cannot be reduced. Paul would not allow the council at Jerusalem, or Peter, or the Galatians to downgrade grace through faith. When we downgrade grace through faith, we chip away the cross of Christ, making it an additive to our life rather than the sole source of our life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 22 (Listen – 5:22)
Galatians 2 (Listen – 3:44)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Solus Christus
If you want to understand the love and compassion of God, look no further than Jesus the Christ.

Read more about Grace Which Rises
This is the grace which rises unto us: both our sins fall forever, and grace abides forever.

Defender of Grace

Scripture Focus: Galatians 1.9, 23-24
If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.

Reflection: Defender of Grace
By John Tillman

Paul was an elite member of one of the most powerful factions of Judaism—a “pharisee of Pharisees.” He had studied under Gamaliel, one of the greatest scholars of his day. He was commissioned by the religious authorities to act on their behalf to defend the law.

It is from this charge that he turns to become the defender of grace. Paul converted from being a disciple of law to an apostle of grace. His conversion stands as one of the repeated touchstones of his teaching, his testimony, and his reasoning.

As much as Paul knew and loved the law, he knew that life did not come from the law—death did. Chares Spurgeon, in a sermon on Galatians, said, “…but while the law is glorious, it is never more misapplied than when it is used as a means of salvation.” Spurgeon continues:

“It was written on stone; as if to teach us that it was a hard, cold, stony law—one which would have no mercy upon us, but which, if we break it, would fall upon us, and dash us into a thousand pieces. O ye who trust in the law for your salvation! Ye have erred from the faith; ye do not understand God’s designs; ye are ignorant of every one of God’s truths.” 

Spurgeon concludes that the law was a tool of God to teach us to receive the better offering of God’s grace:

“It was intended by its thunders to crush every hope of self-righteousness, by its lightning to scathe and demolish every tower of our own works, that we might be brought humbly and simply to accept a finished salvation through the one mighty Mediator who has “finished the law, and made it honorable, and brought in an everlasting righteousness,” whereby we stand, complete before our Maker at last, if we be in Christ.”

We make a mistake when we think of “The Bible” as “the Law” that we must keep. The Law is in the Bible but the Bible is not the Law. The Christian Bible only contains the law as a seed. What grows from that seed, through the husbandry of Christ’s sacrifice, is the flower of grace. The Bible is the story of Christ’s flowering, fragrant, and beautiful work of grace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. — Psalm 85.10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 21 (Listen – 4:34)
Galatians 1 (Listen – 3:05)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Overcoming Hatred :: Worldwide Prayer
Because I and my people have been treated so unjustly by fellow human beings it is hard not to hate.

Read more about Paul’s First Sermon
Through his fulfillment of Scripture, his submission to death, and his physical resurrection, Jesus has made manifest God’s promises of forgiveness and salvation.

Grace Displaces Retribution

Scripture Focus: 2 Samuel 20.9-10
Joab said to Amasa, “How are you, my brother?” Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. Amasa was not on his guard against the dagger in Joab’s hand, and Joab plunged it into his belly.

2 Corinthians 13.11-12
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Reflection: Grace Displaces Retribution
By John Tillman

The kind of humility and gracious forgiveness often shown by David is as greatly out of place today as it was in his own time. 

Those who cursed David during his flight from Absalom had no right to expect anything but death and destruction on David’s return. Retributive violence was the norm. But David risks displacing retribution with grace. One example is the cursing of Shimei

Shimei was a member of Saul’s family who cursed David, accusing him of being a murderer and claiming God was punishing him for his sins against Saul’s house. David acknowledged that perhaps God had sent Shimei to curse him and submitted to the humiliating rain of dirt, stones, and curses. Abishai would have cut Shimei’s head off but David prevented it. 

Shimei’s accusations are at least half-true. David was a murderer of Uriah and was in the company of murders such as Joab and Abishai who had murdered Saul’s former general, Abner. Shimei, whether in true repentance or simply to save his skin, repents of his former actions, and David spares him from Abishai’s sword a second time.

