Ray Ortland at Word Alive – Galatians session 3 #WAevent2017

facebook_bannerGod is calling Galatian style churches back to himself. To a fresh sensitivity to the Lord, to a true ordering of the gospel as we read the word of God. As we come alive to God as our Father, not our slavemaster, something comes out of us with life-altering power which changes everything. How do we perceive ourselves by now? What is our identity and place in the universe? The deeply unsettling sense of failure and inadequacy, futility and worthlessness, dread for the future, sadness, anguish and suffering which none of us can face, is something which God steps into and takes us by the hand to find freedom.

Old ordering of the gospel, neonomian, God is calling us to try harder to be the people he wants us to be. “What kind of foot dragging, half-hearted slave have you been?” Rather, we are called to fall into his arms and hear him say “you are my child, adopted in my family, given a new name, take your place at my table, come as you are, with all your mess, belong, in all the mess as my child and believe I am your Abba, Father. I am telling you it is so. Sit, rest, feast, you belong here.”

We receive a new authority to stop our internal self-torment. We need no longer beat ourselves up for our failure but rejoice in our new status as adopted children. We are now faithful by accepting our new place in the family of the Father.

Galatians 3:23- 4:7

  1. All that God is, is for us. Verse 4-5 Father sent forth his Son and sent forth his Spirit show that God is for us, with everything which is his and is him.
  2. The sending of the Spirit is essential for us to know personally that God is for us. Both the sendings are essential. The presence of the Spirit without the sending of the Son gives us no objective assurance of his love. The sending of the Son without the sending of these Spirit gives us no subjective assurance of his love.
  3. This is all of grace. The Father sends and we receive adoption was sons. We need the Holy Spirit to tell us and assurance that we are not forgiven slaves but adopted and adored children.

Disobedient slave to sin under the power of Satan.


forgiven slave who has stopped receiving beatings for disobedience.


Adopted child seated at the Father’s table and enjoying true fellowship as an heir.

Verse 4

When I was 17, I was ungrateful and rebellious toward my dad, though he was a great Father. So it was with Israel. Ungrateful and rebellious under the law believing that the Father was restrictive and authoritarian. When rebellious Israel refused to return, God did not give them more law. He sent his Son in love. God demonstrated love to undeserving, ungrateful and rebellious children. God changed his relationship with him, not us with him,

Some of us here grew up in legalistic homes which did us no good. Faith through grace leads us to rest in Christ.

God not only loved me but I can experience his love. This is a taste of the experience of God the Father which Jesus had in the garden. Personal love, Abba Father is a cry without pomposity. It is the cry of a child. Flowery, fancy prayers, which lack intimacy, should make us question our relationship with God.

God wants us to know at a level which goes deeper than our pain, rejection, shame and insecurity that he loves us an has adopted us as his children. Verse 6. His Spirit gives us that experience as we change our story from forgiven slave to adopted child. God in Christ by His Spirit changes the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

We must be careful not to add to the gospel and become legalistic again, throwing God’s redemption of the world into reverse gear. We need the experience of the Spirit crying in our hearts, Abba Father.

It is the supreme art of the devil to make the law into the gospel. But I can turn to Satan and say “kiss my backside” because I have been adopted by God through Christ, and can’t be more accepted, loved and doted on. [Paraphrase of Martin Luther].

Will you open up to God and receive the Spirit of adoption and be freed from the sense of slavery under the law? There is nothing we can do to add to Christ.

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Ray Ortland at Word Alive. Galatians session 2 #WAevent2017

facebook_bannerJesus is always inviting us to himself. To come to him AND to come back to him.

Galatians 3 is Paul’s outline on how to read the whole bible, to see hope for bad people on every page. Gracious promise is on every page of the bible, to be received by faith. Not tedious, moralistic teaching with an evangelistic appeal at the end.

From Genesis 3, the bible promises the gracious blessing of God for everyone who breaks the law but believes God’s promises in Jesus.

Genesis: promise proceeds law in the whole framework of the bible. The primary tone of the bible is reassurance and rest, not anxiety and frustration. God loves to give his best to undeserving lawbreakers so that through Jesus, he looks glorious.

1. The flow of Paul’s thought.
2. Try to interpret one commandment through this lense.
3. How the Koran interprets the bible.

1. Galatians 3. Paul reads Genesis onwards and sees everyone stumbling along in life but some clinging to God and his promises, by faith with hope.

We could get into a time machine and interview every OT author and ask “are you teaching justification by faith?” and they would all say “yes, I like the way you put it, of course we are only righteous by faith.”

A heart which clings to God with trust is all God calls us to. “Come to me as you are and receive all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms through Christ.” We stumble along, falling forward, clinging to God in Christ and all his promises.

The law functions like an MRI scanner, which highlights our weaknesses and sin within. We are by nature lawbreakers. By choice and by nature. We can comply outwardly and we can fake compliance, so others think we’ll of us. The law helps us by defeating us. It shows us who we are so that, being broken in great pain and humility, I come to see Jesus and our need for him.

Jesus is the point. He came to take the curse of the law for us, death as punishment, do this…or else. We discover in scripture what Jesus suffered for us under the penalty of the law.

V 15-20. The law does not nullify the promises in the covenant to Abraham [Adam and Eve?] The promises stand. The law was added (v19)

Sidebar of the Mosaic law which does not interrupt the gracious promise of God which is received by faith, bad people become justified. All we need is Christ. The law does not add to our justification.

[Two trees: eternal life by faith in the promise completely separate from the tree by which the law is given with the penalty of death. Because of Jesus’ death under the penalty of the law our response is faith in the promise (tree of life) and gratitude for Jesus fulfilling the law and taking the penalty of the law (tree of knowledge and good and evil) both trees represent true faith.]

Marilyn Robinson “The death of Adam” [research this book].

Divine involvement, commitment, attention, care.

When we are heard by others do they hear the narrative of the law with the gospel as the remedy and afterthought. Or do they hear the narrative of redemption, grace, promise and faith in the God who comes to bless and the law as blessing but not for justification.

How would say “do not steal”? Only the God who seeks nothing for himself, who can be trusted, is honest, generous and needs nothing. For us, we are confronted by the law as it reveald we are grasping, selfish and needy.
Jesus loves thieves and tax collectors.
We become like him, because he has come to us.
The promise had come to us, writing his law on our hearts, do the deepest level of intuition, not choice. Surging with generosity according to the 8th commandment, giving it all away with abundant generosity.

A moralistic reading of the bible makes us feel good about ourselves, if we are proud. This moralism fails to see Jesus.

Bible alongside the Koran so that we see the bible more clearly.

I hope you have read the Koran, so that we can help our Muslim friends see that we understand what they believe. We must be complete fair. We can read the bible as if it were like the Koran. This is only a brief treatment of a vast subject.

The bible is structured as a grand narrative with a beginning, middle and end.
The Koran is not ordered as a narrative but as individual books on themes with instructions for obedience and threats for disobedience.
The bible develops themes of biblical theology which grow nd develop as the narrative is fulfilled. e.g. marriage.
Bible – free grace vs Koran merited grace. There is a difference “he will give his grace to everyone who has merit.”
Bible – original sin by nature, we are evil. Koran “man was created weak.” Weakness is less serious than inability. We can’t tip the scales of judgement by being stronger and trying harder.

The gracious promises of the bible are clear and distinct. His promise as gracious. His favour cannot be earned or bought.

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How “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” are close cousins of incipient secularism.

I was recently asked to complete a survey about how seriously my son’s school takes character development. The survey was fascinating, because it imagined a very different kind of education to our current secular model with its results-based obsession. Survey questions focused on whether or not the school defined good character, had methods in place to develop good character and gave parents feedback on how their son’s character was developing and maturing. I scored the school very low on every question because the school, like most schools, fail to develop character. There is substantial effort made in schools to ensure children buckle down and develop a work ethic and quality of mind, with all manner of motivational techniques, bordering on the manipulative and coercive, for kids to tow the line and “get the grades they are capable of.” But there is no definition of good character and no intentional character development at the “outstanding” schools where all three of my children started their secondary education.