When seeing a beloved leader pelted on Twitter with half-truths, many respond as Abishai, “let me go over and cut off his head.” Some “Joabs” in ministries have engaged in just these kinds of violent threats against those who have accused pastors and ministries of wrongdoing, even when the accusations were far more accurate than those of Shimei.

As David tried to put back together a shattered nation, he continued to reach out to enemies in peace. When another rebellion arose from Sheba of Bikri, David chose Amasa, who had commanded the army of his rebellious son, Absalom, as his new army commander to put down the rebellion.

Whether by incompetence or from some other motive, Amasa takes too long and David sends Abashai after him. Joab murders Amasa and takes his job back to put down the rebellion.

Like David, we live in a culture of violence. 
We, like Christ, must be ready to rebuke violence.
Through the Holy Spirit may we have the grace to say, “No more of this!…Put your sword back in its place. For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
It may seem impossible and impractical to replace retribution with grace but this is the “full restoration” that Paul calls chuches to enact.
May we do so in His grace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 20 (Listen – 4:51)
2 Corinthians 13 (Listen – 2:19)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about A Christian Response to Offense
There is nothing in the Christian faith more strangely counter-cultural, and more practically difficult to live out, than how the New Testament instructs us to deal with offenses and with offenders.

Read more about Dealing with Joab
One of David’s greatest failings as a leader might be failing to deal with Joab. If you are a leader, you may attract a Joab. Beware.

Of Grace and Thorns

Scripture Focus: 2 Corinthians 12.7-9
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Reflection: Of Grace and Thorns
By John Tillman

Paul’s thorn in the flesh is one of the great unknowns of scripture. 

There have been a phenomenal number of conjectures, suppositions, and claims about what it might have been. Suggestions vary greatly from the serious (demonic voices or severe scoliosis) to the silly (baldness) to the offensive (a nagging wife). 

Conjecture and biblical guessing games are entertaining for theology nerds and Bible geeks (like me) but they can be a distraction. 

If one holds a high view of the Bible, believing that it is the inspired Word of God, then one can trust that the lessons the Holy Spirit has for us won’t be contained in some neglected detail. If, however, one doubts the scriptures’ inerrancy, then one always thinks the answers are in the cracks. If Paul or (more importantly) the Holy Spirit wanted us to know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, it would be spelled out in the scriptures. 

What is important about Paul’s thorn is not what it is or how it afflicts him. What is important is the sufficient grace of God that sustains Paul. Paul’s thorn does seem to be connected to something that weakens him. Paul describes his thorn as a  “messenger from Satan.” All we need to take from this is that Satan had a purpose for the suffering Paul experienced. It was intended by Satan for harm and hindrance of Paul’s faith. But God especially delights in turning machinations of evil into miracles of grace.

We should hesitate to imply from this text that believers regularly have “thorns in the flesh.” If a believer is “caught up to the third Heaven” as Paul was, then perhaps, one might worry about it. But we do, with regularity, experience sufferings of this world that are intended by Satan to harm and hinder us. Our comfort in our “light and momentary troubles” is the same comfort that Paul experienced.

Grace sets us free from the sufferings that come to us in this world. Paul shows us how to lean into suffering, knowing that however we are weakened, Christ will be glorified and however, we are delivered Christ will be glorified.

Suffering is evil. Weakness is humbling. In Christ, they both are redeemed and their outcomes overturned. What is intended to harm, will be used for good and what is shameful will be used to bring glory to Christ.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Samuel 18 (Listen – 7:31)
2 Corinthians 11 (Listen – 3:54)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Reflection: Honey and Grace
God extracts honey out of the rock—the sweetest springs and pleasures from the hardness of afflictions…whereas the world makes from the fountains of pleasure stones and rocks of torment.

Read more about Grace that Makes Us :: Worldwide Prayer
Through his grace our weakness is made strong.
Through his grace our weakness is made strong.
Through his grace our weakness is made strong.
Through his grace he leads us from doubt on to faith.
Through his grace we can share the gospel with others.

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