The last survey question asked for my remarks on why I had answered as I did. What are my observations? My answer focused, critically, on multi-culturalism and secular values.

“Multi-cultural” is a label used to describe the clustering of society into sub-cultures based largely on ethnicity and religion. Each cultural group is defined by outward appearance, origins and most importantly by deeply held values and behaviour. Secular society believes in the freedom of religion and promotes only two values in this arena, namely tolerance and respect. Sevular leaders cannot, therefore, promote any other values without risking being seen to favour one religion or ethnic group over another, thereby breaking its own rules. There is no model for good character and so character development is left to chance in school.

Secular society finds itself trapped between mainstream culture and the assumptions it makes about guest cultures and their deeply held values. Secular schools are on the front line of this clash of culture. They cannot aspire to develop character in our children when different cultures hold very different values and see “good” in quite different ways.

The Church of England has found itself in a similar mess, of its own making. The church has divided into sub-cultures with very different values. The response has been to develop the sub-Christian mottos “Good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” which simply mirror secular society’s values of tolerance and respect. But good disagreement (respect) and radical inclusion (tolerance) do not promote true peace as debates at our synod have shown. Given this unhappy situation, how should Christians respond?

First, let’s agree on what we have done. We are promoting tolerance and respect and this should trouble all Christians. The Church of England has adopted a new language which mirrors the values of the secular society she exists to serve and transform, rendering us powerless as the church to do good.

Second, we should understand the complex reasons behind the ” good disagreement” and radical inclusion” mottos. The Church of England has become a multi-cultural church in the wrong way as it fails to distinguish between good diversity, where all peoples of all tribes and nations are united under Christ as servant-ruler (Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus), and ungodly diversity, where everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Church leadership finds itself trapped between a morally divided church and a skeptical secular society and is paralysed by fear, the fear of upsetting people. Rather than take a lead on developing a true unity of faith, character and morality, leaders have taken the easier road with their call for tolerance and respect. Sadly, and paradoxically, by failing to take a lead, the Church of England fails to create the peace it longs for within itself. As a direct result, the watching secular world moves further away from Christ. It is time to be bold and courageous. God is with his people to bless and unite as we meditate on his word day and night and are careful to do everything he commands us to do (Joshua 1:8ff).

Third, Jesus is the only true model of human character and values, he is God incarnate, the unspoiled image bearer of our Creator Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is uniquely fully human. It is by knowing Jesus, the only fully formed and true human being, and becoming like him, that our character and values are transformed and redeemed. Discipleship means knowing Jesus, following him and becoming like him, transformed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Forth, leaders can’t lead by calling for tolerance and respect when values and cultures clash. If “good disagreement” means God loving and valuing one another because we are his image bearers, then we can say a loud “Amen”. If it means agreeing to disagree about who Jesus is and what it means to live like him, then disagreement is bad, divisive and destructive. We will never achieve true peace when wars are allowed to continue over what values and character are true and good. We are only disagreeing about who Jesus is.

The mottos need to change. I believe “radical agreement” and “good inclusion” closely reflect the true Christian witness of the church, but that’s for another post.

It’s time to chose which God we will serve, the God of this age or the true and living God, revealed in Christ and the scriptures by the work of the Holy Spirit. As for me and my family, we will surrender to and serve the one who loves us and gave himself for us to redeem for himself a people who are eager to do good.

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Ray Ortland at Word Alive 2017. Galatians session 1 #WAevent2017

Francis Schaeffer wrote: “The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Roman Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”

We could add to that list, postmodernism, materialistic consumerism, uninhibited sensualism. [Liberalism, Islamism?]

Galatians a letter to a church which had turned to works and the flesh. Three inter-related aspects of the gospel. All three necessary for true, living, Christian life.

Gospel doctrine
Gospel culture
Gospel spirituality

No one but Jesus gives freedom from condemnation without payment or merit.
No one but Jesus gathers natural enemies without conquest to create community of mutual love and generosity.
No one but Jesus gives personal nourishment and strength to sustain the life of love and generosity.

Gospel doctrine: verse 16 “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.”

39 Articles on justification.

WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

Heidelberg catechism. How are you made right with God?
Q. 60.
How are thou righteous before God?

Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; (a)
so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, (b)
and am still inclined to all evil; (c)
notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, (d)
but only of mere grace, (e)
grants and imputes to me, (f)
the perfect satisfaction, (g)
righteousness and holiness of Christ; (h)
even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; (i)
inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart. (j)

(a) Rom.3:21-25,28; Rom.5:1,2; Gal.2:16; Eph.2:8,9; Philip.3:9. (b)
Rom.3:9. (c) Rom.7:23. (d) Tit.3:5; Deut.9:6; Ezek.36:22. (e)
Rom.3:24; Eph.2:8. (f) Rom.4:4,5; 2 Cor.5:19. (g) 1 John 2:2. (h)
1 John 2:1. (i) 2 Cor.5:21. (j) Rom.3:22; John 3:18.

John Bunyan. “Your righteousness in heaven, Christ is sat at God’s right hand…

Gospel doctrine can be denies by our actions, or culture.

Gospel culture

Peter lost his way even though he had gospel doctrine.
Galatians 2:14 gospel denying culture.

Legalism makes sense and creates standards and structure in the face of cultural chaos. Legalism creates self sufficient, proud/depressed work ethic believers who eventually give up.

Verse 21: If justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Peter was orthodox on paper and heretical in action.
We need both gospel doctrine and gospel culture or we unsay by our actions what we say in our sermons.

Nashville church would rather die than give the message by their actions that anyone who comes in is not acceptable by any gospel denying church culture.

In Acts, Peter goes to Cornellius’ house, against all cultural norms, to greet and welcome the outsider.

Peter in Antioch, seven years later, ate with Gentiles but through fear of rejection by the circumcision party, withdrew to eat with the Jewish Christians only.

His actions induced a second level of justification. Our church is for clever people; our church is for cool people; our culture is for this kind of people. If you are like us, you belong. But this is not gospel culture.

Gospel culture creates warmth and acceptance which makes us experience truly human existence.

Gospel Spirituality.

Whenever our hearts drift from gospel doctrine and we develop gospel denying culture, we know our gospel spirituality has evaporated. We cannot force our hearts to love our enemies.

When we refuse to experience condemnation but instead we give the devil a bad day and say “I believe Jesus died for me and he loves me.” Then I will love others as he loves me. We will come together as he loves us, across all sorts of divides and cultural differences.

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By what kind of death did Jesus die? What death do all humans face?

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. (John 18:31-32)

The Jews insisted, ” We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” ( John 19:7)

But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him” ( John 19:15)

By what kind of death did Jesus die? He died by execution. Not a lynching, though that’s what it was. His execution was his sentence having been accused according to the law of God. The law is good but the charge was false, because, of course, Jesus is the Son of God, yet he died by execution under the law.

I hold that Genesis 2:17 is the foundation for all the law and for the penalty of the law. If you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall surely die, which means in Hebrew you shall be executed by Royal decree. All biblical law follows from this, to restrain sin, teach us how to live and to have an objective measure against which God holds us to account. The sentence remains the same.  The death sentence, execution, is what we deserve and which Jesus takes for all who believe.

We will die, then all will be raised and face judgement then be sentenced. The sentence either falls on Christ and so on all who are in Christ, who have died in him and are raised in him to eternal life, or it falls directly on all who are not in Christ, the second death, execution in the lake of fire. (Rev 20:11-15).

Everyone who believes in me will live even though he die and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. ( John 11:25).

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How can someone die and never die?

When Martha went to meet Jesus, after her brother, Lazarus, has died, she told Jesus that she believed confidently in the general resurrection of all people. Martha’s faith in resurrection is similar to many people today, who believe confidently in life after death. Jesus’ response is confusing and challenging.  I read his words at the start of every funeral service and the confusion is highlighted for clarity:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25)

How can someone die and never die? This is confusing.

The confusion exists when we assume that there is only one kind of death. But death is multi-layered in scripture. Death can be mortal, spiritual and judicial. We all die mortally, when our bodies grow frail and die. Death is spiritual, all people are dead in sins and must brought to life in Christ (Ephesians 2). Death is also judicial. God announced a the death sentence to Adam should he disobey the law (Genesis 2:17) and so on the day of judgement, the punishment for sin is “second death.” Paul writes that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:23) and all who live without acknowledging God deserve to die (Romans 1:32). In both cases, Paul refers to judicial death as the punishment for sin, second death.

The confusion is resolved when the first death which Jesus speaks to Martha about is mortal death, which Lazarus had suffered.  Those who believe in Christ will live after they die mortally. The second reference to death is spiritual and judicial.  Those who believe in Christ are alive, spiritually and eternally, and in him they will not face the judicial second death, so never die, spiritually nor judicially.

The challenge is simple. Believe in Jesus and you will live even though you die and you will never face spiritual or judicial death. Don’t believe and you will be judged, with second death so ask Jesus for spiritual life.



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How should I respond to sub-Christian mottos like “Good Disagreement” and “Radical Inclusion”

What follows is taken from my letter to Holy Trinity Church in our April magazine in response to the mottos “Good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” which are being banded about in Church of England circles at present.

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am worried about two phrases which are being repeated in Church of England circles at this time. The phrases are “Good disagreement” and “Radical inclusion”.

Why am I worried? First, I am worried because I don’t know what these phrases mean. I am really confused. Both phrases are simplistic and blunt, lacking nuance and definition in our complex world. I want to say “Amen” if they mean one thing and “No, never Lord” if they mean another.

Secondly, I am worried because the phrases have the power to manipulate and coerce a whole community, of which we are a part. The phrases are unclear but they have already gained a subconscious meaning and power which psychologists call “groupthink”. Groupthink leads to irrational or dysfunctional decisions and unconscious bias, based on the desire for harmony and conformity in that group.

Good disagreement has quickly come to mean that two Christians can completely disagree on something as long as they are nice to each other. Good disagreement is only a different way of saying we should tolerate and respect one another’s beliefs because there is no such thing as truth, only what we believe to be true. Good disagreement is the only way of creating an uneasy peace in a post-truth culture.

And what does radical inclusion mean? Again, from the context, it is rapidly gaining support to mean that everyone is welcome in church regardless of some kinds of immoral behaviour.

And so there is real danger for bible believing Christians. If I say “I disagree with you and I believe the way you think is wrong” I break the rules of “Good Disagreement”. Who is the bad guy here? Not the person who has faulty beliefs but the person who claims to know what is right and true. Or what if I say, “Jesus said, “repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”” I am then breaking the rules of radical inclusion. Who is the bad guy here? Not the person who behaves in a way which is unacceptable to God, but me, for breaking the rules of “radical inclusion”.

Dear brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity, don’t let yourself be swayed by sub-Christian or unbiblical mottos or phrases, even when you feel their power and “groupthink” is against you.

My memory verse this week has been Psalm 86:11, which has been a great help as I have struggled with the growing feeling of manipulation and coercion in the Church of England.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
Psalm 86:11

Believing Christians are moved by God to turn to Him to be taught his way and to walk in his truth. This is a dangerous prayer for us all. Praying “teach me your way, O Lord” means studying and knowing his word but it means more. This prayer invites God to teach us in the school of life. There is much truth which God reveals to us but which can only be learned as it is put into practice. I am so reluctant to put what I know is true into practice that God will teach me through times of discipline and hardship. There are some lessons which I need to learn which will only come through suffering and rejection as God does his work in me. And so I need not fear “groupthink” but rather fear the name of the Lord.

I believe we must reject the mottos “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion”. We need more sophisticated ways of setting expectations for the times we disagree and how to welcome folk to church. We need to echo the theology of Paul’s letter to the divided church at Ephesus. “We have received every spiritual blessing in Christ and are united as one people under Christ as our head who has broken down the dividing walls of hostility; we must walk in a manner of our calling and so maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity whilst we attain to to the full knowledge of Christ through the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists as we put on the full armour of God.”

Will you pray with me for protection against manipulation in the church and for the rejection of any phrase which can be used against one another? Will you pray for true unity and acceptance in Christ as we grow up into him who is head?

With love, Neil

